Microsoft has really stepped up their game with their new suite of services through Windows Live. The first one I’m going to talk about is Windows Live Family Safety. This is a major improvement over the parental controls that are natively in Windows. If you want to keep your family safe online then you need to add monitoring tools, and talk to your kids about what you are doing. I don’t think it’s a great idea to have monitoring tools in place when your children don’t know about it. I believe that it feels a little more like spying then being open and honest with your children about the dangers of the internet.
Even at 4 years old, my daughter knows about the internet, and what to do if she sees something that she shouldn’t. We have open conversations with her about online safety and she knows she can come to us when there is a problem. If we went behind her back and “snooped” it would feel more like a betrayal, and she wouldn’t feel like we respected her.
There are several options you can set in Windows Live Family Safety. The first is the web filtering. You can drag the slider to different levels of filtering. For example you can only allow child-friendly sites, or you can broaden it to general interest sites, while still blocking adult sites. You can even just allow only sites you specify in the filtering lists. You can have different options for each user on the computer. The next section goes along with this one which is the web filtering lists. Here is where you can specify the websites that are always allowed either for that particular user, or for everyone.
One of the tools I’m most impressed with is the activity reporting. You can not only view what each user was doing on the internet, but you can also view other types of internet related activity (such as chats or other programs like that). The third reporting area will allow you to view how long your children were on the computer, what programs they used, and what files they downloaded. It’s a really quick and easy place to find out everything your children are doing online. Again, I would be open and honest with them about how and why you are checking up on them.
Next is the contact management section. Since hotmail and messenger isn’t really the standard for children to use these days, this area isn’t the greatest. What it allows you to do is to approve or deny any requests to contact your child via those methods. With other tools vastly more popular though it would be nice if your child’s Facebook friend requests or other social networking sites could come into this area for you to approve in one simple location. The other requests area is for you to approve or deny websites as well. If your child comes across a blocked site they want to view they can send a request to the Family Safety area for you to approve or deny.
The time limits area is another great tool. You can set certain times of the day when they are allowed to use the computer. If you want to only allow them 1 hour of computer time a day, you can set that they are only allowed to use the computer from 4-5 PM daily. If it’s not that time, then they will not be able to log in. This will also prevent children from waking up in the middle of the night and using the computer while everyone else is sleeping. Just make sure to not include the night hours in the allowed time frame.
Last is the program and game restrictions. You can reject access to just about anything on your computer. If I don’t want Maddie to use my Quicken (for fear she may mess up my finances), I can reject access to that. If there are games that I don’t want her playing, then I can block access to those games. You can make sure that your children are only using the programs and games you have approved for them.
I think Microsoft has really done a great job with these new tools. It definitely shows me that they know how concerned people are about online safety, and they are willing to do something to make it easy and convenient. Make sure you have frequent conversations with your children about the dangers lurking around the internet, and practice what they should/will do when they see something they know they shouldn’t. Maddie knows to press and hold the power on the computer and come and tell one of us about it right away. As long as you are open with your children and respect them, they will be open with you, and show you respect in return.
Download all of the Windows Live tools at www.live.com
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Sarah Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 16 years of her career as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on KSL News, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com