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How to set up a Mac for your kids

How to set up a Mac for your kids

Create your child’s user account

Your child may share a computer with the rest of the family or may have their own Mac in their room. To set rules, you can create a dedicated user account for your son.

If multiple children will use the Mac you are setting up, you must create separate user accounts for each of them. You can set up separate permissions and control layers for each of these accounts. With their own account, each child has their own disk space for documents, photos and other files.

Even if your child has their own computer, you must be the only person with administrator access. The administrator account is the one you create when you start your Mac for the first time. It gives you unhindered access to the full suite of functions.

The best way to do this is to set up your Mac computer yourself. The first time you turn on your computer, go through the setup process as if it were your own. Make sure you set a strong password for the administrator account that your child won’t guess.

Once your new Mac is set up and ready to start, it’s time to create an account for your child:

  1. Go to System Preferences> Users and Groups and click the Lock button. Log in with your password, Apple Watch or Touch ID.
  2. Click the plus sign (+) to create a new account.
  3. Select «Standard» from the «New Account» drop-down menu.
  4. Enter the required account information and then click ‘Create User’.

Remember that choosing the right account type helps a lot, because only administrator accounts can install applications. This is important because Apple parental controls work on the app. If your child can install apps directly, they can install a browser that bypasses the restrictions you have set.

After creating a proper user account, it’s time to apply Apple parental control.

Use screen time to enforce parental control

In macOS Mojave (10.14) and earlier, «Parental Controls» was a separate section of «System Preferences». Free However, at starts from macOS Catherine (10.15), set up parental controls via «Screen Time» in «System Preferences». To find out which version of macOS your computer is running, click on the Apple logo and then select «About this Mac.»

In this article, we focus on macOS Catalina and later versions, so keep this in mind if you’re following an earlier version.

The first thing to do is sign out of your administrator account and then sign in to the new child account you just created. After you do this, launch System Preferences> Screen Time and enable this feature in the Options menu.

Click the checkbox next to «Use on-screen passcode» to activate it, then enter a unique four-digit passcode that your child won’t be able to guess (make sure it’s something that they will not forget).

"Screen Time" menu on a Mac.

Now use the remaining options to set limits for applications, content type, and general computer usage. Remember to do this for each user account; log in and adjust the permissions for each as you wish.

Lack of time

The inactivity option allows you to lock your Mac at certain times of the day. During downtime, anyone using the computer can only access whitelisted applications. If you’re worried that your kids are using the computer when they should be sleeping, shutting down is the tool for you.

To activate the function, click «Activate». Then you can click on the «Every day» or «Custom» option to create your own program. A personalized program is perfect if you agree that your child uses the computer more on weekends.

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If you turn off «Idle lock», your child may ignore the time limit of the day. However, this makes Screen Time more of a counseling tool than a real parental control; If you want to lock apps correctly, leave it enabled.

Application limits

If you don’t want your child to use a particular app or service too much, the «Application Limits» option can give you peace of mind. This feature limits the use of the app to a certain number of minutes per day. The timers are reset at midnight.

In the «Application Limits» menu, click the plus sign (+) to add the application you want to limit. You can also select entire application categories, such as ‘Games’ or ‘Social networks’. However, if you prefer, you can select the specific applications (such as Safari or Fortnite) that you want to limit. Set a time or schedule, click the checkbox next to «Lock at the end of the limit» to turn off the app when the time is up, and then click «Done.»

The "Edit Application Limit" menu on a Mac.

Unfortunately, macOS does not differentiate between an application that someone uses and one that is open in the background. For example, if you limit Safari to two hours a day and your child types a task while searching the web, macOS will still limit Safari to those two hours, no matter how much time your child actually spends browsing.

This is not a problem for other applications, such as games, but you may want to think twice before limiting the main services, such as Safari or Messaging.

Always allowed

In the «Always allowed» section, you can whitelist any application that your child can access at any time. These applications will continue to run after «downtime» begins.

"Always allowed" menu.

If you want to block everything and set up a white list of applications, please enable the option to block «All applications and categories» in «Application limits» and then add each application in «Always allowed».

Content and privacy

The «Content and Privacy» menu is where you can really restrict what your child can see and do on a Mac. Click ‘Enable’ to enable this feature, and then navigate through each section.

The "Content" menu in "Content and Privacy" on a Mac.

In the «Content» section, you can restrict web content, explicit language, and multiplayer games. If you want to restrict web content, you can choose «Unrestricted access», «Restrict adult websites» (which applies the Apple content filter) or the basic «Only allowed websites» option (which blocks everything except applications on the white list).

«Stores» is primarily for iOS users, because «standard» Mac accounts can’t install software anyway. This section affects what apps, movies, TV shows, books, music, podcasts, and news appear in search results.

If you want to restrict access to «Camera», «Siri & Dictation» or «Book Store» for Mac, click the «Applications» tab.

The "Applications" menu in "Content and Privacy".

If you do not limit Siri, your child can use it to make web requests and to circumvent some of your other rules. «Other» options only affect iOS.

Test your rules

With the new rules in place, it’s time to try them. Try watching an age-restricted video on YouTube, or use an app that has been blocked. Ask Siri to get information from the web.

See the list of available applications in the «Applications» folder and make sure you’re happy with it. If you’ve installed a second browser, such as Firefox or Chrome, make sure you set the same limits as in Safari.

If your Mac is shared or there are other computers on the network, make sure that any content shared in music or TV libraries is suitable for everyone. To do this, launch the Music and TV apps, then click the drop-down arrow next to «Library» in the sidebar, as shown below.

Click the arrow next to "Library" to open the drop-down menu.

Remember to test every monitored account you create. You can review the settings from time to time and relax any restrictions that prove to be too extreme or annoying. As your child grows, you can increase age restrictions so that they can access age-appropriate content. The ultimate goal is to encourage a healthy relationship between your child and the technology they use every day.

Remember, kids are smart

Your children are likely to find ways to circumvent the restrictions you impose. As a child, I used specially designed tools to remove all restrictions from school computers. We find ways to access the file system, play games online, and hide our tracks so we don’t get caught.

Computers and software have come a long way since I was in school. However, the curious nature of children will never change. Fortunately, due to the way «standard» accounts work in macOS, many tricks (such as changing the time zone to avoid «downtime») are out of bounds.

By far, the biggest threat to new parental controls is their own security practices. If your child can guess your «Screen Time» password or administrator account password, they can evade all your rules. It’s a good idea to change your passcode and password frequently. This will also teach your child good safety practices.

There are tools designed to remove restrictions on macOS, and your child can try to find them. You can’t do much about it, except for Apple’s expectation to correlate the last round of exploits.

The best way to combat this is to give your child minimal reasons to overcome the restrictions. Install children’s software and games, such as Minecraft, that encourage learning and cooperation through play. Listen to your child’s complaints and try to rationalize your decision.

Sometimes it is enough to find a compromise (an extra hour on the weekend, for example).

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