People ask me all the time what the best parental control apps are. The tricky thing is that there really isn’t a clear winner. It takes several applications and several layers of protection to feel confident about protecting your children from the dangers of technology.
Even with all the best protection available, there will still be ways kids can get around the controls, and they will have to make decisions for themselves about what they will do when they come across things like pornography. Your children’s devices could be locked down incredibly well, but as soon as they get on the school bus a friend might show them inappropriate content on their device.
In addition to layering your parental controls, you need to have frequent conversations with your children, and even role-play various situations and scenarios. Today, I want to focus on how to layer your parental controls though.
Many people seem to think if they install one parental control app, they are done! Unfortunately, just one is really not going to do the trick. To get the absolute BEST parental monitoring and control, your child should have an Android device. If you need reasons, check out my post on why iPhones are a terrible idea for kids.
First, you need to understand the difference between control and monitoring. When you are able to control a device, you can give it time limits, shut it down when you want, and disable access to installing apps without your approval.
Monitoring a device allows you to see reports on the activity that happens on the device. Depending on the system, you can see reports on YouTube videos watched, text messages sent and received, websites visited and social media activity.
While some apps or devices allow you to control and monitor, some just offer one or the other, so make sure you are covered on both fronts.
First Layer: On Device Control & Monitoring
The first line of defense for parents is to install or set up something on the individual device that will help you monitor and control the device. Many devices have their own parental control settings such as the Nintendo Switch, a Chromebook, an iPhone, and more. Often these built-in controls will allow you to monitor and control, but it is usually a good idea to add another layer here.
For example, iOS has built-in parental controls called Screen Time. Android has something similar called Google Family Link. However, I would add another layer of monitoring and control here. This is especially true if the device is a phone or a tablet.
Additional monitors to the built-in controls can include apps like Bark (save 20% on your subscription with that link), which will flag you if they notice anything concerning in your child’s social media or text messages, or Boomerang, which can give you full reports of text conversations and YouTube viewing. Boomerang will also allow you to control time limits and app installs on the individual device and can even force web browsing to their filtered “Spin Safe Browser”
Second Layer: WiFi Control & Monitoring
Once you have the device itself locked down, it’s time to expand your monitoring and controls to the wifi in your house. This layer of protection will pick up any slack that the on-device controls might miss. It will also protect your home when your kid’s friends bring over devices that are not being monitored.
I prefer to use the Gryphon WiFi router. I have literally tried a ton of different routers, and this one is by far the best router that can also do parental controls. The company understands both the parental control portion AND the networking component. The controls don’t get in the way of quality high-speed WiFi, and they are super easy to set up and manage.
Although the Gryphon also offers filtering capabilities, I like to double cover my bases here as well. I use OpenDNS in conjunction with my Gryphon router to further filter the traffic coming into my network. OpenDNS will allow you to select various categories to block like Pornography, Social Media, or Gambling.
Third Layer: Cellular Network Control & Monitoring
Finally, the last line of defense is to set controls on your cellular network. Most of the popular carriers have solutions for this problem already in place. Verizon has Smart Family which allows you to control internet, calls, apps and more. AT&T has Secure Family, which offers similar features. T-Mobile and Sprint also have controls and monitors you can use for your children’s devices.
When the controls are also on the cellular network, even if your child is away from home, or turns off the WiFi on their phone, you will still be able to monitor and control the device.
Gryphon also has an “away from home” option that you can use to essentially force the phone back onto your home WiFi, even when they are not using the WiFi, or are out of the house.
Fourth Layer: Conversations
As I mentioned at the beginning, all of the best parental controls in the world cannot protect your child completely from the dangers of the internet. Your last layer should be frequent conversations with your children about social media, pornography, phishing and more.
When you find something concerning in the news, share it with them, and discuss how the outcome could have been prevented. There are a lot of scary people on the other side of the screen, and your children should know what the warning signs are, how they can protect themselves, and what to do when they are confronted with an uncomfortable or inappropriate situation.
Keeping these communication lines open will help your children be able to use technology positively, and hopefully not fall into the traps the negative side of technology can show.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I receive compensation if you make a purchase using the links.
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