Recently, one of our staff writers, Guy, published a very useful article featuring several applications used to limit children’s access on Windows computers by imposing time restrictions. He inevitably got a comment, which was along the lines of, “Is there a similar application for Mac?”
Guy was nice enough for forward the comment to me and here’s the answer: There’s no need. It’s built right into Mac OS X!
It’s called Parental Controls and it’s located in System Preferences. You may not have noticed it if you’re the sole user of your Mac but if you have children, Parental Controls can be a huge help. I’ll show you what it can do and how to set it up exactly.
Let’s dive right in! Launch System Preferences but before you can actually start to use Parental Controls, there needs to be a separate account to control. If your kid already has his or her own account on your Mac, perfect. Just select that account in Parental Controls to manage it. If not, then you’ll have to create a new account.
Head over to Accounts Settings and click on the plus button to add a new account. In the window that appears, select “Managed with Parental Controls“, fill in the appropriate fields and click “Create Account“. Right, the account has been created and is set to be managed by Parental Controls.
Now head over to Parental Controls (System Preferences -> Parental Controls) and select the account to configure its settings. To enable Parental Controls for existing accounts, simply click on “Enable Parental Controls” and the settings will appear.
Under the System tab, there are options to use a Simple Finder. This is basically a simplified Finder window. There is no sidebar and no navigation to system folders allowed. There is also an option to select applications you want to be made available to your child. It’s useful if you want to prevent your children from meddling with important apps or perhaps if you want to cut off their MSN privileges temporarily. If you check this box, the list below will unbrick and you are able to select exactly what you want your child to play with.
In the Content tab, you’re provided the option to filter profanity from the Dictionary and to restrict access to certain websites. If you’d like to give your children some room to play, you could use Apple’s filter to automatically limit access to adult websites. In addition to that, you can also add specific sites to the white- or blacklist. Personally, I find that option to have the best balance of leniency and compromise.
In the next tab, Mail and iChat, the idea is really simple: the applications will only allow communication between people on the whitelist. The thought of unsupervised children chatting online is definitely one of a parent’s worst nightmares. Who are they chatting with? Now you can safely control their communication without being overly intrusive.
The next tab is something we’re very interested in. Time Limits is very easy to use and when put into action, it is simply the best way to get your child to bed on time! You can set daily weekday and weekend time limits as well as bedtime restrictions! Your child is logged off automatically as soon as it’s time for bed! Sure, there could be times when your kids have a project due and could use a couple more hours on the computer – that’s something very easy to overcome, I’ll show you how it’s done in a while. But now, let’s log in to an account managed by Parental Controls to see how it will look like, shall we?
As you can instantly recognize, the Finder is simplified to show only the allowed applications. Navigation is crippled so your children can’t delete or modify any of your precious files.
If you’d like to change any of the Parental Controls settings, there’s no need to log off and log into your account. Say, your child wants to access his favorite website, which you had unfortunately overlooked when modifying the whitelist, no worries. You can add it instantly by entering your password (if you have an administrator’s account).
If you’ve set time limits, the remaining time is visible within a drop down menu once you click on the clock. Your children will receive an alert 15 minutes before the time runs out completely and they are able to save their work or ask your permission for more time to play.
Parental Controls is really awesome and extremely useful if you’re a parent. It will allow you to monitor and restrict your kids’ computer activity without being too intrusive. Settings which you’re able to control i.e. communication, apps, navigation; are really flexible and can be changed on the fly. Your child will always go to bed on time, and you can sleep soundly knowing that they’re safe from online intruders.
If there are any other apps that operate better than Parental Controls, I’ll be glad to hear about them. Leave your suggestions in the comments.