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Setting up Parental Controls in Windows 7

By Eric Geier

The Internet is a never-ending web of information, photos, videos, files, and people. We all know some of this material is good and some of it is bad. To protect your children from the bad portions of the Internet, you need to couple a parental control system with good olí supervision.

In this article, weíll discover how Windows 7 can help protect your youngsters. Weíll review its Parental Controls. Weíll set up time limits for computer usage, set gaming and program restrictions, enable web filtering, and check out activity monitoring.

This is only Microsoftís second Windows edition with Parental Controls. They first debuted with Windows Vista. They were long overdue. Before that, parents didnít really have any control over their childrenís computer usage unless they used a third-party application.

Getting Started

Letís bring up the Parental Controls. The quickest way is to click Start, type Parental Controls, and hit Enter. You can also navigate there: click Start > Control Panel, click User Accounts and Family Safety, and click Parental Controls.

Figure 1 shows an example of this main Parental Controls window.

Figure 1: An example of the main Parental Controls window

Youíll see an icon for each user along with their details. Simply click the icon for the user account you want to configure with Parental Controls. If the account is classified as an Administrator, youíll receive a prompt about converting it to a Standard account that can have Parental Controls imposed.

As Figure 2 shows, on a userís page youíll see their Parental Controls status and shortcuts to configure the settings.

Figure 2: An example of an individual user's Parental Controls settings.

If you used the Parental Controls in Windows Vista, you might notice something missing: the Web Filtering settings. Thatís because Microsoft removed the native web filter and created an add-on type of approach as weíll discuss later.

Configuring the Basic Settings

The first step is enabling Parental Controls for a user. On a userís Parental Controls page, select the On, enforce current settings option on the top. Now that theyíre on, you must configure the settings.

To configure exactly when they can or cannot use the computer with their account, click the Time limits link. Using your cursor, you can highlight the blocks of time you want to prevent computer access to the color blue. If you mess up click or highlight them again to change them back to white. Figure 3 shows an example of blocking a user from the computer during the hours of 10pm to 7am. When youíre done, click OK.

Figure 3: Blocking a user from the computer during set times.

Next you can configure gaming restrictions by clicking the Games link off the userís main window. Then you can specify whether or not he or she can play any games. If you allow games, you can then choose which game ratings to allow and/or block or allow specific games.

Next you can optionally set program restrictions; click the Allow and block specific programs link on the userís main Parental Control page. You can simply allow he or she to use all programs or choose only those you approve. Manually selecting programs is usually the best approach for the best protection, but takes the most time to setup. For instance, if you find programs later you should have added, you must log off or switch users to get into your Administrator account to change the program restrictions.

Getting Web Filtering and Monitoring

As mentioned before, Microsoft used to offer web filtering and monitoring in Windows Vista. They still offer this in Windows 7; however you must install the free Family Safety component from the Windows Live product-line. Though itís an extra step, you now set and review the filtering and monitoring via a web site, such as Figure 4 shows. Now you can review settings and check reports without physically being on the childís PC.

Figure 4: Remote settings and monitoring via Windows Live

If you want this functionality, go to the Windows Live site and download it. During the installation, you can uncheck the other Windows Live components if you prefer only to install the filtering and monitoring. Remember, this filtering only works on computers that youíve installed it on. If your children use multiple computers, you must install it on each.

Once itís installed, go back to the Parental Controls window. Then under the Additional Controls area, select the Windows Live Family Safety option as the Provider. Your web browser should then pop-up and ask you to login with the Windows Live ID which you created when downloading the component.

You configure the Family Safety settings via the web browser at their site: Donít worry if you forget the URL. You can always bring up the site by clicking the shortcut under a userís Parental Control page in Windows.

Donít Stop at Controls and Filtering

Weíve set up the Parental Controls in Windows 7 to help protect our youngsters on the computer and Internet. Remember, you still need to keep track of their usage and activity. One last tip: Everyone should use a password, so they canít login to your Administrator account and they canít login to their siblingís account which may have different restrictions.

Eric Geier is the Founder and CEO of NoWiresSecurity, which helps businesses easily protect their Wi-Fi with enterprise-level encryption by offering an outsourced RADIUS/802.1X authentication service. He is also the author of many networking and computing books<![if !vml]><![endif]><![if !vml]><![endif]>.

For more help, check out the PracticallyNetworked Forums.

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