Children and Online Safety

There has been an series running on Channel 4 this week on sex education with a specific focus on young people and how they gain all the information about “the birds and the bees” from Internet porn

They are also started a campaign called “Protect Kids from Porn”

I had a whole post drafted out in my head about the features built in Windows Vista and Windows 7 but the excellent Mark Wilson blog got his post online before i did 😉

His also shows how to turn on parental controls in Mac OS X. He didn’t show the windows equivalent as all his machines are domain joined so i thought I’d help out. These screenshots are for Windows Vista but the principles will be same in Windows 7

Click the Start button and start to type “Parental Controls”, click it (or press enter) and then click continue at the UAC prompt


Click on your child’s user account (or create one first, then click it!)

The parental controls screen is displayed and the very first option is to turn on the controls. By default activity reporting is turned on too


If you click OK now that’s actually enough to get you started

Here is what the settings will be configured for

Web Filter – defaults to the medium level

Time Limits – none

Games – no restrictions

Programs – Any

At this level anything unrated will get blocked as will categories such as pornography, drugs, weapons, etc

If you wanted to get a bit more specific you can customise the web filter first by click the “Windows Vista Web Filter” link which will display this screen


I’ve changed the web restrictions to the custom setting so we can see the categories available

On this screen we can pick one of the predefined categories

From the Vista help files

High Children’s sites include content that is understandable and usable by children, and that is appropriate for them. The language of a children’s site is typically aimed at 8 to 12 year-olds, and the concepts presented are accessible to younger minds. When you choose this level, you permit your child to see children’s sites, as well as any website that you add to the list of allowed websites.
Medium With this level, websites are filtered based on web content categories. This lets your child explore the wide range of information on the Internet, but not see content that is inappropriate.
Low No web content is automatically blocked.
Custom This level also uses content categories to filter websites, but allows you to filter more content categories.

There is a disclaimer at the top of the help page

The Parental Controls web filter rates the content of websites, and it can block some websites based on the content categories you decide are objectionable. Turning on the web filter should significantly reduce the number of objectionable websites your children might view, but it does not offer absolute protection. Because objectionable content is subjective, the filters might not block all of the content that you want them to block.

Which is sort of understandable – we can’t block spam 100% accurately so don’t expect it with the content filter

What you can also do is setup blocked and allowed lists by clicking the “Edit the allow and block list”


From here you can make specific decisions about websites. Let’s say i was worried about my child using Facebook. I could add the domain name in here. There is also a setting here that only allows sites to be viewed if they are on the allowed list. You can also export your lists here so that you can take them to other computers (or for multiple accounts on the same PC)

The final two options on the parental controls main screen allows you to stop file downloads and also vist a web site that allows you to request a rating for a site

If someone tries to visit a blocked site they’ll see this


If they think the page has been blocked by mistake they can shout “DAAAADDDDD!!!” or “MOOOOMMM! and click on the “Ask an administrator for permission”

You’ll get a UAC prompt, you enter your password and you can then choose to allow or block the site


Other parental controls include setting time limits (no computer use after bed time), place restrictions on the games that are played (if a game is Games for Windows certified it’ll have an age rating and content categories



As with the web filter you can block or allow access to specific games and block a game if doesn’t have a rating

Finally you can block the actual applications that run the PC. If your worried about them using peer to peer applications and being exposed to questionable material you can setup a list of applications they are allowed to use (Microsoft Office for doing their homework for example)

Once this is all setup you can then view reports that keep a track of the user accounts computer usage


It’ll let you know which websites they use the most, which games they are playing, when they are logging on, what changes are being made to the system,etc,etc. You get summary reports as well as full details. You can even get the system to remind you to view the reports by clicking on the family safety options button


Very powerful stuff considering it’s built into the operating system. You can also take a layered approach to this

OpenDNS allows you allow and block web content based on categories (you could use this in conjunction with the Windows filter)

Many home routers as allow you to setup restrictions there

You can also buy third party software (NetNanny for example)

Lots of ISPs have protection systems you can take advantage of

However the important thing is to take a proactive approach to this

In the first show the presenter asked the question

“Why aren’t these controls turned on by default”

I think this shows a naive approach to computer safety (as well a misunderstanding of some basic principles)

When you get in your car does your seat belt plug itself in?

When you buy a brand new computer the first account that gets created becomes the system administrator (how would you set it up else?)

This means it doesn’t really matter if the parental controls are on or off. You would have the power to turn them off anyway

As my children gets older this is something I’ll be giving a lot of thought to.

The Channel 4 program pointed out that many parents probably don’t know what their kids are doing with their computers

While there are a lot of systems in place to protect children it’s still ultimately down to the parent to make use of these systems.

Hopefully the Channel 4 campaign will raise some awareness

Some links of interest from the Channel 4 campaign site

ParentsCentre This site directs parents to links and articles on a broad range of topics surrounding internet use and the associated dangers that exist.

Know IT All (KIA) A Government-funded suite of educational resources from Childnet designed to help educate parents, teachers and young people about safe and positive use of the internet.

Kidsmart Aimed primarily at parents and people who work with children, this site includes top tips, resources and some "SMART" rules to help teach children how to stay safe online.

Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) FOSI aims to make the online world a safer, better experience for the whole family. The site promotes best practice, tools and methods in the field of online safety.

Thinkuknow A set of sites, each aimed at a different audience (children aged 5-16, parents and teachers) with age-appropriate safety tips. Includes a place which young people can use to report experiences where they feel uncomfortable or worried about someone they are in contact with online.

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Andy Parkes is Technical Director at Coventry based IT support company IBIT Solutions. Formerly, coordinator of AMITPRO and Microsoft Partner Area Lead for 2012-2013. He also isn't a fan of describing himself in the third person.

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