Others, like Kaspersky Safe Kids and Norton Family, do not restrict the number of devices that you can monitor or child accounts that you can set up. Most parental control apps can monitor both on Android and iOS. These mobile apps typically allow you to manage settings and view reports from a phone or tablet itself, though some do not have this capability.
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The quality of mobile apps can also vary significantly between platforms; stricter design rules on iOS sometimes makes a noticeable difference, as is the case with Locategy. One quick note; parental control software tends to be more powerful on Android than on iOS since Apple locks down app permissions and device access.
Most parental control apps for iPhones require you to install a mobile device management MDM profile in order for all of the features especially those related to app management and time restrictions to function correctly. Apple recently announced Screen Time for iOS 12 , which adds an excellent set of monitoring and restriction tools.
Apple's built-in and free solution is also account-based, meaning that it keeps track of data across all of a child's devices. Apple already included a good range of app-blocking and web-filtering options within the Restrictions section of its main settings app. Taken together, this means that when iOS 12 is released later this year, Apple will have a native and near-complete array of parental monitoring capabilities, which rivals the for-pay offerings of competitors.
The hallmark feature of any parental control app is its ability to prevent kids from accessing inappropriate or dangerous websites. The majority of these apps bundle a proprietary browser that makes it easier for the services to manage, track, and control browsing activity. This makes more sense than trying to reverse engineer support for every conceivable mobile browser. As such, most of these apps instruct you to block every other browser or restrict your child from installing any other apps at all.
Some parental control utilities don't force your child to use a proprietary browser on iOS devices. Rather, they leverage VPN technology, running internet connections through a local app to enable content filtering. You'll see the VPN icon when such a utility is active. Note that this doesn't mean the child's connection is secured by a full-scale virtual private network, nor that the device's IP address is masked.
Most of these browsers operate similarly in that they block access to websites that fall under banned categories, including all the biggest offenders, such as file sharing, gambling, pornography, and violence. The best examples have no trouble picking up on HTTPS -encrypted traffic and blocking access to anonymizing proxies. Some apps, such as Net Nanny, let you create custom web-filtering categories, and the vast majority let you add specific rules for custom domains. The quality of web history reporting also varies from service to service.
Qustodio shows previews of the sites your child visits on a timeline and contextual options for setting rules, while FamilyTime Premium does not support web supervision at all. One area in which most mobile parental control solutions excel is in their ability to prevent children from using selected apps. This can come in handy for parents looking to prevent their kids from using social media apps, messaging services that are difficult to monitor, or browsers that get around the defined web filters.
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Still, it can be difficult to keep track of every new app that your child installs. Better yet are those services, such as Boomerang, that automatically block new apps your child installs until you explicitly approve them. App blocking works differently on iOS. You can block access to system apps such as Safari, Camera, and Siri, if you wish. You can also disable the iTunes Store and App Store, and ban in-app purchases. Some parental control apps can ever remove app icons completely from the home screen, so there's no chance your kid can access them.
Time restriction is another major feature of parental control apps. Some services, like Norton and FamilyTime, let you specify how many total hours or minutes a day your child can spend on any given device as well as a schedule for when it is ok to use it.
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Net Nanny takes a slightly different approach and applies these time limits to internet usage. Still others, such as Qustodio, offers a mix; you can set up usage schedules for specific apps and device usage, as well as specifying a total time allotment for your child that applies across every piece of hardware they use to access the internet. A mobile parental control app should at the very least be able to keep track of a child's current location and some historical location data, too. It's also important for them to offer some level of control over notifications and the frequency of location reporting, to avoid bombarding the parent with useless data.
Both Qustodio and Norton Family offer these features. Some services, including Locategy, Boomerang, and FamilyTime, go one step further, letting you construct geofences around a location. For the uninitiated, geofences are digital boundaries around a physical location that help parents keep track of when a child arrives at or leaves a given location.
Kaspersky Safe Kids even lets you add a dimension of time to a geofence, so you can easily make sure a child stays where they are supposed to be throughout the day. Boomerang offers a unique feature, in that you can draw custom geofences on a map; others just create a circular radius around a point you define. The best parental control applications let you record and monitor who your child communicates with and what they talk about in said conversations.
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Keep in mind that this capability is almost exclusively limited to Android. The implementation of this feature varies from service to service, of course. FamilyTime Premium, for example, copies a child's entire SMS history and call log for parents to review. Norton and Boomerang take a less invasive approach and let you specify which conversations to monitor and log. Still others, like Locategy, only display the phone's call log. The best parental control software also lets you manage your child's social media activity, though in most cases this is limited to Facebook.
