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As if parenting wasn't already hard enough, the internet age brought new challenges to raising a child. Most children today grow up connected to the internet, and this makes parents' jobs a bit more complicated, because now they also need to ensure their children's well-being online.
The benefits and opportunities presented by the internet are unquestionable, but the internet is also full of unsafe places that children should never go. Besides that, spending too much time online can be harmful for a small child's development. While we believe that all parents should be able to give their children access to the internet, it is also the parents' responsibility to protect their children from themselves, other users and inappropriate sites online.
What makes internet safety tricky is that the internet allows kids to connect and interact with the rest of the world within a few clicks. When access is so easy and fast, it is more probable for children to stumble upon hazardous content or people. Not to mention, monitoring their activity manually as a parent becomes an onerous task.
As the saying goes, modern problems require modern solutions, and the best way to deal with problems related to the internet is by employing internet tools. There are currently myriads of applications and devices you can use to protect your kids online. These solutions allow you to have full control over your child's internet use anywhere and anytime. Whether you want to monitor their traffic, restrict their internet use or block their access to certain sites, you can easily achieve all of this through these solutions.
In this article, we've included both software and hardware devices that are designed to protect children online. We evaluated each parental monitoring system according to the features, coverage and the user experience it offers.
Qustodio is one of the most well-known parental control solutions on the market. This app is an all-in-one parental control system that allows you to monitor your child's device use and manage their web access. You can track the websites visited, apps used and even the social media activity of your child. The social media feature only works fully for Facebook and YouTube, but you are able to track the time spent on other platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp. For Android phones, the app gives you the power to track calls and SMS text messages. As for the restrictions you can set, you can block certain words, websites, apps and set-time limits for each day. You can easily customize the app to set limits for your children or leave it to the automatically enabled, powerful filtering technology to take care of it for you. You can set the app to deal with the filtered words and URL's in three different ways: allow, block or alert. Alongside offering the complete package in supervising online activity, Qustodio also comes with other advanced features for your child's protection. They have a locator feature that finds iOS and Android devices on the map, this includes a geo-fencing feature and an SOS button for Android devices which sends the parents a location-based alert if there's trouble.
To monitor your children's internet activity in real-time using Qustodio, you first need to download the app on your and your child's devices. After downloading and pairing the devices, you are automatically set to monitor your children's devices. The setup is very straightforward, but there is a downside to it, the default setup doesn't come at an optimal configuration and you have to fine-tune the settings after the initial set-up to get most out of the app. The Qustodio app is available on pretty much all mainstream devices; the app works perfectly on Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, and Kindle. For parents who are monitoring, we recommend them start using this app on the web portal for best experience.
The interface of Qustodio is overall very user-friendly and highly configurable, which makes the app very convenient to use. Every piece of information that is tracked and recorded is communicated to the parent through the app dashboard that clearly outlines everything using numbers and graphs. If you don't plan to regularly check on the app, Qustodio sends a 30-day breakdown of your child's activity in your inbox. Qustodio's app on the child device also has an aggressive uninstall protection and is very well-adjusted to prevent children from circumventing the blocks. Though, it is reported that some VPNs do manage to penetrate the restrictions.
Qustodio's application might be on the pricier side, but it comes with unique features and is a very reliable parental control system overall. Every advanced feature works in a satisfactory way, because Qustodio's app is constantly being updated and improved. Qustodio offers all the main functions of a parental control application in the best way possible, and it has one of the most secure systems. We had a chance to personally test this application, and we can say that it's the best application when you consider all factors, despite its price. If you want to get Qustodio, the basic free subscription covers a single device with web filtering, time limits and activity reports. To make use of premium features, you have the choice of three different payment options based on the number of devices you want to connect, each one being a year-long plan. You can also get three days of free premium access to test out this amazing app.
Pros: Reliable brand and product, supports a wide variety of platforms including Kindle, probably the best app for social media monitoring, extensive features like location tracking and panic button
Cons: To connect more devices and get premium features you pay a hefty price, parental restrictions can be avoided using some VPNs, some of the advanced features could be improved like social media monitoring, short premium trial period$49.46 from Qustodio
Norton is one of the most established brands in computer security products, alongside offering its famous anti-virus software and a selection of privacy tools, they have one of the best parental control software under their name. This software, Norton Family, as you can guess from the name is designed to protect families from the dangerous parts of the internet. Norton Family is loaded with amazing features and offers a lot of customization, which makes it one of the most advanced parental control systems in this list. Norton also has no limit on the number of monitored devices, which is a huge plus. The big letdown about this parental control system is that it does not support Mac and has limited features for iOS devices. Apart from that, the app is a very powerful tool that will allow you to erect a detailed online monitoring system.
