Chromebooks Provide a Tech Solution for Parents
As a parent, do you (like me) face the constant question of how much online supervision your kids need? On one hand, I recognize that learning to use tech effectively and independently is crucial to their future. On the other hand, it’s pretty terrifying to consider all the ways their devices could expose them to corners of the internet I’d prefer they not see. Thankfully, a suite of Chromebook parental controls and third-party apps makes the task of protecting your kids online seamless and simple. Let’s walk through how to set it up.
Chromebook Parental Controls: Drop-Dead Simple
Like everything Google makes, Chromebooks just work, simply and efficiently. And because everything on a Chromebook flows through the Chrome browser, it’s simple to manage. However, there is one very important note up front: for any of this to work, you’ll need to make sure you turn off “Allow Guest Browsing” on your Chromebooks. Otherwise, anyone can sit down and use the guest account to avoid logging in, which defeats the whole purpose.
Set up Kids as “Supervised Users”
Now, you’ll need to register the Chromebook with a parent’s email address. This will establish them as the administrator for all family accounts. From there, adding accounts for kids is simple. Each child should be set up as a “supervised user” underneath the parent’s account. This enables the master account (the parent) to control the child’s access and review what they’ve been up to on the Chromebook.
This video will guide you through setting up supervised users.
Two notes: first, make sure you are aware that supervised users can see the administrator’s bookmarks and favorites in the browser, unless you take advantage of the “Exit and Childlock” option when logging out of your account each time. Google has provided a step-by-step guide.
Second, be aware that supervised accounts operate underneath the master account’s email address, which means they won’t have an email address of their own, and they won’t be able to create Google Documents, Sheets, or Slides under an individual account; everything will get dumped into the supervisor’s account.
REVIEW ONLINE ACTIVITY
Supervised users are unable to delete their browsing history; this means the parent always has the capability to review exactly what’s been done online – no worries about a child trying to cover their tracks after the fact. This is an especially valuable tool as kids get older and more curious.
RESTRICT ACCESS TO EXPLICIT CONTENT
Parents can allow or block any website for any supervised user. Additionally, supervised users can be configured to only browse the internet using Safesearch, a Google tool which prevents explicit text or images from showing up in search results.
You can also set up parental control on YouTube videos.
PREVENT INSTALLATION OF APPS
Supervised users cannot install apps to their account; they are limited to browsing the web, which means if they need to create a document for school, they’ll have to browse to the Google Docs online site rather than using the device’s native app.
Potential Issues with Chromebook Parental Controls
Safesearch seems to be too aggressive, blocking a great deal of content that older students might need for school; however, if it’s turned off, you obviously don’t have time to individually blacklist every questionable website one-by-one. Some parents dodge this issue by choosing instead to only allow certain sites, handpicking the portions of the internet their child can access.
Additionally, supervised users can’t install Google apps to their account at all. This means that any apps your child may need for school will have to be loaded onto the parental account, and the child will have to log in through your account to use the app, which is obviously a complicated solution.
If you prefer not to set up a supervised account, but you would like to control specific aspects of your child’s Internet use on the Chromebook, there are some apps to help. They are available on the Chrome web store.
These third-party solutions provide cloud filtering for all users on the Chromebook, supervised user or not. Multiple third-party services such as Mobicip, Metacert, and Blocksi are now available as alternatives to the pre-loaded Chromebook parental controls.
Blocksi Web Filter: This extension has both free and paid versions. The free version includes a host of features like:
- Web filtering across 79 rated categories (adult, security, malware, etc.) and 45 million rated websites
- YouTube content filtering across 20 categories
- YouTube channel filtering
- Black & White Lists
- Limited time use, for e.g. homework access
Blocksi Lite: This extension blocks adult content and access to porn website
Parental Control and Web Filter from Metacert: This extension offers multiple settings for both, adults and children. Options for children include:
- Filters and blocks search results that are inappropriate for a young audience
- Removes XXX images and videos from search results
- Blocks Tumblr pages with adult content
- Blocks Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts with adult content
In addition to this setting, the Metacert filter offers a setting for very young kids that allows parents to add specific websites and create white lists for safe and controlled browsing.
StayFocusd is a Chrome extension that you can install to keep your teen on task, especially if you want to allow limited access to social media and other websites without completely restricting access. This extension allows you to set a time limit for websites you choose. Once the limit has been exhausted, StayFocusd restricts access for the rest of the day.
Conclusion: Chromebook Parental Controls Are There, But Not Perfect Yet
It’s not clear yet if Google will improve the native parental controls on their Chromebook products. They might simply allow the third-party app market to solve it for them. In either event, my family’s experience with Chromebooks has been phenomenal. For very young children, Safesearch is sufficient to keep them protected while they do young-child things: watch videos, play silly games, and visit educational sites. For older kids, we rely on Blocksi to handle our cloud filtering, so we don’t have to lean on Safesearch.
In my family, the benefits far outweigh the concerns, primarily due to the low cost and the portability of accounts. When my daughter pours orange juice all over the Chromebook, nothing is lost except the minimal cost of the device. The entire family’s data is sitting there when we log in to the replacement device.
Questions or comments about Chromebook parental controls? Speak up below!