How to Make a Computer Safe for Kids

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Today's children grow up on computers and on the Internet. According to the CDC, 91 percent of children between 12 and 15 use the computer daily, giving them a world of information, but also exposing them and the machine to a range of risks. Combine careful education and monitoring with computer settings to keep your family and your PC safe.

Create a New Account

One of the easiest ways to protect both your computer and your children is by creating a separate user account for them. If you have only one account in Windows, it has administrative access, meaning that whoever uses the computer has complete control over the system. Giving your kids a separate account, which won't have admin access by default, makes it harder for a child to accidentally let in a virus, install dangerous software or damage system files. Each user account also has its own documents folder, so a child won't be able to edit or delete your work.

To create a new account in Windows 8.1, open the PC Settings app -- press Windows-C, click Settings and then Change PC Settings. Open the Accounts tab, click Other Accounts and choose Add an Account.

Create one account for each kid, or one for them to share.
Create one account for each kid, or one for them to share. (Image: Image courtesy of Microsoft)

Or, with the original version of Windows 8, open the Users tab and click Add a User.

Windows can keep as many accounts as you need.
Windows can keep as many accounts as you need. (Image: Image courtesy of Microsoft)

Windows 8 and 8.1 offer two types of accounts: Microsoft accounts and local accounts. Unless you need to share the account across multiple computers, choose a local account for your children, which doesn't require registration or an email address. After you pick a username and password, Windows asks whether the account is for a child. Checking this option enables Family Safety, a set of parental controls.

Setting an account as a child is not necessary to prevent admin access.
Setting an account as a child is not necessary to prevent admin access. (Image: Image courtesy of Microsoft)

Tip

  • Windows 7 and older systems offer account creation and management through the User Accounts Control Panel.

Family Safety Options

Family Safety Basics

Windows includes a set of child protection tools in the Family Safety Control Panel. To use them in Windows 8 and 8.1, search for and open the Family Safety Control Panel using the Start screen. Choose an account to manage and click On, Enforce Current Settings. If you just created a new account and set it as a child's account, this option will already be turned on.

Tip

  • To find these settings in Windows 7, search for Parental Controls in the Start menu.

Turning on this option won't have an effect until you set further options.
Turning on this option won't have an effect until you set further options. (Image: Image courtesy of Microsoft)

The Family Safety Control Panel offers several options for protecting your kids. The Activity Reporting option keeps a log of when and how your children use the PC. To keep the kids out of certain programs and to prevent Windows Store purchases, use the App Restrictions and Windows Store and Game Restrictions settings. Choose Time Limits to set up when your children can use the PC and for how long.

Web Filtering

The Web Filtering settings include several ways to keep your kids safe on the Internet, no matter which Web browser they use. Start by choosing (Account Name) Can Only Use the Websites I Allow, and click Set Web Filtering Level to pick a filter strength. Options range from blocking all sites that aren't specifically designed for kids to merely blocking or warning about explicit content.

Optionally, click Allow or Block Specific Websites to customize the filter.
Optionally, click Allow or Block Specific Websites to customize the filter. (Image: Image courtesy of Microsoft)

Tip

  • Turning on Block File Downloads is an effective method of preventing your kids from installing viruses and malware, but it can also interfere with safe activities, such as downloading a shared Word document.

There is no option to block specific file downloads, only all or none.
There is no option to block specific file downloads, only all or none. (Image: Image courtesy of Microsoft)

Education and Monitoring

Needless to say, no parental control system can take the place of actively monitoring your children on the computer and teaching them about online safety. Explaining to a child how to be careful when downloading files, browsing the Web and talking to people online will keep both your family and your computer safer than relying on software alone.

Tip

  • Family Safety options don't replace the need for an anti-virus program and regular system updates. All of these components work together to keep your computer running cleanly.

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