How to best set up iPhone for teen?
September 8, 2019 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Looking for suggestions/recommendations on how to best set up an iPhone for a teen (e.g., restrictions, monitoring apps, etc.).

After many years of resisting it, we are going to give our son one of our old iPhones this year to help coordinate after-school stuff and stay in touch with him and see his location on GPS.

Here's my question: what is the best way to set up the various permissions etc. to keep the phone functional but also best keep him out of trouble? For example, should I set it up with my own Apple ID or create a new one for him? Should I buy a kid-tracking/monitoring app, or should I just rely on "find my friends?" There is a very high risk that he is going to lose it - should I do anything to anticipate that? Will the Apple "restrict adult content" setting work, or can the kids defeat it? I would like to control/approve any apps that he wants to load, so I plan to disable adding apps without the parental control. Any other suggestions? Thanks
posted by Mid to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My kids have the "restrict content" settings but they also know the passcode to override it. I just want it as a speedbump, to make sure they think for a second about what they're doing.

I do have the thing for approving apps set up, though, because I want to know what they're installing and that's the easiest way to do it.

My kids have their own Apple IDs, so they can be in charge of their own photo libraries, etc. I don't even know how it would work for things like Find Friends if we were sharing one ID.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:01 AM on September 8, 2019

> can the kids defeat it

posted by The corpse in the library at 11:02 AM on September 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

if we're consensually strategizing with other humans who are not great at tracking small objects - I like tile for not losing things. There's a tile in my wallet that will ring loudly if it's nearby and I push the "find" button in the app on my phone, and pushing the button on the tile makes my phone ring loudly if it's nearby and Bluetooth is working.
posted by bagel at 11:06 AM on September 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Depending on the iOS level of the old phones, Screen Time with a password can restrict a lot of things. Like you could just disable the App Store and Safari, or only allow websites from a whitelist.
posted by hungrytiger at 11:43 AM on September 8, 2019

The Apple/iOS way to do this would be to set up Family Sharing, with you as the "organizer" and the kids as family members under that account. They need to have their own iCloud accounts and passwords in place.

Once that is in place, you can use Screen Time to set up limits on access, either by wall clock time or accumulated use of certain categories (social media, games, etc). You can also mark certain apps as always available, such as the Phone for emergency purposes.

Then you lock down YOUR account with two-factor auth so the kids can't just change settings on your account when they want more access. Screen Time also has its own PIN for access control.

That said: Screen Time also really sucks. The interface is awful. You need to drill in 3 levels via the Settings apps to do any changes. You can't declare an immediate pause/lockdown on a phone without changing the bedtime/downtime numbers.

Also said: kids will nag you *constantly* for more time, taking the locks off, etc. It's not an ideal solution and Apple has kind of let the whole thing slide into near-uselessness since launch. But maybe there's hope iOS 13 will improve some of this. The 3rd party apps that used to also do this kind of stuff, like OurTime, got sideswiped by Apple when they decided that MDM (the method used to lock down others' phones) shouldn't be used by parental control apps. Ugh.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:07 PM on September 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

No recommendations on restriction apps (we have found them to be more trouble than they are worth, easier / better to teach rules and guidelines and use this as an opportunity to learn responsibility).

Would recommend Life360 though on knowing where your family members are via GPS. Very handy.
posted by scooterdog at 3:16 PM on September 8, 2019

A basic problem of "kid-tracking apps" is that whoever runs said app, and whoever they might sell the app to in the future, will also have access to the tracking data you're getting. So would any third parties that end up requesting/buying/stealing/acquiring said data. Depending on the permissions said app demands, that data could include your kid's contacts, access to the microphone, and access to the camera, in addition to the location data. That would be a hard pass for me.
posted by halation at 5:05 PM on September 8, 2019

No need to get specific apps, you can use find my iPhone to track and the same with Find My Friends, which are discrete. My children have been super mellow about being able to be tracked and being able to find their phones/equipment. Software we have loaded on to the phone includes various taxi services. We have also made sure that all family members are in the favorites for phone contacts. We have not been as bold in providing credit card/debit card on to the phone since our teenagers have limited shopping outside of school and receive an allowance, but YMMV.
posted by jadepearl at 5:52 PM on September 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

We don’t have anything special on our kids’ phones (they are now 15 and almost 17, but have had phones since middle school). Our whole family is accessible to each other via Find My Friends, we use the family sharing feature and it’s extremely obvious when a not-free app gets downloaded, so there’s nowhere to hide if the kids want to try to download something or do an in-app purchase unless they want to pay for it themselves, and at a certain point, you have to let them do dumb shit and waste time and deal with whatever consequences that entails.

Also, we can turn off data selectively if we want, and have done occasionally when someone has pushed our group limit. Since everyone on our family plan gets the same “you are close to your monthly limit” text, it is glaringly apparent to all of us when the someone who has pushed the group limit is me.

Some rules can be super useful though. One of my kids had a tendency to keep her phone on silent at all times, which meant it was hard to find if it was misplaced, which early on was ALL THE TIME, and also meant she wasn’t responsive to attempts to contact her, which was the whole reason she had the phone as far as we the parents were concerned. Her excuse would generally be that she’d set it to silent or turned it off completely during school and forgotten to turn it on, which—great, but that means we can’t find you when we’re trying to figure out where to pick you up later, so every time that happens the consequences are that it’s going to be A Big Thing, until she finally got in the habit of adjusting her settings regularly to make herself accessible. At some point the kids got Fit Bits that also alert them to incoming texts which actually made a huge difference.

Also, you’re giving your kid an old phone now, but when you eventually replace it with a new one, insure it. My experience is that well over half the time something happens to a phone, even with a klutzy kid, it’s a genuine accident (just like when it happens to yours). Explain what the insurance is for and let that be part of the lesson when you inevitably have to replace a broken phone. Toward that end, when our older daughter needed a new phone because her elderly hand me down was no longer holding a charge, we offered to purchase a mid-range phone that we felt would last long enough to be a sensible buy, and she opted to pay the difference to upgrade out of her own savings. None of us regret that decision.
posted by padraigin at 6:43 PM on September 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

You definitely want your kid to have their own Apple ID so they don’t get your messages and so you can easily message each other.

I realize this might be profoundly unhelpful, but the best way to keep your kid out of trouble is to give them a long leash so they learn to keep themselves out of trouble. Best for them to mess up a bit and learn consequences while still at home.

Our kids have to learn to self-regulate. The best thing you can do is help your kid learn that.

(Also, what kind of trouble are you imagining?)
posted by bluedaisy at 10:25 PM on September 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

My kids have also installed Life360 as scooterdog recommends. The geofencing->push notification feature is really useful ("Kid A has departed school grounds", "Mom is on the way"), but to make that happen it needs to constantly access location data.

So, strike one if you have privacy concerns. Strike two is that constant location eats your battery, so it will make an older power supply wear down even faster.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:34 AM on September 9, 2019

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