First, I need to clear up one old point. In several different articles in the past, I have mentioned that Apple family share did not provide granular controls for allowing one kid to use an app after it was approved for another. It appears that they have heard this at the corporate level and with the last version of iOS 11, that is no longer the case. Several times over the last few days, I have had one son go to the app store, to our existing purchases, only to be required to ask for my approval before he could download the app. I don’t know if this will stay the case, but for this moment it seems that they have fixed that issue and I am very glad for it. Now, on to part 3, Microsoft.
The first big difference that I see the need to point out is that parental controls, family sharing and restrictions within Microsoft are all global. By that, I mean that you set them up from your own Microsoft account, for your whole family and then they are set for those family members no matter the device they use. This is VERY handy. My kids switch and swap PC’s all the time, and often want to borrow mine, so now that their accounts are all set up in the family, they can log in as themselves, and all their online restrictions go with them, including screen-time limits, which are also amazingly useful for parenting. Obviously, the first step here would be to make your own Microsoft account if you don’t yet have one. I have had one for years, and so I just used the one I had. Once you have the Microsoft account and are logged in, you can click on “Family” at the far right in the blue bar at the top of the page. This will open the family control panel page, which is where, at first, you add all your family members, and later will go to manage them, including where you will go to set restrictions and limits. As soon as you click on the big blue “Add a Family Member” button that is in the top center of the page, it will open a pop up where you choose if they are child or adult, enter their email or mobile number. At this point, if your child or adult family member already has a Microsoft account, use the email that is already connected to it, if they don’t have one, click the “create one for them” link near the bottom. One word of advice here, if your family member doesn’t have a Microsoft account and you are making one here, remember that the password you attach to their new account will be a password they will need to know. What I mean is not only pick a password that your child will remember, but also pick one that is NOT a password of anything you don’t want them in. I strongly recommend against using the same password for their account that you use for your own and also don’t use the one for the Netflix or the apple restrictions or anything else you don’t want them to have access to. You get my point. Similarly, be mindful that if you have to make them a new email address to start the account, this email will be something they will have to type in for years to come, so keep it simple, respectful and fun. This can be very rewarding for them or very embarrassing, your choice. Also, when you set these accounts up, Microsoft is going to offer relentlessly to have you install the Authenticator app. I use this, but it is a personal preference. Also, when you set the family up and add the children to it, if you haven’t yet made purchases from the Microsoft Store with the primary adult parent account in the new family account, Microsoft will require you to make a one time $0.50 expenditure. This is to prove that you have access to a valid credit card. For this one, PayPal and bank cards won’t work. Credit card companies are required to only do business with adults over the age of majority in the country of residence. As much of a pain as this is, it is worth it as this is the one feature that stops kids from messing around with this service, and they would. Also, the $0.50 is donated to charity, and Microsoft does NOT add this card to the account for purchases, so this is very safe and for a safe reason. There will also be a required phone number on each account, yours and child’s, to text reset info too. I use my cell number for this and Microsoft seems fine with that. Lastly, they will present you with a child consent form to approve your child using online service and third-party apps. Read this; it details how much liability Microsoft doesn’t have if your kids go astray. Agree to it if you want to use the features we are discussing here, I can only assume you do as you have read this far. As soon as you agree, you have a family account.
So at this point, you have a Microsoft account and so do all the members of your family. You have added each of them to the family in Microsoft, and now you are ready to start setting restrictions. One thing that is worth remembering is that whatever settings you put on the family now, are the settings they will be using on every Microsoft device, including their Xbox. Also noteworthy is that if they log in with this account on a friends device, those settings will follow them there also. I love this feature, but it can get cumbersome if you kids use many different devices and not all are the same brand. The kids will get used to using different iPads to get different access to different games and restriction settings, then when they enter the Microsoft sphere, they will expect that same thing, and it will not be there. Also be aware ahead of time that they will probably decide to make multiple other accounts that “you don’t know about” so they can defeat your parental controls. The easiest way to keep them from doing this, in my opinion, is to be very clear with them about the consequences up front. In my house, everyone understands that if Dad finds a burner account on any device, you have, that they will lose access to that device for a very painful amount of time. I ban them for a week the first time I find one, a month the second time, and they permanently lose the device the third time. As a side note, don’t threaten this if you are not able or willing to follow thru with it. I have no issue taking devices away from my kids no matter how much or how long they scream and cry. It will not kill them, no matter what they say, and I have only had to do it once for each of them so far. One thing I did was choose a device that they didn’t need or care about to crack down on first, then if they have to give it up permanently, it isn’t that terrible of a loss. That gives me the chance to stand my ground, them a chance to push the limits and learn the boundaries, without losing something critical that they may need for schoolwork in the long run. That is just me, and you probably have a better way to handle it for your own life. If so, let me know in the comments as I would love to have other options.
Now back to the actual setting of the restrictions in the Microsoft parental controls. They give you the option of limiting a device by actual time spent logged on, and also give you the option of blocking out whole sections of the day and night. Personally, I use both, at the same time. There are whole periods of time that my kid’s devices just don’t work. Times that are just off limits, like after 8 pm, before 7 am, and during homework time blocks. Then, on top of those restrictions, I limiting the actual amount of time logged on each day to about an hour and a half. What this means is that even though my son is technically allowed to be playing Xbox between the hours of 9 am and 9 pm on Saturday, he is also only allowed to play for 90 min any day. If he logs on at 9 am and doesn’t log off, he is locked out of his account at 10:30 am and not allowed back in until tomorrow. Now I know he is not on Xbox or pc in the middle of the night, but I also know that while he can use the pc anytime during the day that he has time, he can’t lose the whole day to it. One other thing of note is that while I use account controls on every device we use, I also use them on the router. Therefore if he does make a fake account just to play longer, it still disconnects from the internet at 9 pm and doesn’t reconnect until after seven the next morning. I will explain more about this at a later time.
The last thing I want to discuss regarding Microsoft parental controls and a family account is this: It gives your child the option of pinging you to ask for more time. If you follow the link you get when they do, it simply takes you to your family account, to the parental controls, and explains that if you want the kids to have more time, you can change their settings. This is a feature that could be a bit handier. There are several links in the email sent, in multiple time increments, but when I have wanted to grant more time, I have no proof that it works. Instead, I just go to the settings page. Now it could be that the restrictions are waived for the amount of time listed in the link you click in the email, but I cannot prove this. I have tested this several times, and while I am redirected to my account to adjust restriction settings every time, I do not have any verification that the amount of time I selected is granted. I would say, if this feature works to grant extra time, it does not work reliably. I have never considered this a major negative because it keeps me from giving in and granting extra time. While giving in sometimes doesn’t hurt, it does build the response in your child that asking works, therefore asking every time should work every time. I often get email spammed by my son several times in a short period, as since I have capitulated once or twice, he now thinks that if he bugs me enough, I will give in every time. This is not a habit I would have fostered on purpose, so keep that in mind when and if you allow extra time upon request.
I understand that this just bearly scratches the surface of parental controls on Microsoft. However, it is a good place for you to start and if you need more information, or are interested in learning more about Windows 10, the resource I use is an e-book named Windows 10 Field Guide written and continually updated by Paul Thurrott who does a wonderful job. It is available here: leanpub.com/windows10fieldguide
Remember to parent on purpose, with kindness and love, and while your work may not appear to have the effect you want, don’t give up. It is ok to adjust your technique as situations dictate but always parent your way, with thought and purpose. Your kids will thank you in the end.