What Is the Best Parental Control App in 2023?
Almost one million children had their identities stolen in 2022, with losses topping $688 million [*]. But scammers aren’t the only danger that kids face online.
Between gaming, social media, and messaging apps, online threats are ever-present for kids and families.
It’s no surprise that the majority of American parents worry about their family’s online safety. But what is surprising is that one in five moms have never spoken to their kids about how to stay safe when spending time on digital devices [*].
Instead, many families rely on parental control tools to protect their kids online – with Aura and Bark as two of the most popular options.
In this guide, we’ll compare Aura vs. Bark — including features, benefits, downsides, and costs — to help you choose the best parental control app for your family.
Aura vs. Bark Head-to-Head: What Parents Need To Know
On paper, both Aura and Bark appear to offer similar features for parental controls, including website blockers, app management, and screen time limits.
But when you’re considering options to monitor your children's online activities, there are unique differences that you should be aware of.
Bark is excellent for monitoring social media, messages, and emails. It quickly warns you about risky conversations across many of your kid's accounts. Also, Bark lets you customize its detection and notification settings so that it won't be too intrusive.
Aura stands out with a broader range of family security features. Aura isn’t just a parental control app – it is a digital safety solution that protects your entire family from online risks including inappropriate content, cyberbullying, online scammers, identity thieves, hackers, and more.
Here’s how key features offered by Aura and Bark compare for families:
How To Choose the Parental Control App That’s Right for Your Family
Whether you choose Aura, Bark, or another parental control app depends on your specific needs and budget. However, to ensure you’re getting the protection you need, make sure you consider these six factors when evaluating parental control apps:
- Content monitoring and filtering: Parental control apps should ease your mind in knowing that your children won’t encounter inappropriate content online. You want to be confident that your nine-year-old child doesn’t see scenes of explicit violence or sexual content.
- Screen time limits and control: Excessive time on gaming consoles or social media can adversely affect your kid's physical and mental health. You want to promote a healthy balance between device use and offline life.
- Digital security to protect against hacking: Approximately one in 50 kids has their identity stolen [*]. With digital security tools, you can rest easy knowing that your children's sensitive data is safe.
- Cyberbullying alerts: A proactive approach helps you spot early warning signs of cyberbullying — helping you to ensure the well-being of your kids and educate them on appropriate online behavior.
- Customer support and updates: Access to responsive support is vital in order to handle any issues. Also, look for options that keep the app's features and security up to date so that you and your family can stay ahead of emerging cyber threats.
- Real-time notifications: Seek apps that provide near-instant alerts about potential risks or inappropriate content. A quick response can make all the difference when tackling hackers or scammers.
Remember that no parental control software can fully replace an open and honest relationship with your child about the risks of online content and threats. Talking to your kids regularly about online safety is vital — as their internet access impacts the well-being of everyone in your family.
Here’s how both Aura and Bark compare on these important features:
Aura Overview: What’s Included and Pros & Cons
Founded in 2014, Aura is an all-in-one digital security solution that can safeguard the identity, finances, and sensitive data of everyone in your family. A recent merger with Circle means Aura now includes the industry’s leading parental controls for your children’s mobile devices.
In 2022, Aura received the Mom's Choice Award Gold for Family-Friendly Apps.
More recently, Aura was recognized as the Best Identity Theft Protection Service by Money.com, Forbes, Tech Radar, US News.com, and more.
Here are some of Aura’s key features that help keep your family safe online:
- Monitor content and block sites. You can customize what your kids view online by adding restrictions to specific apps, games, and websites.
- Limit screen time. Set time limits for apps and websites to ensure that your children’s health, homework, and relationships don’t suffer as a result of excessive internet use.
- Pause the Internet® in the Aura app. No need to repeatedly ask your kids to set down their iPadsand come to the dinner table. With Aura’s “Pause the Internet” feature, you can instantly switch off access whenever you want.
- Ensure safe gaming. Around 37% of children are victims of cyberbullying [*]. Aura’s cyberbullying alerts — plus 24/7 in-game voice and text monitoring for over 200 popular PC games — make it easier to keep your kids safe.
- Monitor your child’s sensitive information. Get alerts if your children’s SSNs, online passwords, or other sensitive information has been leaked in a data breach.
- Secure your child’s devices from hackers. Aura includes some of the most advanced digital security tools available including antivirus software, Safe Browsing tools, and an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered spam call and text blocker.
Here are the pros and cons of Aura:
Who should choose Aura?
