Android Device Parental Controls: A Comprehensive Guide

Life today is significantly different for young children growing up during the age of the smartphone. Unlike just 15 to 20 years ago, our kids don’t know a world before everyone had immediate access to almost any kind of content and information imaginable in the palm of their hand. Unlike their parents’ generation, technology is instinctual and 2nd nature to children growing up today. Consequently, kids are becoming adept at using devices at nearly inconceivably young ages and are increasingly at risk of being exposed to non-age-appropriate content.

This highlights just how crucial it is to set a good foundation for your child’s digital well-being. Not surprisingly, establishing this foundation comes from taking the necessary measures and precautions that prevent them from being exposed to harmful content.

Fortunately, there are plenty of steps you can take when it comes to parental controls on various mobile devices. In this article, we’ll give you a step-by-step guide to setting parental controls on Android phones and tablets.

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Shared Android Devices Versus Dedicated Devices

Before we dive deeper into the various nuances of Android parental controls, there are a few things to consider:

  • Are your Android devices shared throughout the family? Do your children have their own dedicated devices? Your answer to these questions impacts the way you’ll need to set parental controls.
  • Enacting total control over a child’s screen time can actually have a negative effect. When people feel like they’re being watched closely, it’s proven to increase anxiety. Therefore, offering the right amount of independence and autonomy to your children is a must online. That said, it’s still necessary to maintain the ideal amount of protection over your child’s screen time.
  • Remember that placing limits on screen time requires a delicate balance. While some parents may think that strictly limiting screen time to one hour is beneficial, that’s not always the case. Research suggests that it’s the type of screen time versus the length of exposure to content that makes all the difference. If a child is watching high-quality kids’ videos for over an hour, for instance, slightly longer screen time can have a positive effect vs. consuming content such as unboxing videos or other content that provides no educational value.

With these points in mind, here are a few step-by-step guides for setting parental controls on Android devices, depending on your specific scenario.

Screen Pinning

For smaller tots and kids who may just be starting to explore technology, screen pinning is a great way to lock your Android device to one app without needing to worry about them accidently accessing something they shouldn’t. Before handing over your device, take the following steps:

  1. Ensure the desired app you want your child to use is open in the background
  2. Open Settings and tap Security
  3. Turn on app pinning
  4. Press the square Overview button on your Android device to open the multitasking screen
  5. Find the desired app and tap the app icon
  6. Select Pin to activate screen pinning

Your device will now be locked into the selected app and require a parent to enter the device’s pin or use the device unlock method in order to disable screen pinning. Otherwise, the pinned app will not allow the user to exit the app or access any other controls on the device.

Google Family Link and Setting Limits

Google Family Link provides parents and caregivers a robust set of easily accessible parental controls, with features such as:

  • Viewing app activity
  • Managing installed apps
  • Setting screen time limits
  • Locking devices
  • Locating devices

It’s also worth noting that Google is not claiming they provide a 100% successful solution for internet safety and parental controls. As an ambassador for internet search and browsing, Google aims for safety throughout any user’s experience. It acknowledges the inability to make the internet magnanimously safe for everyone.

While Family Link provides tools to manage your child’s online experience, it does not make the internet safe. Rather, it is intended to give parents choices about how their kids experience the internet, and encourages transparent discussions about internet and screen time usage.

If your Android device is compatible with Google Family Link, click or tap on this download link and simply follow the prompts in the app.

Creating Profiles

Anybody using a shared device can create separate user profiles, so they don’t have to continually change parental control settings.

Fortunately, this process is relatively simple. To create the desired number of individual profiles, follow these steps:

  1. On the device’s home screen, go to System > Advanced
  2. Select Multiple Users
  3. Select Add User then select Okay
  4. Select Set up Now
  5. Unlock the screen to set up your Google account and other information
  6. With your child, set up their account along with any additional information

It is then possible to set customized restrictions under your child’s account so that those same protocols don’t affect your own account.

Restricting Purchases and Content in the Google Play Store

Through the Google Play Store, parents can restrict access to downloadable and purchasable content based on maturity level via the following steps:

Restricting Content

For family members with their own account:

  1. Open the Google Play Store app
  2. Select Menu in the top left corner, then select Settings followed by Parental Controls
  3. Turn Parental Controls on
  4. Create a PIN that only parents or guardians know
  5. Select the kind of content to be filtered
  6. Decide how to filter/restrict content

For family members with accounts managed by Google Family Link

  1. Open Google Family Link
  2. Select your child
  3. Select Manage Settings followed by Controls on Google Play
  4. Select the kind of content to be filtered
  5. Choose your preferences for filtering/restricting content based on maturity level

Again note, that these parental controls aren’t 100% fool-proof. Children can still access Google Play apps or content their guardians have previously purchased prior to setting parental controls. Children can also get to otherwise inaccessible content through direct store links.

Restricting Purchases

Lastly, it is possible and important to restrict paid apps and in-app purchases targeting children via the following steps:

  1. Open the Google Play Store app
  2. Select Menu followed by Settings
  3. Select Require Authentication for Purchases
  4. Select All Purchases to ensure a pin is required to make any kind of paid purchase

Some Final Thoughts

The above guide provides a solid foundation for effective parental controls on Android devices. Plus, there’s a wealth of other apps out there that can further bolster a safe internet browsing experience for your child.

However, these methods pale in comparison to a parent or guardian exercising their own personal form of vigilance when it comes to their child’s screen time. When parents are actively engaged and aware of their child’s online behaviors, it contributes to a healthy relationship with technology and the internet, as well as setting a solid foundation for your child’s digital well-being.