Earlier this year, we talked about limiting your child's access to iOS devices using Restrictions (Parental Controls). Did you know a similar set of controls exist on OS X, too? Available since OS X 10.4 Tiger, Parental Controls now allow you to limit the time your children have access to your Mac, control which websites they can view and what apps they can open. There's even an alternative, scaled-down Finder that hides most of the files on the computer.
We looked at Parental Controls back in Leopard and they have changed only slightly since then. Just like earlier versions of OS X, Parental Controls in OS X Mountain Lion are available in the System Preferences panel. You will need an administrator's account to change the Parental Controls settings and an account for your children that has the Parental Controls applied to it.
Click on the unlock icon on the bottom of the Parental Controls panel and then select your children's account to get started. If you don't have a children's account yet, you can create one by clicking the "+" button and then filling in the fields for the account name, password and so on.
Parental Controls includes five different categories of settings that you can change. These categories are Apps, Web, People, Time Limits and Other. Clicking on a category tab will reveal the settings for each category. Below is a summary of what each tab controls:
Apps: The Apps tab lets you select a simplified Finder for younger users as well as limit what applications your child can open. You can allow all App Store apps or limit your children to just a few chosen apps.
Web: Web allows you to limit access to adult websites. You can also lock down all websites and use a white list to allow your children to browse only approved sites.
People: People allows you to block Game Center multiplayer games and Game Center friend requests. You can also limit email and messaging to a list of allowed contacts.
Time Limits: Time Limits allows you to set a schedule of computer usage for your kids. You can set both weekday and weekend hours and the duration of use. There's also a bedtime setting that'll keep the computer off limits from night owls trying to sneak a game of Minecraft while you sleep.
Other: Other handles the smaller parts of the computer like disabling the camera, hiding profanity in the dictionary, disabling dictation and more.
One handy feature of Parental Controls is the ability to change them remotely. I can easily change the settings on the kid's Mac mini using my MacBook Pro. If you want additional information on Parental Controls, head over to Apple's Support website and check out their "Find out how" video.