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42 comments

If iPads Were Meant for Kids

I bought my kids (6 and 8) their own iPads last fall. I’m a nice guy, and I’m fortunate to be able to afford it. However, I’ve come to realize that despite my attempts to spoil my kids, these iPads — and all iOS devices in general — are not meant for young children.

I realize this might be a controversial statement, especially because it runs counter to a lot of Apple’s advertising. But hear me out.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be ways to lock down a device more than iOS currently allows. My kids don’t need passcodes on their devices. They don’t need push notifications. They don’t need Wallet or Apple Pay. Or custom keyboards. Or the option to change the region or date. They don’t need almost anything in the Settings app.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way for apps to know what the allowed content ratings are. An app should be able to know that I’ve allowed only G- and PG-rated media on the device. The YouTube app wouldn’t need its own rating system, and youtube.com would have some WebKit API to call to know to allow only kid-appropriate videos.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way to limit how long they can use their iPads. They’d get reminders when they have 15… 10… 5… 1… minute left of usage time, after which the device would lock and they wouldn’t be able to get back in without the parental passcode.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way to make the iPad turn off when it’s bedtime and not turn on again until morning. My son sometimes sneaks into our room and takes his iPad back from wherever we’ve stashed it, and then stays up until nearly midnight playing Angry Birds.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way to disable or hide all their games temporarily when they’re supposed to be doing their homework. But you can’t “hide” apps without straight-up deleting them. And all of the remote management systems out there that allow this require device supervision (and not just MDM) and are a complete pain to set up and administer.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way for parents to remotely monitor how the kids are using their iPads. I’d have a dashboard view of how long they’re spending in each app, and when they last used it, so I could verify that when they say they spent 15 minutes doing their homework in Lexia, they aren’t trying to hide that they were really playing Angry Birds. I’d get to see what insipid YouTube videos they’re watching, and I’d be able to remotely instruct the YouTube app to no longer allow videos that teach them to take their toys apart and repurpose them using Super Glue and nail polish.

If iPads were meant for kids, the parent remote control app on my iPhone would let me install apps on their iPads remotely. Ask-to-buy is pretty good, but I don’t want my kids having access to the App Store at all, because then they tend to bug me to install the latest hot game. And then they end up whining about how they can’t make any progress because I refuse to pay to unlock whatever gems/crystals/coins they need to advance.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way to completely turn off the idiotic “Finish setting up this device” nag that largely forces kids (because Red Dots Are Annoying™) to set passcodes they immediately forget. Again, my kids don’t need passcodes on their devices.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way to disable iMessage and FaceTime entirely except for a couple of allowed addresses. They can text daddy, mommy, grandma, and maybe some of their favorite aunts/uncles/cousins.

If iPads were meant for kids, then I, as a parent, would be able to set a parent passcode on a device to unlock it. Even when the kids have forgotten their passcodes for the 17th time, so I don’t have to spend another hour or two getting the device into DFU mode, reinstalling iOS, and then re-downloading all of the apps they had that have now lost all of their locally stored data. (See “What to Do If Your iPad Gets Disabled By Too Many Passcode Entries,” 15 January 2018.)

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be real parental controls, not hacks that involve abusing the accessibility functionality of the devices. Guided Access just doesn’t cut it.

If iPads were meant for kids, I would not be writing this post.

But, since none of these things exist and this post does, I have to conclude that iPads were not meant for kids. It boggles my mind that Apple pretends that they are because everything about iOS leads you to the inevitable conclusion that it’s only for tech-savvy adults.

[Dave DeLong has years of experience developing Mac and iOS apps, including 7 years with Apple working as an engineer on the UIKit framework, a developer relations evangelist, lead engineer on the WWDC app, and an engineer on the Maps team. He is currently a Senior iOS Engineer at Snap, Inc.]

A previous version of this article appeared on Dave DeLong’s blog and is reprinted here with permission.

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Comments About If iPads Were Meant for Kids

Notable Replies

  1. Every kid I’ve known in the last 8 years, including my own, vehemently disagree. For a friend of mine, the iPad was the difference between his kid being able to keep up with school and not (the kid is mildly autistic and the iPad was a lifesaver).

    I only got to the first point in the article, but since it was entirely spectacularly wrong, I didn’t feel the need to read further. It is trivial to lock down an iPad, and there are countless configuration options to do so ranging from Guided Access to parental controls to Apple Configurator all the way to Jamf.

  2. Then please go back and read the rest before making extreme comments. The very first point says that kids (and as noted, the author is talking about kids who are 6 and 8) don’t need passcodes, push notifications, Wallet, Apple Pay, custom keyboards, custom regions or dates, or the ability to change basically anything in Settings. Having watched my nephews at that age, and hearing @jcenters’s stories about his kid (who’s even younger), that seems entirely reasonable.

