Nintendo’s new Switch offers the best of both worlds when it comes to gaming hardware. It’s a home device that you can easily drop into a dock and play HD games on your television, but it’s also a portable system that can be played anywhere you are, or even propped up with a kickstand for on-the-go multiplayer showdowns.
However, if you’re a parent, that sort of approach adds another layer of difficulty if you’re concerned about screen time limits, or want to keep your kids away from mature content or online communication. If you can’t rely on the hardware being played, let alone stored in a single place, how will you keep an eye on how it’s being used?
Luckily, Nintendo thought ahead on this front—and then went the extra mile. The Nintendo Switch Parental Controls app is available for iPhone and iPad on the App Store, and it pairs with your console to give you anytime access to the kid-centric settings. And it lets you do more than just set limits, as well. Here’s a look at what the app does, and how to make the most of it.
You’ll need to track down the Switch console to get started, at least, since it’s required for the setup process. Be sure to grab the Parental Controls app too, of course, and then fire it up when you’re ready to start. You’ll need a free Nintendo Account to use the app, but if you already have a Switch up and running, chances are good that you’re set on that front.
Once you’re signed in on the app, you’ll be given a six-digit code and prompted to grab the Switch console. From the console’s own screen, you’ll access the Home menu by pressing the little house-shaped button on the lower right from wherever you are. Once there, tap the settings dial on the screen and enter Parental Controls listed on the left side. From there, tap “Parental Controls Settings” and opt to use your smart device.
Entering and confirming the code from your iPhone or iPad only takes a moment, and then you can start fiddling with the settings or complete setup. Now you’re paired. And if somehow you have multiple Switch consoles in play, you can add extra devices and manage them all from the same app.
You don’t have to use the Parental Controls app, but without it, the Switch console itself only allows you to restrict which content is available—you won’t be able to set time limits or see what’s being played on the device. Using the iOS app gives you a lot of advantages, and you’ll need to use the app to make any changes in the future so long as it remains paired.
Many parents are apprehensive about letting their kids sit in front of a game system for hours on end. We get it—and so does Nintendo. That’s why the app lets you set time limits for system usage, and gives you some flexibility to set a schedule or adjust as needed.
You can set a single time limit that applies to every day of the week, or create your own routine with individual daily limits. In either case, you can set a per-day limit of between 15 minutes and six hours of play (in 15-minute increments), or even put zero minutes if you don’t want it played on weekdays, for example. You can also set a bedtime alarm, between 6:00pm and 11:45pm, that puts a hard limit on when kids can stop playing the device each night.
Aside from the bedtime-specific alarm, you also can decide how sternly you want the Switch to enforce your limits. The remaining time is displayed on the system’s Home screen, giving kids a window into how much more they can play each day, and a small pop-up notification will appear when time is nearly depleted. Once the time limit is hit, the system will display a notification on the upper left corner of the screen, plus a ringing sound will play.
That can be the extent of it, and you can either trust your kids to honor the restrictions or keep an eye on their remaining time—or you can choose the Suspend Software option, which immediately suspends the game and prevents further play. It’s an abrupt end that could leave kids upset and/or unable to save their progress, but it’s there if you need it.
Currently, you can only set global limits rather than per-user settings, which might not be totally useful in multi-child families. As for you and other adults, you can circumvent all of this with a PIN code on the system. When the kids are in bed and you want to pump some hours into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you won’t be held back by restrictions.
Content limits and activity
Traditional content restrictions are also available, letting you block certain kinds of games based on rating and your child’s age. You can choose from Teen, Pre-Teen, and Child presets, or define your own settings within—and pick from an array of different software ratings organizations around the world, since the Switch itself is both mobile and lacks regional restrictions. The limits apply to both downloaded and retail cartridge games.
Right now, there aren’t any Mature-rated games available on the Switch that you would need to restrict from teenagers, but there are a couple Teen-rated games that you might want to keep from your younger kids. In any case, it’s your call, and you’ll be primed when more adult-centric games hit the Switch in the future.
Besides games, you can also choose whether players are able to communicate with other online users, whether it’s via text or sending images, and block the ability to share screenshots via social media. Want to isolate the system from the wider internet, aside from accessing the eShop for digital game purchases? That’s totally up to you.
Lastly, the Switch Parental Controls app offers an activity log that shows which games were played on which days, and for how long. You’ll also have a monthly summary available, and while other recent Nintendo systems have had a built-in activity log available from the main menu, the app is the only way to currently access that data. It’s why a lot of childless Switch owners have been downloading the app.
In any case, it has real value to you as a parent. Not only does it let you keep tabs on what your kids are playing, which can be helpful if you choose not to implement content or time limits, but it also gives you an opportunity to strike up a conversation and engage with them on which games they’re enjoying. And if you don’t know where to start on that front, just tap any of the game icons to bring up Nintendo’s official website listing for each game.