Use Windows Parental Controls To Limit And Monitor Online Activities

For many parents, the most distressing time is often the time when their kids are using the computer. They have no idea what their kids are doing online and whether they are picking up bad habits from the Web. Thankfully, Windows has a built-in parental control tool that allows the parents to control what their children can and cannot access.

Assuming you are holding the Administrator account for your Windows computer, you can setup a restricted a user account for your kids and limit their access to only certain parts of the operating system.

To create an account for your children, click on the Windows Start button and type in “Add User”. From the list, select “Add Or Remove User Accounts”.

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When the window opens, click “Add New User” and enter the child’s name. Keep the default of Standard User and finish by clicking “Create Account”. The accounts can be customized for each child or made to cover a broader spectrum for all of the children. If you want one account for each child, repeat the setup step for each child.

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When in the accounts page, you’ll see the “Set Up Parental Controls tab” below the user names. Click that to open the Windows Live Family Safety options. You’ll need to sign in to your Windows Live account to set permissions or create an account before moving on. Click on the username that you want to monitor and you’ll see that the account by default blocks adult sites and turns activity reporting on. To change settings for the user or to make user specific settings, click on the Familysafety.live.com link, then click on Edit Settings under the user.

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Maybe you don’t want to block certain sites altogether but you want to limit the time your children spend on them. That’s easy to do in the settings for each category and it’s linked across Bing, Google, Yahoo, as well as other popular search engines to ensure the settings remain standard across all platforms.

Web Filtering

If blocking adult sites is too generic and you want to be more specific about the sites your child visits, setting up web filtering may be more helpful. There are several options to choose from like blocking file downloads, allowing your child to visit only sites that you put on an allowed site list, allowing sites that are only designated for children, and allowing or blocking social networking, web chats, and web mail. I will be using that next time I ground my teens to make sure there’s no way of them sneaking online to social media sites when I’m not home!

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Blocking Sites

If you want to block or allow only certain sites, in the Web Filtering tab, click on Web Filtering Lists. Here you can enter the URL of any site. Choose to block or allow it, and choose what user it’s set for. You can also use the lists you create for other users or import a list from another user to help save time.

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The reporting needs to be active for a short time before it will start to display usage report, so get it setup before you plan to start monitoring the user. Some may find this setting to be invasive but as a parent, you can never be too careful about where your children are going online or how much time they spend there. Within the Activity tab, there are several sub-sections where you can break down how the data is displayed.

Web Activity

The Web Activity tab will display the web addresses of sites the user had visited along with any actions taken on the site, when they last visited the site, and how may visits within a certain date range. This is a handy tool to have so you can see if your child is having trouble getting homework done due to distractions. It’s also handy if your child is doing a research project and forgets the site they were on. You can use this list to track that site down to be bookmarked for future reference.

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PC Activity

To see a list of PC activities for a specific user, click on that tab and you’ll see a summary of how long the user was online during a specific date range, how many apps they used, any file downloads, and any games played.

Some of the settings are geared toward younger children but it’s the teenagers who push the limits and find ways around your rules or punishments. Let the time limits section of the controls help you to enforce those rules. The setting is turned off by default, so navigate to the tab and set a curfew for using the computer to allow only the times you want them to have access. Be sure to set secure passwords to your other user accounts so they won’t be able to go around the curfew by using your account.

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In the Game Restrictions tab, you can use a rating system to determine the type of games that are okay for the user. Everything from Early Childhood to Adults Only games are represented here. Highlight the ones you want to enforce for the user and then save your settings.

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If you prefer a different rating system, click on the tab to “Choose A Different Game Rating System”. A lengthy list of rating systems will be available to choose from. Below is just a sample of the options.

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As with the Web Activity section, you can choose to block or allow specific games instead of relying on a rating system to be the judge for you.

If you desire, you can block or allow any apps running on your computer from a user. I didn’t see the use for blocking apps from other users until I realized the hidden benefit – the ability to block all web browsers. If I have restricted permissions for my child to use the computer but they try to when I’m not around, I could look at the activity log and see that they were online but they have already had their fun. By blocking the web browsers, they can’t get online at all, reinforcing my rule to not be online.

If your household has multiple PC’s you should set up the Family Safety on all of them. You don’t have to enter all of the information again for each computer. All you have to do is associate all of the PC’s a child uses and the Family Safety software will generate a single report showing all of the activity and which PC it came from.

In the Family Safety link, click on Family Summary. At the bottom of that page, you’ll see Your Devices. All devices you want to associate to your account need to have the Family Safety software downloaded to them but there’s a link within that section that allows you to do so. Then you can add and remove PC’s from the list as needed.

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Digging into the settings of your computer isn’t as scary as you think. With just a few minutes of setup and configuring each user’s permissions, you’re ready for an indefinite benefit. Monitoring your children’s computer use isn’t always practical and can be daunting. Using and setting the parental controls will give you peace of mind that anything your kids are doing online is already approved and the time they spend is only as much as you have allowed.