The best ways to keep your children from misusing electronic devices are to set up separate restricted accounts for kids, use parental control settings and restrict their online accounts using allowlists.
Kids are curious little creatures. However, this curiosity can land them in dangerous situations if not supervised. So if you have young children running around under your roof, it’s time for you to to childproof your laptop, tablet, and other tech devices.
First, if your child has been doing distance learning lately, you may have noticed that the device formerly known as “your” computer has been conscripted for their studies. It’s time to make peace with this fact!
However, it’s a good idea to take steps to childproof your device to minimize the chance of them venturing into dangerous websites, meeting cyber predators or accidentally spending $10,000 on Minecraft skins.
Keep reading to find out how to child-proof laptop computers and tablet devices today, so your younger children’s internet experience stays kid-safe.
How do I childproof my child’s computer?The top methods include setting up separate restricted user accounts for your children, using parental controls and encrypting sensitive data on the computer.
What is the safest laptop for kids?A laptop is only as safe as you make it for your child. No matter what laptop you get them, install virus protection and enable security settings for your kid’s online safety.
What age is appropriate for a laptop?The best age to introduce laptops to your kids depends on the child’s learning stage and their ability to grasp the importance of staying safe on the internet.
10 Steps to Childproof Your Laptop
- Step one: Buy a laptop
- Step two: Get a child. If you don’t have one, borrow one from a friend
- Step three: Don’t get too attached to it — the laptop, not the child
I’m kidding, of course, but knowing what steps to take now will pay off in the long run.
Some people think child-proofing a laptop involves removing any sharp objects that might be laying around your expensive technology. They’re not wrong, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
The following steps will show how to keep your kid safe online, away from inappropriate content, and transform your device into a kid-friendly laptop.
1. Talk to Your Kids
As with any parenting issue, it is important to discuss expectations and concerns with your child. Let them know what you would like to see them do or not do online. It is possible to protect your child from harm without taking away all of their freedoms.
Have some basic rules about computer use that everyone in the family can agree on. For example, no talking to people who seem suspicious or inappropriate, no buying things online without parental supervision and no gaming for excessive hours.
You can set screen time limits to cap your child’s access. Encourage them to limit laptop use and get out into the real world. A child’s time should never be totally consumed by their family computer.
Rewards & Punishments
Let your children know that they are expected to follow these rules when using the computer. You may want to reward good behavior by giving them more freedom when they demonstrate responsibility with the computer. You can punish bad behavior by taking away certain privileges, like online or phone time, if they break the rules or don’t follow through on responsibilities set by their parents.
You can punish bad behavior by taking away certain privileges, like online or phone time, if they break the rules or don’t follow through on responsibilities set by their parents.
Most of all, make sure you’re communicating why you’re doing this. Just like in the old fairy tales, if you don’t tell a child why they shouldn’t do something, they might be even more tempted to do it.
It’s hard for most kids to see the dangers behind the internet, but you have to go the extra mile to keep your child safe as a parent. You can even check with your child’s school to see if they have an internet awareness program.
2. Separate Accounts for Kids and Adults
The thought of your children wandering through the internet unsupervised might horrify you. They could stumble upon sexually explicit content, buy things without permission, fall victim to online scams or worse.
A great way to reduce the chances of this happening is to create your own user account, as well as password-protected accounts for your kids to use instead of the main login. Set different permissions for their accounts that limit what they can access.
If you have more than one child, give them each separate user accounts with their individual passwords and privileges. Only designate adult accounts as “administrators” with the ability to access all files. Then, when your 4-year-old child thinks it would be fun to delete all your files, they can mess with their own stuff but nothing else.
Also, double-check that you choose a strong password for your admin account that contains both upper and lowercase letters as well as numbers, symbols and punctuation marks. Your children will only be able to gain control of your computer if they know this password, so make sure it’s something impossible for them to guess.
Even better, change it frequently if you figure out if one of your kids becoming a future Mr. Robot.
3. Use Parental Controls
Making a laptop child-proof presents a challenge because it is both portable and an all-purpose computer, which means it can be used for both homework and accessing inappropriate content.
