Apple’s Parental Controls: The Overview

In September of 2018, Apple released a new set of parental controls, called Screen Time, that offer parents a much more robust set of tools to manage their children’s device usage.  This move was largely in response to pressure from institutional investors who criticized Apple for not doing enough to protect children from the ill effects of screens.

Heard It Friend a Friend joined in the call for better parental controls, and we were pleased to see that Apple not only streamlined the setup, but also now gives parents the ability to set time limits for specific apps. However, improvements are still needed, and parents should know that every iPhone and iPad is still sold with settings defaulted to allow explicit content. Parents must change these settings as a first step towards protecting their children online. 

The Main Features

Guided Access

At the most basic level, Apple offers Guided Access which works well for young children. It enables a parent to lock any iPad or iPhone to just one app and set time limits. It’s a great option if you occasionally share your phone or iPad with your child, or if siblings share a device.

It’s super-easy to set up and ensures that your child can only view what you permit. It can help you to start teaching your kids good digital habits as it reinforces that screen time has limits. 

Click here for Instructions to Enable Guided Access

Screen Time

Apple’s latest functionality allows parents to manage their kids’ digital access on iOS devices. Parents can:

  • Determine what functionality and apps to allow (e.g. Safari, FaceTime)
  • Set specific time limits for specific apps
  • Review children’s web browsing history
  • Limit explicit content and sharing of private information
  • Manage settings and monitor activity from their own phone
  • Turn iPads and iPhones completely off (except for phone calls)

Screen Time only works on devices that have upgraded to iOS 12, so it’s not available on many older devices. It also does not work for Mac computers, so does not offer parents a complete solution. 

While Screen Time controls present parents with some new and better options, it is fairly easy for a determined child to circumvent. See ‘Our Complete Guide to Apple’s Screen Time‘ for further details

Family Sharing

In order to take full advantage of the benefits of the Screen Time functionality, including managing Screen Time from your phone, parents must set up Family Sharing. Each child will need his or her own Apple ID, and you can only create an Apple ID for children under 13 through Family Sharing.  

Beyond Screen Time, the other main benefits of Family Sharing include:

  • Paying just once for content and sharing it across the family
  • Tracking your family members’ locations (at least their devices)
  • Approving your child’s app downloads remotely with the Ask to Buy feature
  • Subscribing to Apple Music Family Plan

Setting up an Apple ID allows your child to:

  • Download and make purchases from the App and iTunes Store which are stored separately from other family accounts
  • Make and receive Facetime calls, send and receive messages in iMessage and send and receive emails.
  • Find your phone when lost by signing into your iCloud account

In the process of creating an Apple ID, an iCloud email will be generated and you will select a password. These log-in credentials are needed to sign into your child’s iCloud account.

iCloud is essentially storage space for all data.

  • Photos, videos, notes, contacts, calendar, downloads etc. are all backed up to iCloud and can be accessed via your iCloud account  
  • If syncing is enabled, iCloud keeps your data updated across devices, so that changes made on one device appear on all others

An Apple ID, iCloud account and iTunes account are essentially synonymous.

Other Parental Control Options for older Apple iOS Devices

For devices ineligible for iOS 12, parents still have the option to use Apple’s Restrictions to:

  • Determine what functionality and apps to allow (e.g. Safari, Facetime)
  • Limit explicit content and the sharing of private information

The main drawbacks are that parents cannot turn devices off, set time limits or differentiate between screen time for entertainment versus for fun.

Parents still need to create an Apple ID for children under 13, and the same parameters for Family Sharing as described above apply.


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