Google is changing its parental control system, Family Link, which aims to better reflect parents’ changing views on children’s screen time. In the pre-pandemic world, parents were more likely to see screen time as something in need of restriction — they’d instead their kids get offline or go outside to play with friends, perhaps. But the challenges of a locked-down world and the push toward virtual learning have impacted parents’ views. Google says today’s parents are more concerned about how kids spend time on their devices, not how much time is being spent.
It’s a concession to a world where devices have become a savior of sorts to families who’ve stayed at home to avoid COVID — where they’ve been restricted from seeing extended family and friends, and where schools are closed, and playdates and parties were canceled. Parents realized that screen time in and of itself isn’t necessarily something to be avoided; they just wanted more control over how it’s used.
With the Family Link update, parents can now choose to make remote learning apps “always allowed” so they don’t count toward overall screen time daily limits. This could include not only those apps that are used to attend a school or communicate with teachers, but others that have popped up to help kids learn and be entertained, like the supplemental resources the school suggests — or the apps parents allow during break times from virtual class.
Parents will also now have access to more detailed daily, weekly, and monthly activity reports that provide both an overview of how the child is spending their time in apps, as well as how screen time usage has changed over a week or month, and what portion of time was spent in the “always allowed” apps. This gives parents a better idea of what screen time was used for education versus play.
On Android, Family Link users will also be able to browse through a selection of teacher-recommended apps from the Google Play catalog for kids under 13 in the U.S. Parents can also now set screen time limits directly from the child’s device Android.