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

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.

Wii U

Nintendo is well known for being a family-friendly company, and accordingly the parental controls options for their Wii U console are robust, varied, and very easy to enable. First off, while the Wii U has network functions like online multiplayer, chat, and an online store, these features are disabled for users under 12 (which is determined when a user account is first set up by inputting their age). In the instance of a user being too young to access network functions, parents may choose to consent to letting their child use these functions by accepting the consent agreement and paying a non-refundable $0.50 (this is to ensure that parents know that online functions have been enabled via an alert on their bank account statement).

If you opted in to network functionality and still wish to set up privacy and content settings for your child, you will need to create a PIN and secret answer for a security question that you will use to access these options. This is to prevent your child from changing it on their own. The PIN can be changed if it is forgotten as long as a valid email address is tied to the account.

In order to access these settings, simply go to the Wii U menu, and select Parental Controls. After inputting your PIN, you may make changes to permissions for the following content:

  • Restrict game access by rating
  • In-game chat
  • Wii-U chat
  • Miiverse (Nintendo’s console-based social media network)
  • Friends
  • Online store
  • Web browser use and settings
  • Data management (i.e. deletion or copying of data on the system, such as save game data and downloaded program data)
  • Non-gaming apps, like Netflix or YouTube

Nintendo 3DS

To enable parental controls on a 3DS system, being by pressing the HOME button, and tapping the System Settings button that pops up. From here, tap Parental Controls, and follow the on-screen steps. You will be asked to create a four-digit PIN, and input an email address. The email will be used as a contact in order to reset your PIN if it is forgotten. Once you’ve completed the set up, head back to the HOME menu, once again selecting Parental Controls. You are now able to change the parental control settings. (Note: these steps are consistent across all versions of the Nintendo 3DS hardware, including the 3DS, 3DS XL, 2DS, and the New 3DS).

On the 3DS, there are the follow options:

  • Restrict game access by rating
  • Friends
  • Miiverse (Nintendo’s console-based social media network)
  • Chat
  • e-Shop store
  • Apps
  • Web browser
  • Street Pass (a wi-fi based connectivity feature that allows systems to trade characters, called Miis, back and forth, even while the system is closed)
  • 3D image display

PlayStation Vita

In order to enable parental controls on a PlayStation Vita, a passcode must be set. This passcode will be entered whenever parental settings are changed. Be sure to make the passcode something you won’t forget, or to write it down some place safe, because if you forget the passcode the system must be restored to factory settings, meaning all data stored on the system  — including saved games and installed games/apps — will be deleted. To do this, simply navigate to the settings button on the Vita home screen, and tap the icon. A menu will come up, with Parental Controls as an option. Tap this, and create a passcode. Parental controls are now enabled.

What can be regulated via parental controls on a vita:

  • Games, apps, and downloaded content by rating level
  • Browser access
  • Sharing of location data

You are also able to change the passcode from this menu, but you must enter the current passcode in order to do so.

Sony PlayStation 3

Power on the system and you’ll see the dashboard. Navigate to the right until you reach the Settings column. Scroll down until you see “Security Settings.”

There are plenty of options to choose here:

  • Change Password
  • BD Parental Control
  • BD/DVD Parental Control Regional Code
  • DVD Parental Control
  • Parental Control Level
  • Internet Browser Start Control

Start with Change Password. The default is 0000 (four zeroes), and you’ll want to change it to avoid your kid from just pressing the X button four times to access naughty goods.

On the PlayStation 3, restrictions can be set separately. First, however, parental controls must be turned on. To turn on the BD Parental Control or the DVD Parental Control, click on the respective link. You’ll then be asked for your four-digit password. Finally, choose either “Restrict (On)” or “Do Not Restrict (Off)”.

Too tired to go through the menus? The Blu-Ray/DVD Parental Control Regional Code lets you pick a default parental control level based on your country. Several dozen are represented.

The Parental Control Level represents the degree of content you want your child to see – Level 1 is tame, while Level 11, the highest level, provides almost unrestricted access to content of all sorts. Choose a parental control level and the PS3 will confirm the choice before you exit.

Finally, the Internet Browser Start Control is just that – turn it on and kids will need to know the password to use the Web.

Nintendo Wii

Power on the system and, on the dashboard, aim and click your remote on the Wii icon in the lower left-hand corner. Select “Data Management.”

There will be a list of different Wii System Settings. Click the arrow on the far right once to go to the next page. It should read Wii System Settings 2 on the top. Select the first option, “Parental Controls.”

The Wii will ask you to create a 4-digit pin followed by a secret question and answer (for additional security). Once those are set, the Wii will ask you if you’re all done or need to modify other settings. Select “Other Settings.”

From here you simply say “Yes” or “No” to toggle restrictions on Wii Points spending, online communication with other players, and Internet and News Channel use. Click on the “Settings Compete” icon to go back to the “Wii System Settings 2” page. You may now select the individual sections and modify the restrictions to your liking.

Microsoft Xbox 360

Power on the system and you’ll see the dashboard. Make sure you are on the row called “My Xbox.” Press the joypad to the right and flip through the tabs until you reach the System page. The second option is “Family Settings.”

There are two levels of control here: Console Control and Xbox LIVE Control.

The longest list, Console Control, has many options:

  • Game Ratings
  • Video Ratings
  • XBox LIVE Access
  • XBox LIVE Membership Creation
  • Restricted Content
  • Family Timer

Under Game Ratings, you can choose what type of games are playable based upon the ESRB (Electronic Software Ratings Board) ratings system. Categories include Early Childhood, Everyone, Everyone 10+, Teen and Mature.

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