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What is Google Family Link: The essential parental app when your kids get a mobile phone

What is Google Family Link and why is it great for parents? Here’s all you need to know about the Family Link app, which is an essential download when you’re thinking about getting your kids a smartphone of their own.

Google explicitly says that anyone under the age of 13 can’t create and run their own Google account, which is a must-have for anyone with an Android phone. After all, that’s how you get access to the likes of the Google Play store, to download fresh apps for your mobile.

So of course, kids do it anyway, parents allow it and inevitably things go wrong. To address this issue and help out families, along comes Google Family Link – an ideal solution for parents who are blessing their offspring with a fully-fledged smartphone.

So what is Family Link, how does it work and how can you get started?

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What is Google Family Link?

Google Family Link is a way for parents to create a Google account for their children who are younger than 13 years old. This allows the parent to monitor and censor content so that the child is protected, whether it comes to use of apps or online content. Parents can even control the amount of time their kids’ phones are used and cut off access if needed.

Google Family Link is, at its simplest, an app. This can be installed on an adult’s Android device and linked to their Google account. Doing so allows them to create a new account for a minor which can be used on another device (i.e. a phone owned by the child). Effectively this lets the parent setup their childrens’ handsets from their own mobile. When that device is then passed to the child, the parent can monitor its usage and gain direct control if necessary.

Other companies already offer parental control systems like Family Link, of course. For example, Amazon offers devices specifically made for children – like the Amazon Fire Kids Edition. This adds an element of tough hardware, but it’s the software that protects the children by limiting access, with all boundaries set by the parents.

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What are the best Google Family Link features?

There are plenty of features on the Google Family Link app that gives parents a better look at their child’s use of their Android phone, as well as direct controls to keep the kids safe.

For a start, the app allows parents to track their child’s current location via their device. Since your kid’s phone is always connected via GPS, that means pretty much constant knowledge of where the wee tyke is (as long as the mobile is switched on, of course).

Parents can set a bedtime for the device, as well as the hours of sleep the child should be getting. During this time the smartphone will not be accessible for use. There is also a quick sleep option that lets parents put their child’s mobile to sleep for things like dinner, homework or an early bedtime.

When it comes to installing new apps, the target handset will require permission from the parent’s device in order to complete the installation. In this way, Google Family Link ensures that kids can’t install whatever apps they like.

Parents can also view all of the apps that the child’s device has accessed over the last seven days or over the last month. More specifically, they can see how much screen time the child has had on the device. You can also see which apps have access to the phone’s camera and microphone, in case you’re worried about your bundle of joy posting videos of themselves online.

If the child in question loses their phone, the parental device can be used to make it ring so it can be found again. Should the child forget his or her password, the parent can also set a new one from their device.

There is a default search setting of safe mode on the child’s device – which is specifically aimed at keeping out adult content like porn. Using the parent’s device it is possible to loosen the safety levels to allow more freedom, if desired.

Of course parents are advised that Google Family Link is an extra tool and should not be relied upon alone to protect their children. Rather, it can be used in conjunction with parental judgement and real observation of the child’s use.

What devices work with Google Family Link?

In order to run a Google Family Link account, you’ll need a device for your child that runs Android 7.0 Nougat. This latest OS is all that will support the service, at the time of writing.

Here’s hoping the service will become more backwards compatible with older versions of the Android OS as it develops. After all, Google must realise that most parents won’t be giving their child a shiny brand new phone but more likely a hand-me-down device, which is likely to last all of three minutes once it leaves the house.

How can I get started with Google Family Link, and can anyone use it?

At the time of writing, Google is still in the early stages of rolling out its Google Family Link feature. At the time of writing it is a US-only project that parents need to apply for. Applicants will then be invited to download the app and get involved.

You can apply right now via the Google Family Link webpage if you live in the States.

When is Google Family Link coming to the UK? Well, Google has said the service will roll out to more users as it grows and expands in the near future. But we don’t have a specific timeframe for a European or UK release just yet.

How do I setup Google Family Link once I have the invite?

If you are in the US, have applied for an invite to use Google Family Link and have been granted access, you’re nearly there.

Simply install the app on your phone. Then get a new Android 7.0 Nougat toting device and wipe it back to initial setup status as if it’s new. Don’t set up that device locally, rather follow the process of setup via your phone using the Google Family Link app. This will allow you to create a specific under 13-year-old account that will then be up and running on the new device ready for your child to start using.