Short on time? Here’s the best parental control app in 2023:
- 🥇 Qustodio. Offers industry-standard parental control features like web and app monitoring, screen time supervision and scheduling, location tracking with geofencing, and activity reports, as well as useful extras like call and SMS monitoring, YouTube monitoring, a panic button, and unlock protection. It’s also very easy to use, has excellent customer support, and offers affordable plans for up to 15 devices.
There are many parental control apps that claim they can keep your kids 100% safe online, but most of them aren’t able to fully address the needs of parents in 2023 — they either have buggy features, are complicated to set up and use on a daily basis, or are very easy to bypass or altogether disable.
To help you decide which parental control is just right for your family, I spent several months researching, testing, and comparing all of the parental control apps I could find, from hugely popular brands to brands that have just recently entered the market.
And I found 5 apps that are better than the rest — the parental control apps I recommend offer genuinely useful features for parents raising children in the digital age, have intuitive apps that make it easy for you to set rules and see what your kids are doing online, and offer an overall good value for both small and large families.
Quick summary of the best parental control apps in 2023:
- 1.🥇 Qustodio — Best overall parental control app for kids of all ages in 2023.
- 2.🥈 Net Nanny — Best for web filtering (with good screen time supervision).
- 3.🥉 Norton Family — Best for multiple devices or large families (unlimited connections).
- 4. Bark — Best for non-invasive monitoring (with excellent social media supervision).
- 5. FamiSafe — Best for teens (with unique driving safety monitoring).
- Comparison of the Best Parental Control Apps in 2023.
🥇 1. Qustodio — Best Parental Control App for Kids of All Ages in 2023
Qustodio has all of the features most parents need to protect their children from the dangers of the digital world, is the easiest and most intuitive app on this list, and offers reasonably-priced plans for both smaller and larger families. It’s not perfect, but it performed better in all of my stress tests than any other parental control app, and it also comes with useful extras that can help keep your children safer offline, too. In addition, Qustodio offers a wide range of customization options, so parents can adjust all of the features according to their kids’ ages and schedules.
Qustodio also has more parental control features, options, and settings than most competitors, including:
- Web & app filtering — choose which site categories or specific sites your children are able to access and set time limits or block specific apps.
- Screen time management — control how much time your children can spend online on a daily and weekly basis, create time limits for specific apps, and block access to their devices when the time screen allowance is up.
- Location tracking — see where your child is located at all times and create geofences of up to 0.12 miles or 200 meters.
- YouTube monitoring — see what your children search and watch on YouTube and manage how they use the app.
- Call & SMS monitoring — view your children’s calls and text messages and block specific contacts or incoming or outgoing calls.
- Panic button — your child can send an alert to trusted contacts if there’s an emergency or they’re in danger.
- Activity reports — view your child’s online activity, call and SMS history, location history, and more (there are daily, weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly reports).
- And more…
Qustodio’s web filtering is exceptionally good. It works on all popular web browsers, including Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Safari, and Amazon Silk Browser, but it also has the option to block unsupported browsers, so your kids can’t access inappropriate content on other browsers, like Tor or Opera. What’s more, unlike many parental control apps that can be bypassed with a virtual private network (VPN), Qustodio prevented me from accessing blocked sites even when I turned on a VPN.
I also like Qustodio’s location tracking feature, which doesn’t just show you where your child is in real-time but also displays a location timeline so you can see where they’ve been. You get location updates every 10 minutes, and you can even get directions to your child’s location on Google Maps (but this feature is only available on Android). Geofencing, which lets you set up a predefined zone and receive alerts when your child enters or leaves the zone, is also a nice bonus, but instead of getting notifications in real-time, you get them with a small delay. This is something I’d like to see improved, and I’d also like to see Qustodio increase its geofencing radius.
Qustodio has apps for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Chromebook, and Kindle, and there’s also a web app for parents for easier management. All of the apps are intuitive and user-friendly, and all of the features are easy to find, understand, and use, so even parents who’ve never used a parental control app before will have no issues getting used to it. That said, Qustodio provides a number of support channels for parents who encounter problems or have questions about the app. Apart from an excellent knowledge base with tutorials, video guides, and FAQs, there’s also a good ticketing system and phone support (only available in the US and not included in all plans).
