Dear Tim Cook: Letter from an American Dad, Apple iOS Parental Controls

Apple iOS Needs Parental Controls
Written by Alan Wallace

It isn’t easy being a parent. Being a parent to a kid with an Apple iPad and iPod is an order of magnitude tougher. Our Alan Wallace is an iDad writing a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook. In his open letter, Alan asks for specific changes and improvements to Apple iOS parental controls. And he’s not alone..

Dear Tim,
I have many Apple iOS devices — so does my 11-year-old son.  That’s why I’m writing this open letter to you. This is about better Apple iOS parental controls. And it’s kind of urgent.

UPDATE:  Ed: It’s all the more urgent given news that Apple had to pull the 500 pxapp because of child porn concerns, reports the BBC.

For starters, I need to be able to lock down apps — and please let me select exactly which ones. And I need to be able to lock them down to a master time limit and maybe even a time limit of daily use per app.  I need to be able to tell my son’s Apple iPod and Apple iPad that he should only be able to use these devices and the apps on them during times I specify.

And that’s not all.

I want to tie this functionality down to a parent-child related account — separate from my Apple ID. It should know, for example, the relation between my Apple devices and his — for instance, if message limitations are close or if time limits like the ones I suggest above run out. Can you do that? I also want same controls to work if I later get my son an iPhone. That would allow calls to certain numbers at all times – and others at certain times – and it would work even if I turn off games and text that calls and email could be checked during certain time frames.

Also, while the ratings on games, apps, movies and TV shows are great, could you amp up your music ratings controls?   I want to lock his device down to age-appropriate lyrics.

Lastly, please add a remote app that I can select from my devices to adjust functions on his. It should work on the fly – just in case I see a reason to shut it down.  These reasons come up, believe me. Yes, I could take it away from him. And I do. But with a remote app, I’d also be able to adjust restrictions and other parental controls when I’m not right there. The remote app should, as Apple says, just work. And it ought to be easy.

Tim, I don’t need Apple to parent for me. But Apple needs to work with me here. The company that provides the tools I need to manage tech for my son will win my business down the road, too. I love my own Apple iPad and iPod — and my son gets some great hand-me-downs. But Apple has some catching up to do here. Consider Microsoft. You know, Windows already has strong parental tools that work and they work on the MS Surface, too. Parenting around tech needs some help and I imagine that the same tools that would help me could also help IT Departments with BYOD issues, now that I think of it.

Bottom line. Being a parent in a tech world isn’t easy. Being a parent to a kid with an iDevice is an order of magnitude tougher. Frankly, I need more help from Apple and I know I’m not alone. I want to let my son play with his devices and not have to make him check them in and out from me every time. I need your help to do this right, though.

Sincerely yours,

Alan Wallace


  • Guess until Apple does something, you just have to take the thing away from the kid whom you can’t trust.

    Message from Dad to Kid: Life sucks. Get used to it. Because I said so.

  • Great text, but…. Actually, there are all of these features on iOS. It’s reserved only for Enterprise use, sure, for they’re there. So you request should be, “please, release the enterprise (app by app) access management to standard users” instead.

  • trust life, trust your kids, they need less protection than we think .. give them self-esteem, and the ability to love, life will be fine. online stuff you don’t like? it’s just pixels. kids already know that, imo.

  • i would suggest a parental ethic advice and not parental control. kids need to learn to differentiate between good and not-so-good on their own. hiding or blocking things away does not allow them to make a mind of their own.
    i am a typical kid of the internet, means i grew up with his medium while it had no restrictions, barriers or age control, and it clearly didn’t harm me. i knew there was stuff on the internet that wasn’t made for me or my age, but i stumbled upon it and yeah, it surprised me or “shocked” me, but at least i knew the “truth” and learnt to deal with it.

  • As a parent, I am constantly going into his device, taking ratings down to PG 13, deleting Netflix, I wish, as Alan says, I could do it remotely — and not hear whining about it! gs

  • Interesting. What will this dad do about Safari, that can be used to reach any site on the Internet? This sounds like a parent that doesn’t understand technology, praying to his tech-deity of choice to give him control, when the truth is the 11-year-old will soon know more than this dad ever did about technology.