  3. In my opinion, you are totally right but for the inverse reasons!
    If we take into account the development of the child… it is not that ‘iPads are not for children…’
    Really, ‘children are not for iPads.’

    Up to the age of around seven years old (when they change the teeth) children learn by imitation of the older people,
    From seven to puberty, by accepting the authority of the teacher.
    After puberty, it is really when the kid began to think and to be able to choose.

    But this is quite far from what we think that must do, like learn to code at age of 7…
    We want kids to be little adults and they deserve to be kids. If they are kids when they are kids, when they become adults they will be real adults, not empty adults as last sessions in the Congress show us.

  4. Absolutely to the blog! Of course there are special cases, which is why Apple should give choices. What’s more, as there is so little effective parental guidance possible, technologically, when children are young they naturally slowly create a world which is parent free - every healthy child’s dream when seeking independence. It begins a bit like an Enid Blyton adventure, bad guys and good guys (themselves) and no parent in sight. By the time they are 14 they have found all there is that the adult internet and apps such as Snapchat and later are able to channel to them. The internet’s content of sex, drug, & gender specific addiction, is the norm. Makeup/fashion content spins money for the presenter and the goods shown while masquerading as girlie advice. No doubt the equivalent for boys. Any parental concern is now simply invasive as it hasn’t been the norm since the start and can only be clumsy by the teenage years. Talk about lost childhood!

  5. iPads are like any other technology: they can be good and bad, and are usually a mix of both. The benefits they can offer for autistic children are well-documented, but there could definitely be better parental controls.

  6. Is it possible Apple sees the iPad as a device for kids accompanied and monitored by an adult, rather than devices for kids to use on their own? I seem to recall recently reading an article about how people like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates were very restrictive about what kind of devices they would hand over to their own (small) children for use by themselves.

  7. I very much agree with this article, but ipads are only the half of it. I think it would be very useful if TVs were designed for kids - as they used to be. These days just about all TVs are “smart”, meaning built-in access to YouTube. There’s a lot of nasty stuff on YouTube, and I’d rather disable it - but the only way of doing this is usually to ensure that there is no internet connection on the TV. The parental controls on the TV are generally very old fashioned, based in restricting certain channels, not apps.
    PVR boxes have the same problem

  8. Every complaint in the first point is something that Apple provides many ways to control, so the claim that there is no way to manage this is just flat out wrong.

  9. Amen … Particularly un, or partially, supervised.

  10. Except there’s not.

    • Sure, you can turn off passcodes on a device, but Apple complains and turns off a bunch of features and you can’t just temporarily turn them off because it’s a whole process to set it back up again.
    • There is no easy way to turn off push notifications. You can turn them off in each individual app, but there’s no easy way to just turn them on and off system-wide.
    • You can’t disable Wallet or Apple Pay.
    • You also can’t limit access to the Settings app (but you can limit access to iTunes Store, Music Profiles & Posts, iBooks, Podcasts, News, and keep them from installing apps)
  11. That is indeed a possibility, though one that I would hope Apple would have realized by now is completely counter to how iPads are used in the real world. For instance, I know that my nephews (10 and 12) get a bit more screen time when family is visiting so the adults get a chance to talk on their own too, but it’s just painful seeing how badly they want to use their iPads for various games and videos. I think it would be extremely difficult to make iPad use an always-supervised activity.

    Indeed. As @Simon noted, it’s telling the extent to which tech executives in Silicon Valley often keep the same technology that they’re selling to the masses away from their own kids.

    We had an interesting situation with our son Tristan. He’s 19 and at Cornell now, so the iPad wasn’t available until he was 11 (so a bit older than Dave DeLong’s kids) and it wasn’t commonplace or the sort of thing you’d just hand to a kid until he was in high school. And, to be honest, he has never shown any interest in using an iPad (iPhone yes, MacBook Pro yes, and he likes the Apple Watch some, when we had a hand-me-down for him).

    I’m sure it’s partly Tristan being Tristan and another kid would have reacted differently, but because we had technology lying all over the house the entire time he was growing up, he never found it particularly compelling. It was just background noise to him until he got into middle school, although he became much more involved in high school, doing things like installing Ubuntu on his Chromebook.

    YouTube has some parental controls built in, but I don’t have a sense of how effective they are.

    https://support.google.com/youtubekids/answer/6172308?hl=en

  12. TVs/set top boxes seem to have YouTube, not YouTube kids, so the only option is ‘restricted mode’ if it is supported - but this does not block everything.

