Software

Five parental control apps to help safeguard your kids

There are various ways to protect your kids when they go online, including specialized tools like the ones on this list.

Although I don't have any children of my own, friends routinely ask me whether I know of any good applications to keep their kids safe while online. Here are five parental control applications you might find helpful.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: K9 Web Protection

K9 Web Protection, from Blue Coat, is a free utility that's designed to regulate the way your Internet connection can be used. You have the option of restricting access times, blocking Web sites, and filtering Internet access by URL keywords. There is also an option to view Internet usage history.

One of this program's nicer features is that you can control what happens when someone attempts to access a Web site you have blocked. For example, you can play a sound (so that a parent will hear an alert if access is attempted), and there is even an option to completely shut down Internet access for a period of time if someone repeatedly tries to access blocked sites (Figure A).

Figure A

K9 Web Protection

Before you can install the software, you will have to request a free license key. The license request process can be initiated through the installation wizard.

2: Family Cyber Alert

Family Cyber Alert is another app that's designed to block access to questionable Web sites and to monitor online activity. I tend to think of Family Cyber Alert as every kid's worst nightmare. Okay, maybe not every kid, but I am certainly glad that nothing like this existed when I was a kid. Family Cyber Alert records every keystroke and maintains separate logs of Web sites visited, emails sent, files accessed, and instant messages. The software can also be configured to automatically record screen captures of the session, and those screen captures can even be stitched together into a video of the session (Figure B).

Figure B

Family Cyber Alert

One big complaint about this software is that there is no easy way to uninstall it. In an effort to prevent tampering, the publishers have made it so that the software can be uninstalled only from the command line (and you need a password to do it). Even so, there is no such thing as a truly tamperproof parental control application. Operating system safeguards such as Safe Mode make it possible to alter and/or disable most any parental control application.

3: Anti-Porn

Anti-Porn is a parental control app whose goal is to prevent access to Internet porn. It's set up a lot like a spam filter, in that you can adjust the sensitivity, create whitelists and blacklists, and filter keywords (Figure C). Like some of the other parental control applications, Anti-Porn can periodically grab screen captures of online activity and save them to a log for later review. There is also an option to control the total amount of time the Internet is accessible each day.

Figure C

Anti-Porn

During testing, Anti-Porn seemed to be more effective (at least as default configurations are concerned) than many of the other parental control applications. Even so, the program contains at least one feature that seemed to be a nuisance. Anti-Porn is designed to protect children's eyesight by shutting down the monitor for 15 minutes every 45 minutes. Although this feature can be disabled, it is enabled by default.

4: ParentalControl Bar

ParentalControl Bar is another app aimed at preventing kids from accessing unauthorized Web sites. What sets this utility apart from some of the others is that it is integrated into an easy-to-use browser bar (Figure D).

Figure D

ParentalControl Bar

You can provide ParentalControl Bar with a list of sites you want to block, but there is also a generic filter for blocking adult content even if a site isn't currently on the blocked list. Unfortunately, the filtering mechanism doesn't seem to work all that well. In testing this product, I didn't explicitly block any site, but I did configure the filter to block adult content. After doing so, I was able to access several adult sites without any problem. Ironically, the utility blocked access to MSN (Internet Explorer's default site) because the site was unlabeled.

5: CyberPatrol Parental Controls

CyberPatrol Parental Controls is one of the better parental control apps. Like most of the others on this list, it is designed to block access to objectionable Web sites, and it provides activity logging and real-time activity monitoring. But CyberPatrol Parental Controls also allows you to create different profiles for different age groups (Figure E). For example, you can configure one set of restrictions for children and another set for teens.

Figure E

CyberPatrol Parental Controls

Another thing I liked about this app is that it doesn't focus solely on porn. You can use it to allow or block other types of potentially objectionable content as well, such as those containing violence or hate speech.

Other apps?

If you've used any of these apps, how well did they work for you? What other parental control tools would you add to this list?

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

16 comments
doghat00
doghat00

That is so nice. Does this free? Once I want to monitor my kid’s online activities, I found many ways and I got nothing. Later I searched online and found iKeyMonitor http://www.remotespy.co/iphone-ipad-keylogger.html to monitor his texts and phone calls. Now I have more choice, and I will try others and see how it works.

lora789
lora789

Thanks for you sharing. I've been using Anykeylogger  for nearly two years. It has monitoring, site filter and Internet use time limit features.

http://www.anykeylogger.net

DavidTheParent
DavidTheParent

Thank you for a very helpful guide, I've put together some further advise on my website http://www,parentalcontrolnow.com ...

