Teenagers Plotting Parental Control Workarounds

    February 24, 2006

Layne Heiny has an excellent article at Windows Vista Buzz detailing how tech-savvy children (who almost always know more about computers than their parents) are already thinking up pretty good ways to beat Windows Vista’s parental controls.

When Vista hits, it’ll begin a battle of parents vs. kids, as the parents try to use the pretty good parental controls to limit and restrict their kids. While some of them, like the porn filters, can’t be argued with (well, horny teenagers might disagree with me), Vista can also be set to turn off the system, or even specific software, at specific times. This would mainly be used to kick teens off the computer, or off instant messenger.

Well, good luck with that. It might work on a six year-old, but even pre-teens know they have multiple options, which they’ve been using for years as schools and public libraries have tried in vain to block them. If parents disable AOL Instant Messenger, there are plenty of other options: online-based AIM-Express, GAIM, eventually Google Talk, or just using another service, like Yahoo. If parents shut off the system, they’ve got ideas as well.

Another scenario that should concern Microsoft is the proliferation of Linux. For example, one teen when told about the Parental Controls immediately explained she would pop in a Linux distribution and be done with Microsoft. Another wondered if she could overcome the administrator password (through Linux), reset the system, and be allowed the freedom she deserves. Another teenager talked about using their own external hard drive and booting off it – without their parents’ knowledge. One teenager barked, “If my parents do not trust me then they should sit next to me and not try to control me from a distance.”

Well, the external hard drive idea is stupid; you can’t boot Windows through USB. Try buying a second hard drive, hide it from your parent’s copy of Windows, install a second copy of Windows on the second hard drive (you don’t have to pay twice to install twice the same copy on the same hardware), and just run off that one. That should work fine. The Linux idea is a pretty good one as well.

While I’m sure many parents think Vista’s controls will make their lives easier, they aren’t a replacement for parenting. A far more effective method of getting your kid off IM is telling them to, assuming they actually listen to you (and if they don’t, whose fault do you think that is?). Don’t rely on Vista, and know your kids enough to understand that if you use “solutions” they already know how to beat, you’re just being an idiot parent.

An addendum: This could be a great way to get your kid to learn more about computers. Use the controls as a challenge with an obvious reward at the end. Eh, that’s probably just cruel.

Nathan Weinberg writes the popular InsideGoogle blog, offering the latest news and insights about Google and search engines.

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