Finally, kids can have their own Google accounts (with parents’ help)

March 21, 2017

Google made a bit of history by opening up its universe of apps and services to users under 13 as their parents design it. Family Link, the name of the new parental control toolset, describes it well: Parents download the tools to their own and the kids’ devices, then link them up for a whole family’s real-time digital device management.

Family Link “marks one of the first attempts by a major tech company to directly address the reality of kids using tech products,” reported.

A groundbreaking aspect of this is that these aren’t watered-down kid versions of Chrome, Maps, Search, etc., they’re the full-blown versions as controlled by their parents. So parents can make each app available (or not), and if, for example, Search is allowed on a kid’s phone, it can have filtered search turned on.

But there’s so much more going on, here: phone time/bed time, whether and how location is used, which apps (e.g., games, social media, messenger apps) can be downloaded from Google Play and when they’re used. Some apps just won’t be made available to Family Link users under 13 – e.g., YouTube (YouTube Kids is available), Google Pay (which is only for users 18+) and apps rated M and up, based on ratings. It works a little like the way mobile carriers allow us to create a family administrator for all family members’ mobile accounts – only much more granular and real-time.

Now, there is no such thing as total Internet safety, right? I hope we all know that. We don’t even want that (see why here). Even this very comprehensive toolset doesn’t promise that. For example, if you allow your kids to download Firefox, they’ll be able to go to YouTube via that browser.

Which takes us to my favorite parts of this parental control tool: the inside-out part and the family communication part. Let me explain:

1. The inside-out part. Safety isn’t one-size-fits all, right? Because everybody’s use of digital media is very individual, including every kid’s use, safety works best from the inside out – the kid out. So the best products are those that can be calibrated to each child and their developmental style and pace by the people who understand them best: their parents. The parent can calibrate, tweak, change his/her mind and age up what’s on each child’s phone as the child matures.

2. The family communication part. Based on my conversations with Google, they intentionally built parent-child communication into the product. For example, kids can see what’s being shared with their parent about the activity on their phone or tablet, and they’re notified when the parent makes changes in the controls. Family Link also prepares everybody for a child’s 13th birthday, when the ages out of the Children’s Online Privacy Act’s (COPPA’s) parental consent requirement. Both parent and child get a notification that the milestone is coming up and what the implications are (e.g., changes in exposure to advertising). Opting out of Family Link isn’t required when kids turn 13 – they can still keep Safe Search turned on, for example – but that parental consent requirement (of Google and all U.S. online service providers) goes away. About the age milestone, Google told me, “We expect this to be a family conversation, a thoughtful moment.” If those family conversations do happen because of Family Link – and I hope they do –that’s a bit of digital and media literacy education happening. And every little bit of that kind of thinking and communication is a good thing.

Family Link’s great because it’s “one-stop [parental control] shopping” (for Android device families) without being one-size-fits-all. A progressive step for sure. But I hope parents will use it more as a communication than a control tool. Here are three reasons for that: Control empowers the controller and disempowers the controlled, right when we want our kids to find, grow and use their powers for good in the world; this product represents the external kind of safeguard that can be useful but shifts the focus away from the internal safeguards that are key to child development; and control works only as long as it’s turned on and in use, while what kids learn through communication lasts a life time.

*This blog was originally published on March 15, 2017 at

*Photo courtsey of

Written by

Anne Collier

A writer and youth advocate, Anne Collier has been chronicling the public discussion about youth and digital media since 1997. She is founder and executive director of national nonprofit organization The Net Safety Collaborative (TNSC), which runs NetFamilyNews, and piloted a social media helpline for schools in California in 2016. The project was recognized by the National School Boards Association as one of 6 startups in its Education Technology Innovation Showcase. That year Anne also gave her TEDx talk, “The Heart of Digital Citizenship,” at the ITU’s World Summit on Information Technology in Geneva, Switzerland. She serves on the trust & safety advisory boards of Meta, Roblox and YouTube, based in the US, and Teleperformance and Yubo, based in France. She also advises investors in tech innovation that support youth mental health and wellbeing.

Anne has served on three national task forces on youth and Internet safety, including as co-chair of the Obama administration’s Online Safety & Technology Working Group, which delivered its report to Congress, “Youth Safety on a Living Internet,” in June 2010, and the national Internet Safety Technical Task Force of 2008 at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center. In 2013-’14 she served on the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning & the Internet.In 2011 and ’12, she was a member of the curriculum working group that helped launch Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation at Harvard University. For the Foundation’s launch, Anne collaborated on several papers for the Foundation and Berkman Klein Center’s Kinder & Braver World Project. She also helped develop the foundation’s inaugural Youth Advisory Board.

Anne has collaborated with scholars on a number of academic journal articles, most recently “Leveraging Dignity Theory to Understand Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Children’s Rights,” led by researchers at Dublin’s Anti-Bullying Center. Books she has contributed to include Children’s Privacy and Safety (IAPP, 2022), Bullying: Perspectives, Practice and Insights (Council of Europe Publishing, 2017), Media and the Well-Being of Children and Adolescents (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Cyberbullying Prevention and Response: Expert Perspectives (Routledge, 2011). From 2017 to 2020, she worked with Google on its “Be Internet Awesome” safety and citizenship curriculum for elementary students worldwide. With tech journalist Larry Magid, she co-authored MySpace Unraveled (Peachpit Press, 2006), the first parents’ guide to teen social networking, and a number of guides for parents published by ConnectSafely, which she co-founded and co-directed with Magid for nearly a decade. In 2009, they co-authored and published “Online Safety 3.0: Empowering & Protecting Youth.”

Anne has spoken widely on Internet safety myth-busting and the literacies that afford true safety online as well as offline in a digital age. Between 2011 and ’14, she helped spearhead and facilitate workshops on digital-age citizenship for young people from many countries at Internet Governance Forums in Vilnius, Nairobi, Baku and Istanbul. She appeared on PBS Frontline’s “Growing Up Online” (2008); has been heard on public radio and nationally syndicated commercial radio in many states; and has been quoted in the New York Times, Business Week, the Associated Press, and many other publications.

In addition to her industry advisory work, she serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), the Advisory Board of the Young & Resilient Research Centre at Western Sydney University and the Global Advisory Board of youth-driven nonprofit Project Rockit in Melbourne. She has also worked closely with fellow youth-focused nonprofits the Family Online Safety Institute, Committee for Children, the International Bullying Prevention Association and the University of New Hampshire’s Family Research Lab and Prior to working in the Internet safety field, Anne worked on print, radio, TV, and Web editions of the Christian Science Monitor, having served as editor of its first Web site in the mid-’90s.A Massachusetts native, Anne holds B.A. and M.A. degrees and currently resides in Salt Lake City.