January 26, 2013, 7:05 AM — Concerned parent and reader Frank Reilly seeks a way to control his kids' device use. He writes:
My two children each have an iPod touch and they spend a lot of time with them on Facebook and Instagram. My wife and I try to keep an eye on the time they spend, but we don't want to be police either. I've looked at the iPods' restrictions but they don't do what we want, which is to limit the hours they can use these services. Any suggestions?
At the risk of offering parenting advice, the first step is to evaluate how much time the kids are really spending and then determine the harm it's doing. If it's interfering with more important activities--homework, chores, exercise, and time spent with the family and friends--it's time for The Talk. And The Talk, in this case, emphasizes that while this technology is very cool, there's more to life than staring at a screen and interacting with virtual friends. Then try to set up a schedule where social networking is placed in the context of a recreational pursuit.
If The Talk doesn't take and the kids are spending more time than you're prepared to allow, there are sterner approaches you can take. One of the harshest is to set up a system where the kids have to "check out" the devices during certain times of the day. When that time expires, they have to turn them over to you. Very few teenagers will put up with this approach, plus it puts you in the position of being the iPod cop.
A gentler technique that achieves much the same results is to limit your network. (To avoid pouting and/or poison looks, let your kids know you're going to do this.) The kids can keep their iPod but they'll lack the means to get on the Internet. This is easily done if you have an AirPort-based wireless network. Like so:
"Borrow" your kids' iPods and on each navigate to Settings > General > About. Write down the numbers and letters you find listed after the Wi-Fi Address entry. This is the iPod's MAC address, which is the unique identifier for that device.
Now move to your Mac and launch AirPort Utility. Select the base station connected to your Internet source and click on the Edit button. Click the Network tab in the resulting window and then click on the box next to Enable Access Control. Click the Timed Access Control button that is now active.
In the sheet that appears click the Plus (+) button and enter the name of the device in the Description field ("Junior's iPod," for example) and the associated identifier in the MAC Address field.
In the Wireless Access Times area use the pop-up menus to choose the times you'll allow the iPod to have access to the Internet--weekdays between 3 and 5 PM and weekends from 10 AM to 12 PM, for instance. Then click the Plus button once again to add the other child's iPod and configure that one as you wish. (You can configure different times for each device.) When things are configured as you like, click Save and allow AirPort Utility to update your base station. The limits you imposed are now in place.