Exposure to adult content, malware or even accidentally deleting all of your precious family photos are just some of the risks you take if you fail to properly prepare a computer for a child.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to set up a Windows PC, Apple Mac or Google Chromebook to minimise the risks of your child — or the computer — coming to any harm.
How to set up a Windows PC for a child
The key to managing children on a Windows PC is not to let them have access to the main ‘admin’ account. With access to admin, it’s far too easy for kids to install unwanted software, viruses or to inadvertently delete your own files.
Whether you’re giving an older child their own computer or simply letting them use the family computer, create a separate user account for the child. To do this in Windows 11:
· Open Settings.
· Click Accounts from the left-hand menu.
· If you’ve previously created a Microsoft Family account on another computer, click Family, select the child’s name and click Allow Sign In. Once that’s done, select Change Account Type and make sure Standard User is selected.
· If you’ve not previously used Microsoft Family, click Family, then Add Someone and follow the prompts to create a Microsoft account for your child.
Once the child account is set up, you can then manage their activity on the computer from the Microsoft Family website or mobile app. This has a vast range of options and settings. For example, you can set screen-time limits, ensuring the laptop is used between only set times, with the option to give them more latitude at weekends.
You’ll also be able to see (and control) what apps and games they install, as well as apply some fairly basic web filtering for Microsoft’s own Edge browser. Your broadband provider may offer a more comprehensive set of web filters that apply across any device connected to the home Wi-Fi, although none of these filters are perfect.
Microsoft will also send you a weekly activity report that shows what your child has been up to on their computer and how long they’re spending on it. This means you don’t have to constantly monitor the Family website or app.
What about security software? A few years ago, a third-party antivirus package was a must for any Windows PC. However, in recent years the built-in Windows Defender has proven to be more than competent in a series of independent tests of security software. It’s switched on by default in Windows 10 and 11.
How to set up a Mac for a child
If you’ve read our guide to setting up a phone for your child, some of this will be familiar, as Apple uses the same system for Macs as it does for the iPhone. And if you’ve already set up the iPhone with parental controls, then half the job is done for you.
As with Windows, first set up the Mac with your own admin account and then create a separate account for the child. To do this on a Mac updated to the latest operating system, Ventura, do the following:
· Click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of the screen and select System Settings.
· Select Users & Groups from the menu on the left and Add account.
· Create an account for your child and make sure to select Standard from the drop-down menu of account types at the top.
Once the account is created, log out of your account and log in with the child’s username and password, which you just created. If the child already has an Apple account, you can enter their username and password during set-up. If not, you can create a new account.
Once the new account set-up is complete, click on the Apple icon in the top-left again, choose Settings and this time select Screen Time.
If you’ve previously set up parental controls on an iPhone, you’ll now be asked to enter the PIN you created on that device. If not, you’ll need to create a new PIN to ensure the child doesn’t fiddle with the settings themselves.
As you’ll see, there’s a range of different settings you can apply, including putting limits on purchases, restricting the hours the Mac can be used between and limiting web content. In truth, Apple’s web filters aren’t great — so it’s definitely worth looking at the filters offered by your broadband provider, or even considering third-party parental control software, to back up Apple’s rather limited options.
When it comes to security software for a Mac, the serious threats are so few and far between that we’d be reluctant to recommend paying for dedicated Mac antivirus software. The Mac’s built-in defences will protect against most attacks.
How to set up a Chromebook for a child
Chromebooks are an excellent choice for kids. This is because the locked-down nature of the Google operating system means it’s much harder for them to do anything catastrophic, such as downloading impossible-to-shift malware or trashing your files. Harder, but not impossible.
Again, the key is to set the child up on their own account, not use yours. If your child already has an Android phone, you can use that same user account to log into the Chromebook. Then, you as a parent can use Google’s Family Link website or app to control what they’re doing with the Chromebook and the phone.
To add a child account to the Chromebook, first add your own account, then:
· Click in the bottom-right corner of the screen and select Sign Out.
· Click Add Person on the screen that now appears and select A Child.
· On the next screen, you’ll be given the choice to set up a new account or sign in with the child’s existing Google account. (A little tip here: if they have a Google account from school, don’t use that as you won’t have the admin rights to the account).
Google’s set-up menu will then run you through the various parental control options, but you can always come back and tweak these on the Family Link website or app.
Here, for example, you can ensure that your child must first get your approval if they want to download any apps, films, TV shows or books — or for those with only certain age ratings. You can set limits on what YouTube videos they watch, apply safe search settings and tell the Chrome browser to block explicit sites. As always, vigilance is still needed, as these filters are not bulletproof.
With Family Link, you can also limit screen-time limits on devices, whether that’s a set number of hours per day or by permitting access during only certain hours. Those time limits can also be applied to individual apps — for instance, if you need to deal with a persistent Roblox addiction.