Apple needs to do more for parents

I need another iPad. This creature keeps stealing mine.

I’m getting complaints about a new kind of app purchase on Apple devices: kids hitting “buy.”

GigaOM and other press have already covered this with regards to purchases (parents are seeing big bills from kids who bought stuff in app, or even from app store since that remains active 15 minutes after a parent puts a password in), but Apple really needs to do more. Why? My kids, who are one and three years old are already very adept at getting around.

Already my sons have:

1. Deleted all my apps.
2. Deleted all my photos.
3. Downloaded new apps (turns out if they get the phone right after I’ve installed new updates, or new apps, they don’t need to put my password in).
4. Sent a tweet.
5. Called a friend.
6. Sent a video (it actually was pretty good, of me sleeping).

In some of these instances it took less than a minute. Kids are VERY fast at playing with these devices and it only takes you turning your head for a minute or two for lots of bad things to happen to your mobile devices (I’ve since locked my iPhone with a code so my kid can’t pick up my iPhone and start playing around).

And don’t give me the hooey about watching my kids closer. These are their favorite toys and contain their favorite games and entertainment. We even turn on Thomas the Tank Engine on Netflix for them to watch.

Yeah, there are some parental locks already, but it’s clear that we need both education of parents (I’ve gotten religious about backups) but also we need the parental control features to be easier to find.

I just tried to turn them on for the first time. When I go to the Settings on my iPhone I don’t see “parental controls.” Someone who doesn’t know might not even know they are there, under “Settings/General/Restrictions.” You can turn off the ability to Delete Apps and In-App Purchases, for instance, but the wording is confusing.

First of all, if you want to keep your kids from doing In-App Purchases, you have to turn “off” restrictions and it isn’t clear exactly what this does (there isn’t help for each item to explain what the consequences are).

Many parents will discover this feature on their iPhones and iPads too late. Probably only after something really bad has happened. You also can’t keep kids from deleting all your photos and videos, for instance. Since that’s already happened to me I bet it’s happened to other parents as well.

Anyway, if you have young kids and iPhones or iPads, be warned. Your kids probably will figure out how to delete apps or make in-game purchases before you do! 🙂


45 thoughts on “Apple needs to do more for parents

  1. I would add to this list the ability to better control YouTube. It’s either all on or all off right now. I would like Google (YouTube) to offer the option to hide specific users, videos, and sections, so my kids don’t migrate from baby videos and animals to “Most Popular” and the Annoying Orange.


    1. Why not tell your children what the parameters are for using your devices. Why is it always up to outsiders to raise your children. You are the parent, start acting like one…


  2. Simple solution, don’t let your kids get their grubby paws on your phone. I have none of these issues as my kids are not allowed to touch my phone. They have their own electronic toys and iDevices to play with.


    1. That does keep kids from the problems that Scoble is having, but device makers need to help protect kids online as well.

      How many clicks does it take to get from Robert’s blog to hardcore porn on the internet? I’d wager its fewer clicks then to land a page about Kevin Bacon.


      1. I hate to make this an iPhone vs Android debate but…
        This is one area that Android’s openness argument actually makes sense.
        It would be impossible for me to release my Android parental control on the iPhone.
        Apple would never allow a 3rd party app to blocks access to other apps, but Google will.

        OS makers do not have infinite resources and while parental controls are important, good parental controls would take a significant investment for a relatively small number of users.

        Google and Apple seem to have taken the approach that as long as you have content ratings in their app stores then their job is done. But their are tons of nuances to good parental controls and I’m not sure if Apple or Google will make that investment.

        Much like on the desktop OS’s to get any real parental controls, you have to go to a 3rd party. I think mobile OS’s will be the same (but not on iOS unfortunately)


      2. I think that there’s a happy medium somewhere. You can’t rely completely on the device, but you could use it to augment good lessons learned.


      3. Of course. The iPad or an Android tablet can be a great tool to help kids learn and have fun.

        However, if I let me kids play with a tablet, it needs to be a safe environment.

        Tablets have access the the *entire* internet. Whole segments of the internet are not age proprietary for children.

        It used to be that you could have a computer in the living room and easily keep in eye one what your kids were doing online, but mobile devices are “mobile”. Kids take them everywhere!

        If you want to you could be a nazi and not let your kids do anything without you looking over their shoulder, but that’s certainly not healthy either.

        And sometimes you just fall asleep like the video of Scoble’s above.

        Apple or somebody needs step up and offer something to help parents navigate this rapidly changing tech world.


      4. You can do a little bit about it now. Services like OpenDNS will at least help block websites that are inappropriate. Little kids probably wouldn’t figure out how to circumvent it.


      5. Robert, I agree that there are things that we want our kids to use our iDevices for. I’m pretty anal about my phone though. It’s either in my pocket or hand when I’m awake or on my night stand when I’m asleep. I don’t have a problem getting my kids their own devices. Someone mentioned below that there are already some locks available in iOS to keep people from installing/deleting apps, and making other changes etc. Apple could go a little further with these though. As mentioned below, I think a good solution to the multi user issue would be for Apple to add user accounts to iOS, at least on the iPad.


