How to Use Parental Controls on Your Mac - dummies

How to Use Parental Controls on Your Mac

By Edward C. Baig

Suppose that one of the new accounts you create on your Mac is for your impressionable offspring, Cookie Monster. As a responsible parent, you want to set limits to keep him out of trouble. And as a responsible Mac owner, you want to keep him from unwittingly (or otherwise) inflicting damage on the computer.

It’s time to apply parental controls. Presumably, you already set up Cookie Monster as a managed account with parental controls. If not, choose the proper user account and select the Enable Parental Controls check box in the Users & Groups window in System Preferences. When you do so, Cookie Monster’s account goes from being a regular standard account to a managed account, with you as the manager.

After you’ve created your youngster’s account, you’re ready to open Parental Controls and have your say about what he or she can and can’t do on your Mac. In the Users & Groups window, click Open Parental Controls. Alternatively, click Parental Controls in System Preferences.

Either way, you end up in the same place. In the Parental Controls window, select Cookie Monster’s name in the list on the left. Now, protective parent, you can do lots of things.


Here are the five tabs at the top of the window:

  • Apps: Parents can select the Use Simple Finder check box to provide Cookie Monster the most restricted, bare-bones Desktop. Only three folders reside in the Simple Finder version of the Dock (My Applications, Documents, and Shared), plus Trash. Meanwhile, the only applications your kid sees are those you’ve designated by selecting the Limit Applications check box.

    You can choose whether the little guy can take advantage of App Store apps and, if you say yes, restrict those apps by age rating: up to 4+, 9+, 12+, or 17+. As an administrator, you can also choose whether the child can modify the Dock. (Dock modification is categorically disallowed in Simple Finder.)

  • Web: By selecting this tab, you allow unrestricted access to websites or limit access. If you click Customize, you can list your own approved sites, as well as those you don’t deem kosher. You can also restrict web access so that all Cookie Monster supposedly gets to see are clean sites.

    Apple makes the decision on your behalf if you select the check box titled Try to Limit Access to Adult Websites Automatically. You can view sites that meet Apple’s approval and, if you agree, select Allow Access to Only These websites. (Discovery Kids, Disney, PBS Kids, National Geographic – Kids,, and Smithsonian Institution are among the sites that made Apple’s list.)

    Most people trust their kids. All the same, you want to ensure his safety by getting a good handle on their online behavior. Click the Logs button to find out which websites your child visited, which he tried to visit but were blocked, which applications he used, and who in Messages he chatted with.

    You can summon logs for one day, one week, one month, three months, six months, or one year. Or you can subpoena all the records. You can group logs by date or by website, contact, or app. The option to click Logs also appears on the Apps and People tabs.

  • People: By selecting the Limit Mail or Limit Messages check box, you get to approve who Cookie Monster can exchange e-mails and hold chats with. You can also receive an e-mail permission request should Cookie Monster attempt to communicate with someone who isn’t on the A-OK list. Within this tab, you can also allow Junior to join Game Center multiplayer games and add new friends in Game Center.

  • Time Limits: It’s not only a matter of who Cookie Monster would like to interact with or what programs he wants to play around with; it’s also a matter of when you let him do so. By dragging the sliders, you can establish weekday and weekend time restrictions.

    In other words, you can prevent access to the Mac when it’s time for him to go beddy-bye, choosing different times on school nights and weekends. Cookie Monster gets a fair warning shortly before shutdown time so that he can save his work. He also gets the opportunity to plead for more time.


  • Other: You can do lots of other things to try and keep your child safe and sound. On this catch-all tab, you can disable the use of Dictation, hide profanity in Dictionary, prevent the kid from changing printer settings, limit CD or DVD burning, and prevent him from changing his password.