How to protect your child on their new phone

Child on a phone
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While your child might want to use their brand-new phone to get online immediately, as a parent, you need to make sure that they're protected against cyber threats.

To make sure that your child’s personal details do not fall into the wrong hands and their device isn't ravaged by viruses and malware, you can install protective software like a VPN, an antivirus, and/or a password manager on their smartphone. This may seem daunting, but many providers offer bundled options so you do not need to purchase from multiple different companies. 

A parental control app can also be useful as it allows you to stay on top of your child's online habits and whereabouts and steer them clear of any objectionable content, places, and people.

However, with so many options to choose from, it's a tough ask to point to the best of the lot. I've prepared this guide on the back of the expert opinions and first-hand experience of TechRadar experts who test and review hundreds of these tools on a daily basis. Read on to find the top security software to get in 2024 to safeguard yourself and your family.

The best VPN for phones in 2024

With a VPN in your child’s phone, they will be able to browse the internet, play online games, and stream content (including movies and shows that are restricted in your region) without having to worry about hackers and ISPs tracking their internet traffic or ill-mannered users throwing them off game lobbies with DDoS attacks.

Here are the best VPNs for phones on the market right now: 

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1. ExpressVPN: the best VPN service in 2024
ExpressVPN offers easy-to-use and feature-packed apps on both Android and iOS and with excellent speeds, rock-solid security, powerful unblocking capabilities, and a vast network of servers, it leaves little to be desired.

Friendly 24/7 support and an in-depth knowledge hub make it ideal for beginners as well, and while it's admittedly not cheap, you're getting three months of extra protection and a year's worth of cloud storage for free on its 12-month plan. Try it out risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

2. NordVPN: the fastest VPN around

2. NordVPN: the fastest VPN around
NordVPN sets itself apart by offering an all-in-one security suite that packs a built-in antivirus, ad-blocking, and password manager, among other nifty cybersecurity tools. 

It also knocks it out of the park when it comes to unblocking geo-restricted content, thanks to a massive catalog of servers and the fastest speeds in the industry. Be sure to make the most of its 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try it before you commit. 

3. Surfshark: the best cheap VPN

3. Surfshark: the best cheap VPN
Surfshark is tailor-made for those pinching for pennies but it packs enough power to give even premium providers a run for their money. You're getting unlimited simultaneous connections, class-leading speeds, and hundreds of server locations all at a very affordable price point.

It’s compatible with virtually every device type, offers easy-to-use apps across the board, and unblocks any streaming service you point at it. Put it to the test with a 30-day money-back guarantee and see how it compares to ExpressVPN and NordVPN. 

How to pick a VPN to secure your child’s new phone

If you're choosing a VPN for your child’s phone, the number-one thing to check is that your provider offers apps for the kind of device your child has, whether that's Android or iOS.

The VPN you pick should have tons of servers in its kitty. Ideally, you'd want servers in as many countries and cities as possible to enjoy uninterrupted connection from and to anywhere.

Next, evaluate the quality of security features on offer. This includes checking the protocols it supports and whether there's a strict no-logs policy, meaning the provider won't have any knowledge or record of your child’s internet traffic, eliminating any chances of a third party demanding it from them. Other important security offerings include a kill switch and leak protection. 

Also, consider the price you’re willing to shell out and the number of devices you want to protect. If you’re on a thin budget, consider opting for a good cheap VPN.

Check out our best Android VPN and the best iPhone VPN guides to zero in on the best service for your needs. 

How we test VPNs

Testing VPNs involves hours of hard work and meticulous research – something our experts are good at. First, we visit the provider’s website to check the number of servers it claims to have and the locations it operates in. We ensure that the servers are not concentrated in a specific area, which could result in server overloads and slower speeds. 

Then we sign up for the service anonymously and test the compatibility of its apps on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux, checking core aspects like the effectiveness of its kill switch and how easy it is to use across various apps and interfaces. 

For speed testing, we use two systems, one in the US and one in the UK, with an Ethernet connection. We then run at least 120 speed tests in total before we arrive at the average speeds of the VPN by calculating the median of all the results. 

VPNs undergo security audits to increase their customers’ confidence, but we do not take their word for it. We dig deeper to find the purpose of the audit. For example, if the audit was just to verify a VPN’s browser extension, the rest of the features might still raise reasonable doubts. 

To test the unblocking powers of the provider, we throw multiple big-name streaming services at it from three different locations around the world.

For more info on our procedures, check out TechRadar’s VPN testing methodology page.  

Using a VPN FAQs

Are VPNs easy to use?

