Setting Limits :: Making Sense of the new Screen Time feature in iOS 15.6.1+
Like many children these days, my four have devices they can use to play games and watch movies. Managing the time spent in front of these devices has been a constant struggle in my home, despite all of the routines and rules we have in place. We’ve tried using screen time as currency, where points earned at home and school gives you time. We’ve tried “only in the car” or “only after dinner” and every suggestion from every family member and friend. It’s become almost as though they feel like using their devices are “owed” to them and I’ve simply had enough. Right as I was about to take every device and lock them away in the closet for good, Apple introduced Screen Time.
Why Manage Screen Time?
The Academy of Adolescent and Child & Pediatric Psychiatry (AACPP) indicate that too much screen time may lead to behaviors such as problems sleeping, poor grades, reduced physical activity, poor body image, fear of missing out, less time with family and friends & more. AACPP recommends initiating screen time limits on your child’s device to encourage creative play, physical and emotional well being and familial interaction. Setting screen time isn’t easy. Your child will tell you no one else has screen time, they are the only ones in their friend group, it’s not fair and you may even get those big feeling words. PEW research center reports that 54% of teens are taking steps to control their own screen time because they know they spend too much time on devices, while 2/3 of parents report their child spends too much time on devices. Taking steps now to help your child manage their screen time can help them find success as they learn to develop good habits.
More than just Parental Controls
Apple’s new Screen Time feature allows the adults in my home to have complete control over our children’s devices (even remotely) for more than just age restrictions and family sharing settings. We can now set time limits and app-specific restrictions that allows our children to use devices on schedules and limits we agree on. There are a ton of new features and once you get the hang of it, setting and understanding how to implement them is pretty straightforward. I’ll try to break it down for you so you learn from my chaos.
Go to Settings > Screen Time. It’s in the second group of options and has a purple hourglass icon. I will go through everything you’ll see once you’re in (below). The first group of icons in this next page is YOUR screen time and settings and if you have Family Sharing turned on, the bottom of this section will show each of your children. One of the cool parts of the Screen Time features is that it syncs across all devices they sign in on using their Apple ID (iPods, iPads, iPhones and Macs). To select and change settings for your children, simply click on their name and the same settings you see for yourself will now show up for each of them. First, similar to the old Parental Controls, you’ll select a password. Then go through each of the steps below to customize your child’s screen time experience. Tip: before each step, you’ll need to put in the passcode.
View Screen Time
This feature shows you the screen time for each person either for the day or the week. It gives a handy graph, categorizes app usage by category and also allows you to see the usage of individual apps if you prefer. There’s a lot of insight here, for both you and your children if they’re old enough to make sense of it. It also helps you to understand their usage and helps you keep an eye on what they’re doing. Letting them know you can see all of this also establishes a sense of accountability; this is BIG. If you click on the device name, you’ll be able to see more details such as the number of pickups and notifications per hour as well as the breakdown of where they’re coming from.
The first icon in the list within Screen Time is a purple square with a “clock” image. After putting in the passcode, you will be prompted to schedule Downtime for each person. You can set times where Screen Time is not allowed. If you are making an exception (holiday break, weekend, etc…) the child can 1) request more time either by app or across the board or 2) you can go into their user from your device or theirs and change their downtime. Additionally, there’s a toggle which gives you the option to shut off all access to apps during downtime when activated, or simply give warnings if not activated. Regardless of which you select, the user will get a 5 minute warning notification when their screen time is about to be “up.”
Set App Limits
The next icon is an orange hourglass which allows you to set App Limits. This was the most confusing part for me; I had to get my kids involved so I could understand what each of the apps were, how they are used and what benefit they are to them. This helped me establish reasonable limits for each group of apps and set exceptions for some that we considered educational (see next header). You can play it simple at first and select limits by category (Educational, Games, Reading, Entertainment, etc…) and then as you/they find apps that don’t fit the general categories, adjust to fit your needs. You can set time limits for categories or specific apps – including safari and customize as you see fit. I also use this section to limit time on Apps I don’t want them using but can’t restrict because they meet the age requirement (like YouTube Kids) or to set double restrictions to avoid loopholes they will inevitably find. Again, you can change the toggle to Block at End of Limit if you choose, in which case the user will have to request more time if desired.
The green icon that looks similar to contacts is the Communication Limits category. Here you can choose to allow communication with Everyone, or Contacts Only during Screen Time or Everyone, Contacts or Specific Contacts (ie – Mom, Dad, Grandma, etc…). You can also control what contacts are in their device and whether or not they can edit them. There’s also a pop-up option for Communication Safety which allows you to turn on data sharing to allow Apple to prevent sensitive photos from being shared.
The next icon down the line is a green box with a check mark. This is closely related to the above category and gives you the opportunity to select apps that are always allowed such as Music, 10% Happier (meditation app), Google Earth, Contacts, etc….
Content & Privacy Restrictions
The last icon in the Screen Time group is a red icon that allows you to set content and privacy restrictions. These are very similar to what we were used to in the last iOS options and include things like whether or not iTunes and App Store purchases are allowed, content restrictions (explicit, age settings, etc…), & location sharing. It also gives you the power to determine what changes you’d like the user to be able to make like changing the passcode, making account changes, turning on and off cellular data, turning on and off do not disturb while driving (TEENS), and more.
Requesting More Screen Time
When the screen limits for the user have been met (either through the App Limits or Downtime), they can request more time. More time can be granted on an app-by-app basis if you’d like and is totally customizable. You can either click on the notification that gets sent to your phone to grant more screen time, grant access on their device or go into Settings > Screen Time and make adjustments to each account there. Screen Time requests can be denied or granted in increments of 15 minutes, one hour or all day.
If you need additional support either in person or through telephone or chat, please download the Apple Support App on your device and toggle to your desired communication method. There is also an amazing service called Sessions through Today At Apple where you or your friends, church group, parent group or committee team can book a private session with someone at the Apple store that can help you for 30, 60 or 90 minutes with your screen time settings (or a host of other items).
Tips for Implementing Screen Time in Your Home
My best advice on implementing the new Screen Time feature with your family is to get them involved from the get-go. Sit down together and have them tell you what apps are most important to them and why. Make a list of apps installed on their phone that you consider Educational or that you may want to give them access to in the Always Allowed category. Show them their graphs and time history so that you can track it together. Combine Screen Time with rewards at school or home (example- 5 minutes of screen time per point on a scale of 1-10 for the day). More can be earned for extra chores, out of the ordinary great behavior, etc… Lastly, and especially for the older kiddos, help your family understand that Screen Time is a Privilege, not a right, but it can be earned. This is by far the hardest thing to change, but once understood, it’s a total game-changer.
Side Effect – Insight into our own Habits
Turning on Screen Time for the kids inadvertently gave me a bit of insight into my own habits. When I go in to check theirs, I see mine first. Initially, I thought “this must be for the week,” but nope. Seeing my number of pickups and notifications per hour, I wondered how I get things done. Now that I know this is “tracked” I am much, much more conscious about the random scroll. It’s not only helped my children and their habits, but mine, too. We’ve still got a way to go, but thanks to Screen Time, we’re on the road to a healthier, more present life.