Many parents – myself included – want to give their children the benefits of learning to use technology from an early age in a tech driven world. We also need to monitor and restrict their tech usage. That puts us in a quandary, since we can’t watch over our kids’ shoulders every minute that they’re using a computer, tablet or smartphone.
Parental control computer software
When I went looking for parental control software a few years ago, the options were expensive and fairly limited. Plus, the software I chose to buy just didn’t work as expected. It also requires paying an annual renewal fee to continue working. I declined to renew after the first year. The software had a whole lot of options, but it didn’t obey its own settings. I had to specifically include any websites I wanted my daughter to have permission to visit.
Fortunately, Microsoft now offers their free parental control software – Microsoft Family Safety – for computers running Windows 7 and above. It lets you set limits based on the user account that’s logged into the computer, including restrictions on various types of websites, total daily computer time and permitted times for each day of the week.
If you have a teenager, for example, you might set her time limit as two hours per day between the hours of 5:00 and 8:00 p.m. A younger kid might have a one-hour daily limit between the hours of 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. You can restrict sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for the younger child but allow them for older kids. You choose the right options that work best for your family.
Microsoft Family Safety can also send parents regular email updates showing information on each child’s Internet activity such as times, sites visited and sites blocked. The emails also contain statistics on how long each child was on the Internet each day, a figure that isn’t accurate since it assumes that she’s looking at the Internet the whole time the computer is turned on.
If the computer is on all day every day with the child logged into it, Microsoft Family Safety will show that the child used the computer all day and all night. As of this writing, Microsoft Family Safety doesn’t seem to distinguish between active and idle computer time.
Other parental control software options include KidsWatch Parental Control Software, which offers a free 15-day trial and costs $49.95 for the full version.
Tablet computer parental control software
For monitoring and restricting children’s tablet computer usage, Amazon’s Kindle Fire models offer fantastic parental control options for choosing what apps and features a child can use. Amazon’s tablets were among the first to offer sophisticated parental control, available even on their first generation Kindle Fire tablets. Kindle Fire tablets offer low price options as well as impressive features, gorgeous, vibrant displays and excellent performance.
Current Kindle Fire models include:
- Fire HD 6 with a 6″ display, 8 GB of memory and a starting price under $100.
- Fire HD 7 with a 7″ display, available in 8 GB or 16 GB models and starting at $114.
- Fire HDX 7″ available in 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB models and starting at $179 or 5 monthly payments of $35.80.
- Fire HDX 8.9″, available in 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB models and starting at $379 or 5 monthly payments of $75.80.
Samsung’s recent smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 and tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab S have a password protected Kids Mode which allows parents to control which apps a child can use, and each child can have his or her own profile. Kids Mode requires a password to enter or exit it, so kids can’t accidentally (purposefully) get out of Kids Mode.
Keep tech items close at hand
Many parents will probably agree that none of these parental control options are substitutions for physical monitoring of a child’s technology access. Kids may be less likely to do certain things on a computer if their parents are just in the same room with them. You might consider not allowing children to use computers in their bedrooms, where they have significant privacy to do whatever they want.
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