Since Windows Vista, Microsoft has included a fairly robust parental control mechanism in the operating system. Vista’s parental controls were fantastic, but were neutered when Microsoft rolled out Windows 7. They required the installation of Windows Live Essentials in order to work. Microsoft left the door open for third party parental control mechanisms, but few, if any, hit the market. With Windows 8, however, they restored the functionality that was removed and enhanced the overall package.
Now called ‘Family Safety’, the Windows 8 parental controls are much more granular and offer the added benefit of being able to monitor your child’s computer activity via the web (which was one nice thing they did add with Windows 7.)
In order to work, however, you must setup an account on the computer. You can setup a Microsoft Account or a local account. For my purposes, and for this post, we will use a local account.
To setup a local account, bring up the settings charm. Tap the lower right corner and swipe up for touch, or hover the mouse in the same corner and when the charms display, go up and click the settings charm. Next, tap or click ‘Change PC settings’.
You will see the Settings page display. Tap or click the Users link. On the right side, you will see YOUR current account information. Toward the bottom of the page, there is a link for adding a new user. Tap or click that link.
Next, you are presented with a page where you fill in the user’s name and password information. For my five year old, I leave the password blank. There is a checkbox that indicates this is child’s account. Check it. This sets up the safety ratings in the games and applications as well as the web sites. Once you have setup the new user account, you are ready for the real meat and potatoes: the family settings page.
From the Windows 8 Start Page, type FAMILY SAFETY. As you start typing, Windows initiates the search. You will see that SETTINGS will return a few hits. Tap or click the ‘Setup Family Safety for any User’ link.
You are now whisked away to a nice, Windows Desktop app. You will leave the comfort of the Windows App/Metro/Store/Modern UI world. That’s OK, it’s worth the discomfort.
Once in the Family Safety application, you can control the time your child can use the computer, how long, what apps and games and where they can go on the internet. Plus, it all gets recorded for you.
You can control how much time is allowed during the allowed time frame:
The web filtering further restricts sites by category: child safe, general interest, adult, etc. By using this in conjunction with the Allow or block specific websites, your child should be protected and prevented from going anywhere you do not wish them to go.
You can also prevent them from downloading anything. While it won’t completely prevent viruii and other nastiness, it should go a long way to help.
GAMES, STORE, APPS
Perhaps the best part of the family safety mechanism is the ability to control what games and apps can be run by the child. In addition, you can control which non-Windows 8 applications can be run. The mechanism does rely on the ESRB ratings system, however, for those games that are NOT ESRB rated, you can prevent them from running all together or allow only certain ones to run.
The best thing you can do is to go exploring. This post was not intended to be an in depth how to, rather more of an introduction to this important aspect of Windows 8. I encourage you to also check out my other posts on this subject as well as the official Windows 8 site. If you have young children, setting up an account and then protecting it is the best thing you can do for your child, your sanity and the computer.