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The best parental control apps to keep your kids safe

The best parental control apps can help you protect your children with location tracking, screen time limits, web filtering, and more.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Kayla Solino
Qustodio | Best parental control app overall
Qustodio is one of the best parental control apps.
Best parental control app overall
View now View at Qustodio
Kaspersky Safe Kids | Best parental control app for web and game filtering
Kaspersky Safe Kids
Best parental control app for web and game filtering
View now View at Kaspersky
Google Family Link | Best parental control app for Android users
Google Family Link
Google Family Link
Best parental control app for Android users
View now View at Google
Norton Family Premier | Best parental control app for antivirus protection
Norton Family Premier
Best parental control app for antivirus protection
View now View at Norton Family
Net Nanny | Best parental control app for social media
Net Nanny
Best parental control app for social media
View now View at Net Nanny
Apple Parental Controls | Best parental control app for iOS devices
apple parental control
Apple Parental Controls
Best parental control app for iOS devices
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Show more (1 item)

The web can be a scary and unpredictable place, especially when you're a parent. Moreover, it can be unbelievably nerve-wracking when you are trying to protect young children from the underbelly of the internet, its sites, and social media apps. 

Also: Best tablets for kids, according to parents

Thankfully, reliable and secure parental control apps are available to help you keep an eye on your children's activities so that you can rest easy and monitor what they can see and who they can talk to. Parental control apps should never be abused to intrude on someone's privacy and monitor them without consent. So we urge users to only implement these controls for young children with the intention of keeping them safe.

What is the best parental control app right now?

Our top pick for the best parental control app is Qustodio. This popular service has reasonable mobile reviews and a large customer base, providing affordable protection with screen time limits, activity reports, web filtering, and SOS alerts.

ZDNET understands the fine line between safety and surveillance. Having tracked the parental control app market for years, we have compiled our top picks for software that helps you protect your children without being too invasive. 

Best parental control apps of 2024

Pros & Cons
  • Easy to use
  • Screen time restrictions
  • Mobile GPS locator
  • Does not apply to social media
  • Some users report inaccurate readings
More Details

Qustodio offers a suite of features to help keep your children safe. This app includes daily screen time limits that you can set and manage to control how much time your child uses the device. 

An app-blocking feature also keeps your child away from the wrong websites and apps. App monitoring includes the ever-popular YouTube, so your children do not risk accessing the bad videos. 

The Control App is your gateway to tools, including child tracking and advanced reporting. Download the app on your phone, and the companion app on your child's phone, and the two will sync from there. 

Qustodio works on various devices, including mobile phones, tablets, and desktop devices, as well as multiple platforms, including macOS. With the free app, you can supervise a single device, but you can upgrade to monitor up to 5 devices or an unlimited number. 

Premium plans begin at $54.95 per year. Customer feedback indicates this is a helpful safety tool, although some users express frustration at the app's multi-platform capabilities.

Qustodio features: Free version: Yes | Device limits: Up to 5 (basic plan) or unlimited | Screen time limits: Yes | App Store rating: 4.3/5 | Google Play rating: 3.7/5 | App, game blocking

Pros & Cons
  • Geofencing capability
  • Unlimited devices
  • Affordable whole-family protection
  • Limited social media monitoring
More Details

Kaspersky Safe Kids offers many of the best features but without the cost. In addition to restricting adult content and streaming sites like YouTube, you can choose from several ready-made categories to streamline parental controls, making this option our top choice.

You can also create your own premade list of sites and even games, giving you full control over which sites your child can access. You can accept or reject requests for access in real-time. You can determine how many hours per day your child can access a device. Plus, you can monitor your child's location via GPS for peace of mind when your child is out of sight, with the option to set 'safe' locations.

With Kaspersky, you can put all of your child's devices under one license, giving you hardly any restrictions and eliminating the decision of which machines to monitor, whether Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS. 

Premium plans begin at $18.99 for the first year. However, expect the annual cost to rise slightly after the introductory period. Customers find this option affordable and generally consider it a well-rounded product.

Kaspersky Safe Kids features: Free version: Yes | Device limits: Unlimited | Screen time limits: Yes | App Store rating: 3.5/5 | Google Play rating: 3.3/5 | GPS, Safe area features

Pros & Cons
  • iOS compatibility
  • Easy setup
  • Limited features
More Details

Google Family Link, available on Android and iOS devices, is a fair option for parental control, although it does lack some advanced features. 

Once you've set up a family on your Google account, you can set up screen time limits, approve or reject apps your child wants to download, and restrict YouTube access. You will receive alerts related to web and app usage. 