Many parents want to protect kid’s privacy online, keep them safe and still give them enough freedom to explore. A great way to do that is to enable parental controls through your computer’s system preferences. Windows and Mac laptops have built-in parental controls you can access at any time.
The parental-control strategy comes in two parts. The first is to set up the laptop so that your kid can’t mess around with any of the settings or install any software (like a VPN). The second is to teach your kid how to use the machine safely.
Let’s explore how to set this up on the Windows operating system, as well as Mac and some common browsers.
Setting up parental controls on Windows 10
- Click on Start and then Settings
- Click Accounts
- On the left side panel, choose Family & other users
- Click the option to Add a family member
- Select Add a Child and input your child’s Microsoft email address. If your child doesn’t have an email address, click The person I want to add doesn’t have an email address
- The Child account will be added to your list of family members. It will be activated with the default parental control settings
- To refine settings, click on Manage family settings online in the same panel and adjust the parental control settings
Setting up parental controls on macOS
- Click on the Apple icon and then click System Preferences
- Click on the Parental Controls button
- Select the child’s account that you wish to put controls over
- Click on the lock symbol at the bottom left of the panel to make changes
- Enter your administrator password to unlock Parental Controls preferences
- Set restrictions as you wish for Apps, Web, Stores, Time, Privacy and Other
Secondly, you can also set controls on the browser. The blocking-sites strategy is based on the idea that kids should spend time on their computers but not on frivolous activities like visiting pointless websites. This is the technical solution and also helps restrict any visits to unsafe websites.
Setting up parental controls on Firefox
If you use Firefox, the browser automatically sets itself to safe mode by detecting if parental controls are enabled on the OS when logged in through the child’s account. As long as you have the parental controls turned on for the computer, the job’s done for your Firefox too.
Additionally, you can use add-ons extensions to further filter the websites your child might visit.
Setting up parental controls on Google Chrome
If your child has a Google Account, you can restrict their access to sites across devices, including Android devices where they might access the browser.
Certain features will automatically be restricted on a child’s Google Account. These include their ability to access the Chrome Web Store and incognito mode. You can also enable the “Try to block explicit sites” for your child’s account through “Family Link,” the dashboard for all parental-related controls of your child’s Google account.
To do this, check out the following steps:
- Open the Family Link app
- Select your child’s account
- Go to Manage settings and then Google Chrome
- You can choose from three settings: Allow all sites, Try to block explicit sites and Only allow approved sites
- You can also manually allow and block sites through the Manage sites option
Want to go a mile further to protect your kids?
Check out what kind of services your internet provider offers, such as filtering or monitoring software. For example, your provider might have a tie-up with a service like Norton Family that lets you monitor and manage your child’s online activity through an app on your phone.
The thing is, many kids will see this as an intrusion and rebel as kids usually do. It’s important to refer back to step one and have a sit-down with your kid.
Rather than restrict them from the get-go, you can teach your kids how to use the internet safely and provide “softer” parental controls that encourage them to come to you if they have any issues. Or you can do a mix of both strategies. Often doing both is the most effective, but choose a path that works and stick to it.
4. Log Out of Online Accounts, and Don’t Use Autofill
Kids are getting smarter with technology today. Not all of them will stick to schoolwork when their parents are away.
This is where kid-proofing comes in. Are you the kind of person who keeps your online accounts logged in or keeps the autofill feature activated?
Time to change that.
Staying logged into your account is like wedging your super-secret key permanently into all of your doors. Avoid the autofill feature for sensitive accounts. If your kid gets on the computer while you’ve left your admin account logged in, you don’t want them accessing your email or bank account.
Using strong passwords is one way to keep both hackers and kids out of your account. To create a strong password, you should aim to use a combination of at least eight letters, symbols and numbers that can’t be easily guessed. You can also use password managers like LastPass that automatically create and safely manage strong passwords for your accounts.
5. Encrypt Sensitive Folders
For most of us, encryption is a tool we use to protect our data from hackers and criminals. But on the off chance you’re raising children, there’s an additional use for this technology: protecting your data from your kids, especially younger children.
If your children are old enough to use a computer, you might want to protect files containing things they shouldn’t see, like sexy photos or financial documents.
