Restrict computer use with Parental Controls

Restrict computer use with Parental Controls
Mac Tip #491, 22 June 2011

Many parents like to control how their children use the computer. The Parental Controls option in the Accounts System Preference pane gives you a great deal of control over what they can do and even when they can do it. You can also track what they’ve been up to! Here’s how Parental Controls work.

Set up a family computer

A friend recently bought a Mac for her family: two adults and two children aged around 10 and 8. I suggested setting up 4 User Accounts — one for each person.

That way each person can have their own ‘stuff’ without anyone else interfering. It also means the parents can take charge over each child’s computer use.

Any kids worth their salt will try to break in to the parent’s accounts on the computer. Choose a difficult password for your account that a child (or anyone else for that matter) wouldn’t be able to guess. So: not your middle name, or the dog’s name, your date of birth…

Add a new Account.

Add a new Account in the Accounts System Preference.

Add a new Account in the Accounts System Preference pane by clicking the + button below the words Login Options. Give the Account a name — probably a long or short version of the child’s name, and follow through any other on-screen instructions.

For this Tip I’ll use the Guest account to show off the Parental Controls.

Enable Parental Controls

Go to System Preferences under the Apple menu and click on the first item in the System row: Accounts. The Accounts pane shows a list of all accounts on the machine.

To make changes you may have to click the lock icon and enter the name and password for someone who has authority to administer the machine — probably you.

Anyone who knows or can guess the password for an Admin account can make changes on the Mac, including changing the settings for Parental Controls.

Set Parental Controls on an Account

Select one account from the list of Accounts and click the Open Parental Controls… button. The Parental Controls pane opens.

Copy and paste Parental Controls settings.

Copy and paste Parental Controls settings.

If you have more than one child, select one name in the list in the Parental Controls pane and set the controls. Then click the gear icon below the list of names. Choose to Copy Settings for that account. Then select another name and paste the settings. Then you can customise each as appropriate for the child.

Select the apps to be available

Parental Controls has numerous options.

Parental Controls has numerous options.

Under the Apps tab choose settings for which apps your child may or may not use in the Limit Applications section. Only checked apps are available for the selected account.

Check the Logs

Parental Controls log of activity.

Parental Controls log of activity.

Notice the Logs… button available under the Apps tab. Once your child has used their account, click the Logs… button to see what they’ve been up to. My screenshot shows that the Guest account visited a couple of websites, along with the time and date of those visits. Other logs show attempts to visit blocked sites, what applications have been used, or the use of iChat.

Website Restrictions

Under the Web tab you can block or allow websites according to several criteria. The Mac will try to restrict access to ‘adult’ websites if you check that box, or manually add website addresses by clicking the Customize… button and adding an address to block or allow.

Or check the radio button beside Allow access to only these websites and manually add addresses for sites you wish to allow.

Allow Mail and Chat with specific people

Under the People tab choose email addresses that your child is allowed to correspond with.

There’s also an option to email a particular address if your child attempts to correspond with an email address not on the approved list.

Parental Controls - Time Limits.

Parental Controls – Time Limits.

Set Time Limits

The Time Limits tab allows you to set various restrictions on how long the Account holder may use the computer on any one day, and between which hours.

Set limits for weekdays and weekends separately.

Set Other restrictions

The Other tab has options for limiting printer use and CD and DVD burning, and to Hide profanity in Dictionary. The Dictionary item hides profanity in the built-in Dictionary, but also in sources such as Wikipedia.

Parental Controls offer fine-grained settings

It seems to me that the Parental Controls provide a lot of very fine control over what an account holder may and may not do. Any parent will want to review these controls regularly as their child grows up, and in light of any rewards system they may use.

To be honest, I’m the only user of my Mac and have no need of any of these controls in real life. I’d love to hear about the experiences of any parents who have used them.

We’d love to hear about how you’ve used Parental Controls and any problems you may have had. Tell us about how you’ve used the controls in the Comments at Could you write a guest MacTip? If so, contact Miraz.

Credit where it’s due

This Tip was written by Miraz Jordan,, and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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One Comment;

  1. Paul said:

    I liked the comment on The Talk Show #44, mentioning that the Parental Controls feature was originally from developers at Apple that wanted a way to limit what their less technically savvy parents could do (ie remove an icon from the dock)…

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