A feature that parents might find valuable, specifically, is the option to enable GPS for location tracking. Regarding younger children, this feature can give you peace of mind by alerting you when your child arrives home from school. It's free, and many users find Google Family Link a helpful solution. However, you should note that many features are restricted and can only be used when children are under 13. 

Google Family Link features: Free | Device limits: Unlimited | Screen time limits: Yes | App Store rating: 4.6/5 | Google Play rating: 4.6/5 | GPS monitoring 

Pros & Cons
  • Antivirus protection included
  • Helpful geofencing tools
  • Unlimited devices
  • No free version
  • Limited compatibility
More Details

Norton is known for its fantastic antivirus protection, so it makes sense that it would also have excellent parental controls. Norton Family Premier helps you monitor the sites and apps your child visits while allowing you to block specific web addresses and online services. 

Also: The 5 best antivirus software and apps

You can see which videos your child views and any search terms that may cause worry. If your child needs the Internet for school (which, let's face it, most kids do these days), turn on School Time mode so your child can access topics relevant to assigned homework. 

You can also set limits based on your preferred schedules for your children, allowing them access when you see fit. Geo-location tracking features help you stay informed on where your children are. You can also access weekly and monthly reports via email or the Parent Portal. 

There is no free plan, and subscriptions start at $49.99 per year. A 30-day free trial is available. Customers find the app's web filtering features excellent, but the iOS app is limited.

Norton Family Premier featuresFree version: No; plans start at $49.99/year | Device limits: Unlimited | Screen time limits: Yes | App Store rating: 3.9/5 | Google Play rating: 3.2/5

Pros & Cons
  • Simple interface
  • Comprehensive reporting
  • Detailed dashboard
  • No call monitoring
  • Low mobile app reviews
More Details

Net Nanny's focus is on social media with detailed screen time monitoring. It also allows you to track your child's activity in real-time, whether it is through an app or online. 

You can see what your children access with immediate alerts when your child ventures into unsavory types of sites. Special notifications are in place to immediately inform you when your child comes across specific sites or content relating to drugs, pornography, weapons, or suicide. 

You can assign time limits. Family Feed serves as your main summary, allowing access to the latest reporting so you can see exactly which apps your child has visited. The Family Map lets you check your child's location anytime for extra reassurance. However, remember that users report that the mobile apps can be glitchy.

Plans begin at $40 per year for one Windows or macOS desktop machine. The family plan, currently on offer with a 30% discount ($55/yearly), protects up to five devices. If you need protection for up to 20 devices, you can save $40 on a premium annual plan reduced from $130 to $90/year. Customers say this app is straightforward, but some competitors offer more. 

Net Nanny features: Free version: No; plans start at $39.99/year | Device limits: 20 | Screen time limits: Yes | App Store rating: 2.7/5 | Google Play rating: 2.2/5

Pros & Cons
  • Free
  • Wide range of features
  • Some users dislike the user interface
More Details

A free option for iOS device users is Apple's native parental control system.

Apple's parental controls, available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, include content and privacy controls alongside Screen Time, which allows parents to set screen time limits. Furthermore, you can restrict and ban specific apps and features, including purchasing and accessing game services. 

It's easy to set up, too. You need to access the Settings tab and enable the device by selecting "This is My Child's [Device]," then you can decide on screen and other feature restrictions. 

While it isn't perfect—a recent bypass bug in Screen Time has frustrated some users—it's worth considering if you want a free monitoring solution.

Apple Parental Controls Features: Free | Device limits: Unlimited | Screen time limits: Yes | Purchase protection | Gaming restrictions

What is the best parental control app?

ZDNET's top pick for the best parental control app is Qustodio. This popular service has reasonable mobile reviews and a large customer base, providing affordable protection with screen time limits, activity reports, web filtering, and SOS alerts. Plus, with wide compatibility, it is easy to download a version that works for your device. Here is a look at how the best parental control apps compare on free version offerings, operating system compatibility, and device limits:

Best parental control app

Free version?


Device limits


Yes, or $55/year

Android, iOS

5, unlimited

Kaspersky Safe Kids

Yes, or $19/year

Android, iOS, Mac, Windows


Google Family Link


Android, iOS


Norton Family Premier

No; plans start at $50/year

Android, iOS, Mac, Windows


Net Nanny

No; plans start at $40/year

Android, iOS


Apple parental controls




*MSRP at the time of writing. Please note that actual prices may vary depending on available sales, deals, discounts, and coupons.

Which is the right parental control app for you?

ZDNET has compiled a diverse offering of the top parental control apps, designed to help you stay one step ahead of your tech-savvy child, while also keeping them from accessing harmful content. To find the best parental control app for you, these are our expert recommendations. 

Choose this parental control app...

If you want...


A multi-featured tool for parental control featuring a mobile GPS locator and screen time restrictions that you intend to use for at least a year.

