15 Parental Control Apps to Track Kids' Phone Use and Screen Time
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Gone are the days when cell phones and tablets were for grown-ups. Now preschool-aged kiddos have access to mom and dad’s devices and elementary school-aged children have smartphones of their own. This makes the use of a parental control app, screen time management solutions, and apps to track kids’ phone use an absolute for 21st century parents.
Six out of 10 parents whose kiddos use smartphones say their child began using the device before they hit age five, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Even though it might seem like iPhones, Android phones, and iPads are all games all the time, many parents allow their child or teen a phone as a form of security and communication when they can’t be with them. However, one of the biggest concerns parents face when allowing their children to have mobile devices is monitoring the content. We wonder, “Is my child accessing inappropriate videos or sites, and if so, how do I stop them?” But that’s not all. Parents also have concerns about who their children talk to–and whether they understand the dangers of online predators.
Before your child sets off with their new mobile devices, Chromebook, Apple product, or other electronic media, discuss online safety and app usage Here are some safety tips for discussing (often) with your child.
- Never give out their phone number without a parent’s permission.
- Never give their real name or address to a stranger or someone online or on social networks.
- If someone says something inappropriate or that makes you feel uncomfortable, tell an adult.
- Do not click on links strangers send you.
- Do not send photos of yourself to people you don’t know.
Related: How To Limit Your Child's Data Usage
Tracking Your Child’s Phone
Parental monitoring goes well beyond screen time limits, screen time management, and making sure your child is safe on Snapchat. It also includes tracking your younger kiddos' movements via their Ismatphone’s GPS or specific apps. If your child is walking home alone or taking the bus to an empty house, you can track their phone’s location. That way, if they forget to text you that they’ve made it home safe, you can check in.
To track your child’s location, you can use a couple of the app’s features. To track your child’s location using Family Sharing, follow these steps.
- On your kid’s phone, navigate to Settings
- Tap Location Sharing
- Tap Share Your Location
Another way to locate your child is with the Find My Friends app. Instead of opening the Find My Friends app each time you want to check your child's location, you can follow this shortcut in iMessage:
- Go to a text message thread with you and your child
- Click the ⓘ button at the top right of the screen
If you are concerned about the amount of time your kid is spending on their phone, you can track that too!
- On your kid's phone, navigate to Settings
- Tap Turn On Screen Time
- Tap Set Up as Parent
iPhoneFAQ offers tips and advice on setting up time limits and restricting mature content.
The Best Apps to Monitor Phones and Screen Time
Your main concern: Keeping your kids safe by monitoring social media use, messages, and content while staying discreet and in the background.
mSpy is the leading monitoring app in the business and has been on the market for over ten years; and is our number one pick! mSpy works 100% in the background, so your child or teen will not know when and if you’re monitoring them.
mSpy can scan text messages, emails, and messaging apps to look for potentially harmful messages or inappropriate content or pictures. Additionally, this easy to install app also can show you any videos or photos your child takes on their phone in order for you to scan the content when needed.
mSpy refreshes every five minutes, so you are always up to date on what your child is doing and the content they are viewing. In addition, the built-in GPS allows you to track their movements so you know if they’re truly at the mall like they said! It also allows you to set safe zones, so you know when your child enters or leaves an area such as school or grandma’s house.
mSpy gives parents the peace of mind they need to know that their kids are safe from cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and dangerous or unsavory peers or contacts, all while maintaining discretion and allowing your child the independence of having their own devices.
Other fantastic mSpy features are its remote device tracking capabilities and remote control, so you can block apps, websites, and even callers. Control really is in your hands!
With mSpy’s ability to track all areas of online use, their 24/7 support in multiple languages, and their affordable plans, it is little wonder why they are America’s #1 family tracking app.
Keep your kids safe with mSpy.
Your main concern: Web browsing and social media safety.
Qustodio promotes itself as the internet’s best free parental control app. Qustodio software is available for Windows PC, Mac, iOS, Android, and Kindle devices and provides a comprehensive dashboard to help you monitor your child's online activity. The free version allows you to keep tabs on your child's web and search engine use, track her Facebook and Twitter logins, and set time controls, while Qustodio Premium also allows you to track her location, block certain games and apps, monitor calls, text messaging, and more. (Plans start at $44.95 per year for five children/five devices). PC Magazine named Qustodio Premium Parental Control 2015 an Editor's Choice, and they are an approved app by industry leaders such as Softonic and Softpedia.
