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Top 5 Parental Control Apps
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By: Digital Safety Alliance
May 5th, 2024

Smartphones offer a continuous stream of stimulation that can be difficult for young people to ignore. This is especially concerning given the results of a 2023 Common Sense Media report, which found that by age 11, half of US children will have a smartphone.
These devices have transformed how children communicate, learn, and entertain themselves. While this transformation has produced tangible benefits, it also comes with numerous risks and challenges that need to be carefully navigated.
Part of that navigation includes monitoring how (and how often) your kids use their smartphones.
In addition to setting smartphone ground rules, educating your kids about the potential risks of online activities, and regularly communicating with them about their device usage, you should also consider using a parental control app that can help manage your kids’ screen time and protect them from various online dangers.
Parental controls allow you to set limits on your kids’ app access and overall phone use while also helping them build healthy tech habits.
While all parental control apps perform the same general function, they vary in terms of recommended ages, intended devices, specific features, and price points.

Here are our top five picks based on effectiveness, ease of use, and parents’ most common needs:
1. Aura Parental Controls

A great comprehensive option featuring a powerful collection of tools, Aura Parental Controls lets you manage your child’s mobile devices, web surfing, gaming, and more. The app filters or blocks inappropriate content, allows you to limit screen time, and tracks all internet usage. The service also monitors online PC gaming, including in-game voice and text communications, while preventing cyberbullying and sending you alerts regarding predators.
Aura monitors up to 10 email addresses, keeping an eye on the dark web for potential data breaches. All of Aura’s tools can be set up and controlled using your smartphone. You can filter web content based on your child’s age, and even remotely pause their internet access entirely.
2. Apple Screen Time

Built into all Apple devices, Apple’s Screen Time is an unmatched parental control option for families with iPhones and iPads. Screen Time lets you monitor how much time your kids spend on apps, websites, and other platforms. You can also block or limit certain apps and features, restrict explicit content, and prevent purchases and downloads.
Screen Time is often used by parents to block device access at bedtime so kids can’t stay up late playing games or scrolling social media. While the app is free for all Apple users, you can add other features like geofencing for an extra fee. 
3. Bark Premium

Ideal for kids and teens with smartphones, Bark Premium is an all-in-one solution to keep your kids safe online. The platform can be used to monitor text messages, emails, saved photos and videos, and activities on more than 30 popular social media platforms.
You can set screen time schedules, block specific websites or types of content, and track your child’s location in real time via their smartphone. You can also get real-time alerts for various things like cyberbullying, potential interactions with predators, or if your child communicates with others about violence or self-harm.
4. Google Family Link

Google Family Link is a free Android app that features numerous device-specific parental controls, including location tracking, web monitoring, and app management. You can set limits on daily phone use, plus schedule your kid’s phone to be disabled at bedtime.
The platform also allows you to block the use of individual apps, as well as set time limits for individual apps. Kids age out of Google Family Link at age 13, however, as they can sign up for a Google account on their own and opt out of monitoring. At that point, Qustodio (see below) is a good next option.
5. Qustodio
Designed for kids on Android who are over 13, Qustodio lets you set a daily overall screen-time limit for your child and set time limits on individual apps – just like Google Family Link – but it also lets you block out more than one time period when you want the smartphone to be off-limits (such as during homework time, dinnertime, and bedtime).
You can track how much time your child is spending on a particular app or activity on the phone. You can block calls, and view text messages and web searches. You can also block inappropriate apps, games, and websites, and receive alerts when they try to access blocked content. Qustodio also offers a detailed, real-time “news feed” of your child’s online activities.
While parental control and monitoring apps can be a bit pricey, free options or tiers often lack features parents are looking for. The best value can be found if you are looking to monitor multiple devices at once. Make a list of the features that are most important to you, then compare app options and pricing to find the best fit.
Also, the above picks represent a small portion of the universal monitoring and parental control apps and systems on the market. Click here to see a longer list of options that might work for your family, as well as other resources that can help you keep your family safe online.