As a parent of a teen, you likely have some concerns about their internet and smartphone use. You want to keep them safe without invading their privacy. A parental control app can help you strike that balance.
With so many options on the market, choosing the right parental control app for your teen can feel overwhelming. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to pick the best app for your family’s needs.
Why Should Parents Use a Monitoring App?
Parental control apps allow you to:
- Monitor your teen’s activities, including texts, social media, web browsing, and location.
- Set time limits and block apps or websites.
- Get alerts about concerning behaviors like cyberbullying, depression, or explicit content.
The main goal is keeping your teen safe, not punishing them. An app gives you insight so you can have constructive conversations and intervene if necessary.
You can also use an app to help your teen:
- Avoid distractions and stay focused during homework or studying.
- Develop healthy technology habits.
- Gain digital literacy skills.
Approaching monitoring with empathy and open communication prevents conflict. Make sure your teen understands you’re using the tools to protect them, not control them.
Key Features to Look For
Here are the most important features to consider when choosing a parental control app:
- Texts – View who your teen is texting and the content of conversations.
- Social media – Monitor posts and messages on Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp and more.
- Web history – See which sites your teen visits.
- Location – Track your teen’s location in real-time or view location history.
- Apps – Get reports showing your teen’s most used apps and activity within them.
- Calls – See call logs including incoming, outgoing and missed calls.
- Time limits – Set daily time limits for overall device use or individual apps.
- Schedules – Establish technology-free times like during homework or bedtime.
- Website blocking – Block access to inappropriate or distracting sites.
- App blocking – Restrict usage of addictive or unsuitable apps.
- Remote access – Remotely pause the internet or shut off devices.
- Inappropriate content – Get notified if your teen visits porn sites, chatting apps, etc.
- Cyberbullying – Detect concerning language in texts or social media.
- Depression – Identify signs of mental health issues like self-harm.
- Sexting – Receive alerts about sexually explicit photos.
Compatibility and Devices
- iOS vs Android – Make sure the app works on your teen’s operating system.
- Number of devices – Most apps cover 3-10 devices for one subscription fee.
- Gaming consoles – Some apps can monitor PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch.
Ease of Use
- Parent dashboard – The central hub for adjusting settings, viewing reports and receiving alerts should be intuitive.
- Instant setup – The faster you can get monitoring in place, the better.
- Customer support – Look for 24/7 live chat or phone support in case you need help.
The Top 5 Parental Control Apps for Teens
With so many options on the market, we’ve researched and narrowed down the five best parental control apps for teens:
1. Bark – Best Overall for Teens
Bark stands out for its top-notch monitoring of texts, emails, YouTube, social platforms and more. It uses advanced AI to detect signs of cyberbullying, depression, drug use, explicit content and more.
We like that Bark sends bite-sized alerts focused on initiating constructive conversations instead of shaming kids. It’s also the most affordable option that includes robust social media monitoring.
- Screens texts, email, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram and 30+ platforms.
- Uses AI to detect concerning content and behaviors.
- Sends actionable bite-sized alerts to parents.
- Can monitor unlimited devices.
- Price starts at $9 per month.
Best for: Comprehensive monitoring and AI-powered alerts.
2. Qustodio – Best for Managing Time Limits
Qustodio is great for setting schedules and time limits thanks to a highly customizable dashboard. It monitors texts, calls, location and social media activity.
We like the detailed activity reports and the ability to set unique rules for each child. Downsides are no email monitoring and a higher price for multiple devices.
- Time limits for apps and overall device use.
- Scheduled device downtime.
- Detailed reports on usage, texts and calls.
- Can monitor up to 15 devices.
- Price starts at $54.95 per year.
Best for: Granular time management and extensive reports.
3. FamilyTime – Best Budget Pick
FamilyTime offers robust monitoring capabilities like location tracking, text message screening and web filtering at an affordable price point.
While it doesn’t monitor emails or social media content, it provides valuable insights into your teen’s device usage and physical location. Unique tools like geofencing and driver safety alerts add to its value.
- Monitors texts, calls, web activity and location.
- Geofencing and driver safety alerts.
- Affordable pricing starting at $7 per month.
- Covers up to 15 devices.
Best for: Solid features on a budget.
4. Norton Family – Best Known Brand
Trusted cybersecurity firm Norton offers an easy-to-use parental control app focused on fostering digital literacy and online safety skills.
It provides web history reports, sets time limits and tracks search terms typed on Google and YouTube. Social media monitoring is light but it covers popular apps like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.
- Monitors web activity, search terms, location and social media.
- Sets time limits for apps and websites.
- Video monitoring for YouTube and TikTok.
- Covers up to 20 devices.
- Price starts at $49.99 per year.
Best for: Promoting online safety and digital literacy.
5. Famisafe – Best Low Cost
Famisafe is the most affordable parental control app out there. For just $4.99 a month you get call and text monitoring, device usage reports, app and web blocking tools and location tracking.
The major limitation is it only works on Android devices. But if you have an Android family, Famisafe provides fantastic parental controls on a tight budget.
- Monitors texts, calls, apps and websites.
