How We Test Parental Controls

Parental controls allow you to protect your kids while online or using a computer, tablet, or smartphone device through various features, such as web filtering and screen time monitoring. But some parental control tools work better than others.
Here’s how we test parental controls:

Category Breakdown
  • 5% - Purchase & Download
  • 10% - Installation & Setup
  • 20% - Trustworthiness & Reliability
  • 20% - Core Features
  • 15% - Extra Features
  • 10% - Compatibility
  • 10% - Pricing
  • 10% - Customer Support & Refunds
1. Purchase & Download

1. Purchase & Download — 5%

For every parental control program we test, we purchase the plan that contains the most features. As we check out, we look at all the different ways you can pay for the plan and how easy the payment process is — for example, we assess the number of payment options and whether there are any hidden costs you need to know about before downloading the product.

We then download the parental control program onto the parents’ and kids’ devices. We use a test device if the reviewer doesn’t have kids.

As we’re downloading the parental control program, we look at the download size and whether it’ll take up a lot of storage space on our devices.

Depending on the overall purchasing & downloading experience, our reviewers give the parental controls a score out of 10. This contributes to 5% of the final score.

2. Installation & Setup

2. Installation & Setup — 10%

Once we’ve downloaded the product, we install both the app for parents and the app for kids on all compatible devices, including Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Chromebook, and more.

We look at quite a few different areas while going through the installation. First, we assess how long the app takes to install, comparing it to other parental control products on the market.

We also look at how easy the installation is. Can you click one installation button and sit back while the app sets itself up automatically, or do you need technical expertise to complete the installation?

Finally, we look at the impact the installation has on our devices and whether we can still use our devices while installing and setting up the app.

Once we’ve installed the apps, our reviewers analyze the setup process and how easy it is. This includes connecting the parents’ app to the kids’ app and enabling all necessary permissions on the kids’ app (such as location permissions). We award extra points to parental control tools with a setup wizard to take you through the process.

We then provide a score out of 10 based on our installation and setup experience, which contributes 10% to the parental control’s final score.

3. Trustworthiness & Reliability

3. Trustworthiness & Reliability — 20%

A good parental control tool is one that you can fully trust and rely on to protect your kids, so we test various features to ensure this fact.

Our reviewers look at things like:
  • Notifications — We purposefully break the rules on the kid’s device (for example, by visiting adult websites) to see whether or not the parent’s device receives a notification in good time, alerting you to the rule break.
  • Accuracy — We look at the accuracy of various features and how closely they can monitor your kids. For example, if the parental control tool has location tracking, we look at whether it has pinpoint accuracy. We also look at the default blocklists for features such as web filtering and whether they block every inappropriate website or let your kids access certain ones.
  • Update speed — When you create rules for your kid, we like to see those rules applied instantly. We test how quickly the parents’ and kids’ apps communicate and how easy it is to create and monitor new rules.

The lowest scores are given to parental control tools that are inconsistent in issuing notifications to parental devices and don’t update quickly to show your kid’s latest location or online activity.

Depending on our results within these 3 criteria and anything else we deem impacts trustworthiness and reliability, we give the parental controls a score out of 10. This score impacts 20% of the final score.

4. Core Features

4. Core Features — 20%

There are certain features we expect to see in every parental control app. We perform in-depth tests on these features to see how well they work.

These core features include:

  • Web and app filtering — We test how well the web and app filtering works and look at how easy it is to add new websites and apps to blocklists. We also examine how difficult it is for your kids to bypass the blocks. For example, parental controls lose points if kids can turn on a VPN or use a proxy site to bypass specific rules.
  • Screen time scheduling — We test the number of customization options on the screen time scheduling. For example, we test whether you can set schedules for individual apps on your kids’ device or whether you can block your kids from accessing their device outside of allowed hours entirely. We look at how easy the screen time schedules are to set up and if they enable you to set time limits on certain apps or websites.
  • Location tracking — As well as the accuracy of the live location tracking, our reviewers test whether parental control tools provide accurate historical data on everywhere your kids have been. We also look at geofencing (which alerts you if your kids enter or exit a restricted zone) and test how easy the geofences are to set up and monitor.
  • Activity reports — We look at the parental control tool’s dashboard and the activity reports it provides. We award higher scores to parental controls with daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly activity reports that show everything your kid has been up to in one clear view.

