The State of Parental Controls going into 2019

Kids are now growing up in a digital age. Screens are part of their lives from day one. As they grow, they want to use devices and play games and do whatever everyone else is doing. I am not going to debate if this is a good or bad thing – but it is a reality. 

Major tech companies have taken notice and they have been (and still are in progress) releasing ways for parents to keep tabs on their kids’ device and screen time usage. 

Of course, the big three – Apple, Google, Microsoft – have their solutions. Also other players like Facebook, Nintendo, Sony have solutions for their products as well.

Apple

Let’s start with Apple. There are few different things Apple has had and now just recently came out with to help parents. Up until iOS 12 they had “Family” groups you could create – not so much for managing screen time, but for creating a group where family members can share purchases, location, etc.

As a parent you can set up an Apple/iCloud account for a minor and then incorporate them into your “Family”. A parent also had to set up “restrictions” in iOS settings for each device for a kid. Kids can ask permission to install apps, and parents devices get an alert to allow or deny. 

What NOT to do: I have seen too many parents just sign in as themselves and give their kids a device. Please DON’T do this! Kids can really mess up your accounts. Another thing would be just giving kid unmanaged device with no account. You lose a lot of shared benefits of having an account for your kid under your family.

With the latest release Apple came out with “Screen Time” – for users to manage their own digital wellbeing on their own devices, but this also lets parents manage screen time on kids devices under the family group. 

Screen Time - Kid Device Management

You then get a weekly report of Screen Time for your kid and can change settings etc through Screen Time on what apps are allowed, etc. 

So, what’s missing? Well – for one – some devices have TouchId or FaceId – how does a parent set that up and still get into a device physically? Up to you. For now on my family devices, no passcodes or 2 factor auth – it is just too much overhead and messy to manage with kids. 

Google

Google has something similar for managing kids devices – it is called “Family Link” – but you need to install and configure it. Similarly to Apple screen time you can manage what apps and time spent and other settings on devices. It works on Android devices so if you are running a Google Android device but your kid has an old iPad or iPhone you are out of luck. 

Google Family Link App

Recently they announced you can run Family Link on Chromebooks (ChromeOS) as well – but I have yet to get this working. It is supposed to work similarly to Android where you can manage the apps and see usage, set screen time etc.

I have found that Google support around Family Link is more responsive than other Google support I have tried to reach out to, but I still cannot get it working on my daughters Chromebook.

One thing to note as well, and maybe I can follow up on this one after I get it working – but you need to create a google account for your kid (just like Apple). If you manage it, it should be okay. But – your kid might already have a Google Account through their school district. It starts getting tricky here. You as a parent cannot “manage” that account. I think there is a way to link them. So the kid would login to your Chromebook with their kid google account, and then still be able to get to google classroom or login to chrome (google docs, etc) with the school account. Time will tell. It is messy right now.

YouTube (owned by Google) is another story. YouTube is really a cesspool of crap if you get down the rabbit hole. There have been many articles and cries for help to Google/YouTube to let parents better regulate what their kids see. YouTube STILL doesn’t let you block entire channels. This is a big miss.

Also, if you have shared devices (like an Apple TV, etc) with YouTube and you login as the adult – the kids sees your recommendations. What kids watch screw up your recommendations. Switching between accounts is not easy (Netflix does this pretty well).

YouTube Kids is an app that is made for “kids” – and is supposed to filter out junk – but it isn’t foolproof. Parents are usually going to take the easy route, and YouTube website/main app etc are going to be the go to. In my opinion – the filtering on YouTube and parental control is one of the big problems Google needs to tackle, and soon.

Google also has a bunch of features, not so much parental controls, that they are coming out for around Google Home around reading books with your kids, stories, etc. Try them out sometime if you can, they are pretty cool. With four kids in the house, reading to one of them, while one reads themselves, while the other says “Hey google, tell me a story” is a lifesaver, especially when one parent is away for an evening.

Microsoft

Microsoft has very similar setups to Apple and Google – but of course a little different. With Microsoft, you can setup an account for your child and tie it to your “family” – but you can use an existing email (so if you have a gmail or icloud from Apple or Google you can use that).

Microsoft Family Home Page

The only real devices you can manage from Microsoft are Windows devices and Xbox.

You can allow a child to login to a Windows device and restrict time and apps. One big miss here though is that you can only manage web browsing with Edge, and not other browsers. My kid uses Chrome – because they are used to it with Google Chromebooks at school, but I cannot manage their browser usage, etc. Big bummer

Managing Screen Time for Microsoft Devices

With Xbox you can manage screen time and game limits and ratings, etc. Works pretty well

Nintendo

Nintendo has an app you can download and tie it to your Nintendo switch. You can use it as parental control and set time limits and game limits etc. I don’t use it for that as I manage that pretty close directly with my kids but a nice feature of the app is it tracks play time, and that is good even to see for myself!

Nintendo Parental Control App
Nintendo Switch – Play Time

Facebook

Facebook. Not sure on this one as I deactivated my account recently and I am about to jump ship due to their creepiness, scandals, privacy issues, etc.

I did try out Facebook Messenger for Kids this summer. It lets your kid sign up just for Messenger for Kids, not Facebook. They can add their friends, but both kids parents have to allow it. Also, parents can limit usage time and also install the app on their device and see all messages, etc.

This app works well if your kid wants to message their friend from their old iPhone using iMessage – but their friend has their parents old Android device and it won’t work.

Netflix & Hulu

I mentioned it earlier, but Netflix does have a way to create a “profile” that is deemed “kids” and is pre-filtered to kids specific shows. You can set it for “little kids” or “older kids and younger”. This works fairly well in practice.

It is easy enough for kids to just change profiles though. Maybe having non kid profiles pin controlled would be a good addition? Also, we have one for “Family” that has things we might all watch together vs just Paw Patrol episodes 🙂

Profile for Kids in Netflix
Edit Profile – Kids – Netflix

Hulu has a very similar setup. Profile for kids, can see kids shows.

Choose Profile Screen on Hulu – Web
Set Programming to “Kid Friendly” – Hulu

Sony

Sony has a way to set up parental controls on Playstation. You can set up a profile for your kid – but you need an email address. You can restrict games and screen time, etc.

I have a Playstation but haven’t set these up myself as my kids don’t play on it. Yet.

Amazon

Amazon has a way to set parental controls, I really can’t speak to them as I have no real Amazon devices where you set this up – but here is a link to assist if you’ve read this far.

Summary

Okay, so there is a lot going on here. Your mileage may vary. Your family is going to be different than mine. More or less kids, different ages. Also, your tech profile won’t be the same. Different devices, platforms and operating systems.

As you can see, for the big companies, you need to set up an email address for your children and manage their profiles, and connect them to your family. Then they offer you ways to restrict time on devices and also different types of content, etc.

There are also ways some of the smaller or ancillary players let you manage children use time and parental controls. I hope you found this useful, hit me up in the comments with any questions!

Hulu+ ? Right now, not worth it

According to Gizmodo, Hulu+ Invites are Now Arriving.. Well, I got mine on July 16th. And I have already cancelled it. It isn’t worth 10 dollars a month, at least not a this point. Why?

Well, first off, your queue and shows on regular Hulu aren’t in Hulu+, so you can’t watch them on the iPad and iPhone, WTF?

Also, the shows they have archives for are mostly stupid one offs that no one watched when they were out the first time.

Hopefully once more shows sync up to the Hulu+ model and are on the main “Hulu” and + edition, I will look at going back to it.