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4 things to talk about before turning off Parental Controls

May 18, 2022

What to do after you turn parental controls off on your child’s Apple device. 4 conversations you need to have with your child.

4 things to talk about before turning off Parental Controls

Apple’s parental controls keep kids safe online. But what happens when our little ones grow up, and it’s time to turn off those safeguards? 

It’s not a simple answer, because surprisingly enough, young people today are often unaware of cybersecurity issues — despite their digital prowess in other areas. It’s not wise to leave them to fend for themselves without further discussion or help. 

With this in mind, here are four things to talk about before turning off parental controls:

  1. Give them a tour of their privacy settings

    Apple allows parents to set up their kids’ privacy settings and then prevent them from making any changes. This is helpful: Most parents probably know what’s best for their kids, and don’t want them inadvertently compromising their privacy by fiddling with the controls!

    But the problem is that once it’s up to your children to manage their own settings, they may not know what privacy controls are available to them (or how to adjust them!). On iOS in particular, Apple gives you a lot of options: granting or denying access to Location Services; preventing apps from accessing your Contacts, Calendars, and Photos; turning off Bluetooth sharing for apps and devices; and more. If your kid has no idea what any of that is, or how it works, they won’t be able to protect their privacy effectively. So if you’ve been handling the privacy controls up until now, take a little time to show your child how it all works!

  2. Talk about app safety

    In Screen Time, the Content & Privacy Restrictions feature lets you manage the apps your child can download from the App Store. The good news — on both Mac and iOS — is that the App Store is relatively safe, with or without parental supervision. But there’s still the problem of fleeceware: apps that engage in sketchy billing practices. There are also plenty of apps that collect excessive user data, posing a real privacy threat.

    Make sure your child knows about fleeceware, and about how to find an app’s billing information on its App Store page. In addition, walk them through Apple’s system of “privacy nutrition labels”, and teach them how to use App Tracking Transparency to shut off all app tracking with a click.

  3. Warn them about SMS

    Parents sometimes use Communication Limits in Screen Time to restrict who can contact their children. They set up their child’s iPhone so that only Contacts can send messages to the device, and the Contacts list can’t be edited.

    It’s a choice that makes sense for a lot of families — but it creates an extremely curated messaging experience for children. When those Communication Limits are removed after turning off parental controls, and the whole world can text your child, they may not be ready to deal with what they receive.

    Take a second to tell them about all the different kinds of SMS-based threats out there, from smishing attacks to package delivery scams and tax scams. Above all, make sure that they understand that they can’t just assume a sender is who they say they are. They should treat any unsolicited text with a degree of suspicion.

  4. Discuss website security

    Apple makes it easy for parents to filter out objectionable web contact. It’s possible to limit adult content, block or permit individual websites, and even restrict a child’s web activity to a small list of approved sites.

    If your child has been using the web like this, they’re probably unprepared for the chaos that is the uncensored web! And unfortunately, the sorts of websites that pique the curiosity of teenagers—adult sites, web forums, file sharing services, and pirate streaming video sites—are exactly where you’ll find the largest number of security threats.

    We’ll leave the parental discussions about what sites are and are not appropriate to you. But one cybersecurity concept you should discuss with your child is the fact that not all websites are equally safe. Some sites distribute malware through pop-up ads, redirect users to phishing websites via malicious links, or are frequented by shady humans who are only there to scam other users. So be sure that your child knows they need to be extra cautious if they decide to visit a “bad neighborhood” on the web!

Keep the dialog open

If you’ve talked about these four topics with your child before turning off parental controls, they should be in good shape once they’re on their own. 

Lastly, we’d recommend letting your child know that they can talk to you about digital security and privacy issues any time. If a young adult finds themselves in a bad situation online — for example, if they fall victim to a financial scam or sexual extortion attempt — they’ll be far safer if they have someone they know they can turn to for help! 

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