iPhone safety for Explorers – a chapter section on setting Apple age

When I started my book project I though iPhone setup would be a quick chapter. It didn’t turn out that way. iPhone configuration is probably a third of the book, including initial setup, simplifications, and safety measures.

Most recently iOS 12 forced a complete rewrite of all these chapters and, in the absence of documentation, a good amount of experimentation (my Explorers have been justly annoyed by that)  I’ve discovered, for example, that there are significant remote control options for users whose “Apple age” is less than 18. I’ve also found that when one enables remote control all local Screen Time settings are erased without warning.

With the changes made in iOS 12 safety support now requires setting an Explorer’s Apple age to be under 18 by changing their Apple ID associated birth date. Here’s what I wrote about this today …

The key to safe iPhone use is to decide what birth date Apple should use for the Explorer you are supporting. Apple only provides effective safety support for users for users under 18 years old. The user age, which I think of as the “Apple age”, is based on the birthdate associated with a user’s Apple ID.

If an Explorer’s Apple age is well under 18 this isn’t a concern. If Apple believes an Explorer is near or above age 18 then safety support requires changing the birthday Apple uses.

A user’s birth date can be changed using a web browser at Apple’s ID management site⁠ [1] or through the iPhone’s user account settings [screenshot] under “Name, Phone Numbers, Email”. In my own testing I think it works better to change birth date on the Explorer’s iPhone⁠ [2].

My current practice is to initially set a birth date so that Apple software considers the Explorer to be 14 years old. This doesn’t seem to have many side-effects beyond enabling the iPhone’s safety features⁠ [3]. I can, for example, set my Explorers’ age to 14 but “Allow All Movies” and “Explicit” books.

An initial “Apple age” of 14 means every 3 years a Guide and Explorer must decide whether to revert to the true age or dial back to 14 again. That seems a reasonable interval for reconsideration. The goal of both Explorer and Guide is for the Explorer to no longer require this kind of supported use⁠ [4].

Of course an Explorer can also change their Apple Age using a web browser or their iPhone or any Apple device (including a Mac). Teens discovered this within seconds of Screen Time being available in iOS 12 beta. If this is a concern there are two measures to take.

One measure is to use the Screen Time “Content & Privacy Restrictions” to restrict Account Changes. That will prevent changing Apple Age on the Explorer’s iPhone.

The second measure was discussed in the chapter on initial setup and is also discussed later in this safety chapter. Most Explorer’s don’t need to know their iCloud password and there are safety advantages to keeping that secret. Without knowledge of that password it’s difficult to change Apple Age using web browser [⁠5].

I don’t like changing an Explorer’s Apple age. It’s demeaning. I would like Apple to provide an Accessibility setting called “supported use” that would enable support without changing an Explorer’s birth date. Until Apple does that however, this is the only way I know to support iPhone use for a vulnerable adult. Whether to bring this Apple age change up with an Explorer is something a Guide must decide.

– fn -
1 https://appleid.apple.com/account/manage
2 At the time I write this Screen Flow is new and has many undocumented behaviors and a few bugs.
3 I think this age may also affect what kind of marketing Apple does to its customers.
4 On my own iPhone I have enabled Screen Time blocks to restrict my own use of social media. As an adult I can lift the blocks, but it requires an extra step.
5 I discuss password resets and the effects of two factor authentication later in this chapter.

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