Apple iPhone & iPad
The Complete Guide to Apple iOS Parental Controls
Updated: October 17, 2020 (including iOS14)
Related posts about iOS parental controls – don’t worry, a summary of these bulleted posts is included below if you don’t want to click around:
- iOS 12 Parental Controls Changes
- iOS 13 Parental Controls Changes
- iOS 14 Parental Controls Changes
- iPhone Hacks Every Teen Knows (featured: Washington Post)
- What is Cyberflashing? (iOS AirDrop)
- How to make your iPhone more Private
What’s Better – Apple (iPhone) or Android Parental Controls?
- Android devices are definitely cheaper.
- Apple devices are typically seen as “more cool” by kids.
- Android’s operating system is much easier for a solution like Bark to monitor when it comes to monitoring Snapchat and Instagram’s direct messages (DMs), Instagram’s search (Explore) feature, and deleted text messages. All of these activities are either not possible, or in the case of deleted iMessage on an iPhone, are just more difficult and less accurate.
- Although both come with nice parental controls (Screen Time for iOS and Family Link for Android), the most recent version of Screen Time is so buggy that we now prefer Family Link [Related article: 12 iOS Screen Time Hacks, picked up by the Washington Post].
- Android’s Safe Mode is unfortunately a very effective parental control circumvention and only a few parental control solutions flag when it’s being used. We’ve been told that encrypting the Android phone might solve this issue by requiring a password, but we’re still researching this solution with Google’s Android Support Forum (last updated: Jan. 19, 2020, here’s the link to the support inquiry).
Guard your iPhone with Layers
We believe there are multiple layers that should be in place in order to adequately protect any internet-ready device. The steps below work for iOS 12 (released 2018), iOS 13 (released 2019), and iOS 14 (released 2020).
We recommend 4 Layers of iPhone protection:
- Layer 1: Guard the location of the device
- Layer 2: Control the WiFi (router)
- Layer 3: Use clean DNS on the iOS device
- Layer 4: Use Apple’s Screen Time
Layer 1: Guard the Location of the iPhone or iPad.
Remember, where kids use technology often dictates how they use their technology. We have strong opinions about controlling where kids use their tech. For example, let’s keep all internet-ready devices out of bedrooms at night, where kids take more risks, and sleep is constantly interrupted. Daytime Chromebook usage in bedrooms might be totally necessary during virtual school, since the bedroom might be a child’s learning space, too.
Just know that the combination of boredom, bedrooms, and darkness (the Toxic Trio – watch the webinar!) can be tempting spots to make bad digital choices (whether you’re 14 or 40 years old!).
Related post: The 5 Worst Places for a Kid to be Online
Layer 2: Control the WiFi (router).
Your router is the most important piece of hardware in your home! There are two options – you can either use a router that has built-in parental controls or you can purchase something like Circle that controls the traffic of your existing router.
Circle costs $129 (or $109 with a $20 coupon) to go along with your existing router.
Gryphon is our router of choice and does everything that Circle does but is also a router. It’s a 2-for-1 package. The Gryphon Guardian costs $99 while the larger Tower is around $209 (depending on the season).
The point is that every single home should have their WiFi under control.
Related post: How to Block Porn on Any Device. For Free!
Layer 3: Set up Clean DNS on the iPhone or iPad.
Depending on what you decided in Layer 2, this next layer might be unnecessary.
- If you have a Circle attached to your existing router, then skip Layer 3 and go to Layer 4.
- If you purchased a Gryphon, then skip Layer 3 and go to Layer 4.
- If you don’t have Circle or a router with parental controls like Gryphon, then implement clean DNS below to help with iOS parental controls.
Note – this layer talks about DNS, which stands for the Domain Name System. Every time you use an internet-connected device, it’s connecting to servers located all over the world in order to find the information you’re searching for. Using Clean DNS means that you can tell your internet-connected devices to only go looking for answers in CLEAN servers.
The two most popular clean DNS services are CleanBrowsing (our preferred service) and OpenDNS. Both are free.
If you would like a super-detailed explanation of how Clean DNS works, please read our popular post How to Block Porn on Any Devices for Free. But if you feel good about what you already know, please continue below!
Download the CleanBrowsing app in order to force porn blocking on every WiFi network the phone might use! It’s really handy.
But, what about when the device is using data instead of WiFi?
- If you have a Circle attached to your existing router, then Circle’s VPN service takes your home network settings and applies them to the data usage.
