Two Screen Time tips to keep kids from working around limits

Screen Time is a powerful tool for managing kids’ screen time, but a couple settings make a big difference.

ios13 screentime
Apple

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The Screen Time feature available across iOS 13, iPadOS 13, and macOS 10.15 Catalina—as well as being part of Family Sharing—provides parents with strong tools for keeping track of their kids’ screen usage and making sure they can’t use their devices at all hours or for purposes that a parent hasn’t allowed.

But I’ve found in my own household and from readers there are two critical settings surprisingly easy to miss that let kids bypass management settings.

In Settings > Screen Time, you need to start with Use Screen Time Passcode. (You can also manage this in Family Sharing from Settings > account name > Family Sharing > Screen Time.) You can set a quiet period, called Downtime, control which apps may be used, and set which contacts are ok for phone calls and messages during regular time and Downtime.

mac911 downtime block screen time IDG

Block at Downtime puts the teeth into Screen Time limits.

What I have found I’ve sometimes missed and readers have, too, is a critical step: in the Downtime section, the Block at Downtime button at the bottom has to be set to on. If it’s off, your child will be notified when they launch an app or visit a website that’s not whitelisted, but they can tap to get more time or ignore the restriction for the rest of the day. (I have Downtime turned on for my devices to remind me to stop using software in the evening, but when I still need access, I can just tap.)

With Block at Downtime enabled, they can typically tap to get one more minute in an app or, with Family Sharing enabled, request more time. Or they can ask you in person to enter a code to grant more time. Without it, it’s self regulated, though you can check via the Screen Time activity view if they’re using it outside of agreed-upon hours.

The other setting to pay attention to in Screen Time > Communication Limits. You can opt to restrict calls, texts, and audio/video chat separately for at all times and during Downtime. However, if you don’t flip the Allow Contact Editing switch off, youth have a way around this: they can add phone numbers and email addresses to existing approved contacts.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Eric.

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