Family Link: do you know it, maybe you already use it, or have you never heard of it? This free service from Google allows parents to monitor, control and limit the use of applications, or the consultation of websites, of their children. How it works ? What hardware is required? Explanations.
We have already talked about it several times: Internet access is a great wealth from many points of view, but it can be a source of danger for mental health, especially among the youngest. Most parents monitor what their offspring watch on television or on the family tablet (movies and series, channels, duration of the cartoon, etc.). Therefore, when the Pandora’s box that is the Internet suddenly opens, without filters, without precautions for use, without education in digital life (it is still in its infancy in schools), there can be dramatic consequences for children. Shocking images, inappropriate content, excessive presence on social networks, pornography… these are just examples.
Especially if screen time is unsupervised. In this regard, according to recent data, 56% of parents increased the daily screen time of their child under 13 by at least 1 hour and 11% by at least 3 hours during confinement. However, the WHO (World Health Organization) recommends a maximum daily screen time of one hour for children under 5, while Parentia recommends 30 minutes. More worrying: another study states that 35% of parents have little or no control over what their children under 13 do online.
So how to guard against it? How to prevent young children who are starting their digital life (on social networks, it’s officially 13 years old for Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, but you may need to do Internet research before this age) from infringing, often unintentionally, to their mental health?
We must first educate and monitor, that’s obvious. Parents must themselves know the many digital tools involved, even master them (and this is not always the case), before they can explain them to their children. Explain, then limit. Alas, there are no driver’s licenses or internet police, so you also have to watch and coerce. This is not an easy task, but there are ways to achieve it. And what could be better than integrating this means into the very heart of these tools, namely Android (for phones and tablets), and Chrome (for browsers or Chromebooks). Yes, I’m talking about a software solution signed Google, him again. And it’s called Family Link. As often with Google, it’s completely free.
What controls are we talking about?
Given its ambitions (to control the applications downloaded and their use, as well as the websites consulted by children), Family Link is a solution that must be taken the trouble to implement. It will take some time and thought when setting up children’s devices and then when you want to authorize a site or app. But it’s worth it, because it’s well-developed and well-integrated with operating systems.
What can we do ? Mainly, as I just said, having control over the devices used by your children (smartphone or computer, see below). By control, I mean (but it’s quite configurable, it’s not fixed):
- Define which apps can be installed/used on a phone
- See how long you use these apps, and set limits per app (example: 30 minutes a day on YouTube Kids)
- Automatically lock phone use after a certain amount of daily use
- Authorize the consultation of this or that website (we speak of “domain”, in the sense that, if you authorize a Wikipedia article, all the pages of fr.wikipedia.org will be authorized) on the Google browser, Chrome.
- (small bonus, but it’s more sensitive) It is possible to know where your child’s smartphone is, and therefore a priori your child, if he is out for a walk.
All this goes through an application or a site, Family Link, accessible to parents. It is therefore necessary to create “a family”, by linking the Google accounts of the parents, and by creating new ones for the children. Via this application, you can monitor/define your child’s digital activity (see usage statistics for example), and you can authorize or deny access to a site/application – it’s very practical because you receive a notification that allows you to directly accept the request.
Which devices are affected?
As you know, Google is very present in our digital lives, whether at the level of search (its origins), the browser (Chrome), basic computers, very cheap and endurance based on Chrome (Chromebook) and above all, 80% of smartphones in the world (which run on Android). It’s such extensive and accessible coverage that it makes it pretty obvious to me the choice of Family Link to stay in control of your children’s digital beginnings – unless you’re “iPhone & Mac” families with nice budgets to spend on everyone’s phones and computers.
For my test, I had a Chromebooks at 199€ and Android smartphones (prices vary widely). And a 10-year-old child, incidentally. It is not a question of social networks at this age, but of limited and controlled access to applications and websites. For the exercise, I created a ‘child’ Google account for my daughter, and configured the Chromebook (total time: 10 minutes):
Then she used the browser to do a Google search, which brought her to Wikipedia and a news site. Each time she went to a new domain name (like fr.wikipedia.org), she had to click on “request authorization”. In the second, I received a notification on my smartphone. Pressing “allow” and she could continue her search.
You will have the same kind of experience with a android smart phone (re)configured with the ‘child’ account, which must be linked to your ‘parent’ account. Each application request must be approved, and you can control and limit the durations of use of applications as well as the phone in general (to control “screen time”).
It’s extremely smooth, Google’s devs got it right, and features get refined over time, as does performance (I remember a few years ago – Family Link was born in 2017 – it’s was a more complex).
On a Windows computer, like on an iPhone or iPad, it is only the Google software installed on these machines, and on which you will indicate the ‘child’ account, that you will have any influence. So mainly the Chrome browser (to install) and the search tool (to install too). Google’s solution therefore has very little interest on these machines, which of course use other ‘in-house’ solutions: Microsoft Family Safety and ‘Family Sharing and Parental Controls’ from Apple. Note: they are just as free as Google’s.