Google Lets Parents Monitor Teens' Phone Use

John Lister's picture

Google is extending its parental monitoring tools to cover teenagers as well as children. There's a pretty major flaw in the program however.

The change is to "Family Link," which Google introduced last year. That's a way for pre-teens to have a Google account of their own, letting them use an Android handset, but with heavy parental supervision and controls.

Key features include parents being able to control which apps the child is allowed to install, when they can use their devices, and how long they can use the device for in total during the day. Parents can also access location data to track where the child (or rather the child's device) is.

Parent and Child Must Both Consent

At the moment the feature is specifically for children under 13. That's a significant age as it's the cut-off point for the COPPA laws that govern how companies can store and share personal information. Knowing that a child is under 13 means Google can automatically stop its systems collecting any data that would violate these rules.

Now it's extending the Family Link to cover people over the age of 13 - including adults, in theory at least. Unlike with pre-teens, it isn't just for setting up a new account, but can be applied to an existing account such as one belonging to a teen. However, both the parent and the teen must consent to the teen being covered by Family Link.

Teens Can Switch Off Feature

There's a few other differences from the teen account; namely: parents won't be able to remotely change settings on the phone or change the account password. (Source:

Meanwhile, teens will have the ability to switch off the feature at any time, though this will send an alert to the parents. Some reports suggest that shutting off the Family Link will also lockdown the phone for 24 hours (allowing the parents to ask why it was disabled), though it's not entirely clear if this will be the case. (Source:

There are a couple of obvious problems with the set-up. A teen who consents to having the feature activated is probably less likely to require monitoring in the first place. And there's always the possibility that teens who are talked into using Family Link will figure out a way round the system faster than any adult can.

What's Your Opinion?

Is it worth having monitoring systems on phones for teenagers? Does the need for the child to consent to the monitoring undermine it? Will kids with something to hide find a way round the program?

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Dennis Faas's picture

The first time I bought a cell phone I was 21 or 22 years old, around 1996 or 1997. It was more of a novelty item back then - more for emergencies than anything else. It did not have texting or Internet, apps or games. Flash forward 20 years and we have 'smart' pocket computers that can do almost anything a PC can do, plus there's the social media / diary aspect of a smartphone. It's a completely different dynamic.

Now onto the relevance of the post. I can see the need to let kids have a smartphone for being in contact with parents. It is a great idea, but with that comes major responsibility. A friend of mine has a 15 year old son who is incredibly responsible and allows him to have a phone, but that phone does not have any data to limit his ability to access apps like Facebook. While that is a great idea, it can be circumvented by using a wifi hotspot (whether it's free wifi or wifi from a friend's phone) to gain access to otherwise data-restricted apps - therefore something else needs to be done.

I like the idea of Family Link but I don't like the idea of the kid being able to shut the feature off. That should be 100% up to the parent and controlled by the parent.