      6. Then go buy your kids real flash cards or educational games. Good lord, no wonder our kids have no common sense how anything without a battery works.


  3. I agree. My son is 6 and my wife and I are considering buying him an iPod touch just so we don’t run the risk of him messing up our iPhones. We also want to have him on a more locked down device. I hope Apple makes it easier for parents to give kids access to their amazing technology while also maintaining an age appropriate experience.


    1. Our children have; iPads, iMacs, iPods and a Nano. They have their own iTunes account. They are currently 4 and 8 years old. We established the rules and guidelines for what can be purchased and the amount per month. They both maintain a tabular to track their expenses and list the purchase items. Before each purchase, they tell us what product(s) they wish to buy. They know the consequences and know we are serious about it.


  4. I sincerely hope you didn’t pull a major muscle group extending your reach so far.

    “Deleted all my apps”
    -Restrictions/Allow: Deleting Apps “Off”

    “Deleted all my photos”
    -That’s tough to do. You have to select photos individually in the Selection pane and press delete. Do your kids hate you?

    “Downloaded new apps”
    -Restrictions/Allow: Installing Apps “Off”

    “Sent a tweet.”

    “Called a friend”

    Or how about Passcode Lock/Require Passcode Immediately?

    I have none of these things enabled (I guess my 5 year old doesn’t like to mess with me as much) and it took me 15 seconds to find these things in Settings.


  5. This is a problem solved long ago by having multiuser account on computers. It’s really not that difficult for apple to implement, but for now they’ve gone with the assumption that 1 device belongs to 1 user.


    1. 1 to 1 is a good assumption for Apple to make on phones, but on the iPad I don’t think it is the norm. iPads get shared. It will be interesting to see if Apple addresses this or not, but my guess is they won’t.


  6. I’d like to be able to see an option to ask for your restrictions passcode to do things. For example, instead of completely locking out the ability to install or delete an app, have the device ask for the restrictions passcode. That way, if your kid really wants that seasonal Angry Birds game, you don’t have to go through a bunch of menus just to get it installed.


  7. I would let my boys, 5 and 7, play with my iPhone at bedtime, set the passlock, and set a 20 min alarm to put the device to sleep. Then they would be done, and I would just retrive it later after they were asleep. Be sure to set it to airplane mode so they can’t call 911.


  8. You can already edit settings on your ipad to disable most of what you’re talking about. My kids can’t delete apps or buy apps. I turned that off in the settings. When I need to update, I take the extra few moments to go change the settings, buy or delete an app, and then change the settings back.

    Is that convenient? No. Does it work? Yes. Parenting take a little extra effort.


  9. Christian, I think we had the same situation! My daughter called 911 and 2 police officers went to our house and said that there is a young girl that called the police who asked for help. For all I knew, she was asking help on how to finish one level in Angry Birds! lol


  10. It’s not just iOS. I have this problem with my iMac as well. There doesn’t seem to be a way to let kids interact with the iTunes or iPhoto libraries without giving them write / delete access as well.


  11. Totally agree,

    My 15 month old daughter has managed to:

    – unlock the phone (no idea how she figured out that one… but I guess the slider is pretty obvious)

    – send sms messages

    – call people

    – delete apps

    and god know how make my iPhone 4 crash to the point where it just got stuck and wouldn’t respond to any type of input.

    I think some sort of multi user access that allows you to also turn off any of the external buttons unless you enter a password would do the trick.


  12. Why would you let your kid play with your phone in the first place? Even more so when it’s a device that you use for work? If your child deletes important data from the device it’s your fault, not Apple’s. I have three kids who all play with Apple devices and I have none of these problems, it sounds more like a parenting problem than an Apple problem.


  13. You parents are unbelievable. You are, presumably anyway, smarter and taller than your offspring, yes? Put the damn phones out of their reach if they’re not old enough to respect your property. Parent your own damn kids, please. Tell them ‘no’ once in a while. Not everything is for children, nor should it be.


  14. No wonder kids today are such pansies. Stop blaming other people for your kid’s actions. Stop trying to be a friend or the “cool” parent and be a damn parent. This is proof positive why being able to breed should be harder than getting your CPA/MD/JD all in one year.


  15. I love most how you’re like “You only have to turn your head for a second!” right after you say the kids sent a video of you sleeping. Please, you didn’t turn your head for a second, you left your 3 and 1 year olds unattended while you slept. You are a neglectful parent, and Apple can’t do anything to fix that.


  16. “And don’t give me the hooey about watching my kids closer. These are their favorite toys and contain their favorite games and entertainment. We even turn on Thomas the Tank Engine on Netflix for them to watch.”

    Perhaps you should try parenting them then? I watched TV as a kid, I was supervised and therefore never wrought havoc.
    It’s not Apple that needs to do more, it’s that you need to stop being so damn lazy.


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