How to Track My Child’s Phone Without Them Knowing for Free

Updated on: May 13, 2024
Fact Checked by Eric Goldstein
Kristel van Hoof Kristel van Hoof
Updated on: May 13, 2024 Writer

3 Steps (Quick & Easy) to Track Your Child’s Phone Without Them Knowing:

  1. Install a parental control app. Google Family Link and Apple’s built-in parental controls are free and good for tracking and monitoring some of your kid’s activities. But I recommend mSpy — it’s not free, but it has affordable plans that offer useful features to track your child’s phone, such as social media monitoring, without them knowing about it.
  2. Set up the provider’s kids app on your child’s phone. You’ll have to give the app all the permissions it requests to be able to track your kid’s phone.
  3. Start tracking your child’s phone. You can now see what your kid is doing on their phone and where they are.

Using a parental controls app is the best way to monitor your kid’s phone with them knowing, but finding one that lets you do that isn’t exactly easy. Most parental control apps come with apps for kids, and there’s no way to supervise their phone without installing and keeping the app on your kid’s phone. A lot of them also send notifications to your child’s device when you set restrictions or let your child know that restricted content on their phone has been banned by someone monitoring their device.

Free options are available on Android and iOS, but they’re not easy to hide, either. You’ll not only need access to your kid’s phone and email address, but you’ll also have to turn off notifications from certain apps on their phone that would alert them of your monitoring. On top of that, you’ll have to make sure that you’re not putting any restrictions that would tip off your kid, like time limits.

My favorite parental control app for tracking you kid’s phone without them knowing is mSpy, but it’s not free. Unlike the free alternatives, there’s no way for your kid to discover they’re being monitored with mSpy, as the app hides itself on your kid’s phone. Plus, it comes with extra features that let you see your child’s social media accounts, location history, browser history, call log and text message, app usage, and more. The only disadvantage is that it requires jailbreaking or rooting your child’s device for most of its features to work. This essentially means gaining privileged access to the device’s core system, which creates security vulnerabilities.

If you still insist on using a free app, I review Google and Apple’s free parental controls and explain how to use them without your kid’s knowledge.

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Risks & Disadvantages of Using Free Parental Controls

Free parental control apps offer some benefits, but it comes with several risks and disadvantages, too, including:

  • Limited features. Free parental control apps often offer fewer features and functionalities compared to paid ones. This means you will be able to see some of your kid’s phone activities but may not have access to everything.
  • Privacy concerns. Some free apps collect and may potentially misuse your child’s data or your data for advertising or other purposes, compromising your family’s privacy.
  • Ineffective blocking. Free parental controls are often much easier to get around, especially if your kid is tech savvy.
  • Less support and updates. Free apps typically receive fewer regular updates or include customer support, leaving you without assistance if you encounter issues or need help configuring the software.
  • Ads and distractions. A lot of free parental control apps include ads, which can be distracting for both you and your child. These ads may also link to potentially harmful websites or content.
  • Unreliable performance. Free apps may suffer from performance issues, such as slowing down your child’s device or causing crashes, which can be frustrating for both you and your child.

Are There Other Ways to Track Your Child’s Phone for Free?

There are ways to track your child’s phone for free, from using built-in device features to apps specifically made for monitoring. However, keep in mind that for most of these methods, your child will know that you’re keeping an eye on them.

  1. Android’s Built-in Settings (Find My Device). Android’s “Find My Device” feature allows you to locate your child’s phone on a map, remotely lock it, or erase data in case of loss or theft. Your child can enable this feature in their device settings, and you can track it using your Google account.
  2. iPhone’s Built-in Settings. Apple’s “Find My iPhone” lets you see your child’s location and remotely lock it.
  3. Location-sharing options on Google Maps. Google Maps allows your child to share their real-time location with their Google contacts. This is a convenient way to keep tabs on your child’s whereabouts without the need for a dedicated parental control app.
  4. Free built-in parental controls in apps. Some popular apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video offer built-in parental control features, allowing parents to set content restrictions and monitor viewing history. Others like Snapchat include location sharing for example.
  5. Spyware (not recommended). While some spyware options are free, we strongly discourage the use of spyware. It can damage trust between you and your child, it invades their privacy, can lead to conflicts and strained relationships, and it is even illegal in some countries. Instead, involving your child in discussions about online safety and responsible phone use are a better ways to ensure that your kids stay safe online.

