Is Your Kid Safe on the iPad or iPhone? Here Are 18 Ways to Make Sure

Kid playing on iPad
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iPads and iPhones: Where would we parents be without them? They help our kids with everything from reading and writing through to learning about dinosaurs and chemistry; they provide a way for them to chat with their friends; and, let’s face it, they sometimes keep them entertained when we are trying to answer some emails or cook dinner!

Of course, they have their downsides too. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that these devices that we let our kids play on are fully-fledged, Internet-connected computers. How can we make sure that they’re safe while they’re using them? For that matter, how can we make sure that our devices and data are safe from our little ones’ inquisitive tinkering?

In this article you’ll discover 18 things you can do to help kid-proof your iPad or iPhone, and make it safer for your child to use. Let’s start by taking a look at the Restrictions feature built into iOS, which gives you lots of ways to protect your device.

1. Enable Restrictions

Most of the tips and tricks you’ll read in this article focus on iOS’s Restrictions feature, so the first thing you’ll want to do is enable it. Restrictions let you do things like prevent your kid installing and deleting apps; disable in-app purchases; block websites; lock down privacy settings, and lots more.

To enable restrictions, first open the Settings app and choose General > Restrictions to display the Restrictions window. Now tap the Enable Restrictions button at the top of the window. You’ll be prompted to enter a four-digit Restrictions Passcode:

To use the Restrictions feature, you first need to enable it by setting a passcode.

To use the Restrictions feature, you first need to enable it by setting a passcode.

This passcode lets you change the Restrictions settings, so make sure your kid doesn’t know it! You might want it to be different from your device passcode too.

Once you’ve set a passcode, Restrictions are turned on. You can change any of the settings in the Restrictions window to enable or disable certain features. As soon as you leave the Settings app, the restrictions apply to the device.

If you want to change your Restrictions settings, just go back to the Settings app, choose General > Restrictions, and reenter your Restrictions passcode.

To remove Restrictions entirely, tap the Disable Restrictions button at the top of the Restrictions window, and reenter your Restrictions passcode. Be careful with Disable Restrictions! It not only removes the Restrictions passcode, but it also loses all of the Restrictions settings you’ve specified, including deleting all of the websites you may have added under Allowed Content > Websites (of which more in a moment). So only do this when you really do want to remove Restrictions on a semi-permanent basis.

2. Prevent your kid switching between apps

One of the most effective ways to keep your kid safe on an iPad is to use Guided Access. This feature lets you lock the iPad to the currently-displayed app. With Guided Access enabled, your kid won’t be able to close the app, start or switch to another app, or cause mayhem in the Settings app. The downside, of course, is that your kid may become bored with using one app, so this option works best with deep, engaging apps that will keep your kid entertained for more than a couple of minutes.

To use Guided Access, follow these steps:

  1. Enable Guided Access.
    Open the Settings app, then choose General > Accessibility. Under the Learning group, tap Guided Access, and flip the switch to On. You’ll also want to tap Set Passcode to create a passcode that you can then use to turn off Guided Access when you want to use other apps. (Note that this is separate from the Restrictions passcode that you created earlier.)
  2. Open Guided Access.
    Open the app that you want your kid to use, then triple-click the device’s Home button (click the button quickly three times in a row). You’ll see the Guided Access options appear, like this:
When you open the Guided Access feature, you'll see various options appear.

When you open the Guided Access feature, you’ll see various options appear.

  1. Choose options.
    As well as preventing your kid leaving the app, Guided Access also disables the Sleep/Wake and Volume buttons by default. To change this, tap the Options button below Hardware Buttons. You can also turn touch and motion controls on or off (you’ll probably want to leave them on).
  2. Disable areas of the screen, if desired.
    You might not want your kid interacting with certain areas of an app. For example, if they’re playing a web-based game, you might want to block off all the Safari controls except the main browser window, so they can’t head off to other websites. To do this, just tap and drag a circle or rectangle around the controls you want to disable, then adjust the mask as necessary using the little grey circles around the mask:
Using Guided Access to disable areas of the screen.

