How to Use Android Parental Controls to Keep Your Children Safe Online

In today’s world, kids are more connected than ever through their phones, computers, and anything with a screen attached. While these connections let children grow as people, create new bonds, and even find new ways to entertain themselves, the internet isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

How much do you really know about your child’s browsing habits?

What games they’re playing?

Who they’re talking to online?

It’s impossible to keep tabs on your child’s internet habits on your own. This is where Android parental controls step in to help you keep your children safe and protected in today’s connected world.

Related: 13 Secrets to Detect Android Spyware and Secure Your Privacy

Why is My Children in Danger?

In March 2014, it was reported that nearly 40% of children aged eight to eleven access the internet every day. These statistics have only gone up since then as access to the internet is easier and easier to come by, even without you knowing about it.Not everything online is dangerous, but a child browsing and using the internet will eventually come across something harmful if they’re unprotected, uneducated about the dangers, and unsupervised.

Before you can keep your little one safe, you need to understand what you’re protecting them from. Not every game, or everything on the internet is out to get them, but without proper supervision or strategies, your children could be exposed to a world full of violent media, information thieves, cyber bullying, pornographic content, and sexual predators. 

There is significant benefit to letting your kids have access to the internet. From educational games, access to almost infinite knowledge and resources, and entertainment options from music to movies, there is much to be gained from allowing your children some online access. But assuming it’s all ok is naïve, and not all of the potential threats come from a person on the other side of the screen. Apps can compromise children’s privacy and be as much of a risk online as a cyberbully or other threat.

If you don’t think it’s possible that your child could ever be involved in anything dangerous online; in March 2015, during a survey, over 60% of surveyed parents had children under the age of 18 who made unauthorized purchases online. Nearly a year has passed since then, and with the rise of technology, this number can only increase if children aren’t monitored, or given proper online strategies to stay safe.

browsing-child-safety

It’s a dangerous world out there, but your children aren’t defenseless.

How Do I Keep My Children Safe?

There are three major ways you can make sure your children stay safe with Android online. I’ll go into these topics with more depth later, but for now, look at these examples.

Teach older children internet safety strategies:

  • Don’t be afraid to educate your children on the dangers of online threats. For children over the age of 13, this is particularly effective.
  • Explain safe use strategies about using social media to protect their identity.
  • Warn them of the dangers of cyberbullying and its effects.
  • Communicate with them about their internet habits, and your own.
  • Try to get involved with your kids using Android devices.

Use Android’s built in systems to keep younger kids safe:

  • Use systems like screen pinning to make sure young children don’t access forbidden parts of your Android.
  • Enable different user profiles that have limiting features.
  • Set time limits for Android use with young children.

Enable child safety apps for kids with their own Android devices:

  • Download and enable apps that are difficult to remove to bar children from unauthorized content.
  • Use apps to monitor their online activities from a young age to make sure they’re safe.
  • Install apps that aren’t intrusive, but provide a safer environment.

When your children are the right age, remember to educate them properly about the internet and its use. There will no doubt be times where they use the internet without supervision, so it’s crucial that they understand what is acceptable, and safe to engage in.

 

Strategies to Keep Your Children Safe on Android (Ages 12-17)

I cannot stress the importance about talking to your kids about staying safe online enough. Therefore, before I get to the apps and systems that are good for younger children, I want to briefly cover some strategies for older kids. 

If you just want my app recommendations, please skip below this section.

The biggest online dangers teenagers deal with are the ones lurking on social media. In just a few clicks, the information your children readily gives out on social media can and will put them in danger. This easily opens them up to predators, and cyberbullies.

That’s why I have a few strategies and topics that you need to discuss with your children to make sure they stay safe. Even if they don’t absorb all the information, it’s important to get the idea across.

