While we can't completely sanitize our children's online experience, we can create a healthy environment for digital consumption within our own homes.
In the digital era, our children are exposed to a world that encompasses both the good and the bad. They carry supercomputers in their pockets, giving them unfettered access to a spectrum of information, people, and experiences.
We strive to protect children. We build fences, lock doors, and choose our words wisely to protect them in the physical world. But, how do we protect our children online?
You Are What You Think
The saying goes, "You are what you eat," and similarly, your mind becomes what it focuses on, thinks about, and engages with. The digital world is designed to capture and hold our attention. It stimulates our basic desires - food, money, sex - and at a young age, children lack the tools to regulate this stimulation. While we can't completely sanitize our children's online experience (they will always have internet access outside of the home), we can create a healthy environment for digital consumption within our own homes.
One powerful tool that aids parents in controlling and guarding their digital home environment is parental control software. Parental control software helps parents monitor and control their children's online activity. It can block access to inappropriate websites, limit screen time, monitor social media usage, and even track a child's location. While these tools can be beneficial, children are smart, resourceful, and they may find a way around parental controls.
In the digital age, sneaking out late at night to see your middle school boyfriend is replaced with using a mobile hotspot and an incognito browser to video chat with him. You won't be able to manage every online experience your child has. Consider having open conversations with your children about their online activity and the reasons for implementing these controls. The goal is not to invade their privacy but to ensure their safety in the digital world.
Parental Control Software Options in 2023
Here are some of the most popular parental control software options, along with their strengths and weaknesses:
Aura - Parental Control Software
Uses AI to block harmful content and manage screen time across multiple devices, making it a top choice for "AI-based harmful content blocking software".
Provides comprehensive internet usage tracking.
Offers a unique feature of safer gaming with cyberbullying alerts.
Allows for content blocking and filtering, and time limits on specific apps and websites.
Provides the ability to pause the internet to enforce screen time limits.
Limited device compatibility, does not support operating systems other than iOS 13 or later and Android 9.0 or later.
Limited game monitoring, with text chat currently only monitored in Roblox.
Safe Gaming feature does not run on tablets, smartphones, Chromebooks, or Mac computers.
Limited cyberbullying protection, only covering gaming-related communications.
Lack of specific features for monitoring social media use.
Qustodio - Parental Control Software
Includes app/content blocking and filtering.
Provides monitoring through a real-time dashboard.
Includes screen time monitoring.
Offers GPS monitoring/geofencing.
Has one of the most comprehensive dashboards in the parental control space.
Supports nearly every mobile and PC platform making it a top choice for "best parental control software for multiple devices".
It can be somewhat expensive, with the service starting at $55/year for five devices and climbing up to almost $140/year for 15 devices.
Bark - Mobile Parental Control Software
Uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to monitor a large number of apps for suspicious activity.
Less expensive than Qustodio.
Mobile-first, making it a great choice if your child primarily uses a phone, hence it's often referred to as the "best parental control app for iPhone and Android".
Desktop monitoring is limited to a Chrome extension.
Some users have reported a large number of alerts.
Canopy - AI-Powered Content Filtering Software
Uses AI to block inappropriate images from online content in real-time.
Offers a free 30-day trial.
Provides phone support.
Has a choice of tiered plans based on the number of devices you want to protect.
Can block entire apps that are deemed inappropriate.
Cannot block images within apps (e.g., Instagram).
The lowest tier plan only covers three devices, which may not be sufficient for larger families.
Phone support has limited hours.
The advanced support options could be more robust.
Google Family Link - Free Parental Control App
Free and deeply integrated with Android.
Offers features like app usage monitoring, time limits or blocks on apps, screen time management, and location tracking. It's often considered the "best free parental control software".
It's only partially available on iOS.
MMGuardian - Parental Control App for iOS
Offers a phone with parental control software built-in.
Allows you to monitor texts and messages on iOS.
Offers call logging and blocking, screen-time scheduling, and AI-powered image recognition making it a strong contender for "best parental control app for iPhone".
Its interface can be clunky.
Some of its features are limited on iOS compared to Android. Link
OpenDNS FamilyShield - Free Web Filter
Free web filter that can be configured at the router level to protect your whole network.
Maintained by Cisco Systems and automatically filters out adult content making it a popular choice for "best free web filter for parental control".
It won't help off-network.
Doesn't provide reporting.
FamiSafe - AI-Based Suspicious Content Detection Software
Uses AI to detect suspicious photos and text.
Allows blocking or limiting app usage.
Real-time location tracking and geofencing.
The app might be a bit intrusive for older kids.
Some users have reported issues with the location tracking feature.
The app might have occasional glitches and bugs.
Net Nanny - AI-Powered Web Content Filtering Software
Uses AI to analyze and filter web content in real-time.
Can block inappropriate content and manage screen time.
Offers cross-platform support.
Some users have reported issues with the app's functionality on iOS devices.
The app might occasionally block safe content.
The app's time management feature might not be very effective.
Mobicip - AI-Based Harmful Content Blocking Software
Uses AI to block harmful content and manage screen time across multiple devices.
Provides weekly or daily activity reports.
Well-designed mobile apps and an organized web interface.
Kids can bypass desktop browsing restrictions.
Awkward iOS configuration.
Only lets you set time schedules, not total time limits.
More expensive than other services offering similar features.
Going Beyond Software
While we can't completely shield our children from the negative impact of the digital world, we can provide them with a safer, more controlled digital environment at home. Parental control software is a powerful tool that can help us achieve this goal, but it won't address the root of negative behavior online, which can be attributed to low self-esteem, peer pressure, escapism, and lack of connection offline. As a first step to address those problems, we can become curious about what may be driving the child's behavior.
As we continue to navigate this digital age, let's use the tools at our disposal to ensure our children's online experiences are safe, healthy, and beneficial. As the digital landscape changes, the need for new parental control solutions arises. Consider the best parental control software options of 2023 to guard your children online effectively.