How to set up an iPhone for your kids

Thanks to Thomas Reed for his expertise and guidance.

This is it.

After much hemming and hawing, you’ve finally given in and bought your child their first smartphone, which you plan to give to them before the school year starts.

But before you give it to them, it’s worth sitting them down to talk to them about things like what apps and sites they shouldn’t use or visit, what online behaviors to avoid engaging in, and what scams they need to look out for. There are also a few easy things you can do to the iPhone itself to make things a bit safer. Here are our suggestions:

Secure the iPhone

Often, when we think of protecting and securing, we also think of the worse possible scenarios. When it comes to smartphones, it’s losing them or having them stolen. Make sure you have the phone locked down every time it’s unattended or not used.

Help your child to choose a passcode for their iPhone, ensuring they can remember it to unlock the device. Set up an alternative way to unlock the phone, but use your biometrics. This is great to have for emergencies.

While we’re on the subject of losing phones, also make sure you—

Enable the Find My feature

That’ll make finding missing phones simpler and easier. You can find the step-by-step process here on Apple’s official site.

If you want to keep track of your child at necessary times, you can also use the Find My Friends feature. Just make sure that you talk to your child about using this first. If you have young adults, use the feature with their permission.

Set up your child’s own Apple ID

If a child is going to have their own iPhone, they should have and use their own Apple ID, too.

After creating your child’s Apple ID, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) for that added layer of security, ensuring that your child’s account won’t get popped easily even if someone got hold of their password.

Note that your child’s iCloud account is automatically created along with their Apple ID. Depending on how heavily they use this feature, you might want to consider purchasing a subscription that grants them some extra online storage. Maybe not now, but in the future.

Having an iCloud account benefits your child more than not having one. When they get older, they may also want to use their account on an iPad or want a newer phone model. An iCloud account makes this easier, but remember that having data in the cloud also has security and privacy risks attached to it.

Once your child has an Apple ID, you can set up Family Sharing on their device. By using this feature, you can not only hand pick what content to share with members of the family but also control the buying and downloading of games, ebooks, and apps on their device wherever you are.

Disable or hide features you deem off-limits or unnecessary

iPhones have features that young kids can use, and there are some that they just shouldn’t touch at all until they’re old enough or you explicitly give them permission to use.

Ideally, we don’t want our kids fiddling with Screen Time as there are lots of settings in there that they will just gladly change based on their preference. These settings include (among others):

  • Content restrictions on Safari
  • iTunes and App Store purchases
  • Siri and Dictation
  • Privacy settings (includes location services)

You can secure Screen Time by creating a passcode for it. Make sure you use a passcode that’s different from other passcodes you help set up with your child.

Depending on your child’s age, mental and emotional maturity, and how you want them to use their device, feel free to add more or remove some from the list above. For example, if your child is 10 or 11, you might want to hide the email feature for now until they’re a bit older. Remember, what you disable or hide should be non negotiable… at least until a later date, when you can review, assess, and adjust the above accordingly.

Limit or restrict features they can use

This is probably the hard part since your child is likely to have different views from you on what they should be allowed to do on their phone. When it comes to having social networking accounts, for instance, you may want to delay this for a few more years, even if the platform allows 13-year-old kids to use it.

Being in social networks at a young age is risky for children. Child predators camp on there, and not every piece of content shared within these environments is child-friendly. One study even showed that, apart from giving kids a different or unhealthy view of the real world, young children who are on TikTok began developing tics and having tic-like attacks brought about by anxiety and stress. They may also begin showing signs of mental health issues. 

As a parent and guardian, you can also limit screen time, which is easy to do using the iPhone’s Family Share feature. Apple has a guide on how to set this up as well.

If your child is into playing games on their iPhone, you might want to tweak Game Center settings, so they’re not exposed to potential risks needlessly. iOS can restrict adding friends, playing multiplayer games, and the sending of private messages (among others) on the Game Center.

The iPhone also has Guided Access that you can customize to put more limitations, such as limiting how long your child uses an app.

Do you have an old iPhone you want to hand down to your child instead of buying a new one? Make sure your files are properly backed up in iCloud, then you can wipe your data from the phone by performing a factory reset.

Final thoughts

Giving your kids a new smartphone doesn’t mean that you’re giving them free rein to do what they want to do with it. Walking them through the setup process and talking with them about what’s acceptable and not while also giving them an opportunity to speak up is a good way of showing—and reminding—your kids that, at the end of the day, you, the Parent or Guardian, is the boss.

You don’t even have to tell them that.