There are several plans to choose from, including a decent but limited free plan and 3 premium plans. The free plan includes screen time management and web filtering for 1 device. The Small plan ($54.95 / year) adds coverage for up to 5 devices and access to the ticketing system. The Medium plan ($96.95 / year) adds coverage for up to 10 devices and includes phone support, whereas the Large plan ($137.95 / year) extends coverage to up to 15 devices. Qustodio offers a 3-day free trial, and all plans are backed by a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee, which gives you enough time to test it and see if it works for your family.
Qustodio is my favorite parental control app in 2023 — it’s feature-rich, highly customizable, easy to use, and works just as intended. Its web filter, time screen management, and location tracking are all excellent, and it comes with additional features like call and SMS monitoring and a panic button. There’s a free plan, a free trial, and 3 premium plans that start at $54.95 / year. All plans are covered by a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
🥈 2. Net Nanny — Best for Advanced Web Filtering (With Good Screen Time Management)
Net Nanny has one of the best web filters around — it analyzes sites in real-time, so it’s also able to block new pages that haven’t yet been blacklisted, and it also takes into account context, meaning it can distinguish between educational and inappropriate content on the same topic.
In addition to monitoring for 10+ categories of content, it also lets you set custom rules, monitor for as many keywords as you want, and force safe search on all popular browsers and YouTube. You can choose whether or not your child can access any of the preset content categories, and you can also allow access to a certain category but receive an alert when your kid accesses it. You can also add sites to a whitelist or blacklist regardless of whether they belong to a safe or unsafe website category.
In my tests, Net Nanny’s web filter performed exceptionally well on all browsers and devices. It blocked all mature, disturbing, and inappropriate content, even in incognito mode, and it couldn’t be bypassed with a VPN.
I also like Net Nanny’s app filter, although it’s not as good as Qustodio on iOS. Net Nanny can block any app on Android devices, but it can only block 120+ apps on iOS, compared to Qustodio which can block more than 9,000 apps!
Net Nanny’s screen time management features are also really good. Setting screen time limits and creating schedules is very easy, and I really like that you can plan your child’s schedule in 15-minute increments (better than Qustodio’s 1-hour increments). One minor downside is that app filtering doesn’t let you set time limits for specific apps (Qustodio does this).
When it comes to location tracking, I’d like to see Net Nanny significantly improve its geofencing feature. Namely, you can’t set up predefined areas and get alerts when your child enters or leaves them. Instead, you only get alerted when your kid arrives at or leaves a certain address. This isn’t good enough, especially when Norton Family lets you set up geofenced zones to 2 miles or 3,200 meters!
Net Nanny’s YouTube monitoring is decent, but it’s not as good as Qustodio’s — while Net Nanny can only monitor the YouTube site, Qustodio goes a step further and monitors the app as well. Net Nanny’s activity reports are pretty detailed, but again, they’re not as detailed as Qustodio (for example, Qustodio lets you see screen time for each app, whereas Net Nanny only allows you to see the total screen time).
Net Nanny is easy to use and works on Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, and Kindle Fire devices. Depending on the plan you choose, you can monitor up to 20 devices.
Priced at $54.99 / year, the Family Protection Pass for up to 5 devices is the best-value plan, but families with more devices should also check out the Family Protection Pass for 20 devices, which costs $89.99 / year. There’s also a plan for a single desktop device, but I don’t think it’s worth it. Net Nanny covers all plans with a 14-day money-back guarantee.
Net Nanny has an excellent web filter that scans sites in real-time, analyses the context of each page, and gives you plenty of customization options. Its time screen supervision features are easy to set up, simple to adjust, and work as intended, and its app monitoring on Android is also good, but it could use some improvement on iOS. I’d like to see Net Nanny add a proper geofencing feature and also improve its YouTube monitoring feature to monitor the app (and not just the site). Net Nanny is intuitive, provides good customer support, and offers 3 plans that cover 1-20 devices. All purchases are backed by a 14-day money-back guarantee.