Topics to Discuss with Your Older Children and How to Approach it

There are three main topics that are important to bring up with your children: social media, cyberbullying, and gaming. Almost all children ages 12-17 engage in, or have seen examples of all three of these topics on Android. If they don’t know how to handle these topics from a trusted parental figure, they’ll be forced to learn from other, less than desirable sources.

talking-child-safety

Let’s start with social media. Since almost every child in this generation uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr, it’s important that your children know about proper online etiquette, and how to keep themselves safe from online threats.

Author Tricia C. Bailey has compiled some great Do’s and Don’ts, and general information about talking to your kids about social media, with some helpful information from experts in the field.

dos-and-donts-child-safety

Taking on the topic of cyberbullying follows closely behind social media. Preventing cyberbullying, learning to how deal with it when it happens, and reporting cyberbullying are  all about awareness. If you don’t where to start about cyberbullying, stopbullying.gov is a great resource for prevention, help, and is good at teaching both parents, and children.

Gaming on Android is an easier topic to grasp, but harder to approach. When buying games offline in a brick and mortar store, age ratings are there to warn you as the parent about what your child will experience. Games in the Google Play Store, or even other places, have rating systems in place, but there are few barriers to underage downloads.

Unless you individually approve all the games your kids play on their Android devices, or set up a system that prevents them from being downloaded, restricting access to something like this is difficult.

When you can, talk to your kids about what games you feel comfortable with them playing if you’re afraid they’re playing anything they’re not yet equipped to handle.

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Using Built-in Android Systems to Keep Your Kids Safe (Ages 2-6)

Above, we mentioned the systems already in place for Android devices to help keep your kids safe. Whether this is something on your own phone or tablet when you hand it off for someone else’s use, or an Android device with kids specifically in mind.

The reason why the age range for this section is so low is because kids older than six can work their way around these systems easily enough. A child who’s five or younger won’t figure out a way to undo the protection.

child-lock-child-safety

The goal of this section is to show you what your Android devices can do without any added downloads, or services, even if it isn’t much. If you want recommendations for child safety apps, those are just below this section.

Android Systems for Supervision and Safety

There are only three ways you can make an Android device child friendly without downloading any extra services. You can:

  • Pin one app so only that app will be available. (Android 5.0 and above)
  • Setup a new user profile with restrictions. (Android 5.0 and above)
  • Create new age restrictions in the Google Play Store

If you’re running a version of Android below 5.0, your only child friendly option is setting restrictions for the Google Play Store. This is helpful, but won’t protect your kids when using apps already installed.

Since two of these systems need Android 5.0 or above, I’ll go through enabling parental controls on the Google Play Store first.

How to Setup Google Play Store’s Parental Controls

Thankfully, this is as easy to explain as it is to complete. All you need is access to the Google Play Store, and a good enough memory, or a piece of paper so you don’t forget the password you set.

  1. Launch the Play Store

    Access the Google Play Store from your home screen, or app drawer.

  2. Go to Your Play Store Settings

    Once you’re in the Play Store, either tap the hamburger menu (three stacked horizontal lines) in the Google Play search bar, or swipe from the left of the screen to bring up an extra menu shade.

    settings-hamburger-child-safety

    Once here, scroll down until you reach Settings, and then tap that option.

  3. Parental Controls and Key Creation

    Start scrolling down again, and eventually you’ll see the Parental controls option.

    parental-controls-child-safety

    Tap it, and then enable the new controls for your current user profile. Create a PIN or password you can easily remember, and then test the controls yourself to see if the restrictions are working, and suit your needs.

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How to Use Screen Pinning (Android 5.0)

Next up is screen pinning, this works like Google Play parental controls for restricting access, but this makes sure only one screen is accessible at a time.

  1. Find the Option

    If screen pinning isn’t enabled by default, you need to turn it on yourself in your Settings. Navigate to your Settings from either the app drawer, or by swiping down from the top of the screen, and selecting the gear icon.

