What do I need to know about kids + safe & responsible computing?
March 2, 2013 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Mr. BlahLaLa and I are considering buying Kid BlahLaLa a laptop for his 10th birthday. (We want him to be able to play Minecraft and browse the internet.) We're a Mac family but I'm pretty sure this computer will have to be non-Mac because they're so much cheaper, which in turn opens up a whole world of internet security questions that I usually don't think about on my mac. Plus the whole idea of "Now I'm giving my kid a computer, what do I need to think about?" type of stuff.

1: What does a mostly non-computer savvy parent (me) need to know about buying a Windows machine these days? Do you need additional virus protection? Does the Windows security keep up with viruses these days?

2: What do I, as a parent, need to know about keeping my kid secure online? He knows not to give out personal information, download files, etc. He's shown himself to be a responsible, thoughtful kid (which is why we're even considering the computer in the first place)...but he's still a kid. He can be tricked, he can show poor judgement just like all the other kids, etc. In short, he's a great kid but he's still ten years old. What should I be thinking about in terms of keeping him safe?

3: And on the side of personal responsibility, what are some good "Now you've got a computer, son" rules to implement? I know that he will understand that I will always have access to this computer, that nothing he puts on it can be considered private, etc. But I could use some guidance in this area.

4: And lastly, if you have any hardware recommendations. (I got a few in my last, related question but could use some more.)

And I saw this question, but it's already a year old.
posted by BlahLaLa to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered getting him a slightly older Mac, to keep it affordable and sidestep all of those additional security issues and different software acquisitions and so forth? Sounds like he doesn't need the latest and greatest for what he'll be doing on it.
posted by treblemaker at 11:11 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mac mini. Where would he be taking this thing?
posted by oceanjesse at 11:14 AM on March 2, 2013

How about an older/used iPad? He can play Minecraft and surf the web. Tell him he can't take it out of the house.
posted by Joleta at 11:15 AM on March 2, 2013

Honestly, I'd say iPad. Minecraft is available as an app for it; if you go with an older/refurbished WiFi-only one it'll be cheaper, and it'll still be in the Mac ecosystem you're all used to. Plus, IIRC, you can set parental controls on an iPad pretty easily (and possibly remotely? I think one of my friends is doing this for their kids' shared iPad, but I don't remember what the system is called). And as much as I grump about the "walled garden" effect that can have, that's me kvetching as a power user in their mid-30s; for a 10-year-old getting their first machine, it's reasonable boundaries, IMO.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 11:22 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to clarify: Not an iPad -- we already have one, and you can only play solo-Minecraft on it; and not a desktop -- we don't have a place to put it in our "public" areas of the home, and I think one guideline for the kids-with-computers thing is that I don't want him to be holed up in his room playing. I want to be able to say to him, for instance, okay, you can play on your laptop right next to me while I sit here at the kitchen table and work.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:26 AM on March 2, 2013

Buy him an old white Macbook on eBay. You can get'em pretty cheap. If you're a Mac person, trying to figure out why the games or websites aren't working on a Windows machine will drive you insane.
posted by musofire at 11:45 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Virus protection for windows is pretty straightforward. Microsoft's free Security Essentials, which you have to download separately, is considered one of the best and is what I would recommend.

It sounds like you may have thought about this already, but consider how much you'll restrict his screen time. Just because no one else needs that computer shouldn't mean that the computer becomes his default mode of entertainment.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 11:51 AM on March 2, 2013

You're justifying your purchase of a machine with an unfamiliar OS for your kid by cost. Make sure you factor in:
  • the extra time it will take you to relearn the subtleties of doing familiar things on an unfamiliar OS
  • the time it will take you to provide primary tech support for this unfamiliar OS
  • troubleshooting any interoperability networking file-sharing issues between that laptop and the rest of the house
Honestly, given that you're going to be primarily responsible for the laptop, buy a used or refurbished Mac at a decent price-point and save yourself a world of frustration and wasted time, rather than being pennywise and pound foolish, so to speak.
posted by canine epigram at 12:54 PM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't know what the Minecraft options are, but have you considered a Chromebook? They're extremely affordable and wouldn't require any special virus protection.
posted by telegraph at 12:55 PM on March 2, 2013

Minecraft was just released for the Raspberry Pi.

