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Parental Controls Part 1: iPhone

A parent’s most important (and sometimes hardest) job is keeping their kids safe. That’s as true when they use technology as it is when they do anything else. With technology, though, the process can sometimes be tricky and confusing. It can be hard to know the best way to protect our kids from unsavory content on the internet, and our wallets from accidental in-app purchases. Fortunately, Apple offers some great options for managing your kids’ activity on their iPhone. In today’s post, we’ll walk you through some of those.

Restrictions

Your first line of defense is the Restrictions section of your iPhone’s settings app. You can find it by opening up Settings, tapping General, and then tapping Restrictions. When you turn restrictions on, you’ll be asked to set up a passcode. Of course, you’ll want to pick something that’s different from the passcode that unlocks the phone, and something the child who will be using the phone doesn’t know and won’t be likely to guess.

Once you get into the Restrictions section, you’ll find that you have a ton of options. You can restrict access to built-in apps like Safari, the camera, Siri, FaceTime, the iTunes Store, the App Store, and more. You can also also take away the ability to install apps, delete apps, and make in-app purchases. In the “Allow Content” section, you can control the content that’s allowed on the phone. You can decide whether music, podcasts, news, and iTunes U content containing explicit language will be allowed to play on the device. You can limit the ratings that are allowed for movies, TV shows, and apps. There’s also a setting that controls which websites can be visited in Safari. You can allow all websites, limit adult content, or restrict the browser to only visiting a list of websites you designate.

And that’s just the beginning. There are a whole host of other settings that allow you to limit what can be done on your child’s iPhone.

Family Sharing and Parental Controls

Device restrictions are a powerful tool for managing your child’s activity on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, and for many parents they’re more than enough, but there are times you might find that you want to allow your child a little more freedom and autonomy while still maintaining some control over their activities. For that, the Family Sharing options offered by iCloud can be very effective. Family Sharing is a feature that allows members of the same household to link their iCloud accounts so that they can share purchased content (including iCloud storage space and Apple Music plans). So, for example, if your spouse buys a book in the iBooks store that you want to read, you can download it with your account without having to re-purchase it.

Family Sharing also allows the family organizer (the person who manages the Family Sharing account) to create iCloud accounts for children in the household. This allows kids to have some of the autonomy of having their own iCloud account - email addresses, separate profiles in Apple Music, etc. - while still letting their parents retain control of the account. When you make an iCloud account for your child in Family Sharing, you can turn on a feature called Ask To Buy, that prevents them from installing any apps or purchasing any content (including in-app purchases) without permission. All Family Sharing members’ locations are also automatically added to the Find My Friends and Find My iPhone apps, making it easy for you to keep an eye everybody in the family.

Device Management Apps

While Restrictions and Family Sharing allow you to do a lot to monitor and limit what your kids do on their iPhones, there are still a few limitations. For example, if you want to restrict their access to third party apps, set screen time limits, or create a geofence that will alert you if your child moves outside a designated geographical area, things get a lot trickier. While both Apple and Google have some of these features in the works, they aren’t widely available yet - Apple’s Screen Time feature won’t be coming out until they release iOS 12, and while Google’s Digital Wellbeing service was bundled with Android 9 Pie, it’s technically still in beta, and Android 9 won’t make its way to the majority of Android phones for some time yet.

Fortunately, there are quite a few apps out there that already have many of these features. Services like OurPact, Norton Family, Qustodio, Kaspersky Safe Kids, and others all leverage the device management features that were built into iOS and Android for business customers and allow parents to use them to manage their kids’ phones. In most cases, setup and use of these apps is pretty easy, the monthly or yearly fees for the service are quite reasonable, and there are apps available for both Android and iOS phones, which can be really helpful if you’re in a mixed-device household. The feature sets differ somewhat - for example, some apps don’t offer geofencing, others don’t allow time limits for specific apps - they all allow you a much finer level of control over your child’s device than iOS’s built-in Restrictions or Family Sharing’s parental features give you.

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