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April 30, 2017

Sorry kid, access denied: Our favorite, free parental control software

by John_A

Proper parenting isn’t easy in the digital age. There was once a time, prior to the internet, when a social network strictly referred to you and your band of cohorts, when the Silk Road was merely a cross-continent trade route, when “following” someone was considered illegal, and when the only pornographic images available lined the glossy interior of publications like Hustler and Penthouse.

Most kids these days are well versed in the tech-savvy art of computing. Many of us wouldn’t mind a little assistance when it comes to curtailing cyber bullying, blocking inappropriate websites, or simply limiting our children’s computer usage to something far less than the norm — which now hovers around eight hours a day. Thankfully, there is plenty of free software available to help.

Built-in OS features

Your computer is seemingly connected to everything, and that being the case, it’s not a bad place to begin exercising a little parental caution on behalf of your kids. The parental controls for both Windows and MacOS are built directly into each operating system’s innate preferences, providing a convenient and acceptable means for restricting Web access and chat functionality, along with viewing detailed logs and monitoring email exchanges.

Windows Family Safety

Asus Tai Chi T300 laptop

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

For Windows 10, you need to sign up for a Family Safety account. You can then add a specific child account (or more) to your family account that your kids can use.

This approach may be a little complicated, but it comes with a variety of benefits. You get activity reports for all online activity from the child accounts, and can block any apps, games or sites that you want. You can limit how much time they spend on the account, and strictly control their purchasing activity. There’s also some real-world safety features. You are able to track your kids’ location as long as you use Windows mobile devices.

MacOS

MacOS-Sierra-features
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

MacOS touts more than a few options when it comes to parental controls, each of which is accessible via the Parental Controls pane housed within the main System Preferences panel. The software includes options for blocking specified applications and websites. You can also block messaging with particular people you deem unworthy or inappropriate. Parental controls must be set individually for each person, but once done, users can also set time limits.

There are other options, such as the ability to hide profanity in most source content, and users can additionally prohibit the computer’s built-in camera and disc-burning utilities. If there’s more than one Mac on a single network, users can even remotely manage said parental controls from a different computer entirely. It’s a fairly comprehensive solution if you don’t mind spending some time in Mac settings making sure everything is set up correctly. The catch is that you can only manage parental controls by user, so you’ll need to set up separate accounts for each child.

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