This is a very common question I get… How do I set time limits on the computer so my child isn’t on the internet all night?
The key to this is setting up individual accounts and using the Parental Control feature. This was started in Vista and continues in Windows 7.
But I get ahead of myself. The first item I mentioned is setting up accounts. When most people buy a computer and bring it home, they just want to turn it on and GO. In most cases, that annoying little intro where you put in your name and set up a password is just skipped and the password is left blank. It makes it easy for anyone to just sit down at the computer and do what they want. But on the flipside, it makes it easy for anyone to make changes or install software that might not be a good idea. The worst of this is the proliferation of kid-oriented websites that want to install “extras” that end up being malware and slow down your computer.
Laying Down the LAW
As the parent, it’s your job to be the boss on the computer. If you child is used to having free reign, this can be a bit of an issue. Don’t worry about it. You paid for the computer and the monthly internet cost. It’s your right to set limits.
The first step is to go into the Control Panel and open up User Accounts. If you haven’t done this before, you will likely just have a single Administrator account with a blank password. The first step is to assign a password that ONLY the parents know to this account. Then click the links that let you make new accounts. Make one for each member of the family that uses the computer. You’ll be given a choice whether this will be a Standard account or an Administrator. Make sure the kids are only Standard. This forces them to ask permission to install anything new.
Another benefit to having separate accounts is what shows up on your desktop isn’t what shows up on theirs. It also lets you rest easy that the kiddos don’t have access to your My Documents folder. And as Administrator, you have full access to ALL the files, so it lets you check up on their stuff on occasion. Also, when you make the kids profiles, you can leave their password blank and let them know they can put their own in that can be their own secret. Even though you won’t be able to log directly onto their accounts, you will still have full logging of all their activity and files. It will help soften the blow a bit of the new limits.
We all need boundaries
Once the accounts are set up, then you can open Parental Contols in the Control Panel. The interface is fairly intuitive. There is a magic setting in there that lets you set time limits for each day of the week. This way, the kids can have access a little later during the weekend.
Now, if you’re running Vista, you can also setup an internet log and limit the level of adult websites that can be opened. The limits generally turn into a pain in the butt. The software checks advertisements as well as the page content. In several cases, this blocked YouTube, which was not acceptable. So for this, I accept the standard settings.
In Windows 7, Microsoft wanted to maintain their level of confusion, so they removed the logging and filtering capability. It’s still available through a download though. For this, you’ll need to install the Windows Live Family Safety. This is available with Windows Update on the Optional tab. Of course, it’s going to come with LOTS of other things. Some of them such as the Movie Maker and Photo Gallery are nice to have (and used to be standard too). Other things can depend on what you do with your computer (Mail, Messenger and a Blog Writer). You’ll also need to have a Windows Live account to set up the Family Safety. Most people already have this if they use Hotmail. If you don’t already have a Live account, just follow the prompts to create one. This will be your UNIVERSAL access to Microsoft, so it’s important to remember your logon and password.
One advantage to having the Windows Live account and using the new Family Safety is you can check on you’re kids internet activity from any computer with internet access.
Across the Board
If you have more than one computer in the house, it’s important to do the same set up on ALL of them. Even/especially if it’s a computer in your child’s room. Even if you rarely if ever use that computer, you should always establish an Administrator account.
What about Windows XP?
This is the only kink in this plan. Currently the only way to monitor or limit a user’s activity in WinXP is by using a third party application. There are likely several open source programs available for free, but I can only endorse Net Nanny from experience. Back when I used it, it ran about $35, but was well worth the investment. All the securities of user accounts can still be put in place, but as far as limiting internet time, there isn’t a native solution.
So, that’s my solution in a nutshell. As always, if you have any questions or more explanation, please leave a comment and I’ll gladly get back to you as soon as I can.