Google’s Family Link updates reflect the pandemic’s impact on how parents view screen time – TechCrunch

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Google is changing its parental control system, Family Link, which better reflects parents’ changing views on children’s screen time. In the pre-pandemic world, parents were more likely to see screen time as something in need of restriction — they’d instead get their kids offline or go outside to play with friends, perhaps. But the challenges of a locked-down world and the push toward virtual learning have impacted parents’ views. Google says today’s parents are more concerned about how kids spend time on their devices, not how much time is spent. It’s a concession to a world where machines have become a savior to families who’ve stayed at home to avoid COVID — where they’ve been restricted from seeing extended family and friends, schools are closed, and playdates and parties were canceled. Parents realized that screen time in and of itself isn’t necessarily something to be avoided; they just wanted more control over how it’s used.

With the Family Link update, parents can now make remote learning apps “always allowed” so they don’t count toward overall daily screen time limits. This could include not only those apps used to attend a school or communicate with teachers but others that have popped up to help kids learn and be entertained, like the supplemental resources the school suggests — or the apps parents allow during break times from virtual class. Parents will also now have access to more detailed daily, weekly, and monthly activity reports that provide both an overview of how the child is spending their time in apps, as well as how screen time usage has changed over a week or month, and what portion of time was spent in the “always allowed” apps. This gives parents a better idea of what screen time was used for education versus play.


As more people in the U.S. are vaccinated, restrictions are lifting — including the reopening of schools in many places. On Android, Family Link users can also browse through a selection of teacher-recommended apps from the Google Play catalog for kids under 13 in the U.S. Parents can also now set screen time limits directly from the child’s Android device. Though these updates will remain helpful in a post-pandemic world where parents hold a more nuanced view of screen time, it’s unfortunate that Google waited until late in the pandemic to roll out these changes.

That means parents’ stress over kids’ increased screen time usage will soon become a moot point. The devices will be replaced with in-person learning, and screen time may become villainized yet again. Related to today’s news, Google has launched a new website for families whose kids are beginning to use technology (families. google). The company also launched a new content series with the meditation app Headspace to help kids practice mindfulness together. Again, that’s a desperately needed resource in 2020 during the pandemic’s heights, more so than today as the world begins reopening.

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