    • McGyver – I’m teaching my son gradually – but he is a little young to learn by a firehose method. I’m asking for simple functions already available in other OS’s – its not like I’m asking for a MAP program. I’m not nearly as worried about his use of Safari as I am about time limits when a natural action for a child is to keep playing and ignore the clock. As far as telling me that I’m a parent who does not understand tech – seriously? I ask why Apple cannot implement some of the same functionality that is in Windows and Android – and you suggest that I don’t get tech? As far as his knowing more about tech than I – its why I bring him to conferences like Blackhat, Defcon and CES – I fully intend for him to know more about tech than I do. But how about those of us who do understand tech help parents who don’t and implement what they need to protect their children and further provide them functions that will help defend against cybercriminals This is not the same world when kids could get on the their bikes and ride hours with no worry – better parental controls is more than keeping kids from porn. Life happens and I’m not looking to prevent his childhood or teenage years either

  • Basic parenting lessons required. If he’s too young to get his head around the dos and donts then he’s too young to be left alone with the device and should have it for short periods under supervision. All child controls do is confirm either that your child is a bit thick or encourage them to do a bit of lateral thinking to get around them. Whichever way you dress that up it’s not good. Far better to not use an iDevice as a substitute child minder and get in there and tackle the difficult stuff head on. No software can of should do that. The OS that already do? Waste of space and time. Effectively you’re aspiring to mediocrity and treating a symptom not a cause.

  • Alan- I could not agree more. There is no doubt that everything you asked for is well within reach technologically. I want it on ALL my iOS devices for the non-adults in the house. For that matter, I want time restrictions, access restrictions to follow my young users across their devices.

    Apple clearly isn’t interested in doing it because their math says enough folks don’t care or don’t even know something like this can exist. Preventing third parties from being able to take this matter up is just that much more galling to me.

    I’m far from tech savvy, but I’ve experimented with jail-breaking some older iOS devices (with little success so far). I’m going to try it again, and if I can’t get the pads and pods to do what I need them to do, then they get locked down 100% and we gradually leave iOS as the budget allows. I don’t want to do it – there are so many positives with hardware, OS, etc.

    We’re 100% Apple here now, but it all started when I bought the my first iPhone 4-5 years ago (??). If Palm had offered some decent software for my old Treo, things may have gone a different way. They didn’t, so I switched.

    As a parent, I see it as helping my kids learn to manage THEMSELVES- allocate resources, use judgement, maintain balance. It has absolutely nothing to do with “trust.”. As they get older, they can hone their negotiation skills (beyond whining, nagging and complaining), earn more independence – and better manage any negative consequences of their decisions. If other parents want to leave their devices wide open- that’s their call. No grief from me.

    I’m not just throwing them the keys and saying “Tank is full. Clutch is on the left. Road is at the end of the driveway. It’s a big continent out there – I trust you.” I’m giving them a safe, flat, wide-open parking lot to practice in. They try out first and reverse – and then go from there.

    To be fair, I have the exact same complaint with Nintendo and Netflix as I have with Apple. They have VERY limited – or no- granular control for parents. If I can’t screen out the stuff we don’t want right now, then I have to find other devices and services.

  • I can appreciate the OP’s situation; it mirrors mine. My 11-year-old gets completely sucked into her iPod Touch, to the exclusion of hygiene, social relationships, basic life management like managing her clothes (pile on the floor; what’s clean?), etc. Before iPod, she had get-togethers with friends every weekend; now, hardly ever. Why bother, when you can post snarky comments on Facebook, or cruise the internet for cutesy pictures to post on Instagram? With a dd-wrt router I’ve been able to put limits on the amount of time she spends connected to the Internet, but when the signal goes off-line she simply switches to Tomb Raider for a marathon session.

    In extreme circumstances (like when she disappears upstairs without clearing the dinner table) I can ssh into her device, and issue the ‘halt’ command – but that’s a lot of work, and not persistent. I wish that iOS had the kind of time limit controls that standard OS X has under Parental Controls.

