Guide to Parental Controls on Macs

Written by Tech Expert:

Jessica Hill

What are macOS devices?

Computers produced by Apple run the MAC operating system, often described as macOS.

It’s important to remember that iOS devices are designed for and default to settings suitable for adults. This means access to adult material, access to compulsive games and social platforms and no limits to what can be consumed and for how long. And through messaging and location services iOS devices allow people you don't know to interact with your children.

In our experience, setting up a macOS device to be child-safe is a moderate-high on the difficulty scale. This is because there are many exposures that require consideration, and for determined tech-savvy teens, there are methods to avoid almost any measures you put in place.

Set out below is our guide on the basic cyber safety steps you need to complete for macOS devices. But please remember, cyber safety technology and settings are only one part of the picture. Engaging with your child’s technology use, monitoring and communication are critical to keeping your child cyber-safe and supporting their journey to becoming a savvy digital citizen.

Setting up parental controls on Catalina

What is Catalina?

Catalina was released in October 2019 and with it came the meringue of the parental control features of Apple Screentime for iOS and macOS devices.

If your Mac device is not running Catalina, we recommend you upgrade it. If it doesn’t support Catalina, we recommend you getting a new device.

All instructions in this guide assume you are using Catalina.

How can I upgrade to Catalina?

To find out how to upgrade to Catalina, read Apple's upgrade guide.

To find out what devices are compatible, check Apple Support

NOTE: Catalina is just over 8GB. Depending on your internet, it may take some time to download and set up. 

To set up Screen Time you must first set up Apple Family Sharing. This allows you to create a Family Group and then set rules for Apple services such as iCloud, iMessage, FaceTime and Game Center.

Step 1: Set up Family Sharing

Family Sharing allows you to manage up to six family members to share App Store purchases and Apple subscriptions, including an iCloud storage plan, and more. 

NOTE: You can be a part of only one family at a time.

On your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch

  1. Go to Settings > [your name]. If you’re using iOS 10.2 or earlier, go to Settings > iCloud.

  2. Tap Set Up Family Sharing, then tap Get Started. Follow the on-screen instructions to set up your family and invite your family members.

  3. If you’re using iOS 11 or later, choose the first feature you’d like to share with your family. Then follow the instructions to invite your family members using iMessage.

On your Mac

  1. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Family Sharing.

  2. Confirm the Apple ID that you want to use for Family Sharing, and make sure that Share My Purchases is selected.

  3. Follow the on-screen instructions.

Step 2: Set up your child’s Apple ID

To participate in Family Sharing, all family members must have their own Apple ID. Children under 13 can't create an Apple ID on their own. However, the family organiser can. 

If your child does not yet have an Apple ID, use the steps below to create one.

On a Mac

  1. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences > Family Sharing, then click Add Family Member. On a Mac with macOS Mojave or earlier, choose Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Family Sharing > iCloud > Manage Family and click the Add button. 

  2. Select Create an Apple ID for a child who doesn't have an account and click Continue.

  3. Enter your child's birthday. Be sure to enter the correct date — you can't change it later.

  4. Enter your child's Apple ID (, first and last name and password. On a Mac with macOS Catalina, you can also select to Share your child's location with your family. Click Next.

  5. Enter the requested information for your payment method and click Agree. If you don't have a payment method on file, you need to add one.

  6. Follow the on-screen instructions to set a password, choose security questions and set up your child's account. Choose passwords and security questions that you can both remember. You'll get an email confirmation after you create the Apple ID.

Step 3: Invite people to join your family

You can add anyone who has an Apple ID to your family (provided they are not in another family).

On your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch

  1. Go to Settings > [your name] > Family Sharing.

  2. Tap Add Family Member.

  3. Enter your family member's name or email address and follow the on-screen instructions.

  4. Choose whether you’d like to send an invitation via Messages or to invite them in person. Then follow the on-screen instructions.

On your Mac (macOS Catalina)

  1. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences.

  2. Click Family Sharing.

  3. Click Add Family Member, then follow the on-screen instructions.

If your family member is with you, they can enter their Apple ID password on your device to accept the invitation. You can also send them an invitation, and they can accept from their device. If you have multiple Apple IDs in the iTunes Store and the App Store, you can invite each of your accounts to the group, so you can share purchases from your other Apple IDs with your family.

If your child has a Game Center account

If you want to add a child under 13 that already has a Game Center account, but not an Apple ID, follow these steps.

  1. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences > Family Sharing.

  2. Click the Add button, then enter the child's Game Center nickname.

  3. Follow the on-screen instructions.

The child gets a message to enter their Game Center password. After they enter their password, the child is part of your Family Sharing group.

Step 4: Create an device user account for your child

Your next step is to register your child on your macOS device by creating a user login for them.

  1. Sign in to the macOS device using the administrative login and go to System Preferences (click the Apple logo top left and scroll down to “System Preferences”).

  2. Click on Users & Groups and then add a new Standard login.

  3. Create a new password for your child’s login that they can remember to use when they/you login (not too simple!). 

  4. Exit out and then log out of your main admin account and re-log in with the new child’s account.

Step 5: Set up Screen Time

You can now set up Screen Time.

  1. Sign in to your child's device using their sign in account. 

  2. During setup be sure to enter your child’s family sharing Apple ID.

  3. Follow instructions to complete setup.

  4. Click on System Preferences (via the preferences icon in the lower dock or go to the Apple logo top left of any screen).

  5. Scroll down to Screen Time.

  6. Set a parental control passcode which is hard to guess and then set your preferences. There are many options available in Screen Time. Here are our recommendations:


Allows you to set time periods where the device (except for calls) is inoperable. This can be a good feature for younger children, however, home lives are so dynamic you may find yourself constantly adjusting the rules - and you need to do this on your child’s device.

At most, we suggest setting a bedtime as downtime.

App Limits

You can set time limits for categories of apps and specific apps.

We suggest setting daily limits for Social Networking & Games and Entertainment. Nothing too restrictive unless there are behavioural issues you’re addressing.

Communication Limits

You can set time limits for use of the iOS communication services such as calls an iMessage. 

Managing iMessage is a big challenge for parents. If you’ve set a Downtime (above) then iMessage will be blocked at that time. You can modify this, however, we suggest you don’t.

Always allowed

We recommended leaving this as Phone calls.

Content & Privacy Restrictions

This can be daunting as there are an enormous number of options. Here are our recommendations:

  • If you’re using Family Zone, we recommend permitting your child to install apps and let Family Zone notify you so you can talk to your child about them. 
  • We suggest you disable deletion of apps, because kids can uninstall and reinstall apps to bypass screen-time limits.
  • If you’ve set up a debit card for your children to manage spending & pocket money, we recommend permitting in-app purchases. If not, we suggest setting up Apple Family Sharing. Google this to find out more.
  • Block explicit content and mature content in the Content Restrictions area for Music, Movies, TV and Books. Note, this only works with Apple delivered media.
  • Select Limit Adult Websites in Web Content. Again this won’t block everything nasty.
  • Set Siri to not accept explicit language.
  • Depending on your child’s chosen settings for their gaming, we’d suggest not allowing the adding of friends until teenage years.

Privacy / Location

We suggest disabling location settings for all apps other than what you use to locate your child and their devices until your children are teenagers. The risks here are with predators locating your children in gaming and social media apps.

Of course, many children today use services like Uber, Maps, Pokemon Go, etc. which rely on location. So there are important judgments to be made by you.