Managing your kids’ digital activity used to be an exercise in frustration. Short of limiting the amount of time they spent on their various gadgets, keeping track of what they were doing — or preventing them from doing something they shouldn’t — was nearly impossible. But apps like Google’s Family Link are changing the paradigm.
Google’s new Family Link service, designed for kids under 13, gives you control over nearly every aspect of your kid’s digital experience. You can approve or block apps he or she attempts to download from the Google Play Store, see how much time your kids are spending on their favorite apps, and remotely lock his or her device. That’s just the tip of the iceberg — here’s how to get started with Family Link.
Family Link is not available to everyone just yet — it launched as an invite-only beta on March 15 in the U.S. You can apply to join here. Once your account has been approved, you can set it up immediately.
First, gather the essentials. You will need:
A Google Account for your kid through Family Link
An Android device (running Android 7.0 Nougat or later) for your kid*
Your own Android device (running Android 4.4 KitKat or later)
Your own Google Account
*Family Link is also compatible with the following devices running Android 6.0 Marshmallow: Alcatel Dawn, Alcatel Fierce 4, Alcatel Pixi Unite, LG K3, LG Stylo 2 Plus, LG X Power, Samsung Galaxy Luna, Samsung Galaxy Tab A, and Sony Xperia X.
Family Link does not support iOS yet, but Google said it is working on a client. It also does not support Google accounts provided through work or school — you will need a personal Google account, such as a Gmail account, to create an account for your child.
Download the Family Link app on your personal device from the Google Play Store. Then, install the same app on your kid’s smartphone or tablet and sign them in.
You will be charged a $0.30 fee when you set up your kid’s account because of “federal privacy regulations,” Google explains on Family Link’s FAQ webpage. “We’re required to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children, and credit cards are one of the FTC’s approved methods. Payment is required so that you have the chance to see the payment on your credit card statement and object if consent was improperly provided.”
You can only have one account installed on a kid’s device.
Manage your kid’s apps
One of Family Link’s most powerful features is the ability to manage the apps your kids use. When your kid attempts to download an app from the Play Store, you will get a pop-up notification containing the name of the app, the app’s publisher, the average star rating, and the number of downloads it has accumulated.
You will also see its maturity rating. In March 2015, Google adopted the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s (ESRB) content ratings. Apps like Google Maps get “G” ratings for example, while slightly more risque titles get “E” (for ages six or older) or “T” (for ages 13 and up).
Armed with that knowledge, you can approve or deny the installation.
Once an app is installed on your child’s device, you can control its permissions. You can deny the Facebook app access to the device’s camera and contacts, for example, or prevent a game from connecting to the internet.
You do not have to approve or deny every device individually. Family Link lets you set blanket content restrictions (i.e., nothing above “G”) for downloading or purchasing apps, games, movies, TV, music, and books. Or, you can limit restrictions to in-app purchases and paid content.
Limit your kid’s screen-on time
Family Link lets you limit the amount of time your kids spend on their device in two ways: By setting a Daily Limit, and by specifying your kid’s Bedtime.
With the Bedtimefeature enabled, you can schedule a window of time when your kid won’t be able to unlock his or her device. You can selectively impose limits on weekdays (9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sunday to Thursday, for example) or weekends (10 p.m. to 8 a.m. Friday and Saturday). Or, you can lift limits altogether on certain days of the week. It’s up to you.
Daily limit is a little less granular. You can specify a daily usage limit — a set number of minutes and hours your child’s allowed to use their device each day. Just like Bedtime, the amount can differ day-to-day.
If Daily Limit and Bedtime are not doing the trick, you can lock your kids’ device at any time with the Lock Devices Now option. They will be kicked off of their tablet or smartphone immediately, and can only gain access again when you toggle the setting off.
It works even when your kid’s device is not connected to the internet. A special Parent’s access code restricts the device’s features until you manually unlock them.
See how your kid is spending time
Family Link provides a convenient way to see how your kid is spending his or her digital time. You will get a weekly and monthly report showing how much time your kid spent with each app they accessed. A unified dashboard shows a summary of app activity over the past seven days. If your kid has spent more time in Candy Crush than his or her Amazon eBook library, for example, you will see that.
The analytics page is also where you will be able to see the device’s physical location and fine-tune certain settings. The Google Chrome web browser, for example, lets you switch between three levels of access: Unfiltered, SafeSearch (where Google blocks explicit websites and more), and Restricted (where the child is only allowed to visit websites you approve).