Set Up Parental Restrictions on an iPad or iPhone

Right out of the box, the iPhone and iPad come with tools to protect your child. They’re called Restrictions, and these tools give you the ability to disable almost all of the iPad’s features, including restricting adult content from their web browsing. For young and older children, this is incredibly useful. As the child matures and proves his/her ability to be trusted with the device, these restrictions can be slowly lifted. It is far easier to start with a heavily restricted device and slowly bring more freedom to the child than to hand the child a completely unrestricted device and then begin to introduce limitations. 

You certainly won't want to surprise your kiddo with the changes. Depending on the age, you'll probably want to talk through these settings with your child, explaining what is being done and why. Reassure your kids that you trust them, but want to protect them from internet dangers. Just like learning to ride a bike first requires training wheels and learning to drive requires training courses, learning to navigate the internet takes time and training, too.

Pick a Super-Secret Passcode

When you first enable Restrictions on an Apple device, you will be asked to create a four digit passcode. This is for the parents' eyes only; otherwise, the kids will be able to circumvent your protection quite easily!

Keep in mind that kids are quite curious, and even though they are well meaning, they will attempt to guess your passcode. To young kids, trying to guess Mom and Dad's passcode is a game. Don’t use family anniversaries, birthdays, garage door codes, as your passcode. It needs to be something impossible for the child to guess.

Turn on iOS Restrictions

Apple makes it fairly easy to find the Restrictions area.

  1. Open Settings on your child’s iPad
  2. Tap General Restrictions
  3. Tap “Enable Restrictions”
  4. Choose a passcode unknown to the child

Features are on by default, which means that until a feature is turned off, such as the Camera, your child will be able to still use it. Tap switches to the off position to disable that particular feature. Take the time to look through each of these items. 

The part you will want to pay special attention to is labeled “Allowed Content.” Here is where you can set age appropriate restrictions on movies, TV shows, books, and apps.

Website restrictions are of the utmost importance. Here is where you can turn on Apple’s filter of adult content on the web. While this is not a 100% guarantee that something won’t slip through by mistake, it’s most definitely your first line of defense.

Aside: Circumventing Parental Restrictions

It should be noted that Parental Restrictions can be circumvented by hacking the iPad, otherwise known as Jailbreaking. Some kids enjoy jailbreaking their device because it lets them apply alternative icons and fonts to Apple's apps. There are a couple ways to tell if your child's iPad has been jailbroken. Cydia is the app most commonly installed on jailbroken devices. It is used for installing third party hacks. If you see Cydia on the device, the iPad has been hacked.

The easiest way to un-jailbreak an iPad is to do a Software Update (SettingsGeneralSoftware Update).  A more drastic way to un-jailbreak the iPad is to first back it up to iCloud (SettingsiCloudBackupBackup Now) and then completely erase it (SettingsGeneralResetErase all Content and Settings). You might be thinking that your kid would never jailbreak his/her iPad or iPhone, but it happens more often than you think, which is why I'm mentioning it here.

Keeping Kids Safe

If you're going to give a child an iPad or iPhone, you owe it to yourself to explore the Restrictions area. Start off fairly strict, and slowly remove certain restrictions as the child gets older and gains more responsibility. You'll be thankful to set up safe boundaries for your child to explore the web.

If you're interested in receiving more tech tips for parents, you'll be delighted to know that I have a book on this subject coming out soon. Sign up for our newsletter to get notified of when it's released. Thanks!

Rick Stawarz

Minneapolis, MN

I am an Apple Certified Support Professional with over a decade of experience supporting families, schools, and businesses. Tech has always captured my imagination, but it's not my only passion. I'm an ordained Anglican minister;  Aeropress is a daily ritual of mine; I've driven across Mongolia; and I'm the father of three girls. I hope to provide for you a balanced and realistic perspective into the practicality of technology.