The 9 Best Parental Control Routers of 2021

Protect your children from online threats and inappropriate content

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The Rundown
Offers quick and easy configuration, plus advanced parental controls without the cost of a subscription.
Offers affordable Wi-Fi 6 technology combined with sophisticated parental controls.
Offers solid and reliable coverage or your whole home with some of the most sophisticated parental controls available.
Best for Small Homes:
Eero Pro at Best Buy
Offers easily expandable mesh Wi-Fi coverage with a wealth of real-time parental control features.
Works securely with your existing router and offers a variety of preset filters based on age.
Best for Gaming:
Asus RT-AX88U at Amazon
Offers free parental controls plus the performance required to enjoy lag-free gaming—even over a Wi-Fi connection.
Delivers solid performance and a good set of basic parental controls at a really affordable price.
Best for Smart Homes:
Google Nest Wi-Fi at Amazon
Parental controls tie right into your Google Family account for easy management.
A well-rounded router that covers all of the basics while adding in powerful parental control features.

The best parental control routers don’t just ensure that kids are only exposed to appropriate content on the internet, but they can also help manage kids’ screen time by limiting how much time they can spend online. They work by allowing parents and guardians to block access to objectionable material and URLs, often by providing pre-configured filters tuned for various age groups. 

Additionally, the best parental control routers will let you set up schedules and time limits, with some even letting you do this for specific services. This allows you to let your kids access educational sites when they should be doing their homework while blocking access to games and other entertainment sites. The best parental control routers are a great option for any parent with younger children, or for any business admin who frequently hosts children on their network. Check out our roundup below for the best ones that will keep your kids away from the darker corners of the internet. 

Best Overall: Synology RT2600ac Dual-Band Gigabit Wi-Fi Router

Synology RT2600ac Wi-Fi Router
What We Like
  • Sophisticated parental controls

  • Well-designed web interface

  • SD card slot

What We Don't Like
  • Difficult to wall mount

Although Synology is best known for its popular range of Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices, the company’s RT2600ac is a feature-packed router that offers great security and parental controls while still being easy to set up and manage. Best of all, everything is available out of the box, so you won’t need to pay any recurring subscription fees just to keep your kids safe online. 

The RT2600ac offers dual-band Wi-Fi, with 2.6Gbps maximum throughput across both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands. Four powerful beamforming antennas that deliver more than enough range for an average-sized home, and ample performance for 4K streaming, video calling, and gaming. There’s also the typical collection of four Gigabit Ethernet ports for wiring in devices that either don’t have Wi-Fi or simply need maximum throughput. As an added bonus, however, the RT2600ac includes not only a pair of USB ports, but also an SD card reader—something that’s pretty rare to find on a router—letting you easily share your media files with your whole family. 

Like most routers, the RT2600ac offers both a mobile app and a web interface for configuring the router and managing it on an ongoing basis. While most day-to-day tasks can be handled through the app, you will need to dig into the web console for the more advanced features—and there are quite a few. Fortunately, they don’t get in the way of configuring the router, and even the parental controls are easily configured, using a tile-based interface that will be immediately recognizable to anybody who has ever used one of Synology’s NAS devices. You can set up general filtering rules for your entire home network, plus another set for your guest Wi-Fi network, and also configure individual profiles for your kids, letting you schedule online time, set time limits, and block inappropriate content based on general categories or specific URLs. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: AC2600 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 5

"The Synology RT2600AC uses a Windows-like web console that’s a massive improvement over a lot of the competition." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Synology RT2600ac Wi-Fi Router

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Best Value: TP-Link Archer AX50 AX3000 Dual Band Gigabit Wi-Fi 6 Router

TP-Link Archer AX50
What We Like
  • Includes parental control subscription at no extra cost

  • Advanced Wi-Fi 6 support

  • Supports time limits by user or device

What We Don't Like
  • Mobile app needed to configure parental controls

  • Slow NAS performance

TP-Link’s Archer AX50 offers a great combination of the latest wireless technology with sophisticated parental controls—at a price that’s easy on your wallet. Not only is it one of the most affordable 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 routers on the market, but it also delivers impressive wireless performance even for today’s much more common 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 devices, and enough range for a modest-sized home.