  • If iOS can replicate the same parental controls as Snow Leopard, that would be ideal.

    Young boys have a difficult time policing themselves. I particularly like the time control by day. I gave my old Mac laptop to my girlfriend’s son. I set it up so he cannot use the machine for more than 18hrs/week; 2hrs on weekdays (5 days/week) and 4 hrs/day on weekends. If he wants more time, he has to see the administrator (Mom). He is genuinely interested in computer programming but it’s easy to lose track of time online or playing games. It’s a great way to monitor screen time on the computer.

    The other parental controls are good to limit access to questionable content on the internet. It’s not being over protective. It’s simply parenting in the 21st with online predators (particularly for young girls) and porn sites galore depicting anything you can possibly imagine. Not monitoring what your kid does online is pretty much the same as not caring what they do outside the home before all this technology existed.

  • I could not agree more with Alan. The one item/response missing throughout this entire thread is from or about the child themselves. There are a number of “wise-crack” responses as to why the parent would want to do this, obviously from some who do not have kids themselves.
    In my case I have a 16 year old autistic son who is non-verbal. As of earlier this year his iPad is his speech tool and is also used for recreation. Guess what … We’d like to make sure the only app used during certain parts of the day is his speech app because he won’t.
    He loves music and it was really bad with the older iPad/IOS versions because the built-in YouTube app had no mechanisms to control access times or resolution, the latter was the real problem because all HD YouTube sucks bandwidth like crazy.
    I seriously considered jail-breaking the old iPad (and still may do so) to allow me to install “real” parental control apps outside the iStore.
    We all have our own reasons for needing/wanting “parental controls”, and not all are obvious to everyone else, it’s just that the only term so far invented for any restrictions on a computer is “parental controls” (outside corporate, there it’s referred to as “policy”) regardless of whether it’s being done by a parent or caregiver for a 16 year old or a 26 year old.

  • I just saw this post as I was searching, yet again, for some more comprehensive parental controls for my son’s iOS devices. There is an Android based app “Screen Time Parental Control” that does exactly what I want to do. Why not on iOS devices? The promotional video for this app explains pretty much exactly the situation. I may be switching platforms soon.

    FYI, not looking for parenting advice or opinions, just want the option of using this tool.

  • I knew when I read this that I’d see comments about this being a substitute for good parenting. It’s bed time, and everyone has to hand over their iPad till morning, ok? Nup, it’s hidden. What do you do, tear the house apart looking for it every night? Beat them to a pulp till they hand it over? I want to at least be able to lock them out of their devices when they’re supposed to be sleeping.

  • I’m amazed at how many people are throwing this back on Alan as if his desire to have some control or monitoring in this realm for his kids is indicative of lazy parenting or lack of trust.

    That couldn’t be further from the truth. We introduce new freedoms and responsibilities to our kids gradually. It may start with close monitoring and limited access to certain things. As trust is built and mature handling of the freedoms are demonstrated, we loosen things up a little more and allow them to demonstrate trustworthiness in those things. If something gets out of hand or the child can’t handle that freedom, we may reign it back in for a bit, then revisit in a few months. The idea is to give age-appropriate boundaries for them to explore, let them demonstrate competency and trust, then reward that with more freedoms. This allows the child the best of both worlds – protection from external threats and dangers of the internet and the communication is allows, but the ability to use them responsibly and to learn.

    Instead of an all or nothing approach that gives virtual unfettered access or nothing at all, it’s more like how you parent on other things. At first my child rode a bike with training wheels and they could only ride in our driveway or culdesac, with my supervision to watch out for cars. Then the training wheels come off. When they are better rider and more aware, they might be allowed to ride outside with me around but not necessarily watching them the entire time. If we venture beyond our home area and ride around the neighborhood, they might have to be accompanied by me at first. But after some time, they might be permitted to ride around the block themselves, or ride their bike over to a friend’s house down the street. And on it goes.

    It’s how we approach most things, why not the realm of the internet and mobile devices?

    Also I’ll note, here we are three years later, and we don’t have these basic things Alan is asking for. It’s time for Apple to make this stuff a priority.