How to set up parental controls on Android devices

Before you hand over your smartphone or tablet to a restless kid, shield them from inappropriate content (and avoid surprise charges) with a few simple safeguards.
Photo: Tony Lanz, Toys: courtesy of Playmobil

Photo: Tony Lanz. Toys: courtesy of Playmobil

Have an Apple device? Find out how to kid-proof it here!

Strawberry Shortcake is a hero at my house. And that cute little dog from the PlayKids app? Godsend. What do these digital superstars all have in common? On a regular basis, they defuse potentially hostile situations…with my four-year-old, that is. Meltdowns in the car have been averted. An extra 20 minutes of glorious sleep on Saturday mornings has been granted. An hour of sweet, silent sanity for doing nothing in particular has been made possible. All by handing over my smartphone.

But, like many parents, we worry about our kid getting access to content that’s definitely not appropriate. Parental controls are a must to keep her safe online and prevent any exuberant accidental (or not) charges. If setting up restrictions sounds like a daunting task, don’t worry—we’ll break it down for you. Just remember: There’s no settings substitute for keeping a watchful eye on your kids while they’re using your precious smartphone or tablet. Make sure you’re still checking in every once in a while.

For Android users, setting up restrictions and controls is easy, but there are a few caveats. Android’s restricted-profile user feature lets you create and customize a profile for your child. Then all you have to do is toggle from your profile to your kid’s and hand over the device. But this feature is only available on Android tablets running Jelly Bean 4.3 or later, or smartphones running Android Lollipop 5.0. You can find your version and check for updates under Settings, then About Phone.

Setting up a new user is incredibly easy. Under Settings, then Users, simply add a new Restricted Profile user and give it a name. You’re the administrator of all users added. All apps installed on the tablet will appear in a list; just toggle the on-off switches for those you want your kid to access, and only those you allow will appear on the home screen when you select that profile.

If your device is running an earlier version of Android, you can prevent unwanted purchases and set up content filtering through Google Play store settings. In the Settings menu, scroll down to User Controls, and check the box next to Password (some versions of Android may have this next to “Require authentication for purchases”). This will request your Google account password every time someone tries to download a paid app or buy an in-app extra. For content filtering, under User Controls, then Parental Controls, you can set age and rating filters for apps and games, movies, TV, books and music. And you can apply further restrictions in the settings of individual Google apps, such as the Play Music player, Play Movies and YouTube.

If you want to go a step further, there are a couple of good free apps. AppLock is easy to set up, has loads of restriction and filtering options, and allows you to set a password for pretty much every app on your device. And Kids Place is a user profile app that takes over your device with an alternate interface, allowing you to select the apps you want your kids to have access to. It’s like the Android restricted-profile user feature but a bit more bare bones. Both apps are PIN protected and available in the Google Play store.

For a step-by-step guide to setting up parental controls, check out our video:

A device of their own

Time for a new smartphone or tablet? Don’t toss your old one. Here’s how to prep it for the hand-off:

1. Before you reset your old device, make sure you back it up. Go to Settings, then Backup & Reset, and toggle Back Up My Data. All your contacts and Google data will be saved in the cloud. Be sure to manually back up any additional media to your computer.

2. With your data backed up, under Settings and Backup & Reset again, tap Factory Data Reset to erase everything.

3. Restart the device and set it up like new, tailored with the apps you want, and implement the restrictions and filtering we’ve covered in the article.

A version of this article appeared in our January 2016 issue with the headline “Restricted access”, p. 38.

Read more:
Kids and responsible cell phone use
Is using a tablet to keep your kid occupied lazy parenting?
Children and cellphones: Rules that work

No Comments