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The internet is a great resource for kids, but it can also be a pretty scary place too, and if you’re a parent you need the best parental control router you can get to keep your little ones from stumbling into the darker corners of the internet.
While almost every router these days offers basic content filtering, a good parental control router goes well beyond that, providing a collection of filters that are grouped into age-appropriate categories that are easy to set up so you won’t have to be an expert on the internet just to protect your kids. The best parental control routers allow you to not only control where your kids can go, but when they can get online, so you won’t need to worry about them playing games when they should be doing their homework, or staying up past their bedtime.
Just keep in mind that since the internet is a constantly evolving place, any parental control router that’s worth its salt is going to need to provide a dynamic set of content filters that will keep you ahead of the bad guys, and in most cases this means that you’ll also need to pay a monthly subscription to keep everything up to date, so you’ll need to factor that into your costs as well.
Here are the best parental control routers to keep your kids safe online.
Eight Gigabit Ethernet Ports
No subscription required
Complicated back-end can be intimidating
Our testing has determined that Asus' RT-AC88U is one of the fastest, most capable dual-band routers in its class, offering maximum throughput of up to 2.1Gbps, plus four antennas to provide up to 5,000 square feet of coverage and MU-MIMO support and a built-in game acceleration feature.
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 RT-AC88U. Additionally, its whopping eight Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports on the back provide ultra-fast connections for wiring up computers, game consoles, and other hardware.
A feature called AiProtection is baked into the Asus RT-AC88U that handles all parental controls, letting you easily 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 RT-AC88U is a dream come true for the power users out there and is filled to the brim with software features." — Bill Thomas, Product Tester
Full home coverage
Sophisticated screen time controls
Older devices can complicate things
Advanced parental controls require subscription
Netgear’s Orbi is a visible departure from the company’s more traditional routers in basic black, featuring a much more living room friendly aesthetic to herald the company’s first fully mesh system, and our tests show it’s actually one of the more solid and reliable ones we’ve seen, offering great performance throughout even the largest homes.
Although the Orbi system supports tri-band Wi-Fi, with the usual single 2.4GHz and dual 5GHz bands, one of those upper bands is reserved as a backhaul channel to keep things moving speedily along between the main Orbi router and all of the satellite units. This means that all of your devices can get maximum performance no matter where you are in the house, as every station is capable of the fastest possible Wi-Fi speeds.
What’s especially great about the Orbi is its advanced parental controls that come thanks to Netgear’s partnership with Circle and Disney, including control of your kids’ screen time based on intelligent filters that let through safe traffic while keeping them away from the darker corners of the internet. You can even tie in with third-party apps to reward your kids with more screen time for things like completing chores. While you basically get all of the same features as the standalone Circle Home Plus, for the Netgear version you’ll need to pay a small monthly subscription to unlock the more advanced controls.
“The router also features robust parental controls thanks to a partnership with Disney.” — Bill Thomas, Product Tester
Real-time content filtering & malware protection
Family Profiles allow for scheduled access
Content filtering requires monthly subscription
No manual URL blacklisting features
Lacks PPPoE support
The Eero Pro is a popular mesh Wi-Fi system that can blanket your entire home with solid and reliable Wi-Fi while also offering robust parental controls and malware protection with its Eero Secure plan, while also being inexpensive and really easy to set up and manage through Eero’s intuitive mobile app.
The main Eero Pro base station offers tri-band Wi-Fi, with a single 2.4GHz and a pair of 5GHz channels for plenty of bandwidth, along with MU-MIMO to ensure that each of your devices get the fastest speeds possible. The base unit offers 1,500 square feet of coverage by itself, and you can add additional Eero Pro or Eero Beacon modules, each of which will add another 1,500 or 1,000 square feet, respectively.
Out of the box, Eero Pro includes a built-in Family Profiles feature that lets parents manage devices and control when kids can get onto the internet, while those who want even more parental controls can pay a small monthly fee for Eero Secure, which adds intelligent, real-time content filtering that blocks out adult, illegal, and violent content for specific family profiles, and it’s not just based on a static list either—our testing has shown that Eero Secure can actually analyze new websites as your kids them to make sure they’re safe before it lets them through.
"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
Wi-Fi 6 support
Sophisticated parental controls
Protection features require an ongoing subscription
Netgear’s Nighthawk RAX80 is an advanced router that offers solid parental controls while also ensuring that you’re ready to step into the future of wireless technology, thanks to its advanced Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax support and Netgear’s partnership with Circle for handling parental controls.
Rather than the usual array of antennas that protrude in all directions, the RAX80 conceals four beamforming antennas in its hawk-like wings, which offer up to 2,500 square feet of reliable coverage, and support for up to eight 160MHz wide spectrum channels for maximum throughput—up to 4.8Mbps on the 5GHz band and 1.2Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. While it’s designed for the latest 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 devices, it’s also equally capable of handling older Wi-Fi standards like 802.11ac and 802.11n, and thanks to WAN port aggregation, it can even handle Multi-Gig internet plans up to 2Gbps.
The quad-core CPU also ensures that more of your devices can get the best performance at the same time, so you won’t need to worry about congestion, and integrated Netgear Armor and Circle parental controls—both added in a post-release firmware update—give you top-notch security features built right in. The only catch here, however, is that like most routers you will need to pay a recurring subscription to get anything but the most basic features.
"The name of the game here is future-proofing, and the Nighthawk RAX80 has that in spades" — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester
Easy management with mobile app
Not suitable for very fast internet connections
Lacks recent firmware updates
The EA7300 is a dual-band wireless router that delivers speeds up to 1.7Gbps. It also includes MU-MIMO support that lets it identify the maximum speeds each device connecting to the network can handle in order to deliver that every time. Linksys didn’t say exactly how far its EA7300’s coverage will span but promises “complete coverage” in smaller homes.
