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Here's How To Monitor Screen Time On Your Child's iPhone

Want to limit your kid's time on the iPad or iPhone? The new Screen Time feature is a parental control to set limits for your child (or yourself).

Posted on October 2, 2018, at 11:09 a.m. ET

iOS 12, the latest software update for iPhones and iPads, has a new feature called Screen Time. Hooray!

Apple's "Screen Time" monitors how much you use specific apps and your phone in general. It also lets you set limits, so you can curb your Instagram use or resist the urge to use your phone after bedtime or right when you wake up. It's a much-needed update for a lot of iPhone users and especially anticipated by some parents desperate to set limits on their children's phone or iPad usage. Most experts agree that the most important way to limit screens with kids is to talk to them, not rely on stuff like this, but let's be honest: This is a huge win for parents. Of course, kids are tiny evil tech geniuses, so within days of Screen Time launching in September, some smart cookies figured out how to "hack" it by deleting and reinstalling apps, which removed the time limits. Screen Time may not be completely watertight, but it's a good starting point and some teens will even welcome it: 54% of 13- to 17-year-olds believe they spend "too much time" on their phones.
Getty Images / Apple

Apple's "Screen Time" monitors how much you use specific apps and your phone in general. It also lets you set limits, so you can curb your Instagram use or resist the urge to use your phone after bedtime or right when you wake up.

It's a much-needed update for a lot of iPhone users and especially anticipated by some parents desperate to set limits on their children's phone or iPad usage. Most experts agree that the most important way to limit screens with kids is to talk to them, not rely on stuff like this, but let's be honest: This is a huge win for parents.

Of course, kids are tiny evil tech geniuses, so within days of Screen Time launching in September, some smart cookies figured out how to "hack" it by deleting and reinstalling apps, which removed the time limits. Screen Time may not be completely watertight, but it's a good starting point and some teens will even welcome it: 54% of 13- to 17-year-olds believe they spend "too much time" on their phones.

So, let's walk through setting up Screen Time — for your kids and for yourself — and how to use it.

First of all, you need an iPhone or iPad, and you're going to need to update to iOS12. Go do that!

There are two ways to set up Screen Time for your kids: remotely on your device or locally on theirs.

Let's talk about how to do it remotely on your phone first, which gives you a little more control and is the method we'd recommend.

Add your child in Settings > Apple ID, iCloud > Family Sharing.

In Settings, tap on your name and icon at the very top; that takes you to your iCloud and Apple ID menu. From there, go into "Family Sharing." You can either manage a child account you have already added or add a new Family Member. If the child has an Apple ID, invite them to join Family Sharing via iMessage. They just have to click on the link from the iMessage to join. Unfortunately, parents can't do this on the sly. For this step, you have to, you know, talk to your kids and get them to agree and understand that you'll be able to control aspects of their phone. I can't help you with that part — that's on you as their guardian! GOOD LUCK!("Junior Notopoulos" is my fake account for my fake 10-year-old kid I set up for an article I did about testing out parental controls on the iPhone.)
BuzzFeed News / Apple

In Settings, tap on your name and icon at the very top; that takes you to your iCloud and Apple ID menu. From there, go into "Family Sharing." You can either manage a child account you have already added or add a new Family Member.

If the child has an Apple ID, invite them to join Family Sharing via iMessage. They just have to click on the link from the iMessage to join. Unfortunately, parents can't do this on the sly.

For this step, you have to, you know, talk to your kids and get them to agree and understand that you'll be able to control aspects of their phone. I can't help you with that part — that's on you as their guardian! GOOD LUCK!

("Junior Notopoulos" is my fake account for my fake 10-year-old kid I set up for an article I did about testing out parental controls on the iPhone.)

There are a few advantages to setting up the Screen Time controls through Family Sharing versus just locally on your child's device.

I know this whole step of adding a kid as a Family Member in the iCloud settings seems like a total pain compared to grabbing your kid's phone and toggling some settings, but it's worth it to have remote access.

Also, family members can share iCloud storage — that means you can share music or movies you buy from iTunes, and if you pay for extra iCloud storage space, they can use it too. And you can set up their account so that you approve all their app downloads and purchases. When they want to buy something, or ask for more Screen Time, you'll get an alert on your phone, and you can approve or deny them.

Now, in Settings > Screen Time, find your child's account, tap into their settings, and set a passcode.

Setting a passcode means that they can't turn off the Downtime, App Limits (more on these below), or Content Restrictions on their own — only you can do it with your passcode. This is also how you view their dashboard that shows you their overall usage.
BuzzFeed News / Apple

Setting a passcode means that they can't turn off the Downtime, App Limits (more on these below), or Content Restrictions on their own — only you can do it with your passcode.

This is also how you view their dashboard that shows you their overall usage.

OK, let's get to the nitty-gritty of using Screen Time itself, for yourself and your kid. Behold, the Screen Time dashboard under Settings, which provides an overview of your or your child's usage.

Apple

The "Downtime" option lets you set a specific time day when certain apps can't be used.

