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What's AirDrop and Why Are Kids Using It?

What parents need to know about AirDrop, the Apple feature that lets you instantly share photos, files, and other content and can expose kids and teens to inappropriate content.

You may wonder why certain social media such as Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok get so popular with kids and teens practically overnight. It's because kids want to be where their friends are. But what if your kid wants to share something with someone they're not friends with online, like their assigned lab partner, kids at their cafeteria table, or teammates after practice? In that case, they can use AirDrop. Though most kids use AirDrop perfectly safely, it has the potential for misuse that parents should keep an eye out for. This guide offers answers to parents' most-often-asked questions about AirDrop.

How does AirDrop work?

AirDrop is a feature in iPhones, iPads, iPods, and Macs that lets you instantly send files, photos, and other content to other iPhone or Mac users who are physically close to you. It's not an app or a type of storage; it simply enables the transfer of files using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. To use it, you just tap or click the "share" icon (it looks like a square with an arrow pointing up) anywhere it appears (like on a photo or a Google Doc). When the AirDrop window comes up, tap or click on the user you want to share with. When you receive an AirDrop notification, you can hit Accept or Decline.

Why do kids use AirDrop?

Kids use AirDrop for school to share homework, notes, and files, but the main reason they like it is because they can send almost anything to anyone (so long as they're within 30 feet). Another reason for AirDrop's popularity is that it bypasses some of the limits that regular social media puts on content. You can AirDrop inappropriate content without the risk of getting banned, blocked, or reported as you might on Snapchat, Instagram, and other apps that have strict rules about inappropriate material.

What are the risks of using AirDrop?

For the receiver, AirDrop is risky because an image or file can be shared with you without your consent. A sender with bad intentions can bully, harass, and humiliate someone easily and very publicly by sharing embarrassing photos, for example, to a wide group of people using AirDrop. Kids who are sensitive or vulnerable for any reason can also be more affected by the hostility of negative posts.

If someone sends you something inappropriate, you will see a small version of the image pop up on your phone even if you do not accept the file. Also, it has no blocking and reporting tools. For the sender, AirDrop plays into kids' impulsivity. Kids can share stuff so easily that they don't have a lot of time to think through the consequences of their actions. Also, if you keep your AirDrop on (and have your phone set to receive content from everyone), your phone name and icon will show up for anyone who accesses AirDrop so long as they're close by -- meaning a stranger could potentially find out your name by matching your phone name with your face on a crowded train, for example.

How can I allow my kid to use AirDrop safely?

To prevent ever receiving something inappropriate on AirDrop, you have to keep it turned off. But that's not always a realistic choice for kids. So use these talking tips:

Have the talk. If your kids have phones -- not just iPhones -- it's important to talk about how to use any communication tool safely, responsibly, and respectfully.

Give them guidelines. Explain what's OK to post or share (a silly, non-offensive meme) and what's definitely not OK (intimate, sexual photos).

Talk about sexual harassment. Girls and women have reported receiving AirDropped intimate photos from creeps in public places. Receiving these photos can feel humiliating. Make sure kids know they're not at fault. Review red flag behavior so kids can be on the lookout for predatory actions online and anywhere.

Talk about peer pressure. Some kids with AirDrop can feel pressured to share things they're not really comfortable with because the group is egging them on. Work on ways your kid can resist this pressure.

Make sure they use safe settings. It's best to keep AirDrop off. But if that's not doable, keep AirDrop on Contacts Only and advise kids to decline messages from people they don't know.

What does my kid need to use AirDrop?

  • An Apple device such as an iPhone, iPad, or iPod or a Mac computer.
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned on.
  • Devices must be within 30 feet of each other.

How do I know if AirDrop is on?

  • Go to the Settings app, tap General, then AirDrop.
  • You'll see three settings: Receiving Off, Contacts Only, and Everyone. The setting that's enabled has a check mark next to it.

What do the three settings mean?

  • Receiving Off means the phone will not receive any AirDrops.
  • Contacts Only prevents anyone who's not in your contacts from sending you something.
  • Everyone allows you to receive AirDrops from anyone close by who also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled.

How can I turn off AirDrop on my kid's phone?

To temporarily disable AirDrop:

  • Go into Settings/General/AirDrop and tap Receiving Off.

To prevent kids from turning it back on:

  • Go into the Settings app and tap Screen Time. Then tap Content & Privacy Restrictions.
  • In the Content & Privacy Restrictions section, toggle on the first setting, Content & Privacy Restrictions
  • Tap Allowed Apps.
  • On the Allowed Apps page, toggle off AirDrop.
  • You can make sure that kids can't turn AirDrop back on by setting a passcode (which is found under Settings/Screen Time/Use Screen Time Passcode). Get more information on iOS's parental control settings.
  • You'll also want to make sure that kids can't override your pass code by tapping Settings/Screen Time/Content & Privacy Restrictions, then scrolling down to the section called Allow Changes, tapping Passcode Changes, then Don't Allow.
Caroline Knorr
Caroline is Common Sense Media's former parenting editor. She has many years of editorial and creative marketing writing experience and has held senior-level positions at, Walmart stores, Cnet, and Bay Area Parent magazine. She specializes in translating complex information into bite-sized chunks to help families make informed choices about what their kids watch, play, read, and do.