Using Guided Access to disable areas of the screen.

  1. Start Guided Access.
    Tap the top-right Start button to start Guided Access. Your kid will now only be able to use the current app. Feel free to give the device to your kid now!
  2. Finish Guided Access.
    To stop Guided Access so that you can use other apps, triple-click the Home button again. Enter your Guided Access passcode, then tap the top-left End button.

3. Block a specific website

Is there a certain website — or a list of websites — that you don’t want your kid visiting? iOS’s Restrictions let you block websites so that your kid can’t visit them in Safari.

To use this feature, first make sure you’ve enabled Restrictions as described earlier. Now open the Settings app and choose General > Restrictions. Tap the Websites button under the Allowed Content group. This displays a list of options: All Websites, Limit Adult Content, and Specific Websites Only.

Tap Limit Adult Content, and iOS will now block most well-known adult websites automatically. Now tap Add a Website… under the Never Allow group, and type in the URL of the website you want to block (such as www.example.com):

To block websites with the Limit Adult Content feature, add them to the Never Allow list.

To block websites with the Limit Adult Content feature, add them to the Never Allow list.

To be on the safe side, you might also want to add variants such as example.com and m.example.com too.

With Limit Adult Content, you might find that Safari gets a bit overzealous and blocks perfectly innocent websites. If this happens, you’ll see a message like this appear:

When Safari blocks a website, you'll see a message like this appear.

When Safari blocks a website, you’ll see a message like this appear.

Simply tap Allow Website, then enter your Restrictions Passcode to add that site to the whitelist. You can also add any safe sites you like by tapping the Add a Website… button under the Always Allow group in Settings > General > Restrictions > Websites.

To remove a website from the Always Allow or Never Allow list, swipe left on the site and tap Delete.

Bear in mind that this only works in Safari, so if the device has another browser installed then your kid will still be able to visit any website in that browser.

4. Allow only some websites

Rather than blocking a website or two, you can take things a stage further and only allow access to a set list of websites. This is obviously safer than blocking sites, since you know that your child won’t be able to stray onto a new unsavoury website that isn’t in your block list.

To set up a list of allowed websites, make sure Restrictions is turned on, and open the Settings app. Choose General > Restrictions > Websites as you did for blocking websites, but this time, tap Specific Websites Only. You’ll see a list of Apple-approved websites appear:

Using the Specific Websites Only feature, you can use — and add to — a whitelist of approved sites to keep your kid safe.

Using the Specific Websites Only feature, you can use — and add to — a whitelist of approved sites to keep your kid safe.

Your kid can now browse only these websites in Safari; all other websites on the internet are blocked.

If you don’t agree with Apple’s choices and want to alter this list, you can tap Add a Website… at the bottom of the list to allow another site. You can also remove a site from the list by swiping left on the site and tapping Delete.

As with Limit Adult Content, note that this feature only works in Safari. If your kid uses another browser, they’ll be able to visit any website.

5. Block apps, music, movies, TV shows and books

What’s the most reliable way to prevent your child stumbling on content that’s too old for them? Don’t put that content on the device in the first place, of course! However, if you share your device with your kid then this can be inconvenient. Perhaps you want to take a couple of grown-up movies with you to watch on a trip, but you don’t want your kid watching them when they should be playing Toca Town.

No problem! Restrictions in iOS allows you to set age limits on different types of content, from movies through to apps, TV shows, books and music.

To use this feature, open the Settings app and choose General > Restrictions. Under the Allowed Content group, choose the type of content that you want to restrict, such as Apps. Tap the maximum age range that you want to allow. For example, to block any apps that are unsuitable for kids under 12, tap the 9+ button:

The Allowed Content group under Restrictions lets you set age limits for apps, movies and more.

The Allowed Content group under Restrictions lets you set age limits for apps, movies and more.

When you block content, it’s simply hidden from the device. For example, age-inappropriate apps vanish from the home screen, and movies disappear from the Videos app.

To make the content reappear on your device, either select the appropriate “Allow All” option in the list, or disable Restrictions altogether.