Aura is ideal for concerned parents looking for an easy-to-use solution to help see and control what their kids are doing online. You can filter inappropriate content, manage screen time, and track interactions that your kids have with others when they’re playing games or using their smartphones.
You should choose Aura if:
- You want award-winning parental controls, including content filtering, screen time management, and browsing history tracking.
- You want to protect your entire family from online threats like hacking, cryptocurrency scams, and phishing emails.
- You're worried about child identity theft and need reliable online security measures to protect your children's SSNs and other sensitive information.
- You want an all-in-one intelligent digital security solution that eases your mind about your entire family's online activities.
How much does Aura cost?
Many services offer low introductory rates, but then hike up the price in the second year. With Aura, you get simple, transparent pricing — with no price increases after your first year.
Note: Aura’s parental controls are only available with its Family Plan.
Here are Aura’s plans and pricing as of August 2023:
- Individual Plan: $12 per month (or $6 per month using the special offer link below)
- Couple Plan (two members): $22 per month (or $11.49 per month using the link below)
- Family Plan (five adults and unlimited children): $37 per month (or $20 per month using the link below). Aura’s Family Plan offers advanced features, including parental controls, child identity protection, and Safe Gaming with cyberbullying alerts.
Is Aura better than Bark?
Bark is one of the best parental control apps for monitoring SMS text messages, social media content, and app usage. But Aura has an edge in other areas due to its advanced features.
By offering comprehensive digital security, you can use Aura to protect your kids, spouse, and elderly relatives. Aura’s Family Plans cover children and parents even if they’re in different households, such as kids away at college or grandparents who don’t live with you.
Aura’s suite provides security features across all devices and browsers. Wherever they are, whenever they’re online, your family will always have a strong defense against hackers, predators, and identity thieves.
Partnerships with Circle and Kidas make Aura’s Safe Gaming features and best-in-class parental controls the perfect choice to protect children of all ages.
And if the worst should happen, you’ll know you have the support you need, including 24/7 customer support and up to $5 million in identity theft insurance.
Bark Overview: What’s Included and Pros & Cons
Bark is a parental control app that specializes in social media, text, and search monitoring. Bark offers a standalone app for iPhone or Android (Bark Premium) as well as a home router and — even a dedicated Bark Phone with built-in protections.
Here are some of Bark’s key features:
- Content monitoring. Bark monitors and alerts parents to worrisome interactions, like if your kid encounters bullying, sexual content, scammers, or predators.
- Manage screen time. Create custom daily schedules for each device in your household. You can monitor each child’s phone, and set age-appropriate limits for teens and young children.
- Track locations. Bark has everything you need to keep a close eye on your kids’ whereabouts when they visit friends or travel to school.
- Advanced social media monitoring. With a view of over 30 platforms, Bark helps parents stay vigilant about some of the riskiest areas for kids on the internet.
- The Bark Phone for Kids. Starting at $49 per month, the Bark phone and home Wi-Fi router make it easier to set limits and monitor your kid's online activity. With Bark Premium, you can use this system to monitor texts, photos, and videos on Apple devices.
Here are the pros and cons of Bark:
Who should choose Bark?
With its focus on social media monitoring, Bark is the perfect app for families with younger kids or sensitive teens who are more vulnerable on these platforms. While Bark doesn't offer Aura's robust digital security tools, it is a great app to keep tabs on what your children are doing online.
You should choose Bark if:
- You want a dedicated (but expensive) phone for your kids. The Bark Phone comes with the parental controls app built in, making monitoring easy.
- You only want website filtering. If you need an entry-level option to block apps and websites, Bark Jr is a user-friendly way to get started. You can also set up the Bark extension on Google Chromebooks to monitor search results, along with saved photos and videos in Google Chrome.
- You want to track your child’s location. Bark is equipped with a real-time map, location alerts, and check-in features to ease parents’ worries about their children’s movements.
How much does Bark cost?
Here are Bark’s plans and pricing as of August 2023:
- Bark Phone: Starts at $49/month
- Bark Premium: Starts at $14/month
- Bark Home (router): Starts at $6/month
- Bark Jr (limited parental controls): Starts at $5/month
Is Bark worth it?
While Bark excels in social media monitoring and provides valuable parental controls, it may not be worth it for families seeking comprehensive digital security.
You should consider these shortcomings of Bark:
- Limited protection against hacking and scams. Bark doesn’t include an antivirus, VPN, password manager, or Safe Browsing tools. Without these protections, your kids remain vulnerable to online threats.
- Doesn’t protect the rest of your family. Without award-winning identity theft protection and three-credit bureau monitoring, Bark lacks the functionality to safeguard your family’s most sensitive data.