- If you purchased a Gryphon, then you’ll want to use their Homebound VPN service, which does the same thing as Circle, applying your home network’s controls to the data usage.
- If you don’t use Circle or Gryphon, then CleanBrowsing’s app will apply the clean DNS settings to both WiFi and data usage.
Unfortunately, there is still a way for a kid to toggle off the VPN on the iPhone, which disables Circle, Gryphon, and CleanBrowsing. Just so that you’re aware, it’s done by following: Settings -> General -> VPN -> the little “i” next to CleanBrowsing -> “Connect on Demand” turned to off. For now, there’s nothing we can do about this loophole other than making it very clear to kids that toggling off the VPN carries consequences. Eventually, they’ll get caught.
Layer 4: Use Screen Time on the iOS Device.
Note: Screen Time looks very similar for iOS 13 and 14. The screenshots below are from iOS14.
Why would I use Screen Time if I’ve done the steps above?
That’s a super logical question.
- If you choose NOT to use either of the VPN services that come with Gryphon or Circle, then you would want something to control the device when it’s using data and not attached to WiFi at your home.
- Some parents might not fully trust their kids against toggling off the VPN for Gryphon or Circle.
- If you don’t have Gryphon or Circle at all, and are using CleanBrowsing clean DNS on the iPhone, remember that CleanBrowsing only controls explicit content. It doesn’t help with App Store access, screentime, time of day controls, etc. Screen Time can do these things.
- Screen Time iOS parental control is just a good “double layer” in case something fails with Circle, Gryphon, or CleanBrowsing.
How do I set up Screen Time on an iPhone or iPad?
Screen Time Step 1 – Establish Family Sharing
*Note: if your child is already part of your Family Sharing, then skip down to (11) below.
Getting the most out of Screen Time iOS parental controls starts with understanding Apple’s Family Sharing feature. On a parent phone, you’ll want to establish a parent as the “Organizer,” for the family, who functions as the Administrator.
Screen shot 1 – Select “Settings.” Screen shot 2 – Click on your Apple ID on the top. Screen shot 3 – Click “Family Sharing” and then follow the steps in screen shots 4-6 below.
Screen shots 7 – 9 – **IMPORTANT** Apple pays very close attention to the birthday attached to your child’s Apple ID, so make sure it’s correct.
Example: if you attempt to add someone as a “child” in Family Sharing, but you set the birthday to 20, Apple will classify them as an adult. You cannot exert any of the Screen Time controls over anyone who is >=18 according to the birthday on their Apple ID.
Screen Time Step 2 – Set-up Screen Time Features
Click back into Settings and then Screen Time (Screen shot 10). You should see the child you just added (Screen shot 11) and then you’ll want to enable Screen Time for that child (Screen shot 12).
Now, it’s time to set each of the 5 Screen Time areas, starting with Downtime (Screen shot 13).
A fairly recent update now allows users to customize Allowed Screen Time for each day (Screen shot 14). Once you’re happy with Downtime settings, it’s time to consider App Limits (Screen shot 15).
**Special Note – I had one parent ask us this, “In Our Pact, I can just shut down my kid’s apps, which I love. Can I do that in Screen Time?”
The answer is, “YES!” Once you’ve linked your child’s iOS device to yours, you can go into their Downtime settings and if you set the start time for something before “now,” then, Downtime will be enabled and their apps will shut down immediately. It’s a bit of a hack, but until Apple provides an Our Pact like “panic” button, it seems to be the only way.
App Limits (Screen shot 15) is an allowance feature. You can allow for a certain amount of time to be spent on categories of apps during a day (17-18) or on individual apps within a category. FYI – iMessage is categorized under “Social Networking.”
NOTE – if you don’t toggle off the ability to ignore App Limits, your kid will be able to just keep adding time.
Communication Limits (Screen shot 18) is aimed at curbing strangers (tricky people) from contacting kids. Screen shots 20-21 below show parents the types of controls available to them.
Screen shots 21-22 are step 4 in the Screen Time features, where you can decide what Apps are always displayed, even during Downtimes. Content & Privacy Restrictions in Screen shot 23 below is one of the more important sections, and is the last of the 5 Screen Time steps.
In screen shot 25, toggle on Restrictions and start at the top, where you determine what kind of behavior you want from the App Store and adding/deleting apps. The red note on screen shot 26 is important. Don’t miss it.
Screen shot 27 gives you the ability to permanently toggle off certain apps. The most popular apps that parents typically toggle off are Safari and AirDrop.