  13. They’re not. Even the “kid friendly” YouTube Kids app has a lot of weirdly, objectionable stuff on it. And best case scenario, it has those weird toy videos where some parent films their kid playing with toys for hours on end. (I almost never post pictures of my kid online, much less upload hours of video for anyone to see). Most of the cartoons I grew up with in the '80s and '90s were glorified toy ads, but at least they had a semblance of plot!

    The really upsetting thing about these videos is how addicting they are. My kid gets sucked into them until the battery dies, with no interest in anything else. It’s for that reason we hide the iPads now.

    And as far as parental supervision goes, I’m all for it, but if I have to watch over him while he plays with the iPad, I’d rather be spending our shared time doing something constructive like reading to him or playing t-ball.

  14. I think at least some of the things you’ve listed can be disabled using Apple Configurator 2 or MDM solutions; doesn’t Jamf have a cloud solution for home use now? Obviously, Apple Configurator 2 is not designed with the average parent in mind but the capability exists.

    Aren’t most of the complaints about the iPad also true of a desktop or laptop computer? I don’t have a child to restrict and I’m old enough that home computers were only just becoming a thing (I was a teen when the first Mac came out) so I’m not too familiar with the capabilities of adding restrictions to macOS and Windows.

    I agree that buying iPads for 6-8 year-olds was a bad choice. I do not agree that Apple should change the product such that giving them iPads is a good choice. Yes, there are further improvements should be made, the software they’ve created just for schools sounds like it would help and should be available to everyone, but I question getting them down to the point where children that young can use them unsupervised “safely.” Everyone’s definition of what should be allowed and shouldn’t be allowed is going to be different and computers (including iPads) can do so much, the list of settings is going to be very long.

  15. Yeah, probably, but who the heck is going to do that?

  16. This is spot on. I say this as a parent of 2 kids, 1 with an iPad addiction and 1 who easily complies with limits. Hiding iPads is tiring, especially when only 1 of 2 kids needs it.

    From an internet perspective filtering and limiting is easy. The easiest way is to buy a Circle (meetcircle.com). It just works (but limits get tied to devices, not accounts).

    Apple is seriously lacking as stated in the article. Microsoft’s parental control structure is so much better by comparison.

  17. I think Apple is the kind of company that tells people how to use their devices (“you’re holding it wrong”) and doesn’t give a hoot about how people want to use their devices if it goes against that.

    But I can also argue the other side. If we take Apple’s latest iPad ad (yes, the obnoxious one), that girl is definitely using her iPad for all kinds of stuff and AFAICT she is never supervised. Sure, she’s not 6 but she’s definitely not a high school student either. Apple is clearly portraying the iPad there as something which does not need any parental supervision. The question is really what their premise is. Of course, they may not have a premise at all and simply flip flop to whatever promises the most profit in any given situation. Yeah, that’s probably it. :wink:

  18. There’s been news stories saying they’re going to make a YouTube Kids with human-curated videos which should take care of the weird algorithmic stuff but of course that doesn’t mean the content will match every parent’s or child’s sensibilities.

  19. A big thumbs up to you, Sir. :+1:

    I think this thread reminds me a bit of the discussions we had in the 80s when it came to parenting and TVs. Some parents realized they could get some quiet time if they dumped their kid in front of the TV. Soon enough people realized all the crap (well, in fairness that was nothing compared to some of what’s being shown now) these kids were then exposed to. And sure enough, the backlash came and those parents were accused of abandoning their kids and their needs, lack of supervision, etc. TV was supposed to become family friendly and we got these silly markers on the screen at the beginning of the program.

    Rinse, wash, and repeat. Now it’s the iPad that’s being used as a digital babysitter. While the fundamentalists will argue that if you want kids, you have to supervise them. If you want quiet time, don’t have kids, etc. The other side will argue that kids should be exposed to these devices and the content needs to be controlled. I think the latter should actually be easier nowadays. In the 80s it was about who gets to control the programming everybody got to see. Now it’s about individual settings on a personal iPad.

    If we have established that Apple is lacking here, any ideas if it’s any better in the Android world? Usually they have settings for everything (except of course for Google’s data sniffing), but is it actually usable for this purpose? Are there parents who happily control what their kids get to see on their Android tablets?

  20. A couple of years difference in age can make a big difference. Why would someone assume that what’s appropriate for an eleven-year-old is also appropriate for a kid who’s eight or younger (I’m guessing the kid in the ad is supposed to be at least eleven)?

