Getting a Grip on Screen Time and Parental Controls:
A Resource Guide for Parents

Now that we’re signing school iPad use policies for our kindergartners, technology is seeping into family life, often before we’re ready for it.  There is so much we need to know and prepare for.
In studying parental controls for the last 18 months, I’ve been struck time and again by how there’s such a lack of awareness of what’s available, and then the confusion over how to use what is. It feels like there’s no clear starting point in this labyrinth of parental controls. And it’s understandable when there are at least 18 different use scenarios that depend on your child’s age, which devices your child accesses, if your child is using a computer or iPad for homework, and your personal parenting beliefs.
Our mission at Heard It From A Friend is to identify what tools are available and how to best apply them, but also to call attention to the inadequacies of the current technology as part of our effort to advocate for what we need. In making the most of the rudimentary functionality available today, we’ve done our best to provide a roadmap for parents here.


Guided Access – Lock Any Device to Just One App

Guided Access allows you to lock any device to just one app and shut the device off after a set period of time. So, you can feel assured that your children are really just reading on the Kindle App or practicing their math facts. Here’s how to set it up:

Step 1: Go to Settings > General > Accessibility.

Step 2:  Find Guided Access (at bottom of the screen), Toggle button on (green).

Step 3: Tap Passcode Settings to enter a passcode (one your kids won’t know). If your child has Touch ID enabled on her device with her fingerprint, make sure you turn off Touch ID. You don’t want your child to be able to override Guided Access.

Step 4: If you want your child to receive a verbal warning that her time is almost up, tap Time Limits > toggle Speak on.

Step 5: Easy access to Guided Access is key, so turn on the Accessibility Shortcut. Now when you triple click the Home Button, it’s enabled.

Step 6: Pick an app to lock with Guided Access. Once it’s launched, triple click the Home Button.

Step 7: Triple click the Home Button again and enter your password to set the time limit. Tap Options.

Step 8: Slide Time Limit to select. I recommend keeping the other settings in their default positions.

Step 9: Hit Resume to start. If you want to end earlier than the selected time, press End.

Generally, I think Guided Access works best for younger children, but if your kids use apps for homework assignments, you might find it useful.

And Apple, ultimately, parents need the ability to set up multiple user profiles for our children, so we can separate out educational apps from entertainment.

Guided Access – Part 2 – It IS Possible to Make a Phone Just a Phone

Step 1: So once you’ve set up Guided Access, go to your child’s phone, tap the Phone app and triple-click the Home Button. Now it’s in Guided Access mode. You can’t get out of it.

Step 2: Your child can still make phone calls and your child can receive phone calls.

Even when the screen is asleep, the phone is still in Guided Access mode. The one caveat is if your kids power the phone off, they can override Guided Access. But you’ll know because there’s no way for them to turn Guided Access back on without your Guided Access passcode.

Apple here’s another perfect example of where we need better parental controls.  

Guided Access –  Part 3 – How to Make Sure Your Child is Just Reading

Step 1: Download the Kindle App and log-in.

Step 2: Triple-click the Home Button. Guided Access is enabled. Now, all your child can do is READ!

Step 3: Set reading goals by using Time Limits.

The above instructions are for an iPad–the settings on an iPhone are a little different. Time Limits are found under options.

Apple, as kids get older they’re using multiple apps for homework, so Guided Access doesn’t really work very well unless you’re micromanaging your kids. This is where we could use a lot more help!

How to Easily Protect Your Child’s Basic Privacy

Step 1: Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Sharing.

Step 2: Select which apps you want to block from sharing your device’s Location (for my kids, I turn off Location Sharing for every app except Find iPhone and Weather).

Step 3: You definitely want to make sure location sharing is turned off for Camera to prevent geotagging. If it’s not, then that means the location where every picture is taken is stored in the metadata– and when that picture is shared, so is the location, which could be your house.

Step 4: Go to Systems Services (at the bottom) and tap.

Step 5: Tap Significant locations. Now you see not only everywhere that device has been, but also the date and the duration. Admittedly this is pretty creepy.  The stated purpose of this feature is to provide contextual information for apps like maps and calendar, but essentially Apple is storing your child’s most frequented locations.

Whether you turn this setting on or off really depends on where you fall on the privacy spectrum. Some parents may actually want to know their kid’s historical locations, and some kids may be really bummed to learn their parents can find out.

Apple, you really should make parents more aware that you are tracking this type of data on their kids (and really, everyone).

How to Limit Functionality On a Phone – Part 1

A lot of parents feel like giving their kids a phone is like opening up Pandora’s box; I know I did. But after researching, I was surprised to learn how much functionality you can actually turn off.

Step 1: Set up Restrictions–this is one of Apple’s most important parental controls. Go to Settings > General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions.

Step 2: Create a Passcode that is different from your device passcode and one that your child will never guess. Make sure to store it in a safe place so–if you forget it, accessing restrictions will require intervention from Apple.

Step 3: Decide which apps you want to allow.  Once these are turned off, they will be locked under Restrictions, so only you can make changes.

Step 4: Make sure AirDrop is turned off. It’s basically a file sharing features, so it’s best if it’s turned off so as to avoid a stranger sending your child unwanted information.

Step 5: Turn off Apple’s News (recommended for younger children).

Step 6: You can delete Mail by holding down the app until it giggles and selecting the “x.”

Step 7: If your child has an iPad without a cellular/data plan, then you can turn off texting.  Go to Settings > Messages > toggle off iMessage > toggle off.

Unfortunately, there is no way to completely turn off texting on devices with cellular service, so Apple, clearly this is an area where we need your help.

