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Setting Up Effective Parental Controls and Restrictions in OS X


OS X comes equipped with a fairly intuitive parental controls system that allows you to impose various restrictions on young users (or any, for that matter), from restricting access to only a specific set of websites to enforcing curfews to limit access at various parts of the day. You can even utilize parental controls to limit your access and stay focused to work, on hand. In this tutorial, we'll take a tour of the Parental Controls settings built into your Mac and contextualize them into a number of use cases.

Step 1. Setting Up An Account

Naturally, these controls aren't universal across devices. Instead, restrictions are handled on a per-account basis so you can easily have a number of users for one Mac, while only applying limits to specific ones.

Restrictions are handled on a per-account basis so you can easily have a number of users for one Mac

When you launch the Parental Controls settings (located within the System Preferences app), you'll get to choose whether to create a new account and set the controls for that, or convert the currently logged in user to a restricted account. Note that you won't be able to enforce restrictions for an administrator account, so, if you plan on using this to stay productive and limit distraction, you will need to setup an account just for this purpose.

If you opt to create a new account, you'll just need to fill in the same details as if you were creating one through the Users & Groups pane in System Preferences.

Choosing to setup a new account or convert the one you're logged into.

Step 2. Restricting App Access

The first area of Parental Controls deals with the level of access the user can have when it comes to using apps and modifying the dock.

The first checkbox allows you to enable the Simple Finder, a dumbed down version of our favorite file explorer. In fact, "file explorer" isn't a fair representation as users won't be exploring and manipulating files any longer. Instead, they'll be presented with windows more akin to Launchpad than the full Finder app, meaning they can't go messing with potentially system-critical files.

You also have the ability to Limit Applications, restricting access to only a whitelist of apps installed on the system. Clearly designed with children in mind, the dropdown field allows you to restrict access to App Store apps that are restricted by age at a number of intervals, so a 12-year-old can't go messing with an app that's been designated with a 17+ rating.

However, the real substance to this feature is the app whitelist, which allows you to check off specific apps that the user will be allowed to access. This includes widgets and utilities. You simply need to tick a checkbox to allow access to that app.

The real substance to this feature is the app whitelist, which allows you to check off specific apps that the user will be allowed to access.

For its native purpose, these limits mean that you can allow a child access to only the apps that are safe for them to use. So you can let them play in Minecraft, but not in MoneyWiz. However, this means you can also limit yourself to just the productivity apps you need to finish that last project, and not ones that are clearly going to be a distraction.

You don't want your kid to accidentally move an app out of the dock, only for them to get upset or frustrated at not being able to find it later, either, do you? Fortunately, you can also choose to Allow User to Modify the Dock or not.

Step 3. Restricting Websites and Communication Access

Now that you've limited access to applications, you can begin the censor the web. Of course, while that practice is frowned up as a universal restriction it's an effective tactic that can be used to allow access to only safe, child-friendly websites on your controlled accounts.

There are three levels of web restrictions. The first, allow unrestricted access to websites, allows access to any website, just as if the account weren't a Parental Controls account. The second, try to limit access to adult websites automatically, will attempt to lock users out of websites that Apple thinks are adult, with the option to customize that automation with a white and blacklist.

The final option, allow access to only these websites, allows you to maintain an absolute whitelist of sites. Here, you'll be able to add sites (via the plus button) and subsequently allow access to them. Anything not on the list will be blocked for the user.

Similar to the whitelist setup for web restrictions, you can also limit the mail and chat features to a specific set of addresses by adding them in the People tab. Just like adding new sites to your web whitelist, the Allowed Contacts list lets you add people whom the user will be able to converse with.

Step 4. Limiting Access Based on Time

A cool part of the Parental Controls system is being able to enforce time restrictions and curfews on your Mac for specific users. This means you can, individually for weekdays and weekends, allow access to the Mac only at specific times by preventing access during specific times.

You're also able to set time limits to a specific number of hours, after which access to the Mac will be restricted. This is as easy as adjusting the sliders to the desired amount of time.

Step 5. Making Other Restrictions

There are a few extra restrictions you can enforce, each being toggled by simply checking or unchecking a box. Each is pretty self-explanatory, and will allow you to hide profanities in the Dictionary app, limit administration of printers, limit the burning of CDs and DVDs and/or disable changing the user's password.

Using Parental Controls to Childproof Your Mac

The most obvious use of Parental Controls is to childproof your Mac, allowing you to feel safe when you hand over a machine to a child.

By utilizing the ability to limit applications, you can stop children from accessing apps that are either unsuitable for them or that you simply don't want them messing around in. Likewise, by allowing access to only a list of websites you can let your child-friendly games and educational resources while keeping them off anything unsavory.

Using Parental Controls to Stay Productive

While Apple might not have had this in mind when implementing Parental Controls, they do act as a great feature for creating a separate, work-focused account on your Mac.

First, create a new account on your Mac and then enable Parental Controls on it. Then, you can use the aforementioned web restrictions to either just allow access to, say, your company's intranet or blacklist common distractions of yours, whether it be YouTube, Reddit or something else.

You can even go as far as to use the time limits to make sure you don't overwork yourself or spend too long taking your tasks into the night.

How Do You Use Parental Controls?

That completes our guide to setting up effective Parental Controls. Fortunately it's a quite intuitive experience that doesn't require a ton of time to set up. Not only can you childproof your Mac, you can also utilize the controls as a way to stave off distraction and be productive.

If you've found any other ingenious uses of Parental Controls, be sure to share them with us!

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