How to Childproof Your iPad

Make Your iPad Kid-Friendly Using Parental Restrictions

Young Boy Playing with Tablet
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Childproofing may start with locking cabinets and drawers and putting covers over electrical outlets, but it doesn't stop there. Childproofing is an ongoing process that continues through the toddler years and into the pre-teens and tweens. One important aspect is making sure the family iPad has the proper parental restrictions to both keep your kid safe and to keep your bank account safe. Luckily, Apple has made it relatively easy to make your iPad kid-friendly.

Turn on Restrictions

The first step to a kid-friendly iPad is to turn on restrictions, which allow you to restrict what applications are allowed on the iPad. You can turn on these parental controls by going into your iPad's settings, choosing general settings from the menu on the left and then scrolling down until you see Restrictions.

Once in the Restrictions settings, touch Enable Restrictions at the top. This will ask you for a four-digit passcode. This passcode is used to change the restrictions settings in the future, so make sure it is not something your child will easily guess. This passcode can also be different from the passcode used to unlock the device, so if you want to give your kid-free access to the iPad, you can choose a different code for the restrictions than used for the passcode lock.  

Turn Off In-App Purchases

This is a step some parents miss, and it can come back to haunt your wallet. Freemium games are games that are priced for free but stacked with in-app purchases. These purchases, which are oftentimes currency or food within the game, can easily add up to a rather high price tag.

How popular are freemium games? If you check any category in the app store and list the apps based on the highest grossing, you will see "free" apps dominate the list, often to the point where "paid" apps are rare to see on these lists. In-app purchases have essentially taken over the economic model of the app store.

This makes it all the more important to turn off in-app purchases. Sometimes, an in-app purchase is valid, such as an expansion to a game that provides real content. Oftentimes, in-app purchases are shortcuts that can be obtained by simply playing the game and achieving certain goals. And too often, a game or app is designed around enticing users into in-app purchases. 

When you turn off in-app purchases, the option to buy these extras within games and apps will be disabled. This means no surprises when the iTunes bill comes in your email. You can turn off In-App Purchases within the same screen as the other restrictions. The setting is towards the bottom of Allowed Content, right above the time interval for requiring a password.

Should You Turn Off App Downloads?

It doesn't take even a two-year-old long to learn how to use the iPad. This includes finding their way onto the app store and how to buy apps. By default, the App Store will prompt for a password for even a free game or app, but if you have recently typed in your password, there is a grace period where apps can be downloaded without being verified.  

If the iPad is primarily used by kids, especially toddlers, it may be a good idea to simply turn off the App Store. Not only will this allow you the peace of mind that your child isn't downloading apps on their own, they also won't have access to browse through the App Store, which means no begging for a fun game they find.  

If you decide to turn off the App Store, you may also want to turn off the ability to delete apps. Remember, it takes the intervention of a parent to download apps to the iPad, so if your kid deletes a game because they are tired of it or simply by accident, you will need to re-enable the App Store, download the app or game, and then restrict the App Store again.  

Age-Based Restrictions 

Apple has done a better job in recent years of keeping up with age-based restrictions. While it might be easier to simply disable the App Store for a two-year-old or a four-year-old, it may be easier to allow your pre-teen greater access to the iPad. This is where the age-based restrictions come into play. Rather than simply disabling the App Store, you can restrict apps based on an age range.

The categories in the age-based restrictions are 4+, 9+, 12+ and 17+. The 4+ category is basically the 'G' rated category with no violence (cartoon or otherwise), drinking, drug use, gambling, foul language, nudity, etc. Th 9+ category adds cartoon violence and includes apps like the LEGO series of movie-based games. At 12+, the app can include realistic violence such you might find in a Call of Duty-style game, but only infrequently, so you would still need to be at the 17+ to actually download a Call of Duty type of game.

In addition to implementing age-based restrictions for apps, you can do the same for movies, TV shows, Books and even websites. Each of these categories has their own guidelines for restrictions. For example, movies will follow the standard G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 ratings while TV shows are broken down into TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-G, etc.  

Restrict the Safari Web Browser

Apps that allow unrestricted access to the web have a 17+ rating, so you don't have to worry about your teenager or pre-teen downloading an app and running rampant over the web. But what about the Safari browser

Apple has included a setting that allows you to have full control over what your child can view on the web. You can get to this setting in the "Allowed Content" section under "Websites. By default, the iPad will allow all websites to be displayed. 

You can set the iPad to "Limit Adult Content," which is a relaxed setting that will automatically filter most adult websites. Why only most? New adult-themed websites pop up all the time, so it is impossible for any web browser to disallow all adult sites all of the time and still offer no restrictions to the rest of the web, but Safari does a very good job of restricting sites and new adult sites are quick to become restricted. This setting also allows you to block specific websites or allow specific websites. This gives you a lot of control over what websites your child can and cannot visit.  

The most restrictive setting is "Specific Websites Only." This setting comes with a small list of websites predetermined to be allowed such as Disney, Discovery Kids, PBS Kids, etc. You can also add websites to the list, which is great for allowing an educational website or one with fun activities that might not be on the initial list.

Disable iTunes Store, iBooks Store, Facebook, etc.

The iPad comes with a number of default apps like Facetime, the iTunes store, etc. Along with limiting access to the App Store, you can disable many of these apps, which means the app icon will simply disappear from the iPad.  

FaceTime allows video conferencing, which can be great if your child's grandparents have an iOS device like an iPhone or an iPad. But if you are uncomfortable with the idea of a video conferencing app on your iPad, you can disable it as well. You can always enable it for the specific times when your child may video conference with an aunt, uncle, cousin or grandparent.

Disabling the iTunes store is also a personal decision. Like the App Store, iTunes will prompt for a password before any download, and you can choose age restrictions to make sure only appropriate materials are downloaded. However, like FaceTime, this can be turned on when needed and then turned off again when the content is downloaded.

You can also disable Siri and access to the camera, which can be good for toddlers who can become fascinated by taking pictures. Toward the bottom of the Restrictions, settings is an "Allow Changes" section. Disallowing changes to "Accounts" will restrict the ability to add or change email accounts. 

Do You Need to Turn Off Wi-Fi?

There is no restriction on Internet access, but it's easy to turn off Wi-Fi access from the main settings page. If you have a secured Wi-Fi network, you can tell the iPad to forget your Wi-Fi password by bringing up the Wi-Fi networks and touching the blue button pointing to the right. This will take you to a screen with information about your Wi-Fi connection where you can choose "Forget this Network".

However, it is not entirely necessary to disable Internet access on the iPad. If you have disabled apps like Safari and YouTube and disabled the ability to download new apps, you have limited your child's ability to access much of the Internet. In fact, the only way the child can access the Internet is through apps you have allowed, such as games downloaded from the app store or (if you didn't disable it) the FaceTime app.

How to Download Apps to a Childproofed iPad

Now that your iPad is kid-friendly, you may want to make it kid-fun by downloading some appropriate apps or games. But how do you do this without the app store?

There are two ways you can download apps to the iPad once it has the restrictions in place. First, you can simply turn on app downloads in the restrictions page, download the app or game, and turn app downloads back off again. Or, you can download the app or game on your PC using iTunes and then sync your iPad to your PC.

Setting Up an App Allowance

One great way to ensure your child doesn't run up a huge iTunes bill is to set the iPad up with its own iTunes account and remove the credit card from it. You then have the option of gifting apps to the iPad, which allows you to monitor what is installed, or simply setting up an allowance, which allows your kid to download what they want within the limit of the allowance.