Kid Proofing a Mac With Parental Controls

60 Comments

parentalicon

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.

60 Comments

WHYYYYYYYYY?

I really hate the fact that Mac Parental Controls blocks Facebook and yahoo mail! I wish that they could at least make it so when you tried to access those sites that annoying Oops! message pops up, because then my mom could at least change it, but they have it so that the ONLY WAY I can get on either of those sites is to be on an account without any Parental Controls at all. I would email Apple about this, except for the wonderful fact that their Parental Controls don’t allow me to do even that. Otherwise, their Controls are a joke. Anyone can find tons of ways to get around them if they really try.
-Angry 15 year old

Mom of Teen

I hear you Whyyyyy? My 16 year old daughter is so upset she can’t access her email or Facebook and I never intended to block those two sites. I only want to limit the time and keep her out of administrator changes. So here’s a problem I haven’t seen addressed …. when I’m in her account (while she’s using the computer) and try to make administrative changes it doesn’t recognize my user ID and password – the only one that I use for any other administrative changes. Frustrating. I don’t think there could be another PW and didn’t set up another one. Is there a way to check? And so now, if I’m ok with her having yahoo mail and Facebook, I have to remove parental controls??

Mr Boll.com » Get Concentrating App

[…] at any time by the students.  It is not a program that we can use to lock out their computers.  Parental controls is designed to do that.   Our goal with this program is to teach the students the life-long skill […]

davidos

also you can try ProteMac LoginTrap for control login attempts

b

if you have kids there going to find away to get on the computer all the time without you finding out, they are more adaptable to technology. Also they make it really easy to get around parental controls. The only person a password keeps out is the person who created it when he/she forgets it anyone else can have total accses.

Person

This is so stupid. Extremely over protective. I tried to visit a website to research frogs on google for a project, and it blocks it. Also it allows almost no videos on Youtube. Not for a teenager.

– A 12 year old

TM

I’ve used K9 Web Protection for years. It’s a free program by Blue Coat. They just came out with a version for OSX. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

EvilBunny

I work as an Apple engineer.. this might be what has happened

–quote–
1. Enter single user mode (see above). Once in single user mode, check the filesystem and mount the hard drive.

fsck -y

mount -uaw /

2. All we need to do now is remove a flag file from the system

rm -rf /var/db/.AppleSetupDone

3. Now reboot
–ends–

This will cause the Mac to restart as if new from the factory and ask the user to create a new ADMIN level user. This will bypass all security and pre-existing settings and deliver the user to a desktop with full administrative rights. From there it isn’t hard to hide the account so it does not show up in the Users list (http://www.macosxhints.com/article.php?story=20080127172157404)

Game over :)

EB

Shai Gluskin

Wow… so fascinating. If I go to: System Preferences => Accounts, I presume the hidden account would indeed show up there, yes? So if I feared my child had done this, just checking the list of accounts would be able to catch it, yes?

One more question, if the /var/db/.AppleSetupDone file is deleted and the system reboot prompts the creation of a new administrator level account… it doesn’t mess with the existing file structure of the machine or affect any of the existing users, right?

Dave

There is the possibility that your son has activated the root password that allows access to all passwords and accounts on the mac. Before setting up any security on the mac you really should go in and secure the root password.

Mike

My 16 year old is somehow logging onto my account despite me changing passwords in case he’s looked over my shoulder. Any ideas on how this is possible and what I can do to stop it?

Momoftoosmart-teen

My son has somehow managed to get around the time limits we have set up through parental control. He does not have my password and the parental controls are locked. How is this happening? Is he re-powering it or what? Please help!

AKA motherof

Tried to follow instructions but my the “admin log-in + password” is lost, changed or forgotten on the desk Mac. So now what? How do I make the new accounts for my teen and tweenie?
Also, we mistakenly didn’t take original control of out laptop Mac we gave our young teen. Now that we want better school grades, we can’t get in. What to do?

