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12 Ingenious iOS Screen Time Hacks (and how to beat them!)

12 iOS Screen Time Hacks

12 Ingenious iOS Screen Time Hacks (and how to beat them!)

When it comes to getting more screen time, the creativity of kids goes up by a power of 100. Outsmarting parents at every turn! Not today. We’ll explain 12 Screen Time hacks FROM THE KIDS, and then provide steps for beating the hackers.

Parents are more concerned than ever about how their kids use technology. Many blog posts explain risks related to excessive screen time, online predators, and exposure to graphic, sexualized content.

With the release of iOS 12 in 2018, Apple sought to assuage parents’ digital concerns with the release of Screen Time. For some families, Screen Time has been helpful. As it pertains to preventing explicit content in Safari and other hidden browsers, Screen Time’s Content & Privacy Restrictions does a decent job.

But when it comes to actually controlling SCREEN TIME, the Screen Time feature has been hacked numerous ways by motivated, clever, downright prodigious teens who will not be thwarted from using their precious iPhones.

Here are 12 Screen Time hacks and our very best ideas for stopping them. 

 

1. My kid is changing the time zone in Settings in order to evade Downtime.

Give your kid a high five for this smart hack. Nice. Then, remind them that you’re smarter. Find your old report card if you have to. Next…

  1. Grab your kid’s iPhone.
  2. If Screen Time is enabled, you’ll need to disable it for these steps.
  3. Go to Settings -> General -> Date & Time -> toggle on “Set Automatically.”
  4. Go back to Screen Time. Enable Screen Time. **Important – don’t forget to also tap “Use Screen Time Passcode.” Set the 4-digit code. Don’t forget it. Don’t tell your kids!
  5. Tap “Content & Privacy Restrictions” and toggle them on at the top.
  6. Further down tap “Location Services.”
  7. Go all the way down to “System Services.”
  8. Ensure that “Setting Time Zone” is toggled on. Tap “Back.”
  9. At the top of the Location Services screen, check “Don’t Allow Changes.” After you do this, if you scroll down on the screen, you sill see everything greyed out except System Services. But if you tap it, you’ll then see that “Setting Time Zone” is greyed out, which is what we want.
  10. If you go back out to “Settings,” and then “Date & Time,” you’ll now see that it’s greyed out and can’t be changed.

2. Even though the YouTube App is gone, my kid is still watching YouTube videos through iMessage.

So clever! But easy to squash this Screen Time hack.

  1. Screen Time -> Content & Privacy Restrictions -> Content Restrictions -> enter passcode -> Web Content.
  2. Check “Limit Adult Websites.”
  3. **This is the key. Under “NEVER ALLOW” you have to type in the following web address exactly like this: https://www.youtube.com
  4. Then, back out from there. If you miss one character in the URL above, it won’t work.
  5. Some parents have also noted that if App Limits or Downtime have been reached for the YouTube app, then a kid can also continue perusing YouTube videos through the iMessage widget (if you’re not sure what the “iMessage widget” is see the image below). This is true. Therefore, if this is being abused, you will need to remove the iMessage app from the “Always Allowed” list. Screen Time -> Always Allowed -> then remove it from Allowed Apps by tappining the red circle with the white minus sign.

iMessage Widget

3. My kid figured out my 4-digit passcode. 

Pick a harder code. Seriously. They may be lurking over your shoulder when you type it in, or looking at the reflection from your glasses. I’m not making this stuff up! They hunt for screen time like starving hyenas.

4. My kid enabled screen recording in order to figure out my 4-digit passcode.

Now, that’s smart. But we can disable screen recording!

  1. On your kid’s iPhone, Screen Time -> Content & Privacy Restrictions -> Content Restrictions -> then scroll down to the bottom.
  2. Tap “Screen Recording” and check “Don’t Allow.”
  3. Or, if you want to keep it enabled, just look for the red, recording dot at the top of the device when you go to type in the passcode. If you see it, throw them in mommy-prison. Busted!

5. I have set App Limits, but my kid can keep using the apps after the limit is reached!

One toggle makes all the difference. You can do this!

  1. On your kid’s iPhone, Screen Time -> App Limits -> Add Limit.
  2. Then, select the category or individual app (if using iOS 13) you want to limit. Tap “Next.”
  3. Set your time limit, and **this is the key,** make sure “Block at End of Limit” is toggled on. See the image below.

