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Five Things You Forgot When Locking Down your Kid's iPhone

I consider myself pretty tech-savvy—I've been a software developer for 15 years, and even have apps in the App store. So when I locked down my oldest son's first iPhone, I was fairly confident I had covered all my bases. But boy, was I wrong. Grab your child's phone right this minute and check if you missed any of these too.

1. #images iMessage App

iOS 17 Warning

Apple recently released iOS version 17 (on 9/17/23). As of right now, the current version 17.0.0 does not permit disabling the #images app. There is currently no known workaround, but we are hopeful that Apple will release an update restoring control for parents. Until then we recommend that you DO NOT UPDATE your child's device to iOS 17.

Apple's built-in Messages app comes with a growing number of app-integrations (called iMessage apps) that allow for sending non-text items in text messages.

what you forgot locking down your kid's iPhone: iMessage mini-apps can expose your child to explicit content
this row of mini-apps is shown when composing a text message

If your child clicks on the #images (Hashtag Images) app (shown above), they are able to search through a huge inventory of animated gifs. The image below shows a harmless search query, but there are loads of sexually suggestive and otherwise inappropriate images your child shouldn't be able to browse.

what you forgot locking down your kid's iPhone: the #images app should be removed for your child's safety
close of up the '#images' app
what you forgot locking down your kid's iPhone: searchable animated gifs your child should have access to
Imagine I searched for something other than 'GOATS'
What's with all the goats? 🐐

In order to avoid filling this post with harmful images, all of the examples show pictures of goats. Every time you see one, imagine your child were searching for something sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate.

2. Explicit Images in Maps Apps

The built-in Apple Maps app and Google Maps are (surprisingly) not safe for kids, and should be deleted. They are unsafe because both apps will show any images that may have been uploaded by business owners or patrons. For instance, many strip clubs post nude photos which can be accessed through these apps. No Screen Time setting can prevent these images from being viewed, the only way to secure your child's phone is to delete the apps. (In the "how to fix" section below we recommend an alternate map/navigation app.)

what you forgot locking down your kid's iPhone: Apple Maps and Google Maps can show explicit photos to your child
The images from strip clubs and adult bookstores aren't so innocent

3. Internet Content in Searches

To test if your child's phone is vulnerable to this commonly missed item, pull down from the middle of the home screen to access the iPhone's built-in search prompt.

what you forgot locking down your kid's iPhone: spotlight searching on an iPhone can access internet images
Swipe down bring up search, then type a search phrase

After pressing the search button, Siri is activated behind the scenes to search the internet and return results, including images. Again, imagine a less innocent search than goats:

what you forgot locking down your kid's iPhone: spotlight searching on iOS by default can load and display images from the web
Search can use Siri to pull images and content from the internet

4. Web Searching from iBooks, Notes, Kindle, and Other Apps.

Most apps that deal with text (like ebook readers, Bible apps, Notes, and many more) allow the user to highlight a search term and "Look Up".

what you forgot locking down your kid's iPhone: highlight a word and tap 'Look Up'
Most apps let you highlight a word, then tap 'Look Up'

Which brings up this:

what you forgot locking down your kid's iPhone: Look Up on iOS can access and display to your child images from the web
An example of images pulled from the web in response to a 'Look Up'

5. Siri Internet Access

A frequent mistake parents make is to leave Siri fully or partially enabled. While Siri can provide help for many harmless tasks, it can also bypass other restrictions to access and display almost any content on the internet. To test if your child's device is vulnerable, ask Siri to show you pictures of something.

what you forgot locking down your kid's iPhone: Siri can show your child images and content from anywhere on the internet
An example of images pulled from the web in response to a 'Look Up'

Unfortunately, simply disabling Siri from the Screen Time settings is not sufficient to fix this. Follow the steps below for instructions.

Bonus: Protecting Household Devices

If you checked and fixed all of the loopholes we've shown so far, and have locked down your child's iPhone using Screen Time, then you're doing great. But there's one more thing most parents forget: most households have many internet-connected devices, ALL of which must be protected with passwords. Take a minute to do a thorough review of all the phones, computers, and devices in your house, including:

  • your phone and your spouse's
  • all computers, including yours
  • phones, iPads, or tablets used by younger/older siblings
  • old devices lying around in closets and cupboards

All of these devices must be secured with passwords or have unsafe apps/priveleges removed. If this seems extreme, I assure you it's not. A couple I know found out too late that their 13 year old son was taking a laptop from their bedroom at night while they slept in order to fuel a growing pornography addiction.

Also, if your devices are protected with passwords, you need to change those passwords regularly. Most people re-use the same passwords for many accounts and devices. Kids are smart enough to figure this out, and yours probably already know your favorite password.

But my kid's a good kid...

Don't fall into the trap of thinking "it won't happen to my kid, he/she is such a good kid!"

No other generation in history has had access to what can now be found on the internet with a few clicks. Millions of well-raised, innocent kids from good families are getting permanently scarred by the addicitive nature of content they should never have known even existed.

You absolutely can protect your kid, but you're going to have to make up your mind to be proactive and diligent. It will cost you a little time, and some inconvenience, but it is completely worth it.


Step-by-step guide to locking down an iPhone

If you haven't taken the time to carefully lock down your child's iPhone, we have a step-by-step guide.


Questions? Comments? Stuck trying to do some step of this tutorial? Let us know by submitting the form below, and we'll try to help!