Your guide to kid-proofing a computer
Unsupervised children can get in a whole lot of trouble.
Once your kids are old enough for their own computers, it opens up a whole new world of enjoyment. But with that comes a whole new set of concerns, and you start wondering what else a new device might expose your youngsters to.
Microsoft and Apple are wise to this sort of worry, and have built parental controls right into Windows and macOS, so you can minimize the risk of children stumbling across anything less than wholesome.
These settings will help you get a better idea of how your kids are using their computers, but there’s no real clarity as to what apps and sites actually enforce these limits. As a precaution, when you’re done setting up parental controls on your children’s device, take a look through the websites they have access to—you might be able to turn on some extra parental controls settings there as well.
How to set up parental controls on Windows
Whether your kid has their own computer or shares one with somebody else, they’ll need their own Microsoft account to log in. To set one up for them, open the Start menu, click the cog icon to launch Windows Settings, choose Accounts, Family & other users, and Add a family member. The new account will be automatically added to the family group linked to your Microsoft account.
You can only manage parental controls from the web, so log into your Microsoft account through your browser and head over to the Your family page. There, click More options under a child’s name to set up restrictions across Windows and other devices where they might use their Microsoft account.
[Related: How to enable parental controls on Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services]
The first option on the list, Screen time, lets you limit how long your kids can use Windows for, and which hours of the day they’re allowed to log on. From here, you can also dig into screen time limits for individual applications (like games, for example), or block some programs altogether.
The next option you’ll see on the menu is Content filters, which takes you to a screen where you can limit what your child can do in the Microsoft Edge browser. Turn on the Filter inappropriate websites and searches toggle switch, and Edge will block inappropriate content on the web.
If you want to take a greater level of control, turn on Only use allowed websites, then list the sites they can access freely. Your child will be able to ask to see sites outside this list, but you’ll need to approve the request before they do. There’s also an Apps and games tab where you can set an age rating limit for apps, media and games accessed on the computer.
On the same menu, choose Spending to limit what your child can purchase from the Microsoft Store. You’ll also be able to turn off purchases altogether, or allocate a certain amount of money for them to spend.
To find out what the kids have been up to on Windows, click Overview under their name. There, you’ll see applications and games they’ve used, the websites they’ve visited, and the time they’ve spent on the computer.
[Related: How to set parental controls on any phone or tablet]
Finally, you can use the same interface to apply restrictions to Xbox game consoles and Android devices, as long as the Microsoft Family Safety app is installed. For more on how these management tools work, take a look at Microsoft’s guide to family groups.
How to set up parental controls on macOS
Giving your kids their own user account on the computers they use is the first step to keeping them safe. To create one, open the Apple menu, go to System Preferences, and choose Users & Groups. Click the lock icon in the lower left corner—you may have to unlock the options with your password or touch ID—then click the plus symbol on the left to add a new user.
Make sure the account type is set as Standard (so your kid can’t install apps without your consent), then fill out the rest of the details, including a password and an avatar, and finalize the process by clicking Create User. Next, switch to the user account that you’ve just set up to start applying restrictions on it.
Go to System Preferences and choose Screen Time. There, make sure to enable Use Screen Time Passcode, otherwise your kid could just change these settings themselves. You’ll then have five different sections to work through.
The first one, Downtime, lets you set the hours during which your kids can access their Mac account. Outside of these hours, apps—except for any that you’ve specifically allowed—won’t launch. App Limits, meanwhile, lets you set how long they can use each program daily on the Mac. Keep in mind that zero minutes is not an option, so if there’s anything you don’t want them to use at all, you might as well just uninstall it. On this same menu you’ll also find reports on how your kids are using their Mac.
On Communication you can set who your child is able to contact via the Phone, FaceTime, and Messages apps. You can limit it to people in the account’s list of contacts, but make sure to uncheck Allow contact editing so your kid can’t make any changes to it.
[Related: Share your phone without letting friends snoop]
Always Allowed is where you can set up exceptions to the Downtime mode that we’ve already mentioned, and Content & Privacy offers options to filter out adult websites, movies, TV shows, and music.
If you choose to restrict access to the web, Safari uses its own built-in filter to determine what is an adult site. If you want to take full control over what corners of the internet your kids can visit in Safari, click Content and Allowed Websites Only. Then click Customize to make up a list of approved sites.
If you’ve set up Apple Family Sharing, you can also manage these settings from other devices, like your iPhone—otherwise, you’ll need to log into your child’s Mac account each time you want to make changes. For more on what else you can do, check out Apple’s official guide to Family Sharing.