Screen Time Hacks - Protect Young Eyes

6. My kid found software for his MacBook or PC that allowed him to “hack” the 4-digit, Screen Time passcode.

Yes, this has been an issue. We’ve written a whole blog post about this one. You can stop it, but it’s not easy.

7. My kid did a factory reset of the phone in order to get around Screen Time. 

This is the most drastic step. If a kid is using their own Apple ID (since they would have to type it back in once the phone reboots) there’s not much you can do to stop this hack.

Be observant! If you’re monitoring their usage through Screen Time on your phone, you would notice a significant decrease in usage if a reset had occurred (since Screen Time would no longer be tracking usage).

If a kid is willing to factory reset their phone for more access, then there are greater issues to deal with. I might argue the kid isn’t mature enough for an internet-ready, portable device of their own.

8. My kid is using Siri to send text messages when I have iMessage turned off during Downtime or App Limits have been reached.

Ok, for this hack it’s time to turn off Siri. Fun fact – I met the woman who is the voice of Siri in 2016 in Boston!

  1. On your kid’s iPhone, Screen Time -> Content & Privacy Restrictions -> enter your 4-digit Screen Time passcode.
  2. Tap “Allowed Apps” and then Toggle off “Siri & Dictation.”

9. After Downtime enables, my kid takes a screenshot, and uses the picture to select “send” and a secret iMessage portal comes up.

Wow. We have to marvel at their creativity. If they could only apply this same grit and stamina to algebra. Friends, this is one of the few that we can’t prevent. You can monitor for it with a service like Bark, which can give parents “after-the-fact” insight into iMessage (texting) activity. Have you heard of Bark?

Learn more about Bark – the best social monitoring app we’ve seen!

Bark Parental Controls

10. Once App Limits have been reached, my kid just deletes the app, and then re-downloads the app from iCloud WITHOUT Family Sharing permission, which allows them to continue playing.

Don’t we all wish Apple would allow us to permanently delete apps from a child’s Apple ID? In the meantime, we need to turn off the ability to delete apps.

  1. Content & Privacy Restrictions -> iTunes & App Store Purchases -> type in your 4-digit Screen Time passcode.
  2. You might consider making all 3 choices read “Don’t Allow” per the screen shot below.

Screen Time Hacks - Protect Young Eyes

11. After my kid reaches App Limits, he can still access iMessage (texting) by swiping down, tapping any iMessage notification, and BOOM, he’s sending a text message to friends!

The only fix we can come up with is tedious. It requires you to access the device immediately before Downtime begins. Swipe down on the phone, reveal the notifications panel, and then clear out the notifications before Downtime kicks in.

12. My kid is getting around App Limits on texting (iMessage) by going to the Contacts app. From there, they can share a contact via text, and iMessage comes back up!

There’s a general frustration felt by all iOS Screen Time parents about the continued lack of iMessage parental controls. Here’s how to stop this Screen Time hack by turning off the Contacts app:

  1. On your kid’s iPhone, Screen Time -> App Limits -> enter your 4-digit Screen Time passcode.
  2. Select “Productivity” and then the Contacts app. Tap “Next” in the upper, right corner.
  3. On the next page, give the Contacts app a really low time, like 1-minute (the minimum allowable by Apple) so that the limit is reached quickly.
  4. If you go back to the home screen where the app is, it should be greyed out after that 1 minute.

And, there you have it! We’re sure there are more Screen Time hacks, but these are some of the more significant ones that parents have mentioned. I’ll never understand why Apple doesn’t hire 10 junior high kids to test their products. Give them each a free iPhone, and they’ll do anything.

There are many other toggles that need to be set in Screen Time. iOS 13 also has new settings (iOS 13 started rolling out on Sept. 19). If you want to learn more about iOS 13, we’ve written about every toggle that matters.

Read the iOS 13 Blog Post

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33 thoughts on “12 Ingenious iOS Screen Time Hacks (and how to beat them!)”

