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How To Set Up and Use The iTunes Allowance and Parental Control Features To Work With An iPhone or iPad

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Jason R. Rich explains how to use the iTunes Allowance feature of the iTunes Store, as well as the Restrictions options that are built into the iOS 5.1 (or later) operating system.
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It’s common for parents to either allow their young kids to use their iPhone or iPad, or to purchase an iOS mobile device specifically for their kids to use. Encouraging your kids or teens to use an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch as an educational or entertainment tool can certainly be beneficial. However, as the parent, you may want to control the content that your kids have access to when using the device.

Thanks to the Restrictions feature that’s built into the iOS 5.1 operating system, as well as specific iTunes Store functions, it’s possible to easily control what young people can access on the web, and what they can download from the iTunes Store and Apple’s other online-based services (including the App Store, iBookstore, and Newsstand).

How to Use the iTunes Store Allowance Feature to Control the Purchasing and Downloading of Content

Once you place an iOS mobile device into the hands of a child or teenager, they’ll probably want to begin making online purchases of music, TV shows, movies, apps, eBooks, music videos, ringtones, and other content. Most of this is done through Apple’s iTunes Store, App Store, iBookstore, and Newsstand.

When an online purchase is initiated from an iOS mobile device through one of Apple’s online services, the cost gets immediately charged to the credit or debit card that’s linked to the Apple ID used to make the purchase. This includes in-app purchases made while playing games, for example. Instead of linking your credit or debit card to a child or teenager’s unique Apple ID account, you can give them a preset monthly spending allowance.

As a parent, you can somewhat control your child’s monthly iTunes content spending habits by creating a separate Apple ID account for them, and then by activating the iTunes Store’s Allowance feature. This allows you to pre-set a specific amount of money each month (between $10 and $50.00) that a user (your child) can spend acquiring any type of content from the iTunes Store (or related Apple online services, such as the App Store, iBookstore, or Newsstand).

To use this feature, access the iTunes Store via the iTunes software from your computer using your own Apple ID that’s linked to a major credit card or debit card. Next, from the Quick Links section, tap on the Buy iTunes Gifts option. Once you do this, the Allowances option will be displayed. Choose the Set Up An Allowance Now option and follow the on-screen prompts.

You’ll be prompted to enter your name, the recipient’s name, and the monthly allowance amount you want to authorize. This amount will be charged monthly to the credit or debit card that’s linked to your Apple ID.

Next, select a First Installment start date to determine when the first monthly allowance allocation will be credited to the other person’s Apple ID account. You will need to know the recipient’s Apple ID to initiate the Allowance feature.

Once you set up the iTunes Allowance feature from your computer, you can change the monthly allowance amount, temporarily suspend the monthly allowance, or cancel the allowance altogether. Someone’s monthly iTunes allowance can be used to purchase apps or content from any iOS mobile devices or computer they associate their Apple ID with.

One drawback to this option is that once you set up a separate Apple ID account for your child, content they acquire can not be added to your own content library (purchased using your own Apple ID).

Another drawback is that your child or teenager can purchase their own iTunes Gift Cards (or receive them as gifts from other people) and redeem them using their Apple ID account, which will increase their monthly spending limit.

From the iOS device itself, however, you can control exactly how your child uses the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch by turning on and customizing the Restrictions feature. Doing this can control what they can purchase and access from the iTunes Store, App Store, iBookstore, or Newsstand.

Activating and Customizing the Restrictions Feature of an iOS Mobile Device

By activating the Restrictions feature on an iOS mobile device, you can set up an additional user account on the device (for your children or other people who will be using it), and then determine what apps they can access, what they can download, and what types of content they can experience when using the device.

For example, you can set up an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch so it can be used by your child exclusively to read eBooks, or listen to age-appropriate music. You can also block them from downloading or viewing TV show episodes, music videos, or movies that are not suitable, based on their ratings, or prevent them from installing new apps or making in-app purchases.

To turn on and set up the Restrictions feature that’s built into all iOS mobile devices, launch System Preferences from the device’s Home Screen, and then tap on the General option. From the General menu, tap on the Restrictions option.

