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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Using Parental Controls to Restrict Computer Usage

If you have children who share your computer, or if you're setting up a computer for the kids' use, it's wise to take precautions regarding the content and programs that they can access. Locally, this might take the form of blocking access to certain programs (such as your financial software), using ratings to control which games they can play, and setting time limits on when the computer is used. If the computer has Internet access, you might also want to allow (or block) specific sites, block certain types of content, and prevent file downloads.

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All this sounds daunting, but Windows Vista's new Parental Controls make things a bit easier by offering an easy-to-use interface that lets you set all of the aforementioned options and lots more. (You get Parental Controls in the Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista.)

Before you begin, be sure to create a standard user account for each child that uses the computer. When that's done, you get to Parental Controls by select Start, Control Panel, Set Up Parental Controls. Enter your credentials to get to the Parental Controls window, and then click the user you want to work with to get to the User Controls window.

Activating Parental Controls and Activity Reporting

You should activate two options here (see Figure 6.13):

  • Parental Controls—Click On, Enforce Current Settings. This enables the Windows Vista Web Filter, and the Time Limits, Games, and Allow and Block Specific Programs links in the Settings area.
  • Activity Reporting—Click On, Collect Information About Computer Usage. This tells Vista to track system events such as blocked logon attempts and attempted changes to user accounts, system date and time, and system settings.
Figure 6.13

Figure 6.13 The User Controls page enables you to set up web, time, game, and program restrictions for the selected user.

The User Controls window gives you four links to use when setting up the controls for this user:

  • Windows Vista Web Filter—Click this link to display the Web Restrictions page. Here you can allow or block specific websites, set up general site restrictions (High, Medium, None, or Custom), and block file downloads. If you select the Custom Web restriction level, then you can also block specific content categories (such as Pornography, Mature Content, and Bomb Making).
  • Time Limits—Click this link to display the Time Restrictions page, which shows a grid where each square represents an hour during the day for each day of the week, as shown in Figure 6.14. Click the squares to block computer usage during the selected times.
    Figure 6.14

    Figure 6.14 Use the grid on the Time Restrictions page to block computer access during specified hours.

  • Games—Click this link to display the Game Controls page. Here you can allow or disallow all games, restrict games based on ratings and contents, and block or allow specific games. You'll see how this works in the next section.
  • Allow and Block Specific Programs—Click this link to display the Application Restrictions page, which displays a list of the programs on your computer. Activate the User Can Only Use the Programs I Allow option and then click the check boxes for the programs you want to allow the person to use.

Example: Setting Up Parental Controls for Games

If you have kids, chances are, they have a computer—either their own or one shared with the rest of the family—and, chances are, they play games on that computer. That's not a problem when they are being supervised, but few of us have the time or energy to sit beside our kids for each and every computer session—and the older the kid, the more likely that a hovering adult will be seen as an interloper. In other words, for all but the youngest users, your children will have some unsupervised gaming time at the computer.

To avoid worrying about whether your 8-year-old is playing Grand Theft Auto or something equally unsuitable, you can take advantage of the Game Controls section that enables you to control gaming using ratings and content descriptors.

Before setting up the controls, you should select the rating system you want to use. Return to the Parental Controls window and then click the Select a Games Ratings System link to display the Game Rating Systems window shown in Figure 6.15. Select the rating system you prefer and then click OK to return to the Parent Controls window.

Figure 6.15

Figure 6.15 Use the Game Rating Systems window to choose the rating system you want to use with parental controls.

Click the user you want to work with to display the User Controls window. Activate the On, Enforce Current Settings option (if you haven't done so already), and then click Games to display the Game Controls window, shown in Figure 6.16.

Figure 6.16

Figure 6.16 Use the Game Controls window to set the gaming restrictions for the selected user.

The next three sections run through the three methods you can use to control game play.

Turn Off Game Play

If your kids are too young to play any games, or if you'd prefer that they spend time on the computer working on more constructive pursuits, you can turn off game playing altogether. In the Can UserName Play Games? section, select No to prevent the user named UserName from launching any games from the Games Explorer. If you select Yes instead, you can use the techniques in the next two sections to control the games the user can play.

Controlling Games via Ratings and Descriptors

Instead of shutting off all game play, you're more likely to want to prevent each user from playing certain types of games. The easiest way to do that is to use game ratings and content descriptors. In the Game Controls window, click Set Game Ratings to display the Game Restrictions window, shown in Figure 6.17.

Figure 6.17

Figure 6.17 Use the Game Restrictions window to control game playing using ratings and content descriptors.

Click the rating option that represents the highest rating the user is allowed to play. For example, if you're using the ESRB rating system and you select the Teen option, the user will be able to play games rated as Early Childhood, Everyone, Everyone 10+, and Teen. He or she will not be able to play games rated as Mature or Adults Only.

You can also prevent the user from playing unrated games by selecting the Block Games with No Rating option.

You can also block games based on content descriptors. If you scroll down in the Game Restrictions window, you see the complete set of content descriptors, each with its own check box. For each check box you activate, the user will not be able to run any games that include that content description, even if the game has a rating that you allow.

Blocking and Allowing Specific Games

You might want to fine-tune your game controls by overriding the restrictions you've set up based on ratings and content descriptors. For example, you might have activated the Block Games with No Rating option, but you have an unrated game on your system that you want to allow the kids to play. Similarly, there might be a game that Vista allows based on the ratings and descriptors, but you'd feel more comfortable blocking access to the game.

In the Game Controls window, click Block or Allow Specific Games to display the Game Overrides window, shown in Figure 6.18. The table displays the title and rating of your installed games, and shows the current control status—Can Play or Cannot Play. To allow the user to play a specific game, click Always Allow; to prevent the user from playing a specific game, click Always Block.

Figure 6.18

Figure 6.18 Use the Game Overrides window to allow or block specific games.

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