  1. Okay I’m feeling a little dumb…I have “block at end of limit” toggled on, but it seems like she STILL is able to access everything past app limits. I don’t know if she’s getting to things through Safari, but even that is set to just 1 minute and blocked at the end of the limit (although she uses it for way longer than 1 minute every day). I have All Apps & Categories set to just one hour, to limit her use to an hour, and Block at End of Limit toggled on, but somehow, she is still on her phone for HOURS. I also have Downtime set up for pretty much ALL DAY (as a way to remove all access except phone calls/texts when she’s grounded from technology), but she’s still accessing everything. I used to think I was pretty tech savvy, and clearly, I am not.

  2. You might ask her if she’s doing anything special. Like maybe using a different Apple ID than the one that is set up through Family Sharing and Screen Time? If you haven’t locked “Account Changes” under Content & Privacy Restrictions, then anyone can remove the Apple ID and get around everything you’ve set up. Maybe give that a try!

    Chris

  3. everything in this article… and it’s not my middle schoolers who are bypassing but my 3rd and 5th graders hahahah

  4. So easy to disable screen time without any of those methods
    I coded a .mobileconfig File that when installed disabled screen time
    Watcha gonna do bout that

  5. Hi Chris,

    My son has found a way to access anything on the internet by going thru the Settings app, which I can’t place a limit on. No other reason for him to spend that many hours in that app. Any thoughts on how to restrict that one?

  6. Matthew Milunic

    I usually use quite a few of these, but you did miss one. In later versions of iOS that came before iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 if you go into Safari, YouTube and get into fullscreen before the time out screen appears you can stay in full screen.

  7. fun fact: Susan Bennet has not been the voice of Siri for quite some time now – it‘s now computer-generated

  8. One trick my kid has used to watch video (in, say, Safari) is to hit play and quickly tap the icon for full screen video. Then the Screen Time screen pops up “behind” the video. As long as he doesn’t come out of full screen, he can watch as much video as he likes.

  9. We don’t set time limits through the phone and expect it to work. If we communicate a hard rule and it is broken, our son will lose his phone for at least a week. So if he plays his phone or uses it at all after the time we have set as the limit, he loses his phone. How do we know? We check “battery usage” in the morning. You can see if his phone was used during the night at all. Obviously we have limits on adult content as well. We also sometimes just ask that he “turn it in” to us at the allotted time, which is the best way to ensure he isn’t on it. I don’t trust Apple to do my job for me as a parent.

  10. i have 2 questions. 1) when my daughter’s screen time kicks in, grays the app. there is an option to extend the limit by 1 min, etc… how can i remove this. she is constantly extending it. 2) i go to settings th change the screen time password, i input thw new number, and appears to set. however, when i got back to check it, it does take it and the old one is still active. what am i doing wrong.

  11. My kid was sending imessages and texts through games. He would select share score or something similar and a message would pop up, delete the content and type whatever he wanted.

  12. Did the contacts time lock and when you access the phone app and select contacts you can still share them through that app so an iMessage will still pop up.

  13. Hi – wow, that’s a good one that we were not aware of. And it doesn’t look like you can turn off the phone app under “Always Allow,” which means I don’t think there’s a way to beat this one. The lack of iMessage controls is so frustrating. I’m hoping this article will shine a bright light on this so that Apple does something.

    Best to you!
    Chris

  14. For your #1, I bet it’s because you need to set the toggle in our hack #5 in the blog post. For #2, I have found that Screen Time in iOS 13 is fickle about changing the Screen Time passcode. The only way to fix this that I’ve found is to completely shut off Screen Time, then toggle it back on and set the new passcode. This is a complete pain because it forces you to reset all of the other Screen Time settings. I plan to call Apple about this one to get their attention on it.

    Best to you!
    Chris

  15. That’s a good one – I was not aware of that one and I’ll add it to the list that I bring to Apple’s attention from time to time. Those ingenious kids!

  16. Smart! Well done. There are ways to stop that with a profile + password, but I’m guessing your parents might not want to spend time figuring that out, and I’m guessing you’re the type of kid who would just use a different device or get around it another way. If that’s true, just be careful. The internet is bigger and more insidious that you can handle if you’re not careful. I don’t suggest these controls because I don’t trust kids like you. I suggest them because I’ve seen darkness and evil online that you can’t fathom.

