Computing for Children

By on 5/4/2009

I’ve mentioned to a few people that I recently set my kids up with PCs.  I think back to my first interactions with a computer when I was very young.  My parents bought an Acer IBM Clone from Fingerhut.  I learned so much from using that machine … in an effort to play prince of persia at school, my brother taught me how to make a boot disk to boot the library computer’s into DOS, then launch the game from the command line.  It really taught me a lot about the basics of how the computer works … knowledge that I know has been useful in my career.

So I wanted them to have that same opportunity.  I wanted them to be able to play games, and access learning tools on the internet; but wanted them to do it in as safe an environment as I could manage. So to that end, here’s their setup:

I did quite a bit of research before running out and getting the kids the netbooks.  Although they were relatively cheap in the grand scheme of things, I didn’t want to spend $600 bucks (for two of them) if it wasn’t going to be safe.  I made sure that their user account was *not* an administrator, and the use of Firefox with adblock gave me a pretty good feeling that they’d be safe from exploits. 

My choice of Safe Eyes was done after reading a lot of reviews.  One of my favorite features was that you could log in and manage the site whitelist from any browser … so if there was some site they needed that was getting blocked, I could just unblock it from work after a phone call from them.  Also, safe eyes can do partial filtering of sites like youtube and google search pages so they can still use the sites, without inadvertently running into content I didn’t want them seeing.

Another little trick I set up was that I made network shortcuts to each other’s laptop and taught them how to move files back and forth.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t very easy … it involved having to manually set some permissions via the command line.  I wish I would have written the steps down so I could share, but alas.  At least they can do some simple file sharing.  I figure that as long as I log on with my admin account periodically and do the windows updates, that they should remain safe.

Of course, I know that nothing is foolproof … we also employ other counter-measures such as making sure to monitor their use.  This ensures that even if there was a way around the parental controls, that there was a physical deterrent, and also it ensured that my investment is secured (ie, they don’t break them).

Wow … It literally *just* occurred to me that both my first computer, and my kid’s first computers were Acers. Go figure :-)

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