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Summary:

If you’ve got young children, chances are they’re already quite adept at using the computer. This is a new generation of wired little ones, and we’ve got our work cut out for us as we attempt to stay ahead of them. I’ll wager that you’re more […]

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If you’ve got young children, chances are they’re already quite adept at using the computer. This is a new generation of wired little ones, and we’ve got our work cut out for us as we attempt to stay ahead of them.

I’ll wager that you’re more concerned with protecting your children from the sketchy dangers of the internet, but equally important is protecting your Mac from your children! Luckily, if you’ve got a Mac, OS X comes with some great Parental Controls built right into the operating system which will help you combat both of these situations.

This post should serve as a quick guide to get you started in locking down your Mac, making it safe for your kiddos to use without your direct supervision. The process is quite simple (as is standard operating procedure with all things Apple), but I realize you may be starting from one of two different scenarios.

  1. Children’s Account does not yet exist
    Starting from scratch is easy. Open System Preferences (under the Apple icon) and choose Accounts. Click the “+” button to create a new account profile. The very top line is a drop down menu — from that drop down, select “Managed with Parental Controls.” Create the rest of the account as usual. As soon as you finish that screen, the new account is visible with a button at the bottom to take you to the Parental Controls Preference Pane.
  2. Children’s Account already exists
    Converting a pre-existing account is just as easy to convert for use with Parental Controls. From within the Accounts Pane of System Preferences, select the account you want to change to Parental Controls. At the bottom of that profile page, all you need to do is check the box that reads “Enable Parental Controls” and then click the button to open that Preference Pane for configuration.

Alrighty, regardless of where you began (above), we should all be on the same page now – or Parental Control Preference Pane, as it were. To get started setting the controls for this account, you’ll need to select the account from the list (if there is more than one available to be managed). If when you click on it your Mac beeps at you, you’ll need to unlock these settings by clicking the padlock icon below (at which point you’ll need to enter your password). It’s probably easiest to run through each of the high level features one at a time, so let’s take a closer look.

System

The System tab is where you decide what they will be able to use and what (if any) privileges you allow them. If this account is indeed for children, the Simple Finder may be a good choice. You can also go through all of the applications installed on your machine and only put check marks next to the apps you want them to be able to use. Last, there are some items that you can give them access to administer or not with their account.

Content

Protect your little ones from inappropriate content in this tab. Limit the Dictionary to not show profane entries, for instance. The other, more important option is how they will be allowed to browse the web. There’s an unrestricted option, a best effort to determine bad websites option, and the one that I like best, where you only set the websites you want them to be able to see. This last option gives the most control, but can also require more administrative overhead — but at least you know they’re only on the pages you deem to be appropriate.

Mail & iChat

If you’ve allowed them access to the Mail application and iChat, you can limit their communications within those apps, from here. Enter the names of the users they can email and chat with in this tab. If you set a permission request email address (it would most likely be your own), that address will get a request email anytime your kid tries to email an address that you have not yet approved.

Time Limits

You get the ability to limit the amount of time they spend using the Mac (with this account at least). You can determine the number of hours by week days, as well as weekend days. There’s also the ability to set the hours of the day they are not allowed to use the computer — like Bedtimes, for instance.

Logs

Get an accounting of the websites they have visited, the websites they’ve tried that have been blocked, iChat transcripts, and applications they’ve used. There are different methods of organizing this data (like the length of time Logs are kept, and then grouped by Date or Content/Contact). These Logs are probably more important if you’ve left more control to the user, but either way, is good peace of mind. (As a side note, I think it would be great if you could have these Logs emailed to you on a periodic basis, but that’s not available…yet.)

As always, the beauty of the Mac — and more specifically in this case, OS X — is the power available in such a simple package. With a few quick settings you’ve made your child’s computer-using experience that much safer from the outside world, while also protecting your machine from random clicking that could do some real damage.

Of course, your Parental Controls may need some care and feeding, as their web browsing interests change (or as is the case in my home, new commercials advertise websites they want to try). It’s a good point to make that some changes to the Managed account can be made from within that account, if the Administrator Password (yours) is entered. But overall, some solid controls have been implemented, and allow you to track just what they’re doing and when, while using your Macintosh computer.

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  1. Just wish Parental Controls included an option to block downloads. Seems like a real oversight to me.

  2. I tried to go this route before, but whenever Parental Controls were enabled any secure website would refuse to load (facebook/deviantart), so I ended up having to not use them and then keep tabs on the kids use. I did really like the time limits, best feature for my house.

  3. As for the Logs: You can enable Parental Control access for remote machine which allows you to administrate (and scan the log entries) from any Mac in the same LAN.

  4. I have three kids and i’m quite an enthusiast user of parental control feature. Nevertheless this week I noticed that the log for visited website doesn’t seem accurate. All the visits of the day before weren’t logged despite the history of the browser shows that my son surfed the web. Is it a bug of parental control? Did my son discover a way to prevent the log of his activity despite the directives of parental control?

    1. Safari has a private browsing option that is in the Safari drop down menu. When activated the browsing history isn’t recorded.

      Chrome allows you to delete sites from the browsing history by hitting the edit button when looking at the history

      Firefox allows private browsing by going to the tools drop down menu. firefox also allows you to delete items one at a time or on mass from the history.

      Those are ways that your kids might get around you. You can try limiting their browsing to Kidzu which is a kids browser but might not be so good for a teen.

  5. I am having the same problem as above. Logs are not showing up for one of my children. The others are fine, but absolutely nothing is showing up on the one. Has he found some way around it? And is there anything I can do about it?

  6. Ditto on the lack of logging on parental controls. I have searched the apple support site and many “mac” forums and cannot locate a fix that works to repair this.
    Also, whenever i go into parental controls to check for logs, I get a “kernel panic” and parental controls shuts down. I have repaired permissions and this does not fix the problem.
    We are updated to Leopard 10.5.6. I wish there was a patch or fix to download for parental controls only.

    At least when a Windows OS has a problem a fix is easy to find and download from Micorsoft.

  7. The parental control is a joke at best; dangerous at worst. It gives you the option of only authorizing specific websites – which I did, only allowing a couple of school approved websites. The log then showed me my 8 year old kid was spending time on Itunes. I checked and discovered that the downloading movies, checking out previews.

    I then discovered that the ” content – only allow access to these websites” option is a complete lie. A number of web-based programs are allowed through other programs – the Ilife suite programs (which includes Itunes…); Widgets (Itunes again; ESPN; weather channels). Oh, and of course the Apple store is accessible no matter what you block…

    I called Apple to complain, and never heard back. Really sickening… you can bar internet access EXCEPT for apple products and sites.

  8. Apple’s Parental control is a joke and a lie.
    #7 is 100% right. Using the interface described above, I thought my kid could not use any Internet browser so that he would not be exposed to all that government-regulated crap. Guess what is is true that the Safari, Firefox… icons are gone but when he click on a button that leads to a webpage (for instance a “Purchase a license” button on a application that leads to the store of the software developer), Safari pops up!!!
    Apple should stop thinking that just because they are cool they can fool parents!
    Let me go back to my windows PC and see if it’s better.
    To the writer of this blog. You are way too gullible to write about Apple and the Mac; be a little more critical and Apples says things.

  9. It would be nice if Apple would fix the kernel panic problems. If you have Parental Control turned on and use Entourage to send a large picture attachment, you get a Kernel Panic.

    I am not alone.

    http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=1349230

  10. I want to know why the parental control logs don’t correspond with the Safari history logs. How do you know which one is actually correct?

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