Configuring Parental Controls

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Supervise their socializing

Every parent wants to socialize their child, but that doesn’t mean a responsible parent won’t keep an eye on who that child chooses to be social with. Parental Controls’ People tab can help. Here you find options to limit Game Center, Mail, and Messages. In the case of Game Center you have two options—Allow Joining Game Center Multiplayer Games and Allow Adding Game Center Friends. For Mail and Messages, in each case you click a Plus (+) button to add addresses or chat names to a sheet that appears. (These addresses can be pulled directly from your contacts, or you can create new contacts and, optionally, add them to the Contacts list.)

You can choose who the user can and can't communicate with.

When you enable the Limit Mail option you also have the opportunity to have permission requests emailed to you. When you enable this option you must enter an email address for the person responsible for administering the account (you, most likely). When an unapproved sender attempts to send a message to the parentally controlled account, the message is forwarded to the email address you entered. If, conversely, the user of the controlled account tries to send a message to someone not on the approved list, you receive a different message, asking permission to add that person to the list of approved recipients. You can grant that permission by clicking a link in the alert email message you receive.

Set time limits

Much as we all love our Macs, you can get too much of a good thing. Within the Time Limits tab you can configure specific times that your child is allowed to use the computer. Specifically you can separately set weekday time limits, weekend time limits, and bedtime limits. The first two time limits let you broadly choose how many minutes and hours the managed account is allowed to use the Mac per day, starting at a half-hour and ending at 8 hours; 15 minutes before a time expires, a message appears (along with a spoken warning) letting the child know that they have just 15 minutes left. Within the warning dialog box is a pop-up menu that allows the user to extend the time. But the child will need an administrator’s password (meaning that he or she will shout “Hey, [Mom or Dad], I need more time to finish my homework, gimme another half hour!”)

Miraculous as the Mac may be, you should limit a child’s time in front of it. The Time Limits tab gives you multiple options for such limits.

In Mountain Lion, your child can see how much time remains by clicking on the menu bar’s clock. Do so, and you see something like Parental Controls Time Remaining 0:23.

Bedtime limits are exactly what they appear to be. This option lets you set specific hours that the Mac can be used by someone with a controlled account. You can, for example, shut the user out from 9 PM until 8 AM. Within this area you can separately configure school nights (Sunday through Thursday) and weekend nights (Friday and Saturday).

About Other and Logs

The last tab—Other—includes five options: Disable Use of Dictation, Hide Profanity in Dictionary, Limit Printer Administration, Limit CD and DVD Burning, and Disable Changing the Password. These on/off options nicely describe exactly what they do. The final one might raise an eyebrow, however. “You mean a kid can change his password and keep me from getting into his account!?” Fortunately, no. As someone with an administrator account you have the ability to change that account’s password. Just select it in Users & Groups, click Reset Password, and enter and confirm a password of your choosing.

A final option that you’ll find in the Apps, Web, and People tabs is Logs. Just click on the Logs button, and a sheet appears that contains four entries—Websites Visited, Websites Blocked, Applications, and Messages. In this area you can read logs that detail what this user has been up to. Select Websites Visited, say, select an item (Macworld, for instance), click the triangle next to the entry, and you'll see the date and time the site was visited. If you double-click on the entry, Safari opens and takes you to that Web page.

Configure the remaining bits and pieces in the Other tab.

The other Other entries work similarly. Select Websites Blocked, and you see the sites’ names and have the opportunity to visit them. The Applications entry indicates the applications launched and the date and time when that occurred. Choose Messages, and you can see who your kid was chatting with.

At any time you can restrict a website, application, or Messages buddy that appears in one of these lists. Just select the site, application, or buddy you want to give the axe to, and click the Block button that appears at the bottom of the window.

Next week: Dictation and Speech

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