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August 25, 2010

How to: Easy Steps to Help Keep Your Munchkins Safe Online

My 3 year old daughter Lil (her blog nickname) recently started to game on our family PC. As a Microsoft mom, I’m proud she’s learning how to use a computer and has quickly become comfortable with controlling the PC at a basic level. Granted, she isn’t doing much other than going to Nick Jr.’s website (saved into our favorites in IE) to play Dora the Explorer, Backyardigans and Yo Gabba Gabba! games. Even though her online time is short, I want to ensure she stays safe, avoiding advertisements and websites not meant for her little eyes. I’m in the early stages of having to think about online parameters, house rules and talking with my kids about proper online behavior, but this is a good time to start asking questions about tools available and how to establish some proper online safety etiquette for our household.

As this is a big topic, I plan to write a few times on keeping your kids safe online over the next couple months. To kick things off, I wanted to share what I was able to do in my house very quickly to ensure my kids are protected, with just a few easy steps using Windows Live Family Safety. Note that Family Safety is the replacement for MSN Parental Controls which is no longer being updated. I’ve never had to monitor other accounts in my household and even though I knew the capabilities of Family Safety, I had never actually applied the product. What I discovered is that setting up parameters for my house was really easy, so I wanted to share how to do this and encourage other parents to use this product to help protect your children, which will help you breathe a little easier. And remember, Windows Live Family Safety, part of the Windows Live Essentials suite of products, is FREE! You can download the latest beta here.

What does Windows Live Family Safety do?

  • Gives parents control over when Windows will let your child use the computer, what games your child can play, and what programs your child can run. If your children use multiple computers, the choices will roam with them to each computer; they simply need to log in with their username and password to any PC in your house already configured with Family Safety.
  • Filters images, which is helpful if your child visits websites that allow other users to upload images. This feature works best on Windows 7 machines with faster processing power.
  • SafeSearch is locked for Bing, Google, Yahoo! and other popular search engines to prevent your child from seeing adult content in search results.
  • Has contact management, which provides parents control to monitor or restrict the contact list for their child in Windows Live Hotmail, Messenger and Spaces.
  • Provides requests management, which allows requests from a child to a parent to be aggregated in a single daily email allowing you to manage them more efficiently.
  • Restricts ads, which means children’s Live IDs that are added through Family Safety and logged into the Windows Live network, will not see advertisements when using Windows Live services.

Examples of how I’m personally using Family Safety in my house:

  • I set up a rule in my house for using the Internet, which includes blocking downloads, which I only had to do once. The choices I made for Lil on the Family Safety website apply to any computer she uses in our house, as they are all configured to run Family Safety.
  • Since I work during the day and I have at-home childcare, I’m not always aware of how much time Lil spends online gaming. I can now (from any online location) log into the Family Safety website and view activity reports to see how much time she’s spending online gaming. The report also contains websites my child visited.
  • I set time limits so she can only game during certain hours of the day and can restrict how much time she spends on the computer.
  • I mentioned that I allow Lil to go onto Nick Jr.’s website to game, though Family Safety also offers a list of child-friendly websites to visit which I’ve started to explore with my preschooler.

How easy is this really? You’ll be amazed! Here are the simple to follow steps to get you started:

  • Download the latest Windows Live Essentials beta.
  • Once installed, go to the Windows start button and type in Family Safety in the search bar.
  • The Family Safety screen will pop up. Note, you will need to sign in with a Windows Live ID to set up Family Safety. If you don’t have one, click here. The main screen will show which accounts are set up as Standard Users, and which have Admin rights. Make sure you add your kids as Standard Users, if they aren’t already there. Microsoft recommends that each child has their own Windows account so you can customize different settings for each child.
  • Once you have completed this, click “save.”
  • The main screen will then show you a link to the Windows Live Family Safety website, providing you with all the latest information on the accounts you monitor and allowing you to customize all your settings.
  • Since this is all linked to your personal Windows Live account, the great thing is that you can monitor your kids’ online activities anywhere. This includes the ability for your children to make requests to visit websites and add contacts, even when you’re not at home.
  • You can also view detailed step-by-step instructions on the Family Safety website located here.

In an upcoming post, I will interview a program manager for Family Safety to go into further depth on things you should know about keeping you kids safe online, including how to get the most out of free tools available to you. If you have questions about Windows Live Family Safety, please post comments. I will be picking from the top questions to include in my upcoming interview. Follow me on Twitter @WinMommyLisa.