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Securing your iPhone or iPad for your children, Part 2: Setup iOS parental controls to prevent in-app purchases


There has been a string of high-profile cases where children have racked up thousands of dollars in credit card charges through in-app purchases. In these cases and others like them, the iOS devices used by the children have not been properly locked down by the parents.

In this three-part series, we will show you how to set up a kid-friendly iTunes account, lock down your device to prevent in-app purchases and perform some maintenance that'll prevent your tot from sending emails or tweeting on your behalf. You can jump into part two below, where we take a deep dive into the settings and show you how to lockdown your iOS device.

Set up a Passcode

The easiest way to lockdown an iOS device is to add a passcode, which will appear when you turn on or wake up the device. The passcode will prevent your child from turning on the device and going to town when you are busy doing dishes, driving or otherwise occupied. Using a passcode is a first-line defense and won't prevent errant purchases. It'll merely give you control over the iOS device and let you determine when your child uses the iPad or iPhone.

To set a passcode, go to Settings > General > Passcode Lock. Change the setting so that the Passcode is on, the Require Passcode is set to immediately and the Simple Passcode option is off. A simple passcode is a four-digit number that can be quickly learned by any tech-savvy child who watches their parent tap in the code. Select a longer alphanumeric code that'll be difficult for your child to enter, but easy for you to remember.

Enable Restrictions (Parental Controls)

Once you have a passcode on your device, you will want to dive into the Restrictions, aka Parental Controls. This is the one area you don't want to ignore. If you have a device that you are using with your child on a regular basis, be sure to configure the parental controls.

To find the Restrictions, tap Settings > General > Restrictions. Tap "Enable Restrictions" and enter a four-digit password that your child won't guess. At the top of the Restrictions' screen is a list of apps that are allowed on your device. If you don't want your child accessing the camera, Safari, iTunes and other apps, you can turn them off here. When they are off, they no longer appear on your home screen.

Directly underneath the allowed apps is the "Allowed Content" section. This section lets you set the ratings for Podcasts, Music, Movies and other media on the iOS device. You can restrict access to explicit content by adjusting these settings to an age-appropriate level. Also in this section is the In-App Purchases slider which should be set to off, if you want to block all in-app purchases. If you want to allow IAPs, you can leave them on and control purchases by changing the "Require Password" setting to "Immediately" and not the default 15 minutes. This will force your child to enter a password every time they try to make a purchase. Speaking of passwords, don't give your child the password to his or her iTunes account. It will give them unfettered access to their device and will undo all your security settings.

Other settings in the Restrictions allow you to control what apps have access to your contacts, calendars and other personal information. You can read more about each of these settings in this support document on Apple's website.

Enable Guided Access

Guided Access is an accessibility option that was added in iOS 6. This feature limits your device to a single app and lets you control which app features are available. You turn on Guided Access by going to Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access. When you turn Guided Access on, you will need to select a passcode to turn it off and adjust the settings. Once again, choose a password that your child won't guess and you won't forget.

Once Guided Access is enabled, you can launch the app you want your child to use and then triple-click the home button to turn the accessibility feature on. You can adjust the settings to disable motion input, touch input and hardware button control. You can also select the part of the screen that you want to disable. Once you are ready, click start to turn on Guided Access and your child will be limited to using this one app.

You may not use Guided Access all the time, especially with older children, but I would recommend setting it up on each device that you hand over to your kids. You never know when you may need it. I also set it up on my personal devices for those moments when I hand over my iPhone to my children. It's easy to enable and it lets me give my phone to my child without worrying about them getting into my email or Twitter account.

Restrict WiFi Usage

One nifty way to limit your child's online consumption is to block their access to the internet using the WiFi access timers available on your AirPort wireless router. Macworld's Christopher Breen describes how to block iOS devices in an article from earlier this year. You will need to know the MAC address of the iOS device (Settings > General > About) and must have a Mac with the AirPort Utility software installed on it. You can follow his step-by-step procedure on Macworld's website.

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