It's very affordable. It's unlikely to be a target for malware, viruses, and other hacking at this point, and they have some other educational value for people interested in tinkering.
posted by weston at 1:14 PM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can get a decent old white MacBook for $300, and a great one for around $400. This is on Craigslist in a major city. I regularly repair these and sell them for around that/get them for friends/do work on them/etc. that's market rate.

As for #2,

I think the best way to handle this is to end up with an approved list of sites. Don't come up with it in advance, but have a rule that he needs to ask before going anywhere that hasn't had at least a brief discussion. When I was that age I was allowed to go to a couple sites like angelfire and an HTML guide site(I loved working on my own website), gamefaqs, and a couple other game related sites, and I think some stuff related to pokemon and TV shows/book series' I liked. Pretty quickly he won't be asking much. This worked great for me and my family. There was no locking down of the browser or parental control software(or in the OSX case in the modern day, system config stuff to lock down the machine) and it was built on trust. Over time as I advanced in to middle school it became more content based, and this rule was relaxed. Enforcement basically consisted of occasionally glancing at what I was using, and most usage scenarios being along the lines of what you were saying(ie: parent reading on the couch while I use the machine at a table 3ft away with the screen facing them). Also, as a final thought, make yourself an admin account and make his not admin. Just a user. Disallow installing apps, writing to the /applications folder, or changing settings. He should be allowed to connect to new wifi networks and that's about it. As with the websites, if he wants to install something he asks.

For #3,

I feel like my answer to the previous point started to cover this, but hmm. I see other people in this thread saying to get a Mac mini, or not let him take the machine anywhere. Honestly I disagree. Some of my best memories of being 10-11 and having a laptop were taking it over to friends houses for sleepovers and playing emulators and such. Now you could watch old nick shows on Netflix or any number of cool things I couldn't have imagined then. Id basically say that the rules of the machine apply, in a bubble around it, wherever he's using it. He's responsible for not breaking it and keeping it in good shape, and this is a big one that applied to me, the rules of the machine apply to anyone who uses it. You'll be skimming the browser history, etc and looking for stuff that shouldn't be there. It doesn't exist for his friends to get around their parents Internet rules by searching up stuff they shouldn't be looking at just because their parent won't see it.

Basically though to sum it up on the "so you have a computer now" thing. It's his machine, it's his responsibility to make sure it doesn't get broken or messed up, and to make sure that wherever he's using it he's following your rules. It's up to him if his friends use it, but it's on him if they don't follow the rules or mess it up. I liked this a lot more than the "it's my machine, you just get to use it" thing I've heard of a lot of people doing.

This worked very well for me, and let me feel like I was actually responsible for something and moving up to being an adult. I liked it a lot at the time. And I took such good care of the laptop that it lasted ten years. I was really proud of having it, especially since very few of my friends did, although 13-14 years later(this was in 99/2000, hah) I'm sure that's less true.

Oh, make sure if you do get a MacBook that you get a nice padded backpack for it, and not something crappy looking. They're also cheap on Craigslist/eBay. That's part of how I kept mine so nice. Alienware and others have made backpacks I would have thought looked awesome at 10, that most people just don't want after they buy a machine. There's also just plain looking ones. I'd definitely let him help pick and set a price limit at like $40.
posted by emptythought at 2:49 PM on March 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

You'll be fine with a Windows laptop for a 10 year old playing Minecraft and browsing the web under supervision.

I've been recommending Microsoft Security Essentials for a while as antivirus, but some recent test results have given me pause; its detection rate of zero-day exploits appears to be below par. AVG, which I abandoned a few years ago when its memory footprint got huge and its nagging got annoying, appears to have the best performance of the free AVs - you might want to look at it. On a modern machine, its performance impact probably won't matter.

Other than that, make sure your son doesn't have the admin password and keep both Windows and any third party software updated, though in Windows regular updates should be the default setting.

As for staying safe online as a 10 year old, there was a useful article on Mashable in January, worth reading even though it's more focussed on social media than your son's web browsing and Minecraft.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 8:05 AM on March 3, 2013

canine epigram: "You're justifying your purchase of a machine with an unfamiliar OS for your kid by cost. Make sure you factor in:

the extra time it will take you to relearn the subtleties of doing familiar things on an unfamiliar OS

There might be value in having your child be versed in more than one OS.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:39 AM on March 4, 2013

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