How to set up parental controls on Mac

10 min read

Sharing a Mac with someone else is always tricky. It’s where a big chunk of your daily routine happens — and you don’t really want other people to interfere. Unless it’s your child who doesn’t own a computer yet. If this is your case, you should know that there’s a way to share a Mac to the extent you want to share it. 

The abyss of content freely available on the web can be distracting — or even harmful when it comes to a child. Therefore, some moderation is needed. macOS is one of the best operating systems catering for Mac parental controls. Using native programs only, you can create a safe Internet environment for your kids. And with a few extra apps installed on top, it gets even smarter. 

Parental controls on Mac: How does it work? 

Apple parental controls are packed into one handy app on macOS Catalina and macOS Big Sur — Screen Time. The older versions have a built-in Parental Controls feature. So depending on the system your Mac runs on, you’ll be able to benefit from one of those. 

How to set parental controls on macOS Catalina and Big Sur

Clearly, Apple makes parental controls easier — and a bit better-looking — with the release of macOS 10.15 Catalina. Unlike any other, this operating system has a handy Screen Time app for handling parental controls in one place. Set up the Downtime, manage Netflix parental controls, enable content restrictions — it all happens in one interface.

But first of all, you need to separate your Mac setup from the one your kid will use. Let your loved ones in via a separate entrance — a personal account that they will use for their needs. While you can password protect every account on Mac, your child won’t be able to mess with your content or accidentally delete important stuff. 

Here’s how to create a child account: 

  1. Open System Preferences > Users & Groups

  2. Click the Lock to enable changes. 

  3. Add a new account by clicking on the plus button. 

If you’re using macOS Mojave or earlier, you can go to System Preferences > Parental Controls and add a new account from there. 

Next step is to create Gmail account for your child, which you can have some control over. There’s actually a better way than just owning a password. For this purpose, Google created an app called Family Link, which enables parents to stay in the know. Once you set up the app and link it to your child’s account, you’ll be able to monitor the activity associated with it. 

Here’s how to use Family Link for Google account control: 

  1. Install Family Link on your mobile device and link it with a Google account. 

  2. Go to Settings > Manage Settings to set up activity controls. 

  3. To delete specific activity, go to My Activity Page in the child’s account > More > Select > Delete. 

Family Link also has built-in screen time tracking and location tracking — so that you always know where your kid is. You can edit account info or lock a child’s account right from your app at any time. 

How to set parental controls on macOS Catalina

Clearly, Apple makes parental controls easier — and a bit better-looking — with the release of macOS 10.15 Catalina. Unlike any other, this operating system has a handy Screen Time app for handling parental controls in one place. Set up the Downtime, manage Netflix parental controls, enable content restrictions — it all happens in one interface. 

Here’s how you set up Screen Time on Mac: 

  1. Open System preferences > Screen Time. 

  2. If Screen Time is set to Off, make sure you enable it. 

  3. Select the account and click on Options

  4. Check the box next to “Use Screen Time Passcode” to ensure no one except you will be able to change the settings. 

  5. If you want to have access to Screen Time controls from any device, check the box next to “Share across devices.” 

set parental controls on macOS Catalina

Set up downtime 

In the Screen Time, you can create a focused environment for your child using Downtime functionality. Perfect for when they have to do homework. Downtime switches off access to everything except specific apps you select. Here’s how to enable it on your Mac: 

  1. Launch Screen Time. 

  2. In the left side bar, select your child’s account. 

  3. Open the Downtime tab > Turn on. 

  4. Select Every Day or Custom and set the hours for when Downtime should be enabled. 

You can adjust the hours of Downtime every day, based on your needs, if you select Custom. The app sends notifications 5 minutes before Downtime is scheduled so that your kids can finish whatever they are doing and get to work. 

Create custom app limits 

There are always those few apps that are the biggest time-sucks. Screen Time solves this problem by enabling you to set app limits. In the corresponding tab, click on the plus button to add a new app limit. You can set a custom limit for the entire category of apps — like Entertainment or Social Networking. Or, open the drop-down list under the category and set up limits for specific apps. 

Create custom app limits

Track your screen time 

One of the benefits of Screen Time is that it gives you a comprehensive view of how your child spends time on Mac. It has three tabs — App Usage, Notifications, and Pickups — for tracking activity across apps and categories. Here’s how you make the most of it: 

  1. Use App Usage to check time spent in every app during a specific period of time. See what type of activity takes over — Productivity, Social Networking, or Entertainment. You can also compare actual activity versus app limits. 

  2. The Notifications tab is there to tell you what apps are sending the biggest number of notifications. Maybe you should think about disabling them? 

  3. In the Pickups, you can view how many times you pick up a device and what app you open right away — an iOS feature that migrated to macOS. 

Track your screen time MacIf you want to quickly reset app limits or disable Downtime, customize settings in Always Allowed and you’re good to go. To deny access to specific web content or disable purchases in online stores, use Content & Privacy

The best thing about Screen Time is that it works equally well for parental controls and for controlling your own activity. Use Screen Time to focus on work or limit Instagramming, and your routine will become healthier over time. 