Google Family Link — Best Free Parental Control for Tracking Your Child’s Device Without Them Knowing on Android

Google Family Link allows you to supervise your kid’s Android for free without their knowledge. This includes seeing how much time they spend on their device and apps, blocking apps on their phone, deciding what apps they can see and download from the Google Play Store and what your kid can do with Google Assistant, and turning on YouTube Restricted Mode.

Keep in mind that you’ll need access to your child’s device and email to set it up. Plus, you’ll have to be careful not to set any parental controls, like time limits, that could tip off your kid that you’re monitoring their device.

Family Link blocks apps on your kid’s phone and hides inappropriate YouTube content discreetly. It doesn’t notify your kid that you’ve blocked an app — the app will simply disappear from their phone. And if you turn YouTube Restricted Mode on, Family Link will simply filter out potentially mature content from results, without alerting your kid that the content they’re seeing is restricted.

Similarly, Family Link lets you prevent your child from using Google Assistant or set it up so they only get answers to family-friendly questions like weather and math on all devices that your kid uses. If your kid asks something, the Google Assistant will stay quiet.

But there’s no way to block sites or filter content in Google Chrome without your kid knowing. When they visit a blocked site, Family Link leads your kid to a screen that says the content they’re trying to access has been blocked by their account’s supervisor. You can block sites with paid alternatives like mSpy and Eyezy.

Family Link shares your child’s location on Google Maps when they’re using their phone without them knowing. You can add geofencing zones, like school or a friend’s house, of between 200 meters and 400 meters and get notifications when your child arrives or leaves them. Unfortunately, unlike mSpy, it doesn’t provide location history.

I really like that it lets you decide what type of content your kid sees in the Google Play Store. You set content restrictions for apps and games based on age rating (PEGI 3 – PEGI 18), movies (PG– NC-17), and even restrict sexually explicit books from showing up in the search results. Your kid won’t receive any notifications that you’ve banned this content — Google just automatically removes it from the results.

Its activity reports are great as well. It shows you how much time your kid spends on their phone daily, the average time they spend on it weekly, and time spent on individual apps. You can also check what apps they’ve recently installed on their phone.

Overall, Family Link is decent, but you have to go through great lengths to hide your monitoring. For example, you’ll have to remove the Parental Control app that Google installs on their phone when you link your device to theirs, delete the emails Family Link sends to their email account that you’ve set up parental controls, and turn off notifications from Google Play Services — which alert your kid whenever you set or change a restriction. If your kid is tech savvy and starts going through their phone’s settings, they may be able to figure out that you’re supervising their phone. For comparison, mSpy and Eyezy are completely invisible after you set them up.

How to Set Up Google Family Link

  • Step 1. Download the app. Install the Google Family Link app on your device from your device’s Google Play Store.
  • Step 2. Create your family group. Open the app and follow the on-screen instructions to create your family group. You will need to have a Google Account to proceed. If your child does not have a Google Account yet, create one for them during this step.
  • Step 3. Link your child’s device. Follow the prompts in the app to send an invitation to your child’s device. You’ll need to accept the invitation on their device.
  • Step 4. Start tracking. You can now start tracking your child’s screen time, location, installed apps, and more.

Apple’s Family Sharing — Best Free Parental Control for Tracking Your Child’s Device Without Them Knowing on iOS

Apple’s Family Sharing offers a free way to monitor your child’s phone discreetly. It allows you to see their location, block pre-installed iOS apps, monitor their screen time, see the amount of notifications and what apps they’re coming from, and even check how often your child picks up their phone.

However, you’ll need your child’s device and their iCloud credentials to set it up. Once you complete the setup, though, your child will receive a notification on their device saying that it’s being monitored. In order to track the device without your child knowing, you’ll have to delete the notification.

Family Sharing allows you to see your child’s location without sending them a notification that you’re checking. As long as you’ve turned on location sharing on your child’s phone, you’ll be able to see exactly where they are in the Find My app. Unfortunately, there’s no location history like with mSpy.