3. Net Nanny Family Protect Pass
Your main concern: Filtering web content and setting Internet time limits for multiple kids/devices.
If you have multiple children and devices to keep track of, ContentWatch Net Nanny 7 with the Family Protection Pass ($79.99 per year) is a handy tool. This software system can be installed on up to 10 different PC, Mac, or Android devices (note: the software is not supported by Windows XP, and you need to purchase a separate product for Net Nanny to work on iOS devices).
The software allows you to create different profiles/log-ins for each of your children and automatically filters web content for each user based on whether they fit the Child, Pre-Teen, Teen, or Adult profile. It allows you to "mask" profanity on web pages — which can be useful if, for example, your child needs to read a news article for a school assignment but the comments section is loaded with swear words. You can set Internet time allowances for each child using a weekly grid divided into 30-minute time blocks, so it's easy to prevent Web access during homework time or bedtime. The Family Protection Pass also comes with a free, one-year license for Net Nanny Social ($19.99 value), which can help you monitor your child's activity on social media sites. PC Magazine named ContentWatch Net Nanny 7 an Editor's Pick for parent-control software.
Get Net Nanny Family Protect Pass
Your main concern: Social media safety and location tracking.
This app has so many useful features including social media monitoring, location tracking and alerts, and more. It is known as an all-in-one worry-free app. Social media monitoring is one of the most helpful features. With MamaBear you can monitor Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook activity to know when they have new tags, check-ins, or upload photos. You can also be aware when inappropriate language or indication of bullying are posted to their profiles by building your restricted words list. You can also get notifications when your teen drives or rides over a speed limit you set. There are several plan options including a free version. MamaBear was recognized as a “Best Parenting App” Mumii Family Awards for 2017.
5. Screen Time
Your main concern: The time your little ones spend on their screens.
Screen Time is committed to letting kids be kids, and exploring the realm of childhood, outside their screens. Screen Time lets parents remotely monitor the amount of screen time kids spend on their mobile devices. Screen Time lets you set daily time limits, assign tasks to your kids to complete like homework, see which apps your child uses the most, and more. Our favorite feature? Instant pause, allowing parents to instantly pause their child's devices. Screen Time Parental Control App is a winner of the 2019 National Parenting Product Awards.
6. YouTube Kids
Your main concern: Finding kid-friendly YouTube videos, and blocking ads and links.
Animal videos! Skateboarding demos! Retro cartoons! YouTube is an obvious source of free entertainment for kids — but it doesn't always feel like a safe choice. Pesky pop-up ads and links to "related" videos (possible unrelated adult content) can take the fun out of this mecca of free entertainment. That's why YouTube introduced their whitelisted version of the app with kid-friendly only content, YouTube Kids. There’s also a whole suite of parental controls, so you can tailor the experience to your family’s needs. You can create custom kid profiles, block channels or videos, keep tabs on their watch history, turn search on or off, set a timer to limit kids' screen time, report videos, and more.
Your main concern: Your teen's driving safety
Bouncie is an app and OBD connected car experience that is designed to stop distracted driving by sending you notifications in real-time when your child is engaging in risky behavior. For example, the app lets you know if your child is exceeding a speed limit that you set, hard-braking, alerts you of their location while driving and when parked, and more.
Your main concern: Your teen's driving safety.
Bouncie is an app and OBD-connected car experience that is designed to stop distracted driving by sending you notifications in real-time when your child is engaging in risky behavior. For example, the app lets you know if your child is exceeding a speed limit that you set, hard-braking, alerts you of their location while driving and when parked, and more.
Your main concern: Your child ignoring your calls.
Want to send a strong message when your child repeatedly ignores your texts and phone calls? RespondASAP freezes the child's phone by taking over the kid's screen and sounding an alarm. This forces the child to call the parent back in order to unlock their phone. It's a better option than taking your child's phone away because he'll still be able to make emergency phone calls to you or 911 even when his phone is otherwise locked. The app is currently only available on Android devices but will be available on iPhones soon.
