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Smart Home

How to use Alexa's parental controls

If your kiddos have an Alexa speaker in their room, it's a good idea to enable parental controls. Here's how.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Back in April, Amazon announced the new Echo Dot Kids Edition. Aside from Alexa having a more playful tone and simplified language, Amazon also packed in a much-needed feature for parents: FreeTime. 

At its core, FreeTime is parental control for Alexa and other devices, like Kindles, Fire tablets and Amazon services on Android and iOS devices.

Here's how to set up FreeTime and other parental controls on Alexa devices.

Enable FreeTime

For starters, you will need to enable FreeTime on a per-device basis -- so not every Alexa device around your home responds with dad jokes when you tell it, "Good morning." 

To enable FreeTime:

  • Open the Alexa app on your iOS or Android device.
  • Tap the hamburger button in the top left to expand the left menu and select Alexa Devices.
  • Select one of the devices from the list.
  • Scroll down and select FreeTime under General.
  • Tap the toggle to the right of FreeTime.
  • Select Setup Amazon FreeTime [sic].
  • Type in your child's first name, select a gender and enter the birthdate.
  • Choose an icon and select Add Child.
  • Tap Continue, then enter your Amazon password and tap Sign in. It may also ask you to confirm it's you through two-factor authentication.

Once it's enabled, you can disable FreeTime by returning to this menu and simply tapping the toggle next to FreeTime.

Disabling features

Once FreeTime is enabled, you will be able to toggle different Alexa features on and off, depending on what you want to allow your children to use on their Alexa speaker.

To do this, go to parents.amazon.com. Devices you have set up with FreeTime enabled will be listed there. In this menu, you can adjust the age filter, disable access to smart home devices and manage what music services they can access. You can also disable Calling & Messaging, Drop In and Amazon Music, or enable an explicit filter to block songs or entire music services on that particular device.

If your child has a tendency to continue using the Alexa speaker after bedtime, you can pause the device for anywhere between one and 12 hours. 

Another helpful feature is Daily Time Limits, which lets you set a maximum allowed time for things like apps, Audible, reading books or watching videos.

Specifically for Alexa devices, you can manually approve content, such as skills you've previously enabled or Audible books. For Kindles, Fire tablets and other Alexa devices, you can manually control what content is approved, like individual apps, videos and books. 

You can also monitor your kids' usage and see call and message history.

FreeTime Unlimited

Access to parental controls is part of the free tier of FreeTime.

However, you can step things up a notch by upgrading to FreeTime Unlimited. Pricing in the US ranges from $4.99 per month for a single child to $9.99 for up to four children. In the UK, a Fire for Kids plan starts at £1.99 per month; amazon.com.au mentions Parental Controls but doesn't seem to advertise a subscription.

Alternatively, you can pay $119 annually for an entire family. There is no annual plan for a single child.

If you are a Prime member, you'll pay $2.99 for a single child, $6.99 for up to four children or $83.99 for an annual membership. For the UK Fire for Kids plan, it's £3.99 for one child and £7.99 for up to four children, or £1.99/£4.99 with prime.

FreeTime Unlimited is essentially a subscription service that gives your children unlimited access to content Amazon deems safe for kids in certain age groups (3-5, 6-8 or 9-12). They'll be able to access over 15,000 apps, games, videos and books and other educational content. And using the Parent Dashboard, you can control exactly what they'll have access to. Don't like a specific TV channel or app? You can block it.

On Alexa devices, FreeTime Unlimited will grant your kids access to ad-free radio stations, hundreds of Audible books, kid-friendly Alexa skills and other features.

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Other parental controls

Beyond FreeTime and the Parent Dashboard, Alexa has several built-in parental features that can be helpful.

Voice purchasing

If you have voice purchasing enabled on your Alexa devices, there are some precautions you should take to prevent your kids from shopping with Alexa.

You can secure voice purchasing with a PIN that has to be spoken before an order can be placed. Or you can disable voice purchasing altogether, which will still allow you to add items to your Amazon cart and track orders -- you just won't be able to complete a purchase using your voice.

Do not disturb

If you have notifications enabled for your Alexa speakers, it's a good idea to enable a Do Not Disturb schedule.

Do this by going to Settings > [Device Name] in the Alexa app or at alexa.amazon.com and tapping the toggle to the right of Do Not Disturb. Next, click Scheduled, toggle it on and edit the daily start and end times.

This will prevent notifications, Drop Ins and other possible sounds from that speaker after hours. If you suspect your kids are chatting with one another through their Alexa speakers after they should be asleep, a Do Not Disturb schedule on both should nip that in the bud.

Also, consider learning how to use your Alexa speaker as an intercom to let everyone know when dinner is ready.

Or keep your kids busy with these 20 Alexa games.