How do I set up iOS 12 Screen Time Controls?

How do I set up iOS 12 Screen Time

How do I set up iOS 12 Screen Time Controls?

Note: if you’re running iOS 13 or 14, you’ll want to visit our always-updated, comprehensive iOS Parental Control Guide here.

iOS 12 Is Great for Parents. Bad for Businesses.

We’ve been running the iOS 12 beta this summer and we’re happy with the results. There’s always bugs to work out, but on the eve of Apple’s final release, we wanted to show parents exactly how to maximize the new Screen Time Parental Controls that Apple has been touting for months.

Screen Time will give parents the type of control over their child’s iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) that used to be available only through a paid service, like Circle or OurPact. But Apple is now erasing a large chunk of the value these parental controls companies used to provide. It will be interesting to see who survives.

BTW – if you want to get iOS 12 before everyone else, then become a beta tester.

If you’re still running something other than iOS 12 and you need to set up Apple’s Restrictions, we explain those here.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Maximizing iOS 12 Screen Time

Set-up Part 1: Establish Family Sharing*

*Note: if your child is already part of your Family Sharing, then skip down to Set-up Part 2 below. Also, whether you’re running iOS 12 or a previous iOS version, these Family Sharing steps will be the same up until step 10.

Getting the most out of Screen Time starts with understanding Apple’s Family Sharing feature. On a parent phone, you’ll want to establish a parent as the “Organizer,” for the family, who functions as the Administrator. If you’ve never set up Family Sharing before, it’s done by following steps (1) through (7) below.

iOS 12 Family Sharing


You can add up to six (6) family members under Family Sharing. If you want to add a child who is <13-years-old, you would click “Create a Child Account” in step (5) below. **Beware, once you add a child who is <13 to your family, you cannot remove that child without transferring him/her to another family. Apparently, Apple doesn’t want any child’s digital oversight to be simply deleted.

If you select “Invite in Person” from step (5) below, which is what we recommend, then you will see the screen shot with step (7). Just type in the Apple ID and password for your child’s account (yes, you should know their Apple ID and password!). **Note, Apple pays very close attention to the birthday attached to your child’s Apple ID, so make sure it’s correct.

Example: if you attempt to add someone as a “child” in Family Sharing, but their birthday makes them 20-years-old, Apple will classify them as an adult. THIS IS MASSIVELY IMPORTANT, because you cannot exert any of the iOS 12 Screen Time controls over anyone who is >18 according to the birthday on their Apple ID.


iOS 12 Protect Young Eyes


After you input your child’s Apple ID and password, you will be asked a series of questions about whether you want to approve their App downloads (yes – step (8) below) and share their location (also yes – step (10) below). Whether or not you want to share purchases made by your child on your own phone is your decision (step (9) below).

You’re then ready to start setting up Screen Time! Screen Time replaces the former Restrictions that parents know and love. Don’t worry – in this case, change is good.


Apple iOS 12 Screen Time


The first Screen Time step is to control Downtime, which is creating a block of time when the iPhone’s apps aren’t accessible (other than those you designate, which we’ll show in later steps). Ideally, you might set Downtime to shut off the iPhone during bedtime. Maybe also during homework time. Lock in the timeframe by clicking “Set Downtime” as shown in step (12).

**Special Note – I had one parent ask us this, “In Our Pact, I can just shut down my kid’s apps, which I love. Can I do that in Screen Time?”

The answer is, “YES!” Once you’ve linked your child’s iOS device to yours, you can go into their Downtime settings and if you set the start time for something before “now,” then, Downtime will enabled and their apps will shut down per what you set up in step (21) below. It’s a bit of a hack, but until Apple provides an Our Pact like “panic” button, it seems to be the only way.

Another note about Downtime – one of its weaknesses is that you can’t set multiple and different “Downtimes.” For example, you might allow later access to apps on Friday than on Tuesday. I’m hoping Apple listens to complaints and improves this (you can leave feedback for Apple here).

Next, the set-up will lead you to App Limits, which is an allowance feature. You can allow for a certain amount of time to be spent on categories of apps during a day. FYI – iMessage is categorized under “Social Networking.”

Update! You can set time limits for individual apps, but it’s not intuitive how you get there.

