There’s a wide range of behavior among parental control and monitoring programs. Some install in stealth mode and spy on your kids, which is just creepy. Norton Family Premier, on the other hand, encourages parents to engage with their children and make them aware of exactly what rules are in place. Norton Family offers supervision across an unlimited number of devices and lets you monitor all of your kids’ activity from well-designed web and mobile apps. An update fixes former issues with Family Premier’s web filtering features, though it still can’t monitor Macs and some features could be a bit more robust.
Pricing and Platforms
Pricing structures vary widely in this field, but Norton Family’s plan is simple. Paying $49.99 per year gets you a Norton Family Premier subscription, which includes capabilities such as web filtering, time usage restrictions, and location tracking. It keeps 30 days of activity history and has some extras like instant locking. Norton Family used to offer a freemium version, but hasn’t done so for a long time. A free 30-day trial lets you test the software before you commit.
There are no limitations on the number of children or devices you can add to an account, which is ideal for the always-connected generation and for large families. By comparison, a single license for Net Nanny runs $39.99 per year, while an $89.99 annual subscription gets you a 20-license Family Protection Pass for that service. Qustodio costs $54.95 per year, for use on up to five phones, tablets, PCs, or Macs. Kaspersky Safe Kids is the best deal: It only charges $14.99 per year and can protect an unlimited number of devices and children.
Norton Family lets you configure rules and view your child’s activity from a web console as well as parental apps for Android and iOS. You install a local child app on each monitored device to enforce rules and monitor activity. Norton Family can monitor Windows, Android, and iOS devices, but Macs are beyond its power. That said, you can still access the web portal on a Mac to set up parameters, view your child’s activity, and manage other child profiles.
We installed Norton Family on a Lenovo IdeaPad 320 running Windows 10 to evaluate the desktop monitoring. For mobile, we did most of our testing on a Google Pixel running Android 9, though we also set it up on an iPhone XR running iOS 13.
When you first sign in to the Norton Family Premier dashboard, you need to create profiles for each child you wish to monitor. To add a child, specify a name, a restriction level (low, moderate, high, and very high), and either select an avatar or upload a profile photo. Next, you specify the device on which you want to install Norton Family Premier and follow the instructions for that platform.
We first set up Norton Family Premier on Android. The service smartly warns you if you try to install it on a device admin profile and instructs you how to create a user account for your child specifically, as well as how to block guest mode. If you don’t, your child can easily evade detection by simply switching to a guest account. One issue that we discovered with this method is that upon starting the device, one cannot switch into that profile immediately (the admin profile is the default). In effect, parents need to unlock the device each time it restarts and then select the child profile to maintain this configuration. That’s a real limitation. You also need to give Norton Family a bunch of access permissions: contacts; calls; location; photos, media, and files; device admin; app usage; the ability to display over other apps; and accessibility.
Installing Norton Family on a Windows account is easier. Setup is handled via a Norton Family Downloader application. You just sign in to your account and choose which account on the machine needs to be managed. We recommend configuring Norton Family on a non-admin account to prevent your child from uninstalling the software. Of course, workarounds still exist. Virtualization apps such as Oracle’s VM VirtualBox are one option, since Norton Family can’t block desktop apps, but non-admin users can’t easily install any apps. In any case, the entire process to set up Norton Family only takes a few minutes. Once you complete the installation, the child sees a notification tray icon informing them that they are being monitored.
On iOS, after you assign the device to the child you intend to monitor, you need to enable location access. Norton Family then walks you through adding a VPN configuration via a mobile device management (MDM) profile. After you download the profile and enable it, head to Settings > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions. Norton Family essentially works alongside iOS’s own monitoring capabilities. It recommends you turn off Safari, disallow deleting apps, set an age range for approved app downloads, and basically delete any apps that would allow access to web content, such as YouTube. To monitor your child on iOS, you must force them to use the Norton Family Browser, so you need to make sure they don’t download an alternative browser. As we discuss later, many of the features in iOS’s Screen Time section make Norton Family almost unnecessary on iOS devices. Although you can prevent your kid from uninstalling the Norton Family app, you can’t prevent them from disabling the VPN or MDM profile.
