Here’s how to track your kid’s digital footprint with Google Family Link

family link
family link

Managing your kids’ digital activity can be an exercise in frustration. Limiting the amount of time they spend on their various gadgets, keeping track of what they’re doing, and preventing them from doing something they shouldn’t, are all challenging tasks. But apps like Google’s Family Link are changing the paradigm.

Google’s new Family Link service, designed for kids under 13, gives you control over nearly every aspect of your child’s digital experience. You can approve or block apps he or she attempts to download from the Google Play Store, see how much time your kids are spending on their favorite apps, and remotely lock their devices. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Here is how to get started with Family Link.

Setting up an account

Right now, Family Link is only available in the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, and Canada. You can get started on the Family Link website, but you need a few key pieces of information.

First, gather the essentials. You will need:

  • A Google Account for your kid through Family Link
  • An Android device (running Android 7.0 Nougat or later) for your kid*
  • Your own Android device (running Android 4.4 KitKat or later) or iOS device (running iOS 9 or later)
  • Your own Google Account

*Family Link is also compatible with the following devices running Android 6.0 Marshmallow: Alcatel Dawn, Alcatel Fierce 4, Alcatel Pixi Unite, LG K3, LG Stylo 2 Plus, LG X Power, Samsung Galaxy Luna, Samsung Galaxy Tab A, and Sony Xperia X.

Family Link does not support Google accounts provided through work or school — you need a personal Google account, such as a Gmail account, to create an account for your child.

Download the Family Link app on your personal device from the Google Play Store. Then, install the same app on your kid’s smartphone or tablet and sign in with their login information.

You will be charged a $0.30 fee when you set up your child’s account in order to abide by “federal privacy regulations,” Google explains on Family Link’s FAQ. “We’re required to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children, and credit cards are one of the FTC’s approved methods. Payment is required so that you have the chance to see the payment on your credit card statement and object if consent was improperly provided.”

There is a limit of one Family Link account per device.

Manage your kid’s apps

One of Family Link’s most powerful features is its ability to help you manage the apps your children download and use. When they attempt to download an app from the Play Store, you will get a pop-up notification containing the name of the app, the app’s publisher, the average star rating, and the number of downloads it has accumulated.

In addition to basic app information, you see a maturity rating is also included in the download notification. In March 2015, Google adopted the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s (ESRB) content ratings. Apps like Google Maps get “G” ratings for example, while slightly more risque titles get “E” (for ages six or older) or “T” (for ages 13 and up). Armed with both the app information as well as its ESRB rating, you can approve or deny the installation.

Approving app downloads is not the limit of Family Link’s capabilities, however. Once an app is installed on your child’s device, you can control its permissions. You can deny the Facebook app access to the device’s camera and contacts, for example, or prevent a game from connecting to the internet.

While you’re welcome to approve each app individually, it’s certainly not necessary. Family Link allows you to set blanket content restrictions (i.e., nothing above “G”) for downloading or purchasing apps, games, movies, TV, music, and books. You can also create restrictions for in-app purchases and paid content.

Limit your kid’s screen-on time

Family Link lets you limit the amount of time your kids spend on their device in two ways: By setting a Daily Limit and by specifying your kid’s Bedtime.

With the Bedtime feature enabled, you can schedule a window of time when your child won’t be able to unlock their device. You can selectively impose limits on weekdays (9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sunday to Thursday, for example) or weekends (10 p.m. to 8 a.m. Friday and Saturday). Or, you can lift limits altogether on certain days of the week.

The Daily Limit option is a little less granular. You can specify a daily usage limit — a set number of minutes and hours your child’s allowed to use their device each day. Just like Bedtime, the amount can differ day to day.

If Daily Limit and Bedtime are not doing the trick, you can lock your kids’ device at any time with the Lock Devices Now option. They will be kicked off their tablet or smartphone immediately, and can only gain access again when you toggle the setting off.

It works even when your kid’s device is not connected to the internet. A special parent’s access code restricts the device’s features until you manually unlock them.

See how your child is spending time

Family Link provides a convenient way to see how your child is spending their digital time. You will get a weekly and monthly report showing how much time your kid spent with each app they accessed. A unified dashboard shows a summary of app activity over the past seven days. If your kid has spent more time in Candy Crush than in their Amazon ebook library, for example, you will see that.

The analytics page is also where you will be able to see the device’s physical location and fine-tune certain settings. The Google Chrome web browser, for example, lets you switch between three levels of access: Unfiltered, SafeSearch (where Google blocks explicit websites and more), and Restricted (where the child is only allowed to visit websites you approve).