How to Use Mac Parental Controls

Easily set limits on your kid's computer

Some parents don't want their children using a computer totally unsupervised. That's how parental controls can help. Whether you want to block adult content or just prevent them from being on the computer 24/7, a couple setting changes in macOS can help you manage what your children see and how long they're allowed to use the Mac.

One of the most important settings can be found inside Screen Time. Screen Time lets you set limits on how long children use the computer, what programs they use, what content they see, and more. Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, let's set up the appropriate accounts for children.

This article applies to macOS Catalina (10.15) and higher.

Hipster family gathered around a laptop, laughing
Hinterhaus Productions / Stone / Getty Images

How to Create a User Account for Children on Your Mac

Parental Controls work best when you set up a user account on a Mac specifically for your children. If you don't do that, you'll apply controls to the Mac's default account which would mean that you'd restricting your own computer use, too.

With a separate user account for each child who's going to use the Mac, they can each have their own settings.

If you already use Family Sharing on multiple Macs, each child should already have an account. You shouldn't need to do anything else.

How to Set Up Screen Time Parental Controls on Mac

Follow these steps to set up Screen Time:

  1. Depending on whether or not you use Family Sharing, you start this process in one of two ways:

    • If you use Family Sharing, log into your account on your computer.
    • If your children have their own computer(s), log into the computer you want to set parental controls on.
  2. Click the Apple menu, then System Preferences.

  3. In System Preferences, click Screen Time.

  4. If you use Family Sharing, click the menu in the left-hand sidebar and select a child. If you're using the child's computer, skip this step.

  5. Click Options in the lower-left corner.

  6. Click Turn On to enable Screen Time.

  7. To know what websites your child visits, check the box next to Include Website Data.

Prevent your children from changing Screen Time settings with a passcode. Click Use Screen Time Passcode and enter a code that your children don't know.

How to Set Time Limits for Using Apps on Mac

Want to keep your children from spending all day on social media or playing games? Use Time Limits. Here's what to do:

  1. After Screen Time is turned on, go to Screen Time preferences (follow the first three steps from the last section) and select the children you want to set limits for.

  2. In the left-hand sidebar, click App Limits.

    If it's not already on, click the Turn On button in the top right.

  3. Click the + icon to add a new limit.

  4. To create the limit settings:

    • Search for the type of limit (app, category, website). Click the arrow on each limit to reveal more details.
    • To limit all apps in a category, check the box next to the category name.
    • To limit specific apps, check the box next to the app name.
    • To limit a website, expand Websites and check the box next to the website name. If a website doesn't show up here (only sites that have already been visited will), click Add Website and enter the site's address.
  5. Add a Time Limit for the setting:

    • Select Every Day and add a daily limit for the setting, or
    • Select Custom and set a different limit for every day.
  6. Click Done.

Edit a limit by clicking Edit Limit. Disable a limit by unchecking the box next to it. To remove a limit, select it and click the - icon. Set some apps to aways be allowed by clicking Always Allowed, finding an app, and checking the box next to it.

How to Limit Computer Use with Downtime

Don't want your children using the computer before or after a certain time? The Downtime option in Parental Controls lets you control their computer time. Here's what to do:

  1. In Apple menu > System Preferences > Screen Time > click Downtime in the left-hand sidebar.

    If Downtime is off, click the Turn On button in the top right.

  2. Select which child you want the Downtime settings to apply to.

    • Click Every Day and then set the times you want your child to not be able to use the computer. They will apply to every day.
    • Click Select Custom and set different times on each day that you want computer use to be blocked.

Change Downtime settings by coming back to this screen and editing the settings. To turn off Downtime, click Turn Off in the top right corner.

How to Set Up Content, App, and Privacy Restrictions on a Mac with ScreenTime

You can also block children from seeing adult content, visiting certain websites, using some apps, and more. Here's how:

  1. Go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Screen Time > and select a child.

  2. Click Content & Privacy.

  3. Click Turn On in the top right corner.

  4. To restrict websites, click Content, then choose:

    • Unrestricted Access: Any website can be viewed.
    • Limit Adult Websites: Blocks websites designated by Apple as adult. Add sites by clicking Add and then typing in new addresses.
    • Allowed Websites Only: Only allow children to visit websites listed here. Add more sites by clicking Customize and adding new site addresses.

    Other kinds of content you can block on this screen include bad language in Siri and adding friends in Game Center.

  5. To restrict mature content in Apple's online stores, click Stores, then choose:

    • Ratings for: The country or region you live in.
    • Movies. TV Shows, or Apps: Choose to Allow All, Don't Allow, or to set a rating for each type of media above which your child won't be able to access.

    You can also uncheck boxes to block Explicit Podcasts and Explicit Music, Podcasts & News.

  6. To block access to some apps, click Apps, then:

  • Uncheck boxes next to Camera, Books Store, and Siri & Dictation to block these apps and features.