Child-proofing your Mac – Part One


Many of us are finding that our computers are not our own. Whether it’s our partners, our kids, or household visitors, the “can I use your computer” question is becoming more frequent.

Whether you are sharing your baby with your babies, or your kids have their own Mac, there are a few simple steps you can take to keep your Mac safe and keep your family safer online.

First steps – each user gets their own space.

Picture this  scenario – you loan out your laptop for a quick bit of homework.  When it comes back, the window you had open in Word contains your third-grader’s book report on “How to Eat Fried Worms“. The fiscal-year summary you’ve been slaving over for the boss? History. All those icons that cluttered the desktop? History. Tax return you were working on (one of those icons)? History.

If you setup everyone with their own desktop, they leave your stuff alone, you leave theirs alone, everyone gets along.

This is *very* easy to setup, especially if you do so early on.

Step 1: Setup the accounts

  A.  Open System Preferences (from the dock, in Applications, or under the Apple menu top left of the screen). Click on “Accounts” or “Users” or “Users & Groups” (varies, based on which version of Mac OS X you are using.

If it says at the bottom “click here to make changes”, do so, and enter your password. This is the one you enter when you install programs, do updates, or when you first set up your Mac.

  B. Add a user.

Click the plus sign (lower left portion of the window), and enter a name for the new user account and give it a password. (Note: Do *not* check the “allow user to administer this computer” button).  Click “Ok” or “Create User” to save your work.

Don’t get too creative here – each person’s actual name is fine. If you’re setting up to share this with your kids, have them help you pick a password. It should be something they can remember, and you should write it down (see “Should I Know my Kid’s Password”). For younger kids, even “cat” is fine. Just the fact that there is a password helps keep everyone segregated. Not only do you not want the kids logged in to your account and messing up your files, you don’t want your spouse inadvertently saving files on the kids’ desktops and then being unable to find them later.

  C. Add more users.

Repeat the above for each additional user. I also like to add one for “everyone else” to use, for when Uncle Marty comes over.

2. Make it work automagically

Now we set things up to keep everyone from inadvertently logging in as someone else.

If you haven’t yet created additional users on your Mac prior to this, it will likely be set to log in automatically. Under the list of users in System Preferencs->Accounts, click on “Login Options”, and set “Automatic Login” to “Off”.

Last, set it so you can ‘sleep’ the Mac, or walk away and have it lock the screen after a short while. Still in System Preferences, click on “Show All”, then on “Security”.

Set “Require password after sleep or screen saver” to “Immediately” or at least a short interval.

Then, set the machine to lock after inactivity. You can do this either in ScreenSaver or in Energy Saver section of System Preferences. Set the “display sleep” in Energy Saver, or the “Start Screen Saver” in Screen Saver preferences to a small number – just a few minutes, usually.

Stay tuned for “Thoughts on Kids: Passwords, Rights and Responsibilities”!