Everything you need to know: Save money by sharing content the right way with up to six members of your family

For years, families have been sharing a single Apple ID. This had been the only way to share iTunes content including apps, music and movie. It was also a convenient way for parents to manage and purchase content on their kids iOS devices. Since content was tied to a single account, the easy method was to register all iOS devices to that Apple ID. Any content purchased becomes available to everyone linked to that account. The emergence of iCloud and in particular iMessage services caused quite a bit of strife for those using this method. In a typical household, a parent is the owner of an Apple ID that is used on the assorted iOS devices. Let’s say that Mom has an iPhone and is exchanging texts with Dad, a friend or a co-worker. An iMessage sent to Mom’s Apple ID will show up on her daughter or son’s iPod touch. Safe to say, it can create a big mess. If your family is still using a single Apple ID, we’ve got a complete guide that will help your family migrate to individual accounts. If these accounts are for kids under 13, just keep reading and we’ll explain everything you need to know. And thanks to Apple’s Family Sharing, purchased content can be shared between up to 6 family members, across your up to 10 devices, including all iOS devices (iPod touch, iPhone, iPad), Macs and even the Apple TV. There are also some excellent parental controls that let you authorize each and every purchase.

Setup family sharing

To help guide you through the process or skip to a specific section, please feel free to use our table of contents.

Family Sharing Master Class

How Family Sharing works

It became abundantly clear that families were interested in sharing their purchased content. Beginning with iOS 8, Apple introduced Family Sharing to make this a reality. The feature works by allowing one account to be the master account. This is likely a parent, who doubles as the chief technology officer in your home, which throughout the article we’ll address as the CTO. So in addition to getting your family’s content organized, you also get a fancy title.

Once set-up, purchase content can be shared among all of the accounts. In other words, purchased content from any of the accounts are eligible for sharing. It’s not just tied to the master account. All purchases made are charged to CTO’s credit or debit card, but we’ll cover how you can setup Ask To Buy and its limitations.

Are there any drawbacks to Family Sharing

Provided you setup your account correctly, there are no drawbacks. We’ll also navigate you through setting up a kids iPad, where you have a few options available to you. All in all, it’s a fantastic way to organize and manage purchases for any family. There might be a few pain points during the transition to individual Apple IDs, but that’s relatively minor compared to the benefits of Family Sharing.


  • iOS 8 or later
  • Mac OS X Yosemite or later

Moving from a shared Apple ID to Family Sharing

If you have been using a single user ID, you’ll need to setup new Apple IDs for each member of your family. Your Apple ID can be any email address, so you can use Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail or any preferred address. If you have an existing email address, you can use it to sign up for a free Apple ID. You can also setup an Apple ID from an iOS device by following these steps, but the user of the account has to be older than 13. For kids younger than 13, we’ll show you how to add them after setting up Family Sharing.

1. Navigate to Settings > Mail, Contacts and Calendars
2. Select ‘Add Account’
3. Select iCloud
4. At the bottom, tap on Create a new Apple ID
5. Enter your birthday
6. Enter your name
7. Select the option ‘Get a free iCloud email address’
8. Enter your preferred username@icloud.com Note: In addition to being an email address, it will act as the Apple ID for this device. It’s important that you complete this process on the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch that you intend to use with this new Apple ID.

Setup new Apple ID

How To Setup Family Sharing on iOS

Family Sharing setup starts with the CTO. He or she needs to initiate the process.
1. Open up the Settings app and tap on iCloud.
2. Tap on Family.
3. Tap on Add Family Member…

add family member

4. Enter a family member’s name or email address.
5. If that family member is present, they can enter their password. Otherwise, select ‘Send an Invitation’. Either option works and will require that person confirm their participation.

Add family member
6. The last step is optional. It lets you opt-in to location sharing with both Find My Friends and iMessage.
7. Finally, the family organizer will need to enter their password.

Adding family

How to add kids under the age of 13

What if you kids don’t have accounts, which isn’t uncommon. The process remains similar.
1. Open up the Settings app and tap on iCloud.
2. Tap on Family.
3. At the bottom, notice a link to ‘Create an Apple ID for a child.’ Tap on that link and you’ll receive a notification outlining the terms. Essentially, the child will be on your account until they reach 13.

Create Apple ID kids
4. Enter your child’s birthday.
5. Tap agree to Apple’s Parent Privacy Disclosure.
6. The family organizer will need to verify the security code on his credit card. That’s the three digits on the back of your debit or credit card.
7. Enter your child’s first and last name.
8. Create an Apple ID for your child that ends in @icloud.com. Note: You cannot change your child’s iCloud email address after creating it. Tap Create.

Kids account Family Sharing

9. Enter a password for this account.
10. Complete a series of three questions. This is in the event that the password is lost. It can be recovered using one of the two methods. Answering the security questions OR having a password reset sent. In the case of resetting the password, it will get sent to the email address of the primary account holder.
11. Ask to Buy: Enabled by default, this option lets you require approval for all purchases initiated by your child.
12. The last step allows you to quickly enable location sharing. Your child’s location can be shared using Messages or Find My Friends. You’ll need to agree once again to terms and conditions to finish the process.

Ask to Buy

That completes the process. When you setup a new iPad, iPhone or iPod touch for your child, you can use their Apple ID. This immediately puts controls on purchases, allows content sharing and if permitted, location sharing.

How family members can download content from others

Purchased content includes apps, music, movies and books. Access to downloads includes content from every family member. So while my account filled with app purchases, the bulk of her purchases are music.

1. To access and download content, you need the visit the respective store. So, the App Store for apps, iTunes Store for music and movies or iBooks for books.
2. Tap on the Updates tab.
3. Tap on Purchased.
4. Select a family member to browse and download content.

