Karen Lawrence Öqvist is the author of Virtual Shadows: Your Privacy in the Information Society.
Did you know that software can be installed on a PC to restrict access to websites and chatrooms, blocking any pages that the parents consider as inappropriate for their children?
Did you also know that if you have Microsoft’s Vista or Windows 7 as your operating system, that these controls are included?
Did you know that these controls are called ‘parental controls’?
What do parental controls do exactly?
Parental controls normally allow parents to apply limits to the way their children can use the computer, and includes tools that allow parents to keep track of what their children are doing on the computer. Products should include restriction settings, where can your children go, and activity monitoring, and what they have done online.
The Internet Content Resource Association (ICRA) has provided labels that are used to represent information about things that can be identified on the web and their suitability for children.
Parental controls use these labels which allow the parent to determine which rating services they want to use and, for each rating service, which ratings are acceptable and which are unacceptable. It is similar to ratings applied on films at the cinema. For example you might choose a rating service that rates documents according to their sexual content. The rating service might have a low rating for romance, a higher rating for passionate kissing and yet higher ratings for more explicit sexual activity. You might decide that documents containing romance are the highest acceptable rating for your household. You would then configure your browser to reject all documents that are unrated or contain a higher rating from this rating service.
What’s more, if you have young children you may consider activating the tracking functionality that is included in parental control products. This will store a log of all of their online activities. This is quite invasive, but most parents have no qualms doing this with very young children.
Best practices on using tracking functionality in parental controls
If you feel you need to track your child’s activities, it is good practice to show them what you are doing so that there are no secrets and one day they will probably ask that you remove the tracking, in which case you should do so.
Where to find parental controls?
- On how to use parental controls on Vista or Windows 7, check out the following url: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-vista/features/parental-controls.aspx.
- On other operating systems you can check out this url (http://www.consumersearch.com/parental-control-software) that gives a comparison of different products available. Here you can make up your own mind which best suits your situation.
Are there drawbacks of activating parental controls?
Apart from the obvious, i.e. the risk that your child feels you are invading their space (privacy), from a technical standpoint the main issue with parental controls is that when the settings are set too high, too many dialogs popup causing the child to just ignore them automatically. Feedback from some parents has been ‘what a waste of time’.
What else can you do?
If you don’t have tracking enabled and you want to have an idea of where your children have been online without them feeling that you are being invasive, you can occasionally check their browsing history and check the source of any cookies that may have been downloaded onto the computer. Again, let your children see what you are doing, so there are no secrets.