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  • Many parents are skeptical about giving a smartphone to their young child or teen as it can have many negative uses. However, if you set up the phone the right way, you can suppress most of the negative sides of a smartphone.

    I can’t even imagine leaving my kids at home or any other place without giving them a way to communicate whenever needed.

    On top of that, a smartphone like an Android phone opens a whole new world of fun and learning opportunities for children and other benefits like tracking their exact location to keep them safe.

    However, how can your kids reap these benefits of a smartphone without the negative sides affecting them?

    All you have to do is

    • Restrict the websites they can access
    • Limit types of apps they can download
    • Control the amount of time they spend on the phone
    • Lock phone on command whenever needed
    • Track all of their activity on the phone and keep a record
    • Track their location when the phone is with them

    What? A bit too much? It’s not, trust me. All the things mentioned above can be easily done in a few simple steps, and you won’t even need to use more than one app to make it happen.

    Below you’ll find the complete guide to set up an Android phone for child use whether you bought a new phone or want to child-safe an old one.

    #1. Create a child’s Google account

    The first thing you need to do is create a dedicated Google account for your child, which will be under your supervision. This special account will have child-safety restrictions by default, and you can control its activity remotely. Here’s how to create one:

    If it’s a new phone, then Google will ask you to create a Google account on startup. You can go to Settings > Account & Sync > Accounts and select Google to create a new Google account for old phones.

    Here select Create account option and select For my child from the drop-down menu.

    Google will ask for the regular account creation details, like standard accounts, including name, date of birth and username, etc.

    Provide the required information and sign in with your personal Google account to authorize the child account creation.

    Once done, Google will recommend you to download the Google Family Link app on your phone and Family Link Child app on the child’s phone. It’s a parental control app by Google that is entirely free to use, so make sure you allow the app to download as we will be using it to complete all the tasks.

    Creatte child's Google account

    If the automatic download doesn’t work, you can always manually download the parent and child app from the links I provided above.

    #2. Set up Family Link app

    Once the Google account is set up, you need to set up Family Link app on your child’s phone.

    To do so, open the Google Family Link app on your child’s phone, and it will ask you to Activate Family Link Manager. Activate the link manager, and Family Link will show a list of currently installed apps to review and delete if needed. As Family Link can’t delete already installed apps, so you have to do this manually yourself.

    Check installed apps

    Once the apps are reviewed, the Google Family Link app will be ready to take commands from the parent app.

    There is no particular setup required for the Family Link app on the parent’s phone. As soon as you open the app, it will show the child’s account for you to view and control.

    Now let’s see how you can use Google Family Link to set up parental controls and tracking to keep your child’s activity in check.

    #3. Add parental controls

    The first thing you want to do is control the content your child is going to view. This includes apps, videos, and website your child can access. To do this, open your child’s profile in the Family Link app and tap on the Manage settings button at the top. This will show a bunch of ways to filter content that I will be explaining below.

    open-child-account-settings

    #4. Control app installation and purchases

    Google uses an age rating system to control apps your child can download. Tap on the Google Play option and then tap on Apps & games to select the type of apps and games you want to allow. You can choose from apps rated for ages 3+ to up to 18+. You can even remove the restriction entirely if you wish.

    On the previous page, there is also an option of Purchases & download approvals that you can use to restrict purchases of apps/games, both new ones and in-app purchases. I will recommend you make sure your child has to get approval for every purchase as games and apps can be very tricky at enticing children to tap a button or two to purchase content.

    Parental controls for Google Play Store

    #5. Manage YouTube content

    Going into the YouTube content filter will ask you whether you want to use the YouTube Kids app or the main YouTube app. If your child is younger than 8 years, I recommend you disable the main YouTube app and only allow YouTube Kids. YouTube kids app is much safer and has enough learning and fun content for younger kids.

    However, if your child is older than that, using the regular YouTube app is recommended (with restrictions, of course). This is because the YouTube kids app lacks many educational YouTube channels that are really good for older children.

