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).
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):
4 Layers of Android protection: Location -> WiFi (router) -> Clean DNS on the Android device -> Family Link
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. For example, let’s keep all internet-ready devices out of bedrooms at night, where kids take more risks, and sleep is constantly interrupted. Daytime Chromebook usage in bedrooms might be totally necessary during virtual school, since the bedroom might be a child’s learning space, too.
Just know that the combination of boredom, bedrooms, and darkness (the Toxic Trio – watch the webinar!) can be tempting spots to make bad digital choices (whether you’re 14 or 40 years old!).
Related post: The 5 Worst Places for a Kid to be Online
Layer 2: Set up clean DNS on your home’s WiFi (router).
The Router is the most important digital hardware in the house! And, it’s often the most ignored. We joke that routers are the social distance champion of technology. But, get this part of your internet safety plan correct! You are responsible for every digital click on your home’s network, so be sure to control the router.
Popular options for parents are:
- Gryphon Advance Security & Parental Controls router. We have really enjoyed the Gryphon. Top-notch set of parental controls. This is the router used by our CEO, Chris, with his four children. It gives you time control, YouTube Restricted Mode, and more. Easy set-up and a parent app that allows you to pause the internet with one touch.
- Circle with Disney acts as an accessory to your router, giving you stronger parental controls over your home’s network. It’s not a router, but connects to your router. Easy-to-use app for you to exert screen time and app control over your kid, but weak on content (porn) with a motivated kid.
**Bonus content – we tested the best routers out there and here’s WHY we picked Gryphon.
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! Download the CleanBrowsing Android App – it’s awesome! Follow this link.
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).
Note: Family Link alone is not adequate for removing explicit content from device. This is why we push CleanBrowsing so heavily. Mobicip is also a really strong filter. The problem is with image searches. Although you can’t click through to websites, the image searches from DuckDuckGo, Bing, and others can show page after page of porn in the search results.
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).
Try Mobicip free today an all of your devices! Follow this link.
Bark is another tool that can be connected to a kid’s social media, 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:
- Verizon Smart Family
- Sprint (in the process of merging with T-Mobile, so in flux)
- AT&T Secure Family
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.
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.
Q: What is Nearby Share?
A: Nearby Share is a way for Android devices to quickly send media (files, pictures, videos, etc.) to other Android devices via Bluetooth and location technology. It is the Google-equivalent of Apple’s AirDrop. Our article on cyber flashing explains that this feature can be used to send pornography to unsuspecting receivers. As of August 2020, this feature is very new and few details are available. It is now available on select Pixel and Samsung phones but will soon be available on all Android 6.0+ devices as well as Chromebooks. Here are some tips to know, and we will update as the technology is rolled out to more devices.
- This article shows how to turn on Nearby Share, share content, receive content, and change who can share content.
- At this time, we do not know if this feature can be turned off using Family Link.
*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!