How to set up parental controls on iPad or iPhone & stop kids buying apps & IAPs

Want to make your iPad or iPhone more child-friendly? Here’s how to limit kids’ access to iOS devices and stop them buying apps or making costly in-app purchases – we show how to use restrictions, passcodes, new Apple IDs and iTunes Gift Cards to limit children’s access

What’s the best way to make my old iPad kid-friendly? What parental controls should I set up, and how can I make sure my children don’t buy a load of expensive apps?

Kids love iPads and iPhones. They’re a great way to keep children entertained during the summer holidays, with thousands of apps available for them to enjoy, including games, books and educational apps. (For more on that, see our roundup of the Best iOS apps for kids.) However, you need to make sure that any device you hand over to your kids is child-friendly, with parental controls in place to prevent them accessing inappropriate content.

And don’t forget the potential financial pitfalls. There have been a few high-profile incidents where parents were faced with huge App Store bills after their kids unwittingly downloaded apps and in-app purchases (read about 7 of the most insanely expensive in-app purchases), so it’s worth taking precautions to ensure that your children aren’t able to do the same.

In this article, then, we walk you through all the precautions you should take before handing over an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch to a child. We cover both semi-permanent changes, for cases where you’re handing down an old Apple device to a child to use in perpetuity (this is covered in the first section of the article), and temporary measures to set up when a youngster is merely borrowing the device.

Read next: Best iPad cases for kids | Is it safe for kids to use an iPad? | How to set up parental controls on Mac

How to set up parental controls on iPad  iPhone

How to set up parental controls on iPad iPhone: Set up an old iPad or iPhone before passing it on to a child

With seven generations of iPads now available, it’s becoming increasingly common to find multiple iPads in a home, and some of them are being passed on to children. So what can you do to make such an iPad (or an iPhone, fo that matter) useful and safe for your child? These steps are a good place to start.

Step 1: Wipe the device

When giving an iPad or iPhone to another person, it’s imperative – for general security reasons as well as ones specific to younger users – that you remove all your data from it.

Back up the device first (because you may want to restore that data to a new tablet), then open the Settings app. Select General, then scroll down and select Reset, and then Erase All Contents and Settings. Enter your passcode. You’ll get one last warning: confirm you decision by tapping Erase one last time.

Read more: How to reset/wipe an iPhone or iPad

How to set up parental controls on iPad or iPhone: Erase device

Step 2: Decide if you’re going to download apps yourself, or create an Apple ID for your child

If you’ve got a young child, you should take responsibility for selecting apps on their behalf and purchasing and downloading the apps through your own App Store account. That way, not only will you know exactly what’s on their iPad, but you can also deal with organising and configuring the apps yourself.

Older children will want an Apple ID of their own. If you let them set one up, they’ll appreciate having the independence to download the apps and media they want, rather than simply the ones you’ve decided are appropriate. But there are some other benefits too: their apps are tied to their account and they won’t have access to yours, some of which may be inappropriate for children. (If you go down this route, you may want to create a separate account for them on your Mac or PC too.) 

Read more: How to set up an Apple ID

Step 3: Enable Restrictions

iOS offers broad options to switch off Safari, YouTube, iTunes and Ping, and to disable the ability to install and delete apps. Additionally, you can allow app and media downloads based on their rating – restricting movies to U and PG ratings, and apps to ages 12 and over, for instance – and prevent your child from making in-app purchases, playing multiplayer games, and adding friends within Game Center.

To set up restrictions, launch Settings on the iPad, tap General, and then tap Restrictions. Everything will be greyed out until you tap Enable Restrictions at the top of the screen, whereupon you’ll be prompted to enter and confirm a four-digit passcode. (This doesn’t need to correspond to your usual passcode, if you use one, although it may be easier to remember if it does. Just make sure your child doesn’t already know that one!) If anyone tries to change your settings, they’ll first need to enter the code you selected at this point.

How to set up parental controls on iPad  iPhone: Restrictions

Now that Restrictions are enabled, you can toggle specific apps and functions on an off – if the slider next to an item is green, the child can access it; if it’s white, a passcode will need to be entered in order to either access the function or to disable the restriction entirely.

Step 4: Configure email

If your child hasn’t got an email address, you can obtain a free one from a source such as Gmail or Yahoo. Both services ask that the owner of the email address be at least 13 years old, although they have no way of confirming the owner’s actual age.

Unwanted email can be a problem with iOS devices because, unlike with OS X’s parental controls, you have no way of limiting the addresses your child can receive email from or send email to on the device. Gmail and Yahoo allow you to create limited whitelists of senders the recipient should always receive messages from, but offers no way to block senders who aren’t on the list. The same applies to iCloud email accounts. You can set up basic filters on the iCloud website, but they can’t prevent the sending of mail to your child’s iCloud email account.

For this reason, you should be completely sure that your child can handle the responsibility that comes with an email account (and is willing to tell you if they are receiving inappropriate messages).

Step 5: Choose apps for the iPad

If you want complete control over the apps that your child can install on the iPad, switch off restrictions if they’re enabled, sit down with them, and choose some appropriate apps. When you’ve finished, switch restrictions On and toggle the Installing Apps option from green to white. This prevents your child from installing apps.

Step 6: The talk

Here’s a general piece of advice: whenever you give – or rather, consider giving – your child access to a piece of technology, you should first sit down and chat to them about its benefits and dangers. In this case, the talk should address the importance of setting limits on iPad use, asserting your right as a parent to check up on your child and warning of the dangers of giving out personal details on the internet.

