How to Control Screen Time on Android with Google Family Link
As a parent, one of the biggest challenges of modern times is managing what your child can do on their phone (or tablet) and limiting the amount of screen time they can have each day.
It seems like an impossible task, and it is certainly far from easy. Even if you successfully block one device, they’ll likely find another or turn on the TV and watch Netflix.
There’s no magic bullet, and you’ll still need to do some supervising (as well as hiding the TV remote) to make sure your child doesn’t see what they shouldn’t see.
Plus, you should sit down with them and talk about the dangers of unrestricted use and explain why you’re about to install an app that will let them control how much they use their precious device.
We’re not saying there won’t be arguments and tantrums, but since asking a child to turn off their phone and do something else is largely ineffective, here’s how to use apps and settings to control its screen time on Android phones and tablets (and Chromebooks too).
We’ll mainly focus on the Google Family Link app here, but if your child has access to other devices, such as iPads, iPhones, Windows laptops, and Macs, you might want to look into linking software. Parental controls that work on everyone and can enforce the time limits you set regardless of what device they’re using.
How to use Google Family Link
Family Link – at the time of writing this article – was advertised extensively on television. It’s been around for a few years now and was widely criticized when it launched for being a truly awful app.
In 2022 things are much better, and in our experience Family Link is doing what we want it to do. Here is a summary of its features:
- It provides an overall screen time limit, which can be different every day
- It allows you to set a bedtime: hours between which the device cannot be used
- For any given app (including games and social media), you can set a time limit, block it, or always allow it, whether daily screen time has been exhausted or not
- It allows you to approve or deny specific app installation requests from Google Play
- It allows you to see a child’s current location on a map (requires mobile data)
- Parents can install it on iPhone or Android to monitor and change settings on kid’s Android device
Many paid parental control apps fail to do all of the above, so Family Link is a good way to control screen time, all for free.
Family Link is designed for use with Google Child Accounts (i.e. accounts for children under 13). However, it also works with pre-existing Google accounts of children of any age, so you can continue to limit screen time for children over 12.
Note that Family Link does not block offensive content; it’s up to you which apps you allow your child to use.
Also, keep in mind that Always allowed apps will work even if the child’s screen time is used up for the day, but only until bedtime kicks in. This contrasts with Apple’s Screen Time where apps that are always allowed to run regardless of screen time limits and bedtime restrictions.
To set up and use the app, you’ll need both your phone and your child’s phone. The steps may vary slightly, but here is the basic process:
- Go to the app store on your phone – Android or iPhone – and search for Google Family Link.
- Follow the instructions to sign in to your Google account
- If you’re not already a family admin, follow the steps to set up a Google family and become the admin (or one of the admins)
- Choose an existing Google account you want to manage or create a new child account
- Install the Google Family Link app on the child’s phone
- Follow the instructions on the parent’s phone to pair the child’s device (this requires both devices to be within Bluetooth range)
- Choose from the list of apps already installed on the child’s device if you want to allow or block them
Once this first step in the process is complete, you can then use the Family Link app on the parent’s phone to:
- Manage settings such as purchase and download approvals
- Choose age restrictions for apps and games, movies, TV, and books
- Configure (or change) limits, including daily limits (total screen time) and bedtime
- Use app controls to set a specific time limit for each app
- View current phone location
- See total screen time used today (and historically)
- Lock the child’s phone to temporarily prevent them from using it
- Ring the kid’s phone to locate it when it’s been misplaced
Like other Google apps, Family Link uses a series of ‘cards’, so you have to scroll up and down to get to the section you want. It should list other devices than the one you just installed Family Link on which the child was signed in. You will need to install the app and pair these devices before time limits are applied to them. Until you do that, they will have unlimited use on those devices.
How to Restrict Content in the Google Play Store
If you don’t use Family Link, you can set similar restrictions on the apps, games, movies, TV, and books your child can download from the Play Store.
To do this, launch the Play Store app on their device and tap on the profile picture to the right of the search bar. If necessary, scroll down and tap Settingsthen touch Family.
Faucet Parental control and tap the toggle to turn them on – enter a PIN so the settings can’t be changed by the child.
Confirm the PIN, then you can access each section and set the restrictions you want to put in place.
The different headings are Apps and games, Movies, TV and Books. Unfortunately, music is no longer part of the categories.
Tap on one and you will see the different age categories available. Simply tap the highest age you want the child to have access to, then tap to safeguard.
Now whenever your youngster is in the store, they will not be able to download any content rated above the setting you have in place. The books are slightly different, in that the settings limit content marked as explicit rather than by age.
If you want to prevent children from freely purchasing content, return to the Settings menu and tap the Authentication title.
Press now Require authentication for purchases. Make sure “For all purchases made through Google Play on this device” is selected. They will now need your password to install apps or make in-app purchases.