Google Assistant launches parental controls and kid-friendly updates

A Google smart screen device sits on a wooden table. On the screen is a kid-friendly definition of a telescope, which reads,

Kids, parents, and Google Assistant users near and far now have access to a childhood-adapted virtual assistant experience, as Google launches new Google Assistant tools. 

The latest virtual assistant update, released on Nov. 2, includes safety features and customization updates that seek to make using family devices a more accessible, child-friendly resource. A range of new choices, including kid-directed responses and voices meant to mimic the educational and emotive voice of a teacher or friendly adult, make the digital Assistant experience more attuned to its users than ever before.

Payam Shodjai, director of product management for Google Assistant, explained that the customizations aren't just for parents to better oversee their children's device use, but actually part of a larger goal to create a more natural, voice-forward helper that's accessible to all users, even kids. "We have about 700 million people that turn to Assistant every month to get things done across the world in many different countries and languages," he said. "When we look ahead, we envision an Assistant that is even more intelligent and personalized, that is more proactive, and that is also inclusive to everyone."

Kid-friendly updates like these, which will work across all devices once activated in your Google account settings, embrace the use of tech as an at-home resource for families and offer smarter ways to use Google's resources.

New account-specific parental controls 

Users must modify their existing Assistant profile settings to access the new features — make sure your child's voice has been added to your Family Link account. Then, using the Google Home, Family Link, and Google Assistant apps on Android and iOS, users can modify the profile's media settings, enable or disable certain Assistant functions, and even establish Assistant downtime for child accounts.

A screenshot of the Google Assistant parental controls menu.
Parents and account holders can manage music, videos, screen time, and other features. Credit: Google

Account holders can pre-select various music and video providers, like YouTube Kids, YouTube, and YouTube Music, to regulate their child's content access. Adults can also choose to allow their children access to news channels and podcasts. Parents have the option of choosing what kind of answers Assistant provides.

Basic Assistant functions, such as making phone calls, can be restricted on child profiles, and the update now lets account holders set Google Assistant downtime, just like on personal Android devices and Chromebooks. 

To adjust these controls or block off usage time, go to Google Assistant settings, navigate to parental controls, and adjust to what works best for your family.  

Kid-friendly Google Assistant voices

"Today, kids are growing up with technology rather than into technology, like my generation or my parents' generation," Shodjai explained. "With that in mind, it's important for us to approach kids' interactions with assistants in a very thoughtful and very responsible manner."

Part of this involved designing a wider range of what Google calls "demographically diverse" voices for Google Assistant itself. This resulted in four new Assistant voices meant to acknowledge a range of genders and regional inflections (although each still uses standard English), based on responses from surveyed parents and children. 

Four different colored boxes with smiles hover below a quote that reads,
The four new voices are referred to as Explore, Rio, Cosmic, and Breeze. Credit: Google

The four new voices were chosen from a casting call of more than 300 voice actors, Shodjai told Mashable. "They're supposed to be like a favorite teacher, or good friend. They speak in a bit of a slower and more expressive style, which helps with storytelling but also helps with comprehension," Shodjai said. Each voice also uses unique words and phrasing to convey the same answer to inquisitive kids. 

To activate the new voices, simply have your child ask Google to change its voice. 

Google's kid-friendly dictionary

Google Assistant will also introduce a new dictionary of words, phrases, and definitions that will be automatically used for child profiles. When Google Assistant detects your child's voice asking a question, it will offer simplified and age-appropriate answers different from the standard (often dry and technical) adult responses. 

To build this feature, Google worked with partners and various sources that specialize in creating age-appropriate dictionary answers. From this baseline, Google tested the feature with parents and kids of different ages, noting the responses that resonated the most with families.

The new update works across speakers, smart displays, and mobile devices.