Smartphones can be an excellent tool for educating and entertaining kids. They can also be distracting, sometimes even leading kids to content parents feel is inappropriate. Google is here to help, with Google Family Link.
Here’s everything you need to know about Google’s family monitoring app!
What is Google Family Link?
Google Family Link is a mobile app that lets you set digital rules for your child’s access to their smartphone, tablet or Chromebook. This can govern anything from what websites they can visit and what apps they can download, to how many hours they can use their device. Google allows users to sign up for an account at the age of 13 in most countries, so parents can use Google Family Link to set up accounts and devices for children younger than that.
It’s a fantastic way to give your child a smartphone, tablet or Chromebook and be safe in the knowledge that they aren’t completely distracted by it or are doing or accessing something they aren’t supposed to. This is certainly a welcome move by Google to help proactive parents monitor and control the use of phones and tablets by their children. We have certainly read a lot of stories in the past about kids who run up huge bills on their parent’s credit cards because they were spending money on in-app purchases.
Where is it available?
The invite-only beta version of Google Family Link was launched in March 2017 in the U.S., with a wide release happening in September that year. It was rolled out to a few more countries after that and 27 more were added back in February this year, bringing the entire list up to 38. This is a full list of countries currently supported:
- Asia: Japan
- Europe: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the U.K.
- North America: Canada, Mexico, the U.S.
- Oceania: Australia, New Zealand
- South America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile
To set up Google Family Link, a parent can use an Android smartphone or tablet running Android 4.4 Kitkat and above or an iPhone or iPad running iOS 9 and above. The child’s device will have to be a relatively newer device, given the restriction of it needing to run Android 7.0 Nougat and above. Android 5.0 Lollipop and Android 6.0 Marshmallow devices may work as well, but you will require some additional steps during the setup process (which you can find here). iPhones and iPads won’t work as the child’s device. Recently, Google added support for Chromebooks to Family Link.
The setup process is relatively simple and the app guides you through everything pretty well. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Make sure the device meets the requirements stated above and you have an existing Google account. If not, you will have to set one up for yourself first.
2. Download the Google Family Link app from the Google Play Store on your (parent) device.
3: Once you sign in to the app as a guardian, you can create accounts for your children. Tap on the + sign at the top right corner and simply follow the instructions on the screen to do so. The entire process takes around five to 10 minutes (longer for more than one child).
4: Keep in mind that the Android phone or tablet you want to give your child cannot be set up beforehand. In case it is an existing device, you will have to perform a factory reset after backing up any important data you may have on the phone. To handle this, go to Settings, then tap on the General Management option, and then tap on the Reset selection. You should see the Factory Data Reset option. Tap on it, and scroll down to the final blue Reset button to begin the process.
5: Once you create the new account in your app for your child, you can set up your kid’s Android smartphone or tablet. If it is a new or Factory Reset device, sign in with your child’s email address and the password you have set up. On an existing device (or one running Android 5.0 or 6.0), go to Settings > Users & Accounts > Remove Accounts to remove any existing accounts. Then in the previous page, tap on Add Account and sign in with your child’s information.
6: You will then have to sign in with your own Google account, provide parental consent, and pick your child’s settings. Remember, to create a Google account for your child, you have to give parental consent. One way to provide consent is by using your credit card. A temporary authorization may be placed on your card to verify it’s valid — it will be removed in at most 48 hours.
7: You can set all the parental controls and limits using the Google Family Link app. Open the app and tap on your child’s name to use various cards like Apps, Daily Limit, Bedtime, and more. Once everything is set up, you have some controls and settings available via the web app as well at families.google.com.
Control over your child’s apps
The highlight of Google Family Link is the granular level of control available to a parent. You can select exactly how much access your child has to the Google Play Store. You require approval for all apps, only paid apps, or those with in-app purchases. You can also set a maximum maturity rating for the apps they can access (like “Everyone 10+”).
You can also set it up to receive a notification whenever your child downloads an app and block it with your device if you don’t approve, and even set the highest maturity rating for movies, books, and TV shows that are available via Google Play.
Block access to websites on Chhrome, videos on YouTube and more.
Family Link even allows for granular control over app behavior. You can easily set up blocks for particular websites on Chrome, block specific channels on the Youtube Kids app, and more. It even offers a feed for each account linked to your Google Family Link app showing your child’s activity on their device. This information includes the time they’ve spent using specific apps over the last week, the last month and more.
