Child Monitoring Software for Windows
In this guide, you will learn key information about child monitoring software available for Microsoft Windows (10/11). There are many free and paid options available. Many are fairly easy to set up, and others require more competent technical skills. We will also evaluate the need for monitoring.
Do I Need This Software?
Besides the price of the software itself, child monitoring services take time to configure and manage. Depending on the situation, they may be more annoying for both you and your child than helpful.
Before we talk about the software, let's assess your family's needs to determine if these steps are warranted.
Key Considerations Beforehand
- Do you actively monitor your child on the computer?
- If your home computer is in a shared space, such as the living room or kitchen, and your child only uses the computer when you're around, you might not need monitoring software. Just be sure to glance over their screen a few times an hour.
- If you don't have time to actively monitor your child, or your child regularly uses the computer unattended, you might need monitoring software.
- How mature is your child? Do they usually listen to you?
- Kids develop at different speeds, and some may be a little more rebellious than others. Some kids can be trusted to monitor themselves to a degree, as long as you lay out your expectations with a rational discussion beforehand, and continue to remind them of these expectations regularly. You should still check their internet browsing history occasionally and glance at their screen to see what they're up to.
- How old is your child?
- As your child gets older, they'll expect more and more freedom. What's appropriate for a 12-year-old differs from what's appropriate for a 17-year-old.
- If your child is 18 or older, you shouldn't be monitoring their computer activity. That violates their privacy.
- For older teenagers, around 15+, it may be more harmful than productive to continue monitoring their internet activity. Teenagers need space to grow and learn on their own. Continued monitoring can lead to trust issues and strain your relationships. I wouldn't recommend monitoring their internet activity or texts beyond the age of 16 or so, unless there are unique challenges involved which put the child at significant risk of harm.
- Speak with a mental health professional or family counseling services if you suspect something is wrong or need help to determine the best course of action.
In summary, there are many cases where monitoring should and shouldn't be used. It's ultimately up to you to decide what's acceptable for your family. There are different degrees of monitoring and parental controls that can be employed.
Types of Monitoring/Parental Controls
There are many ways to monitor and control what your child can access on the web. Some are more invasive than others.
Content blockers or filters can prevent children from accessing material that's not age appropriate. Some filters are more strict than others.
For obvious reasons, I'd recommend all parents block adult websites (18+). Beyond that, there are many categories of things you can block:
- Violent Websites
- Content blockers can stop your child from accessing violent games and sites related to weapons, guns, fighting, etc.
- Gambling Websites
- News & Information
- Depending on your child's age, some topics may not be appropriate. Even if it's educational. For example, Wikipedia is a great resource for kids studying topics at all ages. However, they also have informational content related to sex, guns, wars, etc. that may not be appropriate for your child.
- All news is biased in some way. You probably don't want your child reading far left/right propaganda or misinformation. What news outlets are acceptable is up to you.
- Custom Filters
- Nearly every tool supports blocking specific sites. If there are websites you know of that you don't want your child visiting, then use these filters.
Time Restrictions or Schedules
It's possible to create set times when your child may access certain things on your computer.
For example, you could disable the internet at bedtime and re-enable it the following afternoon. You could make it so the child's only allowed to play video games for an hour a day, but they can still access their school websites or homework whenever.
These tools require parents to set up a password or a pin. It's important that you keep this information secure. Select a unique pin or password. The best option might be a separate pin just for this purpose, that you never share with them. Ideally, don't write it down. Don't use a garage door code, shared login pin, birthday, pet name, or any other thing the child might know or guess.
Your pin/password can be used to change the parental control settings, grant more internet time or video game time, and things like that.
Microsoft Family Safety
Microsoft Family Safety is a built-in free tool to help keep your kids safe online. It works well enough, and would be my first recommendation for kids using Windows PCs.
- Core Features
- Screen time / Schedules
- Content Blocker / Filter - Easily filter out adult content
- App Blocker - Disable certain apps and games
- Reports and Monitoring - View search history, browser history, daily screen time, etc.
- Built into Windows - Makes it difficult for child to remove or get around
- You must set up a Microsoft Account for your child
- Not 100% full-proof, but works in 99% of cases
- I managed to install the Chrome web-browser without an admin account and use it to access any website. It only worked the very first time I installed it, and wouldn't work after that.
- Immediately after setting up the controls, I could browse restricted websites from the child account in Edge. It took about five minutes before the filters became active and was not a problem after that point.
Setup (Win 11)
To use Family Safety, you must first have your own Microsoft Account (hotmail, outlook, live email, etc). This is likely what you already use to log in to Windows. It should be a personal account. Not a work or school account. I will refer to this as the parent account from now on.
Log into Windows on the device your child uses with your parent account.
Go to Start Settings Accounts Family & Other Users
Click "Add account" to add a new user. If your child already has a Microsoft account, use that one. If not, create a new Microsoft account for them by following the on-screen instructions.
Do not select the option to add a user without a Microsoft account. Ensure you enter accurate details, and the child you are adding is under 18 (don't lie about their birthday).
Under the account information in the Accounts view, open the "Account type" option. Make sure your child has a Standard account and not an Administrator account. They should not be able to install software.
Once the account is created, you can go to the Microsoft Family Settings web console to manage the controls. Note that child activity might not start showing up for a few minutes.
From this dashboard, you can view each child, see what they're up to, and change what they're allowed to access.
The most important thing to control is probably the websites and apps they're allowed to access.
Click your child's name in the family settings dashboard. This should bring you to a web page where you can see all their activity and individual settings.
