Google Family Review: How It Helped Me Keep My Children Safe Online
In our current digital world, it seems everyone has a cellphone, whether they’re six years old or sixty. The problem is, it can be difficult to control exactly how much time your child is spending on their phone, and, even more worryingly, exactly what content they’re accessing.
Nearly all of us have probably experienced the weird and wonderful workings of Google and accidentally ended up on a porn site when we were searching for something else entirely. Who’s to say the same thing won’t happen to your child? Well, Google themselves it seems. Google Family Link will not only give you complete control over your child’s phone, how many hours they spend on it each day, and what content they access online, but it will also help protect them against nefarious cybercriminals and online predators.
What is Google Family Link?
Google Family Link is one of a host of parental controls available for Android devices that enables you to keep tabs on your child through their cell phone. There are a few different features that make Google Family a great way of keeping your child safe both online and in the real world.
Not only will Google Family Link notify you if your child is attempting to download an app from the Google Play store, but it will also give you the GPS coordinates of your child’s location, so you always know where they are. Of course, if your child switches their phone off or leaves it at home, you won’t be able to track them, but, in this day and age, what self-respecting tween would do that?
Keep an eye on what your child is using their phone for by tracking their activity and encouraging more educational and productive screen time. Each time your child attempts to download an app from Play store, you’ll receive a notification that allows you to either approve the download or block it, depending on the suitability of the app in question.
Set limits on your child’s screen time and block their device once that time limit has been reached so they can begin to understand where the line is between enough and too much phone time. Similarly, you can block their device during mealtimes or at bedtime, so you know they’re not sneakily playing Angry Birds under the duvet.
What are the Benefits of Google Family Link?
Even the most money-conscious of kids doesn’t always realize that the money they’re spending on a gaming app is real. According to an article in The New York Times earlier this year, many children spend money online without realizing that its real or what the consequences will be. With teenagers racking up charges of thousands of dollars on in-game features like magic spells and flaming swords, parents can be landed with a bill that takes years to repay. In some instances, the child suffers as the money put aside for their education has to be used to recoup the expense.
With Google Family Link, you can create a rule that means you have to approve any payments your child attempts to make, putting you back in control of your finances. Of course, that isn’t the only benefit of Google Family Link but it’s a big one. Other benefits include being able to control what content your child accesses, and how much time they spend on their phones, giving them a better balance in life and teaching them about responsible browsing.
Another benefit of Google Family Link is that, by taking control of your child’s device, you won’t have to spend hours arguing about it every day. With over a third of parents complaining that a battle of wills over device usage occurs between them and their children daily, Google Family Link could help you create a quieter and more harmonious home environment.
What’s more, you could help nip nomophobia in the bud. Nomophobia is the name given to one of the latest fears of our technological age – the phobia of not having access to a smartphone or similar device. According to experts, people with this condition treat their phones almost as comfort blankets and, if they don’t have their cell phone nearby or the battery is running dangerously low, experience increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, and shortness of breath.
With Google Family Link, you start the process of preventing nomophobia at an early age by controlling how much screen time your kids have daily. What’s more, given that excessive smartphone usage is being connected to lower academic achievements, difficulty engaging with classmates, and reduced physical activity, getting Google Family Link set up could be your child’s saving grace.
The main benefits of Google Family Link are:
- App control – approve or deny app downloads
- Set up filters – restrict the apps your child can access and even what movies they can download
- Set screen time limits – restrict your child’s daily phone time to encourage a balanced life
- Monitor activity – receive weekly reports about your child’s phone behavior and disable apps you feel are taking up too much of their time or attention
- Enforce a bedtime – set your child’s device so it’s blocked at a certain time, encouraging them to get some beneficial shuteye instead.
How to Set Up Google Family Link
Whoever came up with the concept of an installation wizard should, in my mind, be given an award. These handy little programs make downloading and installing apps like Google Family Link both brisk and straightforward. Although getting the Google Family Link app operational on both your own device and those of your kids will take around half an hour or so, it’s a smooth, step-by-step process that doesn’t require a degree in rocket science to complete. To make the process even simpler and more streamlined, however, we’re going to talk you through it, step by simple step.
1. Download Google Family Link App
Install the Google Family Link App onto your Android device
2. Set Up a Google Account for your Child
Following the prompts on your Android device, set up a new Google account for your child. To complete this process, you’ll be asked to create a username and password for your child so its useful if you perform this step with your child present.
3. Agree to the Terms and Conditions
4. Give Parental Consent
By verifying your credit card information, Google confirms that you are an adult. A temporary nominal authorization fee may be applied to your card, but is usually reversed within 48 hours
5. Follow the Prompts
Once you’ve completed the first four steps on your own device, it’s time to grab your child’s phone and complete the setup there. This will require you to have both your own and your child’s Google account passwords handy.
