Apple Screen Time Guide (2022): What Parents, Educators, & Students Need to Know

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January 17, 2022

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What parents will learn in this course

  • How to access and use all of the Apple Screen Time settings
  • How to set a Screen Time passcode so only they can change the limits or extend the time when requested
  • See how to access and set Downtime, App Limits, Communication Limits, Communication Safety, Always Allowed, Contents & Privacy Restrictions

Why should parents & educators care?

  • Studies show that too much screen time can impact a child’s cognitive development
  • Tracking how much time your family spends on their devices (and how they spend that time) is a great way to start regulating screen time, building positive habits, and starting conversations based on the usage data
  • The best way to ensure your family's safety online, on devices, and on social media is to have regular and open discussions about digital safety

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This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Green Zone.
This app is not safe for students to use unsupervised, but a Green Zone app can serve a positive purpose to help a student to navigate social media and someday build an online brand. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Green Zone.

This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Gray Zone.
Gray Zone apps often contain lots of private & disappearing messages, and strangers can use this to chat with students. Parents should participate in these apps with students to keep them safe. This zone can be a great place for family time since many of these apps can be entertaining, and let your students express themselves. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Gray Zone.

This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Red Zone.
Red Zone apps often have lots of anonymous features, adult content, and easy contact with strangers. Supervision is strongly suggested on each of these apps or move your kids to a safer zone. All apps require parental supervision, these apps more than others. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Red Zone or view our list of 100+ Apps to find a safer app with your student.
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This trend is categorized as a Dangerous Social Media Challenge.
Viral challenges encourage students to do dangerous things to garner likes, views, attention, and subscribers. These challenges can be found across several social networks and may encourage students to perform dangerous activities. SmartSocial.com keeps parents updated on these social media challenges before an incident may occur in your community.

Table of Contents

With so many Apple products on the market and in the hands of students around the country, it is important for parents and educators to be up to date on the Apple feature, Screen Time. This guide will help parents and educators learn how to use the monitoring feature, how to keep students safe online with their Apple devices, and tips on how to start a dialogue about digital safety.

Parent training video

What is Apple Screen Time?

What you need to know about Apple Screen Time


  • Screen Time allows users to set screen time limits and see reports of how a device has been used 
  • The feature can be configured on the device or remotely across devices with the same Apple ID
  • Screen Time can be found in the Settings of iPhones and iPads
  • At the end of each week, users receive a report of their device usage from the past week
  • Screen Time tracks use on the device, but doesn’t have the ability to track multiple users on the same device
  • Parents or educators can set a Screen Time passcode so only they can change the limits or extend the time when requested
  • Settings include: Downtime, App Limits, Communication Limits, Communication Safety, Always Allowed, Contents & Privacy Restrictions

What is Family Sharing?

  • Family Sharing allows you to share access to many Apple services with up to 5 family members
  • Share music, videos, books, iCloud storage, photos, subscriptions and more
  • Parents can configure Screen Time limits through Family Sharing from their own device

Why should parents & educators care?

  • Studies show that too much screen time can impact a child’s cognitive development
  • Tracking how much time your family spends on their devices (and how they spend that time) is a great way to start regulating screen time, building positive habits, and starting conversations based on the usage data
  • The best way to ensure your family's safety online, on devices, and on social media is to have regular and open discussions about digital safety
There is also some evidence that children who watch a lot of television during the early elementary school years perform less well on reading tests and may show deficits in attention. New York Presbyterian
Children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.

NewYork-Presbyterian Health Matters

What information 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
  • The most used apps (and how long the app was used)
  • How many times the device has been picked up and what app is used first

What is the Downtime setting?

  • Downtime  allows users to create a schedule for device usage
  • 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 
  • The apps that are blocked during the specified time period will turn gray and have an hourglass icon next to the app name

What is the App Limits setting?

  • Users can set daily limits for certain app categories  
  • 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 Communications Limits setting?

  • Parents can control who their child is allowed to have contact with  via phone, FaceTime, text messages, and iCloud contacts 
  • Settings can be selected to have contact with:
  • ~Contacts
  • ~Contacts and groups with at least one contact
  • ~Everyone including unknown numbers

What is the Communication Safety setting?

  • Apple has included tools/resources to help limit inappropriate photos being sent or received through the Messages app
  • When the setting is turned on, messages that appear to contain nudity will be blurred and users will be warned that the “photo may be sensitive” 
  • Warning messages also provide ways to get help like leaving the conversation, blocking the contact, message someone they trust, etc. and “reassures the child that it’s ok if they don’t want to view the photo or continue the conversation” (Apple)
  • If the user chooses to view or send the inappropriate image even after the warnings Messages will confirm that they are sure they want to do so one more time

What is the Always Allowed setting?

