As the world continues its relentless charge into the digital age, it’s more important than ever to ensure your children are protected from some of the web’s more mature content.
It’s impossible to know just how much of the internet is devoted to adult material, but estimates suggest pornography alone accounts for anywhere from 5–35 percent of all websites. And that’s before you count topics such as gambling, extreme profanity, dating sites, and other associated themes.
Luckily, the number of parental control apps has been growing at an impressive rate over the last few years. Parents now have a wide choice of software to choose from.
But which should you use? Keep reading to learning about some of the best services available.
1. Windows User Accounts
Microsoft beefed up its native parental control offering with the release of Windows 10 in 2015. It’s now possible to designate a user account as a “Child Account.” Creating a Child Account lets you manage the account across all services the account is connected to, including Windows, Xbox, and Windows Mobile.
Before explaining how to create a Child Account, you need to be aware of two important caveats. Firstly, your own user account on Windows 10 must be linked to a Microsoft Account — you cannot create Child Accounts if your account is a local account. Secondly, you need to create the account within your “Family.” More on that shortly.
To create a Child Account, head to Start > Settings > Accounts. In the panel on the left of the window, click Family and Other People.
Below Your Family, click Add a Family Member. A new window will pop up. Make sure you select Add a Child. If your child already has an email, enter it in the space provided. If they don’t, click The Person Who I Want to Add Doesn’t Have an Email Address. You can then either create a new email or register the new account against your existing email.
Click through the next couple of screens and you’ll get a confirmation message. The new account will be visible under Your Family.
To manage the account, click Manage Family Settings Online. You have options to block websites, limit their “screen time,” add money to their account so they can buy content in the app store, and even get weekly reports about what your child has been up to.
If you want something more powerful than the native Windows tool, you have many options to choose from.
Qustodio is arguably the best third-party parental control app. It has a free version and a premium version, though the free version is comprehensive enough for most users. The basic premium version costs $44 per year.
The free version offers website filters, search result filters, customizable time limits for games and apps, live notifications if your child accesses questionable content, and even a register of what they’ve been doing on the computer. The biggest drawback: it’s only available on one device.
The premium version adds social media monitoring, location tracking, call tracking and blocking, SMS tracking and blocking, and an expanded dashboard. Depending on the plan you choose, you can manage up to 15 devices.
Using Qustodio is simple: you just need to make an account on the website and install the app on all your devices. You can manage the individual settings from the web portal.
The software is also available on Mac, Android, iOS, and Kindle, meaning your kids will be protected regardless of which device they are using.
The award-winning KidsWatch has three core features: web filtering, time limits, and real-time alerts. All the features can be adjusted on a child-by-child basis.
It’s the final one of the three features — real-time alerts — which sets it apart and warrants its inclusion in this list.
The feature can be split into three sub-categories:
- Predator Alerts — The app will automatically show you if any registered sex offenders are living in your neighborhood. It will provide you with a photograph of their face, along with their exact address. You’ll also get alerts if a new offender moves in close by.
- Chat Monitoring — It will monitor your kids’ internet chat conversations for keywords. They include your address and phone number and references to sex and drugs. You can add your own keywords to make the tool even more robust.
- Email Alerts — If you kid ever searches for something inappropriate on Google, the app will instantly send you an email to alert you.
The app also keeps detailed logs of all your child’s online activity. It includes data about which sites they visited and which programs they used. It even saves their chat dialogues.
The full version of the app costs $50 per year.
At the other end of the scale, perhaps you think the features of the apps I’ve discussed so far are too complex. If your child is entering their teenage years, you might feel it’s unnecessary to restrict their online time or monitor their phone calls.
If that’s the case, you should consider OpenDNS. It’s an entirely free service that only blocks websites. According to its website, it will restrict access to anything concerning proxies, anonymizers, sexuality, or pornography.
The beauty of using a DNS-based app is it works at a network level — just add the DNS address to your router’s control panel. If network-wide filtering is too extreme, it can still work on a per device basis.
Parental controls are just one of the many security benefits you can enjoy by changing your DNS server. I’ve covered all the points in detail in an article elsewhere on the site.
Zoodles offers a unique twist on the concept of parental controls. Rather than being a management app, Zoodles is a browser for kids. It’s aimed at children between two and eight years old.
The browser is a walled garden; it offers a restricted safe browsing experience, but more importantly, also includes thousands of books, games, and learning materials. The age you set for your child will determine what content is available.
The app has both free and premium subscriptions. The premium version adds recordable storybooks, extensive activity reports, the ability to promote certain subjects to your child, time limits, and customizable blacklists.
Zoodles is also available on Mac, Android, and iOS.
The final tool in my list is KidLogger. The app doubles as both parental control software and a keylogger. It means you can restrict what content your children have access to while also making sure they’re not using the apps you have given them permission to use in an irresponsible way.
If you deploy the app for an extended period of time, it builds up a comprehensive picture of how your kid is using the computer, including their most-used apps and most frequently accessed files.
It also has a cool feature which secretly takes a screenshot of your computer at predetermined intervals before saving them in the cloud, allowing you physically see what your child was doing within each app.
In addition to Windows, the app is available on Mac, iOS, Android, and Blackberry.
Which Is Your Favorite Parental Control Software?
I’ve introduced you to six tools that can keep your children safe. Now it’s your turn to share your opinions. How do you make sure your kid isn’t accessing inappropriate content? Which app do you use? What makes it so unique?
We’ve also got you covered if you need parental control apps for Chromebook.
Image Credit: sakkmesterke via Shutterstock.com