Gaming with guidance: How to set up parental controls on modern consoles, handhelds, and computers

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The family that plays together stays together, but as every parent knows, you can’t always be around when the kids want to enjoy a quick game of Madden or Super Smash Bros. Video games have grown over the past few decades to the point where they now encompass a wide variety of genres, themes, and audiences. While for a long time the classic image of a “gamer” was a young, early-mid-teen boy, the fact of the matter is the average age of the video game audience is now  31 years old, about 52% are female, and, increasingly, much of what’s available on store shelves and for download reflects this. In order to make sure your children are playing the games meant for them, it’s important to monitor their gaming habits to ensure their safety. There’s also a pretty good chance, given the current average audience for games, that you’re a parent who owns a console which is also used by your children, and you want to be sure that the mature games you may enjoy  — say, Call of Duty or The Last of Us — and access to things like online stores and chat functions are restricted to your kids.

First and foremost, always remember to look at the ratings on games; in the US, the ESRB is the ratings board that determines the appropriate audience for a game, and sets a rating much like the MPAA does for films. The ESRB has an easy to use website, www.esrb.org, where you can look up ratings by title and break down what different content tags mean. They also have a mobile app that allows the same function, so you’ll be able to quickly recognize what ratings and content warnings mean, and whether they’re appropriate for your child. Beyond that, making sure consoles are set up correctly to enable (or disable) certain functions — like web browsing, voice chat, and store purchases — is the other crucial aspect to ensuring their security.

Here is an easy-to-follow guide covering each of the major gaming consoles currently on the market, and their parental settings.

Select your console:

PlayStation 4

In order to set up parental controls on a PS4, first begin by creating a Master Account for yourself, and Sub Account(s) for your children. You can do this when you first set up the console, or by going to the PSN options on the console menu and following the on-screen instructions to create a new account.

Once you have a Master Account set up, you can now create a sub account. To do this, sign in to your master account, then follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the settings menu, and select Parental Controls.
  2. In this menu, find and select Sub Accounts Management. You will be asked to input your PSN username and password.
  3. Next, select Create Sub Account. You will be given an explanation of Sub Accounts, then the system will take you through the steps to set up your child’s account.

Once you’ve created your Sub Account(s), navigate back to the System Menu, to Parental Controls, and from there you can access a number of options to set for each Sub Account, including:

  • Restricting games, apps, DVDs and Blue-Rays by their age rating
  • Disabling/Enabling the use of the PS4 web browser
  • Restricting non-registered user log ins
  • Disabling messages to and from other PSN users
  • Setting spending limits on the PlayStation Store
  • Blocking content on the PlayStation Store

Xbox One

On a single Xbox One console, multiple accounts of varying types can be stored and shared. In order to do this, you must set up a Family Profile on your Xbox One console. To do this, press the Menu button on your Xbox One controller. Select Settings and scroll to Family. From here, you can manage the accounts within your Xbox’s family; add or remove accounts to/from the family (this does not affect an account’s ability to use the console); and change settings.  Account types range from adult, to teen, to child, and each type has its own restrictions and permissions when it comes to changing settings or accessing content:

  • Adult accounts have no restrictions. They are able to play any movie or game, access online features, as well as make changes to the system settings, and settings on teen or child accounts on the system.
  • Teen accounts, by default, do not have many restrictions; games, movies, and online features are available. However, these permissions can all be changed by an adult account.
  • Child accounts (suggested for users eight years old and under), have pre-set restrictions to content use by rating, and limited online functions available. These settings can be changed by adult accounts.

Once a family profile has been created, you may now create privacy settings for each account. To do so, once again navigate to the Settings menu by pressing Menu on the controller, and then selecting Family. Once there, you may select a profile to edit. While the settings for adult accounts cannot be changed, the following restrictions/permissions may be applied to teen and child accounts:

  • App and game access by rating
  • Block listings from appearing on searches, store pages, and apps
  • Web filters
  • Access timers

PC

PCs are powerful gaming machines, but as we all know, they serve a number of functions. In order to fully protect your children, you’ll need programs that protect them while using other applications, such as web browsers. However, if your primary concern is over their safety while gaming, you do have some options specifically tailored for that. PC gaming is unique from consoles in many ways, but one of the primary differences is in how games are distributed and installed. There are a number of distribution platforms, the most popular (to the point of near-ubiquity) being Steam. Goliath publisher EA also has its own separate platform, Origin. Several others exist, so it’s important to identify which platforms your child is using, and familiarize yourself with their parental controls. Furthermore, many games (such as the ever-popular Minecraft) run standalone, without the use of one of these programs, and therefore are not able to be regulated by programs like Steam or Origin. Still, it’s almost a given these days that your child is using Steam to access at least some of his or her games. We’ll give you tips on how to access the parental controls for Steam, as well as for the other popular service, Origin.

Steam

In Steam, under Preferences, there is an option labeled Family. From here, you may enable Family Mode. This mode, protected by a PIN, allows you to create whitelists of games you wish to be displayed while in Family Mode, blocking all others even if they’re installed on the hard drive. Titles can be blocked on an individual basis, or categorically by content type. There are also options to disable/enable use of the store, community, chat, and other features (these features are mostly off in Family mode by default). Swapping in and out of Family Mode is easy — just click an icon and enter your PIN.

EA Origin

Origin’s parental control options are limited to mainly age-restricting certain games and preventing access to the Origin online store. EA suggest parents create their own origin accounts (a simple process that can be done at www.origin.com), then create their child’s account. The account is restricted by age, so be sure to put in your child’s correct birthday when creating their account, and include your email in the “parent’s email” field. Physically purchased games that include an Origin code can be added to your child’s account by entering the activation code on their account, however digital games cannot be purchased with a child account.

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