The Complete Guide to Android Parental Controls
Parents often wonder if Apple or Android is a safer device for their kids. Pro’s and con’s of both devices include:
- 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 monitoring Snapchat and Instagram’s direct messages (DMs), Instagram’s search (Explore) feature, and deleted text messages. All of these activities are either not possible, or in the case of deleted iMessage on an iPhone, are just more difficult and less accurate.
- Although both come with nice parental controls (Screen Time for iOS and Family Link for Android), the most recent version of Screen Time is so buggy that we now prefer Family Link [Related article: 12 iOS Screen Time Hacks, picked up by the Washington Post].
- Android’s Safe Mode is unfortunately a very effective parental control circumvention and only a few parental control solutions flag when it’s being used. We’ve been told that encrypting the Android phone might solve this issue by requiring a password, but we’re still researching this solution with Google’s Android Support Forum (last updated: Jan. 19, 2020, here’s the link to the support inquiry).
[updated December 20, 2019] We believe there are multiple layers that should be in place in order to adequately protect an Android device, which could be a tablet or a smartphone (e.g., Samsung):
Layer 1: Guard the location of the Android tablet or phone.
Remember, where kids use technology often dictates how they use their technology. We have strong opinions about controlling where kids use their tech. For example, let’s keep all internet-ready devices out of bedrooms, where kids take more risks, and sleep is constantly interrupted.
Related post: The 5 Worst Places for a Kid to be Online
Layer 2: Set up clean DNS on your home’s WiFi (router).
You are responsible for every digital click on your home’s network, and so be sure to control the router. Popular options for parents are:
- Circle with Disney – by far the most popular parental control device on the market for controlling devices at the router (and also with Circle Go on devices).
- CleanBrowsing – use CleanBrowsing’s clean DNS and block most known porn domains (FREE). Read all about it in our extremely popular DNS blog post.
- OpenDNS – similar to CleanBrowsing, but with enough loopholes that we really prefer CleanBrowsing.
We’ve also 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: Set-up a clean DNS on the Android device.
You already set up clean DNS on your router, but what about when the Android tablet or smartphone isn’t attached to your home’s router? Then we need to set up clean DNS on the device itself so that the bad stuff is blocked wherever the device goes. This is really important, because as you’ll read below, the blocking in Family Link is not good, allowing a lot of pornography to be accessed.
CleanBrowsing makes it so easy because they have an Android App, which will lock in their IP address with a password!
You can’t find it in the Google Play Store. Only on CleanBrowsing’s website.
Layer 4: Use Family Link on the Android device.
This high-level flowchart shows what steps are needed to set-up Family Link on an Android device (smartphone or tablet).
How do I set up Family Link on an Android phone or tablet?
The sequence is important. It looks like an overwhelming list, but you can do this! One step at a time.
- Download the Family Link app on your own smartphone or tablet (it’s available for both iOS or Android).
- If your child doesn’t have a Gmail account yet -> create a new Gmail account. If your child already has a Gmail account, then skip to step 2. If your child is <13 years old (in the United States – note that different countries have different ages that signal digital adulthood), then a parent will have to perform certain verification steps during the set-up process.
- Go to the Android phone or tablet and sign-in with the new child Gmail account you just created. If the child is <13, then Google will ask for parent permission for the child to sign in. If 13+, the smartphone or tablet will just allow the account to be added.
- Note: If this is your phone or tablet too, you’re out of luck. You can’t have a parent Gmail account and a Family Link supervised account both on the same device. Sign out of the parent account on the device.
- Download the Family Link for Children & Teens app onto the child’s Android smartphone or tablet. This is how a teen 13+ invites a parent or caring adult to use Family Link on the device.
- Child invites a parent or caring adult to supervise the Android device through the Family Link Children & Teens app.
- From the parent Google Family Link app, start at the top and work your way down.
- In settings, “safe search” (Google) and “block mature sites” (Chrome) are set by default. This is good, but click around. Note: if a child tries to visit a blocked URL, they will get a block page, and you will receive a notification in the Family Link app. It’s a nice feature.
- For example, “Location” is at the top, and you can use Family Link to keep track of where your child is.
- Under “Screen Time,” you may want to set limits for school or bedtime hours.
- Notice that you can check on what apps have been downloaded.
- Block porn: Even with CleanBrowsing in place, there are a few problematic search engines: www.aol.com and www.ecosia.org. Add them to Settings -> Chrome -> Manage Sites -> Blocked (we’re trying to have CleanBrowsing block these with the Family IP).
If you choose not to use CleanBrowsing, and you want to block explicit content, you’ll need to add every non-Google search engine to: Family Link app -> “Settings” -> “Filters on Google Chrome” -> “Manage Sites” -> blocked list. Otherwise, pornography is very easy to access.
Are any other parental controls needed on the Android device?
It depends on your situation.
Mobicip is a really strong filter and has a whole suite of controls that mirror Family Link. Some parents like having all devices using the same service, so in a mixed Apple, Android, Chromebook family, then Mobicip might work. It’s very reasonably priced ($49.99/year for the whole family and it’s our overall #1 parental control solution on iPhones, too).
Bark is another tool that can be connected to a kid’s email account and other parts of the device in order to identify troubling words and phrases. The service successfully identifies instances of self-harm, violence, explicit conduct -> it’s awesome. PYE has over a 1,000 families using Bark right now and it’s reasonably priced ($99/year for the whole family).
For teens (14+), you might want to graduate from Family Link to something more mature like Covenant Eyes, which uses the power of Accountability to change lives.
Finally, if you don’t think Family Link or anything we’ve suggested above is working for your situation, then you can always check with your cell provider. Each has their own parental control plan:
Android Parental Controls FAQ’s
Q: My kid has a school-issued Gmail account. Can he/she also use that account on the Android device?
In the Family Link App for Children and Teens, tap the 3-line hamburger menu in the upper left. Then tap “Add school account” from the menu. A parent will have to sign-in if the kid is <13.
Q: I’m concerned about my kid’s privacy on the Android device. Especially with the school monitoring. How can I protect it?
A: Read this: How to Protect Your Privacy on Android.
Q: Can I use both Family Link and Bark or Mobicip at the same time?
A: Yes you can layer them on Android (doesn’t work on Chromebooks because you can’t add extensions to Chrome for supervised accounts).
Q: Can my child use YouTube while Family Link is enabled?
A: Only if the Gmail account being monitored by Family Link is >13 years old. If <13, then they will be forced to use YouTubeKids (read our YTKIDS write up for more details!).
Q: Can I delete my child’s Family Link account at any time?
A: Yes! Just tap the 3 dots in the upper, right corner of Virginia’s screen in your Family Link app, tap “Account info,” then tap “Delete Account.”
they will be forced to use YouTubeKids (read our YTKIDS write up for more details!).
Q: I sometimes hand my young child my Android phone to watch something. How do I prevent him/her from accessing other content on the phone or downloading 10 new apps?
A: Wonderful question. There are a few options.
- Pinning – you can pin an app to the screen, which prevents the rest of the phone from being accessed. This is similar to the “Guided Access” feature on iPhones. Read more about pinning in the first paragraph of this Techwalla article.
- Limit app downloads – you can do this by harnessing the parental controls in the Google Play store. Read more about this option in the second section of this Techwalla article.
*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!