The solution is to encrypt the folders you don’t want them to see.
Wrapping important files in an encrypted shell keeps them inaccessible to everyone else who uses your computer — including your children. With some versions of Windows and Mac laptops, you can even control whether users can copy, print or even see the encrypted files. This way, you don’t have to track laptop usage obsessively and see what they’re getting up to.
On Windows, you can use BitLocker (which comes as part of the OS) to encrypt files. To access it, you must have a trusted platform module (TPM) hardware chip. To check if your laptop has it, open up Device Manager and click on Security Devices. If you see a TPM chip option, you’ll be able to encrypt files using BitLocker.
On macOS, there are also built-in features for encryption. All you have to do is create a new folder with all the sensitive files in it, search for Disk Utility and create New Image. Then, search for the folder you just created and choose the encryption method from the options that pop up. Make sure you have a strong password set.
Alternatively, you can use third-party software like AxCrypt or Veracrypt to encrypt files.
6. Use an Allowlist for Email Accounts
Once you let your child get an email account, you can’t stop them from giving out their address. It’s like handing them the keys to a car and expecting them not to drive anywhere dangerous — except this car can fly anywhere in the world instantly while you’re asleep.
The problem with email is spam. Once your child’s email address gets out, it won’t be long before they start getting emails from people trying to sell them stuff. That may seem harmless, but the danger is that you run the chances of them making contact with an email scammer.
There are two ways to protect your child’s email: allowlists and blocklists. A blocklist is a list of mail addresses you don’t let through; an allowlist is a list of those you do. If you are going to allow your child an email account, use an allowlist for it.
In Gmail, you can simply do this by creating an effective blocklist that does the job. There are two ways to go about this.
Firstly, you can proactively block a sender’s email address by clicking on the dropdown button for “More” settings and clicking the option to block the sender.
Alternatively, you can create a filter for all the email IDs you don’t want your child receiving emails from. To do this, follow these steps:
- Click the Settings icon on the top right corner of your inbox.
- Click on See all settings.
- Go to the Filters and blocked addresses tab.
- Select Create a new filter and fill out the parameters to your liking.
- Select the Delete it option from the filter options that pop up.
- Click on Create filter, and you’re done.
A blocklist gives positive authority to everything that’s not on it, and as every spammer knows, you can get around such filters by sending your message from new and unfamiliar locations. But if you are on the allowlist, it means someone has decided they trust you, and most spammers don’t bother trying to get on allowlists.
Allowlists can be more work to maintain than blocklists, but they’re much more effective in practice.
7. Turn on SafeSearch and Consider a Kid-Friendly Browser
In the same way you wouldn’t let your young kid take the subway alone, you shouldn’t let them wander the internet unsupervised.
Kids know their way around the internet. You should too. Make sure you turn on your child’s SafeSearch option through their Google account. SafeSearch proactively filters out any explicit content on images, videos, and website pages for your child’s results. You can turn on SafeSearch for your kid through the Family Link app.
Alternatively, you can get your kid to use kid-friendly browsers like Kiddle or Pikluk, which are designed for kids and are filled with only appropriate content. These browsers curate the content themselves through a database of pre-approved content.
All your kid’s searches will exclude any links from the “bad parts” of the internet, thereby actively seeking to block out harmful content. However, keep in mind that even though a lot of websites are blocked, others could still manage to slip through the cracks. It’s not 100% guaranteed to always work.
8. Use Your Router to Block Websites
If you want to block websites on your home network, the easiest way to do it is with your router. Most routers have a very similar interface and a similar process for setting up parental controls.
DNS filtering works by preventing your devices from contacting certain websites at all. This is different from simply blocking the site in your browser; it prevents anyone connected to your WiFi network from contacting the site with any device. This makes it much harder for kids to get around the blocks.
To do this, you can open your router settings and adjust parental controls. Most mainstream internet service providers have tutorials on their sites for you to learn how to do this, but the process is pretty similar for all of them.
All you have to do is open your web browser and type in the IP address for the router you use. A page will pop up where you can enter the username (usually admin) and password for your router. Click to login, and you’ll be able to view your router’s settings.
