Usage control tips for Apple Mac

This page provides basic tips on managing data and controlling the usage of your Apple Mac computer or laptop. It includes the use of parental controls and “screen time” systems.



What is the Apple Mac?

The Apple Mac is the name for computers (desktops and laptops) made and sold by Apple. They include the iMac desktop computers and MacBook laptops.

Apple Mac computers run an operating system called MacOS.

Software for Mac computers is found in a range of places, including the App Store.

The Apple support pages can be very helpful for general information, common tasks or issues.

Parental controls

These are systems that allow you to control who can access what devices, services, or internet pages at any given time.

They are particularly useful for managing child/student access to devices, keeping younger people safe online.

They are also useful in managing or preventing addictive internet behaviours or keeping you focussed on a particular task.

Such controls can form a key part of a cyber-safety program.

Disclaimer: Regional Tech Hub are not specialists in this area.  This page presents a small sample of the tools you can use to manage your own and your child’s device.  We encourage you to read widely on this topic if you have school-aged children and remind you that many social media platforms require children to be at least 13 years of age to join.

Apple Parental Controls – for older Macs

These are available in older Macs, running MacOS Mojave or older.

Find out which macOS your Mac is using


“Parental Controls” applies only to the Mac on which they’re running.


This is as opposed to the newer Apple Screen Time, which allows you control over both the Mac they’re on, any devices signed into your account, and/or any devices managed with Family Sharing.

Open “Settings” and then select “Parental Controls”.

You can control:

  • Apps – lets you restrict a user’s ability to join multiplayer games in the Game Center, restrict the use of email to only known contacts, controls access to the device’s built-in camera, and limits access to installed apps.
  • Web – lets you limit access to certain websites via any browser.
  • Stores – lets you manage the use of the iTunes Store and limit access to particular apps, movies, TV shows, music, and books.
  • Time – Lets you schedule time limits so that the account in question can only be used, for example, during weekends, on weekdays, or a few hours before bedtime.
  • Privacy – Gives you control over which apps and services can access user data.
  • Other – Here you can prevent access to printer and scanner settings, disable the use of Siri and Dictation, prohibit the burning of discs, hide profanity in dictionaries, and prevent the Dock from being modified. You can also switch to a simplified view of the Mac desktop for further peace of mind.

MacUpdate: The Ultimate Guide to Mac Parental Controls

Protect Young Eyes: The Complete Guide to MacBook Parental Controls

Apple Screen Time – for newer Macs

“Screen time” is a term that means “the time someone spends looking at a computer or device screen”. It’s widely acknowledged that too much time “on the screen” can be bad for both mental and physical health, even though you or your children might want to spend more time looking at your screens.

Apple’s Screen Time is built-in to macOS Catalina and better.

Find out which macOS your Mac is using

The Apple Screen Time feature allows you to manage how you, your children, or your family use your Apple computers and devices.

For example, you can:

  • Access real-time reports about how much time you spend on your computer, iPhone or iPad.
  • Set limits on how the device is used, and for how long.
  • Block or limit specific apps and features on your and your child’s device.
  • Restrict access to explicit content, purchases and downloads,
  • Tighten privacy.

Managing Screen Time is covered in detail in several places. We’ll cover the basics here. Please use the Apple or other websites for more detailed information.

MacRumors: How to Use Screen Time on Mac

Turn on Screen Time

You need to turn on Screen Time on all the computers and devices that you want to track.

For iPhones and iPads, turn on Screen Time under “Settings”.

  1. Go into “Settings”, and select “Screen Time”. This displays the “Screen Time” screen.

2. Click “Options” on the bottom left-hand side.

3. Click “Turn On”.

4. Screen time is now turned on.

How you set up Screen Time depends on whether you’re setting it up for you or a child.

Track app and device usage in Screen Time on Mac

How often is the device or an app being used?

The top three settings provide general reporting on how the computer or app is being used.

  • App usage reports on the use of specific apps.
  • Notifications reports on how many notifications are received from each appl, across devices.
  • Pickups reports on how many times a device was picked up, and what app was opened first.

You can select specific devices from the bottom of the page, or report on all devices.

Set usage limits

Use the Downtime, App Limits, Communication LimitsAlways Allowed, and Content & Privacy features in the Screen Time sidebar to schedule downtime and set limits on apps and websites. Limits apply to this Mac and all of your other devices that are using Screen Time and have “Share across devices” turned on.