  21. I don’t actually know how Android and MS perform in this respect (see my questions above), but I do wonder if part of these issues have to do with Apple not really wanting users to share iOS devices. iPads do not readily make separate accounts available and the OS is not intended to quickly switch to different user settings/permissions (think the old macOS Fast User Switching).

    From what I understand Android tablets usually make this easier. I always imagined that Apple doesn’t want to make this too easy for regular consumers (FWIU they do have something like that for edu users) because at the end of the day they earn their money by selling iPads, not iOS licenses or ads, or auctioning off people’s privacy to whoever bids highest. They’d rather sell you a second iPad (maybe cheaper or older-gen, but second nevertheless) on top of your fancy iPad Pro for you to give your kid, than you just sharing yours with her/him.

    I’m not at all sure about this, but I could imagine that these kinds of parental controls would be a lot easier to implement and use if iOS readily offered multiple user accounts and fast switching. If Apple doesn’t want that kind of FUS, they might have made parental control harder to realize and/or definitely less convenient to use.

  22. In the 80’s, broadcast standards and the need to reach a mass audience kept the content to a certain quality and “family-friendly” level. And the cable channels didn’t veer too far away. But on the Internet, you can have everything. It’s definitely easier to find something you like, that doesn’t mean it’s easier to block something you don’t like.

    BTW, TVs did, and still do, have mandated controls so those “silly markers” can prevent then watching of shows with, say, TV-MA rating.

  23. I wouldn’t assume so. But I do know that when Steve was talking about how he would never have given his kids an iPad unsupervised, he was not talking about toddlers, he was talking about for example, an 11 year old.

  24. That’s part of it, but not all of it. Each iPad is signed in to a user and each kid does have an Apple ID already.

    It is totally obnoxious that there is no multi-user capability - they finally created the capability for the education market. It ends up being a good way for Apple increase their sales to a slice of their market. Our family has 4 iPads. We’d have 2 if they had user switching.

  25. That’s really the crux of it. You could have much better parental settings if you could designate a child’s account (cheap Amazon tablets can do this), but of course Apple knows that would mean selling fewer iPads. Apple is all about one person per device because that’s what sells units. Given Apple’s push to sell more iPads, I doubt that feature leaves the education market anytime soon.

  26. I don’t disagree with your device sales points. But it has close to no impact on parental controls. As I said, each kid already has an Apple ID. Those IDs are part of the Family Sharing plan. One you have IDs, setting up user access controls is straightforward. Apple hasn’t done it, for whatever reason.

  27. What features that a kid iPad needs? But this one i never would have done because my kids’ first exposure to computers always involved passwords and I disagree with not having them.

    Of course, iPads have fingerprint sensors, so the need to enter a password is less frequent,

    You can enable do not disturb.

    Or you simply do not turn them on in the first place. You can also disable them entirely with Apple Configurator.

    There is no Wallet app on my son’s iPad nor on my iPad Pro. Neither device has Apple Pay enabled either.

    You can, though this takes Apple Configurator.

  28. I’ve often wondered if it’s a RAM/resources issue, since Apple is infamous for including the bare minimum of RAM in devices (there’s barely enough for multi-tasking features in non-Pro iPads).

    But since Apple has enabled this in the education market, it’s definitely sounding more intentional.

  29. So: I have a 4.5 yr old. What I allow her to do is very different from what you might let a 6yr old, or a 10yr old.

    We have very strict limits on what’s installed, and she pretty much uses it to watch PBS Kids, Netflix (with a profile) and amazon Prime (with a per device ratings lock). We haven’t even gotten to edugames or anything else yet.

    She has this iPad because it’s the oldest spare in the house, and it’s just recently moved from an iPad 3 to iPad mini 2. We don’t let her use it for more than about 45 min.

    Many of the points raised were dealt with, very nicely, by an MDM system called OurPact. It’s been hugely helpful. It took my non-technical spouse (wife as it happens) about 5 min to set up, and the basic, free version allows a single rule for a schedule, and on demand grants of time. It removes (almost) all the other apps when it’s out of time.

    They have a commercial option, but for now, we’re OK w/ the free one, since she doesn’t read, and can’t really do much yet.

    Commercial option allows allowance time, and some other more complicated options, and puts the apps back into the same location, supposedly.

    Either way, not having to hide the iPad was a huge help. It just turns on the apps at 5pm, and off at 5:45, and that’s it.

    Strong recommend. Not a log of options, but really solid, and it’s not a passcode they can break, since it’s MDM. If the iPad is online, it’ll pick up the rules.

    Now: I’d really like more of the things mentioned in the article. Until then, there’s OurPact.

    (Reminder: 4yr old. Not the same problems as a 6, 8 or 10yr old. Don’t have one, but… they’re wiley! I sure as heck was!)

