Let Your Kids “Hangout” With Their Friends in Isolation

TLDR: Set up a supervised gmail account for your children using Google Family Link. Set Up their Android/ChromeOS device using Google Family Link. Install Google Hangouts. Swap your kids gmail address with their friends and they should be able to connect to each other for instant messaging, audio calls and video calls. Using Family Link you can restrict how long they use Hangouts.

Lonely days and boredom are upon us. Stuck at home with your kids and their boredom could drive you mad. If only they could “Hangout” with their friends.

There are a lot of ways you can communicate face-to-face with friends and family online. Most messaging apps allow text messages, audio calls and video calls and usually group messaging and calling. You could allow your kids to use your own accounts to communicate but then they wouldn’t be able to use it when you need it. 

When it comes to setting up a new messaging account for your child there are some limitations for each of the most common apps.

In my opinion, Whatsapp is the best internet messaging app to use. It is popular so a lot of people are already on it. It performs very well with text, audio calls and video calls and it encrypts your messages for an added layer of security. However since it requires a mobile phone number to use it there is no guarantee your kids’ friends will all have access. 

Facebook Messenger is one of the most popular messaging apps and has some fun features but to set one up for your kids they need an email address and a Facebook account. I’m reluctant to sign up my kids to Facebook, especially since the minimum age is 13.

Skype and many other similar messaging apps require an email address to set up but if you set up a Gmail address for your child, they already have access to Google Hangouts.

Setting up a Google Account

The minimum age for a google account is 13 years. You can lie about their birthdate to create them a full google account but this goes against their terms and conditions and there is a better way… a Supervised Account.

You can use the Google Family Link App to create a Google account for a child under 13 if you agree to link it to your own Google account. You can give them full access once they turn 13 or you can continue to supervise their account until their 18th birthday. 

Click the + to add a Child Account
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If your child logs in to Google in a browser on a PC the supervising parent will need to approve the login and some restrictions may apply but most of the Family Link features will not work. To get the most out of the supervising features, use the Supervised Account to set up a new Android device or Chromebook. These features include:

  • Set a screen time limit, eg. 3 hours per day.
  • Set a “bedtime”, eg. device locked from 8pm til 8am.
  • Remotely lock/unlock their device including adding “Bonus Time”, eg. adding 20mins “Bonus Time” temporarily unlocks their device.
  • Restrict or block access to certain apps, eg. only 1hr of Netflix per day.
  • Filter apps from the app store, eg. only show PG and below.
  • Filter on media (TV, FIlm, Music, Books), eg. block explicit content, only show PG and below, etc.
  • Track the location of the device including making it ring to help find it or remotely erase it if lost.

Once you have created the Google account you use it to log into Hangouts.

Google Hangouts

Hangouts has been around since 2013. For a while, Google wanted it to be the default app for SMS to try and compete with Apple’s iMessage. It is possible to receive SMS messages and Internet messages using Hangouts if your device has an active SIM card installed however it works just fine for Internet messaging only.

To start messaging click on “New Conversation”, enter the Gmail/Google address of your friend and start typing. Once you are connected in Hangouts you can initiate a Video/Audio chat.

If you are using the Android app there is a button that looks like a handset, you can click on that to start an audio only call… but you can activate the camera during the call if you want. Conversely you click on the camera icon to start a video call… but you can switch off the camera if you want.

PC/Browser version of Hangouts – click “New Conversation” to add a contact or group.

If you are using hangouts on a PC or from a browser sometimes the button that looks like a handset will attempt to call a phone number instead of making an internet call. This feature could allow you to call any phone number in the world but it costs money. If you have not bought any credit the call will fail so to use the free internet call from a PC/browser click on the video icon to start the call. Switch on or off the camera as you wish.

Group Messaging/Call

Hangouts support group messaging and group calls. To start group messaging click “New Conversation” and then click on “New Group”. Add your contacts and then start sending text messages. Everyone can see each message and also who wrote it and who else has seen it.

There are a few ways to start a group call:

  1. Start a call with someone and then “Invite” some of your other contacts.
  2. Start a call and then “Invite” other people by sharing a link, eg. copy the link into an email, text message, etc. and send it to a new contact, they click on the link and join the call.
  3. Open one of your Group messages and start a call, all members of the group will be added to the call.

Hanging out in Isolation

There you have it. Once they are set up with hangouts they can get in touch with their friends and hang out and because their accounts are supervised you can make sure they don’t stay up all night chatting.

Some ideas for using hangouts:

  • Play a boardgame together – make sure the camera can see the board and take turns. Some games might require each player to have their own copy.
  • Do craft together – chat while colouring, creating, building and show what you are making on camera.
  • Read a book together or discuss a book.
  • Watch a TV show together – might require pressing play at the same time and using a headset to prevent feedback
  • Play lego – (see craft above 😉 )
  • Play a video game together – although a lot of online gaming have their own chat systems
  • Do your homework together – it’s not all fun and games, isolation could last well into next term.
  • Do some cooking together – Master Chef style, cook the same thing, see who’s dish looks the best. One problem might be getting ingredients with all the panic buying.
  • Play simon-says

That last one was scraping the bottom of the barrel but maybe you can think of more ideas.

I hope this information has been useful for you. 

Good luck, 
stay safe, 
have fun,
Glen Hawksworth
Technology Penguin