How to Set Up Parental Controls on Your Chromebook

April 25, 2018

9:00 am

Chromebooks are perfect for children. They’re light-weight, hold a day-long charge, can be operated easily, and are browser-first, without any risks of downloading sketchy software. Best of all, they’re cheap, too. Despite all these kid-friendly credentials, a lack of effective parental controls has been a concern in recent months.

When Google’s “supervised users” beta program wound down in mid-January, it left anyone using Chrome or Chrome OS without a simple built-in safety net, making it tough to shelter kids with Chromebooks from the firehose of information that is the internet. Ironically, Google’s own YouTube is one of the bigger culprits. Its powerful “watch next” algorithm has taken children down some upsetting rabbit trails in the recent past.

But last week, news broke that Google has quietly updated its Family Link app to work on Chrome OS, according to Chrome Unboxed. Parents now have a new way to stop Chromebooks from letting their kids mainline YouTube videos. Here’s what you need to know about setting up Family Link parental controls on Chromebooks.

The Family Link app, as it appears in the Google Play store.

How Family Link Works

To set up parental controls on a Chromebook, you’ll need a Chromebook running Chrome OS 65 or later, plus a Family Link account. If you don’t have an existing account, you can download and install the app easily at the iOS or Android app stores. It’s intended for families with children under 13 years of age.

You can add your child to the Family Link account through the Chromebook’s Add Person button on its lockscreen. Use your child’s Family Link account details to sign in.

You’ll see a prompt page explaining how Family Link’s functionality works on your Chromebook. Once you hit Okay, you’ll have completed the process of integrating Family Link with your Chromebook, giving your child a Chromebook account you can monitor.

Manage where they can browse

The Family Link app is designed to block a selection of sensitive online content or options. Here’s the list of what won’t show up to anyone browsing through your child’s account.

  • Chrome’s Incognito mode
  • Websites flagged by Google for violent or sexual content
  • The Google Play Store (so your child won’t make any unapproved purchases)

In addition, parents can choose to more tightly limit the sites their child can visit. To this, go to the Family Link app and tap Settings → Manage settings → Filters on Google Chrome → Only allow certain sites. You should see screens similar to the ones pictured above.

Other options available on the Settings page allow the parent to put controls on the results from certain search terms and on which apps Google Assistant will let the child’s account activate.

See their browsing history

To view your child’s browsing history, you’ll need to use the old fashioned method. Open their Chromebook and tap the History button under the More section (labeled with the three vertical dots) to the upper-right of the Chrome browser.

You can clear your child’s search history through your Family Link app, however. Go to Settings → Manage settings → Filters on Google Chrome → Chrome dashboard → Clear History. You should see screens similar to the ones pictured above.

What You Can’t Do

Chromebook support for Family Link is fairly new, which means that a few features might still roll out in the future. For now, two big features of the parental control app are missing on Chromebooks.

No time limits

Sadly, time limits, one of the biggest benefits of the Family Link app for Android, is not supported yet on Chromebooks. This means you can’t set time limits on how much screen time your child will get before their internet shuts down and they’re shuttled off to play outside, study, or get ready for bed.

No location tracking

You won’t be able to support locations or be able to locate a lost Chromebook remotely through Family Link. Granted, your child is less likely to be moving around with a Chromebook than with an Android phone, where this feature comes in the most handy.

What About Antivirus Options?

Enough about parental controls on Chromebooks: What about antivirus? Any laptop needs an antivirus software protecting it from the increasing number of hacks and breaches, right? Actually, not always.

Chromebooks don’t get viruses in the traditional sense. Thanks to its simplicity, the Chrome OS stays very secure. Apps and extensions are the only ways to set up any third-party software on a Chromebook — options such as the Avast or McAfee extensions won’t actually scan the Chromebook for viruses, but will alert you to potential hazards on sites you visit or files you open. Since your Chromebook won’t be affected by these sites or viruses, even these extensions are fairly superfluous.

Chromebooks do have just one security issue: If you add a malicious extension, you’ll suffer the consequences. The best advice is to never add an app or extension that you don’t trust. It should come from a publisher you know or have a few thousand positive reviews. If you’re ever uncomfortable with an extension, the solution is as easy as deleting it.

If you need to know more about setting up and running the Family Link parental controls on Chromebooks, check out Google’s support link here.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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