9. Install Anti-Malware Software
Downloading malware is one of the biggest threats children face online, according to studies by Kaspersky.
Yes, there are all those scams and phishing attacks. You always run the risk of accidentally clicking on a malicious link that downloads malware onto your device or system. It happens to adults all the time, so it’s no wonder it can happen with kids too.
Once malware is installed, it will often try to spread to other computers controlled by the same person using the same network — like your home WiFi system. So no matter what kind of computer you use — desktop, laptop, tablet — install anti-malware software and make sure it’s up to date.
There are two main types of anti-malware programs. First, there are the types like Microsoft Windows Defender and Kaspersky’s free virus scanner tool that search your computer for existing infections and remove them.
The second type guards your computer by preventing new threats from downloading. The latter includes popular antivirus software like Norton, McAfee and Avast antivirus protection.
I recommend having both kinds on your computer so you can have additional resources handy when you need them.
10. Inspect the Laptop Regularly
Most parents have found ways to keep their kids safe on the web. But whatever method you choose, don’t assume your child-proofing measures are working perfectly.
Every now and then, look over your child’s account and see if everything is good. You can access their account using your admin privileges and restrict access if you find out they’ve been accessing dangerous sites. Even if you tell your kids they can come to you with any question or problem, there may still be situations when they don’t ask for help.
How to Childproof a Tablet
Your kid might just want to watch Frozen on repeat while exploring their new tablet. On the other hand, you will want them to be careful. Here’s what you can do to safeguard tablet usage.
Lock Your Kids Out of the App Store
When you think of the app Store, the word “danger” might not flash through your mind, but why take the risk of your kid downloading or accessing a bad app? One of the best things you can do for your peace of mind is restrict your child from accessing the app store.
To do this, follow these steps for iPhones and iPads.
- Open the Settings panel on your device.
- Tap Screen Time and enable it if you haven’t already.
- Click on Content & Privacy Restrictions.
- Click on iTunes & App Store Purchases.
- Click Don’t Allow.
It’s also a good idea to sit down with your kids and give them a walkthrough of the apps on the device.
Use “Kid-Friendly” Mode
The good news is that most modern tablets come with a “kid-friendly” mode, which restricts access to the app store and other uses on the device. The bad news is that, by default, this mode is off and requires a little bit of legwork to activate.
Apple doesn’t come equipped with a “kid mode” option, but you can enable it by setting up content restrictions for your child’s device. To do this, you have to have Screen Time for Family enabled on the device through Settings.
Through this, you can enable the following settings:
- Alter the Downtime, which is the number of hours you want your child’s device to be offline (such as after bedtime).
- Set App Limits, which limit the amount of total time your child can spend on certain apps.
- Enable Content & Privacy Restrictions and create a passcode so only you can adjust the Screen Time settings, and your child cannot.
On most Android tablets, you’ll find it under the Google Play settings by going to Settings, then Parental Controls. Create a PIN and select the type of content you want to filter for your child’s device.
Screen Pin When You Can
You can also learn how to turn on screen pinning on your device: It lets you lock down the screen so that only one app can be used at a time. You can activate this feature when your kids are on the device and keep a watchful eye over them.
On Apple tablets, you can use Guided Access. This feature lets you lock your kid out of all but one app at a time. And it doesn’t just prevent accidental purchases; you can also set it so they can’t exit that app until you enter a passcode or use Touch ID to unlock the device.
Keep an Eye Out
Speaking of watchful eyes, monitor your children’s activities on laptops and other devices. See what they’re downloading.
There’s always the possibility of your kid bypassing the safety protocols you have set up, and you shouldn’t just assume that everything automatically works the way you want it to. Set up a regular interval, be it weekly or monthly, to check in on your child’s device and ensure everything is in order regarding Kids’ safety.
Conclusion: Make Your Laptop Child-Proof
Parents are becoming more aware that their children are increasingly adept at utilizing technology. This can be both good and bad, depending on how it is used.
You can ensure it stays on the sunny side of things by child-proofing their devices. Once you do, you’re all set to let your little ones get creative while keeping your child safe.
Happy (and safe) exploring!