- Affordable pricing starting at $4.99 per month.
- Covers Android smartphones and tablets.
- Blocks apps and websites.
- Sets schedules and time limits.
Best for: Inexpensive Android monitoring.
Answering Common Parental Control App Questions
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about using a monitoring app with your teen:
Should I tell my teen I’m using parental controls?
Yes, it’s important to inform your teen and get their buy-in instead of spying in secret. Explain that you want to keep them safe, not invade their privacy. App features allow you to respect their space while still supervising at a high level.
What if my teen has an iPhone and Android tablet?
Choose an app with cross-platform support like Bark or FamiSafe. Apps that only work on iOS or Android can’t monitor all of your teen’s devices.
Can my teen uninstall or disable the app?
Apps like Bark and MMGuardian have features to prevent tampering or uninstalling without the parent’s password. Others may lack protections, so tech-savvy teens could defeat them.
Do parental controls work when my teen is not on Wi-Fi?
Yes, apps will still collect data via your teen’s cellular data or phone carrier service regardless of Wi-Fi connectivity. The app may need to be installed directly on the device though.
What devices can I monitor besides phones?
Most apps cover tablets, laptops, gaming consoles and other connected devices. Some specifically monitor smart watches, e-readers, home assistants and IoT devices too.
Will my teen’s phone run slower with an app installed?
Minimal impact on device performance is expected. Avoid apps that use excessive battery life or device resources. The app should run quietly in the background without your teen noticing.
Is it legal to monitor my teen’s activities?
U.S. federal law permits parents to monitor minors. However, consider any state laws that relate to consent to record in two-party states. Consult the app company about legal requirements.
How much control over my teen’s device usage is appropriate?
Aim to use parental control tools transparently and collaboratively with your teen. Avoid overly restrictive blocking without communicating reasons. Build digital literacy skills and have ongoing conversations.
What age is appropriate for parental control app monitoring?
Ideally use monitoring tools throughout the pre-teen and teen years with transparency. Ease up restrictions as your teen proves responsibility and keeps open communication.
Should I monitor my college-bound teen?
Light monitoring focused just on safety may be appropriate depending on maturity level. However, teens need privacy to build independence, so exercise discretion.
- Set up parental controls on your teen’s smartphone, tablet, laptop and gaming devices.
- Seek a balance between monitoring your teen’s activities and respecting their need for privacy.
- Inform your teen that you’ll be using monitoring tools and involve them in setting fair rules.
- Look for robust text, social media, web and location monitoring features.
- Additional capabilities like time limits, blocking and alerts provide helpful oversight.
- Testimonials from real parents can help determine the best app for your family’s needs.
- Use the insights from the app to initiate open, non-judgmental conversations with your teen.
- Adjust restrictions gradually as your teen proves they’re using technology responsibly.
Parental control apps provide invaluable tools to keep teens safe in the digital world while encouraging open communication and accountability.
Take time to evaluate your family’s needs and your teen’s maturity level. Then select a solution that aligns with your parenting approach, whether that’s aiming for maximum oversight or a more relaxed style.
With the right app in place, you’ll gain useful insights into your teen’s online activities while teaching them to make responsible choices. That peace of mind is priceless for any concerned parent.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly can a parental control app monitor?
Parental control apps can monitor a wide range of activities including your teen’s texts, phone calls, social media, web browsing history, location, app usage, and more. The extent of monitoring varies based on the capabilities of the particular app selected.
Do I have to jailbreak my teen’s iPhone to install monitoring?
No, jailbreaking is not required. Parental control apps designed for iOS devices can be installed without jailbreaking. However, your teen will need to download the app and sign in on their iPhone.
Can my tech-savvy teen get around the parental controls?
Determined teens may find ways to defeat certain limitations. Select an app with tamper-proofing to prevent uninstalling without a parent password. Also communicate openly with your teen about your monitoring policies.
Is it legal for parents to read a minor’s texts?
In the U.S., federal law permits parents to read their minor child’s texts and other digital communications for supervision purposes. However, individual state laws may restrict recording audio without both parties consenting.
If my teen has a laptop and smartphone, do I need two subscriptions?
Most parental control apps allow you to monitor multiple devices (typically 3-10) under one subscription fee. So you can cover all of your teen’s gadgets for a single monthly or yearly payment.
Can I see my teen’s Snapchat conversations?
Full Snapchat message content cannot be accessed due to the platform’s encryption. However, some parental control apps provide partial insights like who your teen is messaging on Snapchat and how often.
Do parental controls work on gaming consoles?
Some apps offer monitoring for PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and other gaming devices. Look for this capability if your teen spends lots of time gaming. Unique risks like cyberbullying and explicit content exist in gaming environments.
What if my teen needs their phone for emergencies?
Most parental control apps allow you to shut off restrictions instantly in an emergency situation. You can also set up “always allowed” numbers that can be contacted regardless of restrictions.
Is there a parental control app that works on iOS and Android?
Yes, many apps support both operating systems including Bark, Qustodio, Norton Family, and FamiSafe. This cross-platform capability ensures you can monitor all of your teen’s devices.