  2. The Personal Tab

    Scroll down until you get to the Personal tab, and then select Security.

    security-child-safety

  3. Pin Settings

    In Security, scroll all the way down to Screen pinning. Toggle it On, and then decide if you want the device to lock when an app is unpinned. This way, to get out of the PIN, you need to get past your lockscreen.

    pin-child-safety

    With this set, the only way to get out of a pinned app is to know your lockscreen password.

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How to Setup a Restricted User Profile (Android 5.0)

Here’s where things start to get a little spotty. Setting up a new user profile on your own device for a child is easy enough, but on my own device I have no way to set restrictions. It is possible to set restrictions, and if your device can, you’ll see the option during setup.

  1. Pull Down the Shade

    After swiping down from the top of the screen, next to the gear icon is a user picture icon. Press this, to access available users on your device.

    profile-icon-child-safety

    Alternatively, go to your Settings, and under Device, select Users.

  2. A New User

    Regardless of what menu you’re on to see how many users your device has, select the plus symbol, or the new user button to start creating a new user profile.

    new-user-child-safety

  3. Let Your Android Guide You

    From here, your Android device gives you step by step instructions to setup the new user profile, and set user restrictions if possible. If you want to change these restrictions or setting at any point in time, access the user menu from your Device Settings, under Users.

    user-settings-child-safety

    This requires your PIN, pattern, or password to use properly.

     

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Apps to Monitor, Supervise, and Protect Your Kids (Ages 2-11)

For kids that are smart enough to crack through basic Android protection, and for children who have their own Android devices, parental control apps are a must. These apps will monitor your child’s online activity, lock them out of the darker areas of the web, and make sure they only see what’s appropriate for them to see.

child-protection-child-safety

While these apps are great for older kids, once they are old enough, it’s much better to explain online strategies for safety instead. Until that day comes, these apps below are some of the best free and paid services that you can use to make sure your child’s online Android activities are safe and child friendly.

  1. Safe Browser Parental Control (Ages 2-10)

    Safe Browser is a fantastic child friendly web browser that has an almost ludicrous amount of options for you to tweak, change, block, and whitelist. It even features a tutorial so you can learn how to set up the app in just minutes.

    safe-browser-tutorial-child-safety

    I feel like this app is perfect for younger children, but children over the age of ten will start getting frustrated with the limits imposed on them, and will try to figure out a way around the system.

    Pros:

    • Crazy amount of customization.
    • Has a tutorial for easy and quick set up.
    • Blocks a large number of unsafe categories, which can then of course be customized at will by the parent.

    Cons:

    • Is only free for 15 days, then you need to buy a license.
    • Requires another app by the same company to lock the app’s settings. Download link for second app provided on startup.

  2. Kids Zone Parental Controls (Ages 2-8)

    Kids Zone does just what its name implies, and turns your phone into a kid friendly zone that only lets children use approved apps until a parent uses their PIN to unlock the rest of the phone.

    zone-approved-child-safety

    I think the best age range for this app is 2-8, where you can hand off your Android device and only let your children use apps you think are appropriate. For older kids, it’s better to teach them why the apps you’ve restricted are blocked, rather than just blocking them outright.

    Pros:

    • Has a tutorial video that shows you how to use and setup the app.
    • Is easy to use even without the tutorial with its simple interface.
    • Locks easily and has a backup PIN system.
    • Can block internet access entirely.

    Cons:

    • Locks some features behind a paywall.
    • Useless if your PIN is well known.

  3. Applock (Ages 5-12)

    Applock is specifically for making sure your kids don’t pry into apps they shouldn’t, and it’s fairly effective at its job. However, for older kids, they’ll quickly figure out all the cracks in the system and get into those apps and files if you don’t keep an eye on them.

    applock1-child-safety

    Just don’t forget to change your settings around so Applock kicks in after resetting your phone.

    applock2-child-safety

    Pros:

    • Has a simple interface.
    • Does exactly what it says it does.
    • Leaves a very small footprint, and has a lot of options.

