Kids are Hacking the iPhone Screen Time Parental Controls with a Simple Trick
We first wrote about this hacking issue in February 2017, when iOS 7 showed a weakness whereby kids could recover the 4-digit Restrictions passcode using a few simple steps.
Unfortunately, the Restrictions weakness is still present in the updated Screen Time version of iOS parental controls. Kids are able to use software downloaded to a Mac or PC, and sift through an iTunes backup file and uncover the 4-digit passcode.
Why Apple continues to allow this weakness in their parental controls, 2-years later, is puzzling.
These two articles have both been shared with us from parents whose kids performed this hack:
But please don’t despair. It is possible to prevent the steps mentioned in these articles and we’ll show you how!
Four Steps for Beating the iPhone Screen Time Hack
Preventing the hack does require multiple devices. But, a 12-year old figured it out so you can, too!
1. Assign individual, non-administrative roles/access for each child on your home’s desktop and laptops computers.
In other words, parents, when you’re done using the laptop at home, please log out so that your kids have to log back in with their own profile.
In the case of a Mac, this can be achieved by using its parental controls to prevent additional apps from being loaded onto the device.
Then, when a child wants to download a new program on the computer, the parent with administrative rights becomes the only person who can approve the addition of new programs or executable files through the use of a password. This prevents the child from accessing the two software packages above that can help them sift for the Screen Time 4-digit passcode.
2. Use Apple’s Family Sharing to control app downloads.
Family Sharing allows the “organizer”, ideally a parent, to approve or block app downloads remotely. This step prevents the child who hacks the 4-digit passcode in order to turn the App Store back on from
- Setting up Family Sharing if you’re running iOS 11 or previous.
- Setting up Family Sharing if you’re running iOS 12 and subsequent.
3. Have “look them in the eye” conversations about appropriate smartphone use.
This includes calling out the fact that there are probably even more hacks that would allow access around the Screen Time.
But, let kids know that use of any hack constitutes a death-blow to future (at least) short-term smartphone usage. We all know that even if the home’s desk or laptop is configured appropriately, a kid could gain access to a machine that doesn’t have parental controls enabled.
Parents need to call this out. “Son/daughter, I know you can find access to a computer that doesn’t have the same level of control as ours and you can totally go behind my back. So, I’m going to look you in the eye often and ask you about what kinds of things you’re doing on machines that our family doesn’t control. It’s not that I don’t trust you – I don’t trust the internet and the temptations it throws at us can be super strong. None of us is strong enough to handle the dark side of the internet alone.”
FAQ: What about a Factory Reset? Doesn’t that also bypass the Parental Controls/Restrictions on an iPod Touch, iPad, or iPhone?
Answer: yes. But, there aren’t many kids who are willing to destroy critical data on the phone just to evade Screen Time. A factory reset erases contacts, photos, apps, and any data within those apps. It’s a high price to pay and therefore many kids just aren’t willing to pay it.
If your child has used the factory reset as a circumvention technique in the past, then I would argue your child isn’t mature enough for a smart device. It’s time for a dumb phone for a while.
But, if that’s not an option, then there is a second choice for that ‘hard-to-control” and “tech-savvy” kid. With the release of iOS 7 a couple years ago, Apple included certain anti-theft features that can also prove beneficial to parents. These improvements included adding Activation Lock to its Find my iPhone app.
Activation Lock is designed to prevent anyone from using or selling your device. The moment you turn on Find My iPhone, your Apple ID and password will be required before anyone can turn off Find My iPhone, erase your device, or reactivate it. This means that even if a kid performs a factory reset, they won’t be able to use the device again until the Find My iPhone Apple ID and password are typed in.
In this way, Find My iPhone is a very effective parental control feature for families.
Do you need help finding a tool to monitor your child’s digital devices? We’ve tested many! Please visit our Protect Young Eyes Resources for our parental control recommendations, like Covenant Eyes, Bark, Mobicip, Boomerang, and others.
I love life. Seriously! Each. Day. A. Gift. Former CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director, porn survivor. Current marketing manager for Covenant Eyes and CEO of PYE. God shares wild ideas with me about life while I run. I love guiding parents to teach their kids how to use technology well while protecting them from the bad stuff.