Screen Time & Parental Controls for iPhones & iPads

Updated on September 26, 2018
Jonathan Wylie profile image

Jonathan Wylie is a Digital Learning Consultant who has a passion for helping others get the best out of their technology.

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What Is Screen Time?

Screen Time was introduced by Apple as part of iOS 12. It can be used on an iPhone, an iPad or an iPod Touch. Screen Time is a digital health initiative that is intended to make you more mindful about how much you are using your devices. However, it also comes with some powerful parental controls that let you monitor and restrict usage. You can block websites, disable in-app purchases, limit screen usage, and more. Here's how it works.

Requirements for Screen Time on iOS

1. Update to iOS 12: Screen Time is set up in the Settings app, but it is only available on iOS 12 or later. Your device and your kids' devices both need to be updated to iOS 12 for this to work. You can check which version of iOS you are using by going to Settings > General > About > Version. If you are using iOS 11 or earlier, you need to go to Settings > General > Software Update to get a free update that will unlock Screen Time. It is available for an iPhone 5s and newer, or an iPad Air and newer.

2. Family Sharing: Once you have that taken care of, you should set up Family Sharing. This is a useful feature from Apple that lets you share apps, music and books with each other without having to pay for them multiple times. It also lets you track the location of your kids with Find my iPhone or Find my Friends. Best of all, you can use it with up to six family members. Go to Settings > Your Name > Set Up Family Sharing to get started. Follow the prompts and add a partner or spouse using the Add Family Member option.

3. A Child's Apple ID: Lastly, you may want to consider setting up an Apple ID for your child. This used to come with an age requirement that meant your child had to be 13 or over, but Apple no longer requires the kind of information that necessitates that. To set one up go to Settings > Your Name > Family Sharing > Add Family Member > Create a Child Account.

Some parents worry that their kids will run amuck on the App Store with their credit card if they have their own Apple ID, but purchases on child accounts require parental approval. If they try to buy something using the family credit card, you will be sent a notification asking you to approve or decline their request.

Screen Time Features and Parental Controls

How to Set Up Screen Time: iPhone & iPads

Once you have everything ready to go, gather up your children's devices and follow the instructions below to set up Screen Time on their device.

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Tap Screen Time
  3. Tap Continue, and choose, "This is my child's iPhone/iPad"
  4. Set your Downtime hours for when you want apps to be unavailable
  5. Set a daily time limit for apps by scrolling down and choosing a time
  6. Tap Continue on the Content and Privacy page
  7. Create a parent passcode.

Note: Apple advises that you choose a passcode that is different to the one that you use to unlock your device. This lessens the chance of your child guessing the correct passcode to change the Screen Time settings themselves.

Using Screen Time to Monitor Usage

Once Screen Time is enabled on your child's device, you will be able to monitor and control their access on your own iPhone or iPad. Simply go to Settings > Screen Time and tap on the name of your child to access their app usage and Screen Time settings.

At the top of that screen, you will see a horizontal bar that indicates how long your child has used their device that day. If you tap on that bar, you can drill down further to see what apps they were using and how long they used each one for. You can also see how many times they picked up, or unlocked, their device that day. You can use this information to help you fine-tune settings like App Limits on the previous screen.

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How to Block Websites on iPhones & iPads

Screen Time on iOS lets you take some control over web content that is accessed on a child's device. This isn't a web filter like your child uses when they access the internet at school, but it does give you some control over websites that you do and do not want them to visit when they use Safari on an iPhone or iPad.

  1. Go to Settings > Screen Time
  2. Tap on your child's name and then tap Content & Privacy Restrictions
  3. Tap the switch next to Content & Privacy Restrictions for more settings
  4. Next, tap Content Restriction
  5. Now, tap Web Content and then Limit Adult Websites
  6. Tap Add Website to add URLs for specific websites that you would like to prevent your child from accessing with Safari, and add URLs for sites that you always want to allow

When you are done, make sure you toggle the switch in Step 3 once more to lock your changes and prevent further changes without your parental passcode.

More Parental Controls for iPhones & iPads

In addition to website content, Screen Time lets you have control over other parts of your child's device. For instance, you can disable some of the default Apple apps like the Camera, FaceTime or the iTunes Store. Simply follow these directions.

  1. Go to Settings > Screen Time
  2. Tap on your child's name and then tap Content & Privacy Restrictions
  3. Tap the switch next to Content & Privacy Restrictions for more settings
  4. Next, tap Allowed Apps
  5. Toggle the slider switch next to any app you want to disable on this device

When you are done, make sure you toggle the switch in Step 3 once again to lock your changes and prevent further changes without your parental passcode.

Other options for parents who want to monitor their child's iPhone or iPad include the ability to allow or disable in-app purchases, installing apps or deleting apps. These options can be found by going to Settings > Screen Time > Your Child's Name > Content & Privacy Restrictions > iTunes and App Store Purchases.

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Apple Classroom for Parental Controls

If you want some additional controls, and you have an iPad of your own, take a look at Apple's education solution called Apple Classroom. It was created for teachers who are managing multiple iPads at one time in their classroom, but it works equally well for parents at home, and it gives you features that Screen Time doesn't yet offer.

For instance, you can use your iPad to view the screen of your child's iPad in real time so that you can monitor their activity. You can also lock their screen at will, (as opposed to when their app limit timer is up in Screen Time), as well as mute their volume remotely. With Apple Classroom, you can even lock your child in a specific app so that they can't leave it until you let them, just like you can with an iOS accessibility feature called Guided Access.

You could use Apple Classroom in place of Screen Time, or in addition to Screen Time, depending on what best meets your needs. For more information on how to get started with Apple Classroom, read How to Use Apple Classroom: Setup Guide & Support. This article was written for teachers, but is easy to adapt for parents.

Parenting Tips for Screen Time

As powerful and useful as these tools are for parents, the end goal is to get to a point where your kids are able to self-regulate their own use of devices in a safe and responsible way. This can be a difficult goal to reach, but it's not impossible. Screens aren't bad. They are a product of the tech savvy society we live in, but everything is better in moderation.

Parents can help by modelling good habits in front of their kids and simple changes can make a big difference. For instance, don't bring phones to the dinner table, practice using eye contact with your kids when they talk to you, as opposed to listening while looking at your phone, and make time for everyone to have some offline fun. Play a board game, go for a walk, visit a park, and spend some time as a family without a screen and you will be a stronger, happier family in no time.

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