Protecting Your Kids Online: Parental Control Software Reviews

Helicopter Parent vs. Unobtrusive Software

If you’re a parent, it’s no secret to you that kids engage with and through digital devices almost constantly. One study found that children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend approximately 11.5 hours per day using various forms of digital tech – computers, laptops, pads, TVs, smartphones, video games, etc. Since most kids are awake for only 15 to 16 hours per day, somewhere between 71 and 76 percent of their day is tech-related. Even if you’re not worried about how much time your kids spend online, you are probably at least a bit worried about what they are doing while there. And the simple truth is you can’t be around 24/7/365, hovering over your child’s shoulder to monitor the situation. Plus, your kid would throw a gigantic hissy fit if you tried.

So what’s a parent to do? One relatively effective way to protect your kids from inappropriate online content and contacts – online porn, digital predators, cyberbullying, overly violent video games, and the like – is to install “parental control” software on their digital devices. This protective software needs to be installed on all of their devices, not just their computers. After all, anything kids can do on a laptop, they can also do on a pad or smartphone.

DO NOT install parental control software on your children’s devices without first telling them. Your kids will realize you’ve done it – usually sooner rather than later – and your secretive actions will create a huge resentment. Instead, discuss the idea with your kids before you do it, letting them know you’re not trying to spy on them or limit them, you’re just trying to protect them. It may help to explain that as long as they aren’t trying to access inappropriate content or talk to someone who might be dangerous, the software does nothing at all. Sometimes you can get kids “on board” by giving them input when selecting the level of filtering/blocking and accountability/parental notification. Usually, when kids feel they’ve had a say in the matter, protective measures are much better received.

It is important to note that no parental control software is infallible. The simple truth is most kids can find a way around even the best of these products if they really want to. As such, the software products reviewed below should not be looked at as enforcers of your will. Instead, they should be considered tools of effective parenting, best used in conjunction with an ongoing series of honest, open-minded, nonjudgmental conversations about the healthy usage of digital technology.

What to Look For When Shopping for Parental Control Software

When shopping for protective software, parents should consider the following:

  1. Customizable Filtering and Blocking. Nearly all of these products have preset filtering levels – ranging from levels appropriate for young children to young adults. The better ones offer customizable filtering, with blacklisting of specific sites/apps that would otherwise be allowed and whitelisting of specific sites/apps that would otherwise be blocked.
  2. Secondary Filtering and Blocking Features. In addition to website filtering and blocking, most products offer several secondary features, including:
  1. Recording and Reporting (Accountability) Features. Ideally, protective softwares monitor a child’s online activity and provide his or her parents with usage reports (either regularly scheduled or on demand), along with real-time alerts if/when the child uses (or attempts to use) his or her digital device in a prohibited way. Recording and reporting features may include:
  1. Ease of Use. The software should be easy to install and to customize. Ideally, you should be able to globally configure the software, establishing settings on all of your kids’ devices simultaneously instead of dealing with each machine individually. The best softwares offer free tech support via email, phone, and even live chat.
  2. Not all softwares work on every digital device. In fact, many are quite limited (and therefore not recommended for kids, who usually have a wide array of devices on which they can access the Internet and/or interact with others). It is important to make sure a product works on your children’s device(s) before you purchase it. It is also important to see how many devices the license covers. Ideally, you want to cover all of your children’s digital equipment with only one license.

Rating the Options

Below are capsule-length reviews of the most well-known parental control software programs. The reviews are separated into three categories – recommended, potentially effective, and not recommended. Once again, none of these products guarantees that your child will always behave according to your wishes. Instead, these programs are tools of parenting that, at worst, may cause your child to stop and think before circumventing the software and proceeding with a prohibited activity.

Recommended Products

Net Nanny. Net Nanny costs $39.99 per year for one computer, $12.99 per year for one cellphone, or users can pay $59.99 per year for up to five devices (computers and/or cellphones), $89.99 for up to ten devices, or $119.99 for up to fifteen devices. Net Nanny is usable on Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS devices. Net Nanny has been at or near the top of the parental control software ratings for many years, and this year it is the clear winner. The filtering and blocking features offered by Net Nanny are versatile and effective, as are the recording and reporting features. In 2014 there was no screenshot playback, but that shortcoming has been rectified. Right now, Net Nanny offers everything a protective parent might want. Additionally, Net Nanny is relatively easy to install and configure, it is usable on almost any device, and it’s priced right.

Other Potentially Effective Products

CovenantEyes. CovenantEyes offers individual filtering and accountability (two separate programs) for a total of $11.49 per month ($137.88 per year) for one device or $13.99 per month ($167.88 per year) for the entire family. CovenantEyes is useable on Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android devices, though Android devices do not have access to the full range of features. The primary drawback with CovenantEyes is that users pay monthly, which can get expensive over time.