    Make your choice, and the app will show further options to manage both YouTube apps. You can set age limits for both YouTube Kids and YouTube apps, and there are links to remove access to any of these apps on demand.

    You can also pause watch and search history, so YouTube doesn’t recommend new content based on the child’s search and watch history. If you don’t want the child to stray away from the type of videos you allowed them to see, I’ll recommend enabling these options.

    Control YouTube content

    #6. Control which websites child can access

    In the Google Chrome filter, you can manage the websites they can access in it. By default, this setting blocks all types of known sexually explicit and violent content for your child’s account. If you want to give your child a free hand to search the web, then this default setting is more than enough to keep them safe.

    If you want to further block any websites, tap on the Manage sites button under the Try to block explicit sites section and select Blocked. A new page will open where you can add the URL of the websites you want to block.

    Block websites in Chrome

    However, if you want to completely block the child from searching for anything other than the preset allowed websites, select the Only allow approved sites option.

    Once selected, tap on Manage sites under it and select Approved. On the next page, add the websites you want to allow the child to access.

    Allow websites in Chrome

    #7. Control individual apps

    The above three settings will help you control the apps, videos, and websites your child can access. However, if you want complete control, you need to know how to control every app installed on the phone individually. This will also prevent kids from using alternative apps to evade the restrictions imposed above.

    On the main profile of the child, the App activity section will be at the top. Here tap on More under the list of apps used recently. This will open the list of all the default and third-party apps installed on the phone with an hourglass icon next to them.

    Tap on this hourglass icon, and you will see options to block the app, set a time limit on its usage, or always allow it so it may not impact the daily time limit (more on this below). You can use this section to block any app you don’t want your child to use or at least put a limit on it to minimize the use.

    Manage individual apps

    #8. Set daily screen time limits

    Probably the most frustrating thing for parents is the child’s continuous use of the phone. Controlling content inside the phone is essential, but putting limits on allowed content is important too. Google Family Link will enable you to set hours daily during which your kids can use the phone.

    The set hours will only affect screen time and consumption when the child is using the phone. Once consumed, the phone will lock with a message that your parents have locked it, but they can still use the call feature for emergencies.

    Here’s how to set up daily limits:

    On the main profile page, scroll down to the Daily Limit section and tap on Edit limits.

    Here you will see a whole week’s schedule where you can tap on each day to set a number of hours to allow screen time. You can set up to 8 hours of screen time or no limit at all (like for weekends). You can also decrease the number to zero to lock the phone for the whole day.

    Set up screen time

    There is also a Bedtime section at the top where you can schedule bedtime every day, so the phone is automatically locked during bedtime even if the daily limit hasn’t been exceeded. Furthermore, you can also give some extra time manually if the child pulls out the puppy dog eyes trick once their daily limit exceeds.

    #9. Track phone usage and location

    Even though restrictions have been put on phone content and screen time, you still need to track what they are doing on the phone. What types of apps they are using, and if they have installed any new app, you disapprove.

    On the same profile page, tap on More under the App activity section. You will see a list of all the apps with recently used apps listed at the top. Below each app, the total usage time is mentioned.

    There is also a bar chart at the top that shows the child’s phone activity on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

    If you want to see the newly installed apps, go back to the main profile page again and scroll down until you reach app installs section. Here you will see all the newly installed apps.

    Track child app activity

    You can also track the location of your child’s phone. Although, think of it as more of an extra benefit rather than controlling your child’s phone activity. You can see the exact location of your child’s phone to track your child’s location (if it’s with them).

    To do so, scroll down on the main profile page until you reach the location section. If the location tracking is enabled on the child’s phone, you should see their exact location on a map with the address at the bottom. There are buttons to add labels to the location, get directions to it in the Maps app, and refresh to get the latest location.

    Track location

    Final thoughts 👩‍🏫

    I am personally delighted with the Google Family Link app as it offers almost everything parents need to keep a check on their child’s smartphone activity. A few years back, I used 3 different third-party apps and some built-in Android functions to do precisely what Google Family Link offers in a single interface.