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OS X Leopard: Create new user account with parental controls

Mac OS X Leopard includes new Parental Controls to help protect your children from computers (or help protect your computer from your children). In Apple’s way, this process is simple, but there are some options to consider. This recipe describes adding a new user account that will be under Parental Control and discusses some related concepts.

One of my most frequently received calls for help from friends with children involves fears that their kids are getting into websites that seem inappropriate, spending too much time on the computer, or (most common with Windows users) contracting viruses or installing spyware, et al. Using a Mac with OS X 10.5 can make a lot of this easier.

I won’t delve into the ethical ramifications of child rearing using any of these techniques. I do think that trying to impose restrictions like these on a teenager will probably be fruitless as, well, they’re smarter than we are and will find a way. However, simple tools in the Parental Controls preferences can prevent younger children from unintentionally wandering into more adult areas and can also make a computer easier to use for a little one.

Before getting into setting up parental controls, you must first have a separate account for the controlees and the controllers. When configuring a Mac for use by a youngster, it is important not to give them administrative capabilities. However, a computer needs administrative users, so you need your own account on the computer with the checkbox for “Allow user to administer this computer” checked.

If you have not yet created the user account

If you have not yet created an account for a younger user on the system, proceed to the System Preferences (accessible from the Apple menu on the top left corner of the screen) and click once on the Accounts icon.

Click the + symbol near the lower left corner of that window to add a new user.

In this window, change the New Account: pulldown menu to Managed with Parental Controls

Enter the full name of the user in the Name: field.

When you entered the name above, a Short Name was automatically generated. This will be the login name of the user and your preference may be to change this to a simpler/shorter name. If you do, just replace the text there with something else.

You must enter the password for the new user account twice, once in the Password field and again the the Verify field. You do not need to have a password for a user. If you leave this blank, when you finish the process, you’ll be warned that you didn’t enter a password and verify that you meant to do this. I’m certain that very young children do not need passwords but when passwords are needed for a computer used by youngsters will depend on the youngster(s) involved. Since the system can bes configured to log this user into the system automatically when the system starts, the password will not need to be entered, anyway, so it doesn’t matter in this case.

Note, the little key next to the Password field is a really slick password generator. If you hate generating passwords for other people like I do, play around with this tool — it’s really nice.

If you do use a password, it is helpful to create a password hint which can be used by the user to help them remember the password. The last option when creating a new user account is whether to use FileVault or not. If you turn on this feature, the user’s home directory will be encrypted. If you know what this means and feel that your children’s plans to take over the world need to be encrypted by AES-128, then by all means, click it. Otherwise, leave it unclicked.

Clicking the Create Account button at the bottom will finish the process and your new user account will be born.

If you have already created the account

An existing account can be brought under parental control. In System Preferences, click Accounts once and click on the account to change in the column on the left. The details of that account will be displayed on the right side of the window. Just click the checkbox next to Enable Parental Controls.

If this user is able to administer the computer, a warning message will be displayed. While many bosses dream about implementing them, imposing controls on an account with administrative access doesn’t make sense. An administrative user can typically do whatever they want. If the “administer this user” box is checked, you’ll probably want to uncheck it. However, this brings up an important caveat. Make sure that there is an account capable of administering the computer before doing this. If the computer is new and only has one user account, that of the child who will use it, it will be the one and only administrative user on the box. Before implementing parental controls, make yourself a user on the system and check the administration box for that account.

After making changes to the account, you can close the system preferences or click on the Open Parental Controls… link to start configuring the controls.

Quinn McHenry
Quinn McHenry
Quinn was one of the original co-founders of Tech-Recipes. He is currently crafting iOS applications as a senior developer at Small Planet Digital in Brooklyn, New York.


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