How to Set Up an iPad for a Child So You Don't Have to Stress Over What They're Doing

mom setting up ipad for toddler
How to Set Up an iPad for Your Child to Safely Usemixetto - Getty Images

As far as the best tablets for kids go, the iPad can help keep them occupied and pacified to a certain extent, but it's not a toy. There are too many things that could go awry if you hand your iPad over to your child, from unfiltered content to unintended purchases to unchecked screen time.

Whether you're both sharing the same iPad or they have their own, here are the step-by-step instructions for how to set up an iPad for a child to ensure that they stay within parent-approved boundaries. (And why don't you pick up a sturdy iPad case for a little extra insurance, too?)

If you're sharing an iPad with your child

If you and your child use the same iPad, you'll want to enable "Content & Privacy Restrictions," so you can control exactly what they have access to.

  1. Go to Settings > Screen Time, and then select "Use Screen Time Passcode." Enter a four-digit code that's different from the one that your child uses to unlock your iPad. Doing this will distinguish your personal settings from the child-safe settings and prevent your child from making any unwanted changes.

  2. Select "Content & Privacy Restrictions" in the Screen Time menu.

  3. Next to "Content & Privacy Restrictions" at the top of the page, toggle the slider to the on/green position to enable changes in the below menu.

  4. In this menu, you can go through each item and change the setting to be appropriate for your child's needs. For example, under the "iTunes & App Store Purchases" menu option, you may want to change "Installing/Deleting Apps" and "In-app Purchases" from "Allow" to "Don't Allow" if you don't want them downloading their own apps or buying in-app features without your permission. Under "Require Password" in this menu, you can select "Always Require" — this means, if they want to make a change that you're OK with, you can input your password (without showing them!) to enable the change.

If you want unrestricted access back on your iPad without having to enter your password to make changes, just Select "Content & Privacy Restrictions" in the Screen Time menu and toggle the slider back to the off/gray position.

If you want to give your old iPad to your child

When you're ready for an iPad upgrade, but your child is happy using your old tablet, you can easily back up your data and then wipe it off the device to make it a child-friendly iPad that's all their own.

Back up your data and erase it from the device

  1. Select Settings > Your Name > iCloud > iCloud Backup > Back Up Now.

  2. When you're ready to restore your iPad to the factory setting, go to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPad > Erase All Content and Settings.

After you've done this, you can decide whether or not you want to create an Apple ID for your child. Creating an Apple ID will allow you to link them to your Family Sharing account, which lets you set unique parental controls and Screen Time parameters, share subscriptions, and download specific purchases to their device from your own.

You may be understandably hesitant about creating an Apple ID for your child, but if you're choosing to give them their own iPad, this is currently the most secure way to ensure that they aren't downloading or viewing media that you don't want them to see.

Create an Apple ID for your child

  1. From any Apple device, select Settings > Your Name > Family Sharing.

  2. Select "Add Member" then "Create an Account for a Child."

  3. Input your child's birthdate and email address and confirm your credit card information to finish setting up their Apple ID.

  4. After verifying that everything is correct, they should now appear in your Family Sharing account.

To make your child’s Apple ID a little more anonymous, you can use a placeholder name and email address, since these can be edited later. And while you’re not required to add your child’s real birthdate, it might be a good idea to keep their birth year the same — this is because once an age under 13 is associated with an Apple ID, it can’t be changed. Treat this placeholder information like any other password; you'll need it in case you have to log back into the device.

If you try a workaround like using your personal Apple ID with the Screen Time settings enabled and unlinking your iCloud account, it will give them a device that's almost entirely separate from yours, but a tech-savvy kid will likely figure out how to restore the device to factory settings and create their own login. Linking their Apple ID to yours can prevent that from happening without your knowledge.

If your child has their own iPad

Whether your child's iPad is brand new or a reset older model, you can set it up for them to use either automatically or manually. The automatic method will work if you have your own iPhone or iPad and both your and your child's devices are updated to iOS 16 or later. However, if one or both devices are only updated to iOS 15 or earlier, you'll have to use the manual method.

Automatic iPad setup for a child

  1. Turn on your child's iPad and swipe to unlock it.

  2. Select your country and language.

  3. Place your Apple device near your child's new iPad. Then, follow the next steps on your device.

  4. When the "Set Up New iPad" pop-up appears, tap "Continue."

  5. An animation should appear on your child's iPad. Hold your device over your child's device, then center the animation on the screen to pair them.

  6. If you've already set up your child's Apple ID (see instructions above), a pop-up will appear with the names and avatars of the children in your family under the age of 13. Select the child whose iPad you're setting up.

  7. From there, you go back to your child's iPad and follow the same "Content & Privacy Restrictions" in the Screen Time menu as above to restrict app downloads, purchases, and other content. They won't be able to change the settings without the unique four-digit code that you've set.

Manual iPad setup for a child

  1. Follow the standard iPad setup instructions on the screen. Enter a passcode on your child's iPad that's different from yours. Setting up Face ID or Touch ID is optional.

  2. If your child already has an Apple ID and is linked to your Family Sharing account, enter their Apple ID and password when prompted.

  3. Follow the same "Content & Privacy Restrictions" in the Screen Time menu as above to restrict app downloads, purchases, and other content.

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