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Mac 101: Parental Controls


Mac OS X Leopard has a slew of controls meant to keep whipper-snappers at bay protect our kids (and data). They aren't the most powerful tools in the world (especially if Junior knows your administrator password), but they are helpful.

To make use of Parental Controls, you'll first have to create an account other than the administrator account. That's simple enough -- just go to the Accounts Preference Pane and click the "+" button. After naming the user and creating a password, select the user and click the "Parental Controls" button.

There are several options under the following tabs:

  1. System
  2. Content
  3. Mail & iChat
  4. Time Limits
  5. Logs

Read on to find out how you can use each of these to customize your children's Mac OS X experience.

Click each to set your preferences. For example, the System tab gives you the option to allow access to only certain applications, burn DVDs, modify the Dock or change passwords (probably a good idea to select that last one).

The Content preferences will let you filter profanity from Mac OS X's dictionary and limit web browsing. You can even tell Safari to restrict browsing to certain sites.

The Mail & Chat settings lets you identify permitted email and IM contacts, and sends you an email notification if Junior strays from the list.

The Time Limit preferences does just what you're thinking -- it makes the computer inaccessible after a certain amount of time. You can set up different schedules for weekdays and weekends, as well as a period of time (say, overnight).

Finally, the Log records just what Junior was doing while you were on the phone bragging about how safe your Mac is. To get the most out of the parental controls, make sure you're logged out of the administrator account and that Junior does not know the password (or just change it regularly). Also, while iChat and Safari are subject to these settings, other applications like Adium and Firefox may not be. So either test them out or exclude them from the approved applications list.

The web is a wonderful place, but some corners of it aren't for the little ones. That paper you've been working on for graduate school should also be kept hidden away. Good luck!

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