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Help keep your children safe online with macOS Sierra’s Parental Controls


Internet safety is a huge concern for many parents, so it’s no surprise that Apple include a wide range of parental controls in each release of macOS.

In this article, I’m going to cover some of the most important parental controls that can help you ensure your children remain safe online. I’ll be showing you how to prevent your child from activating your Mac’s built-in webcam; how to ensure they’re only exchanging messages with people you know and trust; and how to prevent them from accessing any adult or inappropriate websites.

Before we begin it’s important to note that you apply parental controls to a specific user account, so you should create a separate account for everyone who requires parental controls. Alternatively, if you really don’t want to create additional user accounts, then you can apply parental controls to your Mac’s ‘Guest’ account, and then treat this as your Mac’s child-friendly account.


Accessing Parental Controls

To access your Mac’s various parental control settings:

  • Select the ‘Apple’ logo from your Mac’s menu bar.
  • Navigate to ‘System preferences > Parental Controls.’
  • Click the little padlock icon in the bottom-right corner, and enter your admin password when prompted.
  • In the left hand menu, select the account you want to apply parental controls to.

There’s a huge range of parental controls that are all worth exploring in detail, but when it comes to ensuring your children can browse the web safely, you’ll definitely want to consider the following:

1. Disable the webcam

A built-in webcam is a staple of most MacBooks and can be invaluable for helping you keep in contact with friends and family, but they also have huge potential to be exploited.

If you’re worried about your computer’s built-in webcam, then you can make it impossible for your child to activate it:

  • Select the ‘Apps’ tab.
  • Deselect the ‘Allow use of camera’ checkbox.

However, it’s worth noting that as long as your webcam is uncovered, there’s always the possibility of someone activating it remotely, so you may want to take additional measures to protect your family from prying eyes.

2. Create a whitelist of contacts

Whether there’s someone in particular you don’t want your child to exchange messages with, or you’re worried about them speaking to strangers in general, you can build a ‘whitelist’ of contacts that you’re happy for your children to communicate with via the Apple Mail app. You can even tell macOS to send you an email if your child ever attempts to message someone who isn’t on this whitelist:

  • Make sure the ‘Apps’ tab is selected.
  • Select the ‘Limit Mail to allowed contacts’ checkbox.
  • Click the accompanying ‘Manage…’ button.

  • To add an approved contact, click the little ‘+’ button, and then either type the contact’s name (if they’re already registered in your Mail app) or enter their full email address.
  • To make sure you receive a notification whenever your child attempts to exchange messages with someone who isn’t on your ‘approved’ list, click the ‘Send requests to’ checkbox, and then enter your email address.
  • Save your changes, by clicking ‘Done.’

3. Block a specific website

While it’s possible to restrict who your child can message via the Mail app, this doesn’t prevent them from creating an alternative email address, for example they could create a free Gmail account, at which point they could potentially exchange messages with anyone.

Restricting access to the websites your child has access to is one way of a) making it more difficult for them to setup an alternative email address, and b) prevent them from accessing this alternative email account on your Mac. And, of course, restricting access to certain websites is a powerful way of ensuring your child isn’t exposed to inappropriate content online.

Select the ‘Web’ tab and then choose from the following options:

  • Try to limit access to adult websites

When you select this option, macOS does its best to block websites that contain inappropriate content, similar to how Apple Mail attempts to block spam emails. However, in the same way that one or two junk emails may occasionally finds their way into your inbox, macOS may overlook some adult-oriented websites, so if there’s certain websites that you definitely don’t want your children to have access to, then you should click the ‘Customize’ button and add these websites to the ‘Never allow these websites’ section.

At the other end of the scale, macOS may incorrectly flag some websites as adult-oriented, so if there’s any websites that you know your child uses on a regular basis (and that you’re happy for them to have access to) then you should add these sites to the ‘Always allow these websites’ list.

There’s also no rule stating that blocked websites have to be adult oriented, so if you’re worried about your child setting up an alternative, unrestricted email account then you could click ‘Customize’ and then add websites such as https://www.google.com/gmail and https://accounts.google.com/ to your blocked websites list.

  • Allow access to only these websites

Alternatively, you can block all websites, apart from a whitelist of approved websites, by selecting the ‘Allow access to only these websites’ radio button.

By default, macOS suggests a number of websites that you may want to include in your whitelist. You can remove a website from this list, by selecting it and then pressing the ‘-’ icon. Alternatively, to add a website to this list:

  • Click the little ‘+’ icon.
  • Select ‘Add Bookmark…’
  • Enter the name of this website, plus its complete URL.
  • Click ‘OK.’

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