Its Screen Time tab allows you to see weekly and daily activity reports. You can track how much time your child is spending on their device and what apps they have been using. In addition, it allows you to see how often your child picks up their phone and what app they opened first after picking up the phone. I like that I could track the amount of notifications and from which apps these notifications came from.

Another option I like is the ability to block pre-installed iOS apps in your kid’s phone. Family Sharing doesn’t send your kid any notification when you block the app — it’ll just disappear from their app list and the app store when you restrict it.

Unfortunately, you can’t filter content discreetly with Family Sharing. When your kids try to access a blocked site for example, Family Sharing shows a screen saying that the site is blocked. Top parental control apps like mSpy and Eyezy allow you to set web filters without your child knowing.

In short, Family Sharing requires a lot of effort to ensure that your tracking stays undetected. You’ll have to be careful to turn off any pre-set restrictions like content restrictions or avoid features like time limits to make sure your child doesn’t know you’re tracking them. Plus, your child will be able to see that they’re part of a Family if they go to the settings and can also figure out you’re monitoring their device if they start poking around in settings. Paid parental controls like mSpy and Eyezy allow you to monitor your child’s device without them knowing.

How To Set Up Apple’s Built-In Parental Controls

  • Step 1. Create a Family Sharing group. Navigate to Settings on your iPhone or iPad and tap the Family option. From there, select Family Sharing and follow the on-screen instructions to set up the group.
  • Step 2. Add your kid. Tap Family Sharing again and select Create an Account for a Child. If your kid doesn’t have an Apple ID yet, create one for them while adding them to your Family Sharing group.
  • Step 3. Start tracking. You can now start tracking your child’s screen time, location, phone pickups, and more.

Alternatives: Apps That Let You Monitor Your Kid Without Them Knowing But Aren’t Free

The free options are decent, but a tech-savvy kid might realize you’re monitoring them. Even if they don’t, you still won’t be able to use some great features, like content restrictions, to avoid your kid from finding out you’re tracking their phone. And if they do, they might find a way to bypass your restrictions without you noticing.

For this reason, I’ve also included some top paid parental apps that can track your child’s phone without them knowing and are difficult to bypass.

Quick summary of the best parental controls for tracking your child’s phone without them knowing:

  • 🥇 1. mSpy — Best parental control app in 2024 for tracking your child’s phone without them knowing.
  • 🥈 2. Eyezy — Good for checking your kid’s media files on their phone without their knowledge.

🥇1. mSpy — Best Parental Control for Tracking Your Child’s Device Without Them Knowing

Approved by our experts
mSpy
Approved by our experts
Most readers pick mSpy
Web filtering
Good
OS compatibility
Money-back guarantee
N/A
mspy.com

mSpy is the best parental control to track your kid’s phone without them knowing. It allows you to see the apps your child has and the activities they’re doing on their phone. Although it requires access to your kid’s phone for the installation, there’s no trace of the app on your child’s phone once you set it up — it doesn’t leave an app icon behind or send notifications that would reveal to your kid that you’re monitoring them.

Its web supervision and social media tools let you see everything your kid is doing online. I was able to view my child’s browser bookmarks, monitor visited websites, and see their entire browsing history, as well as block sites I didn’t want them to see without them knowing — all mSpy showed on their browser was a blank page. In my tests, mSpy worked with all popular social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, and showed me my kid’s conversations on these apps.

mSpy’s location tracking feature impressed me during my testing, as it consistently provided accurate information about my child’s device location. I was impressed to see it offers a geofencing feature, too, which alters you when your child enters or leaves specific areas — you can use this feature to track your child at school or his extra curricular activities.

I’m a huge fan of its social media monitoring feature. It tracks your child’s messages, images, and contacts on a wide range of social media apps and shows them on your dashboard. It similarly monitors your child’s calls and text messages. However, keep in mind that mSpy’s social media monitoring on iOS devices is limited to Whatsapp and iMessages.

mSpy has a screen recorder that takes screenshots of your kid’s phone whenever there’s a change in an app on your child’s Android device (such as receiving a new notification or message). There’s a keylogger feature, as well, which records everything your child types on their phone, from SMS messages to browser activities. You can even configure the app to notify you when your kid uses specific words or phrases.