Kaspersky Safe Kids

A budget-friendly parental control app with geofencing capabilities and one that provides solid protection for all of your kids' devices under one license. 

Google Family Link

A free option for Android and iOS devices. While limited, this option provides parents with screen time monitoring and location tracking. 

Norton Family Premier

To combine parental control with extra antivirus protection, geofencing tools, and unlimited device monitoring.

Net Nanny

A parental control app for social networking sites delivering immediate alerts if your child attempts to access content they shouldn't or they are unaware that they are going down restricted content rabbit holes. 

Apple parental controls

A free option to protect iOS devices. Apple's native parental control system won't be to everyone's taste, but it will help you monitor iOS devices. 

Factors to consider when choosing a parental control app

While you're on the hunt for a parental control app, you should consider the factors below. 

  • Features: Consider what you want to use the app for. It may be, for example, that you want to check your child has safely gone to and from school -- and so GPS tracking is necessary. Or, you might want to be able to monitor what websites they are visiting.
  • Duration: Parental control apps should only be used to help your child safely navigate the online and physical world, and they shouldn't be used for any other privacy-invading purpose. Consider how long you may want to use such apps and plan when you will loosen the reins accordingly.  
  • Family plans: If you want to monitor more than one device, you may want to opt for a family plan that caters to multiple smartphones and PCs. 
  • Privacy: Parental controls can be great safety tools, but you may run the risk of invading privacy if you rely on them too much or use them beyond a timeframe considered reasonable. This can backfire, especially with older children, and so you must use them responsibly and explain why. 

How did we choose these parental control apps?

There are numerous factors we considered when we selected the best parental control apps, including:

  • Tools: Each app has different features to help you monitor your child's activity, whether it is screen time limits or content monitoring. You may need some features, but not others, and so we have endeavored to provide a variety of options. 
  • Compatibility: We look at device compatibility to ensure that there is an app that will work with your device, including smartphones and tablets. Most of us use Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS machines so strong multi-platform capability is a must.
  • Location tracking: Many of the best parental control apps offer GPS capability, so you can locate your children anytime as long as they have their devices to hand. However, keep in mind that your own use of GPS tracking -- especially at older ages -- should be restricted to what is necessary. 
  • Cost: Affordability is a large concern to ensure that parents on a tight budget still have a solution for parental control.

Be sure to carefully review the terms and conditions to ensure they work for you. And again, parental control apps are intended for safety, and their capabilities should not be abused. 

What is a parental control app?

A parental control app is an app that allows parents to monitor their children's virtual activity for potentially harmful or inappropriate content. For many programs, you'll be able to set online time restrictions, set preventions so your child cannot access certain websites and content, and provide immediate alerts if your kid tries to bypass the content filter. 

Parental control apps are a wise way to help keep your child safe online. They also give you the opportunity to speak with your children about implementing best practices for online use. 

How much do parental control apps cost?

The cost depends on the manufacturer and how many devices you want to have monitored. Some parental control apps are free, whereas others charge users monthly or annually depending on the required services and the number of devices they want under their plan. Subscription models are common.

What is the best parental control app for gaming?

There are several parental control apps specific to gaming. Among the best parental control apps are Family on PSN for PlayStation, Nintendo Switch Parental Controls, and Microsoft Family Safety for Xbox.

You can access the parental controls through your console settings. To demonstrate, PlayStation allows you to set up family management, where you can impose restrictions for each specific user. 

With this in mind, you can have a sub-account under your family umbrella for each child and set restrictions that coincide with their age level. Not only does this affect the kind of content they'll be able to access, but it also limits their ability to message or voice chat within the game, share content they created, and more. 

How do parental control apps work?

Typically, parental control apps installed on devices such as smartphones and tablets will require permission for monitoring purposes. This may include access to accessibility features, GPS, call logs, and website logs, with activity data made remotely available to primary users.

However, some parental control apps can go 'too far' in what permissions they require and cross the line between monitoring for safety purposes and privacy violations. Indeed, vendors, including Apple, have implemented their own native parental control options as an alternative to third-party parental control apps that may go too far or be abused.

How can I monitor my kids text messages?

If they have an Apple device, it may be possible to use their iCloud credentials to view messages, on the assumption that this content is being automatically backed up by the service. On Android devices, some parental control apps offer this service, but they may also be disabled if your child is over thirteen years of age. 

A word of caution: spot checks are one thing, but constant monitoring may foster resentment and could lead to your child becoming less open with you in situations where there may be a genuine problem. 

Are there alternative parental control apps worth considering?

Our recommendations above represent the best parental control apps on the market in 2024. However, if you want to consider a few more worthwhile options, we have found a number of alternatives, as listed below: 

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