This parental control system is very well thought-out overall and offers comprehensive configuration options for each of its features. The filtering and blocking settings offer the most customization among all the systems we reviewed for this list. You can choose from the long list of pre-set content categories what you want the system to block, warn of or monitor for you. You can create exceptions for certain websites that fall under one of the categories, and you can customize settings according to age groups.
The filtering feature is particularly effective for supervising web surfing, especially if your child uses the Norton Browser. Although the web filtering feature works well with most standard browsers, an unsupported browser can be used to avoid the restrictions of the Norton software. Norton Family also has an amazing time management feature which you can use to set daily screen time limits and schedule access times for your kids. This feature also notifies the children if they reached their daily limit. The children can also use the app in their device to see the rules set by their parents which makes them more conscious about the restrictions, and even more impressive, the child users can submit a dispute through the app to request access to a website. For Android devices, Norton lets you to even block apps and you also get an excellent text message monitoring feature which lets the parents read and block messages, and handle contacts. However, Norton makes sure that there is total transparency in these services, the person your child messages and your child will always be kept aware that they are being monitored. Besides all this, Norton also offers unique features like monitoring the videos watched by your children on YouTube and Hulu, logging search activity and although not very useful at the moment, a social media monitoring tool. Norton Family does not offer geofencing, but it does have a location tracking feature.
Norton Family's interface is easy enough to be figured out without any guidance, but it is not the most clean and practical interface out there. Don't get us wrong, you will have no trouble using all the features and customizing the app, it's just a matter of visual comfort. On the other hand, the Norton Family has a very easy setup process, simply install the software and create an account. Then, the app asks you to set up a user profile for each child by entering their name and birthday. After completing this, you will have to install the same app to the devices you want to monitor and select the users for those devices, from there on you are good to go. Norton's software is very effective in setting up rules based on age, so you will get an effective default setting based on the profiles you create.
Overall, the Norton Family service is kind of pricey but the unlimited device support makes it a good deal for large families. Not to mention, the Norton name and the many one of a kind features makes it stand out from its competitors. We didn't get the chance to personally test this application, but it has earned four stars from both PC Magazine and Tom's Guide. If you want the advanced features and don't plan on monitoring any Mac devices, this is an ideal parental control software. The Norton Family is a subscription-based software in which you pay an annual price to keep using the software. Until September 30, 2020, you can get six months of Norton Family for free.
Pros: A lot of advanced features, very customizable, trusted brand, able to monitor unlimited number of devices
Cons: Does not work on Macs, not the best interface, social media monitoring feature needs work$49.99 from Norton
Developed by Disney, the Circle Home Plus is a Wi-Fi based parental monitoring system. This small, cube-shaped device, connects to your home Wi-Fi network, getting a hold of your household's whole network traffic from the route. It allows you to protect any device connected to your Wi-Fi, regardless of the platform. Although it does not have many unique features, it performs all of its existing features perfectly throughout all devices. You can rely on this device to filter content, monitor usage & history, manage screen time, and pause or block internet access, which is essentially all you want from a parental control system. You can additionally use features like setting up bedtimes and giving rewards in the form of extra internet time, which can make things easier for parents. A huge plus of this system is that it lets you monitor an unlimited number of devices, which is extremely useful when you consider that the average household has 10 plus devices. If you ask what makes this device stand out from the others, it is probably the sleek interface design and the user convenience.
The Circle Home Plus device comes with an app that enables parents to customize the settings of the system and access to information about their kids' online activity. The interface of this application is clean and simple, you can learn to navigate through the app intuitively. The same applies for the set-up and configuration process. The app walks you through the whole process, you set up a Circle account and you are good to go. The only downside of this app is that for some reason it is only available for mobile devices and there is no way to control the system using a computer. However, the Circle Plus app allows this parental control system to overcome one of the major shortcomings of a physical Wi-Fi monitoring system, which is the lack of control over mobile devices. If you download the Circle app in your children's device and pair it with the rest of the monitoring system, you will have the ability to monitor individual devices, the same way you control your home network. This means your kids can't simply bypass the restrictions by switching to cellular data. The companion app installed in your kid's devices also provides them information about their own online activity and lets you track your device location, but this does not include geofencing.
