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How to monitor kids' online and computer activity in Windows

Raising and protecting kids became much more complex with the advent of omnipresent high-speed Internet access. There's no way to cover every base, but concerned parents can check to see what their kids are doing on home computers without worrying about being outsmarted using Windows Live Family Safety.

Kids aren't always the best judges of what's best for them. Of course, that's true for all of us, but parents still need to watch out for their children until they leave home (or stop asking for money). Online hazards include scams, porn, malware, predators, bullies, and more.

While there's no perfect way to protect your children without falling off the grid entirely, there are still some tools that can help considerably. Windows Live Family Safety can help you watch what your kids are doing on the computer and lets you nip problems in the bud. Here's how to get started: 

  1. If you don't already have a Windows Live ID, get one here

  2. On every Windows computer that your kids might use, create a unique user account for them. To do this, open the Control Panel, then click Add or remove user accounts, then Create a new account. Enter the account name and keep the Standard use button ticked, then click Create Account. 
    Step 2: Add user account for kids.
    Step 2: Add user account for kids.

  3. As soon as you've done that, set up parental controls using the link below the user list. Click the account name your child will use, then, if you like, set up time limits, game ratings, or program limits. Any of these can be changed later, of course. 

  4. Some folks may stop here; this offers a decent level of protection with a fairly minimal investment of time. If you want to monitor activity (and there's good reason to do so), you need to make sure Windows Live Family Safety is installed on every computer the kids will use. An easy way to check is to click the Windows button at the bottom left of the screen, then select All Programs, then open the Windows Live folder. If it's there, run it; if not, download it here

  5. Once it's running, you need to use that Windows Live ID to sign in. 

  6. You should see a list of users including your kids. Click the box under Monitor account, then Next. 
    Step 6: Choose accounts to monitor.
    Step 6: Choose accounts to monitor.

  7. Now you need to link the Windows account with a Family Safety member. This should be quite straightforward. Click Save and wait for the program to do its thing. 

  8. Now, when you want to check up on your kids' activity from any computer (even at work or on the road), just head over to the Family Safety page and log in with your Windows Live ID. Click View activity report next to any monitored profile to check. 
    Step 8: Open Windows Live Family Safety monitor page.
    Step 8: Open Windows Live Family Safety monitor page.

  9. The main report covers the last week and includes Web activity, other Internet activity, and offline computer activity like using Word, Excel, or other programs. Some of the Web stuff is likely to come from ads, so don't freak out if you see weird Web sites like (in this example) "," as they are easy to block. 
    Step 9: Monitor activity.
    Step 9: Monitor activity.

  10. To block any site or activity, just pick Select next to the weird or forbidden site name, then Block for this person only or Block for everyone. When you're done, click Save at the bottom of the page. 

  11. The sidebar on the left gives you access to more parental controls if you need them. You may want to let your kids know you're keeping track, as that in itself can keep them from straying too far from where they ought to be. This can be a great way to talk to them about appropriate online behavior, as that still hasn't made its way into the parenting books (or many school curricula) yet.