Bear in mind that, in order to be effective, the approach should be age-appropriate. You don’t want to terrify younger children with visions of internet bogeymen, nor should you overprotect a teenager. Your advice should be similar to that for a traveller in a new city: get the lay of the land, learn about the dangers and opportunities and have a good time.

How to set up parental controls on iPad iPhone: Complaints and rules related to kids’ app in-app purchases

Back in 2014, Apple agreed to refund at least $32.5m (about £20m) to parents whose kids racked up huge bills through in-app purchases in the US. The agreement was made to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint. As part of the settlement, Apple was also required to change its billing practices by 31 March 2014 to help prevent these occurances from happening in the future.

According to the FTC, Apple received tens of thousands of complaints about unauthorised in-app purchases downloaded by kids.

On 30 January of that year, the UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announced the introduction of new in-app purchase standards that were decided following a year-long investigation, and gave developers two months to update their apps to comply with the new guidelines.

From 1 April 2014, all apps were instructed to clearly disclose information about the costs associated with a game before it is downloaded, ensure that users are not led to believe they are required to pay in order to proceed if payment is not necessary, provide information about the app developer to enable the consumer to get in touch to make a complaint, and insist on “informed consent”.

Additionally, the new principles also mean developers are no longer able to use language that disguises the commercial intent of any in-game promotion or paid-for content. For example, if an app uses similar language to encourage the player to buy one thing with in-game currency and the other with real money, it’s unlikely to comply with the OFT standards as it’s difficult to distinguish when real money is required. Another example is if a game encourages the player to play an aspect of the game that cannot be completed without making a payment.

These new guidelines should help prevent children from unintentionally spending real money within apps, but the easiest way to make sure that your kids don’t end up downloading any apps or in-app purchases on your iOS device is to ensure that they never get hold of your password. 

Each time they want to download or purchase something, it will ask for your Apple ID password. Enter your password yourself every time.

How to set up parental controls on iPad iPhone: How to turn on restrictions

You should be aware that, when you enter your password, the default is that it will not need to be entered again for 15 minutes. Within that time, your children could accidentally download hundreds of pounds worth of in-app purchases.

For example, in 2013, five-year-old Danny Kitchen was playing Zombies vs Ninja when he asked his dad for the password to the family iTunes account so that he could download the free-to-play app. However, Danny then went on to download a £69.99 in-app purchase 19 times within the next ten minutes as the password did not need to be entered again.

To change this setting and prevent this from happening, go to Settings General Restrictions, and then change the ‘Require Password’ setting to ‘Immediately’. Now, every time your child goes to buy something, whether it is an app or in-app purchase, they’ll be asked to type in the password before they can progress further.

To stop your kids from having access to the Restrictions menu and changing the settings back (if your kids are a little older and more tech-savvy), you’ll be asked to set up a PIN code.

How to set up parental controls on iPad iPhone: How to restrict access to apps

You can ensure that your child doesn’t download any apps at all by going to the Restrictions menu and changing the ‘Installing Apps’ slider to off (from green to white). Within this menu, you can also turn off Safari, Camera, FaceTime, iTunes, iBookstore, Deleting Apps, Siri and Explicit Language for further control over your child’s access to your iPad or iPhone’s features.

How to set up parental controls on iPad iPhone: How to turn off in-app purchases

You can also turn in-app purchases off completely from this menu if you want to. You’ll find the on/off slider towards the bottom of the restriction options.

Within the Restrictions menu, you can also prevent kids from downloading content from the iTunes Store that may be inappropriate, by tapping each different type of content (music, movies etc.) and choosing your preferred age rating.

How to set up parental controls on iPad iPhone: How to turn on device passcodes

It’s not just within apps or on the iTunes App Store that kids can end up spending their parents’ money without realising. In July 2013, a 14-month-old girl accidentally purchased a car using the eBay app when she was playing with her dad’s iPhone. In this case, to prevent a child from being able to access your iPhone or iPad at all, you’ll want to set up a device passcode.

To set up a passcode, go to Settings General Passcode Lock and tap ‘Turn Passcode On.’

You can then choose your passcode. If you slide the ‘Simple Passcode’ slider to off, you’ll be able to type a word rather than the default four-digit number to use as your passcode.

How to set up parental controls on iPad iPhone: 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 iTunes App Stores and then tap on Apple ID to log out.

How to set up parental controls on iPad iPhone: Give kids iTunes Gift Cards or iTunes Monthly Gift allowances

If you want to give your child a limited amount of money to spend on their own Apple ID, you can buy an iTunes Gift Card or Certificate from the iTunes Store for them to use.

Further still, you can set up an iTunes Monthly Gift to give your child a set amount of money to spend in the iTunes Store each month. The iTunes Monthly Gift can range from £5 to £30 in value, and can be cancelled at any time.

Of course, the other option is to keep your iPad or iPhone out of their reach completely.

There have been some extreme cases in the UK that saw parents refunded by Apple after their kids downloaded expensive apps and in-app purchases, too. Last year, a parent was refunded £4,000 after his eight-year-old daughter spent the money playing Campus Life, My Horse, Hay Day and Smurfs’ Village on an iPad.

There’s no guarantee that you’ll be so lucky, though, so the best bet is to try and prevent it from happening in the first place, by following this advice.

Additional reporting by Christopher Breen

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