Parental Controls: How to Manage Your Child’s Android Phone

In our previous post we talked about the need to have a little control over what your kids do on their devices, and some of the best ways to implement that on the iPhone (and other Apple devices). Today we’re going to go over how to accomplish some of the same things on Android devices.

Fair warning: the variability of Android devices on the market means that some features, settings, and options might not be available on your particular device. With that caveat in mind, here are some of the things you can do to keep your kids safe when using Android devices.

System Settings

While Android lacks an equivalent to the device restrictions settings on the iPhone, there are still some things you can do to control what your kids do on their phones. For one thing, any tablet running Android 4.3 or newer offers you the option of creating restricted profiles – separate user profiles for your kids that limit their access to certain apps, the Google Play store, etc. Phones running Android 5.0 or newer have the option to create secondary user accounts, too, but they can’t be restricted as heavily as they can on tablets. To create specific user profiles, head into your Settings app, then Users, and Add User. From there you’ll see the options for creating a new profile and the kinds of restrictions you can put in place.

Another setting that’s available for parental control is app pinning. This allows you to lock your phone onto a particular app, so that a child who’s using the device can’t switch to a different app or access any other features of your phone. To enable app pinning, go into your Settings app, tap Security, then Advanced, then Screen Pinning. You’ll be asked to create a PIN that you’ll use to unpin a pinned app later. Then open the app you want to pin, tap the Overview button, select the app you want to pin, and swipe up. You’ll see a pin icon at the bottom of the screen. Tap that, and the app will be pinned. To get out, hold down the Overview button, then input your PIN when prompted.

The main problem with these settings is that they mainly focus on a device that you’ll be sharing with your child, rather than a device that’s theirs. So what do you do if you want to have some control over, for example, your teenager’s phone? For that, we need to take a look at a few other options.

Google Play Controls

While Google’s on-device parental control options are a bit thin, the Google Play Store offers a fairly robust set of options for restricting what goes on your child’s device. To activate these controls, go into the Google Play Store on your child’s device and find the store settings. Tap Parental Controls and you’ll see a list of options for content restriction. You can set rating limits for games, movies and TV, books, and music. You can also adjust your password settings to restrict purchases – including in-app purchases.

Family Link

Recognizing the limitations of Android’s on-device settings for parental control, Google released an app called Family Link last year. This app largely closes the gap between Android and iOS when it comes to parental controls, and even incorporates a lot of the features you’ll find in Apple’s forthcoming Screen Time feature or in other device management services. It allows you to limit access to certain content in Chrome and Google Search, set usage allowances, restrict access to certain apps, and restrict content in Chrome and Google Search results. It also allows keeps logs of a variety of activity, allowing you to keep an eye on what your child is doing on their phone.

There are a couple of catches with the Family Link app, though. For one, it’s limited to children under the age of 13. Once your child hits 13, they have the option of either leaving Family Link in place, or taking control of their own Google account. It also can’t be used with preexisting Google accounts. If your 13-year-old already has a Google account, for example, you can’t add Family Link to it.

The Family Link monitoring app is available for both Android and iOS, but the monitoring and parental control features can, of course, only be used with Android phones.

Device Management Apps

In addition to Android’s relatively limited on-device restrictions, the parental controls in the Google Play Store, and the Family Link app, there are also a number of third party parental control apps that allow you to monitor and control what your child does on their phone. Many of the services we mentioned last time as being available on the iPhone are also available for Android devices – services like MMGuardian, Qustodio, Net Nanny, OurPact, Norton Family, and others. For a (usually) reasonable price, these services all offer a similar feature set, typically including web filtering, screen time allowances, app restrictions, and more. Additionally, they’re available for multiple platforms, and don’t include the age-related shortcomings of Family Link.