Letting younger family members use your Mac can open them up to a whole world of content that might not be appropriate or advisable. To prevent such dangers, Apple includes a range of parental controls in macOS that allows you to restrict the kind of content they see and determine how long they can use the device.
We show you how to create a child's account and set up parental controls on your Mac so the little ones can be safe while using macOS.
Setting up a child account
The first step is to create a dedicated account for your child so that any restrictions you implement don't end up affecting your own browsing or app usage. There are multiple ways to do this, as you can go to System Preferences > Users & Groups then add new accounts from there or if you're using macOS Mojave or earlier you can go to System Preferences > Parental Controls and create a child's account by following the prompts.
The best way to safeguard your child is to use the Family Sharing feature, as it also allows you to administer settings from any of your Apple devices. Setting this up is easy, and you'll find a complete guide to the advantages and capabilities in our How to set up Family Sharing on iPad, iPhone & Mac guide.
Using Parental Controls
With your child account now set up, it's time to turn on parental controls. The approach is slightly different depending on the version of macOS you're running, as Apple introduced Screen Time in macOS Catalina, which replaces the Parental Controls option.
If you're using macOS Catalina, go to System Preferences > Screen Time and select your child's account from the drop-down options in the sidebar. Underneath this there are also a number of other options, including Downtime, App Limits, and Content & Privacy which you can use to tailor the restrictions.
Click the Options button in the bottom-left corner and in the main pane you'll see the Screen Time settings. Click Turn On… to enable the feature. Now, Screen Time itself doesn't restrict the usage of the device; instead it acts as the overall name for parental controls.
The two options offered in the Screen Time pane are Share across devices and Use Screen Time Passcode. The first will show you the combined time the account holder spends on their various Apple devices, while the second is one that you should turn on immediately as it prevents children from changing any time limits or content locks you set up.
With these in place it's time to start configuring the various Screen Time elements. Click on Downtime and you'll be able to set the times when the Mac will be unavailable to the user. This is useful if you want to restrict a child watching Netflix late at night or just prefer them to be away from screens at certain times.
Turn the feature on then choose either Every Day or Custom options and set the hours within which the Mac will be locked.
As the name suggests, this setting gives you control over how much time your children spend each day on certain apps or app categories. Turn the feature on then click the '+' icon in the bottom left of the main pane. You'll now be able to select particular apps or genres and apply daily time limits.
Another straightforward setting, this will override both Downtime and App Limits, granting access to particular apps at all times.
Content & Privacy
The earlier features are more concerned with access and time limits, but this one lets you decide the type of content that your child will see. There are various granular settings that restrict adult websites and search results, explicit lyrics and words in movies and music, plus whether you want your child to play games online or not.
macOS Mojave and earlier
Screen Time isn't available on macOS Mojave or its predecessors, but there are still built-in features to keep your kids safe. To find these, go to System Preferences > Parental Controls. If you haven't already set up a child account, you'll be prompted to do so by selecting Create a new user account with parental controls and clicking Continue.
Follow the instructions on setting up an account then, once this is done, return to Parental Controls. You'll now see the new child's account in the sidebar, so click on it then go through the various settings that limit the content and times that your little one can access the Mac.
The options are similar to those listed above, with granular controls for the apps they can use, web content, daily time limits, and a few other safety features that are all self-explanatory.
With these in place your child should now be able to use their Mac without encountering any of the nasty stuff online, but of course it's no guarantee so be sure to keep an eye on them and teach them about the dangers that lie among the benefits of modern computing.