For children today, the Internet has always existed. To them, it’s second nature to pop online and watch a funny video, find a fact, take a class, or chat with a friend. But, of course, the Internet is also filled with a lot of dark corners. And, as the YouTube Kids controversy and other such instances highlighted, even sites built as safe havens for young children can easily be corrupted by anyone with an Internet connection and nefarious intentions. Parents, then, are presented with the daunting task of not only explaining the Internet to children but also monitoring what sites children visit and their screen time consumption. Thankfully, there are a number of excellent parental control apps and devices that allow parents to do just this, from the Gryphon Smart Mesh Router to the Circle Home Plus to the Amazon eero Pro mesh network.
The best parental control apps and devices, be they hardware or software, put parents in command the content their children can view and the amount of time they can spend online, sure. But they also help restore a parent’s sense of control. With a proper device, parents, from can restrict access to only specific sites and apps, filter dangerous or explicit web-content, manage time, and even track their location.
The programs, routers, and other devices below are some of the best parental control apps and software we’ve found. They’re easy to set up, work on a variety of devices for a number of family members, and inform — but not bombard — parents with necessary updates. Of course, it’s also important to have regular discussions with kids about online safety. An open dialogue is often the best defense.
The Best Overall Parental Control Apps and Devices
The sleek, simple-to-connect router (plug it in, download the app, and you’re set) offers everything we want in parental control software and more. Thanks to six internal tri-band antennas and 3Gbps, it blankets an area of up to 3,000 square feet in a powerful mesh network and offers congestion-free browsing. It offers screen time management by device, browsing history, bedtime/homework time parameters, safe search, and YouTube filtering, as well as a nifty crowd-ranking system, which allows on-the-fence parents to tap into the wealth of experience of others that have gone down the same path and then make a decision. The Gryphon app also makes things easy. With it, parents can immediately pause internet access, set up multiple users, and give approval to website or bedtime extension requests from anywhere, in real time. While certainly pricey, it provides parents with excellent peace of mind.
The Syfer system is powered by AI, so it automatically detects potential security threats and protects your family from malware, ransomware, and phishing. Data is encrypted, and Syfer does not log or track your activity. The system provides parents all the standard parental control options and also provides safe search and safe YouTube access. Purchasing it comes with a one-year subscription to the service, but after that it costs $10 per month.
The Best Parental Control Apps and Devices for Large Homes and Multiple Rooms
In addition to providing a mesh network of speedy WiFi that coats all corners of a home, eero’s parental controls let you to filter adult, illegal, and violent content for specific profiles that you set up on your network. Best of all, eero Secure filters new content in real-time. eero Secure also works for every device connected to your network. You do, however, have to play for the eero Secure plan to get the full parental control benefits of this router system. But the $10 a month is, in our opinion, very much worth it. It should however be noted that eero also doesn't have a URL-blacklisting feature.
The Best Parental Control Apps and Devices for Setting Specific Time Limits
This router is great for parents who, above all else, want to control how much time each of their kids spend on their devices and even sends notifications when there's a sudden upsurge in usage. The router itself is incredibly fast and also lets you set robust parameters (times and accessibility for each person in your family, etc.) The partner app lets you determine precisely what each child can (and can’t do) for when and how long. It also has handy buttons to either stop the internet or extend the time allowed online. The app is very intuitive and easy to use.
The Best for Parental Control Apps and Devices That Work with an Existing Router
This simple box from Circle Media Labs plugs right into your home router. Through an app, it grants you God-like control over your kids' mobile devices even when they're out and about. The app is well-designed and easy to use. It's also powerful, with the ability to block specific platforms and track and limit the time spent in specific apps. Just note that, after a year, you'll have to pay $10 per month for premium features like rewarding extra time for good behavior and location tracking. One year free of premium Circle service is included.
Router Limits is another white box that plugs into your router with an ethernet cable and allows parents to limit what children can do online. Once plugged in, it automatically discovers all of the devices on your network. It’s device-by-device browsing history includes every site your children visit, as well as blocked ones they try to visit. There's also a long list of filters that are both category-based —games, social media, etc —and pegged to specific websites and apps (Snapchat, Netflix, Facebook). Router Limits can also filter search results in Google, Bing, and YouTube to ensure your children don't stumble across something questionable in a search. A mobile companion app, which costs an additional $10 per month, can be installed on devices to duplicate the protection that's in place on the home network on mobile connections or other Wi-Fi networks. If you share your Wi-Fi information with guests, you'll have to tell them you can monitor their traffic (well, you really should), which is kind of awkward.
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