  • Apps 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 devices and configure what personal information apps get access to.

Apple Screen Time  in the news

12 year olds consume over 8 hours of media per day. Healthline
[S]tudies have shown lower brain development in pre-school kids who had increased screen time. Similarly, 8- to 11-year-olds who exceed screen time recommendations generally scored lower on cognitive assessments...

Healthline

What doctors wish patients knew about social media's toxic impact. American Medical Association
There are really positive ways to get online—to share art, to share stories, to do TikTok dances—but a couple of clicks … can lead them down some bad pathways...

American Medical Association

What can parents & educators do?

Smartphone and Social Media Agreement ( A Course for Students and Parents)


If your student has an Apple device, ensure that their iOS is up to date, that Family Sharing is set up 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; create a Cell Phone/Social Media Agreement with your family to establish ground rules (view the SmartSocial VIP course “Why Every Family Needs a Social Media Agreement
  • 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 to turn on Family Sharing

  • From the top of the settings, tap your name and then scroll down to tap Family Sharing
  • Follow the instructions to Set Up Your Family
  • You can invite users with an existing Apple ID or you can create an Account for a Child

How to turn on Apple Screen Time?

  • Make sure that all devices are updated with the latest iOS software and that Family Sharing is set up
  • From the Settings menu tap Screen Time then slide Turn on Screen Time to green and tap Continue 
  • Select This is My Device or This is My Child’s Device

How to set a Screen Time Passcode

If you’re using Family Sharing to manage your child’s Screen Time

  • From the Screen Time menu, tap “Use Screen Time Passcode” and follow the prompts to create and confirm a 4 digit code 
  • Enter your Apple ID  and password to be used if the passcode is forgotten

How to configure the Downtime Setting

  • From the Screen Time menu, tap Downtime 
  • Tap Turn on Downtime Until  Tomorrow to immediately turn off access
  • Slide Scheduled to on to set up a regular schedule for device access
  • Slide Block at Downtime to green
  • To gain more access, the child will have to request more time.  If this is not on then the child can ignore the downtime

How to configure App Limits

  • From the Screen Time menu, tap  App Limits, then tap Add Limit
  • All of the apps on the device will be listed in categories (tap Other for a complete list) 
  • Select the  apps that need limits and tap Next in the top right
  • Set the desired amount of time and Customize Days and tap Add to save
  • To make limits specific to individual apps, repeat Add Limit and select one app at a time
  • Slide Block at End of Limit.  To gain more access, the child will have to request more time

How to configure Communication Limits

  • Parents can control who their child is allowed to have contact with via phone, FaceTime, text messages, and iCloud contacts
  • From the Screen Time menu, tap Communication Limits 
  • Tap During Screen Time to limit who is allowed to communicate during allowed Screen time
  • ~Contacts Only
  • ~Contacts & Groups with at Least One Contact
  • ~Everyone ( including unknown numbers)
  • Tap During Downtime to limit who is allowed to communicate during the set Downtime
  • ~Specific Contacts 
  • ~Everyone
  • When using Family Sharing, you will have the option to Add Contacts:
  • ~My Contacts
  • ~Your child’s contacts
  • ~Add a new contact
  • Tap to the left of the contact name, then tap Done, then tap Back
  • Manage Child’s Contacts for the parent to manage the child’s contacts
  • It will say Pending.  The child will have to approve that you can manage their contacts
  • If you want your child to be able to create or modify contacts without a screen time passcode, tap “Allow Contact Editing”.  They will be able to communicate with anyone including unknown numbers

How to configure Communication Safety Limits

Messages can now detect when nude photos are being sent or about to be viewed on your child’s device.  Guidance and age-appropriate resources will be offered to help them make a safe choice. You can turn this feature on or off.

  • Tap Communication Safety, then tap Check for Sensitive Photos

How to configure the Always Allowed setting

Choose apps that are allowed at all times, even during Downtime

  • From the Screen Time menu, tap Always Allowed 
  • Tap Contacts and select Everyone or Specific Contacts 
  • Under Allowed Apps, press the minus or plus circles to add or remove apps from the list of apps available during Downtime

How to configure the Content & Privacy Restrictions setting

  • From the Screen Time menu, tap Content & Privacy Restrictions 
  • Turn Content & Privacy Restrictions to the on (green) position

Users 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

Users can set content restrictions for:

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

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

  • Multiplayer games
  • Adding friends
  • Screen recording
  • Private Messaging
  • Profile Privacy Changes
  • Avatar & Nickname Changes

From the child’s device, 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
  • Driving Focus (Do Not Disturb While Driving)
  • TV Provider
  • Background App Activities

MomTalk with Beth & Andrea discussing screen time tips

Conclusion

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. 

There is no substitute for trusted adults being involved with a student’s screen time habits, 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 than 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.


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