Using iOS 12 Parental Controls for iPhone and iPad

If you have children old enough to press the home button on your device, you’ve probably already had to deal with the idea of screen time. Growing up, screen time meant limiting AOL instant messenger, which only lived on the large Compaq Presario desktop near the kitchen.

Today, managing screen time with kids is…a little more challenging. Typically the average household probably has multiple devices, including the parent’s phones, iPads, an iPod Touch here and there, the uncle’s old iPhone, and increasingly, the child’s own device.

Up until now (September 2018), parental controls on iPhones and iPads were pretty limited. You could block explicit content, R-Rated movies, and see your child’s GPS location with Find My Friends.

But with the latest update from Apple, iOS 12 brings numerous controls, limitations, and features that is very beneficial to parents. I’m going to run through the main features that I suggest any parent consider. But keep in mind, 95% of these features are on iOS 12 only. If you haven’t already, upgrade your devices by going to Settings > General > Software Update and download iOS 12 to access these features.

If you have an older device that is unable to upgrade (see the compatible device list below), I might actually recommend purchasing a slightly newer device for the express purpose of accessing these parental controls. A new iPad is $329 and even the cheapest model offers Apple Pencil support, so it may be time to upgrade the family tablet.

Those looking for the most cost-effective option, look for a refurbished or used iPhone 5s - iPhone 7, or you can even get a 6th Generation iPod touch, refurbished from Apple, for $170.


Screen Time Settings

Once you’ve upgraded to iOS 12, a new Screen Time menu option appears in settings. Everything you’ll need to set for your kids, including Content Restrictions (i.e. Explicit Music) will be found here.

On your iOS 12 Device, go to Settings > Screen Time

On your iOS 12 Device, go to Settings > Screen Time


First thing to do is set a specific Screen Time Passcode. You will find this option at the bottom of the Screen Time settings menu. This passcode can (and should) be different than the one you use to unlock the device. This way, your child can unlock the device with her own passcode, but cannot adjust any of the Screen Time settings.

You can also enable the Share Across Devices feature which allows you to see the amount of time spent on each child’s device right from your iPhone.

Note: The biggest annoyance with Apple’s iCloud Family settings are the maximum of 6 accounts. Families with more than four kids are unable to manage the whole family from one parent account.

Be sure to set a  different  passcode for Screen Time than what your child knows for unlocking the device.

Be sure to set a different passcode for Screen Time than what your child knows for unlocking the device.


Once you’ve set a Screen Time specific passcode, you can now set the parameters for your child and they won’t have the ability to change them. There are four menus to sift through and adjust settings. We’ll go bottom to top:

Screen Time Setings

Screen Time Setings


Content & Privacy Restrictions

Diving into this menu will give you many options for blocking adult content and access to certain apps (like Contacts or Calendars). I would go to Content Restrictions and set the age appropriate app downloads, movies, and music settings for your child.

Once you’ve adjusted those (and I’ve disabled any in-app purchases, as many kid’s games are free to download but constantly try to coax the purchase of coins, virtual game money, etc.) I recommend scrolling to the bottom of Content & Privacy Restrictions to the Allow Changes menu. Here you can make sure your child doesn’t change the device Passcode on you, block the ability to change Cellular Data settings, and more. Volume Limit is also helpful if you find your child listening to music a little too loud.

Always Allowed

Now things get interesting. In a moment I’ll show you how to set Time Limits for certain apps, and even Certain Times of Day. But before that, adjusting the Always Allowed apps will be sure your child can always call or message you, despite any other Screen Time restrictions.

Simply tap the “+” button next to the apps you want to be sure are Always Allowed, and tap the “-” button to remove an app. Keep in mind, as my children already got around this, that the Messages app in iOS has the ability to run mini-apps, including games. I had to remove Messages from Always Allowed, which is an inconvenience, but for small children who don’t need to be texting anyone, it makes sense to restrict it.


Apps that are “Always Allowed” will work regardless of Screen Time or Downtime limits.


App Limits

Going into the App Limits settings will allow you to set a maximum time per day that certain apps can be used. For instance, you can limit all games to 1 hour per day. Regardless of which games your child plays, even if they only play 10 minutes across 6 different apps, once they’ve hit an hour of game time, all games are locked out.

The same goes for social media apps. If set to one hour, 30 minutes in Facebook and 30 minutes in Instagram means no more social apps for the day. This resets at midnight every night, but there’s an option for those with night-owl teenagers we’ll get to in a moment.


Set time limits for games, social media apps, entertainment like Netflix and YouTube, and more.


Once the time limit for a segment of apps has been reached, the app will be greyed out and have an hourglass in the icon. If your child attempts to open it they’ll be greeted with the following screen. From there, you as a parent can put in the Screen Time Passcode and allow 15 more minutes, or you can ignore the time limit for the rest of day (for that 10 hour road trip perhaps).


The final setting to adjust is Downtime. Here you can set evening hours where all apps (except those you specified in the Always Allowed menu) are blocked. Enable this setting and specify the start and end times, such as 10:00pm - 7:00am, and you can be sure only the apps you’ve chosen can be used.


Setting Downtime will only allow the apps you’ve specified to be opened during this span.


Screen Time Settings for Adults

You may have noticed that after a couple days of using iOS 12 you’ll begin to receive reports of your own phone usage in the Screen Time settings. Not only will it tell you how many hours you’ve had your eyes fixed on that screen, but how often you pick up your phone, how many notifications you receive by the hour, and more.

You can set app limits for yourself as well, be it social media, Netflix, or games. And if you really want to be sure you’re not abusing your own screen time, have a friend or spouse set up a Screen Time Passcode and not tell you!

Let me know if you’re daring enough to have done such a thing, or if you have any questions about Screen Time settings and kids!

apple, familyStephen Roblesapple