Cell phone and internet monitoring software
Cell phone parental controls programs are subscription based, meaning you have to pay either a monthly or annual fee to continue using that program. You often must also purchase this subscription for each device you wish to monitor, though there are a few apps that will give you multiple licenses for a decent price. Our favorite is Mobicip.
There is no age requirement when it comes to owning a smartphone, unlike social media accounts that typically require a person to be 13 or older to sign up. Before giving your child their own smartphone, sit down and talk with your child about internet etiquette, privacy, security, cyberbullying, malicious websites, harmful content and time management. This is a lot of info to bombard a child with, so take your time and spread out these topics over several conversations rather than running through them like a lecture or presentation.
Make sure, when your child is ready for a cell phone, that you set clear rules. Be prepared to set firm rules on the things that matter most to you, but be open to negotiating rules such as how to earn more screen time. The Family Contract for Smartphone Use from ConnectSafely is a good tool to help you set specific rules and responsibilities for both children and parents. For more information and advice on deciding when to get your child a smartphone, check out When Is Your Kid Old Enough for a Smartphone? While setting rules is an important part of helping your child establish healthy smartphone habits before they hit adulthood, they still need to understand why these rules exist.
An excellent way to explain smartphone rules to kids is to talk about how you use your smartphone. Although this may cause you to question your own smartphone habits, it can teach your child the potential advantages and hazards of smartphones.
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By setting an example your child wants to emulate, you become a powerful influence in developing healthy smartphone habits for your child. If your child has an iPhone, you can take advantage of its built-in Screen Time parental controls to place restrictions on apps, purchases, explicit content, Siri, privacy and other settings.
While Screen Time may not have the comprehensive tools of some parental control apps, it might meet your needs and save you money in the long term. Screen Time is available on devices running iOS 12, which was released on September 17, Google also has an app called Digital Wellbeing, which allows you to self-restrict app access on devices running Android 9. This app is geared towards adults tracking and managing their own screen time, but we like the potential of using this app to help older children and teens learn about healthy smartphone habits.
However, it also has a few unique features such as an extensive library of kid-friendly books, videos, games, audiobooks, apps, and educational content. These are the current parental control offerings from the four largest U. If you need legal advice before using parental control apps on your kids' phones, you should contact an attorney or legal counsel. Because wiretap laws vary by state, we do not advocate using smartphone parental apps to record phone calls, either audio or video. Look for apps with clear-cut reports that make it easy to track relevant information.
We especially liked the colorful reports in Qustodio. Most programs let you choose from a variety of reports, including monthly or hourly reports with graphs, lists of frequent contacts, browser history, newly installed apps, message history, calendar events, pictures taken, GPS location and keystrokes. You can set a window of time when your child can access apps and the browser and adjust it whenever needed. Some of the apps we tested allow you to remotely unlock the phone for a few minutes of open access if your child requests it.
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It's essential that the parental control smartphone app you choose lets you restrict access to other apps and the internet. Choosing an invisible app can make it more difficult for your child to bypass the restrictions on their phone. Though these apps support most common smartphones and carriers, not all are compatible. It's important that you double-check the brand and model of the phone you want to monitor so you don't waste money on incompatible software. Most developers have extensive lists of compatible devices on their websites. Each of the apps in our comparison works on Android and iOS devices.
Features are generally more limited on iOS than Android because Apple maintains strict control over the operating system. You need to have physical access to the target device to install the software, as none of them can be installed remotely. Some features require a rooted Android or jailbroken iOS device.
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Because of the inherent risks that come with either of these processes, we do not advocate doing so. Jump To:. Mobicip Versatile, powerful and trustworthy, Mobicip is the best in class.
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Reasons to Buy Includes 30 filter categories plus app filters. Reasons to Avoid No text alerts.
Read the full Mobicip review. Qustodio The best value cell phone monitoring software on test. Reasons to Buy Is a good value.
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At its peak, OurPact was the only parental-control app we tested that could manage or block any iOS app. It can still do so for Android devices. OurPact also gets kids involved in managing the daily allowance of screen time that you give them, and it does a good job of scheduling. Yet, its website filtering simply blocks porn, and it can't monitor calls or texts at all, even on Android.
However, you can block messaging apps, and OurPact remains a joy to use. Read our full OurPact review. Screen Time does an excellent job of managing and scheduling kids' device access. Unfortunately, this app doesn't do a whole lot else on iOS devices. And it has baffling upcharges for location tracking and web filters, both of which come standard with other parental-control apps.
You get both features in the day premium trial. We liked how this service doles out additional screen time for chores or good deeds. But you can't block apps on iOS, and there's no call or text monitoring at all, although geofencing and location history were recently added. Read our full Screen Time review. ESET Parental Control for Android sticks to one platform, but it doesn't shine even there, lacking text-message- and call-monitoring features.
The free app management and time management do work well, as do the paid location tracking and geofencing. MMGuardian has nearly every parental-control feature you might want, especially on Android, but the user interfaces are outdated and frustrating. Both the iOS and Android smartphone apps offer location tracking and excellent web filtering, and have recently added an artificial-intelligence component to spot nudity in saved images. App management is strong on Android but primitive on iOS.
On Android, the parent can read every text and block any number. Time management and screen-time scheduling are also Android-only. Read our full MMGuardian review. Evaluation Criteria We focused on apps that emphasize proactively setting up filters and limits before your child uses the phone rather than merely tracking activities after the fact. We took the following criteria into account:.
We tested each app on every platform it supported twice, from installation to testing to uninstall. We typically monitored activity from the MacBook Pro, but if apps offered control from a smartphone app, we tested those features as well. Calls and texts for monitoring purposes were made from a secondary Android device.
Android parental-control apps remain more robust than their iOS counterparts in most cases, especially with regard to call and text monitoring. But new additions to iOS have closed the gap somewhat. We will note areas in which there are discrepancies in the functionality offered on each platform, but we are not providing distinct ratings and reviews for the iOS versus the Android version of each app. Parental-control apps for mobile devices work best when they're part of a comprehensive approach to teaching your kids about behaving responsibly online.
For that reason, we avoided testing apps that can run in stealth mode on a child's phone. There are many products that tout this capability, but some people use such services to spy not on their children, but on their spouses or on other adults, which is illegal in most U. In addition, we did not consider apps that offered the ability to record a child's phone conversations. State laws vary on the legality of recording someone without his or her consent, and no states allow the recording of phone calls without either party's consent. Norton, Kaspersky and ESET also make antivirus software, and many antivirus products have parental controls built in.
To see how well those controls stack up against the stand-alone services, please see our overview of The Best and Worst Antivirus Software for Parents.