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These parental control software options are money well spent

POSTED: October 2, 2017 9:10 a.m.
Amy Iverson/

Parents need a little help these days when it comes to keeping kids' screen time safe. There are some great options out there to help limit time spent online and to help kids learn to set their own healthy habits.

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In today’s world of ubiquitous screens, parents have to be on alert. Responsible parenting in 2017 really must include purposeful technology monitoring. And while many devices have decent built-in ways to filter out some content, moms and dads most likely need to kick it up a notch.

Here are three of the best affordable apps to help keep kids’ screen time and activity under control.

Net Nanny may be one of the oldest parental control software options, but it’s still good. You can set internet filtering, and it actually comes with its own pre-filtered browser. A unique perk is the profanity blocker. Your child may be watching a perfectly innocent YouTube video, for instance, but the comments are filled with foul language. The profanity blocker turns those words into nonsense like *#(@!.

Net Nanny will also email you — not text — if your child tries logging on to a website with questionable content, so you can talk to them about it, or just block it. This service will show a list of all the apps on a child’s device so parents can easily block or allow them. While it doesn’t allow time limits for specific apps, parents can set time limits for the device overall. There are no text monitoring capabilities to speak of.

Net Nanny works for Windows, iOS, Android and Mac. The cost of $40/year is for one device, $60/year for five devices, and $90/year for 10 devices.

OurPact is getting a lot of buzz as a fairly newer, all-inclusive parental control option. There is a very limited free plan for one device, and a limited plan for $2/month, but most families will need to choose the $5/month plan to gain access to the most robust features. By spending $60/year, parents can manage up to 20 devices to establish healthy family routines.

It allows parents to block specific or all apps for scheduled times, or for a certain amount of time. Parents have the ability to block texting and web browsers in the same ways. This capability could be a life-saver, and a fight-saver if children come to learn that their phones’ social capabilities automatically turn off during dinner, or at bedtime.

Moms and dads could do away with the nightly painstaking ritual of asking kids to turn in their phones, or to stop Snapchatting already. Choosing a certain time limit per day is also an option, so kids can possibly learn to manage their own screen time. OurPact is available for iOS and Android.

Qustodio has some great features like an internet filter that blocks inappropriate content even in private browsing mode. Parents can learn how much time kids are spending on social media and are able to view related status updates, friends and pictures. It’s pretty easy to set time limits for games, apps and internet use, or to schedule specific times when those activities are allowed.

Qustodio goes deeper when it comes to monitoring text messages. Not only can parents see who their children are texting and calling and how often, but it will allow them to actually read the text messages. Some parents (and most kids) may find this too intrusive, although in my home, my kids know that I may pick up their phones at any time and read through text messages, so it’s not much different.

One pesky part of Qustodio is that parents must establish settings on each device individually, which can be a time-consuming chore. Qustodio works on Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, Kindle and Nook. There is a very basic free version that protects a single device, after that it’s $55/year for five devices, $97/year for 10 devices, and $138/year for 15 devices.

A survey by Common Sense Media found that 85 percent of parents say that monitoring their children’s media use is important for their safety. But in that same survey, only 41 percent of parents are actually checking their kids’ devices and social media accounts with regularity.

Parents should take advantage of these tools to make it easier to keep their kids safe online. Of course, communication is always key. Make sure to talk with your kids about why restrictions and monitoring are necessary and that it’s just a step in guiding them into becoming responsible digital citizens. Here’s hoping they buy in to the idea.

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