- More expensive than other services. Considering that it’s essentially a social media monitoring app with basic parental controls, Bark is not the cheapest option.
- Bark only shows you text messages or other content when a potential issue is detected. A big drawback is that you can’t view all of your child's communications in real-time. Also, you receive warnings when problems arise — but not solutions.
What Other Parental Control Apps Should You Consider?
There are other contenders beyond the Aura vs. Bark debate. Here are more parental control app providers that you’ll find on most comparison sites:
- Net Nanny is a web filter service for social media monitoring and screen time management. While it's a user-friendly app, Net Nanny is limited in critical areas, including scheduling and location tracking.
- Qustodio has a powerful dashboard to track your child’s online activity across multiple platforms and apps. But the lack of advanced digital security tools — like a VPN and antivirus — makes it a poor choice for family protection.
- mSpy is a phone surveillance app that tracks calls, messages, and messaging apps and allows parents to take real-time screenshots of their child’s device. But this monitoring tool lacks essential parental control features such as screen time limits, device usage control, and website blocking.
- MMGuardian is a feature-rich monitoring service for Android phones and iOS devices. With many unique features, such as alerts about inappropriate pictures on your child's device, MMGuardian is a solid parental control app. However, high pricing and poor usability deter many parents.
- Norton Family is a parental control app with a dedicated “School Time” feature to help parents whose children are learning remotely. Norton Family doesn’t support Mac devices.
- Kaspersky kids is a freemium product from the U.K.-based cybersecurity provider that can help you track your kids’ online activities, including dedicated YouTube search and watch history reports.
- Google Family Link provides content blockers and time limits, as well as a unique feature that allows you to control how your child’s data is used and shared with online services.
💡 Related: The 10 Best Parental Control Apps for iPhones (2023) →
How To Keep Your Family Safe Online
No service can completely protect your kids from inappropriate content or online threats like scams and hacking. But with a few extra precautions on your part (and the help of a comprehensive service like Aura), you can make your kids much less vulnerable targets.
Follow these nine steps to protect your family online:
- Set clear boundaries around online usage. Before giving your kids internet-enabled devices, set ground rules about usage. For example, what social media services can they use, and how can they use them? With clear household guidelines, your children will know what's acceptable.
- Restrict device usage to shared spaces or specific times. You can stay in touch with your child's online life by placing routers and charging stations in common areas, like the kitchen or living room.
- Explain the importance of online privacy. Teach your kids about the risks of sharing sensitive data online — especially addresses, phone numbers, and financial details.
- Discuss the consequences of sharing photos and personal information. To illustrate the dangers of posting pictures on social media, have your kids read about online predators and scammers who tricked children or stole their identities.
- Use Safe Browsing tools to avoid hackers and fake websites. Insist that everyone in your family uses a VPN and antivirus to hide their locations and details online — especially if they are shopping or banking online.
- Monitor your child’s SSN and account passwords for leaks. Consistent monitoring helps you learn about data breaches that could compromise your kid’s personally identifiable information (PII) or online accounts.
- Set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on all accounts. This additional step in the login process stops unauthorized attempts to access your child’s social media accounts or gaming profiles.
- Teach kids the warning signs of online scams. You can prepare your kids to defend themselves online by educating them about the warning signs of phishing emails and impersonation scams.
- Encourage open communication. It’s important to stay involved in your children’s digital lives. Kids tend to keep things secret when in trouble — online or offline. But when you play games together and share interests and hobbies, it’s easier for your kids to come and talk to you when they have a problem.
Our Final Recommendation: Choose Aura for Continued Peace of Mind
A 2023 survey by Microsoft revealed that 69% of people experienced an online risk in the last year [*].
As digital natives, your children are the most vulnerable — especially if they aren’t using best practices surrounding online privacy. Sharing too much information online could put your entire family at risk.
Aura protects your whole family with the following safeguards:
- Award-winning identity theft protection, including 24/7 three-bureau credit monitoring with rapid fraud alerts up to 250x faster than other providers.
- VPN and antivirus software to protect your family’s devices and data against malware, spyware, and hacking.
- Parental controls — including content filters, screen time limits, and chat monitoring for your child’s online activity.
- Dark Web monitoring to warn you if any of your family’s sensitive information is circulating on illicit sites, forums, or marketplaces.
- Up to $5,000,000 in insurance coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft — including stolen money, credit cards, and passports.
- White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists that provide U.S.-based 24/7 support to help you deal with banks, creditors, and government agencies.