    Cons:

    • You need to enable extra securities manually.
    • Can be uninstalled if extra securities aren’t set.

  4. Funamo Parental Control (Ages 2-12)

    Funamo is well known name with Parental Control, but it’s also a much older option. It still has its merits, like being able to limit time with certain apps, and blocking websites, but the app isn’t the easiest one on this list to use.

    funamo-child-safety

    Kids over the age of twelve will be able to deactivate Funamo with enough research, so I can only see this app keeping younger children safe online.

    Pros:

    • Limits time on certain apps with different options.
    • Encourages safe browsing with its web blocker.
    • Is worth the time investment if you have the time available.

    Cons:

    • Shows its age with its outdated appearance.
    • Needs to have words blocked manually while blocking search keys.
    • Only has a 2 day free trial before you need to pay for the service.
    • Setup can be confusing.

  5. ShieldMyTeen Parental Control (Ages 8-17)

    ShieldMyTeen is used for complete and total monitoring of your child, with GPS tracking, message monitoring, and more.

    shield-child-safety

    When setting up ShieldMyTeen, please take the time to manage individual settings within the app, if you don’t, your child can just uninstall the app as quickly as you installed it.

    Pros:

    • Can monitor your child’s location.
    • Logs SMS and MMS messages for you to keep track of.
    • Filters web browsing.
    • Blocks access to problem apps that you select.
    • Use remote access features from the ShieldMyTeen web based dashboard.

    Cons:

    • Takes some time to set up all the features you need.
    • Can be uninstalled easily if not secured properly.

  6. TrueMotion Family Safe Driving (Ages 15-17)

    TrueMotion is less for keeping your kids safe online, but for making sure they stay safe on the road with family GPS tracking. Once your kids reach the age where they can drive on their own, tracking where they become a must.

    driving-child-safety

    The app even rates your driving so you can see how well your kids are driving on their own, and if they’re distracting themselves on the road with their phone.

    Pros:

    • Lets you track the whole family, not just your kids.
    • Rates your driving and gives you a score and things to improve on.
    • Shows where your kids are going, where they’ve been, and patterns in their driving schedule.

    Cons:

    • Can be disabled, so users must be willing.
    • Still counts using hands free devices as distracted driving.

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Conclusion

The way you protect your children online changes depending on their age, and their involvement with technology. If your child has their own Android device, it’s a whole different balancing act than them just using your phone every now and then.

Parental control apps are great to keep your kids safe when they’re younger, and there are even fun apps specifically for kids around that age to use, and learn with.
However, when your kids are older, apps and control tactics aren’t nearly as effective. For older kids, sitting them down, having a talk, and treating them like an adult ready for added responsibility is always the best solution. If your child views you as a friend they can talk to, protecting them online becomes much easier.
Have any parenting tips you’d like to share about online Android safety? We’re open to comments below, and always appreciate your insight.
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Comments (34)

  1. BIll Ingue on

    One app that actually works and can filter content and block apps is Qustodio. I’ve tried many of the others and they’re actually not just limited but in many cases don’t work. Their filters for porn are easily defeated by the least tech savvy kid and they don’t do much else. Pretty poor. I’d recommend Qustodio. I’ve tried Funamo, Care4teen and the others mention and have found that they’re all lacking in certain key areas. I’m surprised that this article recommends them: a little research shows their limitations.

    Download Qustodio and stop worrying 😉

    • Mrs. England on

      My kids could uninstall Qustodio in just a few minutes because it does not reload very soon after the phone is powered off and back on. Then they discovered that moving it back to the SD card removed it from uninstall protection. Also Tech support never contacted me back during my 7 day trial so that I could see if there was a solution to this MAJOR glitch. $40 for 10 devices seems pretty reasonable, but not to have to pay it every year until the kids are grown.
      What limitations are there with Funamo etc.? I am using it now, but only get to try for two days and I wish I could pay $20 for a family license instead of per child because I have 6 children and it would be nice to be able to cover all their devices without breaking the bank.

