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A smart guide to smartphone and tablet parental controls

Parental Controls

School supplies no longer consist of a few notebooks and pencils. As kids head back to class, many will be handed new smartphones and tablets. And while we all know how much they can enhance our kids’ learning experience, they’re also the passport to a digital world where kids can get into all kinds of trouble. 

Most devices come with a slew of parental controls that allow you to restrict what your kids see on the internet, what they can download, buy, watch, and more. And while they’re not flawless, and definitely are NOT a substitute for careful supervision, it’s critical to understand and implement some controls before they head to YouTube, or Pokemon Go.

Here’s some help: A primer on some of the controls available for the most popular devices.

apple devices: ipods, ipads and iphones

Apple devices have great controls built right into the system, and like most Apple functionality, they’re easy to understand and control. They’re still behind when it comes to setting profiles for each child, and time limits for each day, but it’s easy to block adult content, apps and features you don’t want your kids using, and either restrict or get alerted to their downloads and purchases.


Start by heading to Settings > General > Restrictions and tapping Enable Restrictions.

You’ll be asked to create a special passcode your kid won’t know, and then you can scroll down the menu of choices, setting up restrictions for all kind of things. You’ll need this passcode to adjust these restrictions or turn them off (you’ll want to do this as the kids get older and earn more digital freedoms), so do not forget it. 

PSA: If you do forget your Restrictions password, you’ll have to wipe your child’s device clean. All their game progress will be lost. You’ll have to set the whole thing up from scratch. Tears will fall. Doors will slam. You will not be a popular parent. Do don’t forget it. Moving on…

parental controls: Apple Restrictions

Once you’ve set it up it’s easy to turn off apps and allow/restrict types of content or actions. If you see an app on the Allow list, that means you’ll be able to turn it off or on. ie. Turn off “Safari” and the device’s web browser will disappear. POOF: No more access to the Web.

Below this list, you’ll see the Allowed Content list, which will let you adjust the rating for content that can be watched, read, or downloaded.

You can also restrict actions like Installing or Deleting Apps, Making In-App Purchases, Playing Multi-Player Games or Using Siri. Take your time and get to know this list— it’s comprehensive. 


Family Sharing

Also incredibly valuable is Apple’s Family Sharing feature, which notifies a designated parent (the “family organizer”) anytime one of the family devices tries to download an app or make an in-app purchase and asks for approval before the download can occur. This is great for older kids for whom you want to allow some digital freedoms, but still want to keep an eye on things.

To set up Family Sharing, head to Settings > iCloud. Tap Set Up Family Sharing and then tap Get Started.  Confirm that you want to be the Family Organizer, then follow instructions to set up.

parental controls: family sharing

Once you’re done, you can invite members of your family to join by going to Settings > iCloud > Family > Add Family Member. Enter your family member’s name or email address, and follow the onscreen instructions to complete.

To accept the invitation, kids head to Settings > iCloud > Invitations and confirm with their AppleID and password.

Ask To Buy

For any family member under 13 the “Ask to Buy” feature is turned on by default, and for those under 18, you can elect to turn it on. Tap Settings > iCloud > Family then tap your family member’s name, and Tap Ask to Buy.

Once set up, you’ll get a notification when one of your kids wants to buy anything in the app store or iTunes store, or make an in-app purchase. You can accept or decline any purchase request.  OOOH THE POWER!


samsung galaxy devices

Android devices have generally been less reliable and spotty when it comes to parental controls, and because there are so many made by so many different manufacturers, it’s hard to share instructions that apply to all devices. However, Samsung’s newer Galaxy devices have a Kids Mode that offers controls that are similar to Apple’s, but slightly different.
parental controls: Samsung Kids Mode

Kids Mode isn’t a setting built into the phone, it’s an app that gives your kids a brightly-colored home page for your tablet or smartphone. It restricts access to all your apps and gives your kids a cartoony environment with limited functionality, including a doodle pad, a camera with fun stickers, a kid-safe media player, and a customizable alligator (yup). 

To install (it’s not part of the operating system, like Apple’s restrictions are), download the app, then launch it. Then set up a PIN code that will allow you to set or change controls (just like for iDevices, you need to keep that PIN code somewhere safe, and make sure you don’t forget it). After your PIN code is entered, create a profile for your each of your kids by entering their names and birthdays. 

Parental Controls: Kids Mode

You can then decide whether or not to allow each kid to do things like listen to the music on the device, see the videos saved on the device, have access to certain applications, or even set a time limit for each day.

In order to exit Kid’s Mode (say, if you want to use your own tablet), just tap the Exit icon, enter the PIN code, and you’ll have left the kiddie environment and returned to your device’s regular apps and settings.  In other words, this one’s great for super young kids you want to let play around on your phone, but your teenager won’t be down with cutesy graphics and alligators. 

amazon fire tablets

Amazon Fire tablets comes with multiple ways to enable some really sophisticated parental controls. Like Apple devices, you can go to Settings > Parental Controls, where a menu will allow you to restrict access to everything from the web browser to the camera, using a passcode only you know. This creates a tablet that is locked down for everyone so it’s great if your tablet is a dedicated device for your young child. If older children (or you) are also using the tablet, you can set up profiles for everyone using the Amazon FreeTime feature which, in my opinion, is the smartest parental control system for any tablet on the market.

Amazon FreeTime

To set up profiles, head to Profiles > Settings > Family Library. A smaller child will get a cute interface, and an older child will get the regular, non-cute Fire tablet interface. For either, you’ll be able to choose which books, apps, games, and videos you want to give your kids access to. You can also set personalized restrictions for kids of different ages, including daily time limits and a curfew.

To manage those profiles and content at any time, tap Apps > FreeTime > Manage Content & Subscription, Daily Goals & Time Limits, Manage Child Profiles or More.

Do you use parental controls on your kids’ devices? What do you restrict and why? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

image borrowed from amazon.

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