While there are things about Apple that really make me angry, such as most new App Store policies, there is one thing that they have always done right: interfaces. From the Apple IIe to the current IOS, Apple has always been ahead of the curve on user interfaces. Therefore, it should have been no surprise to me when I switched to Mac OS that they had given a lot of thought to parental controls and the interface needs of a child. Just to preëmpt objections from Windows users, yes I know that Windows 7 has many parental controls, but traditionally Windows users have relied upon third-party applications for parental controls (e.g., NetNanny, KidsDesk). Plus, I have to write about what I know and leave it to others to write about the controls available on Windows, Linux or your operating system of choice. Regardless of your OS, I encourage you to explore what is available to you.
If you are a Mac user and a parent, check out this video. There are so many cool things you can do, especially for little kids. First off, consider your applications. You really don’t want your pre-schooler or toddler to do much, except play a few specific games. No problem. You can disable certain apps, or better yet, just allow the few that are made for kids. Your little kids have trouble double-clicking to launch something. No problem; set it to work with single clicks. Are you tired of fixing the finder window after they make all their crazy settings changes? No problem, use the Simple Finder with a more child friendly interface. And if you want to get advanced, you can even lock the dock so they can’t drag icons off it just to hear that “poofing” sound of the icon disappearing. I even did this to my wife’s account because it became such a favorite pastime for our first child when discovering an unattended computer.
Another great feature is time limits. I define when the day starts and ends for the kids on school days and weekends. They can’t login after bedtime, and they are logged off if they are on when bedtime comes. Being a science-based parent who has seen research over and over showing how we should limit the screen time of little children, we decided that we only want our 5-year-old to have 30 minutes a day on the computer. I don’t want to track how long he has been on it, though. But I don’t have to, Mac OS does that. The best part is that it gives our child verbal and visual warnings when time is running out. There is no nagging him to log out. The computer does it, not Daddy, and there is no point in arguing and whining to the computer.
While you can filter web content with the OS controls or with another service like OpenDNS, I prefer to have a short white list of pre-approved websites for our kids. There are only 5 or 6 sites I want my preschooler to visit, and those are chosen by me and automatically bookmarked. If they want to go to an unapproved site in the future, it is simple enough for me to enter a password and temporarily allow it.
When my children get past the preschool age, I’ll probably take advantage of more features, like having white lists of pre-approved email and IM contacts. While none of these things will stop a budding young hacker, they are very effective for young children and probably most older kids. Whether you have a Mac or not, I strongly suggest checking out the parental controls available to you. It can at least make this one part of parenting a little easier.