TP-Link has partnered with Trend Micro to offer a subscription-based HomeCare platform for security and parental controls. The great thing about the AX50, however, is that it includes a free lifetime HomeCare subscription. This allows you to block sites based on type and age group while HomeCare takes care of keeping track of all the URLs in each category. You can also create profiles for different family members, assigning devices to each profile, and then set filters and time limits based on entire users or only for specific devices. For example, you could block your kids from getting online at all with their iPad in the evenings while still letting them use the family computer for homework. 

In addition to parental controls, HomeCare also offers antivirus protection to guard your home network against malware, plus an intuitive QoS feature that lets you easily prioritize traffic for things like gaming or streaming. You can even set up schedules to change your device and traffic priorities throughout the day. The only catch is that while you can set up the AX50 using a standard web interface, you’ll need to use TP-Link’s Tether app to configure and manage the HomeCare features. Lastly, while there’s also a USB 3.0 port around the back that lets you share an external hard drive on your network, the file-sharing performance is poor enough that we wouldn’t recommend it for streaming media, although it should be fine for sharing documents or making Time Machine backups.

Wireless Spec: 802.11ax | Security: HomeCare, WPA3, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: AX3000 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 5

Best Mesh: Netgear Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi System

Netgear Orbi RBK50 Mesh Wi-Fi System
What We Like
  • Full home coverage

  • Beautiful aesthetics

  • Sophisticated screen time controls

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

  • Older devices can complicate things

  • Advanced parental controls require subscription

Netgear’s Orbi remains one of the top-rated mesh Wi-Fi systems on the market just in terms of overall network performance and flexibility, but the great news is that it also supports some pretty advanced parental controls, thanks to its Circle with Disney integration. 

As a tri-band mesh Wi-Fi system, Orbi will give you solid and reliable coverage throughout a large home, with performance that remains speedy in every room. This is accomplished by using one of the two 5GHz bands as a dedicated backhaul channel so that traffic between each of the Orbi units always moves in the fast lane, no matter how many devices are connected. With four Gigabit Ethernet ports on each unit, this also means you can use the system to extend wired access to a smart TV or game console and still get maximum performance. 

Netgear’s parental controls are provided through its partnership with Circle and Disney, which offer a wealth of filters, grouped into categories by age range so that you can easily choose what’s appropriate for each of your kids. This includes not only blocking inappropriate content, but also setting schedules and time limits for any internet activities that you want to allow. This means you’ll have no problem keeping your kids off Roblox when they’re supposed to be doing their homework. The only downside is that you will need to pay a recurring monthly subscription to unlock the more advanced controls.

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: NETGEAR Armor, WPA2, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: AC2200 | Bands: Tri-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 4

“The router also features robust parental controls thanks to a partnership with Disney.” — Bill Thomas, Product Tester

Netgear Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi System

Lifewire / Jordan Provost

Best for Small Homes: Eero Pro Mesh Wi-Fi System

Eero Pro kit with two Eero Beacons
What We Like
  • Simple and intuitive app-based set up

  • Real-time content filtering & malware protection

  • Family Profiles allow for scheduled access

What We Don't Like
  • Content filtering requires monthly subscription

  • Lacks PPPoE support

Among home routers, Eero’s system is hard to beat when it comes to its plug-and-play simplicity. Unlike many routers that often make you jump through a confusing and awkward set up process, Eero’s intuitive app will have you up and running in no time at all. Not only that, but the app will also help you monitor and tweak your configuration at any time—from anywhere. 

As a mesh Wi-Fi system, Eero is designed to provide excellent coverage by letting you deploy as many satellite units as needed to blanket your whole home in strong Wi-Fi. A single Eero Pro unit acts as the main base station and router, offering up tri-band Wi-Fi and handling your broadband connection. This may be all you need in a smaller home, but if you want more range, you can add more Eero units, which can any mix of Eero, Eero Pro, or Eero Beacon units. Each one will provide another 1,000–1,500 square feet of coverage, and the Eero Beacons will handily plug into any wall outlet and double as night lights around your home. 

