Kids are great, aren’t they? But you don’t necessarily want them using all of the apps, viewing all of the websites, and tweaking all of the system settings that a grown-up has access to. Windows, OS X, and Chrome OS each have tools for creating child-friendly accounts — here’s how to set them up.
With the advent of Windows 10, Microsoft’s family controls all live on the web now, which makes a lot of sense — though you’re pretty much forced to sign up for a Microsoft account to do this if you don’t have one already. Go to account.microsoft.com/family,and once you’ve signed in, you’ll see the option to add a child to your digital family.
Next, you have to enter your kid’s email address or set up a new one for him or her. Once the invite link has been clicked on, your child appears on your family list and you can set about applying limits where necessary—these limits apply whenever he or she signs into a Windows 10 device using a Microsoft account. This is a fairly new service and Microsoft is promising more features will be rolled out in the near future.
Through the web interface you can do everything from blocking dodgy websites to adding to your kid’s Xbox credit. Apps and games can be restricted on an age-level basis, and there’s also the option to set limits on what times particular computers can be used. It’s also possible to locate your kids on a map if they happen to be using Windows 10 Mobile devices.
Of course you can also see everything your children have been up to online through the family web portal, though this only applies to activity in Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge; the FAQ says trying to keep pace with all of the changes in the likes of Chrome and Firefox is just too much of an undertaking to be viable. If necessary, third-party browsers can be blocked under the Apps, games and media heading.
No such cloud-based interfaces for Apple, where everything is handled from your OS X machine of choice. From System Preferences, click Users & Groups, unlock the dialogue (via the lock icon and your password) then click the + symbol underneath the list of current users. Managed with Parental Controls is the option to go for from the top drop-down menu.
Fill out the rest of the details accordingly and a new child account is added to the master list on your Mac. You can then tick Enable parental controls and click on the Open Parental Controls button to decide exactly what your son or daughter can and can’t do on the computer.
All kinds of options are available here: It’s possible to disable the webcam, restrict the apps that are allowed to run, and even limit the contacts who can be communicated with in Mail. Websites can of course be restricted via a whitelist, a blacklist or a combination of the two, and of course as everything in the iTunes Store is rated for age appropriateness you can easily restrict which movies, TV shows and music tracks can be accessed.
Time limits and privacy settings can also be managed, and this is a more comprehensive set of parental controls than those offered by either Microsoft or by Google. The Logs button (lower right) lets you view the app and web activity for your child, too.
Over to Google’s lightweight, cloud-based operating system. Sign out of your current account then click the menu button (three vertical dots), and choose Add supervised user. Your Chromebook or Chromebox then prompts you for a name and a password for the new account.
Your child will be able to access his or her account from the Chrome OS login page, while you can manage exactly what is and isn’t permitted from www.google.com/settings/chrome/manage. SafeSearch is turned on by default (you can disable it if necessary) and the ability to install apps and extensions inside Chrome is disabled, too.
That leaves your supervised user with the whole of the web. As their ‘manager’ you can see all of the sites your son and daughter is visiting and block access to particular domains if you want to. Your kids can request access to blocked domains (social media sites, say) which you can then approve or deny depending on how well behaved they’ve been.
It’s quite a sparse set of features (blocking sites one-by-one is particularly frustrating) but Google says this supervised user system is still in beta testing. It’s also a quick and easy way of granting someone else access to your Chromebook if they don’t have a Google account or don’t want to jump through the hoops of signing in with one.