Parental Controls: How to Manage Your Child’s Computer Use

As parents, it’s important that we train and guide our children in all sorts of ways, and that where possible, we protect them from the things they aren’t ready for yet. When it comes to technology that can be a particularly tricky challenge to navigate. In our previous two posts, we’ve talked about some of the ways you can do that on iPhone and Android devices. Today, we’ll wrap up the series with a look at some of the things you can do on your computer and wifi network.

User Accounts: Windows 10

One of the first things you should do if your child is going to be using a computer is creating a separate user account for them. This allows you to implement various parental controls including browser content filtering, screen time limits, app restrictions, and more. It also prevents your child from accessing or modifying important system settings. Giving a child access to a user account that has administrator privileges is a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, both Windows 10 and macOS make it pretty easy to create user accounts for your children. In Windows 10, there are a couple different ways to go about setting up parental controls. If your child already has a Microsoft account, that they use to sign into your computer (or their own), then you head to Microsoft’s website, sign in, and add the child to your family. An invitation will be sent to the email address they use for their Microsoft account. If your they don’t have a Microsoft account, then instead of sending them the invitation from Microsoft’s website, you’ll need to create an account for them, and the invitation will be sent to that account. Once they accept the invitation, you’ll be able to use the same website to monitor their activities, enable app and web content restrictions, and set screen time limits. The best part is that Microsoft account settings follow users from computer to computer, so your parental controls will be in place on any Windows 10 computer your child signs into with their Microsoft account.

User Accounts: macOS

For you Mac users out there, macOS offers a similar set of controls. To create a new account for your child, open up System Preferences, click Parental Controls, then click Add a Managed User. Click on the lock icon, then enter your administrator username and password. If you want to add parental controls to an existing user account, just click on that account and then click Enable Parental Controls. If you need to create your child’s account first, just click the add button (the big plus sign), choose an age group from the menu, enter the user’s name, then create a username and password. Once that’s done, you can select the user and start managing their restrictions. You can limit your child’s access to installed apps, the computer’s camera, multiplayer games in Game Center, contacts in Mail, and more. You can also limit access to websites, access to the iTunes Store, and iBooks store, set content restrictions for books, music, movies, and TV, set screen time limits, and restrict access to Siri and Dictation.

Browser-based Parental Controls

While Microsoft’s parental controls do many things well, there is one glaring hole in their capabilities: they can’t filter web content on third party web browsers. In other words, your child won’t be able to access inappropriate content when they’re using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Edge browsers, there are no such restrictions in place for browsers like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions to the problem. The easiest option is to simply use Microsoft’s parental controls to restrict access to other browsers, so that Internet Explorer or Edge are the only available options. If you don’t want to do that, though, there are still options, though they vary from browser to browser. Firefox’s solution to the problem is extremely simple: it simply checks the operating system, to see if parental controls are turned on. If they are, it activates all its own safety features, including web content filtering, turning off private browsing, and more. Additionally, there are a number of browser extensions that allow you to filter online content.

With Google Chrome, the situation is a little trickier. Up until January of this year, Google offered a full-featured and generally well-regarded Supervised Users feature as part of the Chrome browser. It allowed parents to monitor their kids’ activities, restrict access to inappropriate websites, and more. For reasons that remain unknown, Google removed the service in January, and has yet to roll out a replacement. That said, if your child is using a Chromebook, you have the option of using the same Family Link feature we talked about in our last post about Android parental controls. To set that up, simply use the Family Link app on your iPhone or Android phone to create an account for your child, then use that account to sign into the Chromebook they’ll be using. Most of the parental control settings you’ve already applied to their account will automatically apply to the Chromebook (a few features, like screen time limits and location tracking, aren’t available).

Of course, if you aren’t using a Chromebook and want to use Google Chrome, you’re in a bit of a bind. Fortunately, there are a some browser extensions that you can use to pick up some of the slack, including TinyFilter, Nanny, FamilyFriendly, and Parental Controls & Web Filter from Metacert.

WiFi Based Parental Controls

While the solutions we’ve talked about so far are primarily device-based – i.e., they’re settings that you modify directly on your computer – there are also some solutions that allow you to set limits for your entire home wifi network. While some of these solutions can be a little complicated, they’re mostly a lot simpler than you might think.

One of the best and simplest ways to restrict access to adult content on your home network is with OpenDNS. OpenDNS Family Shield is a free domain name system (DNS) filtering service that blocks access to objectionable internet content. With just a little tinkering (OpenDNS offers instructions here), you can set up content filtering on your router, which will block content for every device on your network, or on individual devices like laptops, desktops, smartphones, and tablets.

While DNS filtering is an effective solution for content filtering and internet security, setting it up can be a bit daunting if you aren’t used to digging into your router or your computer’s settings and making changes. Fortunately, there are a few solutions out there that are a little more user-friendly, for example, Disney’s Circle device. It’s a filtering device that filters content on your network and allows you to manage your child’s online activities via a simple iOS or Android app. You can use it to limit access to specific apps, as well as for online content filtering.

At Phone Medics Plus, we know that raising kids is a lot of work, and keeping them safe isn’t always easy, even if all you’re trying to do is shield them from things they aren’t quite ready for yet. In a time where the internet is accessible from practically everywhere, shielding your kids from inappropriate content is even harder than it once was. In this series we’ve tried to give you some tools to help you get a handle on your kids’ online activities, whether they’re using an iPhone, an Android phone, or a PC.