Setting up a kid-friendly Android device

Setting up a kid-friendly Android device

While handing your phone or tablet off to a child can offer a moment of peace while they are distracted by a game or video, there's a lot more to the experiences children can have in Android. Choosing the right device for them to enjoy is only part of the process, though. Android is primarily made for adults, so there's a little bit of setup necessary to make your average smartphone or tablet child-friendly.

Here's a quick tour through those steps, and some tips on keeping your child safe through Android.
Creating a new account, if you can

The easiest way to set a device up for a child is to set yourself up as the primary user and add your child as a restricted account. Primary accounts have admin controls over restricted accounts, which means you can select what apps are a part of their interface and control the kind of content some of those apps show your child. These accounts can be as open or as locked down as you choose, and you can make changes in either direction whenever you choose.

To get started, head to Settings>Users>Add user or profile. Make sure you select Restricted Profile in the options that pop up, and you'll be able to toggle on or off all of the apps you want this account to have access to. Some apps will have a gear next to the toggle, which means there are extra setup options. Google Play Movies, for example, lets you set content ratings for purchases and viewings.
Once these basics have been established, you can decide whether to add or create a Google account for this account. Google has a single account for everything, including apps, email, and their social network. Creating that account and attaching your child's name to it is a personal choice, but in doing so you make it possible for your child to decide what apps they want to install and what music and movies they want to enjoy without that data spilling onto your account and altering Google's recommendations for you.

Depending on what device you use, especially if you decide to grab a Wifi-only phone instead of a tablet for your child, this particular feature may not be available. Restricted profiles were only introduced in smartphones with Android 5.0, and many manufacturers have opted out of including the feature in this generation of devices. If you've got the feature, it should absolutely be one of the first things you enable.

Kid-friendly Google Play

If you've decided to give your child access to Google Play, there are some extra buttons you can press to ensure only age-appropriate content shows up in the Play Store. Parental controls are located in the Play Store app, under Settings>Users, but you'll need to be logged in to your child's account to activate them. You'll be prompted to create a pin lock so your child can't just turn these features off, and once that is complete you'll be able to set rating limitations for Play Store apps and explicit music from the Play Music app.

Google Play Store Settings also lets you set restrictions for the ability to pay for things, assuming you aren't just limiting your child to a gift card or similarly limited payment system. Just under Parental controls in the Settings list you'll find Require authentication for purchases, which lets you choose when Google prompts you for a password. These settings can be adjusted so a password is requested every time, once every 30 minutes, or never. While this is a personal choice, setting it for every time dramatically decreases the chances for an "accidental" purchase in the Play Store.

Increased control through parent apps

Gaining additional control of your child's Android experience requires some help from third-party apps. There's no shortage of great apps to choose from when it comes to monitoring the mobile experience from another device, but the absolute best of the free solutions out there is DinnerTime Plus. The app is designed to let the parent monitor activity from their personal device, and make changes remotely. As the name suggests, you can even hit a button that flashes a bright red screen on your child's device, letting them know it's time for Dinner and to put the gadget down.

As cuts as the bright red auto-parenting tool is, the core functionality in DinnerTime Plus can be found in the reports the app generates and the control you as a parent are given over specific apps. If restricted accounts aren't an option for you, being able to block apps is the next best thing. It's also pretty useful to be able to set specific times for when the device can't be used, and have a report generated to let you know when apps are being used and for how long. It's the kind of thing Google may never make a native part of the OS, but as a parent can make a huge difference in how your child interacts with technology.
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