One of the EA7300’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.
Works with your existing router
Detailed schedule settings
Easy to set up
Can be easily bypassed by unplugging it
Logs can be hard to decipher
If you need parental controls on your home network but don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a new router, the good news is that there are standalone devices that can add parental controls to your existing setup. Chief among these is The CleanerNet Mini Safe Internet Filter (formerly known as 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.
The CleanerNet 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 CleanerNet Mini won’t let you enhance speed or improve coverage, but it will give you full control over your network for as long as it remains connected. However, unlike routers with built-in parental controls it can also be easily bypassed simply by unplugging it from the router, so it's more suitable for parents with young children than those with clever teenagers.
From the CleanerNet 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.
"Parental control devices that add on to your existing router can often be disconnected just as easily, so if you have clever kids, you may want to consider keeping your router locked up." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer
Mesh Tri-Band Wi-Fi offers whole home coverage
Fast and powerful CPU
Easy setup with smartphone app
Malware protection requires a subscription
Lacks advanced configuration settings
Gryphon’s Secure Mesh System is one of the more unique-looking routers we’ve seen, with a white tower design that includes a stylish twist that makes it something you might want to show off in your kitchen or den rather than hiding it away in the computer room.
There’s more to this router than just looks, though. It packs in a surprising amount of power for a home router, with mesh tri-band Wi-Fi—one 2.4GHz and dual 5GHz channels—that’s rated for AC3000 speeds and includes MU-MIMO for connecting multiple devices at peak performance. This offers coverage for a 3,000 square foot living space, and since it’s a mesh router you can add another one to double that if you've got a bigger home.
You’ll need to use your smartphone to set up the Gryphon, but it also makes the process really easy, letting you configure the router and enable malware protection and parental controls all in one place. You’ll need to subscribe to keep the malware protection, but the parental controls are free and let you organize your family devices into categories to control what each one can access. As a parent you’ll be able to limit screen time, set bedtimes and homework times, and grant extensions to these restrictions when necessary, all using the Gryphon app from anywhere you happen to be.
"Many parental control routers offer varying degrees of protection against internet threats like malware, but be sure to keep in mind that some of these come with the added cost of a recurring monthly subscription after any initial free trial period ends, so you’ll want to factor in when making a purchasing decision." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer
Battery backup prevents it from being easily bypassed
Advanced and easy-to-configure parental controls
Requires ongoing subscription after the first year
Only supports 802.11n Wi-Fi
Circle Home Plus is another great option for parents who don’t necessarily want or need a new router but would like to add parental controls to their home network.
This small white cube plugs into your router, monitoring the connection between the internet and the devices in your home and capturing traffic from your kids' devices. Once connected, you’ll need to download the Circle app to your iPhone or Android device, which gives you control over everything happening on your network and lets you filter online content to see who’s on the Internet at any given time. Further, since Circle Home Plus can be used over Wi-Fi and there's a built-in backup battery, a clever kid won't be able to bypass it simply by unplugging it.
If you want to filter online content from Circle Home Plus, 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, you can use the "Pre-K" setting, while if your teen wants to access websites, the "Teen" setting is likely more suitable. There's also an "Adult" option that gives your own devices unrestricted access, and of course all of the predefined settings mostly serve as starting points that can be further customized to your needs, or you can simply create a custom filtering profile from scratch. Further, if your kids are spending too much time online, you can also configure Circle to turn off internet access to certain devices at preset times.
Good 5 GHz performance
Integrated Circle with Disney parental controls
Weaker 2.4 GHz performance
Netgear’s Nighthawk R7000 is a dual-band Wi-Fi router that can deliver speeds up to 1.3Gbps, and also comes with dynamic quality-of-service (QoS) that helps you prioritize bandwidth across your network to optimize quality for gaming and streaming video. Additionally, the built-in beamforming capabilities help 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 these virtual personal assistants in the mix, you’ll be able to control your home network with only voice commands.
Interestingly, the Netgear Nighthawk R7000 also comes with Circle with Disney parental controls, letting you simply download the Circle with Disney app to your iPhone or Android device and use its advanced features to 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 accessing the internet during homework times, meal times, or when you simply feel they need to take a break.
Fast Wi-Fi speeds
The Netgear Nighthawk R8000P X6S is a fast, tri-band router that can deliver speeds up to 1.6Gbps, and also supports MU-MIMO to maximize bandwidth to the devices on your network and prevent older and slower products from bogging down everything else. AC4000 speeds deliver performance of up to 1.6Gbps on each of the 5GHz bands, plus 750Mbps on the 2.4GHz side, on networks of up to 55 devices.
On the rear, the R8000 has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, along with two USB ports—one of which is USB 3.0—to attach a storage drive and share your media content across your network. Thanks to the router’s Dynamic QoS and beamforming technology, you can also take advantage of improved streaming for large files such as 4K video. Six amplified antennas also provide enough range for a large home.
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.
The Asus RT-AC88U 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.
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.
Bill Thomas is a Denver-based freelance writer who covers technology, music, film, and gaming. They began writing for Lifewire in January 2018, but you can also find their work on TechRadar. Bill has also worked as an editor at Future.
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, and manages his own automotive blog on the side.
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 healthy life 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 that you as a parent can add to your collection of tools to help keep your kids safe and healthy 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 okay for a teenager that you definitely wouldn't want your four-year-old getting into.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
Keeping your kids safe and healthy while 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.