If you use Norton Family to monitor your kids, they will be aware of it. The configuration settings you make online get boiled down to a set of House Rules the kids will see and can easily understand. The Norton Family mobile app and notification icon explain the rules with such clear messages as, “Web sites that I visit can be monitored” and “My time on the computer can be restricted.”
Norton Family’s web interface has changed (again) since the last time we used it. The refreshed version organizes features and settings in a more compact way, while maintaining the ample white space. In the upper-right-hand corner, you can access your account and subscription details, your parent profile, and a contextual Help button specifically for Norton Family. You can add other parental figures to your account, but keep in mind that anyone you add will have full access to your account settings and all of each child’s activities, so be sure to only invite people you trust completely.
One annoying thing about the interface is that the dashboard logs you out automatically after only a few minutes of inactivity, and there’s no way to change that. In general, automatic logouts are good for security, but you ought to be able to adjust them. You can now enable two-factor authentication for your account, which we recommend.
The main page has a tab for Alerts and one for each Child profile you set up. The Alerts tab (you can filter this by individual child) shows a list of notifications related to your child’s activity, such as if they tried to access a blocked website. One useful feature is that you can make rule changes based on these alerts; for example, if your child tries to visit a blocked site, and you want to allow it, you can click the item’s option menu (vertical ellipsis to the far left) to do so. If you select a child and an associated device, you see an overview of their activity across each of the seven supervision categories: Web, Time, Mobile App, Location, Search, Video, and Social. You can enable or disable any of the monitoring categories from here (as well as broad supervision), but to make changes to the rules (called House Rules) simply click the View Details link within that category. Individual categories are divided into two tabs: Activities and House Rules. You can add or edit a child’s profile from the main page and add another device, too.
The central feature of most parental control systems is the web content filter, the component that keeps kids from accidentally (or deliberately) visiting inappropriate websites. Norton Family’s content filter offers great customization options and the company has resolved previous problems we’ve encountered.
To get started, click on the Web section from the main dashboard. First, you choose a restriction level based on a child’s age range. These preset configurations determine the categories available to your child and Norton Family’s behavior when they try to access a site in that category: Monitor (Low), Warn (Medium), and Block (High). You can customize any of the presets to fit your specific needs. Net Nanny also lets you choose to warn instead of block, but it lets you configure that option separately for each of its categories, whereas with Norton Family this setting applies across the board.
Norton Family’s 40-odd content categories include entries such as Alcohol, Cult, Drugs, File Sharing, Mature Content, Online Chat, Pornography, Sex Education, Social Networking, and Web Proxies. Hovering with the mouse over any category displays an explanatory tooltip, which is helpful if you decide to select a custom set of sites to block. If those categories don’t offer enough customization for you, there are also dedicated sections for blocking or allowing specific sites.
From the Activities tab, you can view a child’s most active categories and every site they access. The list can be massive, so Norton Family lets you limit the display to questionable activity or filter by category, device, or time range. Clicking the Show More button for an item in the list shows more details, such as a thumbnail of the page, categories assigned to the site, and the number of visits. From the detailed display, you can also choose to dispute the categorization, as well as allow or block the site or category. It’s much more than a static report.
The last time we tested Norton Family’s web-filtering capabilities, we ran into several issues. For instance, the monitoring only supported a few browsers, the extension could easily be removed, and incognito or private tabs proved invulnerable to Norton Family’s controls. Thankfully, Norton Family has addressed many of those concerns with this latest release.
Norton Family still installs an extension on desktop browsers to monitor and enforce rules. Now, however, when a kid uninstalls the extension, they are still bound by a second layer of protection Norton Family enforces via the desktop app. We primarily tested the web blocking on Chrome, Firefox, and the Brave web browser on our Windows 10 test machine. Private and incognito tabs no longer prove effective against Norton Family. Additional testing confirmed that Norton Family’s filtering works on Avant Browser, Comodo Dragon, Epic Privacy Browser, Maxthon, Vivaldi, and Yandex, too.