  30. If anyone would be interested in reviewing OurPact for TidBITS, let me know (or maybe Josh can do it, since his kid in the target demographic too). I’d never heard of it before, and it sounds like it could be a great solution for parents.

  31. I could probably do it, I’d at least be interested in trying.

  32. Great, I’ll drop you a note in email and we can talk it through.

  33. Quite possibly, but even then, you have to mean “I watch the screen the entire time my child ever uses the device.” You can’t even turn around nd for half a minute without running into some of these difficulties.

  34. Apple Configurator is not designed for individuals and seems to be designed to to make it not for individuals. Furthermore it is poorly designed for the task for which it is supposedly designed. My take is that Apple has lost its software mojo and probably can’t program iPads to do what the author suggests is wanted.

  35. So many great points here. I just complained on Twitter over the weekend (for it feels like the 50th time) that Apple’s Restrictions feature feels like it was designed for someone who’s never used it, or at least has never used it for a kid’s iPad.

    A couple others I’d add:

    A way to prevent iOS update prompts to ever appear, and require at least the Restrictions passcode to install updates. My kid’s iPad is running an older version of iOS because so many educational apps are still 32-bit and won’t run under the current OS. (Ask elementary schools, which often use older software that doesn’t get updated and can’t afford to buy new replacement apps, how much they like this change to iOS.) Yet she gets prompted every day to install iOS 11, and if she declines, she has to deal with the “Remind me later” screen that requires her passcode. When she was younger, before she understood that she shouldn’t accept OS updates, she installed an update I didn’t want – while I can restrict her from installing app updates, I can’t restrict her from updated the entire OS :headdesk:

    A much better implementation of family sharing. When I want to install an app on my kid’s iPad, I have to:

    1. Disable app-install restrictions on her device
    2. Open the App Store on her device
    3. Find the app
    4. “Request” to install it
    5. Enter my daughter’s Apple ID password (it’s secure, so I have to go into 1Password on my device to find it and type it in manually on hers)
    6. Wait for the request to come to my device
    7. Approve the request on my device, entering my Apple ID password
    8. Go back to her device, enter her Apple ID password again (opening 1Password again on my device because I don’t remember it from five minutes earlier ;))
    9. Re-enable app-install permissions on her device

    And if I want to, [DEITY] forbid, install multiple apps on her device at once, I have to repeat the above steps for each app. (Don’t get me started about things like restoring an iPad from backup. If it’s interrupted during app restore, you get prompted for the kid’s Apple ID password for every app. It’s easier to start over again.) I should be able to either push apps to the kid iPad, or enter an “admin/parent” mode that lets me do whatever I need to.

    As a few people have mentioned, MDM systems can “fix” a lot of these shortcomings. My older kid’s middle school manages everyone’s iPads – if you use it at school, even if you own it, it has to be managed – and gives parents access to the MDM settings during non-school hours. It allows us to do many of the things Dave wishes iOS could do; iOS should have similar features built in. But normal people aren’t going to set up an MDM system, or even Apple Configurator, for their family devices.

  36. Sure you can. When my youngest was younger we made great use of Guided Access to lock a specific app on the screen, and my wife uses this feature every day when teaching elementary school kids. She launches the app, locks that app, and hands the iPad to the kid. Without a PIN, the kid can’t use anything on the iPad but that app.

  37. Well, I was thinking of the in-app purchase popups, eg for coins in a game. I don’t think you can turn that off, even in guided access. I could be wrong.

  38. Settings =>General => Restrictions lets you disable in-app purchases.

  39. Thanks! Good to know.

  40. I would add that at least some of these would be great to have on the iPad that my Mom, who has progressive dementia, uses.

  41. If you review OurPact could you also review MobiCip? http://www.mobicip.com
    Looks like MobiCip does more.

    My grandkids are 5 and 7 and received used iPads last Christmas. Mom and Dad limit screentime by putting the iPads on top of the fridge. Also, many apps are disabled including Safari and Mail. They can text and that is so much fun. They can also FaceTime. When the 5-year-old learned to FaceTime we got a call from her at 5:45 A.M.!

    The danger is that even though he’s only in first grade the 7-year-old can read and spell. I’m sure if he had access to Safari he would experiment by typing the word ‘poop’ to see what happens. (I don’t want to think where that would lead.) Better, easier parental controls are really needed. I’m going to talk to their Dad about using MobiCip.

  42. @mbarr Sounds like MobiCip is at least worth a look to see how it compares with OurPact. It’s too much to try to review both in the same article, but the article could mention MobiCip and any other competitors in the intro.

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