Like most parents, I'm not comfortable sending my child out of the house without a cellphone. Mobile phones provide an extra measure of safety, and coordinating crazy, ever-changing family schedules is so much easier if everyone can text or call as needed.
But with convenience comes concern.
It's almost impossible these days to find a cellphone that isn't a smart device, and I personally didn't want to subject my child to the teasing they would get if they showed up at school with a flip phone.
But smartphones come with their own challenges; it's difficult to monitor who you kids are talking too, what kind of information is being shared, and what apps they are downloading.
Parental control apps are a great solution to this problem. Unfortunately, many of them are difficult to use, way too expensive, or not equipped with the right controls.
So, I decided to put together this list of the best parental control apps for my own reference and for any other parent out there who is looking for the best parental control app to help keep their family safe.
MSpy is my pick for the best spy app on the market. It offers a comprehensive set of options that should cover just about anything you will need when it comes to finding good parental control software. You can read more about it in our spyware comparison article.
It lets you monitor all incoming and outgoing calls on your child's phone, and you can even block certain numbers. You can read all text messages and emails that your kids receive and see who sent them.
In fact, you can read messages your child receives through just about any popular messaging app including Facebook Messenger, Skype, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Viber. You can also see any multimedia files you child receives including pictures and videos. The best part is that all this information is saved and sent directly to your dashboard, so even if your child immediately deletes a message, you can still see it.
Best Parental Control App Reviews
1. mSpy - Best Overall with Industry Leading Support
- Comprehensive feature set (text & social media chat monitoring)
- Stable operation with no crashing
- Best customer care in the industry
- does not require jailbreaking or rooting phone
- Can't see phone numbers unless they are a contact
- tracking data not always precise (dependent on cell coverage)
- somewhat expensive
In addition to call and app monitoring, mSpy also has location tracking and geo-fencing which allows you to monitor your child's location at all times and set forbidden zones. This means you will receive a notification anytime your child enters or exits one of these zones.
MSpy also lets you monitor and control your child's internet activity including the websites they visit, how long they spend on various sites, and which sites they bookmark.
You can control which WiFi networks they can connect to, block sites if needed, and set up keyword alerts to be sent to your phone in case your child enters search terms you're not O.K. with.
Keyword alerts are managed through keylogging which replaces the default keyboard on your child's mobile device with one from mSpy that can record any word typed into it. This means that you can set specific words and an alert will be sent to your phone anytime they are used in text messages, emails, online chat boards, or messaging apps.
MSpy can be used on Android devices without rooting them first, though rooting will let you get full use of the app monitoring and blocking options.
For IOS devices, you can choose between the jailbreak and non-jailbreak versions. The jailbreak version will give you more options, but not all iPhones can be jailbroken, and not everyone is comfortable trying to jailbreak a device.
The jailbreak and non-jailbreak versions both cost the same at $200 a year. There is also a basic jailbreak package that only costs $8.33 a month when signing up for a year's subscription.
The basic version, though, doesn't offer things like location monitoring, geo-fencing, keylogging, or app monitoring. MSpy isn't the cheapest option out there, but it's not unreasonable for the comprehensive set of monitoring and safety options you're receiving.
This makes mSpy a great option for parents who want a wide variety of functions coupled with excellent customer service that will help them navigate this software and get the most out of their product.
2. Net Nanny - Solid Features and Good Interface
- easy to use interface
- great web filters and time control options
- solid features for iOS devices
- Works on 110V
- No call or text monitoring
- one of the more expensive options
- no geo-fencing
Net Nanny is next on the list due to its intuitive interface, strong filtering options, and easy-to-use screen time monitoring controls. There is a free tier, but this doesn't include any monitoring options, only parental tips and a view of the dashboard.
The Net Nanny software is easy to use, and you should be able to navigate it smoothly by simply following the instructions given for each step and clicking on the clearly marked options and drop-down menus. In addition to an online dashboard which you can access on any internet-capable device, Net Nanny has a unique feature they call the "family stream" which feeds a running list of highlights from all devices included in your family plan to your phone for easy monitoring.
This program will even show parental advice tips on your family stream to help handle any issues that come up. More tips for parental control and online safety can be found on the dashboard, which is helpful if you're not sure how to address some of the problems that parental control apps may reveal.
Net Nanny also excels when it comes to web monitoring and control and setting time limits for your kids. In addition to being able to select certain websites that should always be blocked - or never be blocked - you can also choose to receive alerts when certain sites are visited.
Net Nanny also has intuitive software that will scan the live version of each website your kids try to access and will deny access based on filters that you've pre-established. This allows you to block sites that may deal with things like pornography, drugs, and violence, even if the site your kids are trying to access isn't included in a pre-determined database.
You can also control how long your child is allowed online by setting time limits that will block internet access during designated times of the day.
Once your basic schedule is set, you can drag and drop time periods into different days or add specific open or closed windows without having to cancel out the schedule for the day and re-load it with the exceptions. This will help control your child's screen time and only allow them to be online during certain set time periods.
Not all parental control apps will work on iOS phones, so Net Nanny's comprehensive set of features makes this a great option to use on Apple devices.
