Honestly, I’ll preface this by saying, the best parental control apps are the ones that you actually use. Many of the most popular parental control apps have the same or similar features. Each one may have a slightly different user interface or a few unique features here and there. My advice is to play around with a few of them and find out which one speaks to you the most. I’ll give you a few of the pros and cons of the most popular ones though, to narrow down your choices right off the bat.
I am constantly asked if various parental control apps can do this or that, so I’ll start out with some generalities. First, and this is not just because I hate Apple products, is the fact that giving your child an Android device is a much better idea than giving your child an iOS device. If you want to use an iPhone to manage your child’s device, that is fine, most of the parental control apps will allow you to do so. An Android parental control app will be able to control a great deal more than its iPhone counterpart.
The real problem with iPhone parental controls is that the operating system is too limited to allow the granular management you would want from the best parental control app. Apple limits access to the guts of its operating system, which is great for many users. However, in order for a parental control app to break through and give you control over whether to allow specific apps at specific times, it needs a little more access to the operating system.
The best parental control apps for cell phones should allow you to:
- Set time limits for each day
- Allow some apps to be available at all times, even after the time limit is up
- Turns off access to the apps that are part of the time limit (social networks and games even if the game doesn’t require online access)
- Notify parent of any app installs, and blocks access to app until approved by the parent
- Give reports and notifications about text messages (especially if containing a blocked word)
- Report on time spent in each app during the day
- Give a current GPS location of the device
- Set a bedtime to lock the device
- Give the ability to block access to the device at any time (when they are working on homework or dinner time)
- Easily extend allowed time on the device (if the child does an extra chore or earns more time through other means)
- Report on web activity, and filter web browsing
As I mentioned most of the parental control apps available will do all or most of the above list. So, you really can’t go wrong with any that you choose. However, my favorite and the one I have installed on all of my children’s devices is Boomerang Parental Control. In the interest of full disclosure, I did receive a free subscription to Boomerang Parental Control, but honestly, I have also received, or been offered, a free subscription to all of the others as well.
Boomerang is the Best Parental Control App
The main reason I landed on Boomerang Parental Control as my favorite in this space is the ability to track YouTube viewing history. This feature alone gives the parental control app the edge over all of the others. I don’t know about your kids, but mine are OBSESSED with watching YouTube videos. They start with one video and then journey down the rabbit hole of a suggested video after suggested video. I completely understand why, because I do the same thing, and so do you.
Not only does it list all of the videos that were watched on the device, but it also reports on all of the searches that were performed within the YouTube app. This is seriously a feature I have been wanting for a very long time. On the parental control management app installed on my phone I can’t click the video title to see what the video is, but in the web interface I can click and it will take me directly to the video that my child watched.
Of course, the app has all of the other above listed features, including safe browsing and reporting. The parental control app will ask you to install Spin, the application’s web safe browser. You can then disable access to all of the other browsers, forcing your child to use the Spin browser. The Spin browser is filtered, so your child shouldn’t accidentally come across anything inappropriate, however, no web filter is perfect, so checking the reports from the parental control app will still be important.
Cost: $12/year per device (which can get expensive if you have a lot of devices to manage)
Cons: My only complaint with Boomerang is that it doesn’t monitor social media interactions. I would love for it to report on messages within Instagram, Facebook and more. To supplement the lack of this feature I recommend adding Bark as well.
Runner-Up: Screen Time
Before I found Boomerang, I exclusively used (and spent my own money for years on) Screen Time. I recommended ScreenTime as my favorite parental control app for years, and it is still a great application. One feature ScreenTime has, that Boomerang currently does not, is the ability to set up tasks that will earn your children more time. You can add all of their chores into the app and as they check them off, and you approve them, more free time will be added to their allotment for the day.
Cost: $3.99/month for unlimited devices
Cons: Also does not include social media monitoring.
Honorable Mention: OurPact
Somewhat new to the game, but gaining some momentum is OurPact. The best thing going for OurPact is the user interface. The controls are super simple, and it is extremely easy to use.
Cost: $6.99/month for the most features
Cons: Does not have unique features from other platforms other than the user interface, and also does not include social media monitoring.
Other parental control apps to consider:
Don’t Bother With:
- Circle by Disney – While the idea behind it is pretty good, the execution is currently terrible. Not only did it slow my network down to a crawl, it doesn’t have some of the granular control features I would like. It will disable access to the internet for a device when it has reached the time limit, but the child can still use games and apps that do not require internet access. I would prefer something that blocks the whole device when I want. I prefer to manage my whole network through my router and with OpenDNS.
- MMGuardian – Terrible user interface.
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Sarah Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 16 years of her career as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on KSL News, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com