OS X: Watching Your Kid's Screen (from Across the House!)

It’s hard to be a parent in today’s crazy device-centric world, especially considering how smart kids are about covering their tracks. Luckily, there are quite a few steps you can take to try to figure out if your kids are behaving (or if they’re just doing their gosh-darned homework!). I’ve written about a couple of options before, like managing their Parental Controls while sitting at your own computer and using OpenDNS to filter your kids’ Web usage.

Today, though, I’m going to talk about enabling Remote Management to monitor what your children are doing at any given moment while they’re on your home network. I’m not saying this should necessarily be the first thing you do to keep your kids safe online, but hey, if the little buttheads keep doing stuff they’re not supposed to or that might endanger them, you gotta do what you gotta do, I guess.

First, you’ll need access to the child’s Mac, so go pry it out of his grubby little paws. Then visit System Preferences > Sharing.

Just so you know, I generally recommend keeping the options there on the left side turned off unless you have to use them, as I’m paranoid and even the slightest security risk is like my kryptonite. The checkbox I’ve turned on above, though—“Remote Management”—is the one we’re going to go over, but know that you can also use the “Screen Sharing” feature in a similar way. The downside is that the kid will probably know you’ve logged on, as he’ll be able to see the mouse moving of its own accord, and there’ll be a new menu bar icon that’ll appear while you’re connected. 

So if you don’t want that, “Remote Management” is your new friend. Turn that checkbox on, then decide which accounts you want to use to identify yourself to the kid’s machine. I like to choose “Only these users,” click the plus button, and then add in whichever is the admin account on the Mac. 

Under the “Options” button in the bottom-right of System Preferences > Sharing > Remote Management is where the magic happens afterward. There you can indicate what you’d like to be able to do while you’re logged in remotely by checking the appropriate boxes.

If you want to be stealthy, choose “Observe” only; that way, the child won’t know you’re logged in. But you can also decide to control things, change settings, and so on. Click “OK” when you’ve got things configured, and you’re done!

Now how do you dial in from your own Mac and watch what that dastardly kid is doing? Easy peasy. Just open a Finder window by clicking on the blue smiley face in your Dock, and then under “Shared” in the sidebar, you should see the kid’s Mac appear. 

Click to select it, and then on the other side of the window, choose “Share Screen.”

When the window pops up asking you to sign in, enter the username and password for the account that you designated under “Only these users” above. Then click “Connect.”

If you see a window that looks like the below, pick “Share the display” to watch what your child is doing.

And voilà! You should be able to see the Mac’s screen from across your house. Nifty…and a bit creepy.

As I pointed out, you’ll need to be on the same network as your kiddo for this to work, and I’d strongly suggest testing what you’ve configured before you give the machine back. For one thing, you’ll want to make sure you don’t see a pair of binoculars in his menu bar, indicating what’s going on with any remote connections. If you do see that, turn off “Show Remote Management status in menu bar” under System Preferences > Sharing > Remote Management > Computer Settings.

And there’s one more important caveat. If your child is an administrator on his own machine, he can go in at any point and turn off everything you’ve just set up. If you’re concerned enough about what he’s doing that you’re watching his screen without telling him, then you’ll probably want to enable Parental Controls on his account, too, which’ll mean bumping him down to a managed user with more limited privileges. For some info on doing that, check out Apple’s support article on the subject.