We discovered one potential way around Norton Family’s filtering by installing a browser from the Microsoft Store. When we tried to access sites with that browser, none of the restrictions held. Since these apps don’t require admin permission to install, they serve as a potential way around the web filtering rules. We also confirmed that the restrictions did not work with a hand-coded browser or Tor. On mobile, both Firefox Focus and Tor let us browse without restrictions, so you need to disable those apps and force the Norton Family Browser for monitoring. Norton Family did block sites we tried to access using Chrome on Android though.
Turning on Search Supervision tells Norton Family to force Safe Search on Google, Bing, and Yahoo. You can also see a list of what kids are searching for in the Search tab on the Activity page. We tested this feature in a Chrome browser and found that it works as advertised. Kids must be using either the Norton Family Browser (on mobile) or have the Norton Family Extension enabled (on desktop browsers) for this to work. Norton Family’s restrictions on YouTube searches only apply for the Norton Family browser; they do not work on desktop versions of the site. Privacy-focused search engine, DuckDuckGo, is immune to any such controls. Note that the Norton Family Safe Search, the default engine on Norton’s Family Browser is awful as a search engine; a search for YouTube didn’t even yield a clickable link to YouTube’s homepage.
Norton Family helps parents manage when children use their hardware. Net Nanny limits the amount of time a child can spend on the internet, but does not lock down their hardware. With Qustodio, parents can schedule hardware usage and internet usage, or even limit the time spent on specific programs. Norton Family’s time supervision works on Android, iOS, and Windows.
As with content filtering, time supervision is automatically configured based on the child’s age. The preset age categories don’t affect how many hours a child can use their smartphone, but they do change the hours in which it is operable. If you want to change the schedule or daily limit, you can do so in half-hour increments on an interactive timeline. We prefer the grid-style schedule used by many competing products, as it’s easy to block out a time range on every day of the week with a single mouse-drag. You can set up a PIN and an emergency contact, in case of emergency situations.
Once a child hits their limit, they cannot launch any apps, save for the phone app (unless you block that specifically). If your child tries to open an app, they will see a message from Norton Family with the option to unlock the device with the above PIN or call an emergency contact.
Norton Family’s time-tracking happens on a per-device basis, whereas others do so across all devices. We prefer the latter in some cases, so a child who runs out of internet time on the iPad can’t just switch to the PC and keep surfing. Qustodio lets you choose between an overall time allowance or individual settings. We prefer these more flexible settings.
In the Activity tab on the Settings page, parents can view a chart comparing how many hours a child used against how many they were allotted. Each phone, tablet, and PC is tracked separately and you can view activity from up to the last 30 days.
In addition to keeping your kids safe online, Norton Family can help you make sure that your kids are at a safe location in the real world. On the Activities tab in the Location section, you can view a map with pins for recent locations, and a timeline that identifies when each pin was dropped. Clicking a pin gets an address and an accuracy estimate. In testing, Norton Family successfully located our test device within our office. You can filter a child’s location history by date as well as time.
Keep in mind that the app does not include geofencing functionality, so you can’t set it up to alert you when your child leaves certain geographical boundaries. It also can’t even automatically notify you when a child’s location changes. Both Boomerang and Locategy offer excellent geofencing capabilities.
Apps and Messaging
Norton Family lets you block apps and record usage data on those that are allowed for monitored Android devices. On the App tab of the House Rules page, you can see a complete list of all the installed apps. Simply check the box for any app you want to block. The page does point out that new apps will always be allowed until you block them. Norton should block all new apps by default instead. You can always just block the Play Store app though to prevent any app installations. Blocking worked fine; once we had blocked an app, we confirmed that we could not launch it. Kaspersky Safe Kids offers a similar capability.
Previously, parents could view their child’s contacts and assign either a monitored (messaging is allowed, but conversations are logged) or unmonitored (messaging is allowed and conversation logs are not recorded) label to each. Because of changes in Android’s permissions, Norton Family can no longer monitor your child’s SMS messages or restrict calling contacts. However, this feature could not save content from MMS messages, did not apply to third-party messaging services such as WhatsApp or Signal, and was never available for iOS, so it’s loss isn’t completely devastating.
Norton Family can monitor what videos your child watches on YouTube and Hulu, but only on web browsers, not in the Android or iOS apps. Just block these apps if you are concerned about activities on those platforms.
