I am one of the many many parents facing the prospect of my two kids spending a whole lot more time in front of the computer screen this fall, due to remote schooling.

I have a ubuntu (actually pop_os) netbook which they'll be using for remote schooling. They each will have a separate account. They very much want to have their own secret password, so they can't spy on (or delete) each others' stuff. However, I would still like to be able to get into their account and check to see that everything is legit.

Ideally, I would like to have a "parental" password which lets me authenticate and initiate a full GUI session as either of them, without changing their ability to manage their own credentials. I looked around the PAM unix auth module and didn't see anything which looked helpful.

note: I do know about sudo. I am looking for a GUI solution, where I initiate a full GUI session as the kid's user via the GDM greeter, but just with my own password rather than theirs.

Is there a way to do this?

1 Answer 1


A single parental account might not be an option, but perhaps a parental account for each of the child accounts...

Create a "parental" account with the same UID, GID, home directory and shell as the child account.

When you login, the system should find the parental account for authentication, but reference the same account parameters as the child account... thus pointing it at the child's home directory with appropriate file ownership & permissions. Since the GUI stores all of it's data (typically) within the users home directory, this should theoretically give you the same experience as the child user.

Repeat for the second child, using a different parental account with the second child's UID, GID, home directory and shell.

You will likely have to implement this at the command line. I'm not sure that GUI-based admin tools will allow you to create accounts with this flexibility.

  • If the two accounts have the same user id, the child will be able to change the password of his/her parent. I have little doubt that any child will readily discover that. That will be a great teaching moment -- for the parent.
    – user313992
    Sep 7, 2020 at 18:19
  • 1
    I don't think so. When a user runs the passwd command, they are only allowed to change their own password and they must provide the current password before being able to change it. An attempt to run "passwd parentalaccount" yields the error "passwd: Only root can specify a user name." I did this test just to make sure, and as a child account, I was unable to change the parent account's password. Login, passwd, and associated commands just look for the first string matche in /etc/passwd and shadow. It's not until after authentication that UID & GID are taken into account.
    – mikem
    Sep 7, 2020 at 18:32

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