It’s finally happened: Your kid is old enough to have their own smartphone. By the age of 11, half of all youngsters in the US have a cell, and your first thought after you’ve made the purchase is likely to be how you’re going to set up parental controls to stop them from wasting too much time on the thing and seeing stuff they shouldn’t be seeing (you know, everything you do).
The good news is that Android and iOS have gradually gotten better at offering built-in parental controls, so you don’t have to panic too much when it comes to what your pre-teen is getting up to. Quite how you’re going to manage when they reach the age that it’s time for these parental controls to come off is another matter—but you don’t have to worry about that just yet.
The first step in setting up an Android cell phone for your child is making sure they have a Google account that’s linked to yours. This is best done through the Google Family Link app on your phone: It’s available on both Android and iOS, and you’ll be prompted to create a child account the first time you run it. Further kids can be added by tapping the + (plus) button in the top right corner of the main screen.
With the new Google account for your child now created, you can use it to sign in on the Android device that you’ve gotten for them. During the initial setup process, sign in using the details that you’ve just created, and verify that you’re a parent by inputting your own credentials (just make sure there’s no chance of your kid guessing your password). You can then manage everything through the Family Link app on your own device.
You’re able to block apps, set screen time limits, and see the current location of your child (or rather, your child’s phone). Other controls let you manage Google Search filters, Google Chrome websites, and certain limitations on the Google Play Store—so no apps can be installed without your explicit permission, for example. If you want to let your child loose on YouTube rather than YouTube Kids, there are a few limitations you can set through the Family Link app for this as well.
Say you want to manage the websites your kid can get at through Chrome on Android. From the Family Link app, select your child and then pick Manage settings and Google Chrome: You’re able to choose from Allow all sites (except ones you specifically block), Try to block explicit sites (an automatic filter keeps your youngster away from unwholesome stuff), and Only allow approved sites (so you have to specifically allow a particular site before your child is allowed to visit it).
As with Android, if it’s an iPhone that your youngster has, then you need to create an Apple ID for them and link it to your own through a service called Family Sharing. This gives you control over everything from purchases on the App Store to filters on the web to what you can search for using Siri. Family Sharing also comes with benefits such as the ability to see the locations of your loved ones and the option to share subscriptions for services such as Apple Music and iCloud storage.
To create a new child account from your iPhone, go to Settings, then tap on your name at the top of the screen. Pick Family Sharing, Add Member, and Create an Account for a Child, then tap on Continue and follow the instructions on screen. Your youngster is going to need their own email address for this, so you’re going to have to set one up for them if you haven’t done so already. The new Apple ID you’ve made can then be used to identify your kid on the new iPhone.
After that, it’s time to put some restrictions in place, which you do on the child’s handset rather than your own. Screen Time (from Settings) is a good place to start: On the first screen you see, pick Continue, then select This is My Child’s iPhone (you’ll be able to enter a passcode to stop any of these options being edited). In Screen Time, you can control time limitations for apps, overall time on the device, access to specific contacts, and availability of explicit content in terms of music, movies and podcasts.
All of the options are fairly self explanatory and give you plenty of control over your child’s device. To block certain websites in Safari, for example, from Screen Time pick Content & Privacy Restrictions, then choose Content Restrictions and Web Content: You’re then able to put a block on known adult websites, or approach it from the other angle and only allow access to websites that have been specifically approved and added by you.
There are additional apps and services you can turn to for even more control, though these tend to be more effective on Android, due to Apple being more restrictive in terms of the hooks that third-party apps can get into the operating system. It’s also worth looking through the settings on the individual apps that your kids are likely to be using most.
Qustodio is one of the most comprehensive options around, covering laptops, tablets and ebooks as well as smartphones. You can set restrictions in terms of content, specific apps and screen time limits, and get reports on what your kid is up to, all through a clear and intuitive interface. Pricing starts at $35 per year for coverage across up to five devices, though you can try it out for free.
Microsoft has its own parental control offering in the form of Microsoft Family Safety, and this is a particularly good choice if your youngster is going to be spending a lot of time across Windows, Android and an Xbox (iOS is covered too, but it’s a bit more limited). A lot of the basics are available for free—they include screen time limits for apps and gaming, and content filters for the web and search—but there are a few premium features you can get access to for $10 a month.
As for those in-app controls, apps including TikTok have them, and they’re apparently coming soon to Snapchat. Instagram just launched its own options earlier this year: You can find them by opening Instagram on your kid’s phone using your kid’s account. From the profile page, tap the menu button (top right) and then Settings and Supervision—you can then send a supervision request to your own Instagram account and set limits on Instagram time and followers.