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From the author of Controlling Game Choices / Allowing and Blocking Programs

Controlling Game Choices

Deciding when your kids are mature enough to play different types of games requires a lot of thought, and in my family, this was one of the big bones of contention when my sons were pre-teens. (“Why can’t we play Duke Nukem?! Everybody else does!”)

Using Windows 7 Game controls, you can decide which games are okay and which aren’t—and you can set things up so that when your child tries to play a blocked game, she gets a message showing the game rating and giving her the option of emailing you and asking you to lift the moratorium on that game—which, at some point, will be a reasonable request.

In the User Controls window, click Games in the Windows Settings. The first window that appears enables you to choose whether the user can play games at all (the default value is set to Yes). You can also choose the game ratings you want to allow this child to play, and you can give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to specific games on your computer.

Click Set Game Ratings to display the Game Restrictions window (see Figure 5). Here you can choose whether you want to allow your child to play games that have no rating at all, and indicate which level of game you’re comfortable with her playing. Click your choice, and Windows 7 highlights the allowable game levels.

Figure 5 You can determine which game level you want your child to play, and block specific content items in allowed games.

Scroll down in the Game Restrictions window to display specific types of content you can block within the game level you’ve allowed. There are literally dozens of content items on this list, ranging from “Use of Tobacco” to “Strong Sexual Content,” so click the items that you most want to spare your child from seeing. Chances are good that if you choose any of the first three game levels, most of these items won’t be an issue in the games your child is allowed to play.

When you’re happy with the Game Restrictions you’ve set, click OK to save the settings. This takes you back to the Game Controls window, where you can click Block or Allow Specific Games if you have games installed on your computer that you don’t want your child to be able to play.

Clicking Block or Allow Specific Games displays the Game Overrides window, where you can choose whether you want the User Rating you’ve already set (in the Game Restrictions area) to determine whether your child is allowed to play the game, or you want to choose Always Allow or Always Block. Click the radio button that reflects your choice, and click OK to save the changes. Back in the Game Controls window, click OK to save all your settings and return to the User Controls window.

Allowing and Blocking Programs

Finally, you may have programs on your computer that you’d rather your kids not use. For example, you may not want your teenager looking around in your financial management program or make it possible for your five-year-old to accidentally delete the database you’ve been creating.

In the User Controls window, you can click Allow or Block Specific Programs to set controls on which programs your kids can—and can’t—access on your computer.

The first window that appears after you click the link asks a simple question: Which programs can this person use? By default, All Programs is selected, but click the second option to start the process of choosing the programs you want to allow. After you click the second option, Windows 7 searches your computer and displays a list of all your applications (see Figure 6). You can then go down the exhaustive list and click the programs you want to give your child access to. When you’re finished clicking your choices, click OK to save your settings.

Figure 6 You can choose which programs you want your child to have access to on your computer.

If a specific program you’re looking for doesn’t appear on the list, you can click Browse to display the Open dialog box. Navigate to the program on your computer, click the program file, and click Open to add it to the list. You can then click the checkbox of the program if you want to add it to your child’s allowable programs list, or leave it blank if you want to block access.

After you’ve chosen the programs you want to allow, click OK to save your changes and the User Controls window appears. The Parental Controls you’ve set for this child’s account appear in the right side of the window. You can change these settings at any time by returning to the User Controls window for this account and clicking the link you want to change.

Final Thoughts

Even though it’s a natural part of childhood to not want to be controlled, and it’s a natural part of parenting to worry about our children’s safety online and off, Windows 7 parental controls can give you a fairly happy middle ground that you can change as your kids mature. While your kids are small, you can set firm limits around the time they spend on the computer and the types of things they can do (and which levels of games they can play). As they get older, hopefully their good choices will show that you can turn the controls over—gradually, little by little—to their safekeeping, confident that they’ll make good choices of their own, given the chance.

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