McAfee Family Protection. McAfee Family Protection costs $49.99 per year for up to three computers, with free downloads for cellphone protection. For $99.99 per year users can protect the entire family. McAfee Family Protection is usable on Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS devices. For the most part, McAfee is best known for providing anti-virus products. However, their Family Protection product offers above average filtering and blocking, along with acceptable recording and reporting. There is no email filtering, which may be problematic for some users, and neither online nor email reports are available to parents, which may also be problematic.

Norton Family Premiere. Norton Family Premiere costs $49.99 per year for each device. It is usable on Windows, Android, and iOS devices, but not on MacOS computers. Like McAfee, Norton is best known for providing anti-virus products. That said, Norton Family Premiere offers solid filtering and blocking, coupled with solid recording and reporting. Ease of installation is good. The downsides with Norton Family Premiere are it is not usable on Mac OS computers, and at $49.99 per device it can get expensive.

PureSight Multi. PureSight Multi costs $39.90 per year for up to three devices, $49.90 per year for up to five devices, or $59.90 per year for up to ten devices. PureSight Multi is usable on Windows based computers and Android devices, but not on MacOS computers and iOS devices. The filtering and blocking features are average, as are the recording and accountability features. For families who only use Windows/Android products, PureSight is a viable (and affordable) option. However, families who prefer Mac devices will need to use another product.

WebWatcher. WebWatcher costs $99.95 per year for each device. It is usable on Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS devices. Not all features are available for cellphones (Android and iOS devices). The filtering and blocking features are versatile and effective, as are the recording and reporting features. Some users complain that installing the product and establishing customized settings is more difficult than it should be. The real issue with WebWatcher is that it is not effective against proxy servers, which means that tech-savvy users (i.e., most kids) can easily work around it. Plus, it’s expensive.

Not Recommended

CyberPatrol. CyberPatrol costs $39.95 per year for up to three computers, $59.95 per year for use on up to four computers, and $74.95 per year for use on up to five computers. Cyberpatrol is usable on Windows based computers, but not MacOS computers, Android devices or iOS devices. The filtering and blocking features are fine, as are the recording and reporting features. However, it is not usable on anything other than Windows based computers, and because of that it is not a good option for most families.

CYBERsitter. CYBERsitter costs $39.95 per year for up to three devices, or $49.95 per year for up to five devices. It is usable on Windows based computers and (possibly) on MacOS computers, but not on Android or iOS devices. The filtering and blocking features are good, as are the recording and reporting features. What keeps this product off of the recommended list is that it is not usable on cellphones, and that can be a problem for many families.

Intego Family Protector. Intego Family Protector costs $39.99 per year for one computer, or $79.99 per year for three computers. It is usable on MacOS computers, but not Windows-based computers, Android devices, or iOS devices. Intego Family Protector offers good filtering and blocking features, and good recording and accountability features. However, it is only available for MacOS computers. You can’t use it on your PC, nor can you use it on a smartphone. As such, this is not a good product for most families.

KidsWatch Professional. KidsWatch costs $49.95 for up to three computers. It is usable on Windows based computers, but not on MacOS computers, Android devices or iOS devices. Kidswatch offers good filtering and blocking features and solid monitoring and reporting features. However, it does not work with Firefox or Safari browsers, nor is it usable on anything other than Windows based computers. As such, it is not a good product for most families.

PC Pandora Pro. PC Pandora Pro costs $69.95 for up to two computers, or $99.95 for up to four computers. It is usable on Windows based computers, but not MacOS computers, Android devices or iOS devices. The filtering and blocking features are average, with above average recording and reporting features. However, the fact that it can’t be used on MacOS computers or cellphones is a major drawback, and because of this the product is not recommended for use by families.

SentryPC. SentryPC costs $59.95 per year for one computer, with additional licenses costing $19.95 per year for each computer. SentryPC is usable on Windows based computers but not on MacOS computers, Android devices or iOS devices. The filtering and blocking features are adequate, as are the recording and accountability features. The problem here is lack of compatibility with Mac and mobile devices, which is problematic for most families.

Spector Pro. Spector Pro costs $99.95 per year per computer. It is usable on Windows and MacOS computers, but not on Android or iOS devices. Spector Pro offers slightly below average filtering and blocking features, along with excellent recording and accountability. In truth, this product is designed for businesses that wish to monitor employees’ use of their computers. Because it is not usable on cellphones, and because the filtering features are not great, this product is not recommended for families. Plus, it’s very expensive.

SpyTech SpyAgent. SpyAgent costs $69.95 per year for one computer, $89.95 per year for three computers, with various pricing available for more than three computers. SpyAgent is usable on Windows based computers but not on MacOS computers, Android devices or iOS devices. SpyAgent offers slightly below average filtering and blocking features, coupled with above average recording and accountability. Like Spector Pro, SpyAgent is designed more for monitoring than filtering. Because of this, along with the fact that it is not usable on MacOS, Android or iOS devices, it is not recommended for use by families.

 

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