In the Video section, you can see a list of all the videos your child has watched. Each item includes the date and time of viewing along with the video’s category. Opening an item gets you the full description, a thumbnail image, and a link so you can view the clip yourself. This feature worked fine in testing; it recorded our activity of watching a video on YouTube’s mobile site. We also wish that this functionality applied to video streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video as well.
Kids can be too forthcoming when it comes to sharing personal information. You can record your child’s SSN, phone number, and email address, along with one free-form field for other personal data. A child who tries to share this information gets a warning that it’s not allowed, and you receive an email notification. However, this feature can’t track data sent on secure (HTTPS) pages, so its usefulness is limited. To access this setting, click into the child’s profile and look for the Personal Information section. Norton Family also includes an Instant Lock feature. On Windows, iOS, and Android devices, this renders the device temporarily unusable (you can’t launch or use and apps).
Social network supervision is limited to Facebook (in the US) and only on Windows machines. This implementation is limited and we don’t recommend that you subscribe to Norton Family for this feature alone. Your child is more than likely to use Facebook primarily on their phone, if they even still do use Facebook regularly. Norton Family is unable to monitor activity on other networks such as Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok. If you are concerned about your kid’s activities on those apps, you could always block them (Android) or prevent them from being installed in the first place (iOS).
Norton Family for Android
Norton Family’s Family app for Android includes both a Child and Parent mode. All of the functionality of the web console is present in the Parent mode, but unfortunately, its excellent interface did not make the jump to mobile. The app uses the same mix of white and grey elements, with the occasional splash of color, but the layout is not nearly as clean and a lot of the text looks a bit small.
Once you select a monitored child, the app displays tabs for Alerts, Activity, and Rules across the top with individual options organized under each section. All the rules and activity tracking work as reported above, regardless of whether you configure them on the desktop or on via the parent app on Android.
In Child Mode, the Norton Family app simply opens the Norton Family Browser. It does let the child access the House Rules from a left-hand menu, but that’s pretty much it. If a device is set up in Child mode, parents can sign in from this menu as well to make changes as needed. Just be sure to switch back to Child Mode before handing it back to your kid!
Norton Family for iPhone
We tested Norton Family’s iOS implementation on an iPhone XR running 13. Norton Family now offers both a parental app (Norton Family for Parents) and child app (Norton Family) for the platform. The main screen of the parent app shows basic account information, a list of your monitored children, an instant lock button, and a toggle for broadly enabling or disabling supervision. To make changes to specific House Rules, the app takes you to a mobile version of the Norton Family website. Changes made from the iOS app took effect quickly on the monitored devices in testing.
The child app is just the Norton Family browser. It blocks sites in restricted categories and enables safe search settings for Google and Bing. The app receives house rule changes quickly, too. Note that when you lock an iOS device, it rearranges the order of apps on the homescreen. Lock mode just disables all the apps you installed; to get rid of other items such as Messages or Facetime chats, you need to disable those specifically in iOS’s screen time settings.
The main thing that does not work on iOS is Norton Family’s mobile app supervision. It is worth noting that iOS comes with a built-in set of app blocking tools in the Restrictions section in the Settings app. From here you can block apps such as Safari, Camera, FaceTime, and Siri. Screen Time settings live here too. You can also use this tool to block access to the iTunes and iBooks store, as well as prevent children from installing or deleting apps and making in-app purchases. Rounding out the built-in features are content filtering by age and maturity ratings for pretty much any content type, such as music, movies, TV Shows, books, and apps. You can also customize any number of privacy settings and prevent features in the Game Center. As mentioned, Norton Family relies on some of these built-in protections, so it is reasonable to consider just using built-in tools to monitor iOS devices rather than paying for a parental control service.
Monitoring Made Easy
Norton Family Premier offers an impressive range of parental control and monitoring features for parents of today’s hyper-connected kids. It can track an unlimited number of devices, has an intuitive web interface, and logs lots of usage data. Norton Family even fixed some glaring web filtering problems in the latest updated version. However, Norton Family does not support Macs and it is still missing geofencing capabilities. Our pick for the category still goes to Editors’ Choice Qustodio for its better platform support and more advanced features.