Fixing Parental Controls problem in OS X 10.8.2

If parental control settings for managed accounts are not working after updating OS X, there are several remedies you can try.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
3 min read

After updating to OS X 10.8.2, a number of people who use Apple's Parental Controls feature have reported that it is rejecting all Web sites that use the secure HTTPS protocol, which can include financial and educational sites, but also some popular commercial sites like Google.

Parental Controls allows an administrator to set time limits and content filters for a specific user account, including restrictions on Web access. Since secured Web sites that use the HTTP protocol cannot be properly examined for approval by this service, when site filtering is enabled they are blocked by default and must be explicitly allowed in the Parental Controls' Always Allow list. However, for some people in OS X 10.8.2, Parental Controls is invoking a restriction regardless of the settings and rejecting these sites, even when Web filtering is disabled.

This bug not only affects Web sites, but also any program that uses SSL connections for its embedded services, resulting in some third-party games and tools not running properly.

While a burden for those experiencing it, this problem is not universal and does not seem to happen on systems that have newly created managed accounts. Therefore it may only be an issue with how previous account settings are being handled.

As a result, if you are experiencing this problem then there are several approaches you can take:

  1. Create a new restricted user account
    If the account being used was fairly bare without many changes to settings and services, stored documents, and program preferences, then you might try creating a new account to replace the current one. Most people have likely spent enough time customizing their accounts that they won't want to do this, but for those who haven't, it could be a quick way to start anew.
  2. Managed user parental control settings
    Parental Controls settings are located in a folder for each managed user in this location on the Hard Drive. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET
  3. Remove Parental Control settings
    A more attractive option might be to try clearing parental control settings for the user account. To do this, log in to an administrator account and go to the Macintosh HD/Library/Managed Preferences/ folder. In here you will find a folder for each managed user, which contains a set of property list preferences for the various restrictions imposed by Parental Controls.

    The plists files in this folder hold the specific settings for each component of the Parental Controls service, and are then lumped together by the master plist file called "complete.plist." The Web site filtering features are stored in the "com.apple.familycontrols.contentfilter.plist" file, so try removing that one, then logging out and back in to the restricted account to see if this helps the situation.

    If the problem persists, then try removing the entire settings folder that contains these files for the user, and setting up the parental restrictions again in the system preferences.
  4. Enabling and disabling Parental Controls
    Toggle between these two options for the user account to disable and re-enable parental controls. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET
  5. Clear and reset the Managed Account status
    A last approach to try after removing Parental Control settings is to clear and reinstate the Managed Account status for the problematic accounts.

    In OS X, each user account is defined in part by a property list in a central database that contains details like the user's account picture, home folder location, local user ID, and other security keys and hashes for account identification, among other default options for the account. If the account is managed, then one of these is an embedded copy of the "complete.plist" property list (mentioned above) that is also seen in the Macintosh HD/Library/Managed Preferences/ folder.

    The bug being experienced here may involve a conflict with the settings in this embedded plist, so the last approach is to try clearing this embedded file. You cannot do this manually without risking damaging the account; however, since administrator accounts do not have this feature you can force the system to remove it by temporarily promoting the account to administrator and then demoting it again. To do this, go to the Accounts system preferences and check the option to allow the user to administer the computer. Confirm that you wish to do this,then enable the Parental Controls option again, which will remove admin status from the account.

After performing these steps, go to the Parental Controls system preferences and try setting them up again for the account.

Thanks to MacFixIt reader "Outer" for writing in about this issue.

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