How to Set up and Use Restrictions on an iPhone

Set age-appropriate restrictions on your child's iPhone

An iphone with a networked lock on the front

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Parents who are concerned about what their kids see or do while using an iPhone or iPod touch don't have to look over their kids' shoulders all the time. Instead, they can use tools included in iOS to control the content, apps, and other features their children can access.

These tools—called iPhone Restrictions—cover a comprehensive set of Apple services and apps. They offer concerned parents a way to set up parental controls they can modify as the child grows. 

How to Enable iPhone Restrictions 

To enable and configure these controls, follow these steps: 

  1. Tap the Settings app on the iPhone on which you want to enable restrictions.

  2. Tap General.

  3. Tap Restrictions. 

  4. Tap Enable Restrictions.

  5. You'll be prompted to create a four-digit passcode that gives you—not your child—access to the restriction settings on the iPhone. Each time you need to access or change the restrictions screen, you have to enter this code, so select a number you can easily remember. Don't use the same passcode that unlocks the iPhone, or your child will be able to change any of the content restriction settings if she can unlock the phone.

  6. Enter the passcode a second time and restrictions will be enabled.

Navigating the Restrictions Settings Screen

Once you've turned Restrictions on, the Settings screen displays a lengthy list of apps and features that you can block on the phone. Go through each section and make a decision based on your child's age and your preferences. Next to each item is a slider. Move the slider to the On position to allow your child to access the app or feature. Move the slider to the Off position to block access. In iOS 7 and up, the On position is indicated by a green bar on the slider. The Off position is indicated by a white bar.

Here's what you need to know about each section of settings:

  • The first section, Allow, includes some of the built-in apps and tools that come with the iPhone, including Safari, Camera, Siri, and FaceTime, among others. Any app or feature you turn off is completely hidden from your child—it won't display on the iPhone home screen and can't be opened or used by any means. Moving the slider back to the On position restores the app to the iPhone.

 If you leave Safari available, Apple does not provide a way to turn off Private Browsing in Safari. This means your child could use Private Browsing to prevent you from seeing their browsing history.

The next section of settings gives you control over access to Apple's online content stores.

  • Included in this section are the iTunes Store, the iBooks Store, Apple Music, the Podcasts library, the News app, and access to the App Store. If you disable these, your child won't be able to buy or download content from Apple. ​
    • For a more flexible approach to controlling purchases, consider setting up Family Sharing and requiring your approval for downloads from these stores
  • There are two other useful controls here: Deleting Apps and In-App Purchases. You might disable Deleting Apps if you want to make sure that certain apps stay installed on the device no matter what. Turn off In-App Purchases to prevent your kids from running up a big bill from iTunes without your permission or by mistake. If you only make one selection in the Restrictions settings, consider this one, since it prevents unpleasant financial surprises.

The third section of the Restrictions screen is labeled Allowed Content. It controls the type and maturity level of content your child can view on the iPhone. The options are:

  • Ratings For: Choose the country whose rating system you want to apply to content. It makes sense to choose the country you live in, but many are available.
  • Music & Podcasts & News: Use this to determine whether explicit content can be played or viewed on the iPhone. In the case of music, this setting only works with content from the iTunes Store. If the iPhone contains music downloaded from other locations or ripped from CDs, the phone won't know whether the content is explicit, and it will still allow it. This is also true of movies and TV episodes obtained from sources other than iTunes.
  • Movies: Chose the highest rating level you want to allow by tapping it, from G to NC-17. The TV Shows, Books, and Apps selections work similarly.
  • Siri: Control whether Siri can speak or search for explicit language.
  • Websites: Restrict your kids from visiting adult websites (what qualifies is determined by Apple). For even greater control, choose Specific Websites Only and create a list of websites your kids can visit and block them from all others.

    The section labeled Privacy gives you a lot of control over the privacy and security settings on your child's iPhone. These settings are too extensive to cover in detail here. To learn more about them, read Using iPhone Privacy Settings. The section contains privacy settings for Location Services, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Photos, and other apps and features.

    The next section, labeled Allow Changes, prevents your child from making changes to certain features on the iPhone, including:

    • Accounts: If you disable this feature, your child won't be able to add or delete accounts in the built-in Mail, Contacts, and Calendars apps.
    • Cellular Data Use: Use this to allow or block your child from turning on or off cellular data. 
    • Background App Refresh: This feature is a slight drain on battery life, so you might decide to turn it off. 
    • Volume Limit: To prevent hearing damage in your child, you may have set a volume limit for audio playback. This setting prevents the child from changing that limit.
    • TV Provider: Used with the built-in TV app to determine what streaming video content is available on the phone. 

    The last section, which covers Apple's Game Center gaming features, offers the following controls:

    • Multiplayer Games: Disable this option to prevent your children from being able to play online games with other people. 
    • Adding Friends: Game Center allows players to "friend" each other, Facebook style, for easier connections. If you're uncomfortable with your kids having this option, disable it.
    • Screen Recording: Some apps let players record their game sessions and share them online. This setting disables screen recording.

    Restrictions can make it seems like apps on your phone have been deleted, but they're often actually still there. Learn all about it by reading How to Get Missing Apps Back on Your iPhone.

    How to Disable iPhone Restrictions

    When the day comes that your child no longer needs Restrictions, you can disable all the features and return the iPhone to its out-of-the-box settings. Removing restrictions is much faster than setting them up.

    To disable all content restrictions, go Settings > Restrictions and enter the passcode. Then tap ​Disable Restrictions at the top of the screen.