6. Keep Siri in check

Siri, iOS’s virtual assistant, springs into life when you click and hold the Home button. Your kid can use Siri to dictate text, search the web, launch apps, and more.

Generally Siri is squeaky-clean, but if it thinks it hears a rude word it will dutifully display it onscreen. You can prevent this happening by choosing General > Restrictions in the Settings app, tapping Siri in the Allowed Content group, and deselecting Explicit Language:

Keeping Siri polite with iOS Restrictions.

Keeping Siri polite with iOS Restrictions.

While you’re there, you can also prevent Siri searching the web by deselecting Web Search Content.

If you prefer, you can block Siri entirely by turning it off in the Allow group in the General > Restrictions window.

7. Check if an app is safe

As a parent, you’re probably on the lookout for apps for your child that are kid-friendly and safe. How can you make sure that an app is going to keep your kid safe before you purchase it? Here are some things you can do:

  • Look it up on Common Sense Media.
    Common Sense Media is an excellent database containing thousands of apps, movies and more. For each app, you’ll find a suggested age rating, a mini-review, and an indication of the app’s quality, helping you make an informed decision. If the app you’re interested in is even vaguely popular, chances are you’ll find it in their database.
  • Check the app’s age rating in the App Store.
    All apps in the App Store have a “Rating” figure that indicates a suitable age limit for the app. You’ll find this rating when viewing an app’s page in the store (look for the word “Rating” or “Rated”). Currently there are four ratings:

    • 4+ is for apps with no objectionable content.
    • 9+ apps may contain “mild or infrequent occurrences of cartoon, fantasy, or realistic violence”, and/or “infrequent or mild mature, suggestive, or horror-themed content” that may not be suitable for kids younger than 9.
    • 12+ apps may contain more intense violence, as well as infrequent mild swearing and possibly simulated gambling.
    • 17+ apps are for adults only, and can contain a lot of swearing, as well as frequent, intense violence, sexual content, drug use and so on.

In addition, many App Store apps now include a target age range, such as “Made for Ages 5 and Under”, which can give you a good idea if an app will be appropriate for your kid.

The App Store includes an age rating on each app's page. (Did I mention that I like Toca Town?)

The App Store includes an age rating on each app’s page. (Did I mention that I like Toca Town?!)

  • Look out for in-app purchases.
    Many apps these days include in-app purchases, where you can purchase additional content or pay to unlock extra features from within the app itself. Depending on the type of app or game, you might find in-app purchases to be a problem. For example, if a game requires an in-app purchase to get past a certain level, or to buy more in-game coins, expect to be nagged incessantly by your child! To check if an app has in-app purchases before you buy, look for the phrase Offers In-App Purchases on the app’s page in the App Store. You can also block in-app purchases using iOS’s Restrictions feature. You’ll look at this in a moment.
  • Check for email and message functions.
    Some apps and games include the ability to send an email or text message within an app, and currently there’s no way to disable this in iOS 7’s Restrictions. You might not want your kid sending random messages to your friends and colleagues! Often an app will mention such a feature on its App Store page, and Common Sense Media also often mentions whether an app has the ability to send messages, so take a look in those places if you’re concerned.
  • Read some good app review blogs.
    There are many great blogs that constantly review new kids’ apps and games, and they can be a great way to find out if an app will be appropriate for your kid. Check out Apps Playground, Smart Apps For Kids and Best Apps For Kids, to name but a few.

8. Make searching safer

Web searching can be a bit of a double-edged sword with kids. On the one hand, it provides an easy way to find out information on any topic under the Sun. On the other hand, the search results can sometimes contain adult-related content that you’d rather your kid didn’t see!

There are a few things you can do to limit this problem:

  • Enable Google SafeSearch.
    Assuming you’re using the default Google search engine in Safari, you can enable Google’s SafeSearch mode, which filters out most (but not all) adult content from search results. If you want to lock SafeSearch so that it can’t easily be turned off, visit your Search Settings page, click the Lock SafeSearch link, and sign in with your Google Account if necessary.
To enable Google SafeSerach, visit your Search Settings page and select the "Filter explicit results" checkbox.

