Best Parental-Control Apps 2018

Paul Wagenseil ·
Senior editor, security, privacy and gaming

Norton Family Premier

  • Great location tracking features
  • Easy-to-configure restrictions and profiles
  • Ability to block individual apps
  • Limited message monitoring
  • Can't place time limits on specific apps

PhoneSheriff for Android

  • Granular time-limit controls
  • Extensive browsing and texting logs
  • Strong location features, including geofencing and a panic button for alerting contacts to a child's whereabouts.
  • Difficult to install
  • Blocking websites is cumbersome and filters can be hit-or-miss.

ESET Parental Control for Android

  • Easy-to-set-up web filters and time limits
  • Strong app-management tools
  • Support for unlimited Android devices
  • Fast location tracking
  • Doesn’t log location history
  • No tools for monitoring social networks or contacts
  • Time limits lack precise control over individual apps

Digital dangers lurk everywhere in the mobile age, and the internet never goes to sleep or stops demanding our attention. This can be particularly challenging for parents of kids armed with smartphones loaded with disappearing-message apps. These kids may really believe that their next texts, tweets or viral videos cannot wait until the next morning.

Parental-control apps for smartphones can also help kids understand the value of limits in a digital world while preventing them from accessing adult content or texting with strangers.

No single parental-control service is perfect, but our testing found that Norton Family Premier delivered the best mix of web filtering, location tracking and app management, particularly when installed on Android devices. (The iPhone version of Norton Family Premier was limited by comparison, but still offered just enough web filtering to make it worthwhile.)

Norton's parental-control app beat out PhoneSheriff ($89 a year), which is a good alternative on Android, particularly for monitoring texting. Parents with many kids to manage might appreciate the simple setup of ESET Parental Control for Android ($30 a year), which lets you control an unlimited number of devices.

Norton and ESET also make antivirus software, and many antivirus products have parental controls built in. To see how well those controls stack up against the stand-alone services, please read The Best (and Worst) Antivirus Software for Parents.

Note: The maker of PhoneSheriff and MobileSpy, Retina-X Studios, no longer takes new orders for either app, following a break-in into company servers in March 2018. We've removed both apps from the carousel above.

Qustodio for Families Premium

  • Easy to manage multiple users
  • Per-app time limits
  • Detailed text and call logs.
  • No geofencing
  • Poor web-filtering performance.

Net Nanny for Android

  • Intuitive user interface makes it easy to block apps and set time filters
  • Age-based profiles speed up setup
  • Mobile browser can mask profanity on nonrestricted sites
  • No geofencing
  • Can't set time limits on specific uses

Norton Family Premier (iOS)

  • Effective location tracking
  • Robust web content filters
  • Age-based profiles that make creating web filters a snap
  • Can't place time limits or restrict app usage
  • Can't block contacts


  • Affordable tool for restricting app access
  • Challenges kids with English and math questions
  • Ability to add profiles for different ages
  • Nonexistent monitoring functionality
  • No curfew feature to curb use after hours
  • Requires a lot of personal data

My Mobile Watchdog

  • Easy-to-review web browsing history
  • Simple installation process
  • Temporary blocking feature.
  • No geofencing
  • Cumbersome app-management tools
  • Cluttered activity log.

Qustodio Parental Control for iPhone and iPad

  • Excellent web content filters
  • Informative activity timeline
  • Management tools limited to a handful of apps
  • Cannot block calls or texts from apps other than Messages
  • Inaccurate location-tracking features

Mobile Spy Basic Version 7

  • Extensive logging capabilities
  • Alerts for when a particular number calls your child's phone or when the device leaves an approved area.
  • Challenging installation process
  • Can't block specific callers
  • Can't set time limits on apps.
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Author Bio

Paul Wagenseil, Senior editor, security, privacy and gaming

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. That's all he's going to tell you unless you meet him in person.