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The Complete Guide to Google’s Family Link Parental Controls

Complete Guide to Google Family Link

The Complete Guide to Google’s Family Link Parental Controls

Parents are Supposed to Love Google’s Family Link

Google dominates so much of our internet experience. We use their browser (Chrome), their engine (Google), their devices (Chromebooks and Android devices), and their video hosting (YouTube). It only made sense that they would also create something like Family Link to help us better protect our kids from digital filth and excessive screen time.

Google has over $100 billion in annual revenue, over 85,000 global employees, and processes over 1.2 trillion search queries a year.

And yet, they struggle to meet parent’s needs when it comes to protecting our children. I tell parents in our presentations that I swear no one at Google has children. They just don’t seem capable of thinking like we do.

Family Link is Google’ attempt to give parents insight and oversight over how their children use Android and Chrome OS devices. It’s clunky at best.

And, it flat-out doesn’t work on Chromebooks. This is unbelievable to us. We were so convinced that we were doing something wrong, that we started a discussion thread on the Chromebook Central Help Forum convinced we were just missing an obvious step.

It just didn’t seem possible that Google would leave millions of teens unprotected on Chromebooks.

We were wrong. After 25 comments, 152 views from others in the forum, input from two Google product experts, and one actual Google employee, no one was able to make sense of Google’s own support articles about teens, Chromebooks, and Family Link. We were left speechless (here’s the thread!).

Below is our overall review of Family link.

Google Family Link

We’re going to talk about Family Link in four ways:

  • Android and kid <13-years-old
  • Android and kid 13+
  • Chromebook and kid <13
  • Chromebook and kid 13+

Each is (frustratingly) slightly different.

How to use Family Link on Android devices for kids <13

This is probably the most straight-forward use case. This is the scenario where young kids are using Samsung (Android) tablets or have an Android smartphone of their own.

Google’s instructions for using Family Link for kids <13 is solid. Our instructions provide detailed, screen-by-screen instructions to augment Google’s words. But unfortunately, it’s one of the least popular scenarios.

In order to set up an Android tablet or smartphone with a Family Link account for a child <13 years old, please follow our detailed instructions under Android (right here!). The basic steps you’ll read will include:

  • A parent will download the Family Link app on the Android or Apple device.
  • A parent follows the instructions in the app on the parent’s device.
  • A parent logs into the child’s Android tablet or smartphone with the newly created gmail account that is now controlled by Family Link.

In this situation, the parent has great control over the child’s online life. (Potential) Downsides include:

  • Forced YouTube kids as part of Family link, which some parents will see as too restrictive (even though we don’t think many kids <13 should be using YouTube without a ton of adult supervision).
  • If the child has a school Google-suite account that he or she uses to access school files, and the Android smartphone or tablet is what the child needs to use to access that Google-suite account, using Family Link isn’t feasible. Because Family Link requires using a newly created child Gmail account, this means you can’t get to the Google-suite account.

We truly hope Google provides some desperately needed future flexibility in how different Google accounts can work together, better.

How to use Family Link on Android devices with kids 13+

in September 2018, Google opened up some of Family Link’s features to email accounts belonging to teens 13+.

In order to set up an Android tablet or smartphone with a Family Link account for a child 13+ years old, please follow our detailed instructions under the Android section of our site. The basic steps will include:

  • A parent will download the Family Link app on their Android or Apple device.
  • A parent will follow the instructions in the app on the parent’s device.
  • A teen will download the Family Link app for children and teens on their Android device (this app was released in September 2018).
  • A parent and teen will work together to pair the parent and teen device.

For parents who set up Family Link for their children 13+, they will have great control over a child’s Android smartphone or tablet, as shown in the table below. The greatest difference between how Family Link applies to children <13 and children ages 13-18 is that children using Family Link who are ages 13-18 have the option to leave supervision because Google wants them to feel some agency over their digital behavior (leaving supervision notifies a parent, but it gives them some control over making the decision).

Family Link Table

How to use Family Link on Chromebooks with kids <13

Back in January 2018, Google mysteriously eliminated supervised users, the widely used method for parents locking in Safe Search and controlling a child’s Chrome OS experience.

In April 2018, Family Link added some Chromebook monitoring features. We provide screen-by-screen instructions in our Chromebook set-up guide

The basic steps you’ll read in the Chromebook set-up guide include:

  • A parent will download the Family Link app on their Android or Apple device.
  • A parent logs into the Chromebook with his/her credentials.
  • A parent downloads the Family Link app onto the Chromebook.
  • A parent adds the newly created Gmail account for the <13-year-old child to the Chromebook through the Family Link app on the Chromebook.
  • A parent uses their smartphone (iPhone or Android device) app to set certain account restrictions.
  • A child logs into the Chromebook using the newly created Family Link child account.

As an overall recommendation for parents, we just don’t think using Family Link on Chromebooks makes much sense right now. Stick with getting the DNS right on the router and the Chromebook (explained here), add an extension like Mobicip or Bark, and stay involved.

The reason we say this is due to the limitations:

  • Profiles for kids <13 are locked into using YouTube Kids. This is a real problem for kids in junior high, who are often required to use YouTube for school. In Safe Mode and under adult supervision, YouTube should be fine to use.
  • You cannot add any Chrome extensions to a Family Link profile. Meaning, you can’t add Mobicip’s monitoring on top of Family Link.
  • You cannot access school G-Suite accounts once you’re logged into a Chromebook with Family Link. This one totally baffles us.

We truly hope Google creates more flexibility in Family Link for kids <13 to alleviate some of these constraints.

How to use Family Link on Chromebooks with kids 13+

As of October 22, 2018, you won’t find anything in Google Support that addresses any of the difficulties of trying to set-up a teen with Family Link on a Chromebook. NADA. This was the reason for our extremely frustrating support thread mentioned above.

The conclusion: you can’t set up a kid 13+ with Family Link on a Chromebook. The only way to use Family Link for teens on a Chromebook is to first set up a kid 13+ by using an Android device (following the Android 13+ instructions above) and then simply logging into the Chromebook with the 13+ account you created on the Android. Therefore, for now, follow the Android steps above.

Our Conclusion about Family Link: B-

Don’t use it on Chromebooks for kids 13+. Consider using it for the other three scenarios, but it can feel complicated (Android <13, Android 13+, Chromebook <13). Google needs to clean it up. And, before telling the press that you work with teens, they need to clean up support articles to explain what’s going on! Overall Family Link is a step in the right direction.

 

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Living life to the full! That's why He died and how I try to live. I have an eclectic list of professional experience...CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director, now educational resource manager for Covenant Eyes. God shares wild ideas with me about life while I run. I want to show parents how to protect their kids from online dangers, which led to the creation of Protect Young Eyes. We recently created Virtue in Media, the first digital citizenship curriculum based on Scripture (www.virtueinmedia.com).

1 Comment
  • Craig Lambie
    Posted at 18:10h, 29 October

    We use Qustudio and just banging my head against the wall with this family link app. I think I am going to drop it as it is to hard basket.
    Has anyone here tried the Microsoft Family application? Similar but different.

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