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How to set up & use Parental Controls in Mac OS X El Capitan

Lucy Hattersley | June 23, 2016
Parental Controls can help you keep an eye on your child's computer activity. Here's how to make a Mac child-friendly and protect your kids online

Apple has developed extensive tools to help parents who want to make sure their children are safe when online. With Parental Controls, located in System Preferences, parents can allow their children freedom to use a Mac computer safely.

Setting up Parental Controls is a must for parents, and it's easy to do. With Parental Controls turned on you can restrict the applications and internet usage of a child. This feature looks at how to set up Parental Controls on a Mac, and set sensible limits for a child's computer usage: we walk you through setting up the Parental Controls, and how to use their features to protect your kids.

We'll be focusing on Mac OS El Capitan, Apple's current operating system for Mac, but the process will be virtually identical for macOS Sierra, the upcoming OS update, and for relatively recent versions of OS such as Yosemite and Mavericks. Where things look different, we'll include screenshots of the older interface too.

How to use Parental Controls: Set up a child's account

The first thing you will need to do is set up a separate account for your child. This won't be a full account, like the one you use, but a restricted account (and you get to decide on the restrictions). And don't worry, you'll get full access to your child's account.

How to set up Parental Controls on Mac: User account

Follow these steps to set up an account.

  1. Open System Preferences (click Go > System Preferences).
  2. Click on Parental Controls.
  3. Click the Lock icon in the bottom left of the window.
  4. Enter your Password and click Unlock
  5. Click the Add ('+') icon in the bottom left of the window.
  6. Enter the Full Name, Account name and Password fields and click Create Account. Make sure your child knows the password - this will unlock their limited account only.

You now have another user in the Parental Controls window. Select them in the left-hand sidebar to view the settings.

This is what the process looks like in earlier versions of Mac OS, such as Yosemite:

How to set up & use Parental Controls on Mac: Create a child's account

For more on this process, see How to set up and manage user accounts on a Mac.

How to use Parental Controls: Limit Applications to an age range

You can limit the child's Mac access to specific applications. Follow these steps to use Parental Controls to set limits on which Mac apps a child can run:

  1. Select the child's name in the sidebar and select the Apps tab.
  2. Place a tick in Limit Applications. This means the child will only be able to use the apps you specify in the following box.
  3. Use the reveal arrows next to Other Apps or Utilities to view and select apps that your child will be able to use. Note that a number of (generally innocuous) apps are enabled by default, so scan through the entire list. Alternatively, you can tick or untick the top-level box (the one by 'Other Apps' or 'Utilities' to allow or disallow them all at once.
  4. Remove the tick next to any app to prevent it from running.
  5. Now go to the Stores tab. Here you can place age restrictions on the apps that can be download (as well as books, music and movies). Select the oldest age group classification you're happy for your child to download - selecting 'Restrict Apps to: 17+' will also allow apps classified as 12+,  9+ and 4+.

 

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