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The best free parental control software makes it simple and easy to protect your family online and keep your children safe from inappropriate content.
In an ideal world, the web would be a safe space for everyone, but unfortunately, that is far from reality, and as a busy adult, it’s not always possible for you to spend the time to be there while your children are online. Even the best antivirus companies rarely include parental controls as a part of their package, and what you get is often underpowered and distinctly short on features.
This is where the best free parental control software can help – by allowing you to either block access to particular sites that may have concerning content, or only permit access to sites you deem suitable, this tool can help protect your kids.
The best free parental control software will look after the kids when you’re unable to, whether they are conducting research for a school project, keeping in touch with friends, or simply enjoying all the good things that the Internet does offer.
We tested all products to give you a detailed, impartial review. We evaluated the apps based on specific criteria, including features, ease of use, pricing, and customer support, amongst others.
It does not matter what age your child is, or whether they are using a mobile device, Windows, or a macOS computer. In this roundup, you will find the perfect choice of the best free parental control software to lend you a vigilant hand. (We have a separate guide for the best parental control apps that include paid-for services).
The best free parental control app of 2023 in full:
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A full suite of parental control tools to keep your kids safe online
Reasons to buy
Excellent content filtering+
Lets parents set time limits+
Reasons to avoid
Some features behind paywall–
Bypassable with VPNs–
Limited iOS features
Most parental control software is aimed at Windows users, but Qustodio (opens in new tab) (think ‘custodian’) is also available for Mac, Android, iOS, Kindle, and Nook.
The free version is one of the most comprehensive parental control apps we’ve tested, enabling us to set rules and time schedules, block pornography and other unsuitable content. If you go for the paid-for version, you’ll also get SMS monitoring, social media features, and per-app controls.
In our view, its raft of features and support for a wide range of platforms make Qustodio the best free parental control software; however, it is not without some shortcomings.
The iOS app is limited compared to the other platforms, perhaps due to Apple’s restrictions on allowing apps to control devices to the same extent as other vendors. Also, we discovered that you can use a VPN to bypass Qustodio’s website filtering on a desktop.
If this puts you off, then there are some other excellent free programs available, some of which may be better suited to your individual needs as a parent. Read on for the rest of our top choices.
Read our full Qustodio parental control software review.
Detailed activity logging, including apps used and keystrokes
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
Limited iOS features–
Limited free version–
Blocking not allowed
We found that this free parental control software not only tracks what your children type and which websites they visit – it also keeps a record of which programs they use and any screengrabs they take.
If you’re concerned about who your kids might be talking to online, there’s even a voice-activated sound recorder (although we’re disappointed that this isn’t included in the free version). If your children are a little older and more responsible, you can pick and choose which options to monitor and give them a little privacy.
The free software lacks some of the sneakier features of the premium editions (including silent monitoring of WhatsApp conversations and the ability to listen to Skype calls), and we thought it was a real shame that there’s no ability to block specific sites and apps from your child’s device. Again, we also found the iOS more limited, but overall KidLogger is still a well-rounded tool in our opinion if you’re concerned about your kids’ safety.
The free and standard plan can monitor up to 5 devices, while the professional plan can monitor up to 10 devices.
Kidlogger is available for Windows, macOS, and Android.
Read our full KidLogger review.
Find out what your kids are typing, and if they might be in trouble
Reasons to buy
Monitors clipboard and printers
Reasons to avoid
No content blocking–
Windows and MacOS only–
Limited customer support
Keyloggers have something of a bad reputation online, as they’re often used by crooks hoping to capture passwords and bank details, but they can be a force for good too, and Spyrix Free Keylogger enables you to see what your children have been up to.
For instance, we found that it will record keystrokes, take screenshots of the desktop view without the user knowing it, record program activity and similar.
Although it’s dubbed parental control software, the free version of Spyrix is really a general monitoring program; it doesn’t stop the kids from getting up to no good, but it does let you see exactly what they’ve done. If you want content blocking too, we pleased to see that premium subscriptions aren’t expensive.
The absence of filtering means Spyrix might not be the best choice for younger kids’ computers, but it may be useful for older children if you suspect online bullying or other unpleasantness.
The software is available for Windows and MacOS, bad we were sad to see that there are no mobile offerings. Also, we think the customer supports is limited, as there is no live chat or phone line.
Read our full Spyrix Free Keylogger review (opens in new tab).
Parental control software for all devices
Reasons to buy
Available for multiple platforms+
App and screen-time management+
Extra mobile-specific tools
Reasons to avoid
May slow Windows PCs–
Kaspersky Safe Kids is parental control software for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS devices, with both free and paid-for versions.
