How to set up a child's first PC

Sandy is planning to give her grandson his first computer. She asked for advice on making sure that an adult maintains control.

We live in a digital society, and our children need to become part of it. These days, it’s almost impossible to do homework without a word processor and an Internet connection.

On the other hand, it’s a dangerous Internet out there. Immature minds can easily find pornography, hate speech, and massively destructive forms of bullying. And scammers can find those immature minds.

At some point, you need to give your child a computer. But you have to be careful. And I'm speaking as a techie who has raised three children to adulthood.

This advice also applies to smartphones and tablets.

[Email your tech questions to answer@pcworld.com.]

Wait until your child is in their early teens. In my family, the first PC comes at age 13, as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah gift. But even then, an adult has to hold the reins.

First of all, a teenager should not have an administrator account. That should belong to an adult living in the same home. And that account’s password should be one that the kid won’t guess.

Why? With an administrator account, the teenager could turn off child-protection software. They could also turn off, say, the antivirus program because it annoys them (yes, I’ve seen that happen), or install a Trojan waiting to hurt them.

You need rules. Put limits on what kinds of sites your teen can visit, and under what conditions he or she can use social media (for instance, they must accept you as a friend).

Set rules about when they can use the PC, and for how many hours. Your teen also needs to sleep, eat, and engage in physical activity.

Don’t be sneaky. Tell your teen what the rules are and how you’re monitoring them. If your teen asks why, give them a reasonable, truthful answer—or at least give that a try before you resort to “because I told you!”

Microsoft offers an excellent child-protection tool, Family Safety, at no additional price. Here's how to set it up.

If the teen’s computer runs Windows 7, you’ll have to download Family Safety as part of the Windows Essentials collection of free programs. From the site, you download a tiny program that lets you select, download, and install the “Essential” applications you want.

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You don’t need to download anything in Windows 8.1, but that doesn't mean the process is any easier. From the Search charm, type accounts, then select Add, delete, and manage other user accounts. Once there, you can either create a new Child account or, if the account already exists, click Edit and change it to a Child account.

Whichever version of Windows you're using, you can set up and define your child’s protection from the Family Safety web page. From there you can set up time limits, set a level for restricting web sites, and choose other options.

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As time goes on, loosen the reins a bit. Give them a gradual transition to the far greater freedom they'll have in college.

You can find other solutions, of course. Marco Chiappetta offers tips for child-friendly Linux computing. Also see Eric Geier's How to child-proof the Internet.

That’s about as far as I can take you. The rest is up to you and your child.

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