Top VPN services are all generally very easy to set up and use, with all options clearly laid out. However, if you're new to VPNs, I recommend using ExpressVPN as it comes with an intuitive one-click connect function – so you connect once and you're always protected. Also, its proprietary Lightway protocol automatically zeroes in on the best server and encryption for your needs.  

What can I do with a mobile VPN app?

With a mobile VPN app, you can protect your and your child's smartphones and data when you're out and about in places with public Wi-Fi networks, like a train, a supermarket, or the airport.

Finally, for streaming enthusiasts, a mobile VPN app is a convenient way to bypass geo-restrictions on Netflix and other popular streaming apps and enjoy their favorite movies and TV shows from virtually anywhere. 

You can also leverage your VPN connection to save money while shopping for clothes, games, and other products online – all you have to do is move your IP address around to match a location where your desired item is available at a lower price than your own location.

The best antivirus in 2024

The best antivirus software will keep your child protected from viruses, ransomware, malware, and all kinds of cyber criminals who may try to sneak into their devices and steal their personal information.

Many antivirus solutions also offer other security software, like VPNs, parental control apps or password managers, bundled with their antivirus offering meaning you get a great bang for your buck - and also don't have to look further than one provider for online safety tools.

Our experts at TechRadar have reviewed hundreds of antivirus solutions and these are the cream of the crop:

1. Bitdefender: the best antivirus software overall

1. Bitdefender: the best antivirus software overall  
Bitdefender is the best antivirus software in the industry, thanks to its ability to get rid of both known and unknown malware files at lightning-fast speeds. 

It’s also very light on system resources and extra security tools like an app lock, a Wi-Fi scanner, and real-time data breach alerts make it all the more value for money. Try it out risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee. 

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2. Norton: the best antivirus for malware and identity protection

2. Norton: the best antivirus for malware and identity protection
Norton is one of the most popular antiviruses out there, and it does justice to the hype with excellent scan speeds, malware detection scores, and class-leading identity theft protection.

You’re also getting other add-ons that include a password manager, unlimited VPN data, parental controls, and online storage. Sign up for its auto-renewal program to avail of its Virus Protection Promise and a class-leading 60-day money-back guarantee.

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Avast One

3. Avast One: the gamer's ally
Avast One knocks it out of the park when it comes to identifying and removing malware, and its unique game mode that removes irritating ads, popups, and reminders makes it a must-have for gamers.

It also offers a free tier that will allow you to try it on for size risk-free. However, I recommend opting for the paid plan, as it comes with valuable extras like an app locker, a system scanner, and Avast’s SecureLine VPN.

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How to pick an antivirus to secure your child’s new phone

The first thing to consider while picking an antivirus solution is its malware detection rate. Ideally, choose a provider that can dish out more than 95% of malware files – the higher, the better. 

Next up is your budget and the degree of security you desire. Cheap or even free antivirus products like Bitdefender or Windows Defender can be more than enough for basic malware and threat protection. 

However, if your budget allows, I’d recommend upgrading to a full-fledged internet security suite that can not only protect more devices, but also come with extra security products like dark web monitoring, parental controls, and identity theft protection.

Lastly, consider your level of expertise and the promptness of the provider’s customer support wing. If you’re new to antiviruses, you’ll absolutely want plug-and-play apps along with 24/7 support, but if you know your way around tech software, you can opt for more customizability under the hood. 

How we test antivirus software

Our in-house experts conduct several rounds of testing on an antivirus solution, evaluating it in every possible way. First, we download the antivirus on various compatible devices and then try to access dangerous websites and purposely download malware files. 

We also throw custom-made malware files at the antivirus program that it would have never seen before. This is because antivirus providers act smartly to ensure that their products pass the EICAR test. However, our testing aims to find out whether the service will be able to ward off attackers on the internet who develop new threats regularly. 

Performance is undoubtedly a crucial aspect of antivirus software. However, it shouldn’t come at the cost of system performance. We pay attention to how long it takes to load a webpage or how quickly a system-heavy app opens while the antivirus is running. Is it slowing down essential functions or consuming a lot of RAM? 

It’s also worth noting that we combine our findings with the results of some widely popular and trustworthy labs like AV-Comparatives and AV-TEST that conduct hundreds, if not thousands, of tests on every big-name antivirus day in and day out. 

Using antivirus FAQs

What does antivirus do?

Antivirus software employ real-time protection and heuristic technology to identify and remove both known and unknown threats, including malware, ransomware, and viruses. It's worth noting that you can set your antivirus program to scan any file that enters your device, or you can initiate a scan anytime you want to check either specific or all of the files, folders, and apps on your device. 

Is free antivirus enough?

Short answer – yes and no, but more no than yes. 

