The Internet can be a dangerous place. With websites serving harmful content, malware and threats to children, parents should be especially concerned about keeping their young ones safe and away from inappropriate content.
Of course, it’s possible to turn on parental controls on all the smartphones and tablets kids are using, but if one of their friends visit, there’s no way to control the kind of content flowing to their devices. So, parents are left with a problem: How can they safeguard their children and stop any and all inappropriate content from flowing through their home networks?
In most cases, the solution is a parental control router. With parental control features baked into routers, parents can filter content from pornographic and dangerous websites and ensure that if their kids, their friends or anyone else tries to access inappropriate websites, they won’t be allowed to do so.
If you’re a parent who’s in the market for routers that give you the control you need to keep your children safe, read on to learn about some of the best options available now.
Best Overall: Asus AC3100
The Asus AC3100 is one of the fastest, most capable routers and comes with dual-band functionality, allowing for maximum speeds up to 2.1Gbps. And since it has four antennas that all aim at optimizing coverage, Asus promises 5,000 square feet of coverage with the unit.
Inside, you’ll find a 1.4GHz dual-core processor that helps to facilitate fast USB data transfers when you connect storage units to the AC3100. Additionally, all eight of the AC3100’s LAN ports on the back support Gigabit networking, so you should expect fast connections when you wire computers, game consoles and other hardware to the router.
A feature called AiProtection is baked into the Asus AC3100 that handles all parental controls. From there, you can quickly choose from pre-set options to filter all content that you might consider inappropriate. In order to allow it again, you’ll need to log in to the router’s AiProtection pane and change your settings.
The Asus AC3100 is high-end in every way. Its built-in MU-MIMO feature means you’ll always be able to take advantage of the fastest possible connection from any device and a built-in game acceleration feature will optimize video game traffic over your network. There’s even an ASUS Router App to help you keep a close eye on everything happening on your network.
Best Budget: Linksys AC1750
Since routers with complete and total parental control functionality can be a bit pricey, the Linksys AC1750, which isn’t exactly cheap, leads our group of more affordable options on the market.
The AC1750 is a dual-band wireless router that delivers speeds up to 1.7Gbps. It also comes with a MU-MIMO feature that can identify the maximum speeds each device connecting to the network can handle and delivers that every time. Linksys didn’t say exactly how far its AC1750’s coverage will span but promises “complete coverage” in smaller homes.
One of the AC1750’s secret ingredients is a Wi-Fi app that you can run on your iPhone or Android-based handset. The app gives you access to a variety of features, including the ability to create guest Wi-Fi networks, set passwords and prioritize traffic to specific devices. The Smart Wi-Fi App, as its known, is also home to the router’s parental controls. From there, you can quickly choose the kind of content that’s allowed over the network and all the sites that won’t be allowed.
Best Mini: Router Limits Mini
If you’re in the market for parental controls and don’t necessarily want to spend hundreds on a new router that would come with the features, there are some options. Chief among them is Router Limits Mini, a small device that connects to your existing router and gives you complete control over the content that flows through your home network.
Router Limits Mini plugs into one of the LAN ports on the back of your router and acts as an intermediary between your children’s devices and the Web. Since it’s not a router itself, the Router Limits Mini won’t let you enhance speed or improve coverage. It will, however, give you full control over your network.
For instance, from the Router Limits Mini, you can set a schedule that will allow certain devices on your network to connect or disconnect at specific times. You can also pause Internet connectivity at any time if the kids aren’t behaving and a filter feature lets you see what’s happening on the network. You can even lock Internet searches, so devices on the network can only connect via Google SafeSearch, Bing SafeSearch and YouTube Restricted Mode.
Best for Any Age: Circle with Disney
Circle with Disney is another option for parents who don’t necessarily need a new router but want to add parental controls to an existing network.
The small, white cube plugs into your router to monitor the connection between the Internet and the devices in your home. Once connected, you’ll need to download the Circle with Disney app to your iPhone or Android device. That app gives you control over everything happening on your network and lets you filter online content and see who’s on the Internet at any given time.
If you want to filter online content from Circle with Disney, you’ll find a variety of pre-set filters based on age. So, if your five-year-old is connecting to your network from an iPad, perhaps that tablet should have use the Pre-K setting. But if your teen wants to access websites, a Teen setting might be suitable. There’s also an Adult option, so your own devices can see anything and everything.
If those pre-determined filters don’t fit the bill, custom filters can also be created. And just in case your kids are spending too much time online, you can configure the Circle with Disney to turn off Internet access to certain devices at preset times.
Best for Smart Home: Netgear Nighthawk AC1900
Netgear’s Nighthawk AC1900 is a dual-band Wi-Fi router that can deliver speeds up to 1.3Gbps. It also comes with a dynamic quality-of-service (QoS) feature that helps you prioritize bandwidth across your network to optimize quality for gaming and streaming video. A Beamforming+ feature is available to boost your range and cover most small houses.
Arguably the Nighthawk’s most important feature is its support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. With those virtual personal assistants in the mix, you’ll be able to control your home network with only voice commands.
Interestingly, the Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 also comes with Circle with Disney parental controls. With that feature, you can download the Circle with Disney app to your iPhone or Android device and control when your kids can access the Internet and what they can see when they’re online. There’s even a pause button to stop your kids from access the Internet at any given time.
Best for Security: Symantec Norton Core
If security is your chief concern when surfing the Internet, the Symantec Norton Core secure Wi-Fi router might be the best option for you.
The first thing you’ll notice about the router is its shape. Instead of a box with antennas sticking out, the Norton Core is an oddly shaped globe that beams wireless access around the home. Whether that design causes some problems with range is unknown, however, since Symantec didn’t share average coverage.
You’ll find two USB 3.0 ports on the rear of the Core Secure, along with four Gigabit Ethernet ports for plugging devices directly into the unit. With a smartphone app that runs on Android and iOS, you can see who’s on your network and control everything from Wi-Fi settings to parental controls.
Speaking of parental controls, the Norton Core promises the ability to set time limits for your kids to access the Internet and the option to filter certain types of content you deem inappropriate. You can also use the app to see what your kids are doing at any given moment.
The Norton Core ships with what Symantec says, is the most advanced slate of security features in the router business, including software that performs “deep packet inspection” and “intrusion detection” to keep hackers out of your home.
Best for Multiple Devices: Netgear R7000P Nighthawk AC2300
The Netgear R7000P Nighthawk AC2300 is a fast, dual-band router that can deliver speeds up to 1.6Gbps. It also supports MU-MIMO to maximize bandwidth to the devices on your network and not allow older and slower products to bog down everything else.
On the rear, the Netgear AC2300 has five Gigabit Ethernet ports, along with two USB ports to attach a storage drive and store content from all the products connected to your network. With some help from the router’s Dynamic Quality-of-Service and Beamforming+ technology, you should be able to take advantage of improved streaming of large files, such as 4K video.
Once you’re ready to configure your network with parental controls, you’ll find that’s possible with built-in Circle with Disney. After downloading the Disney Circle app to your iPhone or Android device, you can create time limits that will govern when and for how long your kids can access the Internet. A “Bedtime” feature will turn off your children’s access to the Internet at night, and a filters option will let you decide what kind of content should be allowed through your network.