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The only consensus among parents about theright ageIn order for a child to have unlimited access to a smartphone, there is no magic number.

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But when you sign up for Family Link, Google's new parental control software for managing Android phones for kids, Google decides for you. At age 13, a child can choose to graduate, as Google calls it, or break the restrictions and be given the keys to the Internet Kingdom and all the good and bad that comes with it.

Too bad, because at first glance, Family Link has what it takes to be a winner. It's free, well-designed, and packed with thoughtful features to regulate a child's smartphone usage, like the ability to control how often a game is played or even block a device when it's time to play.

Almost all of these benefits, however, are undermined by Google's decision to allow children to lift the restrictions once they reach their teens.

"The fact that the kid can graduate on his own is absurd," he saidJesse Weinberger, a speaker on cybersecuritywho makes presentations to parents, schools and law enforcement officials. "It takes away the power of parents, which is a big no-no."

Google made Family Link available for public testing in March, although the software is still in development and is invite-only. Before launching, I tested the parental controls for a week, reviewing the features and policies with child safety experts.

Bottom line: If you're considering buying an Android phone for your child but want to restrict access, there are better parenting apps that give you more control. Or you could buy your kid an iPhone that has limitations that cannot be easily removed.

A general vision

Family Link has many benefits that can be of great help to parents. To set it up, request an invite to the programPage web the googleand wait for an email with a link to install the software. The app is available for both iPhone and Android devices.

Within the app, you can create Google accounts for your children and share information such as their names and dates of birth. Then, when your child signs in on an Android phone, the device will prompt you as a parent to sign in and install the Family Link app on the device so it can be monitored.

From there, Family Link is very easy to use. On the parent's phone, touching the child's account profile will bring up a list of options. You can track a child's location, which can be useful for security purposes or picking up the child from school. You can also approve or deny apps a child is trying to download; So if you have any doubts about Snapchat or any addictive game like Boom Beach, just block the apps. Parents can also get a weekly report to see how often a child uses a specific app, e.g. a game, and discuss responsible software use with the child, or temporarily block the app.

Parents can also use Family Link to set Internet browsing restrictions for children. You can enable a filter that blocks adult websites, although Google recognizes that the filter isn't perfect and that some objectionable websites may bypass it. For a trickier approach, you can also require the child to get permission for every website they visit and block those they disapprove of.

Parents will likely love a feature called Screen Time, which allows them to set how long a child can use a phone each day. For example, you could give your child three hours of screen time on weekdays. You can also set regular bedtimes that will lock the device at specific times between 9:00pm and 9:00pm. and 7 a.m. M., for example. Before the device is locked, the child will receive a notification; When the screen is locked, the child can still take calls to talk to the parent or tap an emergency button to call the police.

Caroline Knorr, the breeding editor ofMedia with common sense, which rates family-friendly content and products, praised the Screen Time feature and noted the difficulty in getting kids to put down their phones. But he said meeting the deadlines and schedules would be difficult. A child may not have finished working on a science report when the screen locks at 9 p.m. At that point, parents would have to unlock the device manually, he said.

"It's not a set-it-and-forget-it thing where parents are like, 'Oh great, this is going to solve all my problems,'" he said. "We're still learning this technology, and life is very unpredictable."

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Why 13?

All those neat parental controls begin to unravel the day the child turns 13. At this point, Google gives the child the option of being free of the Family Link restrictions or sticking to them, and I can't imagine a child choosing the latter. .

Saurabh Sharma, Google's product manager for Family Link, said the policy was designed because 13 people can sign up for Google accounts without parental consent. This aligns with a federal regulation in the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act that prohibits companies from collecting data from children under the age of 13 without parental consent.

However, I would say that Google should draft a policy in the best interests of parents. It could allow parents to decide when the child has demonstrated safe and responsible smartphone use and has lifted all restrictions. This can happen when the child turns 13, 15 or even 17 years old. But kids shouldn't be allowed to delete settings just because they're 13 years old.

"It's hard to understand why a parent would give a child a phone and then turn off all of the functionality through the app and then give them all of the functionality once they're 13," said Ms. Knorr of Common Sense Average. She said the age of 13 refers solely to federal regulations, not child safety or developmental guidelines.

For comparison: includes Apple's iPhonerestrictionslike restricting adult content on websites, disabling in-app purchases, and preventing a child from running out of cellular plans. Restrictions can only be changed or removed with the correct access code set by the parent, regardless of the child's age.

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Google's Mr Sharma said Family Link is still in the testing phase and the company is still collecting feedback from parents on issues like age guidelines.

"It's a complicated subject," he said. "It's hard to figure out what works for each family."

bottom line

If you agree that your child should have unlimited access to a smartphone by the age of 13, Family Link is an excellent product. But how can parents predict that?

Ms. Weinberger, an expert on internet safety, said she's heard stories from parents and children about a 9-year-old pornography addict, a fourth-grader who was "sextorted" by a 13-year-old, and child predators who stalked minors across the internet. social media apps. In other words, every child, regardless of age, is at risk.

For Android users, Ms. Weinberger highlighted a parental control product calledQustodio, which parents can use to monitor their children's text messages, disable apps at certain times of the day, or even turn off a smartphone remotely - restrictions that don't go away when a child becomes a teenager.

He called Family Link "depressing" because of its age policy.

"We want our children to have some access and we want to be able to choose," he said. "We need Google in particular to lead here."


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