Posted by: slagell | March 26, 2011

Exploring parental controls on your Mac

While there are things about Apple that really make me angry, such as most new App Store policies, there is one thing that they have always done right: interfaces. From the Apple IIe to the current IOS, Apple has always been ahead of the curve on user interfaces. Therefore, it should have been no surprise to me when I switched to Mac OS that they had given a lot of thought to parental controls and the interface needs of a child. Just to preëmpt objections from Windows users, yes I know that Windows 7 has many parental controls, but traditionally Windows users have relied upon third-party applications for parental controls (e.g., NetNanny, KidsDesk). Plus, I have to write about what I know and leave it to others to write about the controls available on Windows, Linux or your operating system of choice. Regardless of your OS, I encourage you to explore what is available to you.

If you are a Mac user and a parent, check out this video. There are so many cool things you can do, especially for little kids. First off, consider your applications. You really don’t want your pre-schooler or toddler to do much, except play a few specific games. No problem. You can disable certain apps, or better yet, just allow the few that are made for kids. Your little kids have trouble double-clicking to launch something. No problem; set it to work with single clicks. Are you tired of fixing the finder window after they make all their crazy settings changes? No problem, use the Simple Finder with a more child friendly interface. And if you want to get advanced, you can even lock the dock so they can’t drag icons off it just to hear that “poofing” sound of the icon disappearing. I even did this to my wife’s account because it became such a favorite pastime for our first child when discovering an unattended computer.

Another great feature is time limits. I define when the day starts and ends for the kids on school days and weekends. They can’t login after bedtime, and they are logged off if they are on when bedtime comes. Being a science-based parent who has seen research over and over showing how we should limit the screen time of little children, we decided that we only want our 5-year-old to have 30 minutes a day on the computer. I don’t want to track how long he has been on it, though. But I don’t have to, Mac OS does that. The best part is that it gives our child verbal and visual warnings when time is running out. There is no nagging him to log out. The computer does it, not Daddy, and there is no point in arguing and whining to the computer.

While you can filter web content with the OS controls or with another service like OpenDNS, I prefer to have a short white list of pre-approved websites for our kids. There are only 5 or 6 sites I want my preschooler to visit, and those are chosen by me and automatically bookmarked. If they want to go to an unapproved site in the future, it is simple enough for me to enter a password and temporarily allow it.

When my children get past the preschool age, I’ll probably take advantage of more features, like having white lists of pre-approved email and IM contacts. While none of these things will stop a budding young hacker, they are very effective for young children and probably most older kids. Whether you have a Mac or not, I strongly suggest checking out the parental controls available to you. It can at least make this one part of parenting a little easier.

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Responses

  1. When my children were little we had a program called “KidDesk” which was made for Mac (which my mom had) and PC (which we had at the time). It was great because each girl got to choose their icon and it had all the controls you mention (and mom and dad could password-protect their icons so the kids could not get into parental desktops). I just checked and it’s still available and now made by Edmark, which made and apparently still makes really cool kids programs. My girls loved them.

    • In the late 90s I setup KidDesk on the computers at my sister’s daycare and home school. It was definitely the best around then, and I think you really had to use third party apps as I don’t remember Windows 98 nor Mac classic having parental controls.

  2. You can make a separate user on a Windows machine with only certain programs accessible and then you could apply any web-filtering only to that user.

    I like not spending inflated prices on machines I can’t repair without voiding the warranty.

    • If you could link to some good information about using the built-in parental controls for Windows, I’m sure many readers would appreciate it.

      And I totally agree that Macs are more expensive and not the right choice for everyone. Certainly, this one feature would not be enough to overcome the price difference for most people.

      • I’m not really familiar with the parental controls, built-in or not. I don’t really intend to use them, should the situation present itself. I think there are better options than that. I would use the separate user option, though, to limit the programs accessible for the sake of not borking something.

        Create a User Account
        Windows Parental Controls

  3. Wow, I am like totally free range on kids and the computer. My 4 year old can operate netflix on the ipad without supervision, much to my chagrin. And don’t get me started on Angry Birds…
    And I’m with WhatPaleeBlueDot, I don’t like fiddling with my pc settings at all if I can avoid it. If my kids accidentally wander into porn, well, I guess I’ll jump off that bridge when I come to it.

  4. In Windows you can set up multiple accounts. Often the administrator account has a password, and the kid account is limited. This is handy because kids sometimes go to websites that download malware.

  5. My kids were given pretty free range of the computer on their sites. The issue was, at the time, they were 5 and 3 and I was attending graduate school, so I really didn’t want them to accidentally delete or mess up a paper I was working on.

    We also used internet controls, not to restrict where they went, but to prevent, as Chris says, accidental downloading of malware (my husband does it enough, didn’t need the kids doing it too!)


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