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Recently, one of our staff writers, Guy, published a very useful article featuring several applications used to limit children’s access on Windows computers Free Software Apps to Limit Your Kids' Online Time Free Software Apps to Limit Your Kids' Online Time Read More 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.

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parental control software for mac


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.

parental controls on mac

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.

parental controls mac

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.

  1. Shammie Jayaransie
    November 16, 2009 at 12:35 am

    How about Windows???

  2. FekketCantenel
    November 13, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    I've become intimate with the iMac Parental Controls ever since my boss enabled it on the computer at work. Every day I have to go turn it off just to access the web (for work, not play), and every afternoon I have to turn it back on so he doesn't know . . . What a pain. The worst part is being treated like a child.

    Also, any concerned parents or childish bosses out there should know that Parental Controls causes several connection glitches. In the months since it was enabled, even when I disable it, I've had various problems in Firefox that don't appear in Safari (and vice versa) and even connection outages. I haven't isolated the cause yet but am sure they started with Parental Controls.

    • Jackson Chung
      November 14, 2009 at 1:09 pm

      Admittedly, Parental Controls won't work well if browsers have third party extensions installed. But I don't see any reason why it would cause connection outages.

      Why did your boss enable Parental Controls? Have you tried to negotiate for it to be permanently disabled?

    • FekketCantenel
      November 16, 2009 at 11:43 am

      I've noticed that it especially malfunctions if Adblock Plus (Firefox) and Adblock (Safari) are enabled. If I was worried about a child's internet experience, I'd block ads long before I'd filter random websites.

      As for the connection outages, all I know is that they started shortly after he enabled it and have been getting worse lately. It's possible they're caused by something else, but I'm annoyed enough over this Parental Controls situation to blame everything on it.

      He thought (key word 'thought') I was slacking off during work hours; he enabled the controls in order to cut out Facebook, twitter, and Digg (websites I have never used). Every time I bring it up, he either changes the subject or again accuses me of slacking off. Therefore, I've learned to just shut up and memorize his password.

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