iOS 16 Makes Big Changes to Screen Time Parental Controls

iOS 16 Screen Time Parental Controls (Feature Image)

iOS 16 Makes Big Changes to Screen Time Parental Controls

Apple Releases Significant Parental Control Improvements in iOS 16

This week, Apple is releasing iOS 16. This is consistent with their pattern of rolling out significant iPhone and iPad changes each fall.

For parents, this change includes the first significant improvements to the usability of their Screen Time parental controls since its 2018 release. By “usability,” we mean making set-up easier for parents who give their children an iPhone for the first time. It also includes a really handy checklist for parents who haven’t changed Screen Time settings for a while.

Historically, setting up Screen Time has been difficult for many parents and caregivers. It’s a complaint we hear about often from our followers. And we agree. Sometimes requiring over 30 steps to get it right.

Our belief has always been, “Why isn’t setting up parental controls the easiest thing to do on an iPhone?” If Apple takes seriously the protection of millions of young people using iPhones and iPads, then make it dead-simple.

The Apple Campaign of 2021

Last fall, in partnership with The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, child safety advocate Melissa McKay, and over 25 other advocacy groups, we wrote a letter to Apple’s executive team called:  “10 Critical iOS Child Safety Fixes.” Our ideas came from parent feedback and included age-based defaults, iMessage controls, broaders use of AI nudity detection, and more.

It got the attention of Apple’s Global Trust and Safety Team and opened the door to meetings in the fall and winter (2021-2022). The letter also caught the attention of Senator Mike Lee from Utah, who again, forwarded the letter to Apple’s executives.

Here’s a wonderful KSL Utah news segment highlighting iOS 16, including an interview with Senator Lee about these Screen Time improvements.

As we state in the letter, since almost 90% of American teens will own an iPhone, Apple has a unique opportunity and responsibility to improve child safety on their devices.

Although there are a whole list of changes coming with iOS 16 and iPad OS 16, we want to highlight those that parents and caregivers might care about the most.

Family Sharing Moves to the Top

One of the more underrated parental control improvements in iOS 16 (and on iPads) is placement. I love that they’ve moved the Family Sharing grouping front-and-center in Settings. This could act as a helpful, visual reminder that parents should be involved in their kid’s digital devices.

iOS 16 Parental Controls - PYE

 iOS 16 Adds Age-Based Safety Defaults

Another great enhancement to Screen Time on both iPhones and iPads is the age-based slider, which auto-selects key parental control features when new kids are added.

This is huge! The first item in our Apple Letter called out the importance of using age-based defaults. This topic was the thrust of our meetings with Apple in 2021.

And here is a first version!

Many of these important settings – like clean music, books, websites, and app ratings – used to be buried in Screen Time, sometimes requiring 30 steps to get it right. Watch this 1-minute video for a quick rundown:


iCloud Family Checklist

In the video above, also note the Family Checklist, reminding me of Screen Time settings that might need a refresh or might be best based on my child’s age. This is a good way for parents to be nudged about even better ways to protect their kiddos on iPhones and iPads. Great!

iMessage Also Gets New Features in iOS 16 and iPad OS 16

In our letter to Apple, we plead with them to give parents more control over iMessages (e.g., prevent iMessage deletion), but we didn’t get that. We’re hopeful Apple does something soon, since so many parents use texting as a training ground on a smartphone. 

Instead, we received the ability to EDIT, UNSEND, and MARK UNREAD in iMessage. Note for parents – on the surface, the “unsend” feature runs the risk of turning iMessage into a mini-Snapchat. Kids might be tempted to depend on this feature to get away with something, but so much can be screenshot and if the other person isn’t running iOS 16, it won’t work. Kids will need to be educated about this.

Great Work Apple – Now Keep Going!

Our Letter included additional, often requested items from parents, including:

  1. Provide additional control over iMessages by giving parents the option to prevent iMessage deletion while their young children are learning to use technology responsibly.
  2. Create an accurate, accountable, age-based app rating system with better, individualized descriptions.
  3. Provide more flexible options for parents to block selected apps during multiple times throughout the day.
  4. Enforce Apple’s published developer rules and remove apps, including Twitter and Reddit, that are breaking critical rules regarding violent and pornographic content.
  5. Block sexualized album covers, podcast descriptions, and explicit song clips when Apple Music (rated 4+) is set to “clean.”
  6. Provide a toggle that enforces YouTube Restricted Mode across the entire device (the most popular app for today’s tweens and teens).
  7. Expand on-device artificial intelligence by giving parents the option to receive notifications if their children under age 16 (rather than 13) send/receive explicit images.
  8. Periodically review the top social media apps to ensure that they are adhering to best business practices for privacy, content moderation, and parental controls.

For more, watch Apple’s Sept. 7 “Far Out” event. Plus, here’s how to download iOS 16.

