How to Set Up Parental Controls on an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch

Sharing your iPad with a child? You need to know about restrictions

A young child using an iPad.
  Westend61 / Getty Images

Even if your kids don't have an iPod Touch, iPad, or iPhone, there's a good chance they borrow yours every chance they get.

Modern mobile devices are vastly more powerful and full featured than the CD player you may have grown up with. Apple's iOS devices are the digital equivalent of a Swiss Army knife. They have a full-fledged internet browser, video player, Wi-Fi connection, camera, and an app for almost anything you can imagine.

Unless you're OK with little Johnny purchasing apps and merchandise in the App Store on your credit card, visiting raunchy websites, and renting tasteless or adult movies, you need to set up a few parental controls before you hand over your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. Fortunately, Apple had the foresight to include robust parental controls in the devices.

Here's a quick look at how to set up parental controls on an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. The process changed with the introduction of iOS 12, so follow the instructions for either iOS 11 and earlier or for iOS 12.

Enter Restrictions in iOS 12

Beginning with iOS 12, you restrict access using the new Screen Time feature and make all your restriction decisions from inside Screen Time.

  1. Tap the Settings icon on your iOS device home screen.
  2. Select Screen Time.
  3. Tap Turn On Screen Time at the bottom of the screen if it isn't already turned on.
  4. Select Content & Privacy Restrictions.
  5. Enter a four-digit passcode.
  6. Re-enter the same four-digit passcode.
  7. Select all the types of content you want to block, including in-app purchases, adult websites, explicit language, location sharing and much more from inside the Screen Time screen.

Having all the options in one location is incredibly convenient, and the huge range of options makes it possible to fine-tune the restrictions for your child. Don't leave Screen Time until you've looked at all the possible restrictions. You may discover restrictions you didn't realize you needed.

Enable Restrictions in iOS 11 and Earlier

All the parental controls, which Apple calls restrictions, rely on an adult (you) to enable restrictions and enter a PIN number or passcode that you keep secret. Here's how to set up your passcode in iOS 11 and earlier:

  1. Tap the Settings icon on your iOS device.
  2. Choose General.
  3. Select Restrictions.
  4. Choose Enable Restrictions.
  5. Enter a four-digit passcode that you can remember and keep from your kids.
  6. Re-enter the passcode.

This passcode must be entered for any future changes you want to make to the restrictions that you set. You need this pin as you visit several areas of the iOS device to set up various parental controls.

Consider Disabling Safari and Other Apps

Under the Allow section of the Restrictions page (iOS 11 and earlier), you can choose whether you want your child to be able to access certain apps such as the Safari web browser, YouTube, FaceTime (video chat), and several other of Apple's built-in apps. If you don't want your child to have access to these apps, set the switches next to them to the Off positions. You can also disable the location-reporting feature to prevent your child from publishing location information in apps such as Facebook.

Set Content Limits

Apple allows you to set limits on the type of content you want your child to have access to. You can set the permitted viewable movie ratings by placing a check next to the highest rating level you want them to see — G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17. You can also set levels for TV content (TV-Y, TV-PG, TV-14, for example), and the same goes for apps and music.

To change the permitted content levels (in iOS 11 and earlier), select Music & Podcasts > Movies > TV Shows (or Apps) in the Allowed Content section, and choose the levels you want to allow your child to access.

Disable Installing Apps

Turn off your child's ability to install apps to your iPhone by setting the Installing Apps feature to the Off position in the Restrictions screen (in iOS 11 and earlier). You can still install apps; you just need to enter your passcode before doing so.

Disable In-App Purchases

Many apps allow in-app purchases where virtual goods can be bought with real-world money. Little Johnny may or may not realize that he's causing your bank account to be charged for the Mighty Eagle he just bought while in the Angry Birds App. If you disable in-app purchasing, you can at least breathe a sigh of relief that your child won't go on a bird-buying shopping spree on your dime. In the Restrictions screen (in iOS 11 and earlier), tap the slider next to In-App Purchases to move it to the Off position.

Kids are tech savvy and may find a way to get around these restrictions. The fact that the restriction passcode is only four digits long doesn't help, but you've done your best to keep them safe. Maybe they'll thank you one day when they have kids of their own.