We like that the free edition includes a blacklist that prevents your kids from seeing inappropriate content online, plus app controls that let you manage app use by time used, age restrictions, and category (if you don’t want your kids playing games on a school night, for example). There’s also a screen time management tool to help you control overall device use.
The paid version adds more mobile-specific features, including a battery tracker so you can see if your kid’s phone is about to go flat, leaving them without a way to contact you, which we think is a neat touch.
You can also keep an eye on their location with GPS tracking, manage their social media use, and receive real-time alerts if they visit websites they shouldn’t or leave a pre-defined ‘safe’ area. However, we found this latter feature to be quite limited, since you can’t define areas smaller than 0.44 miles in diameter, which isn’t as focused as some other apps we’ve tested.
One of the newer features added to the paid plan is YouTube activities history, which can help monitor your kids YouTube search and watch history.
We found that it took longer than usual to log into a Windows account when Kaspersky Safe Kids was running on a Windows 10 PC, so this is worth bearing in mind if your kids’ PC is a little on the slow side already.
Read our full Kaspersky Safe Kids parental control software review.
Block domains on your whole home network at router level
Reasons to buy
Runs at router level+
Can improve speeds
Reasons to avoid
Setup can be tricky–
Limited free tier
FamilyShield is a free service from OpenDNS. Its parental control tools automatically block domains that OpenDNS has flagged under the headings “tasteless, proxy/anonymizer, sexuality, or pornography”.
One of the big positives we found is that while FamilyShield can run on PCs and mobile devices, you can also apply it to your network router and filter all the traffic that passes through it – it’s just a matter of changing the DNS server numbers in your control panel.
We found that this also has the happy corollary of improving DNS lookup speeds on some ISPs. By filtering everything at the router level, every device on your network benefits from the filters. The free service is somewhat limited in our view, but for more options, there is a premium service available.
We think the setup can be a bit tricky for those not tech savvy, but there is a solid setup guide on company’s page, so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Read our full OpenDNS review (opens in new tab).
Read how to keep your kids safe in the digital age.
|Parental control app||Premium versions: Free Trial/ Money-Back Guarantee||Premium Plan (Starting Price)||Web Filtering||Time Limits||Platforms||Number of Devices|
|1. Qustodio||3-day trial/ 30-day money-back guarantee||£43.86 / year||Yes||Yes||iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, Kindle, Chromebook||1 (free plan), unlimited (paid plans)|
|2. KidLogger||No/ no||$29 / year||No||No||Windows, macOS, Android||5 (free plan), 10 (premium plan)|
|3. Spyrix Free Keylogger||No/ no||$69 / year||No||No||Windows, macOS||1 (free plan) 20 (premium plans)|
|4. Kaspersky Safe Kids||7-day trial/ 30-day money-back guarantee||£11.96 / year||Yes||Yes||iOS, Android, Windows, macOS||Unlimited|
|5. OpenDNS FamilyShield||No/ no||$19.95 / year||Yes||No||iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, Kindle, Chromebook, routers and servers||Unlimited|
How to choose the best free parental control app
There are various services out there that cater to the needs of concerned parents. Some are explicitly marketed as parental control apps, whilst others can be used in various scenarios, with just one of them being to monitor your child’s online activity.
One of the first things to consider is whether you just want a monitoring tool or whether you want to actively block and restrict your child’s access to the internet and their own device. We’ve featured both in this list, and its generally the rule that straight-up monitoring can be had for free in a lot of cases, whereas more advanced features that allow for the device to be controlled and sanctioned in some way can end up costing. However, some of these premium options do come with a free trial or a money back guarantee of some kind.
The control features you should look out for, if you want to go down that route, include web filtering, app filtering, location tracking, activity reports, time limits, and scheduling.
You’ll want parental control apps to be lightweight too, and not slow down your child’s device. We’ve highlighted in our round-up whether we found any of them prone to doing this.
Also, you need to consider how many devices can be controlled with the given app. Again, free services generally only allow control of one device, whereas premium plans can control many, sometimes up to 10 or 20, which is straying into business monitoring territory.
Risks and disadvantages of using free parental control apps
As touched on in our reviews of the above offerings, there are downsides to using free parental control apps.
Some are monitoring only, which means they don’t prevent your child from stumbling across content they shouldn’t – they only alert you when they have. Some do have controls and restrictions you can deploy for free, but it’s not uncommon for these features to be locked behind a paywall.