      • Kathy on

        I am also using Funamo and I am quite happy with it. I tried Qustodio and others, Funamo was the only one that worked for me. Another big problem with Qustodio is that you can easily bypass their filter using the incognito mode in the browser. Funamo prevents this with their own browser. I bought 4 licenses together and I emailed them asking for a discount. They are very reasonable. Kid place and kytephone are too restrictive. They change the whole user experience with an Android device. I could not get Care4teen to work when I tried it and I did not get any reply from their support. I have not tried it again lately because I already have Funamo. Hope it helps.

  2. on

    Hey Joe, thanks for your comment. I see Mobileminder’s app doesn’t have that much of ratings and user base. Did you had chance to use this app? If so, please let us know exactly what feature of theirs you love the most.

    • Sarah on

      Mobileminder works great, but it’s not free. And I can’t get the GPS location to work.

  3. snowhite10 on

    I downloaded the Care4Teen for my sons phone. Opened the “safe browser” and typed in the p-word to see what came up. A list of websites came up and if I clicked on one, then it said that the site is blocked. The descriptions were not blocked. And if I chose “images” view from the search results I saw a lot of super nasty stuff. This app does NOT block image searching! No good.

  4. mom_dont_spy_on_me on

    If your kid is not a moron rooting will bypass all this and is relatively easy to do. Also the play store is not the only place where you can install apps from so kids could just download the .apk file for the app and install it.

  5. lynn on

    Is there a parental control app that will still work even if my teen puts her phone in safe mode? The problem I am having is that once the phone is in safe mode my parental control app that i have downloaded doesn’t work. I need to continue to have apps and the web blocked during school time.

  6. Daniellia Conger on

    I need to know what cell phones apps protect against incognito in browser?

    • Judy on

      Hi Daniellia,
      Just to make sure I understood your question correctly, you are looking for apps that prevent someone from using the incognito feature? =-)

  7. Adam on

    It sucks big way that Android (which has been around for years) doesn’t have parental control embedded – like Windows !
    You need a dozen of apps, root and some uber-parent skills to limit or block smartphone / tablet usage but time restriction really never works.

    • Judy on

      Hi Adam,
      It would be great if Android had that, but you never know, it just might have it in the future if we complain to Google enough. =-)

  8. Cindy on

    Spent entire day yesterday instaling and setting up on tablet and it’s a disappointing sham. 1. The Funamo Browser will block things, but one can just pull up Google or Youtube within the Funamo Browser, and nothing is blocked. This is with the individual Google and Youtube security / blockers enabled. Nothing ever defines what is blocked; G and Y have no standards; I was able to pull up any and every-thing. 2. Hence, you are left with entering every conceivable word on your own; the word blocker does work. 3. I specifically wanted the monitoring capabilities, the ability to see, from another device, what is being searched, played, texts etc. HOW is this accomplishmed with Funamo??? 4. GPS tracking???

  9. Keith on

    What about Covenant Eyes? Anyone here have any experience with them?

    • Judy on

      Hi Keith,
      I haven´t but hopefully, someone who has will pitch in with their experience. The app is free, so at least, you won´t have to pay to give it a try. =-)

  10. GWEN SHEARON on

    Sprint offers “Sprint Mobile Control” I can lock & unlock my childs phone from mine. I can determine apps available while its locked (3 apps) I can determine who is available for texting or calling some locked. Know what apps where installed & who called or texted her at any time. I won’t leave sprint because they are the only ones to offer it. Plus Sprint family locator allows me to track her whereabouts & lets me know when she is at school or at home. Love it!

    • Judy on

      Hi Gwen,
      That sounds like a great service. It sure offers a lot and I´m sure that many parents are also happy with it as well. Thanks for sharing your experience, I´m sure that many will be tempted into trying it as well. =-)

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