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Apple introduces tools to limit screen time

In July 2018, Apple introduced tools to monitor and limit screen time as part of the iOS 12 update. (To be fair, so, too, did Google on their Android P system, but we’re a family of Apple users.)

If you read my  post on smartphones, you’ll know I struggle with restricting my kids’ screen time.

And you’ll know that I believe unchecked smartphone use, and in particular Snapchat, played a role in my daughter’s depression.

Which is why, when a tech company does something that might help us be more mindful of our digital habits, I rejoice. Even if Screen Time is providing Apple with incredible amounts of data about how I, and my kids, spend literally every minute of our days.

If you haven’t heard of Screen Time, or like me, are slow to update your phone’s software, here’s the quick and dirty.

For a full step by step guide on how to set it all up, check out this article from Tom’s Guide.

Screen Time in iOS 12

If you have iOS 12 installed, you’ll find Screen Time under settings. Simply turn it on and select the features you want to use. Like an oxygen mask, I recommended you setup your own phone first before setting up your kids’ devices so you can lead by example.

The key to better screen time habits is your daily log, which calculates the number of hours you’re on your phone, what apps you were using during those time periods, the number of times you picked up your phone, and the number of notifications you received.

This is pure joy for me. My kids are too old to control via dictatorial force — or at least that’s not the type of relationship I want to have with them during their teenage years — but they are smart, reasonable people. And they’re at an age where money talks.

Show me a weekly screen log that shows less than two hours a day and I’ll show you some extra allowance money at the end of the week!


Screen Time has four sections: Downtime, App Limits, Always Allowed, which overrides Downtime, and Content and Privacy Restrictions.

During downtime, only the apps you’ve allowed, can get through.

By default, Apple allows phone, text messages, Facetime, and maps  to bypass downtime. Alternatively you can choose your apps in the Always Allowed section.

You can easily bypass the feature or ask for more time, BUT, and this is where parents can choose to exert their control, it requires a password to do so.

Like all Screen Time features, you can also enable downtime across all devices signed into the Cloud. So that computer that’s so necessary for homework? You can control that, too.

Where the feature falls short for me, is that I can’t set multiple downtimes during a 24-hour cycle. If I missed how to do this, please let me know.

App Limits

For full shock value, I recommend you go a week unchecked before looking at your family’s Screen Time log. Here’s my son’s–It took some coaxing to get it out of him. It’s not hard to see why. 50+ hours on YouTube??!! How is that even possible?

Screen Time Weekly Log
Unchecked screen time of my twelve year old son.

Even he was alarmed, which made him much more open to the conversation of mindfulness when it comes to our digital habits.

(Ironically, during that same conversation he referred me to a video called This is How Short Your Life Is. He’d watched it on YouTube that very day!  It’s not the first time he’s left me speechless.)

Apple groups your apps into categories such as Social Networking, Games, Entertainment, Creativity, Productivity, Education, Reading & Reference etc so that you can set limits on an entire category or on individual apps.

To set a limit on YouTube, for instance, (clearly needed), I just click on YouTube and scroll to the bottom of that screen and click Add Limit.

Once you’ve set a limit, you’ll get a five minute notice before time’s up, after which, the app is blocked with a very irritating hourglass that will no doubt incense your kids until they get used to it.

You can also set limits per day so you can introduce more variety into your habits. I have not tested this out, but I’m thinking that might be a good way to wean off one problematic app for another that’s less interesting or addictive.

Content and Privacy Restrictions

In Content and Privacy you can adjust settings for things like location sharing, app downloads, and accessible content.

It’s worth having a look every now and then, particularly as social media apps like Facebook and Instagram are playing around with privacy settings these days. Their stated goal is to better “help friends meet up more easily offline” and, the unstated goal, to build better targeting for advertising purposes.

None of these controls and settings are foolproof. Unlike the TV cable cord of yesteryear, which my dad would simply unscrew and throw in a locked safe to cut us off, our digital native kids are smart. They’ve already found and shared the loopholes in Screen Time.

So my goal as a parent is to try to keep up. And to keep talking about the role and effect of technology in our lives, and on our health. To them and to  anyone else who will listen.

Remember, Apple’s Screen Time was created in response to public outcry. If it’s not good enough, we need to keep making noise to encourage them to do better, because they can. Their developers are really smart, too.

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