To enable Google SafeSearch, visit your Search Settings page and select the “Filter explicit results” checkbox.

  • Block search entirely.
    If SafeSearch isn’t comprehensive enough for you, you might want to block web searching altogether on the device. You can block various search engines using iOS Restrictions (see “Block a specific website” earlier in the article). For example, to block Google, add google.com to the Never Allow list. (Depending on your country, you may also need to add your country-specific Google domain, such as google.co.uk or google.com.au.)
  • Block Safari entirely.
    If your kid mainly uses the device for playing games and using apps, the safest option is to disable Safari so that they can’t surf the web at all. To do this, open up the Settings app, choose General > Restrictions, and turn off Safari in the Allow group.

9. Manage YouTube viewing

When it comes to keeping your kids safe on the internet, YouTube can be a big problem. If your kids are anything like mine, you’ve probably found them watching something they shouldn’t on YouTube at least once!

YouTube videos don’t come with any sort of age rating, and there are lots of unsavoury videos just a click away. However, there are some things you can do to keep your kid safe from such videos:

  • Enable YouTube’s Safety Mode.
    YouTube has a Safety Mode that can filter out inappropriate videos from searches and suggestions. It’s not foolproof, but it’s better than nothing. As with Google SafeSearch, by default this setting is only temporary; if you want to lock Safety Mode, log into YouTube on the device using your Google Account, enable Safety Mode, then follow the “Lock safety mode on this browser” link at the bottom of every YouTube page.
To filter YouTube, press the Safety Mode button at the bottom of any YouTube page.

To filter YouTube, press the Safety button at the bottom of any YouTube page, then turn Safety Mode on.

  • Block YouTube entirely.
    To prevent access to YouTube entirely, you can use iOS Restrictions to block youtube.com, www.youtube.com and m.youtube.com (see “Block a specific website” earlier in the chapter), and remove the YouTube app if you’ve installed it.

Meanwhile, Google is reportedly developing a version of YouTube for kids, so keep an eye on that one!

10. Stop your kid spending your money

When you hand over your iPad to little Johnny, the last thing you want him to do is rack up a $50 bill on the App Store. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can lock down the device to prevent purchases:

  • Always require a password for purchases.
    The iTunes Store asks for your Apple ID password (don’t give this to your kids!) when purchasing an item, but there’s a loophole: By default, a purchase made within 15 minutes of the previous one doesn’t require the password to be reentered. If you’re letting your kid loose on your device, I strongly recommend opening the Settings app, choosing General > Restrictions, finding the Require Password setting in the Allowed Content group, and changing this setting from “15 minutes” to “Immediately”. Once you’ve done this, your password will need to be entered every time a purchase is made:
Make sure that your Apple ID password is always needed for purchasing apps and other content.

Make sure that your Apple ID password is always needed for purchasing apps and other content.

  • Turn off purchases altogether.
    To be on the safe side, you may want to disable all purchases on the device. To do this, open the Settings app and choose General > Restrictions. In the Allow group, turn off iTunes Store, iBooks Store, Installing Apps, and In-App Purchases.
  • Remove your payment method.
    As a last resort, you can always remove your payment method from your iTunes Store account. No credit card means no purchases!

11. Stop your kid deleting your apps

Younger kids often inadvertently delete apps from mobile devices. This can be doubly annoying if your app had a lot of saved data, since it will all be deleted along with the app!

To prevent your kid deleting apps from the device, open the Settings app and choose General > Restrictions, then turn off Deleting Apps in the Allow group.

How to stop your kid deleting apps from your device.

Turn off the Deleting Apps setting to stop your kid deleting apps from your device.

12. Prevent apps from sending personal information

By default, it’s possible to allow iOS apps and games to upload quite a lot of personal content onto public servers, including the device’s location, contact details, photos, and sounds recorded with the devices microphone. Naturally you want to be careful about what information your kid is sharing with the world.

