This free software for AOL users provides a quick and easy way for parents to establish time and content limits on their children's Internet use, without having to resort to sneaky monitoring programs or other untrustworthy activities. It requires a free AOL e-mail account and a very small downloadable application, but that's the extent of your commitment.
After setting up a "Master" screen name to install and run the software, you can create up to six child accounts for your family. Default accounts fall into the categories of "kid" (12 and under), "young teen" (13-15), "mature teen" (16-17), and "general" (18 and over). Each default account has a different level of restrictions in regard to blocked sites and communication tools (e-mail and IM).
Once the software is installed on the applicable PCs, you can manage most all of the necessary settings and notifications via the AOL Parental Controls Web site. You can limit the amount of time each account is allowed online daily, with special qualifications such as "all day on weekends." You can also specify which applications are allowed to access the Internet with each account, if you're worried about young children chatting with adults in Second Life or IMVU.
You can also turn on monitoring for any account and receive detailed reports about visited sites, blocked sites, e-mail, and instant messages. We liked the fact that monitored accounts receive clear notification that their online activities are being tracked.
AOL Parental Controls provides a valuable service at no cost, but the software fell short of a five-star rating. The desktop client doesn't offer much control over your settings. Although you can add new accounts, you can't categorize those new accounts, nor adjust most settings directly from your desktop. You also can't receive reports or approve site requests from within the app itself.
The other big knock would be against the content blocking, clearly the biggest challenge of any parental software. There is an intelligent algorithm working in the background, but we could see no reason why searches for "Jenna" were blocked, but not other popular adult-actress names. (We enjoyed PG-13 pictures of Jenna Jameson on IMDB easily enough.) We also received several browser errors in Firefox when asking for immediate site approval for blocked sites. The entire site-approval process seems buggy.
The desktop application could use a boost and the site-approval features need to be fixed, but the AOL Parental Controls service as a whole is very solid, and definitely worth a look for any parents interested in participating in their children's Internet activity.
Keep your kids safer online with industry-leading AOL Parental Controls. Get web browsing, IM, email and time limit controls to provide a safer online experience. Just choose from our simple, pre-set age options such as Kids (12 and under), Young Teen (13-15) or Mature Teen (16-17) to automatically turn on an age- appropriate, filtered online experience. Or, easily customize your settings to reflect your personal parenting needs.
Note: The "Download Now" link above will take you to the AOL Parental Controls landing page. Just log on with your AOL email address or sign-up for a new Free AOL email address to download the AOL Parental Controls software.