A downside is that a lot of these features require jailbreaking or rooting your child’s device. Rooting (for Android devices) and jailbreaking (for iOS devices) involve removing software restrictions and gaining privileged access to a device’s core system. This creates security vulnerabilities, voids warranties, limits official updates, and may even lead to potential data loss.

mSpy offers 4 subscription plans: The Premium ($11.67 / month) and Family Pack ($11.67 / month) offer comprehensive monitoring features for 1 device and 3 devices, respectively, with subscription options of 1 month, 3 months, or 12 months. Additionally, mSpy has mobile-specific plans, iOS Ultimate ($23.99 / month) and Android Extreme ($23.99 / month) that come with extra features like call recording and remote access to the camera and microphone. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer a free trial or money-back guarantee.

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Bottom Line:

mSpy is the best parental control app to track your child’s phone without them knowing — it doesn’t leave an app icon on your kid’s phone or send notifications that would let your kid know you’re monitoring them. It’s my No. 1 pick here because it offers complete insight into your child’s device. It allows you to see their social media accounts and activity, everything they’re doing on the web, their texts and emails, and track their location. mSpy also logs everything your kid types on their phone and takes screenshots of your kid’s phone to make sure you don’t miss anything. Unfortunately, its plans don’t come with a free trial or money-back guarantee.

Read the full mSpy review

🥈2. Eyezy — Track Your Kids’ Media Files Without Them Knowing

Web filtering
Good
OS compatibility
Money-back guarantee
N/A
eyezy.com

Eyezy lets you see discreetly every photo, video, and app installed on your kid’s device. Once you set up the app on your child’s device, it hides itself as an app called “Update Service” and does nothing when your kid taps on it.

Its File Finder feature showed me every app and media file on my kid’s device, including photos, videos, and documents, which was impressive. I was also able to see my kid’s entire contact list and all of their incoming and outgoing calls via its Phone Analyzer feature.

I really like that it provides unrestricted access to your child’s social media conversations on popular apps like Whatsapp, Snapchat, and Instagram Direct. Eyezy monitors your kid’s texts and emails, too, so you’ll be up to date on all of their conversations and the people they talk to online.

Eyezy blocks sites without alerting your kid — when your kid tries to access the blocked site, they’ll just see a blank page. Plus, you’ll be able to see their entire browsing history, including visited websites, timestamps, and durations, as well as bookmarked websites.

In addition to a screen recorder and a keylogger, Eyezy has a keyword tracker, too, which notifies you when your kid uses certain words and where so you can tell if they were searching for content related to it. Like everything else, these features work discreetly in the background and when I tested them, they all worked as advertised. The only complaint I have is that they’re less intuitive than mSpy’s as the screenshots and words Eyezy logs are poorly organized.

You get a location tracker but only if you pay extra for it (mSpy includes this for free). Eyezy claims to have live location tracking and a sound recorder on the location app, but unfortunately, these features didn’t work very well in my tests.

Eyezy requires rooting or jailbreaking your kid’s device, making it less user-friendly. Not only is this a difficult process, but it also compromises the security of your child’s device. Eyezy gives you the option to use the app without rooting or jailbreaking your child’s phone but you won’t be able to use most of its features.

Eyezy offers plans starting at $7.99 / month. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide a free plan, free trial, or a money-back guarantee.

Bottom Line:

Eyezy lets you track all apps and media on your child’s device without them knowing — the app disguises itself after you set it up, and there’s no indication that it’s working in the background. It lets you see and read all of their social media conversations, texts, and emails, and you can even block sites without tipping your kid off (they’ll just see a blank screen) and get notified when your kid’s using certain words. However, it’s plans don’t come with a money-back guarantee, and there isn’t a free plan or free trial.

