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Configuring Parental Controls (part 1) - Understanding Parental Controls

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Through Internet access, computers have a tremendous amount of potential. Users can access a wide variety of Web sites, ranging from informational to entertainment resources. Windows Vista also provides a great platform for playing games. Although these capabilities provide users with significant benefits, they can also come at a cost. For example, it is often difficult to restrict which content is accessible. For situations in which parents want to be able to manage the types of content that their children can access, it can be very difficult to create and enforce rules.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how you can use the Parental Controls features in Windows Vista to limit the types of access that are available to children. Although this is the primary use for this feature, there are other applications. For example, perhaps you might want to restrict some shared computers to only specific Web sites or restrict the times during which users can access them. Regardless of the purpose, Parental Controls are a good way to help limit the types of content users can access.

Understanding Parental Controls

The Windows Vista Parental Controls feature is designed to provide several different types of restrictions on how children access programs and Web sites. It can also control when they can use the computer. The specific types of restrictions include the following:

  • Web Restrictions Managing which Web sites children can access

  • Time Limits Specifying when children are allowed to log on to the computer and how long they can use it

  • Games Controlling access to games and other entertainment software based on third-party content ratings

  • Allowing Or Blocking Programs Preventing children from running specific applications on the computer

You’ll learn how you can enable and configure each of these options later in this lesson. To enforce these settings, the Parental Controls feature is integrated with several other operating system features. For example, filtering Web sites requires interactions with Internet Explorer. Similarly, games-related restrictions are based on ratings provided as a part of certified Games for Windows entertainment titles. This integration enables Parental Controls settings to manage which types of content children can access.

Configuring User Accounts

Parental Controls restrictions are based on the creation and management of user accounts. Users who have Administrator accounts are able to create new user accounts and enable controls on them. Standard user accounts may have restrictions placed on them. The primary method of managing user accounts is by accessing Control Panel and selecting User Accounts And Family Safety. The Add Or Remove User Accounts link launches the Manage Accounts window (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Accessing the Manage Accounts window

Note: A note about user names

Although it might seem a little strange, the screen shots in this lesson use a standard user account simply named Child. This helps identify the account for which Parental Controls are enabled. Customers usually use their children’s first names for the user account names.


Typically, parents create and use an Administrator account for themselves. They then create a separate user account for each of the children for whom they want to restrict access. Although it is possible to allow multiple children to share the same user account, it is generally preferable to create individual accounts for each user. You can also access the Parental Controls feature by clicking the Set Up Parental Controls link at the bottom of the Manage Accounts page.

Enabling Parental Controls

By default, Parental Controls are not enabled in Windows Vista. You can start the process of creating and managing these settings by accessing Control Panel. The User Accounts And Family Safety section includes a Set Up Parental Controls For Any User link. Figure 2 shows the default view of the Parental Controls window.

Figure 2. Accessing the Parental Controls configuration window

The main Parental Controls window provides access to several different functions. As mentioned in the previous section, the first step in configuring a computer to enable Parental Controls is to create at least one standard user account for a child. (If you have not done so already, you can create the child’s account by clicking the Create A New User Account link in the Parental Controls window.) To enable restrictions, start by clicking the name of the account that the child uses to log on to the computer. This provides a list of all of the major types of controls that you can manage (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Enabling Parental Controls for a standard user account

The first two options determine whether Parental Controls are enabled for this user account. When you select On, Enforce Current Settings, all of the other restrictions are enforced when the user logs on to the computer. This option is also useful for testing purposes because it does not automatically change any of the other settings on the system. For example, if you suspect that Parental Controls are preventing access to a particular program, you can temporarily select the Off option to see whether that resolves the problem. Because all of the other settings remain at their original values, you can then easily reenable Parental Controls without reconfiguring all of the options. When you click OK to save the settings, the Parental Controls window shows the message “Parental Controls On” for the child’s user account.

Real World

Anil Desai

Windows Vista includes numerous features that enhance security and oversight significantly over which types of content children can access. These improvements can help filter out unwanted materials. They are not, however, perfect. Determining which types of content are appropriate is often a matter of significant subjectivity. Some types of filtering (such as Web site access) are based on voluntary ratings. The majority of online businesses use valid settings, but some might ignore or circumvent the guidelines.

So how can parents help ensure that their children are accessing acceptable content only? One of the most important security measures is not directly related to technology. Parents should educate their children about the potential security risks and other problems associated with accessing unapproved content. The children should also feel confident in reporting those issues to their parents. Additionally, parents should review the content regularly that their children access. In some cases, natural curiosity might lead children to access unexpected content. Children can also be extremely clever in their attempts to circumvent security-related configuration options.

Overall, the task of maintaining parental control and oversight must be a team effort to be successful. By informing and educating children about potential risks, you can decrease their ability to access undesirable content.

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