Here’s some advice on how to configure iOS features to restrict what your kids can be exposed to when they’re on the internet.

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Practical Mac

As someone who’s been on the internet for a while, I’ve developed a good eye for avoiding scams and undesirable areas of the web. That’s not the case for kids and teens who are using mobile devices and are exposed to greater amounts of potentially sketchy content.

Is the solution to just keep kids away from devices and offline? Well, yes, that’s one possibility, but it’s not realistic. Nor is it a good idea. Just as we want to raise kids who can negotiate a world of all sorts of personalities, we want them to be able to negotiate the world’s dominant communications medium, as well.

This will come as no surprise, but the balance lies in a mixture of personal guidance and technology. I can’t tell you what to say to your kids — that’s the ongoing communication you should be having — but I can help you with advice on how to configure iPhones, iPads and iPods to use Apple’s parental-control features to restrict what they can be exposed to.

I’m going to talk in this column specifically about what’s already built into iOS, not about third-party apps that are designed for providing similar features.

Enable restrictions

On an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, open the Settings app and tap General.

The heart of these controls is the Restrictions category. Tap it and then tap Enable Restrictions. Enter a four-digit code that’s different from the code you use to unlock the device, something you won’t share with the person using that device.

Part of the Restrictions options are dedicated to allowing apps and services. For example, let’s say you want a child to have an iPhone for emergencies and for locating the phone, but not for browsing the web. You would turn off all of the apps that are listed, from Safari to options such as Installing Apps and In-App Purchases. (I’d leave the Siri and Dictation option on, to be able to dictate HomeKit commands or even dial 911 by voice if necessary). When you do that, the affected apps don’t even appear on the home screen.

For finer-grained control, you can choose which levels of content to allow, such as limiting movies to rated PG or not playing music that’s marked with explicit content. If you decide that web browsing via Safari is OK, you’ll find an Allowed websites setting that can limit adult content or specify which websites can be reached.

A Privacy section controls whether services or apps are allowed to access things such as the microphone, the internal Photos library, and the device’s current location.

When you exit the Restrictions settings, they’re protected by the password you assigned. Make sure you remember what that number is (and don’t share it with the child using the phone).


You’ll notice a few settings missing so far, such as ways to restrict text messaging and phone calls, and setting time limits.

It’s possible to turn off the iMessage service in Settings > Messages, but that removes one of the easiest ways to communicate with the kid. So, an alternative is to monitor the child’s messages and the people they’re texting. If you have an old iOS device, you can sign it into the child’s iCloud account to view text conversations and web-browsing history; you can also do the same by creating a new user account on your Mac signed into that iCloud account, although you won’t see the Messages app history before setting it up.

For time limits, there is a way: go to Settings > General > Accessibility and turn Guided Access on. If you want to set a timer for playing a game, for instance, open the game’s app and triple-click the Home button. You can then set a time limit and other options. While Guided Access is running, only that app is available.

Looking ahead

Earlier this year, in response to criticism that Apple wasn’t doing enough to deal with addiction to the devices it creates, the company said it has “new features and enhancements planned for the future” to make its existing parental controls more robust. We may see the results at the upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in early June.

In the meantime, there are plenty of things you can do to encourage safer iOS usage. Apple also has a Families page on its site with more information.