Monitoring and censoring your kids’ computer use is a decision that’s left up to parents. But parental controls aren’t just about blocking access to explicit websites. Consider enabling controls to set maximums on computer usage or, for younger users, a safeguard for internet safety. In Windows Vista and Mac OS X, you can also set time limits, block certain programs, and protect your computer settings and private files from being tampered with.
To activate parental controls in Windows Vista, click the Start menu and open the Control Panel. Under User Accounts, click Set up Parental Controls. You’ll probably need to type in the administrator password. Choose the user and choose On under Parental Controls. You can adjust individual features: restricting specific websites, games, programs, and very handily, setting time limits for computer use.
Macs also have robust parental controls if you’re running version OS X 10.4 or above. (You probably are; to check your version, click the Apple logo in the top left of your screen and select About This Mac.) In System Preferences, select the Parental Controls icon. Type in the administrator password. Pick the user account, and adjust the individual settings, including acceptable websites, email addresses, and chat/instant messenger accounts. You can even set different time limits for school nights and weekdays.
You can also buy third-party software that boasts similar features, but I would advise against it because the default parental controls are so strong in both Windows and Mac OS X. Kids today are pretty crafty, but since the parental controls are built into the operating system, the only way for them to get around them is if they know your administrator password. Maybe this is a good time to make sure that it’s not the dog’s name.