TechMama: Take Charge of Windows 8's New Parental Controls

Microsoft has beefed up its tools to keep your kids safe.

The official release of Microsoft Windows 8 is just around the corner, but I’m looking forward to much more than its snazzy new interface. As a mother, I’m especially interested in the new tools that will help keep my kids’ Internet experience safe and age appropriate.

Setting up Windows 8 Parental Controls is a simple as 1) creating a Microsoft User account (also called Windows Live ID) for each child, and 2) clicking on the Family Safety Box (that turns on Family Safety) that monitors your kids’ access across all Windows 8 devices in the house. The service also emails weekly reports straight to your email inbox.

I especially appreciate that there are no required “additional downloads, installation wizards, or configuration steps,” as confirmed by the Building Windows 8 blog written by the Windows engineering team. The Microsoft account/Windows Live ID is simply an email address and password. And if you already use Xbox LIVE, a Windows Phone, Hotmail or SkyDrive, then you already have a Microsoft account.

To set up parental monitoring, a parent sets a child’s Microsoft User account to “Standard” mode and sets the parent’s Microsoft User account to “Administrator.” These accounts need to be set up on each PC in the house, and then the parental controls can be monitored centrally. Standard accounts can’t access a parent’s email, accounts, documents or account settings. A SmartScreen filter (similar to the Windows 7 open file security warning alert) will display an application reputation and alert the child if the URL they are accessing is not recognized.

Once a parent turns on the Family Safety Box, she can also access additional parental control configurations from the parent’s Administrator account. Microsoft’s Windows 8 Parental Control post mentions the following available options if you want to customize the controls:

  • Web filtering: The controls offer a choice between different Web filtering levels. In the past, using filtering software was time-consuming. The Windows 8 filtering levels are quicker to implement.
  • SafeSearch: Turning on Web filtering also turns on SafeSearch in search engines, including Bing, Google and Yahoo. SafeSearch filters out adult videos, images and text. This is especially helpful when you have a 9-year-old doing research for a school project and you know that inappropriate material is only a click or two away.
  • Time limits: While Windows 7 controls offer the ability to implement only bedtime limits, Windows 8 also offers (clap of hands) the ability to restrict the number of hours per day your child can use their PC. No more “Aww... please... 5 more minutes!!” This is especially useful for parents whose kids get sidetracked by Facebook when they are supposed to be writing a report on malaria for science class.
  • Windows Store: ESRB game ratings are a great tool when choosing which games are appropriate for your kids. Windows 8 Parental controls takes that a step further, allowing parents to use game ratings to set limits on which games kids can purchase from the Windows Store. In addition, Windows 8 activity reports include a list of the most recent Windows Store downloads, helping parents and kids to work together determining which games and apps are allowed.
  • Application and game restrictions: Windows 8 offers the ability to set game-rating levels for applications and games.

Above and beyond having the Web Safety talk and using Parental controls, some tech-savvy tweens may ask for PC Administrator accounts in order to install new programs or other tasks. So juggling the need for parental control with the urge for some parental flexibility and trust is a balance many of us will certainly face.

In our house, we work with our kids to increase their technology freedom as they age and demonstrate increased responsibility. We have certainly made some mistakes, but mostly it has come down to some monitoring of their online activity as well as regular parent/child dialogue. But having the new Windows 8 parental controls will sure make the monitoring part of the equation much easier.