🥉 3. Norton Family — Best for Monitoring Unlimited Devices (With Excellent Location Tracking)
Norton Family comes with a ton of filtering and tracking features, is simple to use, and lets you monitor an unlimited number of devices. Top competitors like Qustodio and Net Nanny limit the number of devices you can use their parental control apps on, so Norton Family is a really good choice for larger families (or if your kids have multiple devices).
In addition to providing all industry-standard parental control features, including web and app filtering, time limits and scheduling, and location tracking, Norton Family also has:
- School Time — for setting up specific web filtering and time management rules that only apply to school hours.
- Search Supervision — for monitoring your child’s searches on Google, Bing, Ask, Yahoo, and Youtube (only the site, not the app).
- Video Supervision — for keeping track of the videos your child watches on YouTube and Hulu (only the sites).
Norton’s content filtering works really well. It’s excellent at blocking inappropriate content, it’s easy to set up both web and app filters, and it can’t be bypassed with a VPN.
I really like Norton Family’s time management and location tracking features. Setting up time limits and schedules is very easy, and there’s also an option for kids to ask for more screen time, which isn’t something all competitors offer (Qustodio and Net Nanny don’t have this). But like Net Nanny, Norton also doesn’t support time limits for specific apps. As for location tracking, you can see your child’s location in real-time, set up geofences that cover a whopping 2 miles or 3,200 meters, get notified of your child’s location at a predefined time, and even request a check-in from your kid.
Search Supervision and Video Supervision performed great during testing, but they’re pretty limited on mobile, only tracking searches on the in-app Norton Family browser — you can block other browsers, but I’d prefer to see Norton track searches in popular browsers such as Chrome and Firefox as well. The same goes for School Time.
However, my biggest complaints with Norton Family are that it doesn’t work on macOS and that many of its features can easily be disabled on Windows — your kid only needs to delete the browser extension (though you will get notified if this happens).
Norton Family is very affordable (only $49.99 / year), and you can get it for free as part of Norton’s excellent 360 Deluxe internet security package — priced at $49.99 / year, this plan is the best antivirus plan on the market, and it comes with a firewall, web protection, device optimization tools, a password manager, a virtual private network (VPN), dark web monitoring, and much more, for up to 5 Android, iOS, Windows, and macOS devices. Norton’s parental control app is also included with Norton 360 Advanced, which adds coverage for up to 10 devices for $54.99 / year, but this plan isn’t available in all locations. All Norton purchases are backed by a generous 60-day money-back guarantee.
Norton Family is feature-rich, intuitive, and allows you to monitor an unlimited number of devices. It worked well during most of my tests, and I’m particularly impressed with its time management and location tracking features. However, there are some things Norton Family could improve. I’d like to see Norton develop a parental control app for macOS, improve some of its features on mobile, including School Time, Search Supervision, and Video Supervision, and find a way to prevent kids from disabling its browser extensions on Windows. Norton Family is affordable, and you can get it as a standalone purchase or as part of Norton’s advanced internet security plans. All Norton plans are backed by a risk-free 60-day money-back guarantee.
4. Bark — Best for Non-Invasive Monitoring With Excellent Social Media Supervision
Bark is the least invasive parental control app on this list — unlike top competitors, it doesn’t let you see everything your child does online, but instead only alerts you when it detects something potentially problematic or concerning.
It monitors emails, text messages, photos, videos, and web browsing, as well as 30+ popular apps and social media platforms, including Instagram, TikTok, Kik, Skype, Discord, Snapchat, and Reddit. It uses machine learning to scan for a wide range of potential issues, like violence, sexual content, profanity, and other inappropriate content, and it lets you adjust sensitivity levels for each of these issues.
Bark also lets you block certain apps and websites, and you can also enable safe search on web browsers and restricted mode on YouTube. I really like that you can set different rules for different times of the day, so you can, for example, block social media apps during school time but allow access in the evenings.
One area where I’d like to see Bark improve is screen time management. Namely, unlike Qustodio which allows you to set time limits and create detailed schedules, Bark only lets you set web and app filtering rules that apply to specific time periods.
I’d also like to see Bark add more functionality to its location tracking feature. Instead of showing your child’s location on a map in real-time (like Qustodio and Net Nanny), it only lets you send a notification to your child requesting a live check-in. This is a decent solution for older kids, but parents of younger children may be better off with a parental control app that has live location tracking on a map, location history, and geofencing.
