Thursday, 15 March 2012

Parental Controls on the Mac



If you have young sons and daughters at UWCSEA, your may be interested in the Parental Control options built into the MacBooks and the Lion Operating System. Parental Controls are a powerful tool to lock down parts of the Mac. These tools are a option for parents, but in our opinion should only be used other options to manage laptop use have been exhausted.

Some basic steps to reduce dependency and distraction are to...
  • Discuss and develop a Family Media Agreement for your family.
  • Set time limits for laptop use at home and especially on weekends.
  • Provide children with opportunities for socializing and sport.
  • Encourage children to work on their laptop in open spaces and not in the bedroom
  • Place the MacBook outside the bedroom to charge at night time.
  • Encourage them to avoid distraction, by signing out of apps like Skype.
  • Remove any distractions, such as games from the dock.
This post should serve as a quick guide to help you understand Parental Controls on the Mac and the implications of setting these up. Effective use will make it safe for your kids to use without your direct supervision. 

Implications of using Parental Controls:
  1. Early in the school year, or when the operating system is updated, students will need to administrative password to add printers at school. For this period of time it would be wise to share the admin password, and then change it back to something different, once the upgrades have been complete/ 
  2. You are encouraged to use parental controls to block adult website, but not to use the option to allow only a list of websites. This causes issues at school when students try to access education websites. We would struggle to provide a full list of these websites across the school. 
  3. The student files and folders (The Home Folder) needs to be shared across accounts, otherwise the student will be unable to access all files. 
  4. The list of applications currently available on the school MacBook should all be allowed.
  5. Be careful about setting time limits in Parental Controls during the week. During the school day our students may use their laptops for between 5-6 hours in lessons, and will need to use them to complete homework. 

The process is quite simple (as is standard operating procedure with all things Apple), but I realize you may be starting from one of two different scenarios.
  1. Children’s Account does not yet exist
    Starting from scratch is easy. Open System Preferences (under the Apple icon) and choose Accounts. Click the “+” button to create a new account profile. The very top line is a drop down menu — from that drop down, select “Managed with Parental Controls.” Create the rest of the account as usual. As soon as you finish that screen, the new account is visible with a button at the bottom to take you to the Parental Controls Preference Pane.
  2. Children’s Account already exists
    Converting a pre-existing account is just as easy to convert for use with Parental Controls. From within the Accounts Pane of System Preferences, select the account you want to change to Parental Controls. At the bottom of that profile page, all you need to do is check the box that reads “Enable Parental Controls” and then click the button to open that Preference Pane for configuration.
To get started setting the parental controls for this account, you’ll need to select the account from the list (if there is more than one available to be managed). If when you click on it your Mac beeps at you, you’ll need to unlock these settings by clicking the padlock icon below (at which point you’ll need to enter your password). It’s probably easiest to run through each of the high level features one at a time, so let’s take a closer look.
Systems
The System tab is where you decide what they will be able to use and what (if any) privileges you allow them. You can also go through all of the applications installed on your machine and only put check marks next to the apps you want them to be able to use. We strongly encourage you to maintain access to all of the school apps, installed on the MacBook. Lastly, there are some items that you can give them access to administer or not with their account. Please allow them to administer printers. 

Content
Protect your children from inappropriate content in this tab. The most important concern for most parents is how they will be allowed to browse the web. There’s an unrestricted option, which is a best effort on Apple's behalf to filter websites which might have potential to contain R18 content. It therefore blocks Google and other sites which are perfectly acceptable. We suggest the parents dont select this option, and instead check with your internet provider such as StarHub Smart Surf to see if they can filter your internet connection at home. We have similar safe filtering at the college. 

We also strongly discourage you from selecting the last option to allow access to only these websites. Even blocking the 

Across our vast school it is impossible to come up with a list of educationally related websites, and in our experience using this option creates significant barriers for the students learning experience on the internet. 
Time Limits
Within Parental Controls you have the ability to limit the amount of time, you child spends using the Mac. You can determine the number of hours by week days, as well as weekend days. There’s also the ability to set the hours of the day they are not allowed to use the computer — like Bedtimes, for instance. The bedtimes option is perhaps the best option. You will need to be liberal with the weekday limits if you choose to enforce them. 
Logs
This option allow you to check on the websites that have been visited, the websites they’ve tried that have been blocked, iChat transcripts, and applications they’ve used through this account.

There are different methods of organising this data (like the length of time Logs are kept, and then grouped by Date or Content/Contact). These Logs are probably more important if you’ve left more control to the user, but either way, is good peace of mind. 
As you will now realise their is a tremendous number of options available under the Parental Control options. You can choose to implement some of these, such as logs and to block adult websites and this may provide you with some peace of mind. Alternatively you can lock down very specific aspects of the operating system, set time limits and access to applications. I high degree of control, requires ongoing refinement and changes to ensure that the controls are not overly prohibitive towards the education experience.

The other important aspect to managing your child digital experience is being a active parent who talks to your child about their technology use. They will be interested to hear that most parents battle with the constant stream of distractions and we are learning to adapt at the same time.

Footnote:
The structure and much of the content of this article are borrowed from the excellent website - Gigaom

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