Read the full Eyezy review

Quick Comparison Table

Parental Control Starting Price Social Media Monitoring Screen Recorder Keylogger Location Tracking Money-Back Guarantee/ Free Trial
Google Family Link Free
Apple’s Family Sharing Free
mSpy $7.08 / month
Eyezy $7.99 / month

How to Choose the Best Parental Controls for Tracking Your Child’s Phone Without Them Knowing in 2024

  • Opt for parental controls that operate discreetly. Most of Microsoft and Apple’s free built-in apps operate quietly in the background but your kid may figure out you’re monitoring their phone via the settings on their phone. Parental control apps like mSpy make sure your kid doesn’t know you have access to their phone.
  • Look for a parental control app with a wide range of monitoring features. Ensure that the app comes with essential features such as tracking your kid’s web activity, app usage, and location. Also, many premium parental control apps offer advanced features like social media monitoring and text and call tracking.
  • Choose a product that’s easy to set up and use. Test the setup process to ensure it’s straightforward, especially if you have limited technical knowledge. That said, keep in mind that parental control apps that operate like surveillance apps require some extra steps for the setup process.
  • Ensure the tracking features work on both Android and iOS devices. Many parental controls offer certain features that only work on Android or iOS. Be sure to check if the features you’re looking for are compatible with your child’s device.
  • Look for a parental control app that offers good value. Microsoft and Apple’s free built-in controls are decent but I prefer affordable parental control apps like mSpy and Eyezy — they offer a lot more features that make it easy to monitor your kid without their knowledge.

Pros & Cons of Tracking Your Child’s Phone Without Them Knowing

Benefits of tracking a child’s phone:

  • Safety. The primary benefit of tracking your child’s device is to ensure their safety. You can locate them quickly in emergencies or if they go missing, providing peace of mind for parents.
  • Protect them from risky behavior. By monitoring your child’s online activities, you can protect them from cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and online predators.
  • Early warning signs. Monitoring their communication might help you figure out if your kid is struggling with something, like substance abuse, which will allow you to intervene early.

Cons and ethical implications:

  • Invasion of privacy. Tracking a child’s phone without their knowledge or consent is an invasion of their privacy, which can lead to trust issues if your child finds out.
  • Conflict and resentment. If your child discovers that you’re secretly tracking them, it might lead to conflicts and resentment, which can potentially damage your relationship with your child.
  • Ignoring other aspects of parenting. Constant tracking might lead to an over-dependence on technology, causing you to ignore other crucial aspects of child-raising, including direct communication and fostering a relationship based on trust and understanding.
  • Parental anxiety. Knowing every detail of your child’s life can create a perpetual state of anxiety and worry for you.
  • Legal concerns. In some jurisdictions, tracking a child’s phone without consent may have legal implications..

Overall, I recommend communicating openly with your child about why and how you’re tracking their phone. This gives you an opportunity to educate your child about the dangers of the online world and to create awareness regarding responsible digital behavior.

How to Openly Discuss Tracking Your Child’s Phone

Discussing the use of parental controls with your children is crucial for maintaining trust while ensuring their safety online. Here are some tips for parents on how to approach this conversation:

  • Be honest and open. Start the conversation by explaining your intentions honestly and emphasizing that your primary concern is their safety and well-being online.
  • Emphasize trust. Let your child know that you trust them, but parental controls are in place to protect them from potential online dangers, not to spy on them.
  • Explain the purpose. Clearly state why you want to use parental controls, such as managing screen time, preventing access to inappropriate content, or monitoring their online activities for safety.
  • Involve your kids in the process. Whenever possible, include your child in setting up parental controls. Discuss and agree on rules, time limits, and the types of content they should avoid.
  • Respect your kid’s feelings. Be attentive to their reactions and feelings. If they express discomfort or resistance, acknowledge their concerns and address them openly.
  • Educate your kids about online safety. Teach your child about online risks like cyberbullying, scams, and inappropriate content. This helps them to understand why you’d track their phone.
  • Regular check-ins. Let your child know that you’ll periodically review and discuss the settings and restrictions to ensure they’re appropriate and effective.
  • Maintain open communication. Encourage your child to come to you with any concerns, questions, or issues they encounter online. Assure them that they won’t be punished for sharing their experiences.
  • Lead by example. Model responsible digital behavior. Show them how you manage your own screen time and navigate the online world responsibly.

The key to a successful conversation about parental controls is trust and understanding. By involving your child, explaining your intentions, and maintaining open communication, you can strike a balance between ensuring their online safety and respecting their privacy.