The ease of setting up and managing the Eero Pro system makes it a joy to use for parental controls as well. You can set up profiles for each of your family members, letting you manage your kids’ devices. While you’ll need to pay a small monthly subscription fee for more advanced features, the basic Eero system does allow you to control when kids can get online. If you do opt for the Eero Secure plan, however, you’ll also gain real-time content filtering that lets you block sites for each of your profiles based on categories such as adult, illegal, and violent content, along with malware protection and even ad-blocking for all of your devices. It’s a great system, but sadly, it’s also one of the very few routers that doesn't support the PPPoE protocol used by some ISPs, so if this applies to you, then you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: Eero Secure, WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC2200 | Bands: Tri-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 2

"Eero Pro comes with powerful built-in parental controls that you manage through the app. It works by creating profiles for each member of your family, assigning devices to those profiles, and then placing content blocks and scheduling internet pauses for your kids if you don’t want them getting online during homework time or in the middle of the night." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Eero Pro Mesh Wi-Fi System

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Best Add-on: Circle Home Plus

Circle Home Plus
What We Like
  • Compact size

  • Easy installation

  • Individual profiles for each child

  • Useful features

  • Works reliably

What We Don't Like
  • Must download parent and kid apps

  • Lengthy setup process

  • Requires separate router

  • Subscription required for full features

If you’re happy with the wireless router you already have, the good news is that you don’t need to buy a new router just to get advanced parental controls. This is where Circle Home Plus comes in. This handy little device is an add-on network accessory that works with most home routers to bring you all the benefits of sophisticated content filtering for your kids.

Circle Home Plus is a small white cube that connects to your existing router, where it uses some advanced networking magic to monitor your home network and intercept traffic from your kids’ devices before it gets to your main router. A built-in battery and Wi-Fi support also help prevent clever kids from trying to bypass it just by unplugging it, and you’ll also get notified if this happens, even if you’re away from home. 

These notifications and all the configuration and management are handled through a companion mobile app, which offers a whole range of comprehensive preset filters that are helpfully grouped into age-appropriate categories and services. For example, there’s a “Pre-K” setting that you can use for younger children, and a “Teen” setting that might be more suitable for older kids. You can also add your own custom filters to any category, and even set up time limits for specific websites and services, such as YouTube and Roblox

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: N/A | Bands: N/A | MU-MIMO: N/A | Beamforming: N/A | Wired Ports: 1

"The filtering system works more reliably than any other filter I’ve encountered." Erika Rawes, Product Tester

Circle Home Plus

Lifewire / Erika Rawes

Best for Gaming: Asus RT-AX88U AX6000 Dual-Band Wi-Fi 6 Router

Asus RT-AX88U
What We Like
  • Parental controls don't require a subscription

  • Excellent 802.11ax speeds

  • Eight Gigabit Ethernet Ports

What We Don't Like
  • No support for user profiles

  • Pricey

The fast-paced world of online gaming requires a special breed of router, so if you have a gamer in your family, then you’ll want to look to Asus’ RT-AX88U. While its parental controls don’t offer as much flexibility as other routers, there’s still more than enough there to keep your kids safe online, and you don’t need to pay a monthly subscription to use them. More importantly, however, it offers the performance required to enjoy lag-free gaming—even over a Wi-Fi connection.

Packing in the latest 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 technology and a powerful multi-core CPU, the RT-AX88U will have no problem keeping up with the demands of most gamers, while still leaving enough left over for streaming and video calling. Plus, not only does this router offer pretty remarkable Wi-Fi range, but there’s a generous collection of eight Gigabit Ethernet ports around the back, so you can hardwire in gaming PCs or consoles for the best possible performance.

When it comes to security and parental controls, the RT-AX88U offers Asus’ AiProtection suite of features, which is powered by Trend Micro, and best of all don’t require a subscription. While you won’t be able to set up individual user profiles to group devices, you can still restrict access and set time limits and schedules on a per-device basis for adult websites, instant messaging and communication apps, streaming and entertainment sites, and P2P and file transfer services. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ax | Security: RADIUS Server, WPA2, WPS, 802.1x Authentication | Standard/Speed: AX6000 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 8

"I was able to stream high definition Netflix to two televisions on my network while someone else was gaming, and various other phones and tablets were in use without any stuttering or slowdown." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Asus RT-AX88U

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Best Budget: Asus RT-ACRH12 Dual Band Wi-Fi Router with MU-MIMO and Parental Controls

Asus RT-ACRH12 AC1200 Wi-Fi Router
What We Like
  • Great price

  • Solid performance and range

  • Parental controls don't require a subscription

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks more advanced AiProtection features

While it doesn’t offer quite the same level of power and flexibility as its more expensive siblings, Asus’ RT-ACRH12 is a really affordable way to get access to parental controls on a budget. It’s also no slouch in the router department either, with 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 support and dual-band Wi-Fi that offers up to 1.2Gbps of combined throughput, plus up to 3,000 square feet of coverage. 