AirDrop has been the subject of our blog posts where kids and adult send unsolicited porn and cruel content to each other when AirDrop is enabled – read more in My Kid Received Unsolicited Porn – What is Cyberflashing?
After toggling off Safari and AirDrop, click “Back” in the upper left and click “Content Restrictions,” as shown in screen shot 29. For many parents, this section is of great interest.
On Screen shot 30, first, you’ll notice the list at the top where you can control ratings for Music, Podcasts, Movies, Apps, and others. Make whatever selections you think work for your kid. Then, click “Web Content.”
Then click “Limit Adult Websites” as in screen shot 31 and then in screen shot 32, we provide the following list of websites that should be added to the “Never Allow” list because these sites aren’t filtered by Screen Time (for some reason).
- Gibiru.com (private search engine)
- Ecosia.com (search engine)
- Yandex.com (Russian search engine)
- Dogpile.com (easy to toggle off safe search even with Screen Time enabled)
- Flickr (lots of inappropriate content)
- Excite.com (old search engine, can toggle off safe search even with Screen Time enabled)
- Twitter.com (so much porn on Twitter)
- https://www.youtube.com (if you want to completely limit YouTube access, even if someone sends a video link in an iMessage – text). You have to type it in exactly how it is here.
With “Limit Adult Websites” enabled, you cannot delete Safari’s search history. This means parents can inspect the types of websites and searches kids are attempting by clicking the Safari app -> then the Book icon in the bottom menu of Safari -> then the clock option at the top, right. You’ll notice the little “Clear” option in the lower right is greyed out, since “Limit Adult Websites” is enabled.
NOTE: If you want to toggle off Safari altogether, a super-safe, porn-blocking, free browser you might consider is the SPIN browser from Boomerang.
If you decide to keep Safari and you follow the steps above, you’ll be able to fully control the Screen Time iOS parental control settings for your child’s device from your device. Just click the Settings app and then Screen Time on your device, scroll down to see your child’s name and tap.
How to Control iMessages (Texting) on an iPhone
The biggest reasons kids ask for an iPod Touch are for texting with their friends and downloading and listening to their favorite music. Anyone with an iPod can iMessage (Apple’s word for text) anyone else with an Apple device while connected to WiFi. Unlimited and free! Here is an Apple article explaining how iMessage works. If you want to monitor your kid’s iMessage activity, here are two good articles with some savvy tips:
Bark, which we mentioned above, also monitors iMessages for inappropriate words and phrases, then alerts parents so that they can get involved at the right time. It’s pretty great!
Try Bark -> Free for 7 days! Follow this link.
How do I Guard my Privacy on an iPhone?
iPhones are fairly private devices but you can make them even more private by enabling a few important toggles. One of the more significant updates from iOS 14 is to tell apps to only share your approximate (not precise) location. This is important for mitigating predator risk. BUT, we don’t want kids to turn off location services for apps like Life360.
Go to: Settings (gear) App -> Screen Time -> Content & Privacy Restrictions -> Location Services -> then ensure each app is how you want it. For any app where you allow “Ask, While Using, or Always” location tracking, there’s a toggle for Precise Location. Once you have everything how you want it, be sure to select Don’t Allow Changes at the top.
For a more comprehensive list of privacy settings, please read our in-depth post: iPhone Privacy
Do I need any other Parental Controls on my kid’s iPhone?
It depends on your situation. As you can see from above, if you get the router right and enable Screen Time, along with great conversations with your kids, that’s probably enough. But, if you have a Chromebook, iPhone, Android tablet, and an iPad, in other words you have a lot of different devices, then you might want a solution like Mobicip or Net Nanny.
If you’re feeling motivated to dive into the complex world of parental controls, then we’ve tested 14 parental control solutions in our popular post 2020 Parental Controls Testing.
Cell phone providers have their own parental control services, too. Families using Circle or Gryphon sometimes prefer layering the cell service provider controls when the phone is using data, since toggling off the VPN for Circle and Gryphon is easy. Here are links to each:
iOS Parental Controls FAQ’s
Q: Screen Time just quits working on my child’s device from time-to-time. Am I doing something wrong?
A: No. Multiple parents are reporting this to us at PYE. When this happens, we suggest toggling Screen Time off and starting over.
*There are affiliate links throughout this post because we’ve tested and trust a small list of parental control solutions. Our work saves you time! If you decide that you agree with us, then we may earn a small commission, which does nothing to your price. Enjoy!