You can lock down various privacy settings using the Privacy group under General > Restrictions in the Settings app. These settings mirror the general iPad privacy settings available under Settings > Privacy, and they control which apps have access to which features of the device. Here are some of the settings you’ll probably want to tweak:

  • Location Services controls which apps can access the device’s location.
  • Contacts controls the apps that can use the contacts on the device.
  • Calendars determines which apps can access your calendars on the device.
  • Photos controls access to the photos taken and stored on your device.
  • Microphone controls which apps can access the device’s mic and record sound.

For each one of these features, you can tap on its button to reveal a window showing all the apps that have access to that feature. Turn off any apps that you don’t want to access the feature, then tap the Don’t Allow Changes button at the top to prevent your kid from allowing any other apps to access it in future:

You can use the Privacy restrictions to control which apps have access to features like photos and the microphone.

You can use the Privacy restrictions to control which apps have access to features like photos and the microphone.

In addition to the above privacy settings, you may also want to disable both the camera and FaceTime chat to prevent your kid uploading pictures of themselves or video chatting using FaceTime. To do this, turn off both Camera and FaceTime in the Allow group under General > Restrictions.

13. Keep your accounts safe

If they happen to wander into the iOS Settings app, it’s fairly easy for your kid to wreak havoc with your mail, contacts, calendars and iCloud accounts. They can mess around with the account settings and passwords, or even remove the accounts from the device.

To protect your accounts, choose General > Restrictions in the Settings app, then tap the Accounts button in the Allow Changes group, and tap the Don’t Allow Changes button:

Use General > Restrictions > Accounts to lock down your mail, contacts, calendars and iCloud account settings.

Use General > Restrictions > Accounts to lock down your mail, contacts, calendars and iCloud account settings.

When you do this, a little lock icon appears next to the Accounts button, and various other sections in the Settings app, such as iCloud, the Mail accounts, Messages and FaceTime, become greyed out.

14. Protect those little ears

If your kid listens to loud music through headphones or earbuds for long periods of time, they can potentially damage their hearing. Did you know that the iPad and iPhone let you set an upper limit on music volume? To set it, open the Settings app, then choose Music > Volume Limit and drag the Max Volume slider down to a level you’re comfortable with:

Set and lock your device's volume limit to protect your kid's hearing.

Set and lock your device’s volume limit to protect your kid’s hearing.

Once you’ve done that, you can lock the volume limit so that your kid can’t bump it back up again. To do this, choose General > Restrictions in the Settings app, then tap the Volume Limit button under the Allow Changes group, and select Don’t Allow Changes.

15. Turn off Game Center’s social features

Game Center is Apple’s service that allows gamers to friend each other, play turn-based games and compete for the highest scores. Game Center is fairly safe for your kid to use, since it doesn’t really have any sort of chat system built into it at present. However, if you want to be sure your kid is safe you can turn off a couple of Game Center features under General > Restrictions > Game Center in the Settings app:

  • Turn off Multiplayer Games to prevent your kid requesting a turn-based game match, sending or receiving invitations to play games, or adding new Game Center friends.
  • Turn off Adding Friends if you just want to stop your child making or receiving friend requests. They can still play with existing friends if Multiplayer Games is turned on.
iOS's Restrictions let you control the social aspects of Game Center.

iOS’s Restrictions let you control the social aspects of Game Center.

16. Keep an eye on your kid’s device usage

Technological restrictions are all very well, but at the end of the day your clever kid will probably find a way around most of them! The best way to be sure they’re safe is to monitor their iPad or iPhone usage. Here are some tips to help with this:

  • Device usage in the open. As with TV and computers, it’s best to make sure your child uses the mobile device in a place where you can keep an eye on them, if possible. This means using the device in the living room, not under the blanket in bed!
  • Find out what they’re doing on the device. You don’t have to be a super-spy here; just take a look over their shoulder now and again, ask them about the games they’re playing, and join in too if you can! (I also find it helps to keep one ear open for any unsavoury sounds or bad language emanating from the device!)
  • Keep the device locked. Set a passcode that your kid doesn’t know, or set up Touch ID with just your fingerprints. That way, your kid has to ask you to use the device, making it easier for you to keep an eye on things.
Kid with iPad

Keep an eye on how your kid is using the iPhone or iPad.