Howdy

Eching what Noel said – what is top of class for Parental Controls on a Mac, and I’m willing to pay (a reasonable amount of) money?

I made a mistake recently by giving my son access to Google (“Hey Dad, can you give me access to Google so I can look up XYZ for school.” “Sure, Son.”) Folks, evidently it wasn’t temporary access.

Fast forward a few weeks/months later and he’s surfing Google Books for risque bodice rippers. Could have been worse had we not had the Parental Controls in place, but there are other examples of him successfully hitting the fringes of porn.

Looking for an interface that is easier to use than Mac’s, and an email alert when he hits a restricted site I think would be helpful. Appreciate you comments.

Noel

OK, so I’ve been through all of these postings – the good, the bad and ugly. Can anyone suggest an alternative to Apple’s Parental Controls?

I’m willing to pay for a third party solution that really works.

Thanks soontobedad for the K9 suggestion – I’ll check it out.

Julie

I am so frustrated that my kids cannot access Microsoft word on their account. No matter what I do to set it up they cannot use it. I am always forced to close down the kids account and let them use the regular account. I am not satisfied.

Pincer

Apple’s parental control are great except one HUGE problem. Any secure server will be blocked –that includes yahoo mail. They can’t send or receive email!! That is bad, very bad… in fact it makes Apple’s parental controls worthless. If you could only allow mail through (you can’t).

How could they have made such a fundamental mistake.

Their own kids don’t get email?

tbkblues

I totally agree; MAC parental controls are badly implemented and virtually worthless. You’d think they were using Microsoft’s development methodologies as their model now. Good job, idiots.

Robert Morrissey

https note: For websites that use SSL encryption (the URL will usually begin with https), the Internet content filter is unable to examine the encrypted content of the page. For this reason, encrypted websites must be explicitly allowed using the Always Allow list. Encrypted websites that are not on the Always Allow list will be blocked by the automatic Internet content filter.

Bob

As for the anonymous reply, I’d suggest you lock all the System Preferences just by clicking the lock on the left bottom. You’ll need an admins name & password to change any settings made.
My problem with Parental Controls is pretty weird, when I activate Parental controls on any account, it blocks certain Flash Player scripts on all accounts except the admin. There is no such setting around in Parental Controls as far as I know, but I’d like to hear if anyone else have the same problem so I can try and fix it. My son is playing an MMORPG based running Flash, but it will block during activation of Parental Controls.. I only use the feature for the time limits, all other blocking/limiting applications I tried he found a way to bug them or so.

Thanks

Anonymous

Do you know how to block certain preferences in system preferences?

soonTObeDAD

I am trying to figure out what parental controls will work best for our family. I haven’t tried using Apple’s yet but if any of you are looking for another option, K9 web protection is a good one and allows you to do all of the things that you need. Its free and logs everything, blocks whatever you want and whatever categories you want.

imscrappymom

I wish we could place parental controls on the admin. I basically leave my computer on all the time and the kids can use mine. Unless I remember to log out after each time I use it (and I can’t do that), then it only works if they log in on their own account, right?

Furious mom No.2

I have exactly the same problem as “Furious mom”. None of the websites visited by my son showed up in the log. I cannot figure out why. My son even told me that even if he deleted all the history in Safari, I could still see what websites he visited because there is something called “cache” (I am not technically competent to understand what this is!)

Also, I set the Content in parental control to “try to limit access to adult websites automatically” but many times when I opened parental controls, I found that this was changed to “allow unrestrictd access to websites”. There is no way my son can change this as he does not have my password.

Can someone help please?

Same-Issue

Same issue on web sites not showing up. I created another profile – same problem – on the only child I’d really choose to track most closely

John

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?

Jean Roux

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.

Furious Mom

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.

jan

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.

Kiml

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?

Avesao

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?

Phil

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.

Patrix

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.

Evan

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.

Rich

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

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