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How to set up parental controls on a smartphone

Save your kids from the dark side of the internet.

Kids are always flocking to the latest gadgets. Whether it was Nintendo in the 80s or the iPhone 6 in 2014, each new generation seems to have a better grasp of technology. So how do you stay one step ahead of your kids and make sure they're not being exposed to inappropriate content?

The answer: parental controls.

Luckily, both Apple and Google are well-aware of the problem and have provided ample tools to protect your kids (and to make sure they don't rack up hundreds of dollars in in-app purchases). Here we explain how to set up those controls on both Android and iOS devices:


Android Parental Controls


Google's OS only has parental controls built in for tablets, but it does have decent controls for all devices in the Google Play Store. If you go into the store's settings, you will find a Parental Controls menu. It's off by default and requires you to create a four-digit PIN when you turn it on.

Once you've created a PIN, you will be able to decide which content ratings are acceptable for your kids, and the Play Store will only display content within those ratings. Unfortunately, you can't shut off in-app purchases, but you can require a password for all purchases.

To enable passwords for every purchase, tap on "Require authentication for purchases" under the Play Store's settings menu. This will bring up a prompt asking you to select whether you want to require authentication for every purchase, every 30 minutes, or never. By default, it should be set for every purchase, but you should check to be sure.

As for tablet parental controls, these center around an Android feature called "restricted profiles." Unlike on iPads, Android tablets allow you to set up multiple user accounts, or profiles, similar to computers.

To set up a restricted profile, go into the Android Settings app, tap on Users, tap "Add user or profile," and finally tap "Restricted profile." From here, you can set content restrictions and even shut off access to specific apps.

The Play Store will only display content within the ratings you choose.

Just make sure that you've also set up Play Store parental controls, as well as put a password on your personal user profile. The last thing you want is for your child to use your unrestricted account to access content they shouldn't be seeing.

This is as far as Android goes when it comes to parental controls, but if you want even tighter controls over your kids' phones you can use powerful third-party apps thanks to the open nature of Android.

The Internet Safety Project has a list of apps for monitoring, filtering, and tracking usage. There are even anti-sexting and anti-cyberbullying features. However, the one app that seems to do it all, according to the list, is MobileMinder Parental Control.


iOS
Credit: Apple

iOS Parental Controls

While Android probably takes the crown when it comes to managing storage space, Apple's iOS has far better parental controls. It includes granular controls for pretty much everything, even the ability to delete an installed app. All of these controls are broken into two separate features of the OS: Restrictions and Family Sharing.

Restrictions

This feature is buried within the iOS Settings, but the amount of control it gives you is incredible. You can do everything from shut off cellular data to block use of the built-in camera.

iOS Restrictions
In the Restrictions menu, you can block access to everything from "Installing apps" to FaceTime. View Larger

To set up Restrictions, go to Settings > General > Restrictions. It will immediately ask you to create a four-digit PIN, after which you can define exactly what restrictions you want.

Once you've set up a PIN, you can shut off access to the iTunes and App Stores, prevent in-app purchases, set content ratings, block certain websites, and even prevent your kids from changing their phones' privacy settings.

You will probably find that a lot of the restrictions are unnecessary, but it's certainly nice to have the options. You can never be too safe.

Family Sharing

Let's say you've set up Restrictions, but you still want to give your kids the ability to purchase apps. Instead of coming to you with their phones and asking you to enter your password for each purchase, you can set up Apple Family Sharing, a new feature introduced with iOS 8.

While this feature has a number of different functions, the best is the way it handles purchases for your family. Apple notes that all purchases are made with the same credit card, but they are siloed off for each member of the family, preventing your iPhone from filling up with apps you didn't download, like your kids' latest games.

Once you've set up Family Sharing, you can enable "Ask to Buy" on your kids' devices.

Perhaps the best part of Family Sharing is the "Ask to Buy" feature. If you set this up on your kids' devices, all of their purchase requests will be routed to your phone, presenting a notification where you can either allow or deny the purchase. And if you decide you want to download the app as well, you can access their purchases to download it yourself.

Family Sharing also allows you to keep tabs on your kids' locations via the Find My Friends app, as well as the locations of their devices with the Find My iPhone app.

To set up Family Sharing, go into the Settings app on your iPhone (not your kid's) and tap iCloud. You will see a button that says "Set up Family Sharing," which will walk you through the process.

According to Apple, once you add family members via their Apple IDs, they will receive invitations to join your family group. If your kids are under the age of 13, Apple now allows you to make Apple IDs for them, which you can do by going back into your iCloud settings, tapping Family, and then hitting "Create an Apple ID for a child."

Once you've set up Family Sharing, Apple explains how you can enable Ask to Buy on your kids' devices by going to Settings > iCloud > Family, then selecting a family member and tapping "Ask to Buy."


With all of these different features, you should be able to lock down your kids' devices to uncrackable levels. They may be a bit frustrated by it all, but at least you can keep them safe online and avoid costly bills from the App Store.

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