This means that you’ll have no problem enjoying demanding online activities like streaming Netflix in 4K, gaming, or keeping in touch with friends and family on Zoom and FaceTime. The RT-ACRH12 also offers traditional QoS to help make sure that important traffic like gaming and video calling gets priority, plus four Gigabit Ethernet ports around back for hardwiring in those devices that need maximum performance. 

The RT-ACRH12 sports the same configuration interface as all of Asus’ routers, so there will be no learning curve for anybody familiar with the rest of the company’s lineup. Alternatively, you can also configure and manage most features from the mobile app—even when you’re away from home. Parental controls include the ability to block specific websites, monitor your kids’ online activity, and set time limits. Sadly, you won’t get Asus’ more sophisticated AiProtection features on this one, but that’s not really a surprising omission at this price. On the upside, however, you do get the same VPN support as any other Asus router, and it also works with Amazon Alexa, so you can control some of its settings using voice commands directed at any nearby Amazon Echo or another Alexa-compatible smart speaker

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC1200 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 4

Best for Smart Homes: Google Nest Wi-Fi (2nd Generation)

Google Nest Wi-Fi (2nd Gen)
What We Like
  • Attractive and simple design

  • Point units double as smart speakers

  • Integrates with Google Home and Family Controls

What We Don't Like
  • No Ethernet ports on points

  • Lacks a dedicated backhaul channel

One of the great things about Google’s smart home ecosystem is that the tech giant produces its own first-party devices for all the most important parts, and this is where Google’s Nest Wi-Fi comes into play. It’s the second generation of its mesh Wi-Fi system that offers even tighter integration into your Google Home, including support for parental controls that tie right into your Google Family account.

Like other mesh Wi-Fi systems, Google Nest Wi-Fi consists of a main router and a series of “points” that help extend your wireless network to cover even the largest homes. However, in Google’s case, the points have another trick up their sleeves: in addition to adding around 1,500 square feet of wireless coverage, each one can also double as a Google Assistant smart speaker, letting you issue voice commands from anywhere in your home.

Those voice commands also extend to the parental controls, so when it’s time for the kids to go to bed or do their homework, you can simply call out, “OK Google, pause the kids’ Wi-Fi.” Setting up the parental controls in the first place is also a cinch, thanks to Google’s Wi-Fi app that will walk you through the process of setting up your family Wi-Fi network, adding your kids' devices, restricting content by category, and setting time schedules for when they can get online. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA3 | Standard/Speed: AC2200 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 2

"The Nest Wi-Fi router delivers up to 2,200 square feet of Wi-Fi coverage, with each Wi-Fi point adding up to another 1,600 square feet to that tally." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Google Nest Wi-Fi

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Best for Basics: Netgear Nighthawk R7000 Smart Wi-Fi Router

NETGEAR Nighthawk R7000
What We Like
  • Good 5GHz performance

  • Integrated Circle with Disney parental controls

  • Built-in OpenVPN Server

What We Don't Like
  • Limited range

  • Weaker 2.4GHz performance

Netgear’s R7000 is a well-rounded router that makes a great pick for anybody who just needs to cover the basics, but still needs sophisticated parental controls. It offers typical specs like dual-band Wi-Fi with speeds of up to 1.9Gbps, so you’ll have no problem using it for streaming and gaming. There’s also a dynamic QoS to make sure that your important real-time traffic gets priority, so you won’t need to worry about your video calls lagging just because somebody else is downloading large media files elsewhere in your home. While it doesn’t offer as much coverage as some of the more powerful and expensive routers, it should be more than adequate for a medium-sized home. 

As a parental control router, however, the R7000’s standout feature is that its parental controls are backed by Circle with Disney—a service that provides some of the most robust and granular filtering features available for kids. Using the Circle with Disney app on your mobile device, you can take advantage of helpful age-based content categories to easily lock your kids down based on what’s most appropriate for their age range, from “Pre-K” to “Teen.” You can even set time limits for different apps and services, allowing your kids to access educational sites while blocking games and entertainment during homework time. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC1900 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 4

Final Verdict

The Synology RT2600ac is a well-rounded router that provides a solid set of parental controls with good performance that will meet the needs of most families, but if you’re looking for something with advanced features that can cover your entire home without breaking a sweat, the Netgear Orbi is hard to beat.

