How do I set up Parental Controls on my Mac? (It runs macOS Sierra.) I want my kids to be able to use the Mac safely.

Apple has developed extensive tools to help parents who want to make sure their children are safe when online. With Parental Controls, located in System Preferences, parents can allow their children freedom to use a Mac computer safely.

Setting up Parental Controls is a must for parents, and it's easy to do. With Parental Controls turned on you can restrict a child's internet usage, choice of applications and even computing hours. This feature looks at how to set up Parental Controls on a Mac, and set sensible limits for a child's computer usage: we walk you through setting up the Parental Controls, and how to use their features to protect your kids.

We'll be focusing on macOS Sierra, Apple's newest operating system for Mac, but the process is virtually identical for Mac OS El Capitan and other relatively recent versions of the Mac OS, such as Yosemite and Mavericks. Where things look different, we'll include screenshots of the older interface too.

See also: 56 best iPhone & iPad apps for kids

How to use Parental Controls: Set up a child's account

The first thing you need to do is set up a separate account for your child. This won't be a full account, like the one you use, but a restricted account (and you get to decide on the restrictions). And don't worry, you'll get full access to your child's account.

How to set up Parental Controls on Mac: User account

Follow these steps to set up an account.

  1. Open System Preferences (click Go > System Preferences).
  2. Click on Parental Controls.
  3. Click the Lock icon in the bottom left of the window.
  4. Enter your Password and click Unlock
  5. Click the Add ('+') icon in the bottom left of the window.
  6. Fill in the Full Name, Account Name and Password fields and click Create Account. Make sure your child knows the password - this will unlock their limited account only.

You now have another user in the Parental Controls window. Select them in the left-hand sidebar to view the settings.

This is what the process looks like in earlier versions of Mac OS, such as Yosemite:

How to set up & use Parental Controls on Mac: Create a child's account

For more on this process, see How to set up and manage user accounts on a Mac.

How to use Parental Controls: Limit Applications to an age range

You can limit the child's Mac access to specific applications. Follow these steps to use Parental Controls to set limits on which Mac apps a child can run:

  1. Select the child's name in the sidebar and select the Apps tab.
  2. Place a tick next to Limit Applications. or Limit Applications on this Mac. This means the child will only be able to use the apps you specify in the following box.
  3. Use the reveal arrows next to Other Apps or Utilities to view and select apps that your child will be able to use. Note that a number of (generally innocuous) apps are enabled by default, so scan through the entire list. Alternatively, you can tick or untick the top-level box (the one by 'Other Apps' or 'Utilities' to allow or disallow them all at once.
  4. Remove the tick next to any app to prevent it from running.
  5. Now go to the Stores tab. Here you can place age restrictions on the apps that can be download (as well as books, music and movies). Select the oldest age group classification you're happy for your child to download - selecting 'Restrict Apps to: 17+' will also allow apps classified as 12+,  9+ and 4+.

How to set up Parental Controls on Mac

In Yosemite and earlier versions of Mac OS X, the process for placing age restrictions on Mac apps is slightly different:

  1. Select the child's name in the sidebar and select the Apps tab.
  2. Place a tick in Limit Applications.
  3. Use the Allow App Store Apps option to select an age range for apps.
  4. Click the small reveal arrow next to App Store in the Allowed Apps section to view which apps are available. You can see the age range next to each app on the right-hand side.
  5. Use the reveal arrow next to Other Apps to view apps that were included in Mac OS X (like Safari). These will not have age ratings.
  6. Remove the tick next to any app to prevent it from running.

Set age range for apps in Mac OS X Parental Accounts

Read next: How to set up parental controls on an iPad or iPhone for kids

How to use Parental Controls: Limit access to websites

The internet is one of the largest concerns when it comes to Parental Controls. Apple has you covered with three distinct ways your child can access the web. Open Parental Controls and click on the Web tab: here you will see three options:

  • 'Allow unrestricted access to websites'. Normally this is only for older teenagers, and is not selected by default.
  • 'Try to limit access to adult websites'. (In Yosemite and earlier it adds the word 'automatically'). This is the default option. Apple maintains a comprehensive list of websites that are appropriate and inappropriate for kids. Click Customize to add and remove websites (that your child may require, or that you don't want them to use).
  • 'Allow access to only these websites'. This is an option for younger children. It blocks web access apart from the sites you whitelist. A bunch of kid-friendly sites, including Discovery Kids, National Geographic Kids and Disney, are added to start you off. Use the add ('+') button underneath the websites to add more to the allowed list, or select one and hit the subtract button ('-') to remove it.

How to set up Parental Controls on Mac: Restrict websites

Click the Logs button (at the bottom) to view the websites your child has visited or tried to visit.

How to use Parental Controls: Time limits

Go to the Time tab. You can specific specific time limits (such as 3 hours a day) of access to the Mac for weekdays or weekends, and you can use the Bedtime setting to prevent access during specified hours.

How to set up Parental Controls on Mac: Time limits

In Yosemite and earlier the Time tab is labelled as Time Limits, and there's an additional tab called People where you can control contacts made through Game Center, Mail and Messages. (These things are covered under the Apps tab in El Capitan and Sierra.) Create a list of Allowed Contacts to limit your child's interaction.

Set time limits in Mac OS X Parental Controls

How to use Parental Controls: Other options

To finish up, here's three handy, simple Parental Controls options you should consider. They're all under the Other tab.

Restrict explicit language in Dictionary is activated by default.

Prevent the Dock from being modified is useful primarily for its ability to prevent meddling: we all know how easy it is to accidentally pull an app off the dock without realising it. Changing the dock on one account doesn't affect the dock in others, of course, but it's annoying trying to find an app that previously sat in the dock when showing your child how to do something in their account. This is disabled by default but potentially useful.

Also consider Use Simple Finder, again disabled by default, which makes Mac OS X a lot easier to use for young children.

How to set up Parental Controls on Mac: Other options