HOW-TO With three generations of iPads now out in the wild, it’s becoming more usual to find multiple iPads in a home. And some of them are being passed along to kids. What can you do to make such an iPad useful (and safe) for your child? These six steps are a good place to start.
Step 1: Remove Your Stuff
When giving an iPad to another person—even your own kid—it’s imperative that you remove all of your data from it. Hook up your iPad to the computer you normally sync it with, and then back it up (because you may want to restore that data to a new tablet). Then select that iPad in iTunes’ Source list; in the Summary tab, click on Restore. iTunes downloads and installs the latest iOS version. Choose to configure the iPad as new, and you wind up with a device that’s essentially just as it was when you first pulled it from the box.
Step 2: Plan a Syncing Strategy
If you have a young child, you should take responsibility for obtaining apps on your child’s behalf and syncing the iPad through your own iTunes account. That way, not only do you know exactly what’s on the iPad, but you can also deal with obtaining, organizing, and configuring apps.
iOS offers broad options to switch off Safari, YouTube, iTunes, and Ping. You can allow app and media downloads based on their rating.
Older children will want an iTunes account of their own. If you grant it to them, they’ll appreciate having the independence to download the apps and media they want, rather than simply the ones you’ve decided are “good for them.” If you go this route, you’ll also want to create a separate account for them on your Mac, as well as obtain an Apple ID for their use. That way, their apps are tied to their account and they don’t have access to your apps, some of which may be inappropriate for children.
Step 3: Configure Restrictions
iOS offers very broad options to switch off Safari, YouTube, iTunes, and Ping, and to disable the ability to install and delete apps. Additionally, you can allow downloading of apps and media based on their rating—restricting movies to G and PG ratings and apps to age nine and over, for instance—and deny in-app purchases, multiplayer games, and adding friends within Game Center.
To enable restrictions, launch Settings on the iPad, tap General, and then tap Restrictions. Select Enable Restrictions at the top of the screen. You’ll be prompted to enter and confirm a four-digit passcode. If anyone tries to change your settings, they’ll need to enter that passcode first.
iOS 5 lets you impose restrictions on location and accounts. Tap Location in the Restrictions pane and you can disable location information completely by toggling the Location Services switch to Off. Or you can choose to turn off location for the specific apps listed below that switch. Parents may not want an app to tell the world where their child is. A good rule of thumb is to switch on location for apps that tell the user about the world around them—a weather app, Yelp, and Maps, for example. But you may want to turn off location for an app that broadcasts the iPad’s position—Find My Friends or a Twitter or Facebook client, for instance.
Step 4: Obtain and Configure Email
If your child doesn’t have an email address, you can obtain a free one from a source such as Gmail or Yahoo. Both services ask that the owner of the email address be at least 13 years old, though they have no way of confirming the owner’s age.
Unwanted email can be a problem with iOS devices because, unlike with OS X’s parental controls, you have no way of limiting the addresses your child can receive email from or send email to on the device. Gmail and Yahoo allow you to create limited whitelists of senders the recipient should always receive messages from, but offers no way to block senders who aren’t on the whitelist. The same applies to iCloud email accounts. You can set up basic filters on the iCloud website, but they can’t prevent the sending of mail to your child’s iCloud email account. For this reason, you should be completely sure that your child can handle the responsibility that comes with an email account (and is willing to tell you if he or she is receiving inappropriate messages).
Step 5: Choose Apps for the iPad
If you’d like complete control over which apps your kid can install on the iPad, switch off restrictions if they’re enabled, sit down with your child, and choose some appropriate apps. When you’re done, switch restrictions on and toggle the Installing Apps option to Off. This prevents your kid from installing apps.
Keep an eye on the Netflix app. It’s a terrific resource for streaming movies to your child’s iPad, but its restrictions are tricky to manage. Although you can create profiles for different members of your family, Netflix applies parental controls globally. If you don’t switch on parental controls, your child has access on the iPad to any movies or TV shows available via Netflix’s Watch Instantly service or within your streaming queue. And, of course, once you switch on parental controls, they keep the adults in the family from watching more mature content until you modify those settings. The other sticking point is that you can only modify parental controls on Netflix’s website.
Step 6: The Talk
Whenever you consider giving a child access to technology, you must also prepare for The Talk. Your talk should address the importance of setting limits on iPad use, asserting your right as a parent to check up on your kid, and warning of the dangers of oversharing information on the Internet. The approach should be age appropriate. You don’t want to terrify younger children with visions of the Internet bogeyman, nor should you overprotect a teenager old enough to go to an R-rated movie. Your advice should be similar to that for a traveler in a new city—get the lay of the land, learn about both the dangers and opportunities, and have a good time.