Unfortunately, this app does not offer text or call monitoring for iOS or Android devices. But, if you don't want messaging and call screening options and appreciate an intuitive interface that comes with helpful tips for parents and strong online control options, Net Nanny could be the right app for you.
The comprehensive tiers run between $55 - $90 a year depending on how many devices you want to put this app on. This makes it one of the less expensive options on this list, but it still offers many solid parental control options for the price.
3. FlexiSPY - Most Powerful Monitoring Features & Solid Support
- Most powerful features
- Call intercept, call monitoring, camera control
- ambient recording
- monitor ALL social media and chat apps
- requires jailbreaking or rooting
- most expensive option
- effectiveness dependent upon cell coverage
FlexiSPY is a great comprehensive parental control app that covers all the basics you would find in most apps of this kind including text message and call monitoring, location logging and geo-fencing, internet control, app blocking, and even keylogging. In addition to all of these, though, are the three extra monitoring features that most other apps don't have: call interception, call recording, and ambient recording.
Call interception allows you to join in on any call your child is participating in while it's happening. Once the FlexiSPY app is installed, anytime your child gets a call, you will have a call notification pop up on your phone which gives you the option of joining in or not.
If you do join in, this creates a three-way call, which means you need to make sure your microphone is turned off when listening in. It also means that this option only works with phones that are three-way call compatible. Most phones are, but you'll want to make sure ahead of time that the target device and network can run this option. You can choose whether you want to be notified of all incoming calls, or just those from designated contacts.
With call recording, you can choose to have all calls recorded from your kid's phone or just those from certain contacts. These recordings are stored in their phone and uploaded to your parental dashboard whenever the phone has sufficient signal strength.
Ambient recording is similar, but actually allows you to turn on the microphone in the target device when it's not in use and listen to whatever is happening at the phone's location. You can set a schedule for ambient recording and record for a set amount of time between 5 minutes and an hour. These recording will be uploaded to your dashboard for you to listen to at a time that is convenient for you.
Unfortunately, ambient recording and the strength of call interception will be weak if the target device doesn't have a strong signal or good coverage. Similarly, recorded calls will only be uploaded when the target device has a sufficiently strong signal.
Another potential downside is the price. This is the most expensive option on the list, costing $349 a year for the highest tier. You also need to jailbreak the target device in order to use FlexiSPY, but you can choose to pay an additional $40 to have them break the phone for you. All in all, if price isn't a factor and you want one of the strongest parental control apps out there that lets you know what's being discussed with and around your child, FlexiSpy is the right choice for you.
For more information check out our FlexiSPY review.
4. Spyfone - Most Reliable for Android Devices
- Live viewing
- Full camera control
- read text messages
- no-jailbreak required
- sometimes has significant reporting lags
- one of the more expensive options
- iOS product is relatively new and untested
Spyfone is another parental control app that offers the majority of basic features you would hope to find in parental control software. At the highest tier, these features include text message monitoring, the ability to control and block apps, website blocking, location tracking, and the ability to view all photos and media on a device.
Unfortunately, this app lacks a few features that parents often look for like geo-fencing, the ability to set time limits and limit screen time, and strong website filters. Some of the features this software does offer like location tracking and live viewing can often experience lag. This is especially problematic if you're trying to track your kid's movement, as it can sometimes take up to 15 minutes for location information to sync up.
Where this app does excel, though, is with its live viewing options. With Spyfone you can record calls - a feature few apps offer - though you can't intercept and listen to a call live. You can, however, view what your child is doing on their phone as they do it.
This includes the messages they're typing, videos they're watching, and websites they're visiting. This is an important feature if you want to know what your kids are doing as it happens, not after the fact. You can also control the camera in the target device remotely and view what is happening around your kids in the real world, in real time.
Another handy feature of this app is that jailbreaking isn't required for Apple or Android devices. In fact, there aren't jailbreak and non-jailbreak versions of this software, unlike you see in other parental control app plans.
The plans that are offered are rather expensive, though, coming in at around $300 a year for the highest tier with the specialized features. There are lower tiers that cost less but aren't really worth it for what you would be getting.
Additionally, the customer service isn't great for this app. There is a 24/7 chat option on their website so you're not completely on your own, but if you struggle with making apps like this work and want helpful, responsive customer service, you might want to look into a different app. If you value seeing what your child is doing in real time, though, this app could be the right solution for you!
5. Norton Family - Solid Performance but Lacking in Features
- Great internet controls and content filtering
- Good choice for large families with multiple devices
- Not great on Apple products
- can't block apps from being downloaded
- lacking some basic features
- user interface not very intuitive
The Norton Family parental control app is not the most comprehensive mobile device monitoring software, but it does have a solid set of features and is probably the least expensive parental control app out there, especially if you have a large family or want to monitor several devices.
This app covers some of the basics usually found in monitoring apps like location tracking, some app monitoring, and the ability to read text messages. Notably, it does not offer any kind of call logging or blocking, and there is no way to read messages your child may receive through an app.
This software doesn't provide an app blocker option, so while you can see when an app is downloaded, there is no way to block apps from being placed on the mobile device to begin with.