When it comes to ease of use, Bark is one of the most intuitive parental control apps on the market, with Android, iOS, and ChromeOS (for kids only) apps that are very simple to install and set up. There’s also a desktop app, but it’s only really used for setting up the kids’ iOS app, and you need to use browser extensions for web filtering on your children’s Windows or macOS devices.
As for customer support, Bark has several support channels, including good email support and detailed tutorials and FAQs. There’s no phone support or live chat, although there is a chatbot that’s useful for basic queries.
Bark offers 2 plans, including Bark Jr. and Bark Premium. Bark Premium includes all of the features mentioned above for $99.00 / year, whereas Bark Jr. ($49.00 / year) doesn’t have content filtering, which makes it pretty useless for most parents. Both plans let you install the app on as many devices as you want, which is pretty generous, but there’s no money-back guarantee.
Bark is a non-invasive parental control app that monitors 30+ popular social media sites and other apps — it connects directly to your child’s accounts, and it sends alerts if it detects anything problematic. It also lets you block apps and sites, set rules that apply to specific time periods, and request a live check-in from your child. However, since it doesn’t let you see everything your child is doing online, doesn’t let you set time limits or create schedules, or doesn’t have live tracking or geofencing, it’s more suitable for older kids that have more freedom online and don’t need as much supervision as kids who are still learning how to use the internet. There are 2 plans to choose from, but there’s no free trial or money-back guarantee.
5. FamiSafe — Best for Older Kids (With Driving Safety Monitoring)
FamiSafe lets you monitor your child’s driving habits and make sure they’re driving safely and responsibly. It provides detailed driving reports that include average/highest speeds, distance, time spent driving, and even things like the number of times speeding and the number of hard brakes.
In addition, with FamiSafe, you can receive alerts when your child is driving dangerously — for example, you can set the maximum speed you’d like them to drive and get alerted every time they exceed that speed.
In my tests, FamiSafe’s drive safety feature worked just as intended, and the reports I received were very accurate, detailed, and simple to read and understand.
While I’d primarily recommend FamiSafe for older kids who’ve just started driving, it’s also a good choice for younger children. It has all of the industry-standard parental control features you need to ensure your child’s online safety, and most of them work well, although I wasn’t impressed with the app monitoring feature — it’s supposedly able to monitor and block apps like YouTube and TikTok on mobile, but it performed poorly in all tests.
When it comes to location tracking, FamiSafe is one of the best on the market. When I tested it, it displayed my test phone’s location in real-time with perfect accuracy, and it allowed me to set geofenced areas of up to 0.62 miles or 1,000 meters, which is pretty good (better than Qustodio, but worse than Norton Family).
But what makes FamiSafe’s location tracking really stand out is that it also allows kids to see their parents’ location. To view your location, all your child needs to do is send a request, and after you grant permission, they’ll be able to see where you are. This is great if you’re meeting your kids at an unknown place.
FamiSafe is also very easy to use, with apps for all major operating systems, plus Chromebook and Kindle Fire. Its customer support is very good as well, offering an excellent live chat and a particularly detailed knowledge base.
There are several premium plans to choose from, and the only difference between them is the subscription length and the number of devices they can cover. The monthly plan costs $10.99 / month and provides coverage on up to 5 devices, whereas the quarterly ($20.99) and annual ($60.99 / year) plans cover up to 10 devices.
All of the plans are covered with a 7-day money-back guarantee, which is ok for testing it, but brands like Qustodio and Net Nanny offer 30-day money-back guarantees (and Norton Family has a 60-day refund policy).
FamiSafe comes with a unique driving safety monitoring feature that lets you view how your child is behaving on the road. It also comes with all industry-standard parental control features, and its location tracking is exceptionally well. In addition to allowing you to track your child’s location, it also lets your child request and view your location. FamiSafe is easy to use and offers several affordable plans that all include a 7-day money-back guarantee.
