Every kid wants their own smartphone or tablet, and they’re getting them at younger and younger ages. If this makes you nervous as a parent, don’t worry. There are plenty of settings and tools that can make sure your child uses their phone safely, and they can keep you in control even when you aren’t able to directly watch what they’re doing.
Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to set up your child’s Android phone.
1. Use Google’s Family Link
Children need to be of a certain age before they can have a Google account. In most countries they need to be at least 13 years old. They must be 14 or over in Spain and South Korea, or 16 and over in the Netherlands.
Parents often avoid this problem by creating an account for their children using a fake age. This works, but breaches Google’s terms and conditions and can potentially lead to them suspending or closing the account.
To address this problem, Google has recently introduced a service called Family Link. It allows parents to create and manage accounts for their pre-teen kids, but it comes with two severe limitations:
- At the time of writing it’s only available in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.
- Both you and your child will need a phone running Android 7.0 or higher (a very limited number of Android 6.1 devices are also supported). It does work on iOS too.
If you’re eligible on both counts, Family Link is the way to go. Parents can use it to remotely control what apps their kids use, what they can search for online, how many hours a day they can use their devices, and they can lock the phone at night.
How to Set Up Family Link
To get started, download the Family Link app from the Play Store. Click through the first few screens, then create a Google account for your child when prompted. You’ll need to verify your payment method during this process. A $0.30 charge will be made to your credit card, which will be cancelled as soon as it is confirmed.
Now log in to the account on your child’s phone and install Family Link there too. Follow the onscreen instructions to complete the setup.
Once you’re done, you can use Family Link to:
- Approve app downloads, meaning you’ll be prompted to allow or deny every app your child wants to install.
- Limit screen time by setting a daily usage allowance in 30 minute increments.
- Set a bedtime, after which the phone will not work.
- Monitor your child’s app activity with weekly reports, and temporarily disable apps they’re using too much.
- Set up child-friendly filters to limit what apps, games, and movies they can download, and also apply safe searches in Chrome.
Family Link only works for under-13s. When your child turns 13, they’ll be able to take control of their own account, so you might need to start using some of the other options below.
2. Play Store Parental Controls
If your children are 13 or over — or have accounts that say they are — or you’re not able to use Family Link, then you’ll need to use the built-in parental controls in the Play Store.
This lets you limit what apps, games, movies, TV shows your child can download, based on an age rating. Books and magazines can also be restricted through a safe search filter (which may not be 100 percent foolproof), and music labelled Explicit is also off limits.
To set up parental controls, open the Play Store app and go to Settings > Parental Controls, then toggle the switch to On. You’ll now be prompted to set up a four digit PIN.
Next, click through each type of content and set an age limit, or activate the explicit filter, and hit Save when you’re done. Your child won’t be able to buy or play anything that falls outside these settings.
You apply parental controls to individual phones and tablets, rather than the account. If your children have more than one device, you’ll need them up on each one.
3. Parental Controls in Chrome
To protect your child from some of the murkier corners of the web, you can apply the safe search filter to their web browsing. This works mostly in Chrome, where they will be logged in. If your child is using a third-party browser, then this setting won’t necessarily apply.
To activate it, open the Google app. Go to the Settings page, and select Settings > Accounts & privacy. Now set the SafeSearch option to Active.
4. Share Content With Family Library
Family Library is a service that enables all the users in your household to maintain their own Google accounts, but to share paid Play Store apps and content with each other. You can also share a single payment method.
It means that you don’t have to buy the same apps or movies more than once. You can do this selectively, so if you’ve got stuff you don’t want your kids to have access to, you don’t have to share it. It also means your children can use your credit card to buy stuff through the Play Store, but you get to approve every purchase.
Read our full guide on how to set up and use Family Library.
To get started:
- In the Play Store, go to Account > Family > Sign up for Family Library.
- Choose the payment method you want to share with your family.
- When prompted to share your content, select either Add all or One by one.
- Finally, invite family members to your group by adding their Gmail addresses when prompted. They’ll each need to accept the invite.
By default, all family members under 18 (according to the age set in their Google account) will need approval whenever they try and buy anything. You’ll get a notification on your phone to allow or decline the purchase. This applies to in-app purchases as well.
5. Replace YouTube With YouTube Kids
Most kids live inside YouTube these days, but there’s a lot of content on there that you wouldn’t necessarily want them stumbling upon. For very young children, you can replace the YouTube app with YouTube Kids, an official, family-friendly alternative with curated content.
First, disable YouTube by going to Settings > Apps > YouTube and tapping Disable. This will hide the app’s icon so that your child will not be able to access it.
Now install YouTube Kids in its place. Through the settings for this app, you can turn search on or off, place limits on the amount of time your kids can spend watching, and also flag any inappropriate videos that have snuck through by accident.
If your kids are too old for that, you can set the standard YouTube app into Restricted Mode. This hides videos that have been flagged by other users as containing adult or inappropriate content. They might also be filtered algorithmically too.
To activate this, open YouTube and tap the Account icon in the top right of the screen. Now go to Settings > General and toggle the Restricted Mode switch.
6. Track Your Kids
Giving your child a smartphone gives you an opportunity to keep an eye on where they are when they — or you — aren’t home. It can give you real peace of mind, and is something you can do quite easily using Google’s Find My Device service.
The service is primarily designed for tracking a lost phone. But if you have access to the Google account set up on your child’s phone, then you can use it to see where they are. They do need to have the phone with them, of course, and it needs an active data connection.
If you’re using Family Link with your under-13s, then you’ll already have access to their Google account details, since you set it up yourself. You can simply log in using any web browser to find them.
At a certain age, you’ll need to start balancing privacy with security, and it may or may not be appropriate to have full access to your children’s Google accounts. A simple workaround to this is to create a whole new account with the sole purpose of using the tracking function, should the need ever arise.
You can use the same account for all your kids. Just create the account and set it up on their phones at Settings > Accounts > Add account. Then log in on a desktop and head to google.com/android/devicemanager, and you’ll be able to see where they are. You can also install the app to monitor it.
More Android Parental Control Apps
Want even more ways to look after how your kids use their phones? There’s a lot more in the Play Store. To get started, take a look at our pick of the best parental control apps for Android, as well as the top child-tracking tool and apps.
Also remember that when you’re setting up your kids’ phones, no management solution is perfect. Family Link is the best option, but they can bypass most of the rest one way or another: wipe the Play Store PIN, use a different browser to avoid safe search settings, and so on.
Do your kids have an Android device? How did you set it up? Join us in the comments below to share your tips and advice.