I have heard so many parents asking about Chromebooks this year, and it seems like a pretty hot gift to give your tweens and teens. It is understandable, for sure. They are inexpensive, they are great for doing homework and playing games, and work great. Chromebooks are even permeating our schools, and many schools even give them out to every student!
With all of these parents able to grab some killer Black Friday deals on a Chromebook, they want to make sure they get it all set up with Parental controls before they hand it over to their kids on Christmas Day.
The good news is there are a lot of options for you when it comes to protecting a Chromebook. I prefer to layer my parental controls, as I’ve stated many times. So I will touch on a few different ways you can protect your kid’s Chromebook. You can choose to use one method or ALL OF THE ABOVE!
Use Google Family Link
A lot of parents still don’t know about Google Family Link, especially if they typically use iOS devices. They haven’t ventured very far into the world of Google, and this might be their first device with a Google-owned operating system.
Google Family Link is a great utility that allows parents to control Android devices or Chromebooks. You can set up times the entire device is completely locked, control the ability to install apps, and even control what kind of apps, games, movies, and books your child can see in the Google Play store.
Even if you don’t have an Android device, you can download and install the Google Family Link app and control your child’s device. For Android users, just make sure you are downloading the correct one. There are 2 apps in the store. One is made to be installed on your child’s device, and one is the management tool for parents. The single kite icon is the one you are looking for.
If your child doesn’t already have a Google account, I would create one for them through the app. As a word of warning. Children who are over 13 years old will have the ability to “opt-in” and “opt-out” of supervision. You will be notified if your child chooses to opt-out. In our house, you opt-out of supervision, you opt-out of having a device.
Once you have created their account, you can login to the Chromebook with their Google account. Since you have already set up the supervision inside the Family Link app, the device will ask you to get “your parent” Go ahead and login with your own Google account credentials.
As you can see, you will be able set up various website restrictions by manually blocking specific apps within the Google Family Link app (I recommend blocking at least these 10 sites). You can also turn on the setting to “try to block mature sites”. Nothing is foolproof, so that’s why it says “try”.
To access this location open the Family Link app on your phone and click on the child you are trying to manage or set up. Scroll down to “manage settings” and tap on it. From here you have a ton of options. I recommend tapping on each one individually so you can see exactly what you can control.
You can also set up “whitelist only” where you have to manually enter each website you will allow to be visited from the device. This is obviously the most restrictive and sometimes can cause issues with certain sites you do want to allow. However, if your children are only allowed access to a few very specific websites, this is a great option for you.
The great thing about having the Family Link account on the Chromebook is your child will not have access to use “incognito mode” in Chrome. They also will not be able to add any accounts to the Chromebook without a parent’s permission. If they try to add a new user to the device they will be greeted with this message.
Once Family Link is all configured, there are still a few things you can add to make the device even safer.
Protect the device on the router
I use the Gryphon router, which is by far the best router with integrated parental controls. I can get reports of all of the sites my child has visited on the Chromebook and shut down the internet whenever I want (granted, I can also shut down the entire device at any time through Google Family Link too).
Gryphon will also filter the web content that the device will try to access, so you get the benefit of having 2 filters just in case one of them misses something.
Protect the whole network
One thing I recommend everyone do (if your router is compatible) is to add OpenDNS to your wifi network. It’s free, it’s easy to set up, and it can filter out a LOT of bad stuff.
Essentially what OpenDNS does is filter all traffic going out and into your network through their servers. It will block access to anything it has deemed inappropriate. You can set all sorts of different categories for it to block that broadens the categories already blocked by Google Family Link and Gryphon. Through OpenDNS you can block lingerie sites like Victoria’s Secret and other more specific categories, that aren’t necessarily harmful, but kids likely don’t need to be browsing it.
With these controls in place, a Chromebook is probably one of the safest devices you can give your child. I would still make sure to have frequent conversations with them about the dangers that lurk online, because kids will always find a way around controls, and there will always be cracks in the system that accidentally let something through.
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Sarah Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 16 years of her career as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on KSL News, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com