What the best parental control software has

  • Customizable controls. Parental control software should let you tweak lists of blocked sites as well as adjust the level of restriction as kids mature. Also, look for packages that allow for multiple users at different levels of filtering. Younger children need more protection, while older children may need less.
  • The type of protection you need. It's important for parents to pay close attention to the devices and programs their kids are using and choose a product that best serves their computers, smartphones or tablets. Some of the most insidious online threats are rooted in instant messaging and social networking sites. Many, but not all, parental controls monitor instant messaging, email and social media sites (such as Facebook and Twitter) in addition to your child's web surfing.
    On the flip side, there is specialized software available that only watches social media or email/IM communications and leaves general browsing unguarded. Still others offer instant email or text notifications when your child tries to access blocked content. Make sure the software you buy will meet your monitoring needs.
  • Protection against HTTPS and proxy blocking. Some tech-savvy youngsters use proxies (intermediary web servers) and encrypted HTTPS connections to circumvent filtering software. For the best protection, look for parental control software that thwarts those efforts.
  • Multiple device coverage. While many programs can block content on several PCs -- often three -- some only protect a single device. If you need to block content on more than one computer, check the license before you buy.
  • An intuitive interface. Setting up monitoring software on several PCs used to involve manually editing the filtering parameters on each computer. Many newer programs allow you to configure global settings using a web-based interface, which reduces set-up time. Web-based solutions allow you to check in on the software remotely, as well, so you don't need to sit at the computer that's being monitored to keep tabs on your children's activities

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