I have two young kids that are doing full virtual learning during the pandemic. Prior to this, they haven’t spent much time on computers, and subsequently I hadn’t invested much time in kid-proofing. They’re spending a lot of time on the computer now, though, and exploring more as they become increasingly competent and comfortable.
So, I wanted to do a few things to make sure they have a safer computing environment to work with. However, as I was doing this, I felt like some steps — like creating a group policy — might not be something that everyday folks are familiar with.
Kid Computing Requirements
Before I get into the steps I’ve taken, I wanted to add a quick note about what we needed. I actually began the school year with the kids using Ubuntu, but we switched to Windows 10 due to too many small technical issues — death by a thousand cuts sort of thing. Some of my guidance could be made safer — like blocking YouTube entirely — but it interferes with some of their online lessons.
So, for some additional context, I wanted to share our “requirements” to keep in mind. My kids’ school uses websites that take advantage of Firefox & Chrome extensions as well as Zoom for live instruction. That’s about it!
1. Create non-admin user accounts
Creating “standard” user accounts prevents them from installing applications from the internet. This seems pretty simple, and Windows makes it look pretty straightforward with its Family account. However, creating a kid account requires you to have a Microsoft account, and I don’t want to create a hotmail or outlook.com account for my kindergartner.
Instead, I chose to create local user accounts for my kids. There are some tradeoffs with this. For example, you can’t take advantage of Microsoft’s built-in parental controls like setting computing options and website blocking. I didn’t want to rely on those things, though, because of limitations like not blocking browsing for non-Microsoft browsers.
These are the steps for creating a local user account that’s not linked to a Microsoft account i.e. no email address required. It’s not super hard but not very intuitive, either. Here’s what you do:
- Open the start menu and type “users” > select Add, Edit, or Remove Other Users (alternatively, launch the Settings app and navigate to users)
- Under the Other users section, select Add someone else to this PC
- You’ll be asked for a Microsoft account, but there’s a link in the prompt that says I don’t have this person’s sign-in information; click that
- You’ll then be asked to create a Microsoft account, but there’s a link in the prompt that says, Add a user without a Microsoft account; click that
2. Install Chrome + content filter
Given that my kids needed a few extensions, I decided to have them use Chrome. I wanted to have some basic content filtering because it’s so easy stumble into inappropriate content. I did a bit of research and decided to use FoxFilter. It’s $20/year for the home office subscription that allows up to 10 devices, and it supports Chrome and Firefox. It’s not free but pretty reasonable at less than $2/mo.
This was my first choice, and I don’t have experience with alternatives. I like that I can sync settings between computers and disable access to Chrome extensions.
So, here are the steps to install Chrome and FoxFilter:
- Download and install Chrome from here
- Subscribe to FoxFilter here; you’ll receive a registration email
- Install the FoxFilter extension for Chrome here
- Configure the extension by right-clicking anywhere in your browser window
- Enter the confirmation code from your registration email
- Select the option to prevent access to extensions
- Review keywords and site lists to understand what will be blocked; adjust as you see fit
3. Block Microsoft Store and Edge
Okay! So, Chrome’s installed with some basic content protection, but what happens if/when they somehow open Edge? Similarly, I found my kids browsing and installing things from the Microsoft Store — there’s a real mixed bag of things in there.
This is where things seem to get unnecessarily hard. You can’t “just turn off” the Store or Edge, and the most accepted answer from the internet seems to be group policy. Once again, not the most intuitive solution.
But, with group policy in place, the apps are blocked. Mission accomplished. So, here’s how to do it:
- Open the start menu and type “group policy” > select Edit Group Policy (alternatively, navigate through Control Panel > System and Security > Administrative Tools > Local Security Policy)
- Expand Software Restriction Policies; you may need to right-click and choose New Software Restriction Policies
- Right-click Additional Rules and choose New Path Rule…
- Enter %programfiles%\WindowsApps\Microsoft.WindowsStore* as the path (don’t forget the asterisk!) > Click OK
- Right-click and add another path rule
- Enter %windir%\SystemApps\Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge* as the path > Click OK
These are the things I’ve done to make Windows 10 feel a little safer for my kids. The amount of time they spend on the computer unsupervised is still pretty low, and I’m by no means an expert in kid-safe/kid-friendly computing.
I’d love to hear your opinions on what I’m doing and what’s presented. What risks aren’t being addressed by these steps? What other important things should be done to ensure kids stay safe?