Comparison of the Best Parental Control Apps
|Parental control||Starting price||Standout Features||Number of devices||Free Plan||Money-Back Guarantee|
|1.🥇 Qustodio||$54.95 / year||Web filtering, YouTube monitoring, panic button||5-15||✅||30 days|
|2. 🥈 Net Nanny||$39.99 / year||Web filtering, time screen supervision||1-20||❌||14 days|
|3. 🥉 Norton Family||$49.99 / year||Location tracking||Unlimited||❌||60 days|
|4. Bark||$5.00 / month||Social media monitoring||Unlimited||❌||❌|
|5. FamiSafe||$10.99 / month||Driving safety monitoring, Parent location tracking||5-10||✅||7 days|
How Do Parental Control Apps Work
Parental control apps are used to monitor a child’s online and offline activity — they can block your child from viewing certain websites and apps, limit how much time they spend on their devices, track the location of their devices in real-time, and more.
That said, no two apps are exactly the same. Some apps are better suited for younger children that are still learning how to safely navigate the often challenging online world, whereas others are better for older kids that don’t require constant supervision.
Every good parental app should have the following features:
- Web & app filter. With this feature, you can choose which websites and apps your child is allowed to access. In addition to allowing you to set rules for specific sites, you should also be able to allow or block specific website categories. Net Nanny’s web filters are particularly good, Qustodio’s app filter is the best around, and Bark is also an excellent choice for monitoring 30+ social media apps and platforms (and getting alerts if your child sends/receives problematic messages, images, and video).
- Screen time management. This allows you to control when and how long your children can be on their devices, create daily and weekly schedules, and more. Qustodio has excellent screen time management, letting you set screen time allowance and restrict specific time periods, and Norton Family enables you to use its predefined time limits based on your child’s age, plus it also has School Time, which allows you to create web usage rules during school hours.
- Location tracking. You can track the location of your child’s device. Qustodio and Norton Family let you see where your child is in real-time (on a map), view where they’ve been, and set predefined geofenced zones. Bark’s location tracking is a little less invasive, allowing you to request a check-in from your child and also alerting you when they arrive at or leave a specific address.
- Activity reports. With this feature, you can see what your kids have been doing online. Some brands like Qustodio and Net Nanny provide very detailed activity reports so you can easily see your child’s online activity, whereas brands like Bark only send you alerts when it detects a potential issue (without providing insight about everything your child does on the internet).
- Additional features. Some parental control apps also provide extra features that can give you additional peace of mind. For instance, Qustodio also has call and SMS monitoring (which lets you see who’s calling your child and who they’re calling and read the content of their text messages), a panic button (which your child can use to send an alert to a trusted contact), and uninstall protection (which prevents your child from uninstalling the app on their devices).
How to Choose the Best Parental Control App for Your Family
- Industry-standard features. A good parental control app needs to have web and app filters (to block inappropriate content), screen time and scheduling controls (to limit how much time children can spend online), location tracking (to know where your children are at all times), and activity reports (to easily keep track of what your children are doing online). All the parental controls on this list come with these industry-standard features, and they all performed well during extensive stress testing.
- Additional features. Not all parental controls are the same. Some were created for younger children, whereas some are more suitable for pre-teens and teens. Depending on your children’s age, you should also take into account an app’s extra tools. Out of all the parental control apps on this list, Qustodio has the most additional features — it has comprehensive YouTube monitoring, call and SMS monitoring, and even an SOS button.
- Ease of use. A parental control app needs to be user-friendly and intuitive. Even if you’re tech-savvy, you want to be able to quickly and easily manage and monitor your children’s internet usage. All of the brands I recommend have easy-to-use apps for parents that allow you to use all of their features and tweak all of their settings without any difficulties whatsoever.
- Customer support. If you’re unable to figure out how something works or are having problems with a specific feature, you want to be able to quickly resolve the issue. The parental control apps I recommend offer various support channels, including detailed guides and FAQs, email support, and even live chat. I contacted each company’s customer support team and I was happy with how they handled my requests and solved my problems. In some cases (like with Qustodio), I didn’t even need to contact customer support as I could find all of the answers to my questions in the knowledge base.
- Overall value. To make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, you need to take into account whether a parental control app has all the features your family needs, how many platforms and devices it covers, and whether it offers a free trial or risk-free money-back guarantee. Qustodio has a free plan, free trial, and 30-day money-back guarantee, whereas Norton Family has a 30-day free trial and a generous 60-day money-back guarantee.
