My brother’s eMac recently suffered a hard drive crash, and he sent me the machine after he upgraded to a new iMac–a move he really needed to make! With the hard drive from my old Linux box, and the memory from our recently deceased G5, we’ve got a nice computer for Madelyn: G4/1GHz, 2GB memory, 40GB hard drive, 17″ screen. It will probably end up in her room, since we really don’t have anywhere else to put it. These days, Madelyn is using our computers more and more adeptly. I’m eager to encourage this, but I don’t want her clicking her life away–if we allowed it, she’d play games on PBSKids.org all day long. Fortunately, Mac OS X has good parental controls built into the OS and core applications like Safari. While Apple has a video tutorial, I wanted to point out several of the ways we have used it.
First, we made accounts for Madelyn on each of our computers. I helped her pick an icon and desktop background on each machine. Erin and I have insisted that Madelyn use her accounts rather than walk up to any computer and start typing. She used to do that. But over time Madelyn has learned that she needs to switch “on her user,” and she changes 95% of the time. (Everybody uses their own accounts in our house–we even have one for the grandparents. All normal accounts have normal privileges; we use separate accounts for system administration.)
Using System Preferences, I turned on Parental Controls for Madelyn’s account. The first and most important item was time limits. More than once we’ve found Madelyn in her pajamas at the computer, up out of bed early in the morning or late at night. If the computer goes in her room, certainly, she’ll keep trying to use it all hours. So we disabled use after 9pm and before 8am. We also turned on the limits on amount of time per day.
These limits work quite well. When the allotted time is almost up, a dialog is raised. Madelyn has learned to read it and will ask for more time. She hasn’t yet learned not to have a fit if we don’t agree to her request, but that’s another story…
I decided against using the “Simple Finder” without even looking at it. Not only do I have bad memories of “At Ease,” the venerable Mac-simplifer, but it seems counter-productive: why not just learn the real interface? Madelyn hasn’t fooled with many applications, so we haven’t done much with the specifics for Mail, iTunes, and other apps which can be controlled. But Safari is another story. We use the whitelist approach, using bookmarks to create a list of sites which Madelyn can visit. Sites can be added on the fly with our administrator username and password. Anything else is blocked.
As Madelyn gets more adept, she’ll get her own email account and other applications will come into play. We’ve talked about buying her a digital camera, too, given that she’s now asking to take pictures. Perhaps Flickr will follow.