Whether you’ve recently upgraded to OS X El Capitan or you received a shiny new Mac for Christmas (lucky you!), you should set up your OS X Parental Controls as soon as possible if you have children or guests who will be using the computer.
Located under System Preferences, Parental Controls will allow you to set restrictions for any non-admin users on your Mac. Administrators have access to many parts of the computer that you probably don’t want kids/guests being able to modify, so it’s important that you set up a separate account for users you don’t want to have admin privileges. Create new users by clicking Users & Groups in System Preferences and clicking the little plus button in the lower-left corner. Once you’ve created them, select the user account you just made and check the box that says “Enable parental controls”. You can then click the button that says Open Parental Controls and that will take you to the Parental Controls section, where you’ll see tabs that allow you to tweak the settings for that user’s restrictions. Here’s a brief summary of the controls available:
Under the Apps tab, you can set restrictions for the computer’s built-in camera use, Game Center use, approved email contacts, and select the apps you want your child to access. If the child tries to open any app other than the ones you’ve pre-approved, they would have to have you there to input an admin username and password.
The Web tab is where you’ll set the restrictions for internet browsing. This is probably one of the most important things to limit since so many things are accessible these days on the internet. There are three levels to this control: unrestricted access, limiting adult content automatically, or allow access only to specific websites that you control.
The unrestricted setting will allow the child to access any website, so probably not the ideal setting unless the person using the account is above the age of 18. The “limit automatically” setting will prevent access to a list of sites that Apple manages which have been deemed to contain adult content. This setting is usually a good middle-ground between unrestricted and completely restricted, but it sometimes might prevent a child from going to a site they need to visit for a school assignment, for example. What you can do in those cases is add those sites to a list of exceptions so they won’t be blocked. There is also a list of sites you can manage that will always be blocked if there is a site the child is being allowed to visit that you would rather they not access.
The final option is to block access completely except for a list of sites you manage. This setting is probably best if you have a young child whose needs are very basic and won’t need to access a wide range of websites.
It is wise, particularly if you have curious teenagers with less restricted access, to keep a diligent eye on their internet usage. We’ll be talking about the “logs” section later which lets you monitor which sites have been visited by your child. In the event these built-in filters don’t meet your needs, you can also look into dedicated internet filtering software like Net Nanny or K9 Web Protection.
The Stores tab will allow you to disable access to the iTunes Store, iTunes U, and the iBooks store. In this window, you can also set age restrictions based on your personal preferences for the media and apps you want to allow your child to watch, play, listen to, or read. You can think about these settings like a ceiling, so if you set Movies to “PG”, the child will be able to watch any movies at or below the PG rating.
To set specific limits on the hours your child is able to have access to the computer, click on the Time tab. Here, you can limit their computer use during weekdays and weekends. You can also set a bedtime for school nights and weekends so your child won’t be able to access the computer when they should go to sleep and have nightmares about their math homework.
The Privacy tab limits the information that your child’s apps will have access to, including location services, their contacts, calendars, reminders, Twitter and Facebook (if applicable), and computer diagnostics. Usually when an app wants access to a particular piece of information, it’s related to a feature the app provides. For example, a messaging app such as Skype would want to access the contacts to give you easy access to contacts you’ve already added to your computer.
The last tab is Other, and this is where you’ll toggle the settings for several things including Dictation, adding or removing printers, blocking CD or DVD burning, blocking explicit language in the Dictionary app, blocking any changes to their Dock, and accessing Simple Finder. Simple Finder is an option primarily aimed at younger users since it limits their view to only the Apps you have granted access to, their own Documents folder, and the Shared folder. This setting can also be useful for very basic users who need very little functionality from their computer and find the full Finder to be over-complicated.
In the bottom right-hand corner of the Parental Controls window, you’ll see a button for that user’s Logs. This will allow you to see all of the past activity in your child’s apps and on the internet.
It’s important to remember that Parental Controls are not a replacement for supervised computer and internet use, but these safeguards will help to protect your child and put your mind at ease. Please contact us if you have questions about your Parental Controls settings, our experts are always here to help you.