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Setting Up Parental Controls on an iPhone

Setting Up Parental Controls on an iPhone

Ashley Rogers
parental control on iphone

If you’ve been following my articles here on Think Differently About Kids, firstly, hey thanks! Reading along means by now, you know that I’m a mom too. My two amazing little dudes are my light and my joy and absolutely the wildest things I’ve ever come across in all my existence. I can’t do anything about the majority of those childhood bumps and bruises that are their badges of boyhood. However, I can do everything in my power to protect them from the predators and predicaments they thankfully still know nothing about.

Technology is so much a part of our day to day as adults that we can’t deny our kids need to be able to use and understand it. At the same time, they’re kids, and they need us to guard and guide the ways they interact on the internet, even when using something as seemingly innocuous as an iPhone.

The first thing it’s necessary to know is that there are different levels of parental controls available on an iPhone, up to and including creating a unique Apple ID for your child to use on your device. I’m not quite ready to take that step, so this article doesn’t cover that. But hey, here’s the Apple support page info on that process, if that’s what you’re looking to do!

If, however, like me, you just want to ensure security when your kiddo is allowed to use your iPhone, come along for my tutorial on your safety settings options. I’ll explain how we can use these settings, and I’ve got pictures and instructions for you to follow along with my real-life, mom exploration of iPhone parental controls. Let’s go!

Getting Started with Screen Time

First, go to Settings on your phone and find Screen Time. 

Select Screen Time. If it hasn’t already been turned on for your device, you’ll be prompted to Turn On Screen Time.

Now we can see the options that the Screen Time feature allows us.

Weekly reports can help you keep tabs on how your kiddo uses your phone.

Downtime & App Limits allow you to set time when the phone has limited use capacities. So that the kiddos can’t access games, for example, if they’re using the phone for homework. You can also set time limits for your kids’ apps, right down to specific times for the individual days of the week. A useful and particularly parent-friendly feature since weekends, per se, might look different than weekdays in terms of screen time. Whatever schedule is right for your family, this feature affords parents plenty of personalization options.

Content & Privacy Restriction lets you keep kids away from anything you deem inappropriate, such as material with profanity or explicit content. You can customize settings for what they’re allowed to purchase, if they’re allowed to do it at all. Plus, you control the privacy settings for what information is allowed to be shared from the phone.

Screen Time Passcode will let you manage kids’ screen time from your own device or put a passcode on the device your child uses.

After you continue from this screen, you’ll be asked to specify if this is your own iPhone or a child’s device. For this tutorial, I am using the phone as my personal device and showing you how to set up parental controls from this perspective.

Details on Downtime

First, let’s look at Downtime. Downtime is the time when your phone is in a restricted use mode. That means you can choose apps that you want to allow, and phone calls will be available, but everything else is limited. Even though its intended purpose is probably more to give adults a break from constantly being connected to our phones, you can use it as a kid-proofing feature as well. If you make sure the phone is in a downtime setting when your child uses it, you can specifically choose what they’re able to do with the phone based on the active apps they can access.

Turn Downtime on by toggling the switch at the top, it will turn from grey to green, so you know you’ve activated it. Now you’ll see the option to set a Downtime timer for Every Day or to Customize Days. If you leave the Every Day option checked, you can set a block time, as you see in the photo below.

10 p.m. to 7 p.m. is the pre-set time frame that appeared on my phone. Again, I imagine that’s more designed to give parents a bed-time technology break ourselves. The idea for this setting as a parental security feature is just as I mentioned above.

You could set Downtime for whatever time your child uses the phone. That way, only approved-by-you apps are accessible, and you can be sure kiddos aren’t sneaking Netflix when they’re supposed to be reading on Kindle.

You can also choose Customize Days, where you’ll see the option to set a specific Downtime time frame for each day individually. It may seem like a great deal of prior planning to some, but detail-oriented, schedule-driven families might love the ability to customize this access to their own individual needs.

Applying App Limits

Next up are App Limits. This setting is customization central. Here, you can choose a time limit to be applied across an entire category of apps or to particular ones based on your preference and need.

Select this feature and tap the words “Add Limit” that appears in blue on your screen.

Then you’ll see the Choose Apps screen. Limit all apps across the board, or choose one of the predesignated categories that are offered.

You can see in the screenshot below that I’ve selected Social Networking to show an example of how you can further customize the time limits you apply right down to individual apps.

By tapping the All menu arrow, you’ll open up a new drop-down menu that includes all of the Social Networking Apps you have on your phone.

Now, you have the option to select individual apps that you want to restrict. As an example, I’ve marked Skype, Instagram, and Marco Polo. You can see that selected apps have a blue checkmark next to them to indicate that time limits are now active for these apps.

From there, you’ll move on to establishing the actual time limit. You can scroll through to allow the hours or minutes of use you want to be approved for that app on the phone. Tapping Add in the top right corner will put your time limits in place. No need to worry about losing functionality on your phone either, because you can always return to this screen to change or remove time limits.

Creating Communication Limits

Communication Limits let you define contacts that can be in communication with your phone. It goes one step further and enables you to choose who can be contacted during specific time frames based on Screen Time and Downtime settings.

