While most UK ISPs offer family safety software, parents should also be aware of the options already available to them on Windows 7 PCs.
Microsoft Parental Controls are a standard feature of all desktops and laptops running Home editions of Windows 7. No extra downloads or installations are required, and Microsoft Parental Controls are completely free to use.
Parental Controls gives parents the ability to manage what their children can and can’t see online and allows them to set time limits.
Access to age-rated games, apps and programs can also be regulated.
In this feature we’ll take you through the basics of parental controls on PCs and laptops running Windows 7, where they are, what they do and how to enable them.
How to turn on Parental Internet Controls on Windows 7 PCs
Turning on Parental Internet Controls on Windows 7 is easy. From the Start menu, head over to Control Panel, then go to User Accounts. This is located towards the bottom-right of the screen.
Alternatively, hover the mouse over on any of the icons and press ‘U’ on the keyboard to skip to User Accounts. You should then arrive here:
In User Accounts click Set up Parental Controls
This starts off the whole process of creating profiles and setting limits for your children. Click 'Create a new user account' to start this process.
Set an Admin password
When you set up your Windows PC or laptop for the first time, you will have created an Administrator profile during set up. This is the main profile you use to log in.
Your Admin password acts as an umbrella for all your children's accounts. Parents can, through the admin account, apply controls and resitrctions to individual children's accounts. Make sure you create a strong password, one that your children won't be able to easily guess.
If you’ve not already created a profile for your child to use, create one now.
Create profiles for your children
To create a profile click 'Create a new user account'. Enter the name of your child (or let them create their own username) and click 'Create account'.
Create passwords for them or let them create their own. Parents may want to create passwords for their children, which means that they will need to ask permission to go online.
Setting passwords for each child's profile
This is where things get slightly tricky.
To assign a password to each child’s profile, first log out of the Administrator profile (press Start, click the arrow next to Shut Down, select ‘Log off’ from the list) and then log in under your child’s profile.
From here, go to Control Panel, User Accounts and Family Safety and User Accounts.
Click ‘Change your Windows password’ to create and save a password for your child. When they come to use the PC or laptop and they’ll need to get you to enter it for them (so make sure it’s easy to remember!) or if you feel your child is responsible enough, you can choose to share it with them.
Once you’ve set up all the profiles you’ll need and applied passwords, log back in to your Administrator account.
Download and install Family Safety from Windows Essentials
Family Safety is a free download from Microsoft that’s part of Windows Essentials.
Windows Essentials comes with a host of useful programs like SkyDrive and Windows Live Mail but it’s Family Safety, that we’ll take a look at here. You’ll need to create a Microsoft Account first of all which is free to do and can be done here here.
Once you’ve got your Microsoft Account sorted, you’ll then need to download Windows Essentials.
Select ‘Family Safety’ from the options and click OK.
When you’ve downloaded and installed Windows Live Essentials, head over to the Parental Controls panel (Start > Control Panel > User Accounts > Parental Controls).
Click on any child’s profile and you’ll be given the option to apply the advanced Family Safety settings.
When prompted, sign in here with your Microsoft Account.
Keep a note of the details you use to sign in. This will be your key to applying filters to adult sites and keep a log of which sites your children have been looking at.
How to use Family Safety
Once you’ve gone through the rigmarole of downloading and installing Family Safety you’re ready to actually start using it.
When signed in with your Windows Live ID click the link ‘familysafety.microsoft.com’ to be taken to the Family Safety site.
From here you can apply a number of things including:
- Web filtering - a predetermined blacklist of adult sites which will be blocked by default.
- Web filtering lists - the ability for parents to add and remove sites from the blacklist as and when it suits.
- Activity reporting - keep an eye on what your children have been getting up to online.
- Requests - if your child wants to access a site or play a game they’ll need to send a request to you - you can approve or deny requests here.
- Time limits - specify how long your children can use the computer for
- Game restrictions - restrict access to any games you think are unsuitable
- App restrictions - block access to any apps or programs (like Skype, iTunes or Windows Media Player)
We’ll take a quick look at these in greater detail.
Web filtering and Web filtering lists
This section lets you apply blocks to a lists of websites including adult sites and social networks. There are five different levels of block which can be applied and are as follows:
- Warn on adult - Allows access to all sites but pops up a warning in case someone stumbles upon an adult site
- Online communication (basic) - Provides access to Facebook, Twitter and Myspace, chat sites and web mail. Adult sites are blocked.
- General Interest - allows access to most of the web, with social networks and adults sites firmly blocked
- Designed for Children - Only allows sites specifically aimed at children
- Allow List only - Only allows access to sites which parents have specifically specified
The ‘Allow List’ can be manually configured by parents in the ‘Web filtering lists’ section. Setting up an allow list is perhaps a good idea for very young children who are just starting out with computers and are learning to use the web.
It’s also useful for blocking inappropriate sites which might slip through the net or conversely, unblocking innocuous sites which have been unfairly flagged as harmful.
Allowing and blocking sites is easy - all you need to do is copying and paste the URL (web address) of a site into the text field and then click either ‘Allow’ or ‘Block’. Using the drop down to the right of the block button, you can specify whether or not changes apply to one person, all children or everyone in the family.
Activity reporting lets parents remotely monitor what sites their children have been accessing in a long which can be accessed at any time. This gives children the freedom to use the internet without you looking over their shoulder while letting responsible adults keep track of what they’re up to.
As well as tracking what sites are visited online, parents can also see what’s been downloaded, what games have been played and what programs and apps have been used.
When your child tries to access a site or use a program that’s been blocked they’ll see a message that looks like this:
From here they can click a button to request access to the site or program and/or email you directly to ask why this site/program/app has been blocked.
Parents can respond to and manage access in the Requests section of Family Safety. Here you can approve or deny requests for access, come to an agreement or talk to your child about why this kind of site or program isn’t suitable.
This section lets you apply curfews to PC use, limiting when children can log in at certain times of day. This can be used to specify homework time and lock down excessive use during school nights or free up gaming time for the weekends.
Parents can specify time in half an hour blocks. In the Family Safety site, you can easily specify blocks of time by clicking and dragging with the mouse to select large blocks of time in one go.
In our example, we’ve set it so that PC use is restricted until after school hours, shutting off before bed time, with restrictions on time easing up as the weekend approaches. PC access on Saturdays and Sundays are freed up until the small hours.
Game and App restrictions
In the UK, games have been until recently rated by both PEGI (Pan European Gaming Information) and the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification).
The age rating of games is now solely the preserve of PEGI (3+, 7+ 12+ 16+ and 18+) though you may find that older titles still carry the older BBFC ratings (U, PG, 12, 15, 18).
In Family Safety, parents can use a slider to apply blocks based on both age ranking systems, restricting access to titles they don’t consider appropriate.
App restrictions can be applied to apps and programs which use an internet connection but aren’t accessed through a web browser like Internet Explorer and Firefox. Parents might want to restrict access to things like Skype and Windows Live Messenger if they’re unsure about their children chatting online and programs like iTunes or Windows Media Player if they don’t want them downloading or playing songs with explicit lyrics.
Parental Internet Controls - Things to remember
- Keep a note of your Administrator password - you need this to set up profiles for your children.
- Keep a record of your Windows Live ID and password - you need this to apply adult content filters.
These controls and filters will only apply to Windows 7 PCs and laptops. If your child has a smartphone then they could connect to your home WiFi network and bypass the profiles you’ve meticulously set up.
With iPhones and iPads, parental controls can be easily applied and we explain how to do this in a separate feature.