How to control your kids’ computer and Internet use

Children and teenagers have legitimate reasons to go online, but if they're not controlled, they can wreak havoc—sometimes without trying.

kid with computer

Albert Obese-Jecty’s young son “changed our administrator password and subsequently forgot the new one.” I give him a lesson in high-tech childrearing.

Children and teenagers want to use computers, smartphones, and the Internet. But they don’t necessarily have the knowledge or maturity to use them wisely. Parents should keep a young child on a short electronic leash, and lengthen that leash bit by bit as the child gets older.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

The first rule is the one Albert broke: Never give a child or teenager (from here on in, I’ll just use the word kid) the password to a Windows PC’s administrator account, or even let them use that account. Not only can they lock you out of your own computer, they can turn off the tools you’ve set up to protect them.

(If your kid has already locked you out, see my article on recovering an administrator password.)

You don’t want your kid watching porn or hooking up with predators, obviously. But you should also consider limiting the amount of time he or she spends sitting in front of a screen. By limiting their hours spent online, you give kids more time for sleep, old-fashioned socializing, and physical play.

Whatever tools you use to protect your kids, be honest with them. Let them know that you can see where they go on the Internet, and whom they’re contacting on social media. Explain that this is the cost of their using tech. They’ll complain, but they’ll trust you, and in the long run they’ll develop self-control.

I recommend you use Norton Family to protect your kids. The free version should suffice for PC access. Once a kid has a smartphone, consider upgrading to the $50-a-year Premiere version. With either version, you download and install software onto the PC or device(s) your child will use. You can then change settings and watch their activity via a webpage.

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Norton Family lets you monitor and control searches, social networks, and web browsing. You can check or uncheck the types of websites you want to be off limits. You can also control what happens when the kid tries to visit one of those sites; you can block the sites, give the child a warning, or just have Norton email you a notification. 

I recommend the warning option. That way, the kid can decide if that particular site is appropriate for him or her, while knowing that you’ll find out about their decision.

Norton Family also lets you schedule times that kids can and cannot use the PC.

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