Personally I prefer Spector Pro, runs very smoothly on Mac.

motherofteen
motherofteen

I have a parental controls on my children's computer, but it is easy to get around them.  All you have to do is open google, type in "sex" for example, and (although the explicit porn/sex websites are blocked) if you click "images" tons of explicit photos can be seen.  Even with the parental controls enabled.  Does anyone know how to fix this?  My 12 year old son figured this out and told me about it.  I am exasperated.  Please help.  

mamabearrobyn
mamabearrobyn

If you are looking for mobile parental control only you should check out the MamaBear app... you can keep track of your kids online and offline.. it is a pretty neat tool. It's free too. You can watch the video to see how it works at http://mamabearapp.com

edge777
edge777

I read all the comments, all of which are good....but do the products they're recommending apply to just the internet on a computer or apps for a smart phone?

Kidswatch Parental Control
Kidswatch Parental Control

KidsWatch™ Parental Control Software http://www.kidswatch.com/demodownload.php KidsWatch™ Family Protection Suite is your fastest and easiest solution to safeguard your children's Internet experience and maximize the efficiency of the time they spend on the computer. Protect Against the Dangers of the Internet http://www.kidswatch.com/demodownload.php Parents are alerted immediately when a child steps outside the boundaries of safe surfing. KidsWatch™ automatically sends you e-mail alerts when your child enters or receives a suspect phrase or keyword from any chat conversation. You are alerted to inappropriate conversations, risky situations, child predators, conversations containing sex, suicide, drugs, guns and more. Be alerted to and see where registered sexual predators live and work around you. Block Inappropriate Web Site Content http://www.kidswatch.com/demodownload.php Prohibit access to dangerous and inappropriate web sites, pornography, adult content, criminal related, drugs, gambling, vice and more. KidsWatch™ is much more than the best-rated Parental Controls and Parental Control Software solution. It is loaded and preloaded with many optional benefits and features that improve the security and the quality of the Internet your children see. Installing KidsWatch™ on your computer is customizing the Internet, by child, the way you want your kids to experience and use it. System Requirements Personal computer running Windows® 8, 7, XP & Vista 32 MB of RAM, 25 MB on hard drive, 133 MHz or faster processor. Support for 32-bit and 64-bit computers and Windows operating systems. Manage Computer Time http://www.kidswatch.com/demodownload.php Setup time quotas and schedules for access to the computer, the Internet, individual programs, games, web sites and more. Monitor Usage http://www.kidswatch.com/demodownload.php See the complete dialog of your child’s chat conversations on facebook, MySpace, Yahoo, AIM and MSN. View the web sites your children visit, the programs they use and when they were active on the computer. Another Layer of Internet Protection http://www.kidswatch.com/demodownload.php Spyware, malicious and infected sites, phishing attacks (identity theft) are identified and blocked before the content is downloaded to your PC.

jon.i.mullen
jon.i.mullen

Been using Norton Online Family for the past 12 months and it's only let me down once, and that was from a really nasty hack of a children's gaming site. Plus there is a mobile phone app to both control your kids phone surfing, and allow you to control the system from your phone. Jon

rrobster
rrobster

Open DNS allows you to place controls on household devices at different levels or you can set up DNS routing through the router (with Open DNS) to filter all household devices at once.

essex133
essex133

Yes, CyberPatrol sound very good. I particularly like the sound of the activity logging and real-time activity monitoring and the fact that you can create separate profiles for different aged kids. I might have to try it out on my daughter's PC so she can keep a closer eye on what my grandchildren are doing online ;-) PS: There are some VERY bad reviews of it posted on CyberPatrol's own site though! Hmmm... don't know whether to try it or not now?

joe.stout
joe.stout

I recently bought all three of my kids windows 7 computers (Cheap refurbished laptops on Newegg - I'm not rich... :) primarily for the built in parental controls. Most of the options listed in the above article are available with Windows Parental Controls, and I can even log into my Windows Live account from my personal computer and see usage data for each kid without even touching their computers. The only thing it doesnt have that I really wish was available was some kind of key logger. I have seen way to many new stories about pedofiles talking kids into doing stupid things through video game chat rooms, and I would like to keep an eye on things like that...

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