The Internet opens up a world of possibilities and countless risks, especially for children. Windows 8 has a built in parental control facility called Family Safety. It allows the system administrator to monitor and control the activity of users on the device. Some parents may believe parental control software is invasive, but if you keep a watchful eye over your children in the real world then it’s best to do it on the digital one, too.
Microsoft’s Family Safety tool allows you see what websites, applications and games have been accessed by each user. Inappropriate content can be blocked, never to be seen, and the overall time spent on the device can also be limited.
It’s true that parental controls is not a new invention, but it’s more integrated into Windows 8 than it has been in the past. Additionally, the feature doesn’t just have to be used by parents – it also has application in schools, play groups, and more.
Creating A Child Account
Before we begin, it’s going to be handy to create a new user account for each person that’s going to be using the computer. That way you can filter activity and settings on an individual user basis. At the very least you’ll need an administrator account (password protected) and then a separate account for the child.
To create a child account, simply navigate to ‘PC Settings’ and then select the ‘User’ category. From here you’ll be given the option to add a new user and, while doing so, tick a checkbox to confirm that the account is for a child.
Controlling Content & Setting Limits
Before setting up parental controls, it’s advisable that you let your child know what you’re doing. Monitoring and controlling their access to content unbeknownst to them is a sure fire way to cause upset, so just explain why you’re doing it in a clear and honest way. Of course, at the end of the day, this is your call to make.
To get going, navigate to Microsoft’s Family Safety website. Log in with your Microsoft account credentials and you’ll be presented with a family summary, detailing all users and with the ability to edit their settings.
It’s possible to use the Family Safety feature without a Microsoft account, but then your settings won’t be synchronised across different computers.
Family Safety can also be accessed through the Control Panel. Just load up the Control Panel (it’s simplest to just search for it) and then click the ‘User Accounts and Family Safety’ heading to view users and adjust settings. However, bear in mind that you can get all the information provided here and more by visiting the website.
By default the only setting enabled is activity reporting, which we’ll come to shortly. There’s the ability to choose the day and time that the computer can be used, select which games and apps can be accessed and also filter web content.
Web filtering is controlled through five different pre-set levels. The strongest setting only allows approved website, scaling up along the way to allow children’s sites, general interest sites, social networking and email services, and finally to simply warn when an adult site is about to be accessed.
This tracks the entire activity of the child’s user account. You’ll also receive regular emails to your Microsoft account to summarise websites visited, programs used, search terms inputted and total time spent on the device.
All of this can be viewed in more detail through the Family Safety control panel. This view allows you to see the most popular websites and any pages that have been blocked. These pages can be allowed on an individual basis – children also have the option to request a page to be allowed if they think it’s been unfairly filtered.
Any downloads from the Windows Store are also tracked. If, for instance, a game is downloaded through the store, then the action of the download will be tracked and so will the time spent playing the game.
It might seem odd that this all takes place in a web interface, but it’s actually very sensible. It allows parents to control their system wherever they are in the world, providing they have an Internet-connected device, meaning a watchful eye can be kept whether in the next room or another country.
Third Party Programs
If the Family Safety feature doesn’t do everything you want it to, there’s always third party parental control software to turn to. However, most of these will cost, often through a yearly subscription, and some don’t actually offer any more benefits than the native Windows tool.
Some of the better options are programs like Net Nanny and AVG Family Safety, though there are many more available. The great thing about these is that they have smartphone applications available too. When children are just as likely to browse the web on their phones, it’s essential that they’re protected on all their digital devices.
Also, a neat feature about AVG Family Safety in particular is that it’ll monitor chat rooms and social networks to look out for keywords that are often used to victimise children. Cyberbullying is a huge and impactful problem in schools and anything that helps stop it is surely beneficial.
Your Family Will Be As Safe As The Tools You Use
These programs are only as secure as the technology they’re on allows. If your administrator account isn’t properly secured with a strong password then a child is going to be able to disable the protection.
Likewise, third party programs should be secure enough that attempting to uninstall or cease the running process is frivolous, but check up on this first. There’s no point using a tool that can be easily bypassed.
Ultimately, everything could easily be overridden by wiping the computer to system restore. Of course that’s an extreme example, and it isn’t likely to go unnoticed, but it’s just a warning that no system is going to be one hundred percent fool proof against a truly tech savvy kid with a desire to see banned content.
Family Safety is a great utility to have built into Windows 8. Your children may not actively seek to break your time allowance rules or view inappropriate websites, but these things can happen accidentally. What might appear to be a harmless website could turn out to be something else entirely. You can still let your children explore, discover and create, but you can ensure they’re doing so safely.
Do you use Family Safety to protect your young ones, or is there an alternative method you prefer?