Also, some are limited to the platforms they accommodate. Not all have mobile apps, and iOS users may be particularly at a disadvantage, since Apple generally restricts the amount of control any app can have over one of their devices.
Also, some free services may share data and usage habits from your child’s device with advertisers, as a way of sustaining their free models. You should therefore check carefully whether your child’s privacy may be undermined by such practices.
The best free parental control apps FAQ
Which free parental control app is best for you?
When deciding which free parental control app to use, first consider what your actual needs are, as budget software may only provide basic options, so if you need to use advanced tools you may find a more expensive platform is much more worthwhile. Additionally, higher-end software can usually cater for every need, so do ensure you have a good idea of which features you think you may require from your parental control app.
Is there a completely free parental control app?
There is no simple answer to this question, unfortunately. While there are completely free parental control apps, some even come with built-in Windows and Mac PCs, there is a catch. Namely, the free parental control apps, more often than not, lack the functionalities that are offered by the paid versions. Other than that, the free versions are often easier to bypass by a curious child compared to a paid version, which can completely lock down the system to prevent the child from bypassing the app.
In our own experience, the trial or free options offered by the premium parental control apps can allow you to dip your toes into this area. With the free trial, you will be able to gauge how you want to set up the control environment that the app offers and figure out which features are essential and which are those that you can live without. Keep in mind that paid apps often give you a wide range of tools that offer a granular approach to monitoring your kid’s activity online and on PC/Phone/Tablet.
If you see yourself just needing the bare minimum, without fear that the child will bypass the protection, we’ve found some success in using Screen Time settings for iOS or simply tweaking Content and Privacy settings on browsers (Chrome, Firefox, etc.). There are also free browser extensions that can help in blocking potentially harmful content on social media sites, and there are shutdown timers for PCs. Yet, if you lack the technical know-how and time to implement these solutions, then opting for a paid app might be the solution you’re looking for.
Are there any free parental control apps for iPhone?
As a parent, you hold the key to your child’s digital world – and with built-in Content & Privacy Restrictions on iOS, you can lock the door on any apps or features that don’t pass your safety standards. Whether you want to shield them from explicit content or prevent accidental purchases and downloads, you can customize the settings on their iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
If you lack the know-how or time to do this yourself, or are afraid the kids may circumvent your restriction, there are free plans for premium parental control apps that we found success with for managing screen time for one device, as these free plans are usually limited in the number of devices you can protect. For iPhone, Qustodio and Screen Time are viable options that we loved using on iOS. You can cover the basics with these apps and even utilize their free trial versions to test out the premium functionalities that you might find useful.
What is the free app to limit screen time for kids?
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises limiting your little ones’ screen time to a mere two hours daily. And for those under 18 months, video chatting is the only electronic interaction recommended. Yet, it’s no surprise that most kids surpass these guidelines. With that being said, we support the desire of parents to help their children create healthy habits when it comes to online and electronic activity.
While there are free trials for most of the paid, premium apps that will help you gauge how these apps function and what additional protection they offer your children, there are totally free versions as well.
Qustodio is a premium app that offers you a free 3-day trial (no credit card details needed), that contains most of the app’s functionality. After the 3-day period, you are downgraded to the free plan, which allows you to monitor your child’s screen time. Keep in mind that you will have to take action manually. If you’re looking for a more automatized approach to locking down devices after a certain amount of screen time, then the free plan of Mobicip. A word of caution, all free plans usually cover only 1 device.
Other than that, the Google and Microsoft parental control apps are free, offer a larger number of devices, and are “cross-platform enough” to be recommended as a solid, yet limited, free choice.
How can I monitor my child’s phone without them knowing?
Ensuring your kid’s safety online is becoming increasingly complex with the advent of new technology. But one of the most innovative ways to achieve this is by utilizing the latest apps or software to monitor your child’s phone.
With this technology, you can become a digital detective, tracking your child’s every move and staying informed about all their online activities. From their current location to the content of their text messages and social media posts, you can have full control. You can even block access to specific websites and prevent unauthorized transactions.
To do this properly, you will need to download and install an app on your child’s phone but don’t worry, as most of the parental control apps are discrete. If you are confused as to which one to choose, we invite you to take a look at our article Best Parental Control Apps of 2023, to identify which app is best for you and your needs.
How we tested the best free parental control app
To test for the best free parental control app we first set up an account with the relevant software platform, then we tested the service to see how the software could be used for different purposes and in different situations. The aim was to push each app to see how useful its basic tools were and also how easy it was to get to grips with any more advanced tools.
Read more on how we test, rate, and review products on TechRadar (opens in new tab).
We’ve also featured the best identity management software.
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