How to set up parental controls on iPad or iPhone

Before you hand over your smartphone or iPad or iPhone to a restless kid, shield them from inappropriate content (and avoid surprise charges) with a few simple safeguards.

Photo: Tony Lanz, Toys: courtesy of Playmobil

Photo: Tony Lanz. Toys courtesy of Playmobil.

Have an Android device? Find out how to kid-proof it here!

Strawberry Shortcake is a hero at my house. And that cute little dog from the PlayKids app? Godsend. What do these digital superstars all have in common? On a regular basis, they defuse potentially hostile situations…with my four-year-old, that is. Meltdowns in the car have been averted. An extra 20 minutes of glorious sleep on Saturday mornings has been granted. An hour of sweet, silent sanity for doing nothing in particular has been made possible. All by handing over my iPhone.

But, like many parents, we worry about our kid getting access to content that’s definitely not appropriate. Parental controls are a must to keep her safe online and prevent any exuberant accidental (or not) charges. If setting up restrictions sounds like a daunting task, don’t worry—we’ll break it down for you. Just remember: There’s no settings substitute for keeping a watchful eye on your kids while they’re using your precious smartphone or tablet. Make sure you’re still checking in every once in a while.

Before you hand over your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to your kids, get familiar with iOS’s Restrictions settings, found under the Settings, then General menus. You’ll find many options here, so you’ll need to set them up carefully. On the plus side, when you disable restrictions, all the restrictions disappear and you’ll have full access to all content. But there are two big drawbacks: iOS doesn’t save your restrictions when you disable them, meaning you’ll have to set up restrictions every time you want to enable them. And when you disable restrictions, it can undo your careful app organization.

Enabling Restrictions will allow you to limit and modify access to certain apps and services. It’s password protected, so older kids who know their way around the device won’t be able to modify the restrictions without the password—especially great if you’re considering getting your kid her own device or passing down an older model (more on that in “A device of their own” below). You’ll be able to turn off a range of Apple apps, including Safari, Camera, Siri, Podcasts and the App and iTunes stores—and they’ll be removed from the home screen, which means no surprise music or app purchases. And while most kids’ apps these days have pretty good built-in safeguards against in-app purchases (no Strawberry Shortcake Princess Cake and Colour pack on my dime, thanks), with Restrictions you can turn them off completely. There’s also an option to block your kids from installing or deleting apps.

You can personalize restrictions even further under Allowed Content, where you can set age and ratings restrictions to pretty much all types of content, such as apps, music, movies and books, or turn off some content (such as movies) completely. And under Websites, you can create a list of the sites you want to give them access to, and they won’t be able to view any others. This works across any browser you have installed.

If you’re looking for a tighter grip on what your kid’s doing on your iOS device, there’s Guided Access, found under Settings, then General, then Accessibility. Once it’s turned on, a triple-click of the home button will launch the feature, and your kids will be confined to the app they’re using—say, Netflix—preventing them from exiting, adjusting the volume or even using the touch screen until you disable it with a password. It’s super handy.

For a step-by-step guide to setting up parental controls, check out our video:

A device of their own

Time for a new iPhone or iPad? Don’t toss your old one. Here’s how to prep it for the hand-off:

1. Before you do anything, back up your old device. Connect your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to your computer with the charging cable and launch iTunes. Back up your device so you can restore your saved stuff to your new one.

2. With your old device’s content backed up, you can safely wipe it clean for a fresh start. Tap Settings, then General, and scroll down to Reset. Take a deep breath, and tap Erase All Content and Settings. Your device will be restored to its factory state.

3. Turn it on and set it up as if it’s a new device. Now you can activate all the restrictions and content filtering outlined above, with the benefit of installing only appropriate apps and features.

A version of this article appeared in our January 2016 issue with the headline “Restricted access”, p. 38.

Read more:
Kids and responsible cell phone use
Is using a tablet to keep your kid occupied lazy parenting?
Children and cellphones: Rules that work

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