Best apps to put on kids' phones to keep them safe online this summer

With children spending so much more time online for schoolwork and friendships, it's important to protect them.

Shelby Brown Editor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
  • She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Shelby Brown
4 min read
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School systems are formulating reopening plans amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and families are reshaping their summer schedules to adhere to safety regulations. Parents balancing working from home with caring for school-age kids need ways to keep their brood entertained. 

Read more: Our favorite back to school picks for 2020

With the surge in digital learning and not being able to visit friends in person, many kids are spending more time on their phones and computers. The safety concerns for kids online haven't lessened, but learning about parental controls and safety apps can help bring some peace of mind to parents. 

Here are a few parental control apps we think are a good idea to consider putting on your child's phone or computer.

Read more: Best kids tablet for 2020: Amazon Fire, Apple iPad and more compared 

Net Nanny

Net Nanny/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Net Nanny is an app that uses AI to block questionable or dangerous content before your child sees it. The app can filter certain websites and monitors your child's digital activity, and can also monitor and limit screen time. The software's Family Feed feature can report what your child is searching online and what apps your child uses and can alert you to content such as pornography, weapons and drugs. 

Net Nanny is compatible with Android and iOS, as well as Windows, Mac and Fire. The software costs $55 per year to cover PC, Mac and mobile for a five-device family. Net Nanny also offers a $40 annual plan to cover one Mac desktop and a 20-device protection package for $90 per year.

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Net Nanny also offers a dedicated filter to block coronavirus sites and searches to help kids who might feel anxious. 

Read more: 7 parental controls you can use right now on your kid's iPhone


Bark/ Screenshot by Shelby Brown/ CNET

Bark is another option for parents who want to keep kids safe online. The app monitors texts and emails, along with YouTube and over 30 social media networks for questionable content your child might be searching or viewing. Bark sends parents alerts if it detects signs of cyberbullying, depression, online predators, adult content and more. You can also decide which platforms you want to monitor, if you want to give your child some privacy. The app recently launched a new screen-time management feature so parents can monitor their kids' accounts as well as set screen time limits from the same app. 

Bark has a seven-day free trial and then costs $14 a month ($99 annually) per family with iOS and Android devices. You can also subscribe to Bark Jr, the company's entry-level product, for $5 a month ($49 annually). Bark Jr focuses on screen time management, website filtering and location check-ins.



The OurPact parenting app helps families balance screen time for free on iOS and Android devices. The app lets parents limit access to certain apps, filter websites, enable GPS monitoring, and schedule screen time and recurring activities like bedtime. It also allows parents to block or grant internet and app access at anytime. 

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, OurPact said that it's offering three months free access to premium features, normally $7 per month. Premium can manage up to 20 devices, keep tabs on all the apps on your child's device and mark as Always Blocked, Per Schedule and Always Allowed. Premium also enables a spendable screen time allowance, the family locator feature and geo-fence creator for alerts, text blocking and web filters. 

Typically, OurPact's base plan is free and offers one schedule, and five blocks and unlimited grants for one device. OurPact also has a Plus plan for $2 per month that offers unlimited schedules, and manual blocks and grants for 10 devices.


SafeToNet/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Kids will be communicating over devices while in lockdown since they can't see their friends. The SafeToNet app, which is now available on iOS and Android in the US, has a safeguarding keyboard powered by AI to judge, guide and advise a child in real time as they search for content and message others. The app's goal is to help the child become more responsible and safe online without feeling like they don't have any privacy. 

Parents won't be able to see what's being written, but can view insights like the time of day when high-risk messages are sent and the top five apps used by their child. SafeToNet can show what issues the child most struggles with, too. 

The software will flag certain messages if the AI detects bullying, abuse, aggression or sexting, for example. SafeToNet gives the child a moment to pause before sending a message they can't take back. Plus, the app provides breathing exercises when anxiety is detected, lessons about self-esteem and an emotion diary.

To help during the pandemic, SafeToNet is offering its services free to families for the next 30 days. 

Google Family Link

Google/ Screenshot by Shelby Brown/ CNET

Google Family Link lets you create a Google account for your child (if they're under 13 years old) with access to most Google services, including Gmail and Photos. If your child is over 13, they have to consent to using Google Family Link. The app lets parents keep track of their kid's Google account and guide them to age-appropriate content. Parents can also approve or deny which apps their kids want to download. Family Link shows parents apps that teachers recommend, which parents can add directly to the child's phone. 

The service is compatible with Chromebook, iOS and Android. It includes other parental controls such as screen time limits, locking the phone for family time and location tracking.

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