By combining the hardware device, with a software app, The Circle Home Plus to create a comprehensive system which provides the best of both worlds. The hardware component does have the vulnerabilities of being a physical device (if your kids are severely tech savvy) and the overall system does lack some of the advanced features such as geofencing, filtering content within an app and blocking all VPNs. Despite these shortcomings it is an overall easy and reliable device that does an exceptional job in controlling your home network traffic. Plus, you are able to support an unlimited number of devices.
When you buy the Circle Home Plus and you get a free year-long premium membership which alongside the basic features lets you set time limits, block or pause the internet for individual devices and set a bedtime. After the end of the first year, you will have to pay a monthly fee to keep your premium membership. The basic membership which is free, offers pretty much all the essential features of a parental monitoring system.
Pros: Trusted brand, comes with an app, can control mobile devices that are off the network, simple interface: easy to manage
Cons: Physical device makes it more vulnerable, subscription for premium features, does not offer many advanced features like geofencing and filtering within an app, no web interface
Calling the Gryphon Guardian a parental control system would actually be misleading, because it's much more than that. It is primarily a mesh Wi-Fi system with a focus on parental control. However, its parental control features are so comprehensive that it is a better product than most of the other parental control solutions on the market. We didn't have the chance to personally use the device, but the networking experts at Tom's Guide handed it four out of five stars.
The Gryphon Guardian is exceptional among hardware-based parental control systems. Gryphon Guardian's built-in parental control system does an amazing job in monitoring, filtering and managing device usage time. As a device that works directly through controlling the network traffic of your home Wi-Fi, the Guardian has the ability to support all platforms without any compatibility issues. Just like the Circle Home Plus, the Gryphon Guardian also comes with a supplementary Gryphon HomeBound app that could be downloaded to individual devices in order to monitor your kids' devices beyond your home network. In addition to that, it's not possible to simply unplug the device to circumvent the parental control, because the Gryphon Guardian is at the same time a mesh Wi-Fi system which provides the internet.
Before even talking about the parental control aspect, Gryphon is a solid mesh Wi-Fi product that can significantly enhance your home Wi-Fi. With its smart mesh nodes managing your network traffic, it can boost your Wi-Fi speed and efficiency in addition to enhancing your Wi-Fi coverage. This mesh Wi-Fi system also brings an extra layer of security to your overall network, by actively protecting your system from malware and blocking unknown devices. Moreover, Gryphon's official website states that the Guardian is also able to block VPNs and ads.
Now to talk about parental control, this network system allows you to take total control over each device that connects to it. You will be able to monitor your kids in real-time using the same app you use for setting up and managing the mesh system. This consolidated application interface is clean and intuitive. To start monitoring your kids you will need to create a profile and form user groups for each device. You get to select a bunch of classifications for each user, like birthdate, school year and etc. The system is smart and decides to block content according to the information you entered, of course you have the power to change this according to your personal preferences. The overall blocking and filtering features are really good, you get total control over your kids' access to websites and apps. These features are very customizable, you can even set the device to block certain content at certain time slots. For example, you can set the device to block all social media sites during their study hours, while letting them access the learning resources online. You also get a safe search feature which also covers YouTube searches, and you have full access over your child's browsing history. Like in Norton Family, your kids can request access to sites that are blocked, by sending you a request in real time and you can manage their request remotely via the app.
The Gryphon Guardian has all the essential qualities of a solid parental control system and even provides a few advanced features. Nevertheless, its scope of customization is not the best and does not offer some of the more cutting-edge features like social media, text message monitoring and location tracking. Though, it is a very clean product both with its app interface and the physical device. Every aspect of this system is designed to make things simple for the users, that seems to be the whole point in creating a device that has a built-in parental control system. You can get this one of a kind product for under $100, but if you want to create a connected mesh network you will have to buy more than just one. Also, you will have to pay an additional TKTK fee for the subscription that allows you to use some of the advanced parental control features.
