Apple Screen Time: Complete Guide for Parents

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Apple Screen Time: Complete Guide for Parents

October 16, 2018
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Table of Contents

With Apple dominating the smartphone and tablet industry, it's important for parents to be up to date on the parental controls and monitoring features that they offer. A recent iOS update introduced a new feature called Screen Time which is the first effort from a major manufacturer to promote positive screen time behaviors. We created this Apple Screen Time: Complete Guide for Parents to help you learn how to use this new feature, keep your students safe online, and start a dialog about digital safety.

Listen to this episode on our podcast:

What is Apple Screen Time?

Screen Time is a new feature for Apple’s iOS 12 that allows users to set screen time limits and see reports of how the device has been used. The feature can be configured by parents and used across devices with the same Apple ID. The Apple Screen Time feature can be found in the settings of iPhones and iPads. At the end of the week, users receive a report of their device usage from the past week.If your family shares an iPad or iPhone, Screen Time doesn’t have the ability to track multiple users per device. Whichever Apple ID is associated with the device will dictate the Apple Screen Time settings. Parents can access Screen Time remotely on their own devices.

Apple Marketing Says:

Screen Time — a new feature of iOS 12 — lets you know how much time you and your kids spend on apps, websites, and more. This way, you can make more informed decisions about how you use your devices, and set limits if you'd like to.

What data is included in the Screen Time reports?

Users can select today or the past 7 days and review:

  • How much time the device has been in use
  • The number of notifications received
  • How much time the device has been in use
  • The most used app (and how long it was used for)
  • How many times the device has been picked up

What is the Downtime setting?

Users can schedule Downtime within the Screen Time feature. Only the apps and phone calls the user has chosen will be available during Downtime. A reminder notification will appear 5 minutes before Downtime is scheduled to start.

What is the App Limits setting?

With the App Limits setting, users can set daily limits for certain app categories and limits refresh every day at midnight. Once the app limit has been reached, the app’s icon will turn gray and have an hourglass icon next to the app name.

What is the Always Allowed setting?

Apps that are selected in the Always Allowed setting will be available during Downtime and aren’t affected by App Limits. By default, Messages, FaceTime, and Maps are Always Allowed (but users can change that within the Always Allowed setting).

What is the Content & Privacy Restrictions setting?

Using the Content & Privacy Restrictions setting, users tailor the types of content that are allowed on their device and configure what personal information apps get access to.Parents can block or allow:

  • iTunes & App Store Purchases
  • Installing apps
  • Deleting apps
  • In-app purchases
  • Parents can require a password for additional purchases
  • The default apps on Apple devices

Parents can set content restrictions for:

  • Music, podcasts, and news
  • Music profiles and posts
  • Movies, TV shows, and books
  • Apps
  • Web content
  • Siri

Parents can block or allow certain features in the Game Center, like:

  • Multiplayer games
  • Adding friends
  • Screen recording

Parents can block or allow certain apps from accessing information, like:

  • Location services
  • Contacts
  • Calendars
  • Reminders
  • Photos
  • Share My Location
  • Bluetooth Sharing
  • Microphone
  • Speech Recognition
  • Advertising
  • Media & Apple Music

Parents can block or allow changes to features like:

  • Passcode changes
  • Account changes
  • Cellular data changes
  • Volume limit
  • Do Not Disturb While Driving
  • TV Provider
  • Background App Activities

What is the difference between App Limits and Downtime?

  • Downtime allows users to restrict certain apps during a period of time
  • App Limits allows users to set daily time limits for certain app categories (e.g. social media and gaming)

How to turn on Screen Time:

  • On your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > Screen Time
  • Select “Turn On Screen Time”
  • Tap “Continue”
  • Select “This is My Device” or “This is My Child's Device”

How to configure the Downtime setting:

  • Go to Settings > Screen Time > Downtime
  • Turn Downtime on
  • Set a start and end time

How to configure the App Limits setting:

  • Go to Settings > Screen Time > App Limits
  • Tap Add Limit
  • Select an app category
  • Tap Add (upper right corner)
  • Set time limit
  • Select days of the week (optional)

How to configure the Always Allowed setting:

  • Go to Settings > Screen Time > Always Allowed
  • Tap the green plus sign to make an app Always Allowed
  • Tap the red negative sign to remove an app from the Always Allowed apps

How to configure Content & Privacy Restrictions:

  • Go to Settings > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions
  • Turn on Content & Privacy Restrictions
  • Block or allow whatever you see fit for your family

Apple Screen Time in the News:

Screen Time, part of the operating system that iPhone owners began downloading last week, represents the biggest move yet by a technology company to encourage less use of a device, not more. –Los Angeles Times
[Apple Screen Time is] less of a digital nanny and more of a virtual manager, tallying up what you do, when you do it, and helping you achieve your goals. –Forbes
One of iOS 12‘s headline features is Screen Time, which allows iPhone owners to limit the amount of time they spend using their devices on an app-by-app basis.Of particular interest to parents was the ability to impose restrictions on their children – but it hasn’t taken long for kids to figure out how to bypass the limits. –9 To 5 Mac
Kids are finding ingenious ways to get around screen time controls on their Apple devices, according to reports from parents posted online. One seven-year-old tricked the feature by uninstalling and reinstalling apps. A 13-year-old changed the date and time on his device to circumvent the "downtime" his parent set. –Business Insider

What can parents do?

  • If your student has an Apple device ensure that their iOS is up to date and configure the settings within the Screen Time feature
  • Configure Screen Time settings based on what is appropriate for your student and their age
  • Don’t rely solely on Apple Screen Time to keep your children safe. Instead, have regular discussions about digital safety with your family, teach your student how they can self regulate their screen time, and empower them to use technology in a positive way

How can parents encourage positive screen time habits?

  • Model positive screen time behaviors
  • Set clear screen time guidelines and let students regulate themselves within those boundaries
  • Challenge your student to find offline activities they enjoy
  • Teach students to use social media as a tool to build their resume (as opposed to using it as a pass time)
  • Discuss the repercussions of negative screen time habits
  • Remind your student that nothing is private online


Tracking how much time your family spends on their devices (and how) is a great way to start regulating screen time and build positive habits. If anyone in your family has an Apple device, consider configuring the Screen Time settings but understand that there are still ways for students to bypass those restrictions. The best way to ensure your family's safety online, on devices, and on social media is having regular and open discussions about digital safety. There is no substitute to being involved, using the same apps that your student uses, and creating a supportive environment for your student to learn positive screen time behaviors. Tools like Apple Screen Time help parents but they are by no means better at protecting students then parents are.When parents understand how to set limits and dialog about them with their family they are better prepared for keeping their children safe in the digital world.Have you tried the new Apple Screen Time feature? If so, comment below and tell us how it has (or has not) helped your family!

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