You can block adult websites in the Web Content section, or add a list of websites you want to let your kids use in the Allowed Websites Only list. You will also be able to see the location of the device on a map. Tinder Get Tinder messages on the iOS device. Qustodio Review. So you could block games, social networking apps, entertainment, and others.
Net Nanny used to offer a service dedicated to tracking social media accounts, but it is no longer available at the time of this writing. One last feature worth mentioning is an SOS button. When a child presses this button, it sends out an alert to the parent and any other trusted contacts.
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The notification includes time and location information and will in some cases keep broadcasting said data until either the child deactivates the alarm or the parent disables it from their own account. This works regardless of platform and even if a child has run out of their allotted time.
Parents who are worried about always being reachable to their kids in case of emergencies should consider Qustodio and Locategy for this reason. Although the range of features that parental control software supports is impressive, no system is perfect. If your children want to get around the limitations you impose, they will likely be able to do so either by using unmonitored devices or finding ways to wipe their devices clean of the controlling apps.
Thus, it's worthwhile to take the time to talk with your child about why you have installed monitoring software in the first place. After all, digital safety and security are worthwhile topics for everyone. It's better to approach these conversations honestly, rather than have them find out on their own and stop trusting you.
Especially for older children, it's also important to listen to your child's specific privacy concerns, rather than just setting rules and restrictions that may otherwise be seen as arbitrary. Time scheduler for internet, device, and application usage.
Location tracking. Cons: Expensive. Social monitoring only tracks Facebook. Dated web portal. Some iOS limitations. Pros: Affordable. No limit on devices or child profiles. Flexible control of device and app usage. Robust web filtering. Extensive alert system. Cons: Several iOS limitations. Content filtering limited to specific browsers. Social monitoring only covers Facebook and VK.
Sluggish web interface. Excellent web dashboard.
FamilyTime (Android and iOS)
Settings apply across all devices. No limit on number of PC, phones, tablets, or children protected. Tracks child's location. Cons: Does not work on Macs. No Free version anymore. Web extension is easily disabled. Platform-dependent features. Lackluster social media tracking. Bottom Line: Norton Family's top-notch web interface and wealth of features make it easy for parents to track and manage their children's activity across their many devices, though it doesn't work on Macs.
Pros: Supports Windows, Mac, Android. Web-based configuration and reporting. Powerful filtering. Cross-platform internet time allowance. App control for Android. Tap one or more categories, then tap Next. On the next screen, you define the limits in time. You can also customize the amount time limit by the day of the week. For example, you can let your kids play more games on the weekend.
Tap Customize Days, then tap a day to adjust its settings. You can set individual limits by category; just tap Add Limit again from the main screen, select a different category, and adjust it. So you can set up different limits for each category. Note that these categories are not perfect; they correspond to categories selected by developers when they submit apps to the App Store. For the most part, they're fine; you won't find games in the non-game category. But there may be some overlap.
You also cannot see a full list of all the apps in each category. Irrespective of Downtime and App Limits settings, you can choose which apps are always allowed on the device. By default, Apple includes the Phone app, Messages, and Maps.
It's a good idea to make it possible for your kids to always access these, so you can stay in touch with them, and so they can find their way if they need to, but you can turn them off if you wish. You can also add any individual app to the Always Allowed list; this is useful if an app is miscategorized and your child needs to use it, such as for their homework. You may notice some strange items in this list; they are long strings of letters and numbers. These correspond to Safari shortcuts that you may have created on your home screen, which won't show up as individual apps.
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This isn't very useful, and you cannot add a specific website to Always Allowed. As you can see above, there is a long Privacy section, which lets you prevent access to things like location services, contacts, calendars, and more. If you scroll down, there are also settings that can limit the ability for a user to change the device's passcode, make changes to their account settings, and so on.
Under Content Restrictions, you can limit content such as movies, TV shows, or apps by age rating, and you can block explicit music and podcasts. You can block adult websites in the Web Content section, or add a list of websites you want to let your kids use in the Allowed Websites Only list. And you can block things like Siri web searches, or Game Center features.
There are a lot of settings you can use to protect your children, and it's worth taking some time to go through them and figure out what works best. As your children mature, and as they understand the dangers of the internet, you can adjust these settings and be more flexible. Have you found Screen Time parental controls effective? What improvements and features do you hope Apple implements in the future? Leave a comment and let us know.
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