17. Talk to your kid about appropriate usage

A really important way to keep your kid safe on devices and online is to educate them about online safety and screen time. Here are some things to talk about:

  • Setting limits on content. Explain clearly what types of websites, videos and apps you’re happy for your kid to use, and what types you aren’t happy with.
  • Setting limits on screen time. Talk about why it can be good to limit screen time; for example, it frees up time to do other stuff, like exercise, reading and playing with friends.
  • Teach them to find their own limit. Many kids start to “zone out” after too much continuous time on a game. Teach your kid to recognise when they’re getting tired or bored, so that they can take a break.
  • Explain online safety concepts. Discuss why you have to be careful about sharing personal information online, and talk about how not all content online is suitable for kids.
  • Talk about different ways of using devices. Some ways can be more useful and fun for your kid than others; for example, building a city with a friend in Minecraft: Pocket Edition will probably be a lot more fulfilling than simply watching Lego Star Wars gameplay videos on YouTube!
Mother and child

Talk to your kid about safe ways to use computers and mobile devices.

18. Follow Brightpips to keep your kid safe!

Here at Brightpips we regularly publish articles on kid-friendly and kid-safe apps and websites, and talk about different ways to keep your kid safe and happy online. To keep up to date on the latest news and articles on kids, technology and safety, you can follow Brightpips on Facebook, Twitter or Google+, or subscribe to our regular newsletter using the form below.

I hope this article has given you some ideas for keeping your kid safe on iPads and iPhones. If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Also, if your kid plays Minecraft then you might also like to check out my list of kid-friendly Minecraft YouTube channels, as well as my list of family-friendly Minecraft servers where your kid can play safely online.

Thanks for reading!

[Image credits: Feeding the ducks by FaceMePLS (CC BY), cropped]

Posted in Apps, Online Safety

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10 comments on “Is Your Kid Safe on the iPad or iPhone? Here Are 18 Ways to Make Sure
  1. Catherine says:

    I’m loving common sense media. I didn’t know about it before, but it’s already proving really useful! Thanks!

  2. Matt Doyle says:

    Thanks for your comment Catherine! Yes, CSM is a great resource for checking out age suitability. 🙂

  3. Paul says:

    We block the app store totally … because even when you block apps based on age, the kids can still go to the app store and see the inappropriate apps. True the ‘buy/get’ is greyed out, but they can still see the apps. I’d like to see the app age restriction, block them from even seeing the apps on the app store.

  4. Licia says:

    Is there a way to stop iPad after a certain hour like have it block or shut down after 9pm i have a preteen that I have to keep punishing for using it to late

    • Matt Doyle says:

      iPad doesn’t have a time limit system built in. You could maybe set up your router to block access to certain sites after 9pm, and there are also third-party apps that can block online access after a certain time. However, I don’t think there’s an easy, software-based way to limit your kid using the iPad offline (games etc).

      We have a rule with the kids whereby they need to stop using screens at least 1 hour before bed. With my 7-year-old, I showed him a video on YouTube where a doctor explained how screens keep you awake at night, and that was enough to convince him!

  5. Lou Hutchinson says:

    The true short answer to the titular question is: NO.

    The iphone is NOT kid friendly so long as you cannot prevent contacts from being added. This is truly the MOST significant feature of a PHONE. The ability to control WHO calls/texts/facetimes your child and when trumps any other considerations. There is no combination of settings that restricts adding contacts. Another phone will have to be used.

    • Joe Thompson says:

      Consider adding that FaceTime/chat/email account to the device the parent uses (e.g. their iPhone/macbook) that way all contacts/chats are shown to the parent

  6. Michelle says:

    Licia…I was recently introduced to a great parental app called OurPact. I gives you complete control over when your child can play games. You have immediate access to block the ipad or you can create a schedule when the games come on and go away.

  7. D.C says:

    Anyone know how to prevent the exchange of photos though texting? I would like my kids to be able to use their phones to text but not to send or receive pictures?
    Thank you