Click into Screen Time -> Click “All Devices” (very top option over the graph) -> within the “Most Used” listing –> Click on whichever app to add a limit to -> Scroll down to where it says “Limits” -> “Add Limit” (could Apple make that any more obscure?)


Apple iOS 12 for Parents


The final step in the automatic set-up is simply informing you that Content & Privacy controls exist and that you should set those. You’ll see those in steps a bit later in the post. Next, establish a 4-digit code WHICH YOU DON’T WANT TO FORGET! This is just like the Restrictions code from before and if you lose it, you’ll need to factory reset the device.

Once you click “Done” as shown in step (16), your child is now officially added to the Family through Family Sharing, and has a decent layer of protection established through Screen Time. Now, we need to tighten up a few other Screen Time protections that are available in iOS 12.


Apple Screen Time - Protect Young Eyes


Set-up Part 2: Tighten up iOS 12 Screen Time Content and Privacy Controls

*Note: if your child was already part of your Family Sharing, then this is where you pick up the Screen Time set-up.

Ok, either you just added your child to Family Sharing or he/she has been added for a while. In my screen shots, you can see Leah McKenna, my fictitious, 15-year-old daughter, and now it’s time to adjust additional items in her Screen Time settings, so click on Screen Time as shown in step (17) below. If you have multiple members of Family Sharing <18- years-old, they’ll show up in the list shown at step (18) below. I’ve blocked out children other than the fictitious Leah.

If your child was already in your Family Sharing when you upgraded to iOS 12, then you’ll want to click through both Downtime (step (12) above) and App Limits (steps (13) and (14) above).

But, assuming both Downtime and App Limits are established, next we’re going to work on Always Allowed as shown in step (20) below. These are the apps that are literally always available, even if Downtime is enabled.


iOS 12 Parental Controls


As you can see in step (21) below, allowing the phone, iMessage, FaceTime and Maps are the default settings, but you can adjust these however you want. For example, maybe during homework downtime, you remove iMessage, but keep the Calculator app active.

Step (22) then starts the adventure into content and privacy settings. This is where a lot of parents will start to see territory they remember from the former Restrictions. After clicking on Content & Privacy Restrictions in step (22), you’ll want to toggle on “Content & Privacy Restrictions” as shown in step (23) and we’ll get started in “iTunes & App Store Purchases” in step (24).


Screen Time iOS 12


Step (25) below shows our recommended set-up for iTunes & App Store Purchases, disallowing kids from deleting apps they might download and disallowing in-app purchases. You can either allow or disallow “Installing Apps,” because hopefully you already set up the child to require app purchase approvals as part of Family Sharing (shown in step (8) above).

Click back and then click on the next item, which is “Allowed Apps,” as shown in step (26) below. It’s on the screen shown in step (27) where you can toggle on or off a number of items permanently, like Safari, the camera, the App Store altogether, or Books. These are really up to you. If you are using a filtered browser like Mobicip, Qustodio, or Covenant Eyes, then you’ll want to toggle Safari OFF (BTW, all three of those services are excellent).

Even if you’ve required approval for app purchases, for younger users, you might decide that they don’t even need to see a lot of things in the app store by toggling it off in step (27). Remember, there are >2 million apps in the Store, which is growing daily!

Related post: Turn off the App Store – Here’s 3 Reasons Why

**Special Note about the toggles in step 27 below. AIR DROP – this is the feature that allows me to send any media to any iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch that has Air Drop enabled. That means n 8th grade boy who has a nude photo on the school bus can pull up Air Drop and send it to every iOS device with Air Drop enabled on the bus. SERIOUSLY. Short story – toggle it off. Today!


iOS 12 Screen Time Guide


Click back and then click on the next item, which is “Content Restrictions,” as shown in step (28) below. For many parents, this section is of great interest. It’s in here where we can clean up Safari with “Limit Adult Websites” (steps 29-30). It’s also here in step (31) below where parents will want to black list certain websites that still allow inappropriate content through even with “Limit Adult Websites” enabled (Note – this is only applicable if you are using Safari as the browser. If you toggle Safari off, as recommended in step (27) above, and use a monitored browser like Mobicip, Boomerang, or Covenant Eyes, then what I’m about to say doesn’t apply).

