iPads and iPhones are a great way to keep children entertained, and there are thousands of great apps for kids. However, it’s important to set up parental controls to prevent them accessing inappropriate content.
In this article, we walk you through the settings and precautions you should set up before handing over an iPhone or iPad to a child. For similar advice related to your Mac, see How to set up parental controls on a Mac.
As part of the iOS 12 update, Apple added a new suite of features called Screen Time, which enable you to monitor and limit your use of apps and websites. These are particularly useful for parents looking to keep tabs on their kids’ usage, and we’re accordingly going to use them in this article.
But if you’re still running iOS 11 (or earlier), don’t stress. That OS has its own parental control features – although they’re a bit more limited – and we show how to use them too. But do consider updating your device, because iOS 12 is great for speeding up old devices as well as adding new features.
Stop kids changing the settings back
We’re going to be setting restrictions on the apps that can be used, the content that can be viewed and the amount of time that can be spent with the device. But none of that helps if the child just turns the restrictions off. We need to put a passcode lock on the settings.
We mention this now because it’s so important. However, the best approach is to get the settings just right, then add a passcode – otherwise you’ll have to keep entering the code each time you change something.
So, when you’ve finished applying all the restrictions discussed below, go to Settings > Screen Time and tap Use Screen Time Passcode, then enter a four-digit code.
That’s in iOS 12. In iOS 11 or earlier, go to Settings > General > Restrictions. You’ll be asked to create a passcode.
Require passwords for every purchase
By default, App Store passwords only have to be entered once every 15 minutes. Enter it once to buy an app, then hand the device over to your kids, and they’ll have a clear quarter of an hour to run up an enormous bill.
To change this (in iOS 12), go to Settings > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions. Turn on restrictions using the toggle at the top then tap iTunes & App Store Purchases and change the Require Password setting to Always Require.
In iOS 11 or earlier it’s actually simpler: go to Settings > General > Restrictions, then change the Require Password setting to Immediately.
Now, every time your child goes to buy something, they’ll be asked to type in the password.
Stop kids downloading apps and IAPs
Rather than insisting on a password, you may find it simpler to stop apps (or in-app purchases) being downloaded at all.
In the same menu above (Settings > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions > iTunes & App Store Purchases) you can tap Installing Apps (and/or In-app Purchases) and change Allow to Don’t Allow. It’s possible to prevent apps being deleted in the same way.
In iOS 11 or earlier, go to the Settings > General > Restrictions menu and change the Installing Apps or In-App Purchases slider to off (from green to white).
How to block specific apps
Go to Settings > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions > Allowed Apps. From here you can turn off access to Mail, Safari, FaceTime, Camera, Siri and other apps and features.
Note that if you block an app, its icon will disappear from the Home screen.
You can do much the same thing in iOS 11’s Restrictions menu.
Block inappropriate content
From iOS 12’s Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions menu, tap Content Restrictions. On the next screen you can fine-tune the ratings you will permit to be downloaded.
Tap Films, for instance, and you can put a tick next to 12 to allow films of that rating or below. There are separate but similar age ratings for apps, and you can specify that books, music and podcasts must be Clean (or allow Explicit as well).
In iOS 11, go to Settings > General > Restrictions to prevent kids from downloading content from the iTunes Store that may be inappropriate. Tap each different type of content (music, movies etc) and choose your preferred age rating.
Set time limits on apps and websites
Now we come to iOS 12’s headline Screen Time feature.
Screen Time monitors how often each app, app category and website is accessed, how often the device is picked up, and how many notifications are coming in (and from which source). This information is available at any time, but you’ll also receive a weekly report. From the report or monitoring page it’s easy to respond by blocking notifications from pestering apps and – most relevantly for our purposes – setting time limits on overused apps.
Assuming you’ve set up Family Sharing, a report will be sent to your device covering your child’s device usage. Explore the report, looking for apps and website that are consuming an unhealthy amount of time. If you spot one, tap the entry and then tap Add Limit at the bottom of the screen, then choose how many hours/minutes will be permitted each day.
You can also decide whether a hard block will be placed on the app at the end of the time period, or if there will just be a visual request to stop. The default setting is Block At End Of Limit. (The child will be able to send you a request to allow extra time.)
Create a new Apple ID
Having read all this advice, you might be thinking: “What about when I want to use my iPad?”
Apple recommends that, for children over 13, you should create an individual Apple ID for them to use. While this removes the nuisance of having to turn restrictions on and off every time you want to use it, you will need to switch from your Apple ID to your child’s and vice versa.
However, the benefit is that you can ensure that your child’s Apple ID has no credit card on file, meaning there’s no money for them to spend in the first place.
In order to switch between Apple IDs, you’ll need to go to Settings and tap the picture/name at the top. Now tap iTunes & App Store, then tap the Apple ID at the top and Sign Out.