I’d been an Android user for years, prizing great photos above all else with my smartphone. Apple just wasn’t cutting it once the Samsungs and Pixels came on the scene. But that meant that once my kids got hand-me-down iPhones, only Big B could text and FaceTime with them since we haven’t given them SIM cards.
Then I landed on the iPhone 11, with it’s ridiculously good camera — just look at nearly all of my Instagram pics since February — and built-in editing and said hello again to iOS. And, along with it, all of the possibilities that come with Apple Family Sharing. If you’ve been looking for the best parental control app for iPhone, Family Sharing might just be the answer.
With parents and kids spending more time at home these days (and, inevitably, more time on devices) thanks to you-know-what, Family Sharing is one way we’re helping create both independence and protection for our kids as they start to navigate the responsibilities and risks that come with having smartphones at their disposal.
Even without the added concerns that come with popping a SIM into their iPhones, I’ve been recommending Family Sharing in my personal Facebook “mom groups” as a good option for parents who want some extra peace of mind — because we’ve been enjoying its benefits ever since I made the switch back to Apple. So I thought I’d toss everything into a blog post in case you’re an iPhone/iPad family and you didn’t know Family Sharing existed.
Apple Family Sharing explained…
Family Sharing lets you — and up to five additional family members — share access to services like Apple Music, Apple TV+, App Store purchases and family photo albums. If you’re the Duggars, this probably isn’t going to work for you; but even for bigger families of six, the features can be helpful if you’re all on iOS either with phones and/or tablets and/or Macs.
With Family Sharing, you’ll set up an Apple ID for each child and then set permissions remotely. This includes kids under 13! From a parent’s device — the “family organizer” — you’ll be able to remotely manage their screen time, approve any spending and downloads. That means there should be no hefty credit card surprises at the end of a given month. (Because how many of us have been down that road? I know we have. Thanks so much for that one, Fortnite.)
Your family will also be able to share a single iCloud storage plan that’s big enough to house everyone’s photos and videos. Files and documents, too. Each person’s photos, videos, files and documents remain private, though, unless they choose to share it with the group. If your storage space starts to creep up to your upper iCloud limits, it’s easy to pinpoint where the bulk of that storage is being used because you can quickly see just how much of it everyone is using. (In case you’re wondering, it’s $3.99 a month for 200GB of shared storage or $12.99 a month for 2TB — and no one needs to purchase separate plans since you’re sharing.)
You can only be part of ONE family at a time and each member of the family will need:
- An Apple ID that’s signed into iCloud
- An iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch running iOS 7 or later, or a Mac with OS X Yosemite or later
Even if your kids already had their own Apple IDs, you can still enable Family Sharing. This isn’t restricted just to new users setting up their kids’ IDs for the first time. Once you’ve set it up, your child will be asked to accept or decline an invitation to join your “family.” If you have device rules like ours, this won’t be an option at all. ACCEPT is the only choice if they want to keep their phones!
What’s included in Apple Family Sharing?
- Apple Books
- Apple Music family plan
- Apple Arcade
- Apple News+
- Apple TV+
- Subscription services
- App Store purchases
- iCloud storage plan
- Shared photo albums
- Family calendar (this is a HUGE bonus for me, since I’m generally the keeper of our family commitments and often need to cross-reference Big B’s calendar)
- Device location access
When you set up purchase sharing, content purchased by every family member is immediately available to everyone else in the group to listen to, view and/or download. But what if you have an app or service that you don’t want your kid to use? Easy…the family organizer can restrict access. That adult has full control to choose the features your family will (and will NOT) share.
Why is Family Sharing the best parental control app for iPhone?
There are parental controls built right into Apple Family Sharing, creating a seamless way to manage your kids’ device use from within your existing iOS ecosystem. Hopefully, you’ll find that this gives you enough control that you won’t need to go looking for any additional third-party apps that may come with their own privacy concerns.
Screen Time and “Ask to Buy” are two tools that let the family organizer approve access (and grant extended access) to the amount of time your kid spends on his or her device and any purchases they may wish to make. And location-sharing has some obvious upsides — and not only for older, frequently unsupervised kids.
How Screen Time works…
This feature gives parents a better understanding of how much time their kids are spending using apps, visiting websites or on their devices overall. Using it, you can review your kids’ activity reports and set time limits for specific apps from your own device. If they run out of time, the app or game shuts off and they need to digitally request an extension from you. And unless you click YES, they’re SOL.
You can also name another family member as a parent or guardian, so it’s not entirely up to the family organizer to manage every child’s screen time.
How Ask to Buy works…
What I love so much about the Ask to Buy feature is that it allows the family organizer — or another adult — to not only approve downloads that involve an actual purchase, but it ALSO applies to free downloads. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to remove a free app from one of my kid’s devices because I haven’t been able to review or research it myself before they downloaded it.
By the way, Ask to Buy is turned on by default when you add a child to your Family Sharing plan. Plus, the family organizer can limit the content kids even have access to in the first place; this is managed through Content and Privacy Restrictions within the Screen Time feature.
There’s location sharing, too…
Each member of an Apple Family Sharing plan can also choose to share their location. Since my kids rely on WiFi and not SIM cards, I do wonder if they’ll still be “trackable” on a map even if this option is enabled but they’re out of WiFi range; I’ll report back once I give this a whirl or find out more.
One of the biggest upsides to this — beyond knowing where your older kids may be when they’re out and about without supervision — is that everyone can help find a missing device. We’ve done this only to discover that, in fact, the device is in our house…oops.
And speaking of our no-SIM situation, that brings me to one of the other features of Apple Family Sharing, which is setting up a personal Hot Spot for the family. We haven’t tried this and I have no idea just how fast one’s data would get eaten up by doing so, which is a legit consideration. But it is an option for those of you with mega-data plans and kids who have SIM-less smartphones.
So, before you go hunting for the best parental control app for iPhone, if your whole family is using the iOS ecosystem, the best option may already be in the palm of your hands.
DISCLAIMER: there isn’t one.