Apple iPhone & iPad
The Complete Guide to Apple iOS Parental Controls
Updated: December 14, 2021 for iOS 15.2 updates
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
- iOS 15.2 changes for nudity detection
- 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 iOS device.
- Layer 2: Love your router (WiFi)!
- Layer 3: Use clean DNS on the iPhone or iPad.
- Layer 4: Use Apple’s Screen Time on the iOS device.
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.
Just know that the combination of boredom, bedrooms, and darkness (the Toxic Trio – register for 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: Love your WiFi (router)!
The Router is the most important digital hardware in the house! And, it’s often the most ignored. We joke that routers are the social distance champion of technology. But, get this part of your internet safety plan correct! You are responsible for every digital click on your home’s network, so be sure to control the router.
Popular options for parents are:
- Gryphon Advance Security & Parental Controls router. We have really enjoyed the Gryphon. Top-notch set of parental controls. This is the router used by our CEO, Chris, with his four children. It gives you time control, YouTube Restricted Mode, and more. Easy set-up and a parent app that allows you to pause the internet with one touch.
- OR, if you love your current router, consider Bark Home. It acts as an accessory to your router, giving you stronger parental controls over your home’s network. It’s not a router, but connects to your router. Easy-to-use app for you to exert screen time and app control over your kid, but weak on content (porn) with a motivated kid.
**Bonus content – we tested the best routers out there and here’s WHY we picked Gryphon.
Layer 3: Use 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 Bark Home or 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 Apple’s Screen Time on the iOS Device.
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.
Step 1 – Select “Settings.” Step 2 – Click on your Apple ID on the top. Step 3 – Click “Family Sharing” and then follow the steps in steps 4-6 below.
Steps 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 (Step 10). You should see the child you just added (Step 11) and then you’ll want to enable Screen Time for that child (Step 12).
Now, it’s time to set each of the 6 Screen Time areas, starting with Downtime (Step 13).
A fairly recent update now allows users to customize Allowed Screen Time for each day (Step 14). Once you’re happy with Downtime settings, it’s time to consider App Limits (Step 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 (Step 15) is an allowance feature. You can allow for a certain amount of time to be spent on categories of apps during a day (Step 17) 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 (Steps 18 above) is aimed at curbing strangers (tricky people) from contacting kids. Steps 19-20 below show parents the types of controls available to them.
Steps 21-22 below are step 4 in the Screen Time features, where you can toggle on a brand new nudity detection feature for incoming and outgoing iMessages.
Steps 23-24 are step 5 in the Screen Time features, where you can decide what Apps are always displayed, even during Downtimes. Content & Privacy Restrictions in Step 25 below is one of the more important sections, and is the last of the 6 Screen Time steps.
In step 26 below, 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. In step 28, we’ve shown our preferred settings for the Apple App Store. These include allowing kids to install apps (Family Sharing should make it so you still have to approve the installation, but they have the agency to select what they want), prevent “deleting apps” and remove “In-app purchases” to avoid surprise purchases.
Step 29 above gives you the ability to permanently toggle off certain apps. The most popular apps that parents typically toggle off are Safari and AirDrop (shown in step 30 below).
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 step 31. For many parents, this section is of great interest.
On Step 32, 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” (shown at the very bottom of the image above).
Then click “Limit Adult Websites” as in step 33 above and then in step 34, 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 (search engine)
- Yandex.com, Yandex.ru, and Yandex.com.tr (Russian search engine)
- Dogpile.com (search engine)
- DuckDuckGo (bad Safe Search)
- Startpage.com (search engine)
- Reddit.com (explicit forum)
- Quora.com (explicit forum)
- Instagram.com (full search from the web)
- VK.com (social media)
- Pinterest.com (if you’re super careful)
- Joyreactor.com (porn in memes)
- Archive.org (screenshots of the web)
- Pholder.com (porn in memes)
- Twitter.com (horrible content)
- Omegle.com (random adult cams)
- Chatroulette.com (random adult cams)
- Flickr.com (explicit photos)
- Tumblr.com (explicit photos)
- Thechive.com (explicit content)
- Toomics.com (anime explicit)
- 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.
In the image above, a few final steps are shown in steps 35 and 36.
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 in 2020 was 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. If you think you need more, older kids might benefit from Covenant Eyes. Other kids might benefit from the stricter parental controls that Bark also offers.
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!