Five Steps to Secure iOS for Your Kids

Notice I didn’t say Five Easy Steps. Because this may take some work.

iOS is a marvel of software engineering, and it is an awesome operating system for kids. It’s simple, intuitive, and easy to use. That makes it extremely appealing for any parent buying their child a device. While Android has better third-party app integration for app services to secure phones for young people, Apple has better built-in, system-wide security. But often times these settings can be extremely confusing if you don’t know where to start or what to do. Here’s five steps to secure iOS for your kids.

  1. Go through Settings > General > Restrictions. On this screen, you’ll see what you can allow. If you don’t have any restrictions set, you need to tap ‘Enable Restrictions’ at the top. This will allow you to effectively shut off apps like Safari and the Camera. A little lower, you’ll see that you can prevent the device user from downloading music, books, podcasts, and prevent them from installing or deleting apps. The most important one for your bank account may be disallowing In-App Purchases. Several games that kids play now want you to buy something to get to higher levels, and while the game may be free, the In-App Purchase is not. Below that, you can see Allowed Content. This only applies to iTunes content like movies, music, and TV shows purchased through the iTunes store. That last setting, ‘Require Password’ I would set to Immediately. Otherwise if you’re using the bring-to-mom-and-she-puts-in-the-password-every-time method, they can download anything they want in that 15 minute timespan. The Privacy settings below that contain information on what apps can access your Location, Contacts, Photos, etc. Make sure to audit this and make sure very few apps are using your child’s location especially.
  1. Add your own fingerprint and passcode. Head back to your main settings page and you should see ‘Touch ID & Passcode.’ You have one big advantage with an iOS device that has Touch ID (fingerprint sensors on every iOS device after the iPhone 5S), and that is that you can set your own four-digit PIN code for device settings and your child doesn’t have to know it to access the phone. You can add your own fingerprint and your child’s fingerprint (you can add up to five) so your child will never need to know the PIN code. This will help you keep your child’s device much more secure while also not allowing them to access PIN-specific sections to change settings. You’ll also want to disable Apple Pay and App Store Purchases so that you must approve them first through Family Sharing (more on that later). Touch ID is extremely reliable and worst-case scenario – if it stops working for your child you can always manually input the PIN code for them.
  1. Audit Social Media accounts and their access. On the main Settings Page, you’ll see four included Social Media accounts that come standard on any iOS device: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Vimeo. This allows you to sign into these apps once, not multiple times, and give individual apps access as you download them. You need to check and make sure that 400 apps can’t access your child’s Twitter or Facebook accounts. If you have too many or can’t remember giving them access, then you need to remove it.
  1. Audit ALL apps and their access. Just below the Social account on the main Settings page, you’ll see every app on your phone listed that has some sort of access to your photos, location, microphone, etc. You can go down the list, app-by-app, and see what every app can access. If you don’t remember granting access to an app, you can revoke that access with the flip of the green switch.
  1. Set up Family Sharing. Introduced with iOS 8, Family Sharing is a new way to bring harmony to your family’s digital life. Up to six people in your family can share purchases from iTunes, iBooks, and the App Store without sharing accounts. Pay for family purchases with the same credit card and approve kids’ spending right from a parent’s device. Easily share photos, a family calendar, and more. Once you set up Family Sharing, family members get immediate access to each other’s music, movies, TV shows, books, and apps. Download what you want with a tap anytime you like. All without having to share an Apple ID or passwords. It’s really convenient and lets you control spending and downloading of apps.

So, I hope with these five steps you can at least start to make iOS more secure for your entire family.

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Chad Landman is the youth minister for the Church Street Church of Christ in Lewisburg, Tennessee where he has served for four years. He and his wife Bonnie have two boys—Jacob and David. Chad writes about technology and Christianity on his website at chadl.co, and talks to other ministers and youth ministers about technology on his podcast called Ministry Bits. He speaks frequently at area churches using his Active Digital Parenting curriculum, now a weekly blog at Start2Finish.org.

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