I set my imaginary child's age filter as "Up to age 12." You can change these settings under the "Content Filters" section.
You can also see how much time they've spent using the computer.
If you visit the content filters section, you can set the age restrictions. This will automatically filter content based on certain guidelines. Note that the list of sites filtered is subjective. You can always manually block sites or unblock sites as you see fit.
If you want to be more restrictive, you can select the option to "Only use allowed websites." This method offers the most protection. However, you will need to manually unblock each site your child may want to visit, which can become annoying, especially if your child needs to use the internet for school research and will need access to many websites.
Next, log into your child's account on the device your child is going to be using. It may take a few minutes to set up the account and apply the settings.
Test to ensure that the child cannot access inappropriate websites by attempting to access them. If all goes well, you'll see a screen saying they need permission to get in.
If they ask to get in, you will get a notification on your phone, PC, and email saying they want to get access to something. If you say yes then it's added to the safe list. If no, they're denied.
Note that you can see every blocked website they attempt to visit, even if they choose not to ask for permission. This way, if you notice your child looking for inappropriate things, you can have a constructive discussion with them.
If your filter doesn't appear to be working, double check the Family Safety Settings from your parent account, and double check that the child's account is registered as a standard account on your PC. Make sure the device is connected to the internet and wait 5 minutes logged into the child account, then try again.
Under the content filters section of the child's family settings, there's a second tab to block games and apps.
By default, all browsers except Microsoft Edge are blocked. This means your child cannot use other browsers like Chrome or Firefox. LEAVE ALL OTHER BROWSERS BLOCKED. Do not remove them from the list. The website filters only apply to Microsoft Edge and not to other browsers.
If you allow them to use other browsers, you are basically turning off all content filters.
From the Family Settings Page, under Screen Time, you can set custom schedules that allow you to control how much screen time your child gets each day of the week. For example, you could make it 1 hour on weekdays and 2 hours on weekends.
Microsoft Family Safety also has apps for Android and iPhones. However, the Android version has more control over content and filtering. If you're using an iPhone, you're probably better off using Apple's family safety settings instead.
All the above features are free. Additional features are available if you subscribe to Microsoft 365 Family ($99/yr). This subscription includes Microsoft Office for up to six accounts, 1TB of OneDrive cloud backup storage, and enhanced family safety features. The additional features for family safety include location tracking and safe driving monitoring.
Other Notable Services
If Microsoft Family doesn't quite cut it for you, here are some alternative options to look into:
QustodioWindows Content Filters Chat Logs Screen Time Location Android Support Apple Support
They have a free version which supports basic content filtering. It's available for all major desktop and mobile operating systems.
The paid version starts at $55/yr for a few devices and runs up to $138/yr for more devices.
Qustodio is a great option if you're looking for a relatively easy-to-use solution with more features than Microsoft's Family Safety.
Their premium version includes location tracking, screen time limits, and more detailed filter settings. For example, you can select what categories of content to allow or block. Don't want adult content but you're OK with mildly violent video games? There's an option for that.
Qustodio has a free version which protects a single device with basic content filters.
Qustodio vs Microsoft Family Safety
- Similar Suite of Features (Filters, Geolocation, Screen time, history, alerts, etc.)
- Qustodio has better iOS/Apple support, along with Windows and Android
- More Detailed Timeline/History
- No Microsoft Account Required
- Works across all browsers, not just Edge
- More control over what sites are blocked
- Instant notifications when a site is blocked
- Easier to set up schedules
- View chat/SMS history and contents of messages - Requires a Mac computer connected to the same account.
- Block YouTube App during certain time windows
- Notifications if a child removes/uninstall the app
Net NannyWindows Content Filters Screen Time Location Android Support Apple Support Basic Social Monitoring
Net Nanny is another honorable mention. This software has been around for a long time, since I was a kid.
Net Nanny works with all major operating systems and mobile devices, including Kindle Fire devices.
This software is a bit more complex to operate than Microsoft Family Safety or Qustodio. However, it has additional features and reporting. It's available starting at $40 for one PC, but you'd probably want to upgrade to the 5 devices for $55 plan or higher if your kid has a smartphone or tablet.
- Content Filters/Alerts By Category (like Qustodio)
- Besides either blocking or unblocking, there's a third option to unblock with alerts. This still allows your child to view the content, but alerts you when they do, for your quick review. This might be useful in select cases where you want to partially block or stay on top of something, without completely restricting access from all of it.
- Scheduling/Screen Time
- YouTube Restrictions and Monitoring - Quickly see all the videos your child is watching from one convenient place
- Location Updates
- Social Media Monitoring/Protection
- Alerts if child is searching terms related to self-harm
Bark.usNo Windows Content Filters Screen Time Location Android Support iPhone Support Advanced Social Monitoring Chat Logs
Bark is a paid suite of services and hardware which can monitor your childrens' mobile devices and game consoles. Note that this does not include desktop monitoring, so it's not for PCs, like this guide was mainly focused on.
I thought this service was worth a mention since it has more advanced social media monitoring. You can link your child's social media accounts to Bark, and it automatically monitors for things like bullying, self harm, etc.
They offer a Bark phone, which is a Bark branded Samsung/Android phone. With this as your child's primary device, it's extremely easy to monitor their activity. You won't have to worry about them uninstalling the Bark app or trying to get around safety protection.
Additionally, they have hardware which can automatically turn off game consoles or TVs, and filter inappropriate content coming from TV/Game apps.
Note that Bark will show you alerts when concerning messages are sent to your child. It does not keep logs of entire conversations - only troubling messages.