Top Brands That Didn’t Make the Cut

  • Qustodio. Allows you to monitor calls & SMS, as well as their YouTube activities. However, you’ll have to install an app on your kids’ device, meaning that you can’t track their phone without them knowing.
  • Norton Family. This is a really good parental control app that comes with features such as screen time limits and social media monitoring. However, it comes with a kid’s app and sends kids notifications about what they can and can’t access, so your kid will know you’re monitoring them.
  • Bark. Bark is great for monitoring your kid’s social media accounts and media files for inappropriate and concerning content. However, like Qustodio and Norton Family, you’ll have to install an app on your kid’s device so they’ll know you’re tracking them.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I track my kids’ location for free without them knowing?

The best way to track your kid’s location for free is with a good parental control app. Both Google’s Family Link and Apple’s Family Sharing app allow you to see your child’s current location as long as you’ve enabled the GPS on their phone and they have an internet connection.

But if you want better location tracking features without your kid knowing, I recommend opting for a paid parental control app like mSpy and Eyezy. They not only let you see your kid’s location but also keep track of your child’s location history and alert you when your child arrives or leaves predefined zones, like school or a friend’s home.

What’s the best free app to track my child without their knowledge?

That depends on the type of device they’re using. If your kid has an Android device, then you should consider Google’s Family Link — it lets you see your child’s location without tipping them off. If your child uses an iOS device, then I recommend Apple’s Family Sharing app, which works the same way as Family Link’s location tracking feature. The only downside to these 2 apps is that a tech-savvy kid may be able to figure out you’re tracking them through their device’s settings.

If you truly want to hide your monitoring from your child, I suggest checking out paid alternatives like mSpy. There’s no trace of them on your kid’s phone once you set them up and on top of location tracking, they include location history and a geofencing feature.

How can I monitor my child’s phone in real-time for free without them knowing?

You can monitor your kid’s phone for free with Google and Apple’s built-in parental controls. These apps let you see what apps your kid is using on their phone and how much time they’re spending on their phone and individual apps. However, there’s no way to hide these parental controls 100% from your child — there’s still a chance that they’ll figure out you’re tracking them if they go through the settings on their device.

Paid alternatives like mSpy and Eyezy not only hide your monitoring but also offer a lot more than Google and Apple’s free parental control apps. The premium apps let you see your child’s texts, see who they talk to, read their social media conversations, and even set content restrictions on the web.

How can I see my child’s text messages for free without them knowing?

I recommend mSpy for monitoring your child’s text messages, but it’s not free. It also requires you to jailbreak or root your kid’s device to be able to read all of their texts. Still, the app shows you every text on your kid’s phone.

Most parental control apps can’t access your kid’s text messages due to strict privacy controls on Android and iOS operating systems, which prioritize user data protection and privacy. That’s why you’ll need to root or jailbreak your kid’s phone to be able to see their texts with mSpy and Eyezy.

The only good parental control app that monitors your kid’s texts is Bark, but it only shows your messages that contain problematic content. Plus, Bark comes with a kid’s app and sends notifications to your child’s phone so your kid will know you’re monitoring them.

Is it OK to jailbreak my kid’s phone in order to track it for free?

I don’t generally recommend jailbreaking or rooting a phone to install tracking software. It can void the device’s warranty, make it vulnerable to security risks, and might have legal implications. But, if you want full access to your kid’s device, you might have to — parental control apps like mSpy require jailbreaking for most of their features to work.

Is it legal to track my child’s phone without their knowledge?

In most cases, it’s legal to track your child’s phone without their knowledge as long as they are under 18 and you are the legal guardian or parent. However, I always recommend checking local laws and regulations as they vary from one place to another.

I prefer using a regular parental control app and talking about it openly with my child. This way, you’ll establish trust, transparency, and cooperation in the parent-child relationship. Plus, it’ll give you the opportunity to teach your child about responsible online behavior.

Best Free Parental Controls for Tracking Your Child’s Phone Without Them Knowing in 2024 — Final Score:

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About the Author
Kristel van Hoof
Updated on: May 13, 2024

About the Author

Kristel van Hoof is a former tech researcher and writer for SafetyDetectives with a keen interest in online privacy and cybersecurity. For more than 3 years now, she has been testing and reviewing VPNs and other products for online data protection. When she’s not writing for Safety Detectives, she's dancing with her kids, traveling around the world, and cooking her favorite dishes.