Kids are increasingly tech-savvy these days, and even a toddler will manage to use your Android smartphone or tablet in ways you didn't know were possible. Apart from running up a heavy bill in app and game purchases, this means your children may also be at risk from online predators and adult content.
But you don't have to live in fear. We're going to show you how to create user profiles for kids and set up sensible parental controls.
How to use Family Link
At Google I/O 2018 the company drew attention to Family Link, a recently released app that it says can help you to set some digital ground rules for younger kids. You can use it to create a Google Account for your child, manage the apps they use, keep tabs on their screen time, and set a bedtime after which they are unable to use the device.
The app is currently available in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the UK and the US, and on devices running Android 7.0 Nougat or later. It works only for children under the age of 13, though there is no lower age limit - that's for you to decide. Once they hit 13 they can take over the account if they wish.
Family Link does not block all offensive content; it is merely another tool you can use in your attempts to keep your kids safe online.
- Download the Family Link app on your own device (Android or iPhone)
- Launch the app and click Get Started
- Click Start on the 'Set up Family Link' screen, then follow the prompts to progress through the setup
- You'll need to answer a few questions about whether your child has a compatible device, and that you want to create a child's account and to start a family group
- Enter your child's first and last names and press Next
- Enter their birthday and gender, then press Next
- Choose a Gmail.com username and press next
- Enter a password and press Next
- Agree to the T&Cs, then add a credit card to which Google can charge £0.01 (used only to provide verification and donated to charity)
- Now it's time to add the account on your child's device. Turn on the phone and sign in using their account details
- Now enter your own Google password and press Next
- Family Link will now be installed on your child's device
- You can review any apps preinstalled on the phone as to whether your child should be allowed to use them, and you'll find YouTube is not available for kids
- Now back on your phone you should find controls for your child's phone. These include content filters, location tracking, app activity and screen time
- When you're happy with the setup you're free to pass the phone or tablet over to your child
How to add a user account to Android
If you'd rather set up parental controls on your own device rather than give your child their own phone or tablet, the best method is to create a separate user account for them.
We're using a phone running the Android Nougat operating system, but the process should be largely the same whichever Android OS you're using. You should note that the Users option has been removed on some devices, but you should be able to find it if you're running stock Android.
Launch the device's Settings menu (either via the app shortcut or the cog icon in the notification bar), then scroll down to and select Users.
Now tap 'Add user', followed by 'OK' and 'Set up now'.
The device will log you out and ask you to sign into the new user's account. As that's for a child in this case, you'll continue to make the settings.
Tap Continue, as in the image above left, then you'll be asked if you want to sign into an Android account. If you want to prevent your kids from downloading apps, games, music, videos and TV shows through Google Play, just tap on Skip Setup. You will still be able to download apps etc. via your own user account.
You'll also have the option to set up their email account, or tap Not now if you don't want to.
How can I restrict content in Play Store?
Assuming you do want to give your child access to the Google Play Store within their account, either sign in with your own Google account when prompted during the setup, or use their account if they have one.
Then, launch the Play Store app (this is in their user account on the phone or tablet still) and tap the 'hamburger' - the three horizontal lines at the top left.
Scroll down and tap Settings, then scroll until you see Parental controls.
Tap it, and you'll have to create a PIN code. Enter this twice.
Now the setting will be turned on and you can then tap each category to set how restrictive you want to be for each. For apps and games, the numbers relate to ages, so tap PEGI 7 is the child is between four and seven. Be sure to tap SAVE at the bottom of each screen.
Below the Parental controls master switch is shown a summary of which restriction is set for each type of content.
If you want to prevent kids from buying content freely, you can set a PIN that only you know which will be asked for when they try to download anything that costs money. To do this, go back to the main Play Store settings menu and tap on 'Require authentication for purchases'. Then you'll see a screen like the one below, right.
The Play Store isn't the only place to download apps and games, so it's important to make sure other sources are blocked. To do this, go back to the device's home screen, and drag down from the top of the screen again to get to the cog icon - tap it to open the Settings app.
Find the Security section (called Security & fingerprint on our phone), tap it and then check to make sure the Unknown sources switch is turned off (which it probably will be).