Google's Family Link helps parents manage kids' phone use

family link
Credit: Google

Kids are naturally responsible, so no parent ever has had to limit the amount of time their child is spending on a mobile device.

Oh, the opposite is actually true? And it can be a challenge? Enter Google, who has come out with a new product that helps parents monitor and manage how and for how long their kids are using their phones or tablets. So how does it work?

In IT Blogwatch, we only get two hours of screen time. 

So what is going on? Joe M. has some background:

Google announced a...service that it hopes will make parents' jobs of managing their kids' use of their electronic devices...more efficient. Google is calling the...service Family Link, and although you currently need an invitation...to...start using it, there appears to be plenty of tools to ensure that young-ones stays as safe as possible when using their Android-powered devices.

And how does Family Link help ensure that kids are staying safe on their devices? Michael Simon fills us in:

With Family Link, parents of children 13 years and under will be able to approve or block the apps they want to download...monitor how much time they spend using apps with weekly or monthly activity reports, set daily screen time limits, and remotely lock your kid’s device when it’s time for a break or past their bedtime.
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Additionally, parents will be able to remotely manage settings and content for Google SafeSearch and the YouTube Kids app, see the location of their child’s device, and allow a second family member...the same controls you have over your child’s account.

How do parents get and set up Family Link? Rohit KVN has the details:

To get started...Parents have to install Family link on their Android smartphone...[and] create [a] Google Account in the name of the children (under 13) on a new smartphone via Family Link...As of now...Family Link is available in U.S. and...through invitation. Interested users can apply on the official website.

But why is this important? Larry Magid explains the legal issues:

The Children’s Online Privacy Act (COPPA)...requires verifiable parental consent before a site or online service can collect or use personal information from kids under 13, and it’s virtually impossible to offer many services...without collecting some personal information.
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Most services comply with the law by...prohibiting kids under 13...In the meantime, millions of kids have created accounts on Facebook, Google’s YouTube, Snapchat and other services, simply by lying about their age. And...many children do so with parental permission or assistance.

Ok, that is one aspect of it. What about from a parental perspective? Jason Cipriani tells us what he thinks:

What caught my eye...is that you can view how much time your child is spending in each app...and set daily time limits -- after which the device locks until the following day. You can also remotely lock a device on demand when it's time for dinner or bed.
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My excitement isn't just about bedtime, but more so about ensuring device use is healthy...By viewing raw data of...how much time each one uses a device, and how much time is spent on specific tasks, we can adjust usage behavior to benefit everyone.

But could this be a way for parents to keep too close a watch on kids' internet usage? Stephen Shankland assures us it isn't:

Although parents can see what Android apps kids used...they can't see things like what websites they visited or who they sent messages to or e-books they read. Kids can also find out exactly what parents see, because they get the app, too.

So can you use this on any device? Not quite. Edward C. Baig has that info:

The kid’s device must be running Android Nougat 7.0 or later. A parent can run a device dating as far back to Android KitKit...Google...is working on an iOS version of the parent (but not kid's) phone too, but the timing of a release isn’t clear.

So are there any downsides to this? Brian Fagioli can think of at least one:

Unfortunately, there is one big catch -- it requires Android 7.0. This is a problem...most Android devices are running older versions of the mobile operating system.

So what about when kids are older than 13? According to Ryan Whitwam Google gives you some options:

Family Link is only for kids under the age of 13, but you have options as soon as the child hits that age. Parents and kids can keep using Family Link...However, Google will reach out and give the birthday boy or girl the option of transitioning to a regular Google account, over which their parents have no control. I imagine most will take Google up on that offer. I hear teenagers are rebellious.
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