Configuring a child-friendly iPad

Christopher Breen
24 July, 2012
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Apps such as Vectorpark’s Windosill help make the iPad a great device for children – if you take the time to set up the device carefully.

With three generations of iPads now available, it’s becoming increasingly common to find multiple iPads in a home and some of them are being passed on to children. So what can you do to make such an iPad useful (and safe) for your child? These steps are a good place to start.

Step 1: Remove Your Stuff

When giving an iPad to another person, it’s imperative you remove all your data from it. Hook up your iPad to the computer you normally sync it with and then back it up (because you may want to restore that data to a new tablet). Next, select that iPad in iTunes’ Source list; and in the Summary tab, click on Restore. iTunes will download and install the latest version of iOS. Choose to configure the iPad as new and you’ll end up with a device that’s essentially as it was when you took it from the box.

Step 2: Plan a Syncing Strategy

If you have a young child, you should take responsibility for obtaining apps on their behalf and syncing the iPad through your own iTunes account. That way, not only will you know exactly what’s on their iPad, but you can also deal with obtaining organising and configuring apps.

Older children will want an iTunes account of their own. If you let them set one up, they’ll appreciate having the independence to download the apps and media they want, rather than simply the ones you’ve decided are ‘good for them’. If you go down this route, you’ll also want to create a separate account for them on your computer (for advice on this, try How to Share One Mac with Your Family), as well as obtain an Apple ID for their use. That way, their apps are tied to their account and they won’t have access to yours, some of which may be inappropriate for children.

Step 3: Configure Restrictions

iOS offers broad options to switch off Safari, YouTube, iTunes and Ping and to disable the ability to install and delete apps. Additionally, you can allow app and media downloads based on their rating – restricting movies to U and PG ratings and apps to ages 12 and over, for instance – and deny in-app purchases, multiplayer games and adding friends within Game Center.

To enable restrictions, launch Settings on the iPad, tap General and then tap Restrictions. Select Enable Restrictions at the top of the screen. You’ll be prompted to enter and confirm a four-digit passcode. If anyone tries to change your settings, they’ll first need to enter that code.

iOS 5 lets you impose restrictions on location and accounts. Tap Location in the Restrictions pane and then disable location information by toggling the Location Services switch to Off. Or you can choose to turn off location for the specific apps listed below that switch – parents may not want an app to tell the world where their child is. A good rule of thumb is to switch on location for apps that tell the user about the world around them – Maps, for example. But you may want to turn it off for an app that broadcasts the iPad’s position – Find My Friends or a Twitter or Facebook client, for instance.

Step 4: Configure Email

If your child hasn’t got an email address, you can obtain a free one from a source such as Gmail or Yahoo. Both services ask that the owner of the email address be at least 13 years old, although they have no way of confirming the owner’s actual age.

Unwanted email can be a problem with iOS devices because, unlike with OS X’s parental controls, you have no way of limiting the addresses your child can receive email from or send email to on the device. Gmail and Yahoo allow you to create limited whitelists of senders the recipient should always receive messages from, but offers no way to block senders who aren’t on the list. The same applies to iCloud email accounts. You can set up basic filters on the iCloud website, but they can’t prevent the sending of mail to your child’s iCloud email account. For this reason, you should be completely sure that your child can handle the responsibility that comes with an email account (and is willing to tell you if they are receiving inappropriate messages).

Step 5: Choose apps for the iPad

If you’d like complete control over which apps your child can install on the iPad, switch off restrictions if they’re enabled, sit down with them and choose some appropriate apps. When you’ve finished, switch restrictions On and toggle the Installing Apps option to Off. This prevents your child from installing apps.

Step 6: The Talk

Whenever you consider giving a child access to technology, you should sit down and chat to them. This talk should address the importance of setting limits on iPad use, asserting your right as a parent to check up on your child and warning of the dangers of giving out personal details on the internet.

The approach should be age-appropriate. You don’t want to terrify younger children with visions of internet bogeymen, nor should you overprotect a teenager. Your advice should be similar to that for a traveller in a new city – get the lay of the land, learn about the dangers and opportunities and have a good time.



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