About Our Trusted Experts

Jesse Hollington is a freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing about technology and three decades of experience in information technology and networking. He's installed, tested, and configured just about every type and brand of router, firewall, wireless access point, and network extender in places ranging from single-family dwellings to office buildings. 

Jeremy Laukkonen is an experienced tech journalist with a background in automotive repair that has taught him the importance of breaking down complex technical subjects in understandable ways. He specializes in VPNs, antivirus, and home electronics, including parental control routers.

Bill Thomas is a Denver-based freelance writer who covers technology, music, film, and gaming. They tested the Netgear Orbi on this list and liked that the company's partnership with Disney allowed for robust parental controls on the router.

Andrew Hayward is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering technology and video games since 2006. He tested the Nest Wi-Fi router on our list and appreciated its large coverage area and integration features for smart home devices.

Erika Rawes is a tech reviewer that's been writing for Lifewire since 2019. She has previously been published in Digital Trends and USA Today, and she specializes in consumer technology, such as parental control routers.

FAQs

How are parental control routers different from installing parental control software on your kids' tablets or PCs?
Parental control routers work at the perimeter of your home network to limit the websites and services that your kids can access, so it's an easy way to keep your kids away from the darker corners of the internet without needing to install parental control software on every one of their devices. However, a parental control router won't let you manage what apps your kids can install on their devices and use locally, nor how much time they can spend in offline activities like games, so you may want to consider a two-pronged approach by combining a parental control router with features like "Screen Time" that are built into some Apple and Android devices. 

How do you keep your kids from bypassing parental controls?
The parental controls you set on your router are only as strong as the administrator password, so as your first line of defense make sure that you use a secure password that your kids won't be able to easily guess, otherwise they can simply log into your router and disable the parental controls themselves. If you're a cable internet subscriber, you may also need to make sure you physically secure your router to prevent a clever teenager from physically bypassing it by plugging directly into your cable modem. Lastly, keep in mind that a parental control router will secure traffic only over your own home Wi-Fi network; if your kids have smartphones you'll need to use other methods to control what they can access over the cellular network. 

Can you schedule downtime for your kids?
Although different parental control routers can vary greatly on the features they offer, almost all provide at least some form of time-based filtering. This can range from simply scheduling internet access to turn off entirely during specific time periods to more advanced features that let you actually meter usage for specific services—so you can limit time spent watching videos on YouTube, for example. Many of these more advanced services may require an ongoing subscription fee, however. 

What to Look For in a Parental Control Router

Even the most tech-savvy parents can be nervous when it comes to protecting their kids from the dangers that can be found out on the internet, not to mention ensuring they have a balance between screen time and other activities. The good news, however, is that you don't have to face these challenges alone; a number of technology companies have created some clever solutions to add to your collection of tools to help keep your kids safe without having to hover over their shoulder to monitor every click they make, and the best part is they're designed so you don't need to be a computer or networking expert to get the most out of them. 

Since your home router is the portal to the outside world, it makes sense that it's the most logical place to control access to what goes in and out of your home, and a router with good parental controls can monitor traffic from every device on your home network, and not just those that you happen to have installed specialized software on. This means that you can not only control which web pages your kids can visit from their computer, but even limit their online gaming on a PS4 or Xbox, or restrict what streaming services they can access on an iPad. Basically, if it's something that needs to be accessed on the internet, a good parental control router will help you to lock it down entirely or at least determine when and how often it can be accessed.

This will not only help you to protect your kids from the darker corners of the internet, but also ensure that they're not wasting time chatting or gaming when they're supposed to be doing homework or household chores or be in bed sleeping. 

Why Buy a Parental Control Router?

There are a lot of Wi-Fi routers available, so what makes a parental control router so special? 

A good parental control router is designed with two main purposes that differentiate it from most other routers: Firstly, it goes beyond basic internet filtering, allowing you to define more than just a list of static websites, but actually control access by category and age-appropriateness. Since we live in a much more app-oriented world now, it also needs to be able to specifically monitor and block connections from apps and online games and not just traditional websites that get accessed in your browser.

