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Marta Turnbull

Marta Turnbull

Head of Community at MacUpdate

Marta Turnbull is a MacUpdate OG and has written about technology, marketing and brand creativity for over 10 years. She splits her time between Michigan and Ukraine.

The Ultimate Guide to Mac Parental Controls

17 January 2020

The Ultimate Guide to Mac Parental Controls

Unlike many PCs, which rely on web-based controls, Apple has delivered a smart suite of parental controls on Mac, built directly into the operating system.

These let you control the apps and websites your children view, who they interact with online, and even their amount of daily screen time.

Here we take a look at those controls in more detail and explore some of the leading alternatives.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How Mac parental controls work
  • The pros & cons of built-in parental controls
  • The 5 best third-party software alternatives to keep your kids safe on Macs
  • And our top tips for parenting in the digital age

How Does Mac’s Built-in Parental Controls Work?

Mac’s built-in parental controls are surprisingly comprehensive.

As an administrator, before you hand over your MacBook to your child, you can set granular levels of restrictions, controlling what they can and cannot do.

This isn’t just useful for very young children. You can also keep a watchful eye on how your older children or teenagers are using your Mac, too.

For instance, you can create a whitelist of allowed apps or websites, or even set time limits to stop browsing after bedtime.

So, how does it all work? It’s actually very simple:

Setting macOS Parental Controls

Step One: Click the Apple icon (top left-hand corner) and select ‘System Preferences’.

Step Two: Click on ‘Parental Controls’.

Step Three: Click the lock icon in the bottom left-hand corner.

Step Four: If asked, enter your admin password then click ‘Unlock’.

Step Five: Finally, choose the user account(s) that you want to set restrictions on.

Once you’ve followed these five steps, you’ll be able to choose from a number of tabs. These allow you to manage just about everything from apps and websites to privacy and even Siri.

Mac Parental Controls Configuration

Let’s take a look at these in a little more detail:

  1. Apps - lets you restrict a user’s ability to join multiplayer games in the Game Center, restrict the use of email to only known contacts, controls access to the device’s built-in camera, and limits access to installed apps.
  2. Web - lets you limit access to certain websites via any browser.
  3. Stores - lets you manage the use of the iTunes Store and limit access to particular apps, movies, TV shows, music, and books.
  4. Time - Lets you schedule time limits so that the account in question can only be used, for example, during weekends, on weekdays, or a few hours before bedtime.
  5. Privacy - Gives you control over which apps and services can access user data.
  6. Other - Here you can prevent access to printer and scanner settings, disable the use of Siri and Dictation, prohibit the burning of discs, hide profanity in dictionaries, and prevent the Dock from being modified. You can also switch to a simplified view of the Mac desktop for further peace of mind.

Pros & Cons of Apple Parental Controls

Pros Cons Parental Controls Software

Pros

The pros of setting parental controls for Mac far outweigh the cons (of which there are a few). For starters, you can make sure inappropriate content is blocked, including pornography and adult sites, gambling sites, pay-to-play games, and drugs and alcohol-related content.

You can also help shield your child from cyberbullying by limiting their screentime and preventing them from accessing certain sites (social media, for instance).

And where Mac is concerned, you can protect your own bank balance by limiting what your child can download from the App Store and how much of your money they can spend.

Cons

There are a couple of clear downsides to setting parental controls on your Mac. Firstly, you should consider the impact it will have on your relationship with your child. Will it affect how much they trust you? Will they feel betrayed? Could it have a detrimental effect on their mental health?

Of course, this can be overcome by having a conversation with your child to explain why you’re taking these measures. Remember to make your approach to online parental control a fluid one; let your child prove they can be responsible before restricting everything and anything.

Secondly, you can’t underestimate how tech-savvy kids are these days. Even if you’ve taken precautions to prevent them from viewing unsavoury content or downloading certain apps or games, they will find a way to do so. Again, communication is vital here to avoid such scenarios.

Five of the Best Parental Control Software for Mac

If you want to further customize your child’s online experience, or if you’d just prefer an additional layer of security above-and-beyond the built-in Mac controls, you can always choose a third-party option. In no particular order here we are five of the best 3rd party options to keep your family safe online:

Net Nanny

1. Net Nanny

A well-known name in online parental control, Net Nanny is an ultra-modern, multi-device platform with some of the best content filtering around.

Net Nanny analyzes things in real-time, instead of relying on a website’s history, and you can set time limits and schedules with ease. Perhaps the best feature is the ability to pause a device from the dashboard. Perfect if you already shouted that it’s dinner time.

Qustodio

2. Qustodio

An easy-to-manage and highly configurable web-based tool, Qustodio keeps a watchful eye on your child’s activity on Mac and iOS.

The most impressive part is its reporting capability, where you can review how your child spends their time online, drilling down into web activity and social media activity. It also boasts browser-independent web filtering, matching up to ten categories of undesirable content.

Kaspersky Safe Kids

3. Kaspersky Safe Kids

Another familiar name, Kaspersky has a solid reputation in the world of antivirus. That reputation carries over into parental control with a full-featured and affordable option for both desktop and mobile platforms.

Unlike some competing software, it doesn't limit the number of devices you can monitor — ideal for busy households that are full of screens.

Kidlogger

4. Kidlogger

If you want to be a little more hands-off in your approach, Kidlogger could be just the ticket. It tracks keystrokes and web history and saves screenshots taken on the computer, allowing you to monitor and review your child’s activity.

The premium version also lets you monitor phone conversations and WhatsApp messages.

Zoodles

5. Zoodles

Ideal for younger children, Zoodles replaces your web-browser with one custom-built for children. All the nasty elements of the internet are filtered out, leaving only kid-friendly content such as books, games and videos.

Access is fully customizable, and you can review activity reports to see what your child is spending their time on.

Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age

Parenting in Digital Age

Parental controls aren’t about “setting and forgetting”. You need to stay proactive to minimize the chance of your child seeing something inappropriate online. Being that vigilant can be tough!

Here are a few tips to you can implement straight away:

  1. Install a router control - A device, such as Circle with Disney, allows you to take full control over screen time and apps directly from a dashboard on your smartphone.
  2. Learn how to use a “clean” DNS server - Doing so will allow you to effectively blanket ban adult, pornographic and explicit sites. It can also block VPN domains and proxy servers designed to bypass filters. Protect Young Eyes has a great post explaining how to set this up.
  3. Install antivirus software -Allowing your kids the freedom to explore the internet (within reason) comes with a few additional security concerns - namely the downloading and executing of malicious files. As an extra layer of security, make sure you have a robust antivirus installed to stop malware in its tracks. Read our post on the best antivirus for Mac.

The Bottom Line

From Apple’s built-in parental controls to the wide range of innovative third-party options, it’s important to remember that these measures are not a direct replacement for actively monitoring your child’s time online.

Communication is key when it comes to fostering a healthy relationship with the internet, and the earlier you start, the better.

Hopefully, this article gives you the tools and inspiration you need to protect your family online.

Marta Turnbull

Marta Turnbull

Head of Community at MacUpdate

Marta Turnbull is a MacUpdate OG and has written about technology, marketing and brand creativity for over 10 years. She splits her time between Michigan and Ukraine.

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