Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Parental Controls and Internet Filters

Parental Controls Basics

Nowadays computer and internet has become an inevitable part of our lives, however as much they can be beneficial as much they can be harmful for your child. Parents should be aware that children can be not only playing games, chatting with their friends or hitting their favorite things online, but also accidentally or purposely accessing the websites which are improper for children to view or playing games unsuitable for their age.

Moreover there are always privacy and security threats, which should be considered, as well as the possibility that your data might be deleted by your curious little son or daughter. Therefore, a growing need of Parental Control Software is noticed and if you are considering using it, then this guide is for you.

Parental control software gives you the ability to take control of the computer and to protect your children from unsuitable Internet content no matter where you are. For example, you can determine and limit the child’s access to the web or hours during which they can enter. Even turning on/off computer can be controlled as well as permission to play games, run programs or download files. When the access to the Web, programs, games or downloading is blocked, the specific message appears on the screen and you should confirm your access rights, otherwise you won’t be able to access them.

Usually parental controls are free and come together with operating system of your computer. Therefore they vary depending on which computer you use: Windows or Mac. We will explain all the differences by presenting what kind of parental controls you can expect on each system and showing how to access and set up them. Another way to get the parental controls package is to buy dedicated parental control software, download freely from internet, or to ask your internet service provider for it.

What can parental controls do?

Using parental controls is not only protecting your child from unsuitable content or saving your computer from losses, but also helps children to understand the responsibility of their actions. Nevertheless, it is recommended to use other child protecting tools as well, because combining them always gives better results.

Parental controls can be useful in the following areas:
  • PC system protection
  • Your computer system can be protected from undesirable alteration by limiting user’s chances of doing so. This means that certain users may not be able to change system settings, delete any data except their own, add or remove programs. Thereby according to the administrative rights you want to ensure for each user, choose between “Limited” or “Standard” user accounts and your computer will be protected.
  • Setting a specific time limit
  • Setting a time limit on the amount of time your child can spend on the computer or internet is probably the main function of most parental control systems. However only the best ones enable you to define how many hours per week and which person can use your computer. Moreover, you can find this feature already included in PC, because it comes together with the basics of parental controls. Also they are often included with third-party parental control software.
  • Restricting access to games and applications
  • There might be some programs or games you don’t want your children to use and therefore you can restrict access to them by using program-blocking facility included in parental control software. This means that you can either prevent users from running specific program, or set an age limit.
  • Web content filtering
  • This tool is standard for most of the parental controls and allows you to protect your child from unsuitable web content. Parental controls use a database of blacklisted inappropriate websites or keywords which may lead to reaching them. Sometimes, there is a possibility to adjust this list according to your needs: to add or remove sites and banned keywords. In many cases the blacklist is updated regularly by software.
  • Reporting feature
  • Activity reports is important Parental Control feature too, because it gives an opportunity to review your children’s computer activities: from turning on/off frequency to games played or websites visited. Thereby a general overview of how your family is using computer can be revealed.
Even if you don’t have parental control software, it is still possible to monitor child reachable web content. For example, sometimes web filtering tools are already built in your computer or you can easily add it by yourself. Moreover, you can use child-friendly search engines, such as Ask Kids or Yahooligans, where unsuitable websites are filtered out automatically, or Google SafeSearch tool by which you can customize the filtering options of the regular search engine.

What parental controls do I need?

Comparing parental controls. It may be that you already have some parental control tools on your computer, depending on the operational system, programs and services you use.

Parental controls in Windows XP

Unfortunately, the parental controls in Windows XP are not greatly developed, however the possibility to set up a "Limited" user account is built in. It means that some activities can be restricted for certain users.

Parental controls in Windows Vista

In contrast to Windows XP, Windows Vista has probably the best developed parental control features of any operating system. It is possible to:
  • create an individual "Standard" user account for each child;
  • limit the amount of time when and how long children can spend on the computer;
  • restrict or allow access to specific games and applications according to the age of user or user itself;
  • try a web filter, which can protect your child from accessing unsuitable type of websites or specific websites as well as restrict downloading files;
  • set up activity reports generation for better overview of your family activities on the computer;
  • apply other safety settings.
Parental controls in Windows 7

The newest version of Windows (i.e. Windows 7) provides less flexible and complex parental controls as the previous Windows version (Vista). Yet, you are able:
  • set up different settings on specific ‘Standard’ user accounts;
  • determine time limits;
  • prevent access to specific programs;
  • prevent access to games under the specific age.
As you can see, there is no web filtering tool in Windows 7. However it is possible to add it by downloading a Windows Live Essentials pack, which also includes Windows Mail and Movie Maker that are missing in Windows 7 too. By the way, the Family Safety component from Live Essentials also includes a contact management utility, which can protect children from chatting with undesirable people in Windows Live Messenger and Hotmail.

Parental controls in Mac OSX

Comparing with Windows, Apple is not much worse in the Parental controls. For example, OSX operating system includes well-chosen parental control software, which, after creating individual accounts to your children, allows you to apply following settings:
  • weekday and weekend time limits;
  • access to particular programs;
  • internet content filters;
  • Mail and iChat contacts list restriction;
  • activity logs overview.

Internet security suites and ISPs

Many security suites includes not only anti-virus protection, firewall, anti-spyware, spam filtering and backup facilities in their package, but also contains some of the parental control features as the additional tool for computer safety. For example, if you are buying Norton 360 Premier Edition, Kaspersky Pure, McAfee Total Protection, Trend Micro Titanium Maximum Security or Panda Global Protection, additional expenses on parental control software are unnecessary (it is already included).

Similarly, do not rush to buy parental controls before you have a contact with your broadband internet service provider (ISP). Actually, many broadband companies offer their package together with security software, which most of the time includes a parental control element too.

Dedicated parental control package

In case you are disappointed with parental controls included in your computer, internet security suite or ISPs package, you may consider buying a dedicated parental control package. Some of the best known are:
The good thing is that dedicated parental control software often includes more functions and opportunities. For example, Net Nanny provides the ability to track your child network activity: pictures posted, friends’ listed and personal information used. Also dedicated parental control software usually includes remote management, which means that you can be up-to-date about your kid recent activities even if you are at work. However probably the biggest benefit of these parental controls is continually updated web content filter and database of inappropriate websites as it ensures the safe environment for our kids.

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