What to Know About Parental Control Devices

Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on August 29, 2022

Navigating phone and internet usage is a crucial part of modern parenting. From staying in touch with friends to finishing school assignments, your child probably gets a lot of screen time every day. Your goal as a parent should be to ensure that these activities are safe and healthy for your kid. 

Parental control devices can help you navigate this tricky terrain. Just keep in mind, though, that these devices aren’t a solution by themselves. While these devices can help you set limits, they don’t teach your kids how to responsibly and positively engage with the internet. In the end, that job belongs to you. 

The first step to choosing the best parental control device is deciding what you want your device to do. Figure out what your main worries are concerning your child’s device and internet usage. Then, you can find the best combination of solutions for your needs. 

Parental control options include: 

  • Trackers for how much time is spent on a particular device or application (app)
  • Trackers for total screen time
  • Trackers for all texts or messages sent and received
  • Limits on the usage of a particular device, app, or home wifi connection
  • Age restrictions for explicit or mature content
  • Restrictions on specific websites
  • Restrictions on posting photos or other materials
  • Limits on downloads
  • Limits on purchases 

A wide variety of parental control devices exist. There are enough of these devices on the market to suit anyone's needs. 

These devices fall into a few general categories. These include devices or services that: 

  • Come built into your phone, tablet, or smart tv
  • Are provided by your wifi service
  • Are app-specific

All newer Apple iPhones have built-in parental control options. You can access these through your phone's settings. On Android phones, you can download a Google app to get enhanced parental control features. 

Many third-party apps allow you to directly monitor and control your child’s phone with your own phone. These are particularly effective because they work whenever your child is using their phone, not just on your home wifi network. 

Oftentimes, though, you’ll need to pay for these apps. This is sometimes a one-time purchase, but it can also be a monthly subscription. Spend time researching these apps before you invest. 

Tablets and smart TVs can also have built-in parental control options, but keep in mind that not all smart TVs are also parental control TVs. You should research a brand before you buy one if this is a particular concern of yours. 

Luckily, even if your smart TV — or another device — doesn’t have built-in parental control options, many apps that you can download do. Create specific user accounts for your children on the video-watching apps that your family uses. These limit the content that your child can access to things with G and PG ratings. 

Many different applications and devices have special features that limit the amount of time that your child can spend on the internet. Parental control internet can exist at the level of: 

  • Individual applications
  • Individual devices
  • The source of your home internet

Certain applications — particularly social media apps — track how much time the account holder spends on the app. You can tell your child what their limits are, or you can install ways of cutting off their internet access. 

Some devices come with built-in bedtime or downtime settings that automatically restrict data usage at a certain time. Third-party apps are sometimes the easiest and most user-friendly options for doing this on a phone or tablet.  

To physically cut off their internet access, one of the most effective ways is to modify your wifi adaptor. You can purchase a separate device that allows you to physically limit your internet after a certain time of day or after a particular amount of data has been used. However, these devices can be costly and can also be remotely hacked into. 

You can also contact your internet service provider to see what options they provide. They may be able to provide ways to monitor all of the activity that goes on within your home wifi network.  

There are plenty of ways to overcome parental control devices. Many of them rely on a four-digit pin code. Older children might be able to figure out this pin, though, and get around your restrictions.  

Some apps will alert you when a parental control is breached, but others won’t. Keep your eye out for signs of suspicious activity — like data usage even when your internet is supposed to be inaccessible. 

Another sign of a problem is if you suddenly start getting fewer notifications from your app. This means that your child has likely found a way around your chosen monitoring method.   

You also need to keep in mind that not all of these options will work all of the time. For example, any modifications that you make to monitor your home wifi won’t matter when your kid is using a device on someone else’s wifi. 

Ultimately, it’s your decision whether or not to tell your children that you’re using these devices. Some options do come with stealth modes and other ways of keeping your children from noticing, but these aren’t foolproof. 

Eventually, your child is likely to find out that you’re monitoring them even if you don’t tell them. This could lead to future trust issues or make ongoing problems worse. 

In many situations, it’s better to be open and honest with your kids from the start. That way, you can explain why you’re using these devices and how you hope they’ll benefit. You can incorporate these monitoring devices into a larger conversation about web safety and the importance of spending time away from a screen. 

You can also tailor your monitoring to your child’s age. You’ll likely want a larger number of restrictions when they’re younger. Then, you can ease up when you trust that they’ve learned responsible web behavior. 

Remember, you should always be prepared to uncover sensitive information if you choose to monitor your kids’ activities. Make a plan for handling delicate issues in advance so your monitoring doesn’t end up damaging your relationship.  

Show Sources


Common Sense Media: “Parents' Ultimate Guide to Parental Controls,” “So You Got a Parental Control … Now What?” 

Connect Safely: “Family Guide to Parental Controls.”

Consumer Reports: “How to Use the Parental Controls on a Smartphone.”

InternetMatters.org: “Family Smart TVs.” 

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