If using Safari, even if “Limit Adult Websites” is clicked, you’ll still want to click “Add Website” in step (31) and add these websites to the “Never Allow” list:

  • Imgur.com
  • Reddit.com
  • Yandex.com (Russian search engine)
  • Yandex.ru
  • Yandex.com.tr
  • Yandex.ua
  • Dogpile.com (easy to toggle off safe search even with Screen Time enabled)
  • Flickr (lots of inappropriate content)
  • Excite.com (old search engine, can toggle off safe search even with Screen Time enabled)

With “Limit Adult Websites” enabled, you cannot delete Safari’s search history. So, parents can inspect the types of websites and searches kids are attempting by clicking Safari -> the Book icon in the bottom menu of Safari -> then the clock option at the top, right. You’ll notice the little “Clear” option in the lower right is greyed out, since “Limit Adult Websites” is enabled.

Apple Screen Time iOS 12


You’ll also want to set content limits for Books, maybe Music, Movies, and Apps as shown just above where it says step (29).

Finally, when you’re done with Content Restrictions, click back to limit the child’s ability to change the Apple account on their device an evade your control. You might want to set “Passcode Changes” and “Account Changes” per our settings shown in step (32).

After that, you’ll be able to fully control the Screen Time settings for your child’s device from anywhere. Just click Screen Time on your device (step 33), scroll down to see your child’s name (like my fictitious daughter, Leah McKenna), and select her name (step 34).

From there, you’ll also be able to review any device that your child’s Apple ID is signed in on. In our example screens, my fictitious daughter’s device is the Chris iPhone shown in step (35). If I click on Chris iPhone, I’m instantly shown her usage on that device, including the amount of time and when (step 36), and when she received notifications on what app (step 37).

iOS 12 Screen Time

iOS 12 Screen Time

Remember, Parental Controls Don’t Replace PARENTS

We’re excited for these parental controls from Apple. But we still get more excited when we see parents stepping up and intentionally guiding and teaching their kids how to use technology well. That plus parental controls like iOS 12 are a potent combination.

Now, by just clicking into your children in Family Sharing, you can see at a glance their usage. And you don’t even have to grab their device!

Maybe Google will try to follow suit with Android, which even with Family Link, lacks the control that parents need.

We hope these instructions are helpful! Do you know other Apple families? Would you please share these with them?

Frequently asked questions about iOS 12 and Apple Screen Time:

Our family shares an Apple ID. How does that impact Screen Time?

This just means that certain rules will impact all devices using the same Apple ID. For example, if you set a Downtime rule for shutting off certain apps from 10pm – 7am, this (according to Apple), “will apply to all devices that are using iCloud for screen time.” One consideration – with the arrival of Screen Time, which gives parents greater control over their child’s device(s), it might be a good time to allow your child to have his/her own Apple ID as a way to see how they do with some additional responsibility.

Do I need to upgrade both my device and my child’s device to use Screen Time?

Yes, both the parent and the child device need to be upgraded to iOS12 in order for the Screen Time controls to work on the child’s device.

What happens if I forget my 4-digit Restrictions code?

Unfortunately, there is no easy recovery without a factory reset, which will delete all data, including contacts, photos, music, and messages. This is not a decision to be made lightly! Some people have commented that it’s possible to restore an iPhone through iTunes, which is true. But, the restoration will also restore whatever Restrictions were enabled on the iTunes backup.

Can’t my son or daughter simply perform the factory reset and circumvent the 4-digit code?

Technically, yes, this is possible. But, it will mean erasing all data. If you have a high-risk child you might be devious enough to perform a factory reset, then make sure you set the Apple ID for the phone when the phone is first set up (or follow these steps to change the Apple ID for an iPhone). For iOS 7 and beyond, the Apple ID that was in place prior to the reset/reboot is required in order to initiate the device after the reset/reboot. This was put in place to deter thefts of the devices.

But, now with iOS 12 and the weekly activity reports and being able to see the amount of time that a phone is being used, as soon as an Apple ID’s time plummets, that’s a flag that maybe something has been changed.

Can I shut off my kid’s apps anytime I want to?