How to set parental controls on macOS Mojave and earlier

If your Mac runs on macOS Mojave or older versions, there’s a built-in Parental Controls feature you can benefit from. To access the functionality, open System Preferences > Parental Controls. You’ll be prompted to create a child account with parental controls if you haven’t done it before. Once the child account appears in the sidebar, click on it and go through the settings. 

The options will be pretty similar to what you get with Screen Time — but in a less intuitive interface. You can set app limits, daily time limits, block specific web content, and more. 

Focus for targeted distractions blocking 

There’s still an easier way to block distractions. You can get Focus, an app that keeps you focused on work. The beautiful thing about it is you don’t have to customize preferences all the time, but rather go with a flow while Focus takes care of your productivity. 

It’s to set up, and even easier to use: 

  1. Install Focus from Setapp (and save money on the license). 

  2. Once the app icon appears in your menu bar, you can start focusing in a click. By default, the app will shut down access to social media for 25 minutes. Then, it gives you a 5-minute break before enabling the focused mode again. 

  3. Open Preferences from the menu bar to add sites and apps that should be blocked when you’re focusing. This, by the way, is the easiest way to handle Chrome parental controls. 

  4. Set custom time limitations in the Schedule tab.   

That’s it. No more complicated settings. 

Focus app distraction blocker Mac

Timing for automatic activity tracking 

If you’re rather interested in how much time you or your kids spend on specific activities, there’s no better tool than Timing. The app cleverly monitors what you do and brings insights into a handy activity timeline. You can define your own rules so that Timing stops and starts timer for specific activities without ever bothering you. 

Here’s a short list of what you can do with Timing: 

  1. Add a task or a project with a deadline attached to it. 

  2. Use the Overview section to track your child’s activity over a specific period of time. 

  3. Let Timing create detailed activity reports for you. 

  4. Go to Review > Details to see active processes. 

  5. Use browser monitoring to check web activities. 

Timing app activity tracking Mac

Basically, Timing can be both a robust parental controls tool and your own productivity booster. A win-win. 

Time Out for, well, time out 

What if it’s not distractions you should block — but rather work? Time Out is a powerful Mac app that makes sure you or your loved ones don’t stay on the same task too long. And yet, it will tell your kids to take a break from YouTube, too. Just ma

By default, the app comes with normal 10-minute breaks and micro 15-second breaks. However, this is a subject to a change — you can set your custom ones for every job, whether it’s a casual work break or a longer lunch/coffee break. 

Time Out Mac app

Control every channel your child has access to 

If for some reason you don’t use tools like Screen Time, you can enable parental controls for specific programs or browsers. Let’s say, your kid has recently became hooked on Netflix’s Sex Education. Some would argue it’s a good thing, but if you think otherwise, or the show stands in the way of homework, you can enable parental controls for Netflix. 

Here are the detailed instructions on how to control the most popular channels. 

Netflix parental controls 

You can limit Netflixing in two ways — by setting up a maturity level or blocking specific shows. A custom maturity level means you can 

 Netflix to show only the content that complies with age restrictions — movies and shows for little kids, teens and below, or everyone. 

To set maturity level on a profile: 

  1. Sign in to Netflix > Manage profiles. 

  2. Select the profile you want to edit. 

  3. In the new window, set up the maturity level under Allowed TV shows and movies

To set a PIN for maturity level or specific Netflix content: 

  1. Go to the Account page in your web browser. 

  2. Open Settings > Parental Controls

  3. Enter your account password. 

  4. Create a PIN that is a four-digit number. 

  5. Set PIN protection for a specific tile or maturity level > Save

YouTube parental controls 

YouTube went even further. It created a separate YouTube for kids. So if you’re wondering how to set parental controls of YouTube, the answer is you don’t have to — simply use YouTube Kids. The app enables you to customize content experience for a child, depending on their age. You can also change the restrictions by clicking on the Lock icon, turn off search, and set a passcode for access to settings.

YouTube parental controls

If you want to prevent access to YouTube completely, you’ll have to use Apple’s native Parental Controls or Screen Time. 

Chrome parental controls 

The most basic version of Google Chrome parental controls is its SafeSearch functionality. It blocks explicitly inappropriate and adult content — but, unfortunately, isn’t customizable at all. Here’s how to enable SafeSearch: 

  1. Open Chrome and click on your image in the upper right corner. 

  2. Navigate to Data & personalization and scroll down to the bottom of the page. 

  3. Under General preferences for the web, select Search settings

  4. In the new window, check the box to enable SafeSearch > Save

While SafeSearch doesn’t allow you to prevent access to custom websites, you’ll need more advanced solutions for that like Focus, which will block the selected sites and apps for you. 

The problem of screen time is becoming huge — not only for parents but also for anyone who’s spending too much time in front of a computer. Big players like YouTube and Netflix are putting much effort into helping you limit app usage. However, instead of navigating the settings of parental controls of YouTube, you can do things easier. Combine Focus with Timing and Time Out apps from Setapp — and have the whole process streamlined. 

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