Depending on your particular mix of computers and gadgets, you're probably using one or more Apple, Google, or Microsoft accounts—or maybe all three. In each case, the IDs that you sign in with can also be used to manage the IDs of younger family members, limiting their screen time inside apps and protecting them against unsuitable content. Here's how to get everything set up.
Apple's single stop for family account management is Family Sharing—besides yourself, you can add up to five other people, kids or otherwise, and then share everything from Apple Music to purchased apps to iCloud storage. Children age 13 and over can have their own Apple ID. For younger children, you can create and manage an Apple ID for them.
To get started with Family Sharing, open Settings on an iPhone or iPad, tap your Apple ID name, then choose Family Sharing and Set Up Your Family. If you're on a Mac, open up System Preferences, then choose Family Sharing. Follow the instructions to invite people to your family or set up the necessary Apple IDs for your youngsters.
With your family created, services such as Apple TV Plus, Apple Music, Apple News Plus, and Apple Arcade are shared automatically if you've subscribed to them. Any iCloud storage you've purchased is pooled between family members, and Photos automatically creates a shared album for everyone to use. Most of this happens without any effort on your part—when people in your family sign into their Apple account, they'll see the same apps and services available as you do.
In terms of looking after your children, there are a few key tools bundled with Family Sharing. You can look up their locations on a map at any time—to do this, open up the Find My app on iOS or macOS and select the people you want to share your location with. You can also make sure that app, movie, music, and other purchases your kids try to make go through you first: After tapping your Apple ID in Settings on iOS or opening System Preferences on macOS, choose Family Sharing then Ask to Buy to set this up.
You can use the same Screen Time feature that tracks your own device usage to monitor what your kids are up to—and put limits in place if needed. Open up Screen Time from Settings on iOS or System Preferences on macOS, and as long as you have a family sharing plan in place, you'll be able to select each of your children and see what they're up to, and put restrictions in place.
You'll see five key categories: Downtime (for controlling time on a device overall), App Limits (for limiting time in specific apps), Communication Limits (for controlling who your kids can chat to), Always Allowed (for approving key apps for unlimited use), and Content & Privacy Restrictions (for putting limits on accessing mature content, both in terms of videos and the web).
You can, for example, make sure only key apps like the Phone app are available after a certain time at night. Screen time works across Apple computers and mobile devices, so the settings are carried across, and of course you can adapt these settings at any time as your children get older.
Google's tools for managing your family and keeping your kids safe aren't quite as cohesive or as comprehensive as Apple's, but you do have a few options. The first step is to head to the Your family on Google page: From here you can connect to up to five other family members, and create Google accounts for any youngsters who are under 13.
That links your account with others and pools any Google One cloud storage you might have paid for. The next step is to download the Google Family Link app for Android and iOS devices—this is where you can monitor how your children are using their devices, and put limits on that usage if needed.
It's worth mentioning that these features and controls only work if your kids are using Android devices or Chromebook laptops (though you can view and edit your settings from an iPhone or iPad). Neither Apple nor Google allow access to each other's parental control services, so you really need a family using the same operating systems.
As with Apple Family Sharing, the Google Family Link app can show you where in the world your family members are. Pick a name from the main family list on the opening screen, then choose Location—this is handy for anything from making sure your youngsters are home from school to figuring out where you need to pick them up.
Then there's the parental controls section inside the app. Tap on the child account you want to manage, then choose Daily limit to set how much time your kid can spend on their devices overall. As well as a daily limit, you're also able to set a cut-off point via the Bedtime option, after which your youngster will find themselves locked out of their phones, tablets, and laptops until morning.
Dig into the Apps section for each of your kids and you can block or allow specific apps to be run (you'll also be able to approve new app downloads before they're installed, though app updates can be applied without your permission). You can't limit time on specific apps, but you can see which apps your kids are using the most.
Finally, you can limit the sorts of content your kids can access from the Play Store, from apps to movies. From the Settings panel inside the Family Link app, choose Manage and then Controls on Google Play to make your choices. Some of these settings can also be accessed from the Google Play website, as long as you're signed into Google.
If you use a Microsoft account to sign in to Windows, then this can form the basis of a family group that you can keep tabs on your kids through. These features work across Windows, Android, and Xbox, and to a limited extent on iOS (again, Apple doesn't really allow other software the necessary access to apps for phone monitoring).
In this case, there's a bit of a muddle of old and new tools. The best place to get started is the Microsoft Family Safety website—from here you'll be able to specify the people in your family (families can have up to six people in them, including you), and access the Microsoft Family Safety app on the web, Android and iOS.
All the regular features for your family can be accessed through the apps on web and mobile. Pick one of your kids and you can see where they are on a map (based on their Android device), see how much time they're spending on their devices, and put limits on screen time, app use, and web access.
As with Google and Apple, children aged 13 and over can have their own Microsoft accounts, and you can create accounts for kids that are younger than that. Apps and games on Windows and Xbox can be filtered by age appropriateness, while web and search limits can be set through the Microsoft Edge browser. Apps can be blocked on Windows, Xbox, or Android.
Tap the cog icon to the top right on any child profile to turn features like activity reporting, web filters and app limits on or off—it gives you the flexibility you need to adjust these restrictions as your kids get older. Location sharing can also be toggled on or off from the same settings screen.
Choose Screen time from the child profile to set how long they're allowed to spend on each device, and between which times. You can set app time limits on Windows, Xbox and Android, and you can set overall screen time limits on Windows and Xbox. There are also tools on Windows and Xbox to keep children from buying new content or tons of in-app purchases.
As long as your children are signing into their devices with their Microsoft accounts, the rules you've set will be applied. If you've got a shared laptop or desktop Windows computer at home, you can use multiple Microsoft accounts with it: Open up the Windows Settings pane, then choose Accounts then Family & other users.
Update 11/12/2020: This article has been updated to clarify some of Microsoft's parental controls, and which options are available in Windows and on the Xbox, but not necessarily on Android or other platforms.