Get RespondASAP in the Google Play store
Your main concern: Cyberbullying and online safety monitoring.
According to their Cyberbully Prevention page, Bark analyzes all of your children's online activities to help detect cyberbullying, taking into account context and an individual's digital history to determine true threats. They monitor 30+ of the most popular apps and social media platforms. We notify parents and children of both victims and bullies that use Bark and provide action-based recommendations. Often the solution is simple: block the bully online. In some instances, it's serious enough to start documenting the abuse in case you need to take legal action. Impressively, Bark promotes the fact that it has helped prevent 16 school shootings and that it has detected 124,000 severe self-harm situations.
Your main concern: Making your child less obsessed with their smartphone
Let's face it: Teens are addicted to their smartphones. While you'll probably never completely cure your child of her obsession, you can help her find a healthier balance. Checky is a free app that keeps a tally of how many times a day a user has checked her phone. (Hint: This might be a good app for Mom and Dad, too!)
You can compare just how "Checky" you were today vs. yesterday, or share and compare your stats with your friends and family members. Moment (available for iPhone) and Break Free (available for Android and iOS, too) are similar apps aimed at supporting healthier smartphone habits.
11. Google Family Link
Your main concern: You want to set time limits, monitor screen time use, and track your child’s location all with one app.
Google Family Link is an all-in-one app that allows parents to view their child’s online activity, approve or block content from view, manage in-app purchases (because you don’t want your five-year-old “accidentally” buying pricey upgrades and add-ons), and track your kiddo’s location when they carry their device to school, the park, the mall, or anywhere else. This app goes way beyond a simple blocker function and also allows you to lock android phones or other devices remotely!
Get Google Family Link on Google Play
12. Kaspersky Safe Kids
Your main concern: Screen time limits, safe surfing, and your child’s location are major issues for your fam.
How many minutes or hours of screen time does your child get daily? Kaspersky Safe Kids lets you set time limits–and can stop your child from using their smartphone or tablet during specific times of the day. Along with screen time controls, this app also allows you to block adult content from view, create a custom list of sites or apps you trust, and view your child’s YouTube search history. As if a web filter isn’t enough, this app also allows you to find your child 24/7 through its GPS tracking function.
Kaspersky Safe Kids is available for download on Windows devices, Mac devices, from the App Store, or on Google Play.
Your main concern: Bedtime and homework time have somehow become screen time – and you don’t like it.
Has family time gone by the wayside? Your child’s new Mac, Chromebook, iPhone, iPad, Android phone, or other device is interfering with family dinners or the quick convo you want to have with your kiddo. The FamilyTime app lets you set time limits for device use and phone calls too! The Bed Time features limit screen time during would-be sleep hours–and the Homework Time function locks the screen when your child needs to concentrate on their studies. This app also blocks adult content, helps to block social media apps, can locate your child (when they’re on their device), and has a geofencing function.
Visit FamilyTime to learn more about the app.
14. Norton Family Parental Control App
Your main concern: You want to teach your child safe online practices and help them to find screen time balance.
You may know Norton for the brand’s anti-virus software. But this company also created an app to help parents monitor screen use, online content, and more! Parents can set limits on Internet access, get weekly or monthly reports that detail their child’s screen use, set physical distance boundaries through a geofencing function, and supervise web searches. Download this app for ios on the App Store or for Android phones on Google Play.
Learn more about Norton Family.
Your main concern: Your child isn’t self-limiting their screen time sessions and you’re pretty sure you can’t always trust the sites they visit.
OurPact lets you schedule and set screen time use. This makes it possible to block your child from accessing their device during school hours, homework time, or family dinners. You can also block content and manually grant access to sites you trust remotely. While these features are free, you can upgrade to the premium option. If the number of devices in your family is more than just one, OurPact Premium lets you manage up to 20 smartphones or tablets and customize the web filter and other settings for each one.
Learn more about how to download OurPact.
Do you want to learn more about safe app use? Check out the Smart Rules of Thumb to follow!
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Erica is an experienced parenting and education writer, with an M.S. in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.