2 Specific Next Steps for Amazing Parents and Caregivers!

  1. Stay current on the digital landscape by registering to receive our free, PYE Download newsletter.
  2. Stay current in bite-sized chunks be downloading our Protect App! (Apple here, Google here)
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NEW Protect Young Eyes Logo (2020)

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21 thoughts on “iOS 16 Makes Big Changes to Screen Time Parental Controls”

  1. It’s a good step but I have more requests to Apple. Make it so they can’t access any settings or more specifically, location services and mobile data including hot spot. My teen will turn off location services when she’s mad and use the hot spot from her data to use as WiFi for other devices. Why is this an option?? I have caught her a few times doing this after screen time has kicked in at night. She would also like to be able to change her profile picture whenever she wants. For some reason this is blocked if you disable account changes. Changing her profile pic is not what worries me when it comes to her safety.

    We also need proper support for third party apps! My daughter uses WhatsApp or Snapchat to message or video call. I hate to think what she’s doing on there.

    I’ve had a lot of issues recently when trying to transfer everything over to a new phone for her too. Me not being able to get into her account settings even though screen time is turned off. Doesn’t recognise the device as her on FindMy. I had to completely reset her settings to get me in to configure it. She has another refurbished device coming tomorrow because there was something wrong with the last one. I have to go through it all again. I’m expecting it to all mess up for the third time. This whole “adding a device for your child is now simple” is actually NOT simple! – A frustrated mum

  2. Also, the IOS update knocked out previous security settings, so a fourth grader accessed sites at school that he couldn’t prior to the update. That update should come with a warning to update all parental control settings (including schools).

  3. Lack of parental control is the sole reason I will not get an iphone for my kids. 3rd party apps are trying, with no help from apple. I’ve spent countless hours testing 3rd party apps but they all fail when it comes to monitoring texting. I have no issues with asking the kids for their phones when I want to see it, but this also gives them ample time to delete anything they don’t want me to see. Such a stupid stance to take on apples part. another year where the kids won’t get my older iphones or any new older models. When they get to 18 and make their own decisions, all they will have grown up with is Android, and guess what, that’ll be their first device they buy on their own.

  4. I really really wish Apple did away with the “Add one minute” feature to Screentime despite the time
    Limits we impose. They have no problem repeatedly hitting “add one minute” indefinitely. This is becoming a dealbreaker for us and may have to lean on Bark to manage more.

  5. Apple screen time on any Apple device is complete trash. I erased and reinstall on all four family devices, yet the kids App downtime and app limits constantly disables itself. My kids def do not have the passcode to access any of settings, so I know its not their doing. Apple screentime is an absolute waste of feature.

      1. Age should be 18 for all kid stuff. Just because they are chronologically an age doesn’t mean they are mature enough to handle it. How many kids struggle with ADHD, autism, histories of abuse and neglect that make their development asynchronous for age, meaning they are not necessarily mature in emotional development or regulation or impulse control or understanding complex social situations that are only more confusing when having to interpret online interactions for intent, context and honesty?

      1. Fantastic – good to hear I’m not the only one. Thought I was going crazy. I think it is 16.3 specific as one kids phone is on 16.2 and I can see and adjust those settings on his phone directly – but on my 16.3 device I can’t see them remotely.

        The first kid I noticed it on is on the 16.3 beta on his device – no luck when directly looking at his screen time settings.

        Hopefully it’s sorted before 16.3 release, but if you have a line into Apple – let them know!

          1. I will actually be in Washington DC at a tech round table where my Apple contact will also be and we are meeting in person. I hope to bring this and a handful of other topics to the conversation.


  6. I used to have Covenant Eyes on my phones, which was perfect so long as apps such as Puffin Browser and Reddit were blocked. However, the VPN aspect of any parental management app is too easy to circumvent on iOS, rendering the app useless. I am considering going back to android.

  7. I have been using the built-in screen time controls to block Safari on my son’s iPhone. However, he explained to me that he can access the internet by conducting a search for something generic, such as “ea headquaters”, on Google maps and up pops a message that no results were found and offers a link to try Google Search instead. By following that link, he can access the internet and conduct searches for anything he chooses – which he did and got access to inappropriate content, even though Safari is blocked by screen time. It actually opens a Google search page, so I’m not sure if it is using Safari or Google Chrome. Regardless, I cannot figure out how to prevent this from happening. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    1. I confirmed, yes, this is a known loophole. I’m sorry this happened. The best way might be set “allowed only” and then that Google Search shouldn’t work. I just tried on my phone and it worked.


  8. This is what i want in next ios

    1. Remove 1 minute screen time
    2. Keyword block list that you can type in. E.g. chatrooms. Po*n, drugs, this would make it 100 times easier than blocking individual websites. So simple!
    2. Location base blocks for apps would be nice
    3.multiple schedules during the day.
    4. Youtube toggle for restrictions would be awesome

  9. So we are having issues with Snapchat on our son’s iPhone 11. We have app limits setup for 3 or 4 hours, or varies depending on the day . But the problem is that it times out after one minute always! So what ends up happening? My wife approves it for all day and then that’s literally what he does the rest of the day. Is there a way to fix this?

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