Based on our results, we give the core features a score out of 10, which impacts 20% of our final score.

5. Extra Features

5. Extra Features — 15%

The best parental control tools include additional ways to monitor your kids.

We test each of the additional features and determine if they work well, and whether they have an edge over other tools on the market. We also look at whether the extra features are actually useful. Some parental controls include extra features just to lengthen their feature list, but they don’t provide any real benefit to parents.

Our reviewers look at things like:
  • Social media monitoring — Some parental control tools allow you to monitor apps such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter and alert you if your kid uses inappropriate keywords in those apps.
  • YouTube monitoring — Lets you see your kid’s YouTube search history and what videos they’ve been watching on YouTube.
  • SMS and call monitoring — Allows you to monitor your kids’ sent and received text messages as well as incoming and outgoing calls. A good parental control app will allow you to block numbers you don’t recognize or trust.

If an extra feature works well and is a decent addition to the parental control tool, we compare it with other products with similar extra features and determine which is better. We also highlight unique extras that make the parental control tool stand out when compared to others on the market.

Depending on how well these extra features work, we score the product out of 10, which impacts 15% of our final score.

6. Compatibility

6. Compatibility — 10%

We assess the compatibility of parental controls by testing whether they work seamlessly across different devices and operating systems — including Windows, macOS, iOS and Android.

Our reviewers examine how the parental control tool interacts with other software on the device, too, including web browsers and applications. We test whether the software can monitor and control access to social media apps, messaging platforms, and different gaming applications. We also check for compatibility issues including slow response times, crashes, or other issues that may affect the overall user experience.

Based on our results, we assign a compatibility score out of 10, which contributes 10% of the final score.

7. Pricing

7. Pricing — 10%

Next, our reviewers assess how much each parental control tool costs. We look at various areas, such as what features are included in each plan and whether those features make the plan worthwhile.

First, we determine whether the product’s pricing is in line with the industry average. We then compare each plan with competitors and determine whether the product you’re looking at offers a good value or is overpriced.

Finally, we assess what deals and extras come with each plan. For example, does the plan offer coverage on multiple devices or include additional applications that help parents to monitor their kids? Are the deals a good value for money or do they leave you wanting more?

Based on our assessment and the product’s pricing, we award each parental control tool a score out of 10, which contributes to 10% of the final score.

8. Customer Support & Refunds

8. Customer Support & Refunds — 10%

We look at the different customer support options offered in parental control tools and the number of languages supported by each option.

We contact each of the available support teams during different hours of the day and ask them basic and technical questions to determine how quickly they respond and how helpful those responses are.

We also look at knowledge bases and community forums to see how easy to navigate they are and if they’re updated regularly. We award higher points to parental control tools with comprehensive knowledge bases covering every feature, with helpful pictures and videos showing you how to use their software.

Next, we look at the money-back guarantee and refund policy. We check the refund’s terms & conditions for any small print or shady practices and test how easy getting a refund is. To do this, we actually go through the refund process and measure how long it takes to process the refund and get the money back into our bank account.

Based on how helpful and communicative the customer support options are and how easy the refund process is, we give the customer support team a score out of 10, which impacts 10% of the parental control’s overall score.

Final Scores for Parental Controls

Based on the above, our parental control review team calculate a final score on how well the parental control tool performed.

Each category we test influences the final score a varying amount. We divide our test scores into the following percentages:

Purchase & Download: 5%
Installation and Setup: 10%
Trustworthiness & Reliability: 20%
Core Features: 20%
Extra Features: 15%
Compatibility: 10%
Pricing: 10%
Customer Support & Refunds: 10%

We add up all of the figures to reach our final result for the parental control tool. You can see the final results at the top of each review. Generally speaking, products with a score of 8/10 are an excellent choice for most users. If a product scores 7/10, it’s pretty good — but there are probably better choices on the market. Anything below that indicates our reviewers had problems with the parental control tool and you should probably look at other options.