What Apple's iOS 12 Parental Controls Mean for You

The moment many parents have been waiting for -- the ability to control their kids' phones -- is finally here. By Christine Elgersma

If you've been shopping around for parental controls to help manage your kids' Apple devices, you might want to put on the brakes: The operating system, iOS 12, has a feature called Screen Time that might have what you're looking for. As with any parental controls, they're best used along with guidance and ongoing conversations to help your kids learn to manage their own media use. 

Screen Time lets you see exactly how much time your kids spend on their phones and tablets, the times of day they're most active, and which apps they use the most. You can also set app time limits, filter inappropriate content, and schedule "downtime" -- basically, shut down the device -- whenever you want. (By the way, you can do this for yourself if you need help managing your own device use.)

Some of the settings will be familiar if you've used Apple's Family Sharing and Restrictions. But iOS 12 adds a slew of new features. You can set up Screen Time to manage your kid's device remotely (using Family Sharing) or you can simply use your kid's phone to enable screen limits (which you can password-protect) and review your kid's device use together.

So what will you see and what can you control?

Usage Tracking
Screen Time gives you a weekly report showing how long your kids have used their device that week and at what times of day (kids can see this on their device, too). You can also see what categories of apps (Productivity, Entertainment, etc.) and specific apps (Snapchat, Fortnite) they use the most.

How you can use it. Since you can see your own usage info, too, it's a great conversation starter around balance and goals -- for the whole family. Take a look at which apps you're using most and when, and talk about the whys (why you use it the most) and hows (how you feel after using it). Figure out if your device is pumping you up or bumming you out. Could you stick to watching only 15 minutes of YouTube per day? Would that help you get your homework done faster or meet other personal goals?

App Limits
If your kids are using apps that you're concerned about (like, they can't control themselves) you can use App Limits to cut them off after a certain amount of time or on certain days. You can set App Limits by category, such as Social Networking or Entertainment, and for specific apps. If you want to limit everything, you can go into App Limits and select All Apps & Categories. Once kids hit their time limit, they can send a request for more time; you can either approve it or not. 

How you can use it. Ultimately, you want to get kids to manage their own use by themselves, with no tools. If you can get them to set a goal, such as "I want to stick to 30 minutes of Fortnite a day," they'll feel great when they reach it. If you need a quicker solution, it's still a good idea to get kids' buy-in. Talk about their goals -- setting them for yourself might help, too -- and praise their efforts. If you're still having trouble, pull out your Family Media Agreement to make your rules concrete. Make sure to discuss the Request More Time feature, where kids can ask to extend the limit (through their device). Avoid using this feature as a reward for chores or homework: It's bound to lead to begging and take you away from the end goal of balance.

Downtime
This feature lets you block off a chunk of time when kids can't use their phones -- like from right around bedtime until they wake up. If your kid says, "But I listen to music to help me go to sleep!" No problem: You can set the Music app to Always Allowed, and your kid can access that app during Downtime.

How you can use it. Downtime is helpful to have for critical times, such as bedtime, meal times, and when your kid is in a particularly funky mood and just needs, well, downtime. Since late-night device use can really interfere with kids getting enough sleep, consider setting Downtime about an hour before bed until morning. This helps them wind down before they go to sleep and also frees up some time to talk about the day and do quiet, calm activities such as reading. To get buy-in, talk it through first, and set it up on your own phone so that it's a bonding experience rather than a top-down order.

Always Allowed
This is where you can select apps that your kid can always access, even during Downtime. The phone is always allowed no matter what your settings are, but you can turn off core apps like Messages, FaceTime, and Maps so that they won't come on either.

How you can use it. You might decide to allow access to certain apps that you don't mind your kid using at any time for any reason. These may be educational, soothing, or otherwise beneficial, such as bedtime music, podcasts, the Books apps, or meditation apps. Be choosy here, though. Otherwise, what's the point of Downtime?

Content & Privacy Restrictions
This section is basically the old Restrictions section, and you can control everything you could before: music, TV shows, apps, movies, web content, multiplayer games, and more. The iOS default is Allow All, Unrestricted, and Explicit (for music), so if content is a concern, you'll want to change those settings. In this section, you can also turn off in-app purchases and location services, and prevent your kids from changing your settings by locking them with a passcode.

