Skip to main content

With Family Link, Google is finally giving parents some much-needed help

There's a tendency to look at Google's newly announced "Family Link" program and scoff. And rightly so. On one hand it's very much the sort of family account we parents have been asking for for years.

To recap: This is a legit way to get your under-13 kid some smartphone experience. These "Family Link" accounts come with parental controls in place, without having to resort to the full MDM (that's Mobile Device Management, for those of you who have never raided your company's IT department) headaches of a custom Google Apps (erm, now G Suite) account, or without having to lie about their age.

While we'll still be giving our kids actual Google accounts, we'll have control over a number of things, including:

  • Downloads and purchases.
  • What they see in search results through SafeSearch
  • App permissions that are being used.
  • Search and content filtering in YouTube Kids.
  • Account password management.
  • Screen time limits.
  • Activity settings for the account.
  • Giving account access to another family member. (Because MDM shouldn't just fall on the shoulders of the head nerd in charge!)

Why would anyone scoff at that, when it's very much giving us what we've wanted? Because (in typical Google fashion) it's actually taking aim at the future and probably not doing as much for you right now. Start with the first requirement: A phone for your kid that's running Android 7.x Nougat. Most folks don't have one of those just laying around. And for that matter, 97.2 percent of all active devices (as of last week, anyway) don't fit that bill.

Secondly is what I mentioned earlier — so many folks have just created new accounts and fudged the age listed in the profile. And Family Link only works with new accounts. (At least they'll have the option to graduate to full-blown Google accounts once the kid turns 13.)

Update: Don't rush out to delete a kid's account and start it anew with under Family Link. At least not with the same name.

https://twitter.com/mdrndad/status/842515646697160705

Family Link won't replace actual parenting and policing of technology. But it should help.

Back to those bullet points above. Those are all good things to have, and they're things I'd previously tried hacking together through G Suite. But as anyone who's used Google Apps/G Suite knows, it's a second-class citizen when it comes to new (or even current) features within Google's products. And so after hitting one roadblock too many I put the kibosh on the custom account, rigged up something more proper but less-controlled, and have hoped for the best ever since.

And with that last sentence it's as good a time as any to remind ourselves that all the built-in parental controls in the world don't replace the ol' Mk I eyeball. I'm still going to pick up my kid's phone every now and then and flip through it. I'm still going to ask what it is they're doing on there. I'm still going to have them show me the apps that are important to them, and how they're using them to talk to their friends in ways that maybe I hadn't expected. (But, no, I'm not making my own Musical.ly account anytime soon.)

More: All you need to know on Family Link

Shannon And Mia

My kids will still be able to run across all kinds of awfulness in a web browser. They'll still be able to have all all sorts of conversations without my knowing. They'll still be able to take pictures and videos and have to learn that it's just as important to know when not to do that. And they'll still be able to fork over all kinds of data without thinking through the ramifications.

Google's Family Link won't change the fact that kids are kids, and parents are parents. And the two factions absolutely have to work together to minimize the pain and damage these pocket-sized computers can do — but also to teach about how much they can add to our lives.

But it should make it a touch easier. And when it comes to helping my kids make it through this crazy world, I need all the help I can get.

10 Comments
  • I'm scared to death about parenting my kids and technology, and I was a tech nerd my whole life. I want them to have as much fun as I did/do, but the dangers out there are so much different than the ones I had growing up. I'm just happy that my oldest is only 4, and hopefully by the time he's 8-10 that products like this will be more polished.
  • I read that you have to download the app on that device and create a new account through it. I don't understand why you can't use an existing account.
  • Yeah, this is a question of mine as well.
    Call me a loser or whatever, but I already have emails and accounts made up for when my son is old enough. I was lucky enough to get good emails for him....Would just be simple enough to use that for him.
  • Definitely can't use an existing account just yet. But I'm checking on what might be a workaround.
  • Definitely let us know if you find anything!
    I have a cobbled together set up for my older sons', but I would love something more reliable.
  • Will this work on tablets running Nougat? I'd like to try this out on my son's G Pad X.
  • It requires a device on 7.0? well that's definitely going to narrow down potential users. I guess it's a good thing I still havn't sold my old 6P so I can actually give this a shot. The ironoic thing is I forgot about the account age restriction and I was actually just trying to set my son with his own Google account last week. Hopefully my invite comes back quickly because this is something that we have needed for some time now. Although honestly I'm less than excited about having to hand my 6P to my son. I wish Google had actually pushed nougat to my Nexus 7 I would have beena lot more comfortable handing that one over. to him.
  • Just confirmed it works on an unlocked Moto G4 Plus running Android 6.0.1 even though it's not a listed 6.0 supported device. Setup was surprisingly easy.
  • Although the app is specifically for separate devices, I was wondering if it could be used to monitor activity on a secondary Google account setup on a single device. This would be helpful for testing.
  • I got three words for all parents out there... MMGuardian Parental Control. :) I am a Systems Engineer and have been in IT for 20 years and have been on the quest for proper parental controls on Android since the beginning. On the computer front, Microsoft's Family Safety fits the bill well enough for the most part although it is more *reactive* than planned and they don't support wildcards on filters to make it faster to block/add things. Anyway, MMGuardian is the bane of my kids existence and "the worst app ever!!" according to them. :D. It's pretty easy too, and while it has a free option but the stuff you want will cost $100 for 3 years and 5 devices. Download the parental control app on their phone, register and create the Admin password, then activate the anti-tamper features and your ready. You can configure from there but it's more convenient to use the parent app on your phone, or the Web portal. You can set times to lock / unlock the whole phone, lock/unlock individual apps, block/allow calls and texts, read them, be alerted to specific words, track location, filter the internet (and block all other browsers) and see general phone usage. I've tried a couple and this is by far the way to go. I'm actually working on a new blog to help parents getting this all going because I can only control MY kids devices, their friend likely have unfettered access to everything and that hurts everyone. -CK