Yes! Once your child’s device is linked to yours, as you can see in steps (33) – (35) above, you have complete control over the device. By clicking Downtime on your child’s device and setting the “Start” time to five (5) minutes ago, you will instantly begin blocking the phone’s apps, per whatever apps you’ve allowed to stay active or inactive in step (21) above.

How Does iOS 12 Work with Popular Parental Controls?

Bark + iOS 12 Screen Time = solid monitoring of some social platforms, iMessage, and the app control explained above.

Covenant Eyes + iOS 12 Screen Time = amazing content filtering through their browsing app, Accountability Reports sent to parents, a lock on YouTube Restricted Mode in the YouTube app, and the app control explained above.

Mobicip or Qustodio (they’re similar) + iOS 12 Screen Time = amazing content filtering through their browsing app, and the app control explained above. Quite a bit of the value these services used to provide parents with app control can now be handled through iOS Screen Time.

If you can afford Bark ($9.99/month or $99 annual) + Covenant Eyes ($15.99/month or $183 annual) + iOS 12 = an amazing triple layer of protection.

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47 thoughts on “How do I set up iOS 12 Screen Time Controls?”

  1. You should look into OurPact. I was excited to see what Screen Time had to offer but unfortunately it’s really a first generation release and I doubt Apple will truly be trying to enhance it much more.

    We use Bark and OurPact – literally nothing stronger in my opinion.

    1. Hi, Scott! I’ve looked into OurPact and you’re right, they’re good. I suspect Apple isn’t done. I’m glad those solutions work well for you! I agree that they are both strong.


  2. Followed the instructions and it worked beautifully for a day and now none of it is working? I tried turning both devices off and back on and still no controls being used? Any help is appreciated!

  3. Hi!! Thanks for the amazing information! We have been using OurPact, Mobicip & Bark for all 3 of our boys for several years now (Bark just recently) and we have been beyond pleased with the combination. I’m excited about iOS 12 & your insight has helped tremendously.

    You may need to know that Mobicip has changed. They are no longer an independent browser. They now filter all search engines, including those within apps. They also offer “App Supervision”, which in my opinion, is not easy to navigate, at all. It would be great if it were, because it is interfering with the iOS app rules I have set. And I don’t want to lose Mobicips filtering capabilities because they are by far the best.

    Any insight to this issue would be greatly appreciated! I’m very tech savvy but I can’t figure this one out.

    PS! Thanks for what you’re doing for our kids and our families. It’s nice to have a “partner” in the world of technology!

    1. Hello! Yes, I’m aware of the Mobicip changes but I wasn’t aware of its interference with iOS 12 features. Have you reported this to their support? Given how many parents are using Screen Time, I doubt they would want to create constant interference. I’m also in communication with them and can inquire, but inquiry from multiple sides wouldn’t hurt. Please let me know if you find anything out (contact form on the website).

      Thanks! Chris

    1. Hi – OurPact is built specifically for parental control and its UX (user experience) supports it. Meaning, it’s very user-friendly and parents typically like it. Screen Time has complimentary features, but it’s not built specifically for parents and isn’t quite as user-friendly. It’s a good first step by Apple, and it’s free, so a user just needs to weight the pro’s and con’s.


  4. I would like to appreciate your effort that you had made in writing this blog. As i read the above information it is so useful to set up iOS 12 screen time controls in our Apple device. Thanks for sharing this kind of relevant information with us.

  5. Hi Chris! Thanks for all of your work on this! Is this possible if we as parents have Samsung and all of our kids have Apple?

  6. This all works fantastically for our 2 teens who are 14 & 15. Our 13 year old only shows iMessage, FaceTime and phone for apps to use during down time.

    We want him to be able to access calculator, music and school apps but none of these apps (or any other than the above) appear to add as exceptions.

    Is this because he is 13?

  7. If you us only Apple screen time and set texting limits or set down time. They can still text durning through the phone app by simply using the sharing feature in any and all apps. Even when limits are set.

  8. You people wonder why your children will grow up to resent you. You’re what’s known as “helicopter” parents in the parenting business and constantly monitoring your child’s everything gives them the lack of s sense of privacy, they’ll learn a loophole those children always will. Don’t even try to tell me they’ll appreciate it in their older years, it’ll just be them at 13 telling their friends how their parents never give them any privacy and why they can’t text anything real to their friends. Wait till they get a bit older and see how stable you are.

