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Introducing Screen Time, the family’s new tech watchdog

Introducing Screen Time, the family’s new tech watchdog

It’s a constant refrain in many homes — a kid clamoring to use an iPad®, iPhone® or even an Apple Watch® to play games, watch videos or chat with friends.  As a parent, you know when enough is enough, and that too much screen time can often affect homework, family dinners or socialization in general.

With iOS 12, Apple® is doing its part to limit device addiction.  Screen Time is a feature that not only monitors how much time your child is spending on his or her phone or tablet, but provides the tools and guidance on how to control that usage.

Screen Time’s controls are best managed with Family Sharing from a parent’s own iOS device.  Family Sharing is a cloud-based tool that makes it easy for you and up to five family members to share things like iTunes®, Apple Books and App Store® purchases.  But, when set up accordingly, Family Sharing can also manage limitations and restrictions on your kids’ iOS devices.

With Family Sharing enabled, go to Settings > Screen Time and look for your children’s names in the new Family section. Tap a child’s name to set Screen Time limits on their iOS devices.  Initially, Screen Time walks you through an assistant that explains the main features and helps you set some basic limitations.  It also prompts you to create a four-digit parent passcode, which you’ll need to adjust settings in the future or override time limits.

Subsequently, when you tap your child’s name, you’ll see Screen Time’s standard sections for Downtime, App Limits, Always Allowed and Content & Privacy Restrictions. (For more in-depth information, visit https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208982)

Here is some context on each of these features.

Downtime.  This is helpful for blocking all device usage during a time when your child should be sleeping, doing homework or just not using the screen. You can set only one time period, so if you want to control usage on a more complex schedule, you’ll need to do that in another way.

For a child, the Downtime screen has a Block at Downtime option that you must enable to actually block access to the device during the scheduled time.  If it’s off, and the child tries to use the device during that time, they’ll be able to tap Ignore Limit just like an adult can.  That might be appropriate for a teenager who may need to check email late at night to find details for tomorrow’s sports practice.  With Block at Downtime on, however, the only override is with the parent passcode.

App Limits. This specifies how long a category of apps — or a specific app — may be used each day, with the time resetting at midnight. For children, you might want to try restricting nothing for a week, and see what apps they’re using and for how long.  Then have “the talk” about appropriate use of digital devices and agree on limits.

You can tap Customize Days to allow more time on weekends, for instance, and you can exempt an app from all limitations in the Always Allowed screen.  Once your child hits an app limit, Screen Time will block them from using the app, with the only override being your parent passcode.

Content & Privacy Restrictions.  Here’s where you’ll find all the previous parental controls, which let you turn on a wide variety of restrictions. To get started, enable the Content & Privacy Restrictions switch.

There are three basic sections hereStore and Content Restrictions, used to control app downloading and deletion, nature of content downloaded from Apple’s online stores and web filtering, if needed; Privacy Restrictions, primarily to allow location sharing or to restrict specific apps; and Allow Changes, items that relate to settings on the iOS device itself, such as disallowing passcodes and account changes or volume limit changes, if you’ve set a maximum volume in Settings > Music > Volume Limits.

Reports.  At the top of its main screen for the child, Screen Time reports on usage for both the current day and the last seven days.  It shows a graph of screen time by hour or day, with color coding to indicate which app categories were in use.  Review this report regularly to see if you need to adjust the Downtime or App Limit settings.  Your child can also check the same report directly on his or her device in Settings > Screen Time.

Screen Time’s controls are good but not perfect. Tech tweaks can only go so far in changing behavior, and discipline will be required both for parents and children to make this work.  As enterprising kids have already discovered workarounds such as changing the device’s time setting and deleting and re-downloading apps, don’t depend on Screen Time as a guaranteed solution.  But you can depend on Screen Time to be one more brick in the wall in the struggle for family mindshare.

CranstonIT staffers are experts on the evolution of Apple’s iOS devices.  For more information on how iOS devices best fit in your business or home strategy, contact us at 888-813-5558 or support@cranstonit.com