A Personal Computer is called a Personal Computer because it is mostly used for personal purposes. But what if this computer is intended to be used as a family computer and you do not want your children to have exactly the same possibilities as you have? Or maybe you installed a separate Linux computer for the children in their room for which you still want to be in control of what they can or cannot do with it and at what moment of the day. You probably want to set up some restrictions for your children, such as the time when they can use the computer, the duration of the time they can use it and most likely you want to limit their rights to do administrative tasks. In this article, as part of my Zorin OS tutorial series, I explain how to set up Parental Control in Zorin OS.
Distro version: Zorin OS 16 Core
Tutorial series: Zorin OS Tutorial Series
Note: This tutorial series is still in progress, so not all chapters are finished yet.
What to consider to setup Parental Control on your Zorin OS computer
First of all I am not here to give my opinion to what extent you should implement parental control elements for your children. Every child is different and also their age will make a difference, so I just provide the tools that enable or support parental control. But you know best what is necessary or not and what to implement and what not. And maybe a good talk with your children has a better result than these technological solutions.
When we think about parental control on the use of the computer by your children, I think we should consider some important focus areas:
1) Create kids accounts without administrator rights
2) Manage your child’s privileges
3) Limit access to applications that the children are allowed to use
4) Determine when the children are allowed to use their computer
5) Limit the type of websites that the children are allowed to access
So let’s start.
Create kids accounts without administrator rights
When you want to make sure your kids have their own environment on the shared family computer or on their own computer, without the ability to make system changes themselves , it is important to create separate non-admin accounts for your kids.
1) Open your system Settings via your applications menu by typing Settings in the search area or directly clicking on Settings.
2) Select Users.
3) Click on Unlock… and enter your password.
4) click on Add User…
5) Select Account Type: Standard, type the Full Name of the new user and the Username.
You can decide if the user is allowed to choose a personal password at the next login or if you want to set the password now. In case you set the password now, you can determine the password yourself, or you can generate a password by clicking on the small gear icon in the right hand corner of the password area.
6) Choose Set a password now when you want to determine what the password should be for your child. When you want to give some more trust, choose Allow user to set a password when they next login.
7) Type the password again as confirmation.
8) Click on Add and type your password..
That’s it! Now the account without administrator rights has been created for your child.
Manage your child’s privileges
Via a separate application, called Users and Groups, we can set some specific system level privileges or boundaries for your children, like using floppy drives, use scanners, use video devices, connect wireless, etc.
1) Open the Software application.
2) Search for “gnome-system-tools”.
3) Select Users and Groups, click on Install and type your password.
Now Users and Groups will be installed.
4) Click on Launch.
5) Select your child and click on Advanced Settings.
6) From here select the User Privileges tab.
Now you see a list of options that you can select or deselect, like Access external storage devices automatically, Connect to wireless and ethernet networks, Use CD-ROM devices, etc.
Limit access to applications that the children are allowed to use
This one sounds like it could be complex, but it is actually the most simple one, and you already did it. As your kids are already defined in an earlier step (“Create kids accounts without administrator rights”) as Standard User, they are not allowed to install whatever application they want. When they try to install an application with the Software Manager or via a sudo command an administrator password will be requested, which they don’t have.
Determine when the children are allowed to use their computer
There are not many parental control systems available for Linux, but Timekpr-nExT is a solid one, focussing on time management. Zorin OS does not have this time management parental control application in the standard repository, so we need to install that ourselves. We can do that via a PPA (Personal Package Archive).
Although you can set up the required PPA via a graphical approach, it is in this case much easier to do it via the Terminal.
1) Open the Terminal via the key combination Ctrl + Alt + T.
2) Type or copy and paste the following command and hit Enter:
sudo apt-add-repository ppa:mjasnik/ppa
3) Type your password and hit Enter.
4) Hit Enter to continue.
5) When finished type the or copy and paste the following command and hit Enter:
sudo apt install timekpr-next
6) When you see the question if you want to continue, hit Enter.
7) When finished type the or copy and paste the following command and hit Enter:
sudo apt update
Now Timekpr-nExT is installed.
Set up and use Timekpr-nExT
After you installed Timekpr-nExT, you can do the initial setup.
1) Search and start Timekpr-nExT Control Panel (superuser mode) via your Zorin OS applications menu.
The following Timekpr Control Panel will be shown:
You see two main tabs, User Configuration and Timekpr-nExT Configuration.
2) Select tab User Configuration.
3) Select via the Username dropdown one of your kids you want to change the settings for.
Now we are having a look at the available sub tabs.
4) Go to the tab Info & Today.
In this section you get brief information about time left and spent by your child, play time left and spent, and here you can set the allowance adjustments for today and set the play time.
5) go to the tab Limit configuration.
In this section you can configure time limits per weekday, the hour intervals for the selected day, and weekly and monthly limits.
6) Go to the tab PlayTime configuration.
In this section you can set PlayTime options, playTime limits, and PlayTime activities.
7) Go to the tab Additional options.
Here you can configure options like if you want inactive time to be counted and hide icon and notifications. Also you can decide on restriction / lockout type.
When one of your kids log in via their own account they will be notified about the time that is still left for them for that day.
They can also see the time left next to the padlock icon.
When your children click on this padlock they have the options Time left, Limits & Configuration and About. Your child will mainly see information on the settings you made, or can make some changes with respect to the presentation and notifications. The Timekpr Control Panel can only be activated by the parent with the right credentials.
Limit the type of websites that the children are allowed to access
When I did my research for this blog post I saw a lot of discussion on parenting in general and how you should keep your kids away from intentionally or unintentionally visiting inappropriate websites. Some people say that you should sit with your kids and discuss what is out there and that they should be aware and careful when surfing the web. Others think you should block all the types of websites that are inappropriate and only give access to whitelisted websites. In this one I stay away from giving my personal opinion, as the actual parenting is your responsibility. Next to that take into account that it is maybe relatively easy to block specific inappropriate websites, but the problem is in the image search of for example Google, which is much more difficult to block and can give all kinds of nasty surprises.
In Zorin OS there is no specific functionality to block domains or only activate specific domains, but there are tools available like Privoxy, E2guardian or WebContentControl. And you should consider if you want to block content on the level of the Operating System, or maybe via your router. Have a look at OpenDNS.com, which is a free service to help you block specific websites, for example through your router, but also via your computer or smart device.
You can also use specific plugins for your Firefox, Vivaldi or Chromium browser. There are a lot of options available, like Parental control: Family friendly filter, Parental Controls & Web Filter and Parental Control: Porn Blocker. These kinds of blockers use semantic analytics that scans the entire content of web pages on inappropriate content.
As you hopefully have seen in this article, there is a lot to think about and to do when parental control on the computer use of your children is important. Often it is also difficult to establish a good and effective balance between trust and wisdom, between releasing and limiting and to see when limitations are good or may be detrimental to further development of your kids. I wish you all the wisdom and I hope that this article gives you a bit of the technical directions to support your children’s safety strategy.
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