Computers are part of everyday family life. There’s a PC in every home and access to cheap and fast broadband is nearly universal. This, however, can pose some problems for parents.

There’s an amazing amount of information, communication and fun to be had online, but as with many things there are also some dark corners that you’d prefer them not to visit. Letting your children use the computer and surf the web without limits is just too risky.

Sitting and monitoring every single thing your child does on the computer, be it checking websites or managing exactly how much time they are on the PC, would be a laborious and, frankly, tedious task. Luckily, Windows has some tools that you can use to protect your child from the murky dangers of the internet and help to control the amount of time they are glued to the PC screen.

The parental controls options in Windows 7/8 allow you to manage just about every aspect of what your children can do on your PC and when surfing the net. They are incredibly easy to setup too.

You need to make sure that your account is set as the administrator and that you have a password, hopefully one that your children won’t be able to guess easily. If you need to create accounts for them or set a password for your account then go to Start > Control panel and then User accounts.

Ensure that it says Administrator under your account name, if not click on Change your account type and set yourself up as an administrator, once you’ve done that you can select Create a password for your account.

From here you can also create an account for each of the users you want to monitor and set restrictions for. Click on Manage another account and then Create a new account. Give the new account a name and ensure that you have selected the Standard user option. Once you’ve created the accounts click on Set up Parental Controls.

Click on the account you wish to manage and select On, enforce current settings to turn the local parental account controls on. Here you can set time limits, game ratings and decide which applications the user should have access to.

Setting a time limit is a great way to ensure that your teenager doesn’t stay up until 4am chatting to friends online. Click on the Time Limits option and you’ll see a grid of 7 days split into one-hour blocks. Click on a square to turn it from white to blue and the user simply won’t be able to log in and use the computer during those hours.

You might want to be more restrictive on school nights and give a little more freedom at weekends, the choice is up to you. If your child is working on something when the time limit expires they’ll not lose any work the account is simply logged out and your child can log back in again and start where they left off when the restriction is lifted.

Naturally, children like to play computer games, they’re a great way to relax after a hard day at school. However, not all games are suitable for youngsters and though you may enjoy the visceral thrill of shooting a zombie you might not want your younger children waving even pixelated guns about. In this instance you can use parental controls to limit what types of games they can play.

There are three levels of control over games: first you can simply stop the user from playing any games at all with a simple Yes or No option. If you are happy for the user to play games you can then choose between blocking games by their rating or manually selecting the titles.

If you choose to block games by rating you are shown a list of the various PEGI options from 3+ up to 18+ they are almost identical to movie ratings that you’ll have seen before, but if you’re not sure what each one means there’s a link to the PEGI website that you can click on to find out more.

If you’d like to pick and choose which games your child can play yourself rather than rely on the ratings you can do that too. Click on Block or Allow specific games All the games currently on your system will be listed and you can choose to block or allow each one as you see fit. Once you’ve made your choices simply click on OK and they will be set.

Finally, you can choose to let your child have access to every application or just a chosen few. This is a great way of limiting the number of applications available to younger children meaning that they wont end up opening PowerPoint when they meant to launch their reading or maths software. Click on Allow and block specific programs and then on User can only use the programs I allow and you’ll see a list of all the software on your PC, it may take a short while for the list to show up. Each application will have a checkbox next to its name. The simplest method is to click on Select All and then go through the list manually de-selecting the applications you do want them to be able to use. Now if they try to open an application they aren’t allowed to they’ll need your administrator password or the software will simply close again.

If you have a Windows Live account you can also activate the Additional controls option in the Parental Controls control panel. This allows you to monitor which websites your children are visiting or attempting to load. You can choose to allow or deny this from the Family Safety website and choose which sites are off limits yourself.

The parental controls options in Windows 7 really will help you to manage your children’s computer use and it’s an invaluable tool to help them stay safe and give you peace of mind. Whatever steps you take to restrict and manage your child’s computer use you should always do it in consultation with them and ensure they know why those limits have been put in place. An open an honest debate will help them to understand what risks they face and will help to ensure they become more savvy computer users. 

Visit the Dell Tech Zone for more advice on family computing.