Taking Control with Google Family Link
Once you’ve completed the installation and setup process, you’ll discover the depth and breadth of the control you now have. Following the on-screen instructions is simple enough and the user interface is neatly designed to give you easy access and granular control at the touch of a button.
Not only can you place restrictions on what kind of music your child can download, but you’ll also get weekly reports regarding which apps they’ve been using and for how long. This means you can always remove an app or temporarily disable it if you feel your child is spending too much time on it.
From your Android device, you use the Google Family Link app to apply the following limits and controls:
- Manage Google Play store downloads
- Prevent your child from downloading or watching movies that are not age-appropriate
- Control the websites your child can access and restrict their search engine options
- Lock your child’s phone so they can only receive or make calls
- Set limits on screen time
- Adjust content filters on YouTube Kids
Some restrictions are in place by default, including online blocks for any content rated “explicit” and certain limitations on your child’s photo-sharing options.
Other features, however, will be turned off in the default settings, including the location feature. This uses GPS to locate your child’s device and, in many instances, the associated child as well. It also means you have a better chance of reclaiming a lost device, although it does need to be both on and operational at the time.
The Google Family Link app is a well-designed, functional piece of software that requires only a very basic level of technical ability to utilize. If you run into any problems, you can refer to the Family Link support section online which also gives useful information on, for instance, how to block someone from contacting your child or report inappropriate online behavior.
Does Google Family Link Offer Sufficient Protection?
There are certain aspects of cybersecurity that aren’t covered by Google Family Link which is hardly surprising given how many different facets there are to protecting connected devices and the data contained on them.
If you’re not aware of the dangers of our digital world then you must be living in a cave without any means of connecting to the internet. Stories of just how much ransomware, malware, identity theft, and other cybercrimes are costing individuals, organizations and governments proliferate in the news every day and keeping your child safe online is even harder than protecting yourself.
Although the Google Family Link app can go a long way to keeping your child away from explicit content and inappropriate games and movies, it won’t do much in terms of protecting against hackers, man-in-the-middle attacks or phishing attempts. Neither will it provide a secure online experience. For those cybersecurity features, you need to look elsewhere.
Another disputed failing of Google Family Link for children is that it stops the moment the child becomes a teenager. While some believe a 13-year-old is competent enough to have full control over their online lives, others say that the fact that a child can choose to “graduate themselves is just preposterous”. According to internet safety advisor and author, Jesse Weinberger, Google’s decision to end their parental control app at 13 “takes the power out of the parents’ hands, which is a big no-no.”
It would be ok if it was up to the parents when their child graduated to online independence but, with Google’s Family Link, the power is in the hands of the child, making it difficult for parents to maintain any kind of control once their child turns 13.
How Else Can I Keep My Child Safe Online?
When it comes to online security, there are a host of other useful apps and pieces of software that will help keep your child safe. For example, if you want to hide your child’s online activities from potentially dangerous cybercriminals, you can use a VPN to keep them safe. A VPN is one of the fastest and most reliable cybersecurity products around and a single subscription gives you protection on three different devices, so you and your child can enjoy anonymous browsing.
Unfortunately, a VPN won’t prevent malware attacks, unpleasant viral infections, or even webcam hijacking. For that aspect of your child’s online safety, you’ll need a reliable antivirus, which will detect and deflect a wide range of threats, ensuring that your child’s phone or device remains secure, along with their private data. Additional cybersecurity tools include password managers which will help stop your child from using the dog’s name as their security key and help them keep track of their various passwords and keep their secure information up to date.
The Google Family Link app gives parents a high level of customizable control over their child’s online activities. From blocking contacts to restricted access to inappropriate content, Google Family Link for children is a useful app that’s simple to use and effective when it comes to easing the usual family conflicts over screen time and phone usage.
This well-designed app gives parents the ability to track their children as well as keep abreast of what they’re really doing on their phones when they claim to be researching a project for school. The Google Family Link app also means parents can avoid any unpleasant financial surprises by creating an automatic notification every time their child attempts to use their credit card to purchase a game or app.
The only real issue with Google Family Link is that it doesn’t go far enough for long enough. Children can opt-out as soon as they reach 13, after which, they have the right to go wherever they wish unless parents turn to an alternative means of creating and enforcing safety measures and other limitations.
It would also be remiss of any parent to believe that the Google Family Link app is sufficient protection against the cornucopia of online threats currently abounding in cyberspace. For full protection, you need to install a VPN and a reliable antivirus onto your child’s phone, as well as the Family Link software. While that may sound a little overwhelming and time-consuming, it will probably take under an hour and requires very little technical know-how. Either way, any time, effort, and financial investment are worth it when it comes to your child’s safety, both online and on the streets.