Managing kids’ computer use using built-in parental controls

I appreciate this hack from Melissa — simply, how her family uses the parental controls built into her computer's operating system to manage her kids' computer use. It's easy to overlook the tools we already have right at our fingertips.

What's great about Melissa's hack — beyond just using both low- and high tech tools and setting the limits — is that the larger conversation is also happening. Getting along with siblings, sharing, balancing electronic time, getting active…it's all part of the bigger picture.

I know you had a post about timers and other methods of limiting kids' screen time, but I thought I'd share our strategy for the computer. 

Set time limits using Windows parental controls
Set time limits using Windows parental controls

If you have a PC running Vista or higher, in the Parental Controls section of the Control Panel, you can select which hours of the day throughout the week each user can be logged on to the computer. So if each child is set up with a user account, you can set the specific times when they have access to the computer.

For our family, not only does this help us limit total screen time, it has also eliminated the fights between the kids about whose turn it is to use the computer. We have a chart that shows when each person's time slot is, and the computer logs them off when their time expires.

Nobody has access in the mornings before school, in the hour after school (so that there is some uninterrupted homework time), or after 6 p.m. Our weekday schedule is different than our weekend schedule, and during school breaks I often adjust the times to a holiday schedule.

You can also use the parental controls to restrict which websites a child can access. It's not a perfect tool, but works especially well for younger kids. My 5-yr-old has just three sites he can visit (like and I feel confident that I don't have to monitor every minute of his time.

Though they occasionally whine when their time ends in the middle of a game or video, they have become better at managing their time at the computer. It also forces them to get up and move around, instead of spending all their screen time in a single session.

Just thought I'd share, in case it might be a solution that would work for other families!

Parental Controls panel in Mac OS X
Parental Controls panel in Mac OS X

I use a Mac running OS X, and there are similar parental controls available in the System Preferences.

It's interesting how the conversation about managing kids' screen time changes so quickly. Remember when we used to talk about "setting limits on TV?" The idea seems almost quaint now that screens are a part of everything we do.

How do you manage your kids' computer use? Do you lump "screen time" together or do you differentiate between TV, video games, and Internet use?

We've got a number of screen time management tips at Parent Hacks, including tying video game time to points earned by doing chores, or using a system of tickets.


  1. Kelly P says

    Eureeka!! The timing of this post is just uncanny. A few hours ago I posted on my Facebook page (Project Me for Busy Mothers) an article about the effects on boys who have too much computer time, plus my own dilemma over my 13 and 10 year old boys being addicted to Minecraft. A short while later I decided to take action and create a time limit rule. We made a notebook for them to log their time… but I wondered how effective that was going to be. Then I saw your post! I’d never even noticed the Parental Controls feature on our Mac!! Thanks so much for flagging this up. I’m on it!!!

  2. says

    I use “lump” screen time. They would spend hours and hours between all the electronics that we have in our house, so I don’t differentiate.

  3. says

    Any idea how she implements the list of only three websites that her 5-yr-old uses? I’m on Windows 7 and don’t see that as an option. It was implying that I need to use a third-party service for “web-filtering”. This is really helpful, otherwise! Now if I could only set up time limits with my TV and/or get some stronger parental filters for Netflix!!

  4. says

    Holly–You’re right, the web filter isn’t there in Windows 7 (I never noticed before because the kids don’t have access to my Windows 7 laptop). Our family computer is running Vista, and it has an easy web filter where you can allow or block certain websites. Here’s a link I found to a free Windows web filter that you can install with Windows 7:

    I’m with you on stronger filters for Netflix!

  5. Amy V says

    We use a combo of WOT (plugin browsers with a color coded warning system for links) and Kaspersky’s parental control – to help protect my kids and the computer. Note it was HELP. No program will be perfect. (My kids are obsessed with minecraft and want to know how to add mods, etc. This could lead them to places that aren’t safe. So we talk with them and them them how to use WOT and how to deal with bad things (icky ads, possibly unsafe downloads, not giving out too much info in forums, etc.))

    We also use TimesUpKidz as our timer for computer screen time. the windows one wasn’t enough. Too few options. no way to add more time for good behavior or exceptions in our day – like homework. Our whole family loves to use the computer. We wanted to incorporate breaks for our extended weekend computer times. So they can take turns and so they rest their eyes.