Secondly, a good parental control router lets you limit internet access based on specific devices and specific schedules, since these days it's not just about limiting where your kids can go, but controlling when they can go there. For example, you might want to allow limited internet access to let them do research during homework time but keep them away from Netflix and online gaming, while also being able to shut down their access completely at bedtime or during family time. Some of the best parental control routers can even let you set maximum time limits for each app and device.

Integrated vs. Add-On Routers

One of the first questions you'll need to ask yourself when considering a parental control router is whether to purchase a whole new router that includes advanced parental control features or get a secondary box that can be added into your network to supplement your existing router. 

There are pros and cons to each approach, not the least of which are that if you already have a great router that offers good coverage, performance, and security features, you're probably not too eager to replace it, so in this case an add-on parental control router can be quite appealing.

Add-on routers also usually provide more sophisticated parental control features, so sometimes you can get the best of both worlds by going with two devices. Keep in mind, however, that a parental control router that needs to be plugged into your main router can also be unplugged just as easily by a clever kid. Some add-on parental control routers connect over Wi-Fi and offer built-in battery backup to avoid being too easily bypassed and will send you a notification on your smartphone if they've been disabled, but it's still an important factor to keep in mind; it's obviously much more difficult to bypass parental controls that are built into your main router. 

If you're considering an add-on router you'll also want to double-check to make sure it's compatible with your primary router. Since add-on routers use some tricky networking techniques to intercept your kids' traffic, they're not compatible with all home routers. You can usually determine this by visiting the manufacturer's website. 

Netgear Orbi
Lifewire 

Content Filtering

As the name implies, content filtering is a feature that enables your router to block certain things from passing through. At its most basic level, this may simply be a list of website addresses (URLs) that you enter manually. Since everything that leaves your home network passes through your router, when a user on your network attempts to go to a filtered address, the router intercepts it and blocks access. 

When encountering a blocked site, a router may simply deny the connection, leaving the user to assume the site is down, or it may return an error page to let them know that the site has been blocked. In either case, however, the connection doesn't get through. 

While many routers provide basic content filtering that lets you set up a list of web addresses manually, a good parental control router will let you block traffic based on categories, since it's obviously not realistic for you to figure out every website that you want to block, especially since new sites (and threats) are popping up all the time. Instead, the heavy lifting is done by the router manufacturer or a third-party service provider, which maintain massive lists of the sites that fall into each category. This allows you to simply check off boxes to allow appropriate educational and kids sites and services or deny access to more adult-themed sites.

App Filtering

Once upon a time, having a parental control router simply meant being able to block and allow access to specific categories of websites, but as more and more internet activity is being done through apps on smartphones, tablets, and gaming consoles, simple web filtering is no longer enough, and a good modern parental control router needs to also let you filter internet access for specific apps too.

Many advanced routers have the technology to do this kind of filtering, but unless you're a network engineer, chances are you'll have no idea what to plug into all of the cryptic fields for things like "IP address" and "port." One of the key benefits of a good parental control router is that it takes care of figuring out these details for you, so if you want to block Netflix, you can do it by finding and checking the box that says "Netflix" and leaving the router to figure out how to actually make it happen.

Dynamic Filtering

While almost all parental control routers will let you block a website based on its address, some of the best ones go the extra mile and actually provide the ability to dynamically block websites based on the what's actually on them. So, for example, a website that contains a lot of explicit language or extreme graphic content would be blocked even if the website address isn't on the blocked list.

Since even the best parental control services can't keep up with adding every new website to their lists as soon as they pop up on the internet, dynamic filtering adds an extra layer of protection against those sites that may have otherwise slipped through the cracks. 

Eero Pro Mesh Wi-Fi System
Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen 

Age Appropriate Solutions

As parents ourselves, we know that the kind of parental control router you pick is going to have a lot to do with the age and typical internet habits of your kids, since there's a big difference between simply keeping your young children from accidentally stumbling into a darker corner of the internet and actually trying to lock down a curious preteen.

However, if you have kids of varying ages, or you want to buy a solution that will grow with your kids, you'll want to look at something that also provides age-appropriate filtering categories, rather than just a generic list of "kids" sites and apps. After all, there are lots of sites that may be perfectly OK for a teenager that you definitely wouldn't want your four-year-old getting into.

