Options for Chromebook Parental Controls

My school is moving to BYOD next year and we are suggesting parents get their child a Chromebook. One of the questions I am being asked by parents is what are their options are for parental controls on a Chromebook. Our school owned Chromebooks are all on our management console, so we can push out filtering rules etc to them easily, but the student’s own devices won’t be on our management console (or might not be – see idea #1 below). I put this question out to my network and got an array of interesting responses. This post is my dumping ground for some of these ideas, and my thoughts, so I can come back and consider them later.

Note 1: As I have been writing this post my brain has been ticking over and I now think the easiest advice to parents of students who own a Chromebook is as follows:

  1. Parent should log into the Chromebook with their Google account first. This makes their account the default admin account.
  2. Parent goes to settings and disables guest account and adds student school GSuite account as the only other account that can log into the Chromebook.
  3. Student can only log into their Chromebook with a school account, which means any rules applied to the student OU (filtering etc) will always be in effect.

Note 2: Writing this post has also forced me to consider what I mean by parental controls as these can range from simple filtering, to device management functions like locating devices, setting limits on time online etc. I am also aware that I want to be able to give parents age appropriate advice. I am a big proponent of gradual release of responsibility and don’t want parents to think there is a one size fits all solution. When our students are younger it makes sense to implement more parental controls, and as they get older we need to reduce the restrictions and teach them how to manage their online lives in safe and responsible ways (while ensuring some degree of oversight).

Here are some of the Chromebook parental control ideas I have been considering:

Idea #1 – Create a sub-domain for BYOD devices on our school GSuite account and let parents opt into paying for their child’s Chromebook to be put on the school’s management console. From the school side I quite like this idea. It gives us many more tools for tracking student devices and usage. From the family side, it is probably the easiest and least painful option, but I am not sure how they will feel about the lack of privacy. For example, if another family member logs into the Chromebook we could also track their online activity. I also worry a little about the extra workload that would put on administrative and technical staff trying to support parents paying and having their device put on our management console.

Securly has made their Chromebook filtering service free for K-12 Schools in the USA, which could give USA schools an affordable way to offer parents even more peace of mind if their child’s Chromebook is registered on the school management console.

Idea #2 –  Support parents to set up a control layer on their home network. Securly sells an interesting plug and play hub that attaches to a home router and adds a layer of parental controls. A slightly more technical, but free, option is OpenDNS Family Shield and OpenDNS Home, which is a service offered by CISCO that works by redirecting the DNS of a home router to the OpenDNS servers, which isn’t hard to do but does take a little technical skill.

The most popular ‘works out of the box’ option seems to be Circle with Disney which costs about $100 and is certainly getting lots of positive reviews. Circle with Disney is not just a filter, but a way to manage all the devices on a home network and set granular permissions for these devices. This is on my wishlist and I might update this post once I have a chance to try it.

This won’t be much use if a child is regularly logging in at Starbucks, but if their to main sources of internet are home and school it should do the trick.

Idea #3 – Redirect the child’s google account through a 3rd party that provides parental controls. The two options in this space seem to be Google’s Family Link and Mobicip.

Family link was originally developed by Google to help families manage their child’s Android account, but according to Chrome Unboxed they have recently extended it’s functionality to include Chromebooks. Lacking an Android device I tried to install the iOS Family Link App on my iPad so I could try it out but couldn’t find the App (might be something to do with me living in Malaysia), but will try again once I get my hands on an Android Device. My concern about recommending this service to parents is that it seems you have to make a new Google account for your child using the Family Link App and we need our students logging in with their school accounts.

Mobicip also offers a supervised user alternative for Chromebooks (as well as other operating systems). It looks like a good solution for parents of younger children who want to have a good degree of oversight. The dashboard and management of 5 devices coasts $39.99/year, which seems reasonable if it works. I had a go installing Mobicip on a Chromebook for my daughter and had difficulty with some of the installation steps (mostly to do with installing security certificates), so can’t speak to it’s effectiveness first hand.

Idea #4 – Teach kids/students how to be safe and protected online by using Chrome Extensions like AdBlock and Privacy Badger and turning on SafeSearch. We should be doing this anyway, whether or not other layers of control are implemented. Ideally, as kids get older we should be loosening the reins, while also teaching them the skills they need to be safe online, and this includes using simple extensions to protect their privacy and using built in filters available to them like SafeSearch. These won’t help if students don’t want to use them, but at some point we need to trust that they can and will make good decisions.

Idea #5 – Finally, I did come across some more enterprise options for schools that seem to also include home filtering functionality. These include companies like GoGuardian and Relay from Lightspeed.

This is what I have so far. I would love to hear from other BYOD schools about the sort of advice they give parents to help them keep their kids safe while also encouraging positive online habits and behaviours.


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