What’s Ask to Buy and how can you enable it

When you enable Family Sharing, the credit or debit card of the CTO will be used for any and all purchases. The Ask to Buy feature can be enabled when setting up a kids account. This can be disabled or enabled by visiting Settings > iCloud > Family > Your child’s account. If a family member is an adult, you cannot enable Ask to Buy on their account. You’ll have to resort to asking your significant other to actually ask before they spend. Good old communication.

So what happens when the kids try to buy stuff? They will receive a message that a request to ask permission is required. Once they tap on Ask, the parent or CTO will receive a message alert on their iOS devices and Mac. They have the option to approve or decline. This applies to all content, including free apps. So in addition to monitoring purchases, you can also monitor and approve apps for your child. When you tap on the notification, you’ll also see the same description you’d find in the App Store. At a minimum, you’ll be able to determine if the game or app is age appropriate.

Ask permission to buy

Migrating a kids iPad or iPhone from a shared Apple ID to Family Sharing

There are a few ways to migrating an iPad or iPhone from a shared Apple ID to the new Apple IDs you’ve created for your kids. When you look at any iOS device, there are two main areas where you’d enter your Apple ID. The first is iCloud, which is tied to a number of Apple apps and services. These include iCloud Drive, Photos, Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Safari, Notes, Passbook, Backup, Keychain and Find My iPhone. Each one of these can be toggled on or off. An Apple ID is also used for purchases in the various stores. You do not have to use a single Apple ID for both iCloud and the stores.

In my case, my personal iPad is also my daughter’s iPad. When I pick it up, I’d still like to view my photos, reminders, my Safari bookmarks and so on. I haven’t made any changes to Settings > iCloud. When you tap on Settings > iTunes & App Store, you can login using your kids Apple ID. Since we’re sharing, she gains access to all of my apps and I find the Ask To Buy feature to be the best implementation of parental controls on any platform. I can be across the country and still allow or decline a purchase.

This setup also allows me to keep the iPad under my account in iTunes. I’ve ripped quite a few DVDs for use with her iPad. This makes it easy to connect and sync those movies.

My daughter will four this September, so she thankfully has little interest in texting and really anything other than Netflix, educational games and videos. As kids get older, a clean break is recommended. That means it might be time for a new iPad for the kids or better yet, for Mom and Dad. If you are going that route, you can setup an iPad as new using iCloud. If you are going to want to download local content from a computer, you’ll need separate iTunes libraries. When you create a new library, that user will start with an empty library.

How to create a new library in iTunes

If you are a Mac user, hold the option key when opening iTunes. On a PC, this can be done by holding the shift key. You’ll be presented with an option to create a new library.

Important: If you open up iTunes > Preferences (Edit > Preferences on PC), there is an option to Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library. If you leave that checked, it will create duplicates between the two libraries.

This option certainly works, but it’s still too messy for my taste. A better option would be to create a new user. This allows that user to have their own home for all of their content, well beyond iTunes. While both user accounts will live on the same Mac, they are in no way tied to each other. Okay, well beyond Family Sharing. This allows the new user to gain all the benefits of iCloud, syncing to iTunes and Family Sharing.

  1. On a Mac, open System Preferences.
  2. Click on Users & Groups.
  3. If locked, click on the lock and enter your password to make changes.
  4. Click on the ‘+’ to add a new user.
  5. From the Apple menu, select the logout option.
  6. Login using the new account.

How to Setup Family Sharing on Yosemite, El Capitan

Once you setup your family using iOS, you are automatically setup in Mac OS X. You can also add members, if you find more convenience managing your family from your Mac.

  1. Open the Apple Menu > System Preferences.
  2. Click on iCloud.
  3. Click on Manage Family. You can either review or add new members.

How to hide books, music, movies and apps

We’ve noted that Family Sharing provides you with fantastic parental controls, with the CTO needing to authorize every new download. But what about existing apps that have been purchased by adults, but aren’t kid friendly. There is a way to hide this content, but unfortunately it can be time consuming.
1. Open iTunes on either a Mac or PC. Select the store for which you’d like to hide content. In this demonstration, we’ll hide DOOM. It’s one of my favorite old-school first person shooters, but it’s certainly got something I want my 3-year old playing.
2. In Quick Links on the right, select ‘Purchased’
3. Tap on the ‘All’ tab.
4. Mouse over the app you’d like to hide. There is a very faint gray x. On an older monitor, you may not see it, but your mouse will turn from an arrow to a finger. Click it.
5. When prompted, select ‘Hide’

Hide apps

If you need to reverse this process, follow these steps:
1. Open iTunes and select the store for the content you want to unhide.
2. Under Quick Links, select Account. You’ll be prompted to enter your password.
3. Under iTunes in the Cloud, select the Manage link that appears next to Hidden Purchases.
4. Click on the Unhide button.

Family Sharing FAQ

I just setup Family Sharing, but I don’t see any purchased apps under an account?
It may take a minute for purchased content to appear. You can try to move things along by purchasing a free app on each family account.

What happens if a family member has an iTunes Gift Card?
Family members can use iTunes Gift Cards. Purchases made from those accounts will deduct from the gift card balance. According to Apple, any time a family member initiates a new purchase it will be billed directly to your account unless that family member has gift or store credit.

It’s not uncommon for families to have multiple iOS devices. In the past, folks relied on using a single Apple ID so they could share purchased music, books, movies and apps. With the advent of iCloud, this presented a number of problems. Family Sharing lets your entire family share content for up to ten devices. There are fabulous parental controls built-in and the setup process also makes it easy to enable location sharing. If you’re the chief technology officer of your household, migrating your family to multiple Apple IDs and enabling Family Sharing is the most effective way to share and organize your content.