How to Set Up Parental Controls in iOS 12

In January of 2018, two large Apple shareholders with a $2 billion stake wrote an open letter to Apple. They demanded the smartphone maker respond to a “growing public health crisis” of smartphone addiction in young people. Teens who spent more time on new media (screens) were more likely to report mental health issues than those who spent time on non-screen activities. A 2017 study found kids who spent three hours or more a day on smartphones or other electronic devices were 34% more likely to suffer at least one suicide-related outcome—including feeling hopeless or seriously considering suicide—than kids who used devices two hours a day or less. Among kids who used electronic devices five or more hours a day, 48% had at least one suicide-related outcome.1 Apple has responded by creating a new set of parental control functions known as “Screen Time.”

Screen Time works via Family Sharing, so as long as your children are part of your Family in the Family Sharing settings, you’ll be able to view and control their Screen Time options from your phone. If the child has an iPhone, and the parent has an Android phone, Screen Time settings can be set on the child’s device. Unfortunately, the parent will have to access the child’s phone to see screen time information or make changes to the settings. The best situation is for the parent and child to both have iPhones and connected with Family Sharing.

Turn on Screen Time

You will need to turn on and set up Screen Time on all the devices owned and used by your children. This is done in the Screen Time section of the Settings app.

  1. Open up the Settings app.
  2. Navigate to the Screen Time section.”
  3. Choose “Turn on Screen Time.”
  4. Choose “Continue”
  5. When you see the introductory screen asking whether this is your iPhone or your child’s iPhone, select “This is My Child’s iPhone.”

After you have turned Screen Time on, you can set Downtime, which is a set period of time in which your child will be blocked from using the iPhone, or App Limits, which will restrict certain app categories. You can also choose Content and Privacy settings, which are further explained below.

When your child’s device is on your Family Share iCloud account, you can make changes remotely from your (the parent’s) device, by tapping on a child’s name in the Screen Time section of the Settings app, listed under the parent’s own Screen Time usage. Alternatively, Downtime and App Limits selections for your child can be adjusted directly on their device by going to the Settings app and selecting Screen Time on their device.

Parental controls only work if they are not altered by the child they are protecting. All of the App Limits, Downtime, and Content Restrictions are protected via a passcode. The passcode restricts changes to the Screen Time settings and must be entered to grant more usage time to children when limits have been reached.

Using Downtime

Downtime is the feature parents have been asking for. Downtime sets a schedule that allows you to choose when your child cannot use certain apps on their iPhone or iPad. During Downtime, only apps that the parent designates in “Always Allowed” and phone calls will be available. I would recommend every parent to restrict social media apps like Snapchat or Instagram from being used during school hours.

Most parents will likely want to turn on blocking for Downtime to prevent apps from being used entirely, but Apple gives you a non-blocking option when a parent wants their child reminded that apps shouldn’t be used at certain times.

During Downtime, all apps on the iPhone are grayed out with little hourglass locks on them, letting children know that time limits have been reached. Making and receiving phone calls are not blocked.

Using App Limits

App Limits allows a parent to finely control how much time their children spend on certain categories of apps.

With App Limits, you can set restrictions on All Apps & Categories, Social Networking, Games, Entertainment, Creativity, Productivity, Education, Reading & Reference, Health & Fitness, and Other.

I have had many parents express their frustrations to me about their child getting sidetracked onto Youtube or on a game while doing their homework. Parents can now limit their use of these distracting apps on school days.

After the App Limit has been reached, apps will be locked with an hourglass symbol and a passcode will be required to enable more time. Children can ask for more time through the app. The parent can remotely approve or deny their child’s request for more time directly from their device.

As with Downtime, you can set less restrictive rules that serve as more of a reminder by turning off blocking with App Limits.

Using Allways Allowed

With Downtime and App Limits, the parent can designate certain apps to be “Always Allowed.” These apps will be accessible at all times even when Downtime and App Limits are enabled.

Apple makes Phone, Messages, FaceTime, and Maps as always available apps, but you can select any apps that you want through the Always Allowed app interface, accessible under “Always Allowed” in the Screen Time section of Settings on a child’s device.

Parents may want to “Always Allow” apps that their children need for doing their homework or for their school day and then turn on Downtime during those times.

You can also remove access to all apps, including Messages, with the exception of the phone, which remains available to children in case of emergencies.

Using Content Restrictions

Content Restrictions are not a new feature. Apple has always given parents the ability to limit access to music, movies, TV shows, and apps that are inappropriate for their children, but these parental controls have moved to the Screen Time section of the Settings app. The new Content Restrictions have expanded to include preventing a child from changing the passcode on their device, restricting account changes, limit volume, and automatically turn on Do Not Disturb While Driving.

A parent can also set privacy settings for everything from location services (GPS) to advertising preferences. For example, if a parent wanted to make sure they could always access their child’s location, they can turn on Location Services and select Share My Location, and also limit GPS use on other apps.

Accessing Content & Privacy restrictions requires an adult to input a Content & Privacy passcode, which prevents children from changing these settings.


1. Twenge, J., Joiner, T., Rogers, M., & Martin, G. (2017). Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3-17. doi: 10.1177/2167702617723376

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About the Author

Clayton Cranford
Clayton Cranford is a retired Sergeant from Orange County Sheriff's Department in California and owner of Total Safety Solutions LLC. Clayton is one of the nation’s leading law enforcement educators on social media, child safety, and behavioral threat assessments. Clayton is the author of the definitive book on cyber safety for families, “Parenting in the Digital World.” Clayton has more than 20 years of teaching experience and was awarded the 2015 National Bullying Prevention Award from the School Safety Advocacy Council, and the 2015 American Legion Medal of Merit. Clayton was a member of the County's Behavioral Threat Assessment Team, Crisis Negotiation Team, School Resource Officer program, and Juvenile Bureau.