How to set up screen time and content limits on your child’s phone
Don’t be overwhelmed by the thought of setting up restrictions. It can be a great conversation starter and a first step to helping your child have healthy online habits
Over the next several weeks, this column will focus on the basics of setting up filters on different aspects of technology. Look forward to information on streaming, gaming and social media, but first, details on the initial step to take toward internet safety.
According to Statista, more people in the U.S. are using iPhones than Android phones. If you’re one of them, know there are powerful tools built right in to iOS products to help guide your child’s digital life. Google has an app for Android phones that has many of the same features, but not as robust.
Before doing anything, have a conversation with your kids about why these filters are important. It’s best to have them buy in before setting up restrictions so it’s more cooperative rather than dictatorial.
For years, my method of limiting screen time was to require my kids to bring their phones into my bedroom before they went to sleep. They would whine that they only wanted to use their phones as alarm clocks, but I didn’t want the temptation of tech in their rooms all night. It was a frequent battle.
But when Apple released Screen Time, I felt relief knowing I could decide what functionality would remain on their phones during specific times. Plus, it has a lot of other helpful features too.
First, make sure you are using Family Sharing. Set that up by tapping your profile in Settings and following the prompts.
Then head to your Settings, turn on Screen Time then scroll down to the child’s profile you want to manage. The initial page shows how much time they spend on their phone daily. Tap ‘See All Activity’ for details on of when they’re using different categories of apps like Entertainment, Social, Information & Reading and Productivity & Finance. Tap ‘Show Apps and Websites’ to get even more granular. Make sure to scroll down to see how many times they’ve picked up their phone each day (hint: it’s staggering).
The first option in Screen Time is Downtime. Here where you set certain times where everything on the phone turns off except allowed apps.
Option two is App Limits where you can decide whether a specific app or a category of apps will only be allowed for a set period of time each day. You can toggle on ‘Block at End of Limit’ for the app to turn off when time’s up, although your child can ask you for more time.
Up next, Communication Limits is where you decide which people can still communicate with your child during Downtime. This is perfect to ensure moms and dads, but nobody else can text or call their kids during Downtime.
Communication Safety is a newer feature in Screen Time that helps ensure an inappropriate image doesn’t sneak into or out of your child’s texts. Messages can detect photos that may contain nudity and blur them before your child sends or tries to open them. They’ll also get a warning that the image may be sensitive. Kids will see some options: leave the conversation, block the contact or view helpful resources. If the child decides to view the photo, the app tells them it is their choice, but to make sure they feel safe. It then gives three options: not viewing the image, messaging a grown-up or viewing the image. If a child under age 13 chooses to look at the image, parents can receive a notification.
The Always Allowed feature is where you decide which apps will be available, even during Downtime. If you set up mom and dad as approved contacts under Communication Limits, then you can feel fine giving the OK to FaceTime, Phone and Messages during Downtime. Then decide what other apps you might want to allow like ones for music, reading and weather.
Among other things, Content & Privacy Restrictions is very important for parents concerned their kids might seek out inappropriate content online. Under Content Restrictions, you can block mature content from the iTunes Store, limit adult websites, block explicit language from Siri and make all sorts of privacy decisions within Apple Game Center.
The final choice in Screen Time is whether to toggle on Include Website Data. Choose this if you want Screen Time reports to include specific websites your child has visited. If not, websites are just reported as Safari usage.
Now for Android users.
Google has created Digital Wellbeing to help users focus, unplug, minimize distractions and find balance as a family. Find its Dashboard through Settings and see what apps are used most , set timers and see that startling display of how many times you’ve unlocked your phone.
To manage children’s devices, you’ll need to use the Family Link app. You can view their activity, approve or block apps, set time limits and a bedtime for their device. Family Link’s internet restrictions will only work on Chrome, so don’t allow kids to download other browsers. Also know that children over the age of 13 have the ability to turn this off, but if they do, you will be notified and their devices will lock temporarily.
Even with these helpful tools, don’t rely on them alone; this isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ scenario. Make those conversations about filters and why they are important a regular activity with your kids. They can always find ways to get around restrictions (like using a friend’s phone), but if they feel safe talking with you about anything that makes them uncomfortable, you’re already headed in the right direction.