NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, January 2008
New Computer? Protect Your Kids While Online
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/windowsvista/features/details/ parentalcontrols.mspx http://tech.yahoo.com/gd/using-parental-controls-in-windows-vista/200425 http://tech.yahoo.com/blog/devlin/19805 - Set up Parental Control Schedule

New computers, both desktops and laptops (notebooks), were very popular gifts this Christmas and Hanukkah season. Almost all new PCs sold for the holidays had some version of Microsoft Vista installed as the operating system. While there have been some operational debates about Vista, there is one integral feature in Vista (except in the Business version) that may be very useful if the new computer is to be used in a family with children. Vista has built in to it a simple, but effective child safety feature called Parental Controls.

The parental Controls in Vista allows the parents to specify what times of day the child can use the computer, block harmful websites, control access to video games on the computer, and perform other child safety functions. Each person in the family should have his or her own logon and username on Vista, with a parent retaining the administrative authority. One of the basic functions to help control when the child accesses the computer is the “Time Limits” function, which will create a graphic schedule of when the child is allowed on the computer.

This is easy to setup by clicking on START – CONTROL PANEL – USER ACCOUNTS – SET UP PARENTAL CONTROLS. If the computer is password protected, Vista may ask for the administrator’s password. Next, select the child’s account that should be restricted, and then click “ON” in the Parental Controls window. Click on “TIME LIMITS”, and an hourly template will appear; in the grid, click on the hours that you will allow the child to access the computer. The schedule can be set up on a daily basis, with different hours selected for each day. The child can not logon to the computer if he tries to access it at an unauthorized time, and will automatically be logged off if using the computer at the ending time pre-selected by the parent.

There are probably millions of inappropriate websites in cyber space, plus there may be specific websites that the parent wants to either allow or restrict. The “Web Filter” can automatically block categories of websites selected from an age appropriate list, or the parent can specify websites to restrict. The Web Filter can be found on the Parental Controls window. Click on “Windows Vista Web Filter” and select “Block web content automatically” to use the integral filtering function, or “Block some websites or content” where specific web addresses can be entered. There is also a checkbox which can be checked to “Block file downloads” to prevent the child from downloading any content to the hard drive. If the automatic web filtering function is selected, the parent can select the level of protection and filtering desired from the four options presented. “High” blocks all websites except those that are appropriate for children 8 to 12 years old. “Medium” filters websites based on web content, blocking inappropriate content, but allows access to other websites; there is also an available “Parental Controls Activity Report” that allows the parent to view the child’s online activities. The filter selection “None” does not block any web content. The “Custom” option allows the parent to restrict or allow access to websites from a selection of topics, such as pornography, mature content (sexually explicit that is not medical or scientific), sex education, hate speech, bomb making, weapons, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and gambling. There is also a selection that optionally restricts access to websites with “unrated” content that is not identified and rated by the web filter.

There are countless computer games available, and many of them have content inappropriate for young children. Vista give the parent the ability to control access to computer games. Choices available to the parent include “Block all games”, “Block games by age rating”, “Block games by content”, and “Block specific games.” Many PC games have a listed age rating which the parent may choose to follow. Games may also contain violent, gory, or sexual content which parents may wish to block. To determine the level and content of a game, read the box the game was originally packaged in, as they typically contain that information, with the age rating typically being on the front of the box, and the content being listed on the back. Vista can also determine the content and level for many games by clicking on ALL PROGRAMS – GAMES and then GAMES EXPLORER. Select the game from the list, and the age rating and content descriptors will be displayed at the bottom of the window.

Parents may also want to restrict which software installed on the computer can and cannot be accessed by the child. The process is simple; from the Parental Controls menu click “Block specific programs.” Click on the child’s name followed by “can only use the programs I allow in this list, and then select the programs allowed. The traditional “Browse” function can be used to locate allowed programs.

Despite all of the controversies about Windows Vista, it is still a very viable choice for home use, especially if there are young children in the family. The ability to selectively protect our children from some of the dangers of the internet is a valuable feature of Vista. One warning for the parents; do not use a password that the children are likely to guess. Our kids are often more computer literate than we are, and we give them credit as they often know more about computers than we think they know. Children also get computer help from peers, and can often find ways around the blocking and filtering. Use a difficult to guess password, and do not write it down where the children are likely to find it, or it will be compromised, and the blocking and filtering can be edited or deactivated by the child. Use a different profile for each child. Despite the shortcomings, I would have to give Microsoft kudos for including child protection at the system level in Vista. As our most precious resource, they must be protected.

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