    1. Hi, I’m curious what you’re basing your conclusions on? Please point me to the study that says providing loving guidelines causes children to rebel. Also, please show me the parenting book that advises me to allow my children to use the internet privately when the Internet could care less about their privacy and even adults don’t often have the willpower to use it alone with honor and integrity. We’re far from perfect, but our team uses 75+ combined years working with families, schools, churches, and children as a foundation for our conclusions. You’re always welcome to disagree with our ideas. But, there’s probably a kinder way.

  9. Although iOS 12 has been largely inadequate, this has been a steady start from Apple. Screen Time doesn’t address the issue of cross-platform support; the average family has a variety of devices at home beyond the scrutiny of iOS controls. Here are 5 reasons why iOS parental controls & Screen Time don’t work for families at all: http://bit.ly/2AosQDx

    1. Thanks, Prithiv. To say that iOS parental controls and Screen Time don’t work at all is an overstatement. The former “limit adult content” (now Content Restrictions), Safari toggle, App Store controls, and Family Sharing have proven immensely useful for families, all of which are still intact with Screen Time. It’s far from perfect. But, definitely a step in the right direction!

      Take care, Chris

  10. Hi all, the IOS12 screen time function(s) is missing one feature that would be the answer to my problems, namely that the start-stop downtime clock times isthe same for all 7 weekdays and can not be set individually for each weekday, like the amount (hours) of use-time can. Really disappointing. Does someone know if there is an app that can solve this? No other functionality is needed as I see it, only start-stop and totan no of hours, customized in a weekday schedule. Grateful if someone knows any such app. Many thanks and keep the children safe /Fredrik, Stockholm

  11. Hello. What I would like to see is the ability to turn of backdoor use of Safari in apps such as Google Photos. I have the Covenant Eyes browser installed, but since it’s still possible to access Google images and other sites via the Privacy or Terms and Conditions pages of many apps (often via links to social platforms), I have to disable all sites other than permitted ones in the Screen Time / Restrictions settings.

  12. I have set up a Family Group and ScreenTime on my children’s phones after searching in vain for a parental control app that they couldn’t easily disable by deleting the VPN and/or profile that the app installs on their phone. All I want to do is limit their usage, turning the device on and off at certain times of the day, and restrict adult content. ScreenTime is far from perfect in that all my 12+ boys have to do is to remove themselves from the Family Group to make my control of their ScreenTime disappear. The other big drawback, as Chris mentioned, is that there is only the possibility of one Down Time, which must be the same for all 7 days of the week. That doesn’t work at all, and requires us to go in constantly to chance the downtime from homework time, to bedtime, to weekend bedtime, etc. Given that, I’m still trying to make it work because I haven’t been able to find anything better. The problem I’m having is that sometimes the changes I make take effect, and sometimes they don’t. For example, sometimes when I toggle the Content and Privacy Restrictions to ‘ON” the toggle flips itself back off. The same thing happens with DownTime. Sometimes it takes, and sometimes it doesn’t. Anyone else encounter this problem? Any solutions?

    1. I’ve not heard of the problem where toggles and switches within Screen Time don’t take effect. That doesn’t seem right. I’d contact Apple support on that one to see if they’ve seen that problem since I have not.

  13. What about time zone? My child just changed it and then all the restrictions wetter gone. Our issue is texting, anyway to turn that of with these controls?

  14. Hi. I had deleted the App Store app as recommended by covenant eyes with “restrictions “. I have looked over your iOS 12 updated info and covenant eyes info. Covenant eyes said with the iOS 12 update the App Store should have popped back up however it has not and now I am unable to find it. This is great for protecting my husband and kids but super frustrating when you spend hours trying to figure something out. Any advice on finding the App Store?

    1. Hi! Go to Settings -> Screen Time -> Content & Privacy Restrictions -> type in your passcode if you set one -> iTunes and App Store Purchases -> Installing Apps -> “Allow.” This should make the blue App Store icon reappear on your screen.


  15. Hi! Thanks for this very helpful info! I, too, have had the same experience with Apple’s screen time disabling all the settings after only one day. I constantly have to go back in & reset all the restrictions. It’s very frustrating. I plan to call Apple soon. They are always very helpful.