When you select communication limits, you’ll see that you have two options within this setting. You can create limits for During Screen Time or for During Downtime. Depending on how you’re using these features, you’ll find this gives you quite a bit of freedom to choose. It’s also nice to note that none of the changes you can make in Communication Limits will disable emergency calls.

Tap on During Screen Time to open a new drop-down menu that allows you to select who can be contacted during this type of time on the phone. Use this feature when allowing kiddo to use the iPhone during Screen Time to make sure that you know with whom they’re in communication. You can see that with Everyone selected, even unknown numbers can be in contact. While you may appreciate that feature when you’re using the phone yourself, you may not want your little to have such liberal access.

Giving kiddo the phone while it’s set to Downtime offers another way to make sure you know who they can talk to. Switching from Everyone to the Specific Contacts option gives you the ability to hand-pick who can call and be called. That way, you don’t have to worry about accidental text messages to your boss plus, potential predators have no access.

What’s Always Allowed

Always Allowed is pretty much what it sounds like. Here, you can take a different approach to parental controls and define what you don’t want to be restricted.

You’ll tap on Always Allowed and find a second location under Contacts where you can specify who you want your phone to be able to be in contact with during Downtime. As with Communication Limits above, you can select Specific Contacts to pick and choose who’s on and who’s off the call list.

You can also adjust which apps won’t be restricted during Downtime. Just tap the plus and minus signs next to each app to toggle their status on and off. This is kind of like an extension of Downtime. You’ll need to have already defined it and made it active for the specifications here to have an effect.

Content & Privacy Restrictions

If you thought we were having fun before, here’s the part where you can truly fine-tune your parental controls. Tap on Content & Privacy Restrictions to open a new drop-down menu of safety settings galore.

Toggle the switch to activate Content and Privacy Restrictions. It changes from grey to green, and you have a whole list of now active options to choose from.

Now, select iTunes and App Store Purchases. Here, you can decide whether to allow installing and deleting apps as well as whether or not in-app purchases can be made, and if they’ll require a password.

Just like under Downtime and Always Allowed, you can also alter app access from Content & Privacy. Select the second option, Allowed Apps, to access a drop-down menu that will give you a set list of apps you can toggle on and off.

Next up is Content Restriction, where you can get seriously strict about pretty much everything.

Content Restriction is a sort of parental controls Wonderland. Once you open the drop-down menu, you’ll see that you’ve only just begun to process your preferences for what kids can have access to from your phone.

You can see that the first options under Content Restrictions have to do with what’s allowed in Store content. In other words, things your kid might wanna buy from the vast Apple market place that all iPhones are ultimately connected to. We’ll just start at the top and go down the list.

Ratings For was auto set to the United States on my phone. If you’re elsewhere in the world, you can change it by tapping to find a scrolling menu and selecting your country.

Under Music, Podcasts & News, we can choose if the phone can access content that is explicit or clean within Apple Music.

Music Profiles is an on-or-off choice about whether you want other Apple Music user profiles to be visible from the phone.

Movies opens up its own menu, as well. Here you can choose what movies will appear in the store from your phone. Whatever your kiddo’s age or maturity, you can customize their movie choices by filtering by rating. You even have the option to choose that movies aren’t allowed.

The same is true for TV shows. Again you choose based on rating or choose to close out the option altogether.

Books, like Music, have only the option for explicit or clean content, and Apps are approved by age range.

Web Content is where you can restrict access to adult themes by selecting Limit Adult Websites. You can also get ultra-specific by choosing Allowed Websites Only. You’ll see a pre-selected list of kid-friendly sites that you can choose from to grant your permission for perusal. Or, you can add your own sites by tapping Add Website at the bottom.

The next two selections you see are about Siri‘s capacities on your phone. Imagine the things a little one might think to ask Siri, and now imagine how she might answer them. As artificial intelligence, she’s not necessarily geared toward your values. It might be a good idea to select Don’t Allow under Web Search Content and Explicit Language if you’re worried about little pitchers who have big ears.

Finally, there are Game Center settings. Do you want to allow kids to play multiplayer games, add friends within a game, or screen record their gameplay? Yes, to all of the above? No, to all of the above? You make the call, Mama. The option for these is also simply Allow or Don’t Allow.

The rest of the items you see under Content & Privacy lean more toward personal privacy preferences, and what changes can be made to your phone, and less toward kiddo safety questions.

Passcode Protected

Returning to the main Screen Time menu, you can set up a Screen Time Passcode. You’ll use the passcode for all the things you’ve set up Screen Time to do, like verifying purchases or extending app time limits.

Share Across Devices is where you choose whether the settings are for just this device or for all devices logged into your iCloud. If kids are using more than one device, this is a handy way to get all your info organized in one place.

Set Up Screen Time for Family is how you can synch up as a family and still allow for individualism. Families can explore these options when everyone is using their own devices.

Closing Comments

Whew! Did you know your phone could do all that? I often find myself surprised at what my phone is capable of versus what I’m actually using it for. Well, now we definitely know precisely what the Screen Time settings are capable of. Now, it’s your call. Literally. You know which settings best fit your kiddo and your family. Fortunately for everyone, there is no shortage of options. Remember that it’s okay to experiment too and change it up if one parental control strategy isn’t quite right for your family. The last and possibly most crucial feature of Screen Time is that you can always turn it off.

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