After a decade being a mother—nearly all of that time working at Parents—I seem to have gotten a lot under control. Thanks to working on hundreds of stories about managing family life, I have a system for kids' chores, discipline, allowance, meal planning, and a ton of other nifty tricks to keep my family's day-to-day life running smoothly (I can't live without my Grocery IQ app, for instance). But what keeps eluding me is managing my kids' digital lives. Despite my best efforts, they are bombarded by screens—and regulating their time, usage, privacy, and what they do on them has gotten out of my control.
I've tried numerous products and apps: controls on their devices, controls on my or my husband's device, special boxes that control the house's wifi, you name it. They are either too cumbersome (i.e., it takes 10 clicks to turn off their device—about as long as screaming up the stairs to come down for dinner and just as frustrating), too tricky to install, or my kids can find a workaround or hack the thing altogether.
Google is attempting to solve all that. The company invited me into its offices here in New York last week to unveil a new app called Family Link. The app lives on the parent's phone and lets you regulate your kids' devices remotely. Google let me test it out as part of its Early Access Program. It allowed me to set up a daily bedtime (so my daughter won't be tempted to text her friends when I'm downstairs watching "Homeland") and waketime (so my son won't watch YouTube before 6 a.m., which incredibly is an issue).
I can approve (or deny) whatever apps they want to put on their phone with a tap of a button and also see which apps they have spent the most time on (so far Pokémon Go is winning and YouTube Kids is a close second).
I can also quickly see where my kid is (if I turn on the GPS function), which I love because even though they aren't leaving the house unattended (yet), I'm nosy like that. And if I need them to come down to dinner right now? I can lock both their devices without screaming up the stairs. (Or, if I'm in a good mood, I can send them a text that gives them warning.) I also have a ton of controls at my fingertips for YouTube, Chrome, and other apps including privacy settings. Essentially, I am starting to get more control.
The app will be released to the public this fall, but Google is inviting Parents readers (that's you!) to be a part of its Family Link Early Access Program. Note that you need to have an Android phone that runs Android Nougat 7.0 or higher. You can sign up at this link and provide feedback to Google about how it can make the service even better for kids and parents. And if you don't have an Android device, Google does plan to make an app for iPhone users. Stay tuned! In the meantime, you can find more information here.
Now, if you can excuse me, my Family Link just pinged. My daughter wants to download the BottleFlip! app. Finally—I don't have to listen to bottle flipping IRL anymore! Thanks, Google.
Chandra Turner is Executive Editor for Parents and a mom of two.