Family Sharing

Family Sharing creates a family group that up to six people with separate Apple accounts can join. Those people can then share the iTunes Store, App Store and Apple Books purchases and an iCloud storage plan, but without having the same username and password.

You need to create a Family Sharing group to manage your child’s device if they have their own Apple login.


Set up Family Sharing on Mac

Other parental control systems

In addition to the systems built-in to the Apple operating systems, there’s a range of other services you could look at.

  • Microsoft Family Safety. This is an app that provides many of the same services as the controls built-in to iOS. However, it works for anyone who has a Microsoft 365 account, can be viewed via a webpage when on a computer, has apps for Android and Apple systems, and may be useful if you’re trying to manage a range of devices and computers.
  • NetNanny software. Available for Mac, Windows, and mobile devices.

Browse these lists to find other options.

Other time-tracker apps

If you just need to track your time, you might find the Parental Controls or Screen Time systems too limiting. You may need to track and record time for work purposes, for example.

Look instead for apps or software that track, record, and manage your time.

Control data usage

There’s a range of ways to prevent your Apple devices from using more Wi-Fi data than you’re expecting.

We’ve listed the easiest and most common ways to turn off, or on, various features built-in to the devices, to keep data usage to a bare minimum.

Note that many of these options relate to automatic or background functions of the device or apps. You may find you don’t get notifications, that apps are a little out-of-date, or news doesn’t refresh when you use some of these functions.

Experiment with turning various features on and off until you’ve got the right balance of being kept informed and up-to-date, having to manually update content, and keeping data costs low.

You may need to re-apply these settings after completing an update to your device.

Use the Activity Monitor

Closing, exiting or cancelling any unused background process gives more space back to the computer itself, and may stop unnecessary apps and software from using up data.

However, use this very carefully.

If you do not know what a process does, search its name. Do not disable processes if you are unsure, as some processes are necessary for your computer to function normally. You can stop applications like Skype, your printer applications, camera updaters etc from being automatically loaded at start-up. Applications like your antivirus software need to be loaded at start-up.

MacOS User Guide: Activity Monitor

Disable or defer updates

Operating system software and all apps in the Mac App Store will automatically download and update themselves.

If you have an nbn™ Sky Muster™ Plus plan, note that operating and software updates are not metered.

However, if you have metered internet or are living in a data drought, you’ll probably want to stop these updates from downloading in the background.

Turn off automatic operating system updates

It is recommended to leave “Install system data files and security updates” on.

For MacOS Catalina and upwards:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Click “Software Update”.
  3. Click the check box next to “Automatically keep my Mac up-to-date” to turn this option off. You may need to enter your main password.
  4. You can also click “Advanced” to turn specific options on or off.


For MacOS Mojave and older:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Click “App Store”. Click next to the options you want to turn on or off.



To manually install apps and software

In MacOS Catalina and newer:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Click “Software Update”.
  3. Click “Check for updates” or “Update now”, depending on the option available.

For MacOS Mojave and older:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Click “App Store”
  3. Click “Show Updates”. This will list the updates available. You can then decide on which updates are the most important and click on “Update” or “Update all” (if you have the required data available).

We always recommend having your computer backed up to an external hard drive before making any major updates, whether automatic or manual.

For more information:

MacOS User Guide: Keep your Mac up-to-date

Disable notifications

Notifications can use just a small amount of data each time, but your Mac is constantly checking to see if there’s anything to be downloaded, so it can rapidly add up.

You can hide notifications for individual applications, or for all of your computer.

Apple User Guide: Receive, pause or stop notifications on Mac

How-to Geek: How to Quickly Turn Off App Notifications on Mac

Stop syncing to iCloud

iCloud stores Mac-based data remotely. It’s a good way to get information off your hard drive, but can use up a lot of data, as it’s constantly transferred between your computer and iCloud.

You can choose which apps or software synchronise – sync – their content to iCloud or not.

Note that this may impact information synchronised between your iPhone/iPad and your desktop – for example, contacts, photos, and notes.

  1. Go into Settings > iCloud (for more recent computers, click your name first).
  2. Turn appropriate apps on and off, so you have the right balance between using data and having shared information.

Apple: Change your iCloud settings

Note that the same applies to any other cloud service you might use, such as Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive.

Need more information?

Contact our Helpdesk directly.