How to improve parental control software further
If you live with children in the house, or other family members that you want to make sure are safe when they are on the Internet, then parental control software is usually the way to achieve that. While you should definitely create user accounts for each family member or guest, you will soon notice that this is not enough to restrict access to the Internet.
Newer versions of the Windows operating system ship with parental controls that let you set up time limits and control apps that users may or may not load on the computer. While that works quite well most of the time, it is not nearly enough to ensure the safety of the account user.
There are a couple of things that need to be considered:
- Parental controls work only on the PC they are configured on. If your children are using tablet PCs, iPads, or even gaming consoles, this won't affect them.
- These protective programs can usually be easily bypassed, by downloading a new portable web browser, programs that download images or games from the Internet, or renaming applications so that they can be run on the system.
I'd like to introduce you to several methods to improve the security of your children further. It needs to be noted that no program or setting can provide you with 100% certainty. Your kids could visit a friend's house and get their Internet fix there if the PCs in that household are not protected in the same way for example.
1. Protecting all devices
As I have mentioned earlier, parental control software and limited user accounts only work on the system they have been configured on. Smartphones, iPads, Kindles and gaming systems like the PS3 or Xbox 360 all come with options to access contents on the Internet.
What you can do is use a service such as OpenDNS. You need to add the new DNS servers it makes available in your router controls so that all devices using the router to connect to the Internet are automatically using the service.
This is usually done in the following way:
- Open your router's configuration address. You usually find it in the manual or labeled at the back of the router.
- Here you also find the default user name and password that you need to use (if your children are clever, either change the default password or remove the label from the router and tuck it away safely).
- You need to browse around afterwards to find the menu where you can modify the default DNS servers. Please note that some routers do not ship with that option. The only option you have then is to check the manufacturer's website to find out if a firmware update is available that adds the feature (contact support if you cannot find it).
- Add the IP addresses 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11 as the DNS servers.
- OpenDNS maintains a database of routers and modems that it offers installation instructions for.
If you sign up, for free or by paying $19.95 per year, you get additional features that you can make use of. The free account lets you customize the filters to allow or block additional "topics" such as social media, games or academic fraud.
I do not want to get into too many details but explain what OpenDNS does so that you can get a basic understanding of how the protection works.
DNS servers are used by all computing devices. They are used to "translate" domain names, like ghacks.net, into IP addresses that computers work with. OpenDNS uses block and filter lists to allow or block connections from being made. If a site is classified as adult or violent, and that is blocked, any connection attempt won't resolve properly so that the user on the computer cannot access the site directly.
There are still ways around that though, proxy servers for instance of which you find plenty on the Internet that are free to use.
2. Limiting access times
You can use parental controls on some devices to limit the access time, that is the time an account can log on to a system to use it. Not all devices support that though, so that you need to find other ways to cope with the situation.
Ideally, you are always there when your children or guests access the Internet so that you can monitor what they are doing this way. This does not always work, especially if they are in their teens already as they do not want you sitting next to them when they chat with their boy or girl friends or exchanging gossip on Facebook.
Access time limitations serve two purposes. First, to limit the daily or weekly use of computers, and second to limit access to the systems to appropriate times. If your children have their own computer in their room, you may want to block access to it at night, so that they do not stay up and be on the thing all night long. You can also use it to block access at times when you are working but they may be at home.
It is again the router that may provide you with the solution to lock down the Internet on all devices. But that is not really working well for smartphones, tablets and consoles.
What you can do however is take the power cable with you if devices are stationary, or the devices if they do not use power. This may look like a drastic move and certainly won't work well if your children are in their teens.
If you do not want them to play games during the day, take the power cable of the PC or gaming system, or another cable that is needed for functionality.
This is no surefire way though, as your children may get creative and use other power cables, or buy replacement cables, or get one from their friends who haveÂ a spare one.
3. Being there
Being next to your kids when they start using the Internet, educating them about it, and helping them out is important. You can not only control where they go, what they do and what they see, but also explain to them anything out of the ordinary.
This won't work well with teenagers though but for smaller children it is essential.
Sometimes though, it may be enough to simply be there, especially if the computer or device is used in a public place in the house or apartment and not the child's room.
4. Better Parental control software
This is a short selection of parental control software that you can install on PCs to protect your children. Note that better refers to the comparison with Windows' default parental controls.
- Norton Family Safety is a free product. While you do need to create an account to use it, it is one of the better free products on the market as it is offering several features that most other free products do not offer. The email alert feature is particularly handy as it informs you by email if your children try to visit blocked websites. It comes with an Android app as well that you can install to protect them on the mobile device.
- K9 Web Protection concentrates on web filtering and safe searching. It comes with apps for Apple's iOS family and Google Android devices. Some users report that it slows down the web browsing.
Configuring parental controls on Windows
I'd like to walk you through the process of configuring parental controls for Windows. I'm using Windows 7 for this.
- Open the Windows Control Panel with a click on Start > Control Panel.
- Click on set up parental controls for any user under User Accounts and Family Safety.
- Select the user account you want to configure the controls for. If you only have one account, create a new account for your kids first.
- Switch the parental controls switch to on on the next page.
- Configure time limits, game access, and program limits afterwards.
- Time limits restrict the time the user can log on to the system.
- Games let you define maximum allowed ratings, and block or allow specific games installed on the system. This is not the most effective protection though. Freeware games or portable games do not come with ratings, and they are also not listed here at all.
- Allow only select programs to be run by the user.
You can improve the safety of your children and other family members significantly by implementing additional parental control measures on the system. Especially the router is of importance in this regard as it is controlling Internet access for all devices.
There is no 100% protection on the other hand. If your children get inventive, and they will when they grow up, they will find ways to bypass the restrictions imposed upon them.Advertisement