    Chris

  17. My kids already knew about most of these, but no one is mentioning this: I have reported the Facetime screen time bypass to Apple 4 times now since IOS 12 was released. Once Screen Time is enabled and you can lock down every app (except the phone app of course)… my 11 year old daughter figured out that she can go into her Phone app recent history and click on any Facetime call she made previously and it will dial that contact in Facetime, although the actual Facetime App is completely locked on the home screen. Apple’s latest message to me was they were aware of this bypass and no solution in sight. Incredible! $1 Trillion dollar company with brilliant engineers and get owned by an 11 year old. Amazing!

  18. I have another one for you to add to your list! I’m not a parent, but I filed this bug with Apple a few months ago, and it’s been ignored.

    If you set up a website to have content restrictions on a website, you can nonetheless right-click a link to that page in Safari, and download the webpage. Then you can view it offline, absent the content restriction. For most static websites, this does the trick pretty well. All you would need to do is Google search for the site you’re looking to bypass restrictions for, and then download the page.

    Hope you can get this loophole (and the others mentioned above) to the right place!

  19. I do IT for a living. So tech solutions I’m quite familiar with…

    One ingenious parenting solution to all of these (and future) hacks: “If I catch you doing any of this sh!#$%@#$t then I will ground you from your phone for a day/week/month”

    Done.

    I don’t monitor my kiddos use — I let them know what the expectations are, what the consequences will be, and then enforce them when a problem occurs. Basic kiddo/employee/pet managment.

  20. I’ve tried everything to block WhatsApp during downtime but it won’t grey out!,!,!,!,!?.?.

    Tried making sure it’s not on the always allow list.
    Added a time limit of 1min for all apps.
    Updated to latest software.
    Reset phone.
    Deleted app and reinstalled it.

    Every other restriction works but WhatsApp doesn’t?

    Anyone have some ideas?

  21. I don’t believe any child should have access to the internet without direct and actively attentive parental supervision. Don’t buy your child a smart phone, but them a flip phone for calls and txt’s, and take it away when it’s time. The Electro-Magnetic Radiation produced by your phone is shown to cause harm on a cellular level and increase risk of certain cancers. One study that I read showed a 40% increase chance of some kinds of brain cancer after 10 years of cell phone use where the phone is held up to the ear. Until the data is gathered, assessed and made sense of by an independent 3rd party (not working for the communications industry or some other nonsensical conflict of interest), I don’t think children should have cell phones. And with teenagers especially: it WILL become a mobile porn viewing device covered in nasty….why even go there? Teach your children to maintain themselves during this developmentally critical time of their lives and talk with them yourself, don’t leave it up to the smart phone. And when your child is using technology, you should be able to see their screen at all times. I got away with more than anyone could have guessed when I was a teen, and a tech savvy teen at that. Now as an adult, I see how it has affected my life and had I known or had my parents been aware of my sneakiness, all I can say is that it wasn’t worth it and now I have shit I’ve got to work through so I can lead a normal life. And by normal, I mean even seemingly simple stuff like treating women with respect.

  22. I have an iPhone 7, and my son has an iPhone 6. So my phone is on iOS 13, and his is iOS 12.

    Also having problems with being able to bypass downtime with the “one more minute” feature popping up, or being able to respond via the notifications center.

    Separately, I’ve turned off notifications for iMessage and emails – and I have myself as the “emergency contact” – which will break through if the phone is in “do not disturb” – but is there a way that texts from myself can be sent as notifications to him, but texts or emails from others will not…?

  23. My kid has discovered that his Safari history isn’t recorded if he opens a link from Google Docs on his iPad. If he wants to browse without an audit trail (even with all the Screen Time controls properly configured) AND have his Screen Time report show that time as Google Docs / Productivity app usage, rather than Safari / web site time, he’s all set.

    I contacted Apple Support about this, and because I provided technical detail referring to the use of SFSafariViewController (the Safari component Google Docs uses to open a link), they told me they couldn’t help me and sent me to Developer Support, which then sent me back to regular Tech Support (all this over the space of several days). I have not had the heart to try again to get Tech Support to engage.

    It’s easily reproducible – any chance you would be willing to add this to your list of items to take to Apple for resolution?

  24. Yes, thank you. I also heard of this one through another parent, and you’re right, total, unpreventable hack. I’m adding it to our list that we’re brining to Apple.

    Chris

  25. Hi, do you see the “Communications Limits” feature in your Screen Time options? You might be able to achieve that kind of control over the texts and emails from others in there, although we have not tested that exact scenario.

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