A good free antivirus software employs the same virus protection engine as premium products and is more than capable of protecting your system from basic threats. However, premium antivirus solutions offer lots of extra features, like parental controls, a VPN, and dedicated anti-ransomware protection, virtually leaving no room for any perpetrator whatsoever. 

Plus, there are quite a few value-packed antivirus software with unbelievably low price tags, meaning there's hardly any reason to opt for a free antivirus other than just to try out a solution risk-free before committing. 

The best password manager in 2024

Password managers can not only protect your child’s login credentials to various websites from those who want to steal them but also generate strong and unique passwords on their behalf. This is in addition to offering auto-fill, data recovery, and cross-device syncing for added security and convenience.

Here are the best password managers that are worth your time and investment:  

1. NordPass: the best password manager right now

1. NordPass: the best password manager right now
NordPass is a value-packed option from a leading security company offering easy-to-use apps across various devices and tons of features, making it a great buy for individuals, businesses, and families alike.

A stripped-down free plan is more than just decent, but the premium plan can detect weak/reused passwords and allows six multiple logins – and it comes with a 30-day free trial and a 30-day refund policy, so you can try it out risk-free. 

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2. Dashlane: the best password manager interface and security
Dashlane triumphs on multiple fronts, including app interfaces, data security, and value for money. Its bulk password changer is absolutely killer, allowing you to reset all of your passwords at once.

I recommend opting for the paid plan since it fetches you support for ten people/devices, real-time phishing alerts, multi-factor authentication, secure document storage, dark web monitoring, and a bundled Hotspot Shield VPN.  

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3. Bitwarden: the best free password manager
Bitwarden is fast, secure, and very easily the best free password manager in my testing. It offers top-notch security features like multi-device synchronization, optional self-hosting, and unlimited password storage without asking for a single penny. 

Although there’s not much the free plan misses out on, if you’d also like the ability to detect weak passwords and unsecured websites, consider upgrading to its premium plan.

How to choose a password manager to secure your child’s new phone

Security is the first thing you need to consider when choosing a password manager. Now, all of the providers on our list of the best password managers use strong industry-grade encryption, so that’s a thing you do not need to look into exclusively. 

However, other security features like biometric access, multi-factor authentication, password sharing, synchronization across various devices (this won’t be an option if you choose a password manager that stores data locally on the device itself), and any other add-ons on offer can be important considerations, depending on your needs.

Also, note that the more features you want packed in, the higher the cost, so that’s something you’ll have to strike an ideal balance between. If your budget is seriously thin, you can go for Bitwarden, as it doesn’t hide important features behind a paywall.

Your chosen platform’s ease of use cannot be overlooked, either. You should be able to migrate easily and everything on the apps as well as the browser extensions should be easy to find and tweak.

How we test password managers

We follow our testing methodology and put some 30 password managers to the test to find out the best ones for you. We install the apps on all available operating systems, such as Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as browser extensions like Chrome, Firefox, and Edge, to ensure that our research is comprehensive.

Next, we evaluate the app’s ease of use and whether all available features work as it says on the tin. In addition to trying out auto-fill, multi-factor authentication, and biometric login, we try to access the same account on multiple platforms to check if the password manager syncs well across devices. 

We look beyond the absolute price of the password manager to consider how value for money it is. For this, we evaluate every pricing tier, considering the features and add-ons on offer, and then compare it to other providers. 

Customer support is just as crucial, and to test it out, we throw all sorts of curveballs at the support agents and then carefully assess the accuracy and speed of their replies.

Password managers FAQs

What is the difference between free and paid password managers?

While both offer the same level of protection, paid password managers often come with tons of nifty add-ons, like cross-platform synchronization, increased storage, multiple logins, secure password sharing, and more. 

They can also store information other than passwords, like your credit card details, sensitive messages, and any information that you frequently use so that you can fill out online forms quickly. Plus, you may also get additional security features including dark web monitoring that alerts you when/if your info has been exposed in a data breach. 

Should you use your browser password manager?

You can use your browser’s integrated password manager if you're after a convenient and free option, but you'll have to put up with some limitations. 

For example, Apple’s Keychain password manager does not sync with Chrome’s password manager, so any passwords that you store on your iPhone will be automatically saved to Keychain, and not to Chrome. This means that if your laptop or computer is not an Apple product, you’ll have to use two password managers, one for your website passwords and the other for mobile app passwords. Indeed, things will be messy and disorganized this way.

Dedicated password managers, on the other hand, avoid any such hassle by offering compatible apps for various devices – and they also come with valuable extras, like the ability to give a nickname to your account passwords, allowing you to locate them easily. 

