The Complete Guide to Android Parental Controls
When it comes to Android versus Apple, the age-old question from parents is, “which one is better for my kid?” There are definitely pros and cons.
- Android devices are definitely cheaper.
- Apple devices are typically seen as “more cool” by kids.
- Android’s operating system is much easier for a solution like Bark to monitor when it comes to Snapchat and Instagram’s direct messages and Instagram’s search feature.
- Although both come with nice parental controls, we believe Apple’s Restrictions are easier to navigate than Android’s Family Link (explained below).
Honestly, it’s really close. If your child is big into social media and you have concerns about how he/she is using it, then an Android device is going to allow for much better monitoring.
Multiple layers for protecting your Android devices
Protect Young Eyes promotes a 4-layer approach for creating a safer internet experience on all portable, digital devices.
Layer 1: Guard the location of the Android device.
Remember, where kids use technology often dictates how they use their technology. We have strong opinions about controlling where kids use their tech.
Related post: The 5 Worst Places for a Kid to be Online
Layer 2: Set up clean DNS on your home’s network.
Remember, you are responsible for every digital click on your home’s network, and so for every device that uses your home’s WiFi network, have something in place to monitor who’s connected to your WiFi and control where they’re going. Two popular options for parents are:
- CleanBrowsing – similar to OpenDNS, you can set CleanBrowsing’s clean DNS and block most known porn domains (FREE). Read all about it in our extremely popular DNS blog post.
- Circle with Disney – by far the most popular parental control device on the market.
- OpenDNS – we’ve provided free set-up details.
We’ve recently found OpenDNS to be glitchy with our internet service, which is why we’ve moved to CleanBrowsing’s clean DNS for every device in our home, including the router.
Related post: How to Block Porn on Any Device. For Free!
Layer 3: Enforce parental controls on the Android device.
Remember, the device will often be using a data plan or be connected to a wireless network that is not under your control.
Android parental control option #1: Family Link
In 2017, Google released Family Link, which is their own version of Apple’s Restrictions for controlling how a device is used. Family Link is available for anyone under 18, but lacks some of the flexibility we would like to see with middle and high school users. The most recent update to the app extended its supervision features to kids aged 13-18.
Here are the current Family Link features on both platforms:
1. On your own parental device, download the Family Link app from your app store (Google Play for Android or App Store on iPhones). Even though you can only control an Android device used by a child or teen, the parent can use the Family Link app from either an Apple or Android device.
(Family Link App Icon)
2. Follow the three steps given by Google. At step two, you’ll be asked to create your child’s Google Account. This would be the only place where allow you to create a Gmail account for a child who is under 13. For a child who is 13+, he/she can create an account through the normal Google channels and simply attach it to the Family Link set-up below.
Note – right now, Family Link can only be applied to Gmail accounts. If your child has an existing G-Suite account issued by his/her school that ends in @schoolname.org, then unfortunately that account cannot be set up with Family Link.
The assumption is that the school’s G-Suite controls will hold that account in check (which means parents should ask school IT directors to explain the school’s process when that account is accessed outside of the school’s network).
Related Post: Google’s Family Link Support page.
3. Pay for your Family Link account. This happens during step 2. Don’t worry – it only costs $0.01. Google does this to ensure you’re an adult that has a credit card to pay for the account.
4. Note – as you go through the Family Link set-up will also receive a series of emails for (1) Creating a Family, (2) Informing you about Family Link features, and (3) confirming your $0.01 payment. You can add more family members later, too, from the Family Link app.
5. Click the 3 horizontal lines in the upper left of the Family Link app. From there, click “Family Group” and then “Supervise family member” as shown in images (1) and (2) below. Google will ask you whether or not he/she has an existing Gmail account. If not, they’ll walk you through establishing one. If the child already has a Gmail account, you’ll type it in and be walked through a series of set-up steps. These set-up steps will look slightly different depending on whether or not the child is age <13 or 13-18.
6. (If setting up Family Link for a teenager’s Android) Go get your child’s device and download the Family Link for Teens app, which is shown in image (3) below. Open it up and with the parent and child devices side-by-side, follow the set-up steps, starting on each with what is shown on images (4) and (5) below.
The interesting part here is that if the child is age 13-18, Google goes out of its way to let the teenager know on his/her device that there’s a parent who is trying to supervise their device. And “are you sure” is asked multiple times on multiple screens.
7. Once the set-up steps are complete, then the parent can browse the available controls in the Family Link app on their phone (iPhone or Android) and there are quite a few. This is shown in images (6) and (7) below.
YouTube Note: For your child <13 who uses Family Link on their Android device, regular YouTube isn’t available and kids are forced to watch YouTube Kids. If a teen is using Family Link, >13, then it’s up to the parent to control the YouTube app by setting Restricted Mode (unfortunately, on mobile, you can’t lock in the Restricted Mode setting).
Related Post: YouTube Restrictions Set-Up
BONUS: if you’re interested in receiving Family Link news directly from Google when new features are released, you can subscribe here.
Android parental control option #2: Mobicip, Covenant Eyes, or Bark
Even after you’ve set up Family Link, you might still want something that you can use on multiple devices. Meaning, if you’re a home with a few iPads, an Android tablet, a MacBook, and a Chromebook, then you’ll want something that allows you to control all of the devices centrally, since Family Link obviously can’t do that.
- For kids up to age 14, Mobicip is our recommendation.
- For kids 14+, you should consider more of a monitoring solution like Covenant Eyes. Use coupon code “protectyoungeyes” for 30 days free!
- For all ages, especially those that use social media, you’ll want to highly consider BARK, which monitors devices for certain words and sends an alert to parents. On Android devices, Bark is especially potent, drilling deep into social media activity like no one else.
*Don’t forget that most cell providers have their own suite of parental controls, but other than Verizon, they are pretty weak. Verizon Family Base. AT&T Parental Controls. T-Mobile FamilyWhere. Sprint Safety & Control.
Layer 4: Have awesome conversations.
Finally, look your kids in the eyes and talk to them often about all of the awkward things that no one talked to you about. You can do it!
April 2019 Update
Verizon has a new phone plan just for kids. It includes 5 GB of data, unlimited texts/calls to 20 contacts, and Verizon’s parental controls included. Check out this article for all of the details and to see if it is a good fit for your family.
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*There are affiliate links throughout this post because we’ve tested and trust a small list of parental control solutions. Our work saves you time! If you decide that you agree with us, then we may earn a small commission, which does nothing to your price. Enjoy!