Step-by-Step Tips to Set Up Your Kid's iPhone

Learn how to set a passcode, block apps, share media, and more. By Christine Elgersma
Step-by-Step Tips to Set Up Your Kid's iPhone

You've done all the hemming and hawing about whether or not to get your kid an iPhone and you’ve decided to take the plunge. Now what? There’s so much to figure out, from Safari to iMessage, not to mention the Wild West of the App Store, where kids have access to everything from Candy Crush to Tinder. How can you possibly keep them safe, out of trouble, and away from content that’s too intense for them?

It’s possible. And it might be easier than you think. Apple devices have some super-useful settings and features that help parents shape their kids’ experiences and block access to things that they might not be ready for. Though no tech-based solutions can ever replace the ongoing conversation we need to have with our kids about using devices and media responsibly, the built-in parent controls can point you in the right direction, start a conversation, and help you set limits that work for your family. We'll walk you through the essential questions every parent has about managing their kids' iPhones and explain, step by step, how to do it.

Q. Before I hand over the phone, how do I make sure I have some control?

A. Set a passcode.

Here's why you want to:

  • Gives you control of the device.
  • Lets you block or limit apps.
  • Kids can't get around it.

Watch the video: How to Control What Your Kid Can Do on the iPhone


The first thing you want to do before you give a kid their own device (or hand over yours) is to create a passcode to enable restrictions. This passcode is different from the one you use to unlock your phone. Instead, it's a code you set so that kids can’t change the settings. Remember to write down the passcode in a safe place because it's a real pain if you lose it. And don't share it with your kids.

1. Tap Settings.
2. Tap General.
3. Tap Restrictions.
4. Tap Enable Restrictions.
5. Set a code.
6. Re-enter the code.

Q. How do I share media such as music and movies?

A. Set up Family Sharing.

Here's why you want to:

  • Lets you share media between family members.
  • Gives your kid an Apple ID for additional privileges.

Extra trick:

  • Lets families share a calendar to stay organized.

Watch the video: How to Share Downloads and Purchases on the iPhone

Downloads and Purchases

You can use Family Sharing to gain a bit more control over your kid's device. Family Sharing also creates a kind of network among family devices. You can include up to six people in your "family," so you could let a babysitter or a relative approve purchases, see your family calendar, and share content such as music, movies, and games.

1. On your own phone, tap Settings and tap your name (where it says Apple ID, iCloud, etc.).
2. Tap Family Sharing and Get Started. Confirm that you’re the organizer.
3. Tap "Create an Apple ID for a child" (at bottom).
4. Add your kid’s birthday.
5. Enter the security code for your credit card.
6. Enter your kid’s name, select a username, and create a password and answers to security questions you can both remember. Your email address is the "rescue" account if you both forget.

7. Follow these steps to share media with your family, and hide what you don’t want to share:

  • To download family content, go to the iTunes store on your phone, Tap More (three dots), then Purchased.
  • Tap the name of the family member to see their purchases and download.
  • To hide apps, go to the App Store > Updates > Purchased > My Purchases on your phone.
  • Swipe left, and choose Hide.
  • Open the iTunes Store on a Mac or PC to hide content other than apps.
  • Go to Account > Family Purchases and scroll over what you want to hide.
  • Click the "X" in the upper-left corner.
  • To unhide, go to the iTunes store on your Mac or PC (View my account > Manage hidden purchases).

8. Use the Calendar app to access your Family Calendar and add events you all can see.
9. Share pictures through the Photos app under Shared.

Q. How do I make sure my kids get my permission before downloading and purchasing content?

A. Set up Ask to Buy in Family Sharing.

Here's why you want to:

  • You'll get a message when your kid wants to buy or download something, and you can either approve it or not.

Watch the video: How to Limit What Kids Download on the iPhone

Download on iPhone

By default, kids under 13 have to ask to buy or download if they're part of Family Sharing. Parents have the option to set up Ask to Buy for kids under 18.

  1. Follow the steps to set up Family Sharing.
  2. Tap your kid’s name, then Ask to Buy.

Q. How do I manage mature content, purchases, and access to the web?

A. Set restrictions.

Here's why you want to:

  • Gives you control over specific apps and actions.
  • Lets you restrict access to mature content.

Extra trick:

  • Lets you shut down multiplayer games and game features.

Watch the video: How to Restrict Mature Content, Games, and More on the iPhone

Download on iPhone

If you've set your passcode, you're ready to go through all of the limits you can set. From in-app purchases to Game Center, you can decide what your kid is and is not ready for. Restrictions are divided into several categories, so we’ll walk you through each:

1. On your kid's phone, tap Settings > General > Restrictions.
2. Enter your passcode.
3. Allow access to individual apps and actions:

  • Toggle on and off access to apps like Safari, Siri, and FaceTime.
  • Control the ability to install apps, delete them, or make in-app purchases.

4. Set age ratings/limits for different media to block access to mature content:

  • Choose to limit adult content on websites or select specific websites that device can access.
  • Set access to mature content for various media like music, movies, books, TV shows, and apps.

​​5. Set privacy settings and allow or don't allow changes:

  • Turn on and off location services and location sharing (toggle "Don’t Allow Changes" if you want that preference locked).
  • Choose apps that have access to photos and microphone.

6. Allow or don’t allow changes to settings:

  • Volume, accounts, and data use.

7. Control access to Game Center options:

  • Allow or don’t allow access to multiplayer games.
  • Allow or don’t allow adding friends and screen recording.

Q. Let’s say I want to let my kid use her phone to listen to music in the evening, but I don’t want her doing anything else. How do I only allow access to one app at a time?

