What was once known as Parental Controls on Mac is now part of the new Screen Time feature. With the macOS Catalina update, Apple brought its mobile Screen Time tools to your desktop, making it easy to manage app limits, restrict content, and monitor screen time.
So if you’ve recently updated to macOS Catalina and need some help setting up Screen Time for your child, we’re here to walk you through with a how-to and explanation of its functionality.
Enable Screen Time for Your Child
When you open Screen Time for the first time on your Mac, you’ll need to enable it for your child’s account.
If you use Apple’s Family Sharing, you can turn on Screen Time with our own Mac credentials. Those who don’t utilize Family Sharing will need to log into the child’s account instead. Then, just follow these steps to enable the feature:
- Open System Preferences with the icon your Dock or by visiting Apple menu > System Preferences on the menu bar.
- Select Screen Time. (You’ll notice that the Parental Controls option no longer exists on Catalina and newer.)
- If you use Family Sharing, just choose your child’s username from the dropdown box at the top-left.
- Click Turn On.
There are two settings on the main Options screen labeled Include Website Data and Use Screen Time Passcode. For a young child, you’ll likely want to enable both. If you choose to include the website data, the utility will report details about specific websites visited, rather than just overall Safari usage.
Using a Screen Time passcode restricts anyone from making changes to the Screen Time settings unless they have the passcode. When you mark the checkbox, you’ll be asked to enter and then confirm a four-digit Screen Time passcode.
Note that if you use a Screen Time passcode for your child on iOS, the passcode will be the same here. So if you change it on your Mac, the change will apply to iOS and vice versa.
Set Up Screen Time Limits and Restrictions
It’s best to start from the top and work your way through each option within Screen Time. You’ll notice that some of the Screen Time features are quite similar to those you used with the classic Parental Controls on your Mac.
If you use Screen Time for your child on their iOS device, those settings will carry over to Mac. But if Screen Time is completely new to you, scheduling downtime is a great way to limit your child’s device usage during certain hours. You can restrict them to essential specific apps and activities, like phone calls.
To set it up:
- Click the Turn On button to enable Downtime.
- Set a time frame for the downtime using either Every Day or Custom. Selecting Custom lets you fine-tune each day. You could allow more time on weekends, for example.
- If you set up a Screen Time passcode, you’ll see another option for Block At Downtime. As you can see from the description, this will block your child from using their device during Downtime.
Remember that these Downtime settings will apply to all devices where your child signs in with their iCloud account.
The App Limits section is one you’ll likely want to spend a little time setting up. This allows you to create limits for the apps your child can use, including the days and times they can use them, and for how long.
Plus, you can limit app categories or specific apps within a category. So you have a good amount of flexibility. To get started:
- Click the plus sign button to add an app limit.
- Mark the boxes next to the categories that you want to include. Alternatively, you can click the arrow to expand a category and pick certain apps within it.
- Once you select the apps, set the time limit at the bottom. Like with Downtime, you can pick Every Day or Custom. Enter the number of hours and minutes you want to allow your child to use these apps.
- Click Done when you finish.
If you want to change the limits you set up for your child (whether the apps or the times), select a limit in the list and click the Edit Limit button. To remove a limit, select it from the list and click the minus sign button.
This Screen Time section lets you allow your child to use specific apps all the time. This is the spot where you can select apps like FaceTime or Messages for your child to use during their scheduled Downtime, or if you selected All Apps & Categories in the App Limits section.
Content & Privacy
The Content & Privacy section of Screen Time is where you can restrict websites, choose allowed ratings for movies and TV shows, limit purchases or downloads, and more.
You’ll work with four areas in Content & Privacy: Content, Stores, Apps, and Other.
At the top of the Content section, you can choose to allow access to any website, limit adult sites, or allow only specific websites.
If you decide to restrict websites (either Limit Adult Websites or Allowed Websites Only), you’ll see a Customize button appear. Click this, then use the plus and minus sign buttons in these sections to add and remove websites. To edit a site that you’ve added, select it and click the gear button.
Once you finish with the settings for Web Content, mark those items under Allow that you want your child to have access to.
For movies, TV shows, apps, books, podcasts, and other similar types of media, head to the Store section. Your country or region should be set by default, but if it’s not, choose it in the Ratings for dropdown box.
You can then select the ratings and ages you want to allow for movies, shows, and apps for your child, as well as explicit books or other content. Below that, mark the boxes for actions you want to allow on iOS, if they have an iPhone or iPad. This lets you decide if your child can install and delete apps and make in-app purchases.
Under Require Password, mark whether your child should always have to enter the password for store purchases, or only after 15 minutes of a purchase.
Apps and Other
The last two areas in Content & Privacy let you pick additional items you want to allow for your child. From Camera, Mail, and Safari on the Apps tab to passcode, account, and cellular data changes on the Other tab, just mark the items you want to allow.
Changing the Screen Time Options
If you ever want to remove or change the Screen Time passcode, stop including website data, or simply turn off Screen Time for your child, click the Options button at the bottom-left of the Screen Time window.
Screen Time Reports
To monitor App Usage, Notifications, and Pickups for your child, you have these three handy reporting sections in the Screen Time section.
This lets you see data like how long your child used a certain app, or what notifications they received and from which apps. You can also view how many times they picked up their device, and which app they accessed first after doing so.
You can view each report by time period, app, app category, website, or device. So you can not only monitor your child’s activity on your Mac, but on their iOS device as well.
Use Screen Time for Parental Controls
The Screen Time feature on Mac gives you great options and flexibility for keeping your child safer in the digital world along with limiting their screen time. Plus, you can monitor your child’s mobile devices along with their Mac activities, all in one convenient spot.
If you’re interested in using Screen Time for yourself as well as your child, take a look at how the Screen Time feature can help curb your phone addiction.
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