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iOS 12: Getting to know Screen Time and stronger parental controls

When you receive your first usage report, you should probably sit down before opening it.


With iOS 12 , Apple is doing its best to curb phone addiction and give you more tools to quantify just how much time you spend on your iOS devices.

Not only will your iOS device begin telling you how much time you spend (or waste) on your phone or tablet, but it will give you tools to help you tame your desire to be always connected.

Read more: Screen time is ruining us. Here are 11 ways to cut back | Your 'screenome' might be much more important than screen time.

Screen Time

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

After updating to iOS 12, the Settings app will have a new section titled Screen Time. In this section, you'll find a breakdown that shows just how much time you're spending on all iOS devices linked to the same iCloud account. 

Screen Time breaks down usage for the current day, as well as the past 7 days. Each Sunday you can expect to receive an alert with your weekly report for the previous week. 

Going further, Screen Time will also break down how often you pick up your phone, which apps you used the most after picking up your phone, and how many notifications you receive on a per-app basis.

App Limits

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Taking all of these insights from Screen Time, users can then set self-imposed limits for app categories or specific apps on a 24-hour basis. You can create a limit from the Screen Time breakdown with a tap on the app or category. On the individual breakdown screen, select Add Limit at the bottom of the page, then select the allotted time. You can even customize based on day of the week, if you'd like. 

As the set time limit approaches you will receive an alert to remind you your time limit is nearly up. Once the time is up, the app will lock you out (and give you the option to approve more time, should you absolutely need to use the app).


Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Inside the Screen Time settings page is an option called Downtime. Users can set a scheduled time at which the device essentially locks itself down, restricting access to all but a handful of apps such as Phone, Messages, and FaceTime. You can add more apps to the Always Allowed list on the main Screen Time page (more below).

Activating Downtime at bedtime, for example, is a convenient way to force yourself to stop checking Facebook, Twitter or even your work email.

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

If you want to use Downtime, but need access to more than just Phone, Messages and FaceTime, you can pick which apps you'll be able to use in Screen Time > Always allowed.

Parental Controls

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Through a combination of Apple's Family Sharing feature and Screen Time, parents will be able to take more control over a child's iOS device(s). Weekly reports are sent to the parent, which he or she can use to regulate how much time is spent by a child in a given app or category, as well as on the device in general.

Parents can also remotely schedule when Downtime is active, essentially locking a child out of all iOS devices during meals or at bedtime. Before you can use Screen Time to control a child's iOS device, your device and the child's will need to be on iOS 12.

Initial setup

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

To set up Screen Time for a child, on one of your iOS devices go to Settings > Screen Time and scroll down until you see the names of any children included in your Family Sharing plan. 

Select the name for the child you want to use Screen Time with, approve the first prompt, then set a Downtime for your child's device. As we just discussed, Downtime will limit what can be done on the iOS device. Don't worry, you can change this later if needed. 

You will also be asked for a Screen Time passcode. Enter one that your kid(s) can't guess, and that you'll be able to remember. You can even set different codes for each child if that makes it easier for you to remember. This passcode is what's needed to approve requests for more time or adjust a child's settings. 

Lastly, you'll be asked to set Screen Time limits based on app categories. To begin with, I suggest skipping this part and seeing which apps are included in which categories and then either setting limits based on apps, or adjusting category limits.

View use, more parental controls

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

After you've setup Screen Time for a child's device(s), when you view his or her Screen Time page you will see a breakdown of time spent on the device, complete with time in each app and category. Essentially, it's the same breakdown you receive for your own use, but for your kids. 

You can set App Limits based, Always Allowed apps, and control Content & Privacy Restrictions, which all are reflected in real time on a child's device. 

That last setting, Content & Privacy Restrictions, is especially important if you want to block your child from purchasing apps and in-app purchases. Yes, those two invaluable settings can be controlled remotely now. Huzzah!

Now playing: Watch this: How to use iOS 12 Screen Time and parental controls