I’ve been surprised in the last couple of years to see how many of my friends have bought their kids an iPod touch as a Christmas or birthday present. It may be a bit on the expensive side, but the iPod touch – and, of course, the new iPad Mini – is a terrific all-in-one device for playing music, video and games, as well as also providing internet access and a zillion other apps that they can download and play with.
When buying an Apple device such as the iPod touch for their children, many parents will start off by linking the new device to their own personal iTunes account on their Mac or PC. Your account is linked to a credit (or debit) card but the account will also be password-protected, so the kids won’t be able to go on a spending spree without your permission.
One thing to watch out for, though, is ‘freemium’ games that are free to download but then aim to make their money by tempting people with in-app purchases, say, for extra weapons or equipment that will give you an edge when playing the game.
By default, there’s a 15-minute period following the initial download of any game or app when anyone can make additional in-app purchases without having to enter your password – and we’ve heard a number of stories since Christmas about parents who thought they were downloading ‘free’ apps only to find that their kids had run up a big bill for in-app purchases without their knowledge.
Even if you manage to avoid unpleasant surprises like that, you also have to remember that every game, app, song or video that you buy for your kids will forever be linked to your own personal iTunes account. That’s fine if you have very young children and you want to keep a close eye on what they’re doing with their iPod or iPad. But, at some point, the kids will have some spending money of their own and will want an iTunes account that allows them to make their own purchases.
Fortunately, it's possible to set up an iTunes account for your children without linking it to a credit card. The only way to add money to that account will then be using gift tokens for a fixed amount, or by giving them a fixed monthly allowance.
This ensures that your kids can only spend the money that is given to them, and that there’s no risk of getting hit by an unexpected credit card bill. Apple’s iOS software also includes a number of restrictions that allow you to control app downloads and purchases – and even to block specific apps such as the Safari web browser for additional safety.
Here, we'll show you step by step how to configure these settings. (We've done it using an iPod touch 5th generation, but the steps are the same on an iPad mini, or iPad running iOS 6. The steps are similar for older iPod touch models running older versions of iOS.)
Set up an iPod touch for kids to use
There are two stores available on Apple iOS devices such as the iPod Touch – the iTunes Store for music and video, and the App Store for games and other apps. However, you access both stores using a single Apple ID, which is a combination of your email address and password.
To create an Apple ID, just open the App Store and find a free app, such as Apple’s Find My iPhone. Tap the ‘Free’ button to change the wording to 'install', then tap it again. You will be prompted to enter your existing Apple ID or to create a new one.
You’ll need to provide an email address that will be linked to your child’s Apple ID. It makes sense to use their own email address if they have one. If not, create a free one using Gmail or a similar free service. You also need to set a password, and to provide answers to a set of questions – such as the name of a pet – that provide additional security.
You are then asked to provide billing information. You won’t want to link a credit card to your child’s account, so simply select the option marked ‘None’ – or perhaps start by giving your child a gift token for a specific amount of money.
Once you’ve created the new Apple ID, tap on the Settings icon on the device's Home screen, and then tap on General. Scroll down a bit until you see Restrictions. This is set to ‘off’ by default, so tap on Restrictions and then select the ‘Enable Restrictions’ option.
You’ll be prompted to enter a new Passcode – choose a different number from the Passcode used to lock the device, naturally. This code will prevent your child from disabling or changing the restriction settings on the device, so keep it secret or only share it with another adult.
You can now turn off options such as ‘Installing Apps’ and iTunes, preventing your child from buying or downloading any music or apps. For younger children you may also want to block the Safari browser in order to stop them browsing the web on their iPod or iPad.
Scroll down to ‘Allowed Content’. These options allow you to block music and podcasts that contain bad language, and to apply age ratings to films and TV shows bought from the iTunes Store. There’s also an option to turn off in-app purchases as well.
Go back to the iPod’s main Home screen and you’ll see that the icons for iTunes and the App Store have both disappeared, preventing your child from buying anything from those stores. Note that the Safari icon has also gone. It's possible to install a different web browser, such as AVG Family Safety, which filters websites to try and prevent children seeing inappropriate content.
iTunes syncing, email, theft and cases
Other things to consider include synching. If the iPod touch or iPad is going to be connected to the family PC or laptop to back up with iTunes, you should make sure your own contacts, calendars and other items aren't automatically synched across.
If you allow your child to have an email address, set this up in the Mail app.
Another important step is to configure the Find my iPhone app so it can be tracked down in case it gets lost.
Finally, buy a case and screen protector to help prevent against smashed screens and other damage. These don't have to be expensive. A quick search on eBay will turn up hundreds of deals for just a pound or two - a very worthwhile investment.