All operating systems, such as Windows 7/8, or Mac OSX, have the option of limiting computer use for users. The "Administrator" of the computer (you can set more than one) can create and manage multiple accounts - including what sites can be visited, what times of day the computer can be used, which programs can be used, and much more.
I won't spend the time writing a "how-to" article on parental controls, because they've already been well written. First of all, you should have your own account on the device; I suggest this for all parents and guardians. Not only does it let you help manage the device, it also provides a way to log in if something were to happen to the child's account. Then, as an administrator, you can set up Parental Controls:
- Parental Controls on Windows 7
- Parental Controls on Windows 8
- Parental Controls on Mac OSX
- Parental Controls, aka "Restrictions", on iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod)
These are, without a doubt, some powerful ways to manage your child's behavior and use of technology at home.
Unfortunately, it's also easy, with Parental Controls, to have limited your child's technology use at school. For example, if they are asked to install an App for Science, or plug-in to use in Chinese class... you get the idea - they may not have the option without a parent's credentials (username and password). We usually have a school administration account on each laptop, so students can install needed software with a teacher's help - but it's still inconvenient. You could easily create a separate managed account for home use or other locations - though this actually starts to sound complicated. So is there a way to manage use - without setting Parental Controls on their user accounts?
It's my opinion that Parental Controls can also take the form of good, open communication at home - with agreements (perhaps in the form of a contract) and simple rules in place that are gradually lifted as trust is ensured.
With a device that opens the door to the world (aka, the Internet), it makes sense to be nervous - and we should certainly be cautious, but not overwhelmed. By simply asking that all computer use happen in a family room with watchful parents or older siblings, we can know that students are working safely. By insisting they come talk to parents if ever uncomfortable or unsure, we can help guide their decisions on what to do next. With a family rule to leave all devices on the kitchen table after, say, 9pm - we can help the whole family to unplug and transition to a great night of sleep. There are some very simple, no-nonsense behaviors we can put in place to make a big difference.
I've read more, and talked with parents more, about contracts at home. By setting some guidelines for technology use at home - and including children in these agreements is even more powerful - it's very clear what the rules are. We might go beyond this and discuss & agree upon consequences as well: With a misstep, the 'balance' might lean more towards strict, managed use with a parent present. With continued trusted use, some management might be lifted - perhaps allowing a few more minutes of games after homework.
It's not an easy balance to find and maintain - but this remains true always: The more communication, the better. With that in mind, we're looking at facilitating a handful of sessions with parents at the Carmel Campus - to discuss technology use, online safety and digital citizenship. Look for upcoming dates in the Pirate Log.
In the meantime, take the time to look over a list of resources I've gathered for parents. The list will grow, so keep coming back - and email me with any ideas or questions.