How to Block Explicit Content from Your Devices

This is one of the biggest concerns that we parents have–our kids innocently googling and stumbling on things they shouldn’t see. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to prevent.

Step 1: Go to Settings > General > Restrictions (previously enabled in How to Limit Functionality on a Phone).

Step 2: Find the section called Allowed Content: Select ratings for the United States.

Step 3: Turn off explicit content settings (shockingly, these are the default settings), and slide to the off position for:

Music and Podcasts



Websites (limit adult content)

Step 4: Go to Movies and TV Shows to select what rating level you’re comfortable with for your child.

Once you’ve adjusted these settings on your child’s devices, you’ll likely want to revisit them on your devices too.

Apple, so many parents are not aware of this functionality, and this could be so easily fixed this during device setup or Apple ID creation.

How to Manage Which Apps Your Child Can Access

Parents do really have a lot of control over what their kids can do on their devices. And you can decide, or in a conversation with your child, which apps are appropriate for them.

Option 1: For the Most Control…

Step 1: Download all the apps you want your child to have access.

Step 2: Turn off the App Store by going to Settings > General > Restrictions.


Option 2: To Give Your Kids Freedom to the Explore the App Store:

Step 1: Settings > General > Restrictions.

Step 2: Select Apps (under Allowed Content section), and choose which apps your children can download by applying age-level restrictions.

Step 3: Your child will have the freedom to download any apps from the App Store within the age-appropriate range that you selected.


Note: if your child is 11, and you set Restrictions to up to 12 (by selecting 9+), then your child won’t be able to download apps like YouTube. This seems fairly straightforward until you realize that Pinterest has disappeared on your child’s device (it’s rated 12+). The only way to override this is to allow all apps up to 17 by checking 12+.

Apple, this is a major area for improvement–parents need more flexibility so they can only allow the apps they’re comfortable with.  


Option 3: Somewhere in Between–You Want to Give Your Kids Freedom to Explore, but Want to Limit the Number of Apps They Can Download

Some parents what to keep close tabs on what their kids download, so they can familiarize themselves with what their kids are doing, check the app’s privacy settings, disallow multiplayer games, confirm the app is quality content and to delete apps with inappropriate ads.

Step 1: Settings > General > Restrictions.

Step 2: Under Allowed Content, select Password Settings, Always require. This means that your child will have to entire her Apple ID password every time she downloads an app instead of letting her download as many as she wants within 15 minutes.

Note: Apple has a feature called Asked to Buy found under Family Sharing, but I find it clunky, so instead to manage App downloads, I make sure my kids don’t know their Apple ID password.

How to Manage Web Surfing for Your Child

When your kids start researching projects on the web in 2nd grade, you may want to limit the number of websites they can browse:

Step 1: Settings > General > Restrictions.

Step 2: Tap Websites.

Step 3: Tap Specific Websites Only.

Step 4: Add a Website.


The other way you can manage what your kids can surf is to block certain websites. This is important for when you want to be assured your child is researching for school as opposed to watching the web-browser based versions of YouTube and Netflix. To prevent potential distractions, disallow specifics websites by:

Step 1: Settings > General > Restrictions.

Step 2: Tap Websites.

Step 3: Under Never Allow, tap Add a Website and type in the name.

While this starting a point to directing you’re kids web surfing activities, it’s far from a complete solution.

How to Stop Binge-Watching Before It Starts

It’s happened to all of us–parents and children. The cliffhanger’s really good, and before we can reach the remote, the next episode already has already started playing. Our little people are still learning self-control, so it’s especially hard for them to turn it off, and then we parents then have to play the heavy.  We now know that this Automatic Playing feature is one of the levers that the major tech companies and content providers have used to keep us hooked and was designed with this intentionality. To turn off this Automatic Playing on our favorite content providers follow these steps:

To turn off this Automatic Playing on our favorite content providers follow these steps:


Step 1: On the their website, find the Automatic Player feature in the top right corner when a video is playing.

Step 2: Slide it to the off position.

Step 3: Repeat these steps on every iOS device and computer where you watch YouTube.

You’d like to turn this feature off on YouTube Kids but this option is nowhere to be found. Google, you might want to get on fixing this right quick! And parents, please know that YouTube Kid’s content is questionable.  Further, in its terms of service, YouTube is very clear that it’s intended for kids 13 years and older, and Apple takes it one step further by flagging the YouTube app as 17+. 


Step 1: Go to their website, and under Your Account and Lists, navigate down to Your Video Library.

Step 2: Select Settings (next to your video library).

Step 3: Navigate down to Player Preferences.

Step 4: Select the Off button.

Note: Changing this setting on your computer, will also overlay to your TV.  However, you will have to turn this off for each of your iOS devices in Prime Video in Settings.



Step 1: Go to your Profile.

Step 2: Tap the menu button.

Step 3: Scroll down to account and select.

Step 4: Scroll down to the very end to My Profile and select Playback Settings.

Step 5: Uncheck Auto-play.

Step 6: Do these for all your adult profiles in your household.

Note: Auto-play is not the default setting for Children’s profiles, but while the next episode will not automatically be threading, your kids will see an advertisement for what’s up next.

Final Thoughts

The introduction of mobile technology represents the biggest sociological change of our time and has added so many layers of complications to the parenting role. Now that we’re playing the Chief Technology Officers of our household, we share in this parenting journey together and need all the help we can get!

We’ve opened  The Friend Forum to create more conversation around these types of issues.  Come Join Us!

And sign up for our weekly Friend Letters to Be In The Know and Boost Your Tech Savvy!:



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