Making sure my kids aren’t spending their entire afternoon watching YouTube videos, and, more importantly, that they’re not stumbling into dark corners of the internet, is pretty high up on my list of tech-forward lifestyle priorities.
However, kids are so connected these days that doing so could seriously become another full-time job. I don’t have time for that, and I doubt you do, either.
Instead, I’ve befriended some parental control apps and services—products that enforce time limits and safer browsing, texting, and social media posting for you, once you’ve initially specified the boundaries.
While Google Family Link and Apple Screen Time are the most well-known (because they’re baked into your kid’s phone’s OS), they just cover the basics. There are now many others that take care of additional concerns, and they’re getting smarter and smarter.
Here are five of the most effective options out there and what each is best for, depending on how you want to regulate your kids’ behavior and the kinds of devices they’re using. Happy tech-parenting!
APPLE SCREEN TIME
Apple allows you to set restrictions on your kids’ iOS devices—Macs, iPhones, and iPads—via its Screen Time feature. In the settings, you can choose “This is My Child’s [Device]” and then set passcode-protected restrictions (maybe don’t make this particular passcode your daughter’s birthday?). Some options: You can prevent your child from downloading and/or purchasing apps and from making in-app purchases, limit the use of built-in apps and features (like Facetime or Podcasts), restrict explicit music and videos from playing, and even tell the device to filter “adult” content in Safari and within apps. If you want to go even further: You can set Safari to only allow a pre-approved list of allowed websites to load.
GOOGLE FAMILY LINK
If you’re an Android family, Google Family Link is the Apple Screen Time equivalent. The app allows you to see your kids’ activity, including how much time they’re spending in each app and manage apps by either blocking downloads altogether or getting notifications that allow you to approve or deny each one. You can set limits on how much time they’re on a device and give it a bedtime (that matches your kids’ bedtime, natch). Here’s a cool one: You can also remotely lock their devices at any time, like if you told them it was time for dinner and they’re still Snapchatting. Heh heh. And a bonus feature that doesn’t have to do with device security per se: you can see where they are on a map.
Bark is an aptly named alert tool. Like a dog warning you of a potential intruder, it monitors your kids’ behavior online and notifies you when it finds something you should be concerned about. But the concerns it’s looking for are less to do with others, and more to do with language your child might be using that could be a tip-off to cyberbullying, or suicidal thoughts. You can set it to watch your kids’ texts, emails, and accounts on 25 different social media networks. It will then send you notifications when it finds a “potential concern,” so you can talk to your kids and make sure they don’t need help.
Mobicip is known for its smart internet filter, but its latest iteration is basically a 360-degree approach to parental controls, with almost every feature you could imagine. Its security package encompasses both mobile devices and computers and allows you to limit screen time, lock devices instantly, locate kids, restrict apps, games, and social media networks, block inappropriate content and sites, and supervise videos on streaming services. You can basically set all of the controls and then let it do its thing. If you want to check in on how it’s working, there’s even a dashboard that compiles your kids’ digital history.
Amazon’s approach to parental control comes paired with unlimited access to kid-friendly digital content, so if you’ve got a bookworm for a son, this may be the way to go. FreeTime is compatible with Amazon devices like the Fire, Echo, and Kindle but also works on iOs and Android systems. It comes with the ability to filter content by age, set screen time limits, and manage web browsing and review activity from an Amazon Parent Dashboard. The coolest differentiator here is the educational component—you can set goals for your kids and block access to fun features like games and cartoons until after they’ve hit the learning goals. So not only are you being smart about their safety, they’re getting a little smarter, too.
Have you used any parental control apps? If you’ve used one of these, weigh in on the pros and cons, below. If you’ve got another favorite, add it to the list (and tell us why you love it)!