Know where your child’s phone is located
You can also keep a track of your child’s device location. You will have to enable location services via the Settings card in your Family Link app. You should then be able to see the device location, assuming that the device isn’t switched off, isn’t connected to the Internet, or hasn’t been used in a really long time. You can also sound an alarm on the device to locate it if it’s been misplaced.
Monitor your child’s screen time, or lock the phone out
You can also monitor, manage, and restrict your child’s total screen time, setting daily limits, weekend limits, and a bedtime. After the limit is crossed in each instance, the device locks automatically. You can also manually lock your child’s device whenever you want.
Once a device is locked, either after crossing a limit or if you have done so yourself, your child won’t be able to unlock the device, see any notifications, or use any apps. However, they will be able to receive phone calls and tap Emergency to make a call (you can set the number it dials) if there is a calling plan.
Project Fi subscribers get more
Speaking of calling plans, Project Fi group plans now support Google Family Link, too. This means the age restriction on who can be a part of a group plan has been removed. You can also set data limits for your child each month, monitor how much data they’ve used, and know which apps are consuming the most data on your child’s device.
Support for Chromebooks
As we mentioned, Google recently added support for Chromebooks for Family Link users. This allows parents to see how much time their kids use their Chromebooks, and those parents can set time limits on their children for those devices. Parents can also use Family Link to create a list of websites their kids can visit on their Chromebooks, along with establishing limits on which apps they can download to Chromebooks from the Google Play Store. Finally, Family Link can be used to limit in-game purchases by children along with the ability to actually hide certain apps from kids.
What could be better
Google Family Link is a dream come true for a lot of parents. However, it isn’t perfect and there are a few restrictions, limitations, and missing features worth addressing. For one thing, the Google Family Link app isn’t compatible for any existing Google accounts for children. Of course, the only way a child under 13 could have a regular Google account already would be to have lied about their age or gotten it through school. There have been enough complaints about this issue though and Google is looking into ways to make this possible.
In addition, Google Family Link also doesn’t work with accounts provided through work or school for both the child and the parent. The parent will need a personal Google account to be able to use Family Link and create an account for their child.
Quite a few parents out there aren’t particularly happy the restrictions end at 13 years old. While the child will be given the option to continue with Family Link after they turn 13, Google’s age restriction limit means they will be able to set up a regular account on another device.
Using Google Family Link only allows downloading the Youtube Kids app on the child’s device. Some parents prefer the regular app, with the right filters and restrictions in place, for slightly older kids, and want the option. Of course, there are also some bugs and kinks that make things not work as expected, but those will be addressed in the coming months.
Removing Google Family Link
Just before a child turns 13, parents will get an email letting them know their child will be able to take control of their account on their birthday, and you will no longer be able to manage it. On their 13th birthday, the child can choose whether to take over their own Google account or continue to have their parents manage it for them. This is unfortunately the only way for the child to hold on to their Google account.
Removing Google Family Link before then is more complicated than simply deleting the app. That would delete your child’s Google account as well, including emails, documents, and anything else associated with it.
Here’s how to safely remove Google Family Link:
1. In the Family Link app on the child’s phone, open the hamburger menu and tap on Remove Account and confirm the selection on the next screen. On the next page, tap on your Google account to indicate that you will be the one removing the kid’s account from the device. Enter your password to authorize the removal.
2. Once you get the confirmation message, open the Family Link app on your own device. Tap on the child’s name, tap on the three vertical dots at the top right corner, and tap on Account Info. Scroll to the bottom of the page and tap on Delete Account.
3. The next page will ask for confirmation that you have removed the account from any devices, that you are still responsible for any charges because of pending transactions, and most importantly, that you want to permanently delete your child’s Google account. This is definitely not recommended if you are hoping to hold on to your child’s Google account but only delete Family Link.
We’ve all heard and read about horror stories about kids who run up huge bills on their parent’s credit cards because they were spending money on apps or in-app purchases. This is just one of the things that Google Family Link will help you avoid if you give your child their own Android smartphone or tablet, or a Chromebook.
Almost complete control over what your child gets access to and the ability to monitor and limit usage will certainly go a long way in giving you peace of mind as a parent. Everything isn’t perfect and there are definitely some kinks to work out, but Google Family Link is excellent for everything it has to offer even now. If you have any more questions about Family Link, Google has a FAQ and a Help Center in place to give you the answers.