Having trouble stopping yourself from using your phone in bed at night? Set Downtime to start 15 minutes before you usually go to bed. Maybe have it run till 15 minutes after you typically wake up, so you don't grab your phone first thing in the morning. Or perhaps you want to make sure your teen isn't using Instagram and YouTube during school hours or when homework is supposed to get done. There are plenty of times when you may want to encourage putting the phone down. The only oversight here is Apple only lets you set one Downtime per day (so you can't have one for bed time plus another one for homework time), and it's the same every day.
Apple

Having trouble stopping yourself from using your phone in bed at night? Set Downtime to start 15 minutes before you usually go to bed. Maybe have it run till 15 minutes after you typically wake up, so you don't grab your phone first thing in the morning.

Or perhaps you want to make sure your teen isn't using Instagram and YouTube during school hours or when homework is supposed to get done. There are plenty of times when you may want to encourage putting the phone down.

The only oversight here is Apple only lets you set one Downtime per day (so you can't have one for bed time plus another one for homework time), and it's the same every day.

This is what "Downtime" mode looks like and your apps are unavailable — they get blocked out.

Note that the default setting for Downtime will still allow you to use the most important functions on your phone like making calls and texts, so these apps, as well as Safari, will still be available.
Apple

Note that the default setting for Downtime will still allow you to use the most important functions on your phone like making calls and texts, so these apps, as well as Safari, will still be available.

Aside from setting a broad pause on phone usage with Downtime, you can also set restrictions for groups of apps or specific apps with "App Limits."

To gauge your or your child's baseline behavior, you could start by evaluating the daily usage chart, broken down by your top apps, in the main Screen Time page.Here's mine. I used Twitter most (eep). I can also see that my usage peaked around 8 a.m., which is around when I'm having my morning coffee and checking my email and Twitter. Makes sense! It's an interesting view of how these apps eat up minutes to hours of your day, and gives you the option to finally put the brakes on unwanted habits.
Apple

To gauge your or your child's baseline behavior, you could start by evaluating the daily usage chart, broken down by your top apps, in the main Screen Time page.

Here's mine. I used Twitter most (eep). I can also see that my usage peaked around 8 a.m., which is around when I'm having my morning coffee and checking my email and Twitter. Makes sense! It's an interesting view of how these apps eat up minutes to hours of your day, and gives you the option to finally put the brakes on unwanted habits.

To set time limits on groups of apps, like social networking, go to Settings > Screen Time > App Limits.

Note: The App Limits section here only applied to categories like "games" or "entertainment." To set limits for specific apps, you have to go through a different step.Some apps aren't categorized how you might expect, and there's no way to adjust the way they're categorized. For example, Slack is "productivity," not social networking, even though it's a chat app.
BuzzFeed News / Apple

Note: The App Limits section here only applied to categories like "games" or "entertainment." To set limits for specific apps, you have to go through a different step.

Some apps aren't categorized how you might expect, and there's no way to adjust the way they're categorized. For example, Slack is "productivity," not social networking, even though it's a chat app.

You can customize the time limits for each app group and set different limits on different days — for example, giving yourself or your child a little extra gaming or social media time on the weekend, if you'd like.

Maybe if you're a student (or you're setting these for your kids), weekends are a time you can allow yourself to go wild — measuredly wild, that is — watching YouTube videos and Instagramming. Or maybe you want to do the opposite! If you use your phone mostly for work and want to "unplug" on your days off, then make a lower limit for weekends.
BuzzFeed News / Apple

Maybe if you're a student (or you're setting these for your kids), weekends are a time you can allow yourself to go wild — measuredly wild, that is — watching YouTube videos and Instagramming.

Or maybe you want to do the opposite! If you use your phone mostly for work and want to "unplug" on your days off, then make a lower limit for weekends.

Now, if you want to set limits for specific apps, go back to the main Screen Time page and tap on the time chart; this should cause a menu of time spent on each app to unfurl. Select an app, and at the bottom of that menu, select "Add Limit."

You can set a time limit for just THAT app, and if you want to set the limit for weekends only, you can do that, too!
BuzzFeed News / Apple

You can set a time limit for just THAT app, and if you want to set the limit for weekends only, you can do that, too!

Here's the catch: On any given day, if you hit the time limit on an app, you can "ask for more time."

And if you try to open any app during Downtime, you also have the option to "Ignore Limit" and use an app anyhow. I mean, yeah, you can approve more time for yourself, but, the point is to actually try to exercise some good old-fashioned willpower. If your child requests more time, and their ID is on Family Sharing, you, the parent, will have receive a request to approve.
Apple

And if you try to open any app during Downtime, you also have the option to "Ignore Limit" and use an app anyhow. I mean, yeah, you can approve more time for yourself, but, the point is to actually try to exercise some good old-fashioned willpower. If your child requests more time, and their ID is on Family Sharing, you, the parent, will have receive a request to approve.

There you have it, folks. Now, go forth and use your screen time wisely.

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    Katie Notopoulos is a senior editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture and is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.

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