A. Use Guided Access.

Here's why you want to:

  • Keeps your kid on a safe, approved app.
  • Prevents multitasking.

Watch the video: How to Prevent Kids from Clicking Out of an App on the iPhone

Download on iPhone

If you need to limit your kid’s access to a single app, you can use Guided Access, which essentially locks down a phone except for one application.

1. On your kid's phone tap Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access.
2. Set a passcode (you can use the same one you set for Restrictions).
3. Open the app you want your kid to use.
4. Triple-click the Home button and enable any options you'd like:

  • Set a time limit.
  • Disable the volume controls, motion controls, and keyboards.
  • Circle an area of the screen you don’t want your kid to use.

5. To turn it off, triple-click again and enter your code or use Touch ID.

Q. Is there a way to see where my kid is or find her device if it's lost?

A. Use Family Sharing to Share Location.

Here's why you want to:

  • If your kid loses her device, you can use Find My Phone to track it down.
  • You can see where your kid is on a map (if they have their device with them).
  • You can share your location with everyone in your Family Sharing group when you’re trying to meet somewhere.

Note: Location services don't work if the phone is off or runs out of juice. Certain apps use location, so make sure to set your preferences for your kid’s device for individual apps like Facebook and Twitter in Restrictions.

  • Follow the steps to set up Family Sharing.
  • Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services.
  • Turn on Location Services and choose to Share My Location either on your own device or your kid’s.
  • Check Find My iPhone to see where your family devices are, and use Find My Friends to see where individual members are.

Note: These instructions apply to iOS 10.3.1. Features and steps may vary with iOS updates.

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About Christine Elgersma

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Christine Elgersma wrangles learning and social media app reviews and creates parent talks as Senior Editor, Parent Education. Before coming to Common Sense, she helped cultivate and create ELA curriculum for a K-12 app... Read more

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Comments (12)

Adult written by Kara.e

My 13 year old daughter has been using the iPhone 7+ with no parental restrictions for 2 years as my husband and I think that she is responsible enough. However, my son who recently bought a iPhone xs isn't willing to let us place restrictions on his phone. What do we do?
Teen, 13 years old written by Fguerouate

I am feeling rather disappointed with this article. Why buy a kid an iPhone when you have no prior technical knowledge, and when you will restrict it so heavily? I bypassed the restrictions on my old iPod Touch in third grade(I am very good with tech), and now, I have an iPhone, but I don’t use social media(I have before, but I realized that it was a waste of time). Early trust can go a long way. A kid will feel untreated with all of this stupid crap, thus creating more issues. If you limit screen time and don’t be a helicopter parent, your child should be fine, trust me.
Parent written by Dani A.

Hi Christine, This article is fantastic! Came across it just in time when I'm thinking about giving my soon to be 11 year old son an iPhone. Although Apple just updated the iOS and navigation is a bit different I was able to get around, and set up my son's phone with no issues. He hasn't used it yet, so I can't say how well enabling restriction works. I did do some testing and found, for example, the App store does let you view apps rated +17 when this restriction is disabled, however it does not let you get/install the app. My expectation was to hide +17 apps, but unfortunately not. There might be a workaround if you would like to share this with us. If not, this is definitely something Apple needs to work on. I work in IT and understand the gap between system behavior and user expectations - sometimes they are not the same. We can only make the suggestion to Apple and hope they will listen to us. Hopefully we can see this in the next update. God bless you, Daniela
Parent of a 11 year old written by Leanne C.

I do not have an iPhone, I'm an android user. I do however have an itunes account can all this be done there as well as my child's iphone?
Parent written by Dani A.

I don't think so this article tailored for iPhones, and the software that come with it. There might be something similar for Android devices out there.
Parent written by Nathan S.

After 10 years of iPhones and iPads, it's still a widely held misconception that Apple iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod) with parental controls set up like this post describes is relatively safe from kids accessing very mature content. Sadly, even with all of this set up, the device is likely still WIDE OPEN to any content of any kind if it has just 1 app that contains an embedded browser (or 'In-App' browser) or if at any point an app with an embedded browser gets installed. It has decreased some over the years, but the apps that have these browsers built into them so that a user can effectively bypass the 'Restrictions' settings and surf the entire web even if Safari is turned off, the ability to install apps is turned off or a filtering browser like NetNanny, Covenant Eyes, etc. is being used is still quite large. Now how this works within each iOS version and which apps have it is changing regularly, but plenty of the apps that have these embedded browsers are very popular and seemingly innocuous ones and it's very easy to miss which apps have them. It's possible there might be something in iOS 11 that was recently released that completely closes this backdoor loophole to unrestricted, unfiltered and untraceable internet access, but I highly doubt it. I wish journalists (and especially Apple!) would make sure parents know this, because, as has always been the case with evolving technology, their children often do...
Teen, 13 years old written by Fguerouate

What version of iOS 11? And some of these browsers are 17 plus on the App Store, unless you use another source to download ipa’s online or through an app. Due to iOS’s increasing security, this has become very difficult
Parent of a 10 and 18+ year old written by Crashcartjockey

Our household is slightly unique from most. I have my two older children (Son-30 and daughter-26) living with us, as well as my wife's 10 year old daughter. The 10 y.o. has an older iphone that I bought used and it has limited storage on it. She rarely uses it at home, but MUST take it with her whenever she leaves the house. Most of the time it's to go play with friends in the neighborhood. We use Life360 on all of our phones (not all are iphones) so we know where everyone is at all time. We also use the Cozi calendar for keeping track of appointments and each others schedules. We tried using Google calendar for a few years but ran into troubles with calendars updating correctly.


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