Top Brands That Didn’t Make the Cut
- Google Family Link. Google Family Link is a 100% free parental control app, but it’s missing most of the features and settings I want to see in a premium parental control app in 2023. Plus, it only works on Android and Chromebook, it’s not very easy to use, and your child can turn off all monitoring once they’re 13 years old.
- KidLogger. KidLogger has decent web and app monitoring, but it’s also too invasive, as it takes screenshots of your kid’s screen. It also doesn’t let you set screen time limits, which is important for preventing screen addiction, and it’s pretty difficult to use when compared to the best parental control apps on the market.
- Apple’s Screen Time. Apple’s Screen Time isn’t bad, but it has a couple of major downsides — it only works on Apple devices, and it’s easy to bypass several of its features, including screen time limits and app monitoring.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can parental controls do?
The best parental controls on the market can let you choose which sites and site categories your child can access, which apps they can use, and how much time they can spend on their devices. They also allow you to see your child’s location in real-time and provide you with detailed activity reports about your kid’s online behavior.
Qustodio, my favorite parental control app in 2023, has all of these features, plus call and SMS monitoring, an SOS button your child can activate in case of an emergency, YouTube monitoring (both the site and the app), unlock protection, and much more.
Which parental control app is the best?
Qustodio is the best parental control app in 2023. In addition to providing industry-standard features like web and app filtering, time supervision, location tracking, and activity reports, it also has call and SMS monitoring, YouTube monitoring, geofencing, a panic button, and uninstall protection. It’s also very easy to use, offers excellent customer support, and supports 5-15 devices, which should be enough for most families. Qustodio also has the best free plan on the market, 3 affordable premium plans, and a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
What’s the best parental control for YouTube?
Qustodio is the best parental control for YouTube, as it provides monitoring both for the YouTube site and the YouTube app. Top competitors like Net Nanny and Norton Family can only monitor the site, which isn’t very useful, as most kids nowadays watch YouTube on the app.
Are parental controls effective?
It depends on which parental control app you get. The top parental controls on the market, like Qustodio, Net Nanny, and Norton Family, can ensure your child is only accessing appropriate sites and apps, prevent screen addiction, show you their location on a map at all times, and provide regular activity reports about their online activities. Qustodio also has useful extra features like call and SMS monitoring and a Panic Button, which enables your child to call for help with a tap of the button.
Are parental controls harmful?
No. While some people may argue that using parental controls is the same as spying on your kids, these apps can help you keep your child safe online and teach them how to responsibly surf the web. Your kids may not like the restrictions that come with parental controls, but it’s better that they’re upset because you’re monitoring their online activities than for them to be exposed to inappropriate content, develop screen addiction, or fall victim to one of the many online dangers. If you want to ensure your kid is safe online, I recommend downloading Qustodio (it has a 3-day free trial and 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it risk-free), and talking to your children about responsible online behavior.
Should I let my kids know that I’m monitoring their devices?
I think you should. Having an open conversation with your kids about why you’re monitoring their devices can strengthen your relationship, build trust between you, and lead to more conversations about how to use the internet in a safe and responsible way.
That said, there may be cases where it’s better not to tell your child that you’ve installed parental controls on their devices (for example, if your teen is exhibiting concerning behavior and is distancing themselves from you).
Ultimately, you know what is best for your family, but don’t start doubting your decision to use parental controls as they can give you both insight into what your child is doing on the internet (and whether they are being responsible online) and peace of mind that they aren’t in any danger — or that you can help if they do get in trouble.
Are there any free parental control apps?
Yes, there are free parental control apps, but they’re usually pretty bad. Most free parental controls either hide their best features behind a paywall, so you can’t really make sure your kids are safe online, or gather and sell user data, which is a huge violation of user privacy.
But if you only want a free parental control app, I recommend checking the programs on this list. Qustodio has the best free plan on the market, as it comes with web filtering, screen time supervision, scheduling, and activity reports. However, it can be used on just 1 device. Upgrading to Qustodio’s paid plans brings support for up to 15 devices, app filtering, call and text monitoring, and much more. Qustodio also has a 3-day free trial, which unlocks all of its premium features, and a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.