  16. So it is not possible to completely shut off use of texting or face time? That is the biggest problem during the school day!

    1. Hello – are you familiar with the Downtime feature? This is where you set up a time when the device can’t be used. You can set up iMessage to not be accessible during Downtime but that’s about it. You can toggle off FaceTime under Settings -> Screen Time -> Content and Privacy Restrictions -> Allowed Apps. For monitoring iMessage, your best bet is Bark.


  17. Hi Chris,
    Great step-by-step article how to use screen time. However, the mind-bottling part is it only works on my 12-year-old not my 16-year-old!!! I followed the steps and even redid it but still in vain. when I clicked on my older one, no screen time info was showing and she told me it never worked….Any idea what can I do or is there somewhere in the setting I need to check? Thanks,


  18. In the websites to block, you should add

    Anyone have any more sites that our kids can use to bypass adult filters?

  19. Hello,
    I can not figure out how to give my daughter unlimited access to the library apps (Hoopla, Overdrive and Libby.) Are those considered educational apps? I thought I could identify specific apps to allow or restrict, but it looks like I can’t. Is there any way to enter specific apps to allow/not allow? (Or, are the library apps, under the category of “educational”?)

  20. Thanks for sharing all of the details of setting up Screentime for iPhones. It’s been working well for us so far, however I just tried using the limit app feature and selected ‘all apps and categories’ and it is not working. It’s allowing my child to go over the time limit. I assumed they would not be able to use anything except for the defaults (phone and messaging) It is also frustrating that I can’t turn off messenging without having to reset everything all over again. Any thoughts on either of the two issues?

    1. Hi, starting with the second one first, the lack of control around iMessages is a continual frustration for us. As for why your child can go over the time limit, that one baffles me. You might just walk through the steps from the beginning and double check yourself. Try this – if you open Screen Time, –> App Limits, –> Add Limit -> All Apps & Categories –> then click “Next” in the upper right corner. There’s a toggle for making it that the apps lock or just have a warning. Maybe you need to set that toggle?

  21. Hi Chris, thank you for this very detailed description. I think a big loophole in the Screen Time feature is that you can circumvent it by manually changing the phone’s date and time. My daughter figured it out in no time. I believe the Date and Time setting should be moved behind the Parent Passcode, kids should not be able to change it at will.

    1. Here’s how to correct the time and lock it down so it cannot be tampered with!

      – You’ll need to have your **child’s** iOS 12 device in hand.
      – Ensure it is fully updated.
      – If the time / date / time zone are correct and “grayed out” so it cannot be tapped or changed, that’s GOOD. This means your Screen Time settings are parent Passcode protected.
      – If the time / date / time zone are incorrect and “grayed out”, please see video for instruction on how to correct the time and lock it. You’ll need to UPDATE their device, temporarily turn OFF your Parent Screen Time Passcode, make your corrections with the steps in the video if needed, then turn your Parent Screen Time Passcode back ON to lock the time in place.

      For more tips like these, join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/parentinggeeks

  22. Hi Chris, thank you for taking the time to answer my question. My daughter’s iphone is up to date in terms of the iOS, but the date/time function is NOT greyed out, it is fully operational and she can change it at will.

    You mention a video on how to correct the time and lock it, where can I find it? I looked on this post but was unable to.

    Thanks again!

  23. Andrea Colwell

    How do you add apps to a child’s device if you have disabled the app store? I am having trouble with this.

    1. Hi! You can’t. You would have to toggle the App Store back on in Screen Time -> Content & Privacy Restrictions -> iTunes & App Store Purchases -> Installing Apps -> “Toggle” to Allow


  24. Maybe this has been mentioned, but I didn’t see that it had been. Has anyone else noticed that their kid can turn off wifi (assuming there data is turned off or device doesn’t have cellular data) while screen time is available, which seems to cause the device not to know when downtime is supposed to begin?

  25. Audible help? I’ve done all of the privacy/content restriction steps for an iOS 12.5.7 and now can’t get Audible on the ipad I’ve set up for my child. We have loads of audiobooks for him, and I’m getting messages saying I can’t get the Audible app without turning off content restrictions. Help!!! Thank you, Pat

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