If you and your children have iPhones or iPads, you will have noticed the somewhat alarming weekly reports which tell you just how much time you have been spending on your phone and on certain apps per day and per week. In addition to controlling our own phone usage, what a number of parents don’t know is that Screen Time is a useful tool for controlling the time our kids spend on their devices, as well as the content viewed from these devices. 

So what can Parents use Screen Time for?

For any parents of children with iPhones or iPads looking for an app to limit your children’s screen time and/or content viewed, this is a great place to start. (If your child has an Android device, see our blog on the Google Family Link app here)  Here is an overview of what you can do with the Screen Time app.

This feature lets you block access to certain apps during certain scheduled times. During “Downtime,” only the apps you choose and phone calls will be available. A reminder notification will appear 5 minutes before Downtime is scheduled to start. As a parent, this is a handy way of carving out blocks of time when you don’t want your children to use their devices, for example, from the hour before bed until morning, at homework times etc.

App Limits
This feature allows you to set daily time limits for app categories (for example, block access to social media apps while at work) or for specific apps. Once the app limit has been reached, the app’s icon will turn grey and an hourglass icon will appear next to the app name. This is a great feature to use if your kids use apps which are highly addictive,  such as Fortnight. App Limits can be used to cut your children off after a certain amount of time or on certain days (for example, on all weekdays). Once your kids hit their limit, they can send a request for more time, which you can either approve or not.

Always Allowed
This feature allows you to ensure that certain apps and features are always accessible and are unaffected by the Downtime or App Limits features. By default, Messages, FaceTime, and Maps are set to be Always Allowed (but you can change this within the Always Allowed setting).

Content & Privacy Restrictions
Formerly the “Restrictions” section of an iPhone, this feature allows parents to block access to explicit or adult content from your children’s devices including music, TV shows, apps, books, movies and web content. If your children are gamers, it allows you to block access to multiplayer games, and prevent your children from adding friends online. The default setting is that all content is unrestricted and the default setting for music is explicit content is allowed so if you want to control content on your child’s device, you need to go and specifically change the settings. This feature also allows you to  turn off in-app purchases and location services.

Usage Tracking and reports
Just as you receive a Screen Time report on your weekly device usage, Screen Time gives parents a weekly report showing how long your kids have used their device that week ,what times of day they have been used, how many times a day the device has been picked up, what categories of apps are most widely used (Social Media, Productivity, Entertainment, etc.) and which specific app has been used the most.

Password Approval
Screen time allows parents to create a four-digit password which is required in order to change any Screen Time settings you may have set up for example, the Request More Time feature, where kids can ask to extend the limit (through their device).

How to use Screen Time effectively as a parent
To get buy-in from your children when using Screen Time, we recommend that you:

  • Set up some screen time limits on your own phone to model good phone behaviour
  • Discuss family screen time goals – ie. can you as a parent also commit to trying to stick to your own screen time limits (for example only 30 minutes a day of social media?)
  • Talk them through the features and benefits of Screen Time, for example, the Downtime feature helps to free up time to unwind, calm done before bed which we all so desperately need.

What the App doesn’t have
While Screen Time is a great place to start in terms of parental control for children’s devices, there are a number of features it doesn’t have, which other parental control apps do, such as:

  • Monitoring and tracking messages and contacts.
  • Call tracking and blocking.
  • Blocking adult content from sources other than the Safari browser such as on popular apps like Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.
  • The ability to use the controls on non-Apple devices (you can only use Screen Time if you and your child have apple devices).
  • Live location tracking –  while this doesnt fall under the umbrella of the Screen Time app, this is still a feature available on all Apple devices.
  • A “kill switch” – a number of parental control apps provide a kill switch or panic button to remotely shut down your child’s device. Screen Time unfortunately does not. The only way around this at the moment is to go into your child’s Downtime settings and set the start time for something before “now,”
  • Multiple Downtimes for different apps. At the moment, Screen Time doesn’t allow you to set multiple and different “Downtimes.” For example, you might allow later access to apps on Friday than on Tuesday.

How to set up Screen Time on your devices
For information on how to set up Screen Time on your child’s device, here is a helpful step-by step guide.

Above all, remember that no parental control app can replace a healthy and frequent conversations and check-ins with your child about practicing good digital citizenship and staying safe online!

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