The best parental control app in 2024

A parental control app on your child’s phone gives you more control over what they are looking at, and for how long. These apps will allow you to limit their screen time, block/restrict their access to inappropriate content as well as find out who they’re chatting with, and ensure their security overall.

Below are the best parental control apps:  

1. Aura: the best parental control app overall

1. Aura: the best parental control app overall
Aura is more than just a parental control app, offering an all-in-one solution that has everything you need to protect your family, including a password manager, VPN, antivirus, password storage, and ID protection. It allows you to restrict access to objectionable content as well as informs you if/when your child falls prey to cyberbullying. 

What makes it even better is that it’s easy to set up and operate – all you have to do is scan a QR code to download the app on the device you want to use it on.

2. Qustodio: the best content monitoring with a good free tier

2. Qustodio: the best content monitoring with a good free tier
Qustodio is a force to reckon with when it comes to monitoring your child’s messages and calls, the content they’re consuming, and who they are talking to. You can also set time limits, supervise your child’s social media use, and even track their location for all-round protection from the dangers of the internet.

It’s also a delight for thing budgets, as its free app is one of the most comprehensive parental control tools around, enabling you to set rules and time schedules, as well as blocking inappropriate content.

3. Net Nanny: the best web filtering

3. Net Nanny: the best web filtering
Net Nanny is an absolute workhorse as far as web filtering is concerned, as it uses real-time analysis to determine the safety of the websites your child intends to visit.

Everything else, including app blocking and screen time monitoring, is available and working smoothly, and it’s one of the very few parental control software to offer feature parity between its iOS and Android versions.

How to choose a parental control app to secure your child’s new phone

Consider the degree of control you desire from a parental control app, which can often be a byproduct of how old your child is. For instance, if you have a teenager, you may be content with simply knowing what your child is up to, but if your child is under 12, you may want more control over how they use their device and the internet at large, including the ability to block/restrict apps, text and call monitoring, and geofencing.

Additionally, your budget will also have a say on how many features you get. Remember, your child's privacy is priceless, so it can be a wise decision to shell out a few more bucks for higher-priced solutions that usually cater to every need.

Next, look at the ease of use of the parental control app. If you’re not tech-savvy, make sure the interfaces across various devices are easy to use and intuitive.

You'll also have to consider whether the target phone needs to be jailbroken for installation. The bottom line is that the set-up process should be straightforward and the provider should offer detailed guides and prompt customer support to help you out every step of the way.

How we test parental control apps

Like any other tech product on TechRadar, we test parental control software on five parameters as well — design, features, usability, performance, and value for money. 

First, we sign up with the service and test it out in different real-world scenarios to see if something breaks. Our experts put in around 10 hours of meticulous research to check the features, performance, and ease of setup and installation of each parental control software. Then we compare the results and rank the providers accordingly.

We also determine how the program performs on various platforms. For example, if a parental control app supports both Android and iOS, we check out both platforms to find out if there's consistency in performance and whether there are any feature differences.

A parental control app shouldn’t consume a ton of system resources. After all, you wouldn’t want your child to get suspicious because of quick battery loss and system lags. That's why we check the device's performance after installing the parental control app to see if it's truly discreet.

Last but not least, we evaluate customer support by throwing genuine questions at the support agents. Then we evaluate how quickly they get back to us and whether their proposed solutions are actually helpful.

Parental control apps FAQs

What are the best practices to keep your children safe online?

First and foremost, it's important to talk to your children regularly and openly about what they do online and teach them how to browse the internet securely, including best practices and what not to do, such as why/when not to share personal details and pictures online, particularly with strangers.

For detailed insights into your children’s online habits, including how much time they spend online, who they talk to, and where they are after school, you can use the best parental control software. It will allow you to limit their screen time and block access to apps, sites, and any other objectionable content that you may not want them to watch. However, make sure that you continually update the software and tweak its settings for maximum benefit.

What features should I look for in a parental control app?

Although the features that matter the most may differ from parent to parent, some core offerings must be present. These include the ability to limit your child's screen time, block/restrict apps and any other inappropriate content, and the ability to manage multiple devices/children from a single and easy-to-use dashboard. 

Olivia Powell
Tech Software Commissioning Editor

Olivia joined TechRadar in October 2023 as part of the core Future Tech Software team, and is the Commissioning Editor for Tech Software. With a background in cybersecurity, Olivia stays up-to-date with all things cyber and creates content across sites including TechRadar Pro, TechRadar, Tom’s Guide, iMore, PC Gamer and Games Radar. She is particularly interested in threat intelligence, detection and response, data security, fraud prevention and the ever-evolving threat landscape.

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