How you can use it. Handing your kid an iPad or iPhone gives them access to all kinds of stuff, even if you don't download a single app. You can use the Content & Privacy Restrictions area of Screen Time to control the settings that mean the most to you and prevent your kid from making changes. Some of the settings you can make in this section, such as location tracking, are for your kid's safety. Talk about why these settings are nonnegotiable. Also, you might consider allowing your kids to "earn" the features they want, such as the ability to make in-app purchases, after they show that they can be super responsible with their device.

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About Christine Elgersma

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Christine Elgersma wrangles learning and social media app reviews and creates parent talks as Senior Editor, Parent Education. Before coming to Common Sense, she helped cultivate and create ELA curriculum for a K-12 app... Read more

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Comments (10)

Adult written by momof003

Before ios 12, I had always been successful turning on the parental restrictions on each of my kids' devices. With that, I had the control as far as setting what is acceptable for my family (apps for only 12 year olds and below, PG only movies, no explicit language, no sexual conduct, etc... and I could even set it to where my kids could not install apps without me typing in my password. With the ios 12, they have taken that all away. Although you are able to do everything mentioned in the above article, I can no longer control nearly as much as before. Suggesstions? I would love some!
Adult written by Kara.e

My 10 year old son recently got a iPhone xs, and he isn't willing to hand it over to my husband or I so we can set these features up. What do we do?
Adult written by Pete10

Despite the great beginning Apple seems to have made, iOS 12 parental controls & Screen Time don't seem to work for families. Cross-platform compatibility in a multi-device household is a major stumbling block to start with. Here are 5 more reasons why Apple should go back to the drawing board: http://bit.ly/2AosQDx
Adult written by acwink71

Let me tell you about a glaring loophole while trying to set up screen limits with this new iOS. My daughter figured out in no time that all you need to do when the phone hits its limits is to go to Settings and change the date and time. It's as simple as that. Apple should either add a passcode to the Date and Time function, move it under Screen Time altogether, or make it so that when screen time limits are in effect, Date and Time becomes disabled. Another loophole: switch the phone to 24-hr format. Screen Time recognizes 10pm but not 22:00. To the geniuses at Apple: PLEASE FIX THIS! And before you tell me to take the phone away, let's be real and understand that some of us parents have a harder time micromanaging everything.
Teen, 13 years old written by Coltsman180

Looking at all these comments make me laugh. Sry to offend but I’m a beta tester and I’ve had iOS 12 since June 4th, and just knowing the fact that there are many ways to override the screen time is awesome. These parenting apps don’t work. Kids that have the know how like me can’t be effected because we are simply too smart for these so called parental control apps!
Parent written by Elizabeth G.

As I understand it, you and your child must be part of a Family Sharing group to use these new parental controls, correct? And Family Sharing requires that all family members use the same payment card. I have had my son on Family Sharing, but now he is 13 and I would like him to pay for his own online purchases (e.g., Apple Music) with his own debit card. But if I do that, is it possible to use these new controls to limit his screen time?
Adult written by mstechoes

You can have your child purchase apple itunes gift cards with his debit card and load the gift amounts to his account. The gift card balance will be used BEFORE your credit card for purchases.
Parent of a 13 and 14 year old written by sBoddie

We have found some glitches since the phone was set up earlier with parent PIN restrictions, like "can't delete apps". Now there doesn't seem to be an override to remove it so we can actually delete stuff nobody wants anymore. I would suggest turning off all restrictions and removing the parent PIN *before* upgrade to iOS12, then setting them back up in Screen Time.
Adult written by Calvin E.

This is great news! I pay for similar service and it works well but, it is not seamless and having Apple provide this through IOS will be much better I hope. And perhaps cheaper, unless Apple wants to charge for it at some point. I must give credit to Apple because they are helping parents alot. And IOS already had some decent restriction capabilities if you wanted to restrict internet browsing and apps. Thanks to this site for publishing news of this and I appreciate common sense media and use it often to check out content of movies and games.

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