Pros: Parental control system is built in the mesh Wi-Fi system, very clean and simple, covers devices that are not on the Wi-Fi network, you can't get around it by unplugging the device, allows kids to request access to blocked sites through the system
Cons: The primary purpose of the device is not parental control, it's expensive, does not have advanced features like location tracking, social media and text message monitoring$79.20 from Amazon
Kaspersky Safe Kids is an amazing parental control application that is very functional and reliable. This application is as good as the rest of the parental control systems listed in this article, but comes for a significantly cheaper price. What's great about this application is that it supports all the popular platforms and allows you to monitor as many devices as you please. Kaspersky Safe Kids perfectly performs all the monitoring, filtering and time management functions and on top of that offers advanced features like location tracking, geofencing and app blocking which you can't find in all parental control applications.
The filtering feature on Kaspersky Safe Kids is similar to the rest of the parental control applications. Kaspersky comes with 14 pre-set content categories for filtering. You can choose what to filter and customize the options differently for each child. Like Norton Family, once you are done with the setup, the application preconfigures restrictions based on your child's birthdate. You can of course make the appropriate changes as you go. You have the choice to block, warn or to allow the filtered content. This application is particularly good in filtering search results, their new search filtering tool can block certain words from being searched as opposed to just filtering out the results. If you have the Premium version, you can even block or view YouTube searches. Overall, the blocking settings work great across most popular browsers, but you may run into problems with lesser known, not fully supported browsers. A problem also presents in various other parental control applications including Norton Family. However, the Kaspersky app can be a solution, to its own shortcoming, you can use the app blocking feature in order to make sure they are only using the supported web browsers.
The app is able to monitor and block applications on all popular platforms, but you can run into troubles here and there with iOS devices. You will also be able to monitor Facebook using Kaspersky Safe Kids, though for this feature you need your kid to install an additional app that links up with their Facebook. Also, for each app, you can set a total time limit for each device or create a usage schedule. You can also do the same thing for the whole device, by setting times for the entire device to lockdown. The overall time management feature in Kaspersky is effective, offering a variety of options. You can either opt in to block or warn your children about the time restrictions.
One of the not so strong qualities of the Kaspersky Safe Kids application is the web interface of the app. Managing the system using the web interface seems to be less efficient then using the mobile app which conversely functions very well. Despite its lacking performance, the desktop version comes with a setup assistant feature which helps you understand and navigate the app. This is a feature that you don't see in most parental control applications. As like other application based parental control systems, the setup process is quick and simple. You just need to install the application on each device and set up user profiles. Once you assign each device a user and setup the parent portal, you are good to go.
If you want to buy a top parental control system, Kaspersky Safe Kids definitely offers the best value for your money. While testing this app, we were amazed by the features and quality offered for such a cheap price. If you are planning to monitor only one device you can opt in for the free version which also doesn't include some of the advanced features. Before buying, you can always test out the premium version with a free 7-day trial.
Pros: Very affordable, offers location tracking and geofencing, can filter YouTube searches, can monitor unlimited number of devices, supports most platforms
Cons: You can't monitor text messages, web app interface has a few problems, some features don't work as well for iOS devices$14.99 from Kaspersky
The most important aspect of a parental control system is its functionality. You will want to monitor your kids using a system that can reliably perform all the essential duties: blocking, filtering and time management. It is important to consider the scope of these features as well, to see how detailed each solution is and how much customization is possible with each feature. You will want these features to be easy to manage and be able to have them set in a perfect way that encapsulates all your needs. Alongside the standard filtering, blocking and time management features, most elite parental control systems give the user extra features that make their overall service more complete. You can get advanced features like location tracking, geofencing, social media monitoring, text message monitoring, and etc.
As there are various different devices and platforms that you can use, device compatibility is a common issue for systems like these. While Wi-Fi based systems can effectively control the internet usage of each device regardless of the operating system, parental control solutions that require an individual app in each device often have issues working on each different platform and their performance varies according to platform. Alongside compatibility, the number of devices you are allowed to manage is also a crucial aspect of device support. A standard household now has over 10 devices and just being able to manage 5 devices is sometimes not sufficient.
Interface is one of the most important elements of any digital system. It is a particularly important component of a parental control system because alongside managing controls, the interface is what you use to monitor your children's online activities. In this case, a well-designed interface has to be able to efficiently communicate all the information you need to know as a parent. This is a challenging thing to do since there is so much data that is being tracked, and so many different ways to present this information to the end user. This means the app and web interface should really be optimized to provide parents with a better monitoring experience. Of course, another important function of the interface is the management of the whole system. A good interface makes the configuration part simple and intuitive.
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