Apple's iOS 13.3 for iPhones, iPads adds communications limits for kids

The tech giant is allowing parents to control who their kids talk to, and when.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
2 min read

Apple has been adding features to help parents control their children's phones.

James Martin/CNET

Apple unveiled additions to its Screen Time tools for the iPhone and iPad on Tuesday, offering parents new ways to clamp down on who their kids talk to via text messages, FaceTime and phone calls.

The new features, added to Apple's free Screen Time parental controls, allow parents to specify who their children can talk to, whether it be a set group of people or "everyone" -- even unknown people. Parents can also set further limits on who their kids can talk to, specifying that they can't talk to friends, for example, if they've gone over allotted time limits for using an app.

Though the new features are aimed at children, Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, told CBS News in June that the data he's gleaned from Screen Time has been "profound," and it's caused him to dial back how much he uses his phone. "We made the phone not so you use it all the time, we made the phone to make your life better," he said. (CBS News is owned by ViacomCBS, which also owns CNET.)

Apple's move to include more Screen Time functions is just the latest of the tech industry's efforts to respond to people's anxiety about how phones and internet connections are affecting our lives and relationships. A number of studies have found signs of tech addiction, and there are indications that even the few people who don't use these devices all the time, such as our children, are negatively impacted by them anyway.

Watch this: How to cut down your screen time

Some Apple customers and investors have pushed the company to study the way its iPhones and the millions of apps available for them affect children. In a January 2018 letter to Apple, one shareholder pointed to a "growing body of evidence" that phone use among younger owners may be having "unintended negative consequence." 

Apple has responded with new Screen Time functions that help parents limit what type of apps their children can use and when, as well as provide weekly and monthly reports that break down how much they use the phone and what for. Screen Time was first introduced with iOS 12 last year.

Google has introduced similar functions through its Digital Wellbeing initiative, and Facebook has introduced features to help parents limit how much children use its apps, such as Instagram.