Where Norton Family does excel, though, is in their online content filtering and ability to set time restrains and enforce time limits when it comes to your kids being on the internet. The online content filtering is set up to give you as much or as little parental control as you would like.
When you first enable the software, there will be some pre-set functions that will recommend filter subjects and levels based on your child's age. You can choose to keep these or customize the filters with up to 48 different terms to ensure your kids are safe online. You can also set designated time limits when your child can be online, and receive reports about device usage.
Unfortunately, Norton Family doesn't offer many services that are compatible with Apple mobile devices. This parental control software does work well with most Android phones, making it a great pick for android parental control. However, it isn't compatible with Huawei devices, Amazon devices (Kindle/Fire), or Chromebooks.
The parental controls aren't very easy to use, so you might find yourself struggling a bit to sort out all the features and functionality.
This is one of the cheapest parental control app options, though, costing only $50 a year which includes unlimited devices.
This app could be the right choice for you if you don't need to place super strict controls on your child, but you still want to be able to have some control over their phone and some peace of mind at an affordable price.
6. QuStodio - Best Compatibility for Multiple Devices
- Compatible with the highest number of platforms & devices
- Panic button for Android phones
- Browser independent filtering
- Very affordable
- Outdated interface for parental controls
- Not good for monitoring social media apps
- No geo-fencing
QuStodio offers a good range of basic parental controls like text message tracking, location monitoring, call logging, and the ability to set time restrictions for both internet use and overall phone use. There are some app blocking capabilities as well, though these are not as strong as I personally would like.
You can block apps through the parental control dashboard, but there is no way to see what your child is doing on apps or social media sites except for Facebook. You also can't read any messages that are sent over social media sites or apps. QuStodio also lacks some advanced options like geo-fencing, call recording, and live device monitoring that you might see on another parental control app.
This app does stand apart from the others, though, when it comes to platform and browser compatibility. QuStodio works on a variety of devices including Kindles, Macs, Nooks, and Apple devices.
The online content filtering has 10 different customizable categories. This isn't a lot compared to other apps, but this app more than makes up for it with live website evaluation that scans sites in real time, and filters that work independently of the browser your kids are using.
This means that the filters will always work when your kids are online, and that they can't install lesser-known browsers to try to get around your controls. It even works to control and track online activity when your kids are using incognito mode. This makes it one of the best options when it comes to online parental control software.
My favorite aspect of this app is the panic button that it will download onto your kid' devices. This is only available for Android phones, but it will show up as a button on their phones that they can hit in case of emergencies. This will send you a notification that there is trouble, along with their location.
Another nice thing about this app is the price. The small plan covers 5 phones and is only $55 a year. There is also a medium plan that covers 10 devices and costs $97 a year. Even their largest plan only costs $138 a year, which covers 15 devices and still costs less than some of the more advanced apps on this list.
If you're looking for a solution that is affordable, has advanced internet controls to block access to sites with bad content, and has a panic button built into your kid's mobile device, then QuStodio could the right app for you.
How We Rate Parental Control Apps
As parents, it would be wonderful to never have to consider price when it comes to the safety of our kids, but cost can and often is a factor when choosing an app that provides the right parental control.
There are a few options on here that are more affordable, but unfortunately, quality tends to come at a price.
Options like mSpy, FlexiSPY, and Spyfone can be expensive, but they also offer more advanced control and more detailed tracking options when it comes to your kid's movements both in the real world and in cyberspace.
If you're extremely tech savvy, this might not be as important for you, but the truth is that most parents struggle with complicated apps from time to time, either because the apps are hard to understand or because the parents simply don't have time to figure them out.
Also, no matter how good technology is, it's bound to have issues crop up at some point. When this happens, it's always important to have good customer care.
Too much time in front of a screen is an understandable parental concern. I feel like I'm constantly fighting to keep my kids off their devices when they should be focusing on other things.
Having an app that lets me track how much time my kids spend on their mobile devices and control when they can be on them makes my parental duties so much easier.
GEO Mapping & Location Tracking
Being able to tell my kid's location at any given time is another concern that seems common in parental circles.
Whether you need to track where you kids are in real time or simply know their location in case something goes wrong, good location mapping software is an important option on control apps for parents.
Texting & Social Media Messaging
Being able to track your kid's texting and social media messaging activity is another important staple for mobile control software. Hacking someone's text messages requires powerful software.
Apps like mSpy, FlexiSPY, and Spyfone may be more expensive, but they offer more involved control options to ensure your kids aren't discussing things that could be dangerous for them.
Software that includes parental control options so you can track your kid's app usage and block certain apps if necessary is also an important thing to have.
Most phone activities these days happens on apps instead of the internet. That's why I think it's very important to be able to see what your kids are doing on apps as well as the internet and be able to track their activities and block problematic apps when needed.
In order to see all of this information you essentially have to hack into the phone.
When your kids do go online, it's important that you can control where they go and the amount of time they spend on certain sites, or online in general.
Good, detailed filters that let you control the content that your child can access online and block websites when needed is a staple of any software that you put on your kid's phone to enable parental control to keep them safe.