Next, tap on the Enable Restrictions button. You will be prompted to enter a four digit numeric passcode, and then reenter the passcode to activate it. Then, when viewing the Restrictions menu, look under the Allow heading, and turn off the virtual switch that’s associated with each app you want to prevent someone from accessing while using the iOS mobile device.

To prevent someone from being able to install or delete apps from the device, turn the virtual switch that’s associated with the Installing Apps and/or Deleting Apps option to the off position.

Then, to prevent a young person from accessing content with explicit language, including apps, music, and/or video content from the iTunes Store, turn off the virtual switch that’s associated with the Explicit Language option.

To prevent the location of the iOS device from being shared with others when someone else is using the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, under the Allow Changes heading on the Restrictions menu within System Preferences, turn off the main Location Services, Accounts, and Find My Friends functionality.

For example, when the Location feature is turned off altogether, it prevents the iOS device from pinpointing and potentially sharing the user’s location. However, by tapping on the Location option, you can keep the Location Service feature turned on for some apps, but pick and choose exactly which apps can utilize this GPS functionality.

Turning off the Accounts option keeps someone (your child or teenager) from adding, changing, or deleting email or other types of online service-related accounts when using the iOS device. This includes iMessage and FaceTime accounts. The Find My Friends option allows you to turn off the ability for the optional Find My Friends app to share the device’s location with others.

Under the Allowed Content Heading of the Restrictions menu, you can also determine whether or not the user will be able to access music, podcasts, movies, TV shows, apps, and/or in-app purchases. Any of this content can be restricted altogether, or you can prevent a user from watching movies based on their rating (G, PG, PG-13, R, and/or NC-17).

Thus, if you want your child to be able to download and watch only rated-G movies, under the Allowed Content heading, tap on the Movies option. When viewing the Movies menu screen, under the Allow Movies Rated option, remove the checkmarks from all of the listed movie ratings except for the Rated-G option. Or to prevent someone from viewing any movies on the iOS mobile device, tap on the Don’t Allow Movies option.

Repeat this process for the TV Shows and Apps options listed on the Restrictions menu to determine exactly what content a user can download, install, and access when using the device.

If your child will be playing games, it’s possible to prevent them from playing multiplayer games via the Internet by turning off the Multiplayer Games option that’s listed under the Game Center heading of the Restrictions screen. However, if you do allow multiplayer games to be played, you can prevent a young person from being able to add new online friends (and communicate with potential strangers) through the Game Center app.

Warning: Don’t Forget the Restrictions Passcode You Create

Once you set up the Restrictions feature, it is absolutely essential that you remember the four-digit passcode you create. Otherwise, you could wind up blocking yourself (as well as others) from being able to access content or using some of your iOS mobile device’s features.

Furthermore, you definitely want to keep the passcode a secret from your kids. Most young people are technologically savvy, and will have no trouble overriding the Restrictions options if they’re given access to or discover your passcode.

At anytime, you can deactivate the Restrictions option by launching System Preferences, tapping on the General option, and then tapping on the Disable Restrictions button that’s displayed near the top of the screen. Doing this gives anyone using your iOS mobile device access to all apps and content.

If you’re allowing young children to utilize an iOS mobile device to read kid-friendly eBooks, use educational apps or play suitable games, you can load the appropriate content for them onto the device, and then turn off the device’s Internet access altogether while they’re using it by placing the device into Airplane mode.

Choosing to allow your children or teens to use an iOS mobile device is a decision you’ll need to make as a parent, as is determining at what age they can begin using it. However, once you grant a child or teenager access to an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, it remains your responsibility as a parent to make sure it’s being used responsibly to access age-appropriate content and apps, as well as when surfing the Internet or utilizing other online-based features.

Jason R. Rich is an avid iPhone and iPad user, and is the bestselling author of more than 54 books, including Your iPad At Work: 2nd Edition (Que), iPad and iPhone Tips and Tricks (Que), Using iPhone iOS 5 Edition (Que) and iPad 2 Essentials (Que). He’s also a frequent contributor to numerous national magazines, major daily newspapers and popular websites. You can follow him on Twitter (@JasonRich7).

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