iOS app for my son so he can message a restricted list of individuals?
June 24, 2013 12:04 PM   Subscribe

My son has an iPod touch and pretty much everyone in our family has iPhones and iPads. I would like to find a way that my son can text chat with only a small approved list of people.

The iPod touch has access to iMessage, but in addition to messaging the people we want him to, he would also be able to message any arbitrary phone number or iMessage address, which we don't want.

There are plenty of apps out there for messaging, but none that I have found allow us to restrict the accounts he is able to message, and some of them allow him to send messages to phone numbers through a gateway.
posted by joshrholloway to Technology (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you turn off Safari, this is impossible to do if your son wants to get around it, as he can easily sign up for Facebook/Twitter/any other messaging service and converse with the world at large through the browser.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:13 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We already have basically every restriction that is available turned off on his iPod, so Safari and the App Store are already turned off.
posted by joshrholloway at 12:14 PM on June 24, 2013

I looked for something like this, but what we finally did was to tell him this:

"Here are the people you are allowed to text with. You may ask me if you can add other people to your list, and I will say yes or no, before you are allowed to text with them. I will grab your iPod any time I want and check to see whether you have texted with anyone else. If you have, I take it away immediately and for as long as I feel like."

We found that making him responsible for it was better in the long run.
posted by Etrigan at 12:20 PM on June 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: I wish that was an option, Etrigan. In most areas this is how we handle things, but for various reasons I can't go into, it doesn't work for us in this situation.
posted by joshrholloway at 12:26 PM on June 24, 2013

If your only option is a technical one, then no, as far as I know, there is no technical option for this. Besides taking it away entirely, I mean.
posted by rtha at 12:37 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this certainly seems like a thing that's ripe for some enterprising app developer. I'd pay a couple of bucks for someone to come out with a whitelist messaging app with a separate password for adding new people.
posted by Etrigan at 12:52 PM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

You might check out Square Hub. They recently launched their service (disclosure: I know one of the founders) and their purposes is to create a "private family network that makes coordination and communication easy, instant, and fun."
posted by donovan at 1:08 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Assuming your son has friends, and assuming he can't figure this out himself, then there will be at least one friend who can get around this for him.

Tech solutions to social problems are hardly ever the answer.
posted by theichibun at 1:15 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: donovan: SquareHub is really close to what I want, but it looks like any user in the family (not just the admin) can invite people. This may end up having to be close enough. Thanks for the suggestion.
posted by joshrholloway at 1:26 PM on June 24, 2013

I know you dismissed Etrigan's solution, but really, that's the only bulletproof method.

At some point, you have to ask yourself, "If I can't trust him to chat with bad people, why am I trusting him with a device at all?"

An iPod Touch can get into all sorts of much, much worse shenanigans besides chat.

It has a camera and Twitter. In the wrong hands, that's like dynamite and matches. If you can't trust him with that, text chat is the least of your worries.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:27 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Again, he already has basically everything turned off. The reason for this question is that I'm actually trying to give him more freedom while protecting him at the same time.
posted by joshrholloway at 1:33 PM on June 24, 2013

Etrigan's solution is the only real answer here. I spent a while thinking up various ways you could try and accomplish thing technically, and pretty much came to that same conclusion.

One of the bigger ones being, what's to stop him from using a friends device, or just generally any other device without these restrictions?

When i was say, 8-13 my parents dealt with this the way Etrigan is suggestion. Many of my friends parents tried to deal with it the way you are suggesting. Invariably the other method failed, and looking back on that now i attribute it to the lack of trust being shown or responsibility given. Just locking the system down is like creating a dog run, but saying "These are the outlines of what you're allowed and are supposed to do, and this is the structure in which that will be verified" is a lot more like a task you'd be given in class or even in a work environment.

There may be a technical solution this out there involving software restrictions, but whether it will actually be a solution is questionable. Not to mention the fact that almost any technical solution i can imagine would likely have some sort of route of circumvention, and possibly even(like with iMessage) a way to delete any offending messages at a moments notice. This is the main reason i'm suggesting a solution in which he volunteers information and asks for permission, rather than a fence to climb over or tunnel under.

And again, sorry if this isn't a direct answer to your question.
posted by emptythought at 2:51 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are so many ways to chat. Like... just about any social game has a "message" function, so if you're playing a game with someone, there's a chat avenue there... I think it would be playing wack-a-mole to try to lock every avenue down.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:12 PM on June 24, 2013

Take home message; you gave him the iPad, you pay for data (or use wireless), each of which can be shut off, or have the passwords changed to restrict the actual CONNECTION of the device. Only way to curtail who he messages is to restrict the internet connection which sends/receives your unwanted messages.

I understand this doesn't quite answer the question, however, I feel as though it may be somewhat overbearing to restrict the in-and-out messages on an iPad. Why? For starters, technology and programming are built with backdoors. As the previous user suggested, you're playing whack-a-mole by restricting the avenues of communication. Your child will find out how to message with or without you knowing. Trust me.

Your best option is to sit down with your son to establish ground rules for messaging. If abused, revoke the privilege of an iPad. I don't think you're going to "protect him" by giving him more freedom. You'll hit every branch down if you climb up the tree of complete-iPad-control.
posted by Wynkoop at 2:44 AM on June 25, 2013

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