Screen Time Controls

A good parental control router isn't just about what your kids can access, but also about when they can access it. While your router won't be able to do anything about apps and games on your kids' devices that don't need to access the internet, they can be invaluable in making sure that they don't spend too much time watching Netflix or playing online games, especially when they're supposed to be doing their homework or going to bed, and since the controls are at the router, they can be applied regardless of whether your kids are using their tablet, their PC, or their PS4.

Some of the better parental control routers also offer the ability to limit how long your kids can access various sites and services, rather than simply letting you set a schedule. So, for example, you could decide that they only get to spend an hour a day on YouTube, while allowing them longer time limits for more educational and creative activities, and possibly no limits at all when it comes to accessing homework-related services like Google Classroom.

Managing Settings

For simple content filtering you probably won't need to access your router's settings all that often, in which case the usual web-based interfaces should suffice. However, many parental control routers also offer advanced features that can be controlled from an app on your smartphone and tablet. 

This is especially useful with routers that offer screen time and scheduling controls, since they also usually give you the ability to pause the internet on demand for a given device right from your smartphone. Should your kids be doing chores? No need to create a schedule, you can just press a button and shut down their internet access on the fly. Or if your kids want more time in a given app or website, they can make a request that you can approve from your smartphone. 

In fact, there are even some parental control routers that can integrate with other services to allow you to dole out additional screen time as incentives for completing chores or doing their homework.

Subscription Services

As we mentioned earlier, you'll probably want your parental control router to do more than just block websites from a static list of addresses, but unfortunately the kind of advanced filtering that lets you control access to the internet based on ages and categories requires that somebody actually maintain these lists, which means you might need to pay a subscription fee if you want to keep using them. 

Some parental control routers come with basic filtering capabilities built in, while offering more advanced parental control features that require a monthly subscription to continue using after an initial free trial period ends. This gives you time to decide whether these features are worth it, but generally we'd recommend that if you're buying a parental control router that you factor in whatever subscription fees are necessary as part of your budget, as you probably won't be satisfied with the more basic features.

That said, while some of the most advanced parental control features require a subscription, there are some good routers that include intermediate level parental control features such as scheduling and basic content filtering lists at no extra charge. As a rule of thumb, however, these routers don't even offer the option of a subscription plan; there's a single tier of features that's included in the router's purchase price. 

Top Brands

Asus

Asus makes some of the more versatile routers available, and one of the things we especially like about their routers as parental control solutions is that you get the company's AiProtection Pro solution, which is powered by Trend Micro, at no additional charge for the life of the router, so there are no additional subscription fees hidden in there. While you won't get advanced screen time controls or a huge selection of lists with AiProtection Pro, what it offers is quite good considering that you don't need to pay a monthly fee. You'll be able to schedule internet access for each device by hour and day of week, as well as selecting from a few relatively broad lists of content categories, such as "Adult" and "Streaming and Entertainment" apps and sites.

Circle 

Circle is a relative newcomer to the router game, but that doesn't matter much as their Circle Home Plus isn't designed to replace your main router, so they don't need to worry about offering the kind of range and performance that the big players bring to the table. Instead, you keep or choose whatever high-powered router best suits your needs, and simply set up the Circle Home Plus on the same network. The company's claim to fame was its partnership with Disney for its first-generation device, and while it's mostly moved on from the Disney branding, it still offers some of the most advanced parental controls in the business.

Netgear

Netgear is one of the leading names in routers, and thanks to a partnership with Circle, it's been able to include some high-quality parental control technology in many of its latest routers. While not every Netgear router includes Circle with Disney support, there are definitely some great choices on the list, letting you get a high-performance router—even a mesh system like the Orbi—with some of the best parental controls available, although you'll need to pay a monthly subscription to keep them going.

Asus RT-AC88U Gaming Router
Lifewire 

Conclusion

Keeping your kids safe online can be a daunting task for even the most tech-savvy parents, but fortunately parental control routers offer a lot of help in not only providing strong and effective controls, but also making them simple to set up and configure so that you can be reassured that your kids are staying away from harmful websites and apps and making the best use of their online time. 

While parental control routers are a great solution for internet-based activities, it's also important to keep in mind that they can't do anything at all about the apps and games that your kids are accessing directly on their devices, since they only block traffic going to and from the internet, so if you're concerned about how much time your kids are spending on non-internet activities, you may want to look at other solutions such as Apple's Screen Time feature or our 10 Best Parental Control apps for other devices.

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