Do you know about the iPhone parental controls that are now built into every device for free? Parents often ask me for the best way to set up iOS parental controls because it’s something I’ve recommended on my podcast. I used to recommend parental control apps, but I no longer recommend those because there are now iPhone parental controls built into the operating system itself.
In this article, I’ll show you step-by-step how to link all of your family’s phones together so that the adult’s phones have full privileges while the children’s phones can be limited, blocked, tracked, and even turned on and off remotely, all right from the parents’ phones. These iOS parental controls were added by Apple with the release of iOS 12, in an attempt to make their products safer for children and more appealing to families.
But first, a warning…
I recommend you steer clear of using these methods to invade your teenager’s privacy. Set limits and boundaries to keep your teen on track, but don’t spy or snoop. I guess what I’m saying is, use the God-like powers of these iPhone parental controls for GOOD, not for evil.
I highly recommend you set all of the same limits on yourself that you set on your teen, otherwise it is hypocritical. Just like teens, parents can also use daily limits on their social media, emails, text messages, Netflix, and internet use. Therefore, please put these iOS parental controls on everyone in your family, and have frequent talks about how well each limit is working or not working for you.
Setting Up iPhone Parental Controls
The first step for setting up iOS parental controls is to enable Family Sharing from your Apple ID page. You can navigate to this page by tapping the “Settings” icon from the desktop on your iPhone and then tapping on the banner at the top with your name and picture.
1. Enable Family Sharing
Before you can set up your iPhone parental controls, you have to link all of your family’s phones together. Tap on “Family Sharing from the Apple ID screen and you’ll be prompted to enter the Apple ID of a family member you’d like to add to your family. This means you’ll need to get your teenager’s password or have them enter it into your phone on this screen. When the correct password is entered, the person will be instantly added to your family.
You should also have your spouse login here too. Don’t worry, you won’t be granted full iPhone parental controls over your spouse’s phone all of a sudden or anything like that. Your iCloud account knows your birthday, so it will automatically recognize you and your spouse as the adults in the family and anyone under 18 as the kids. This means you and your spouse will automatically be granted iOS parental controls for your teen’s phone.
2. Enable Screen Time
After you add all of your family members, it’s time to activate the iPhone parental controls that will allow you to control and set limits on your teenager’s phone remotely. First, navigate to the “Family Sharing” screen by tapping the “Family Sharing” button on your Apple ID screen. Now, on the “Shared Features” list, tap “Screen Time”. Then tap “Continue” to start setting up your iPhone parental controls.
Next, a set of step-by-step instructions will walk you through the setup of your iPhone parental controls. Also, screen usage data for the whole family will start being tracked so you’ll be able to view reports and see how your family is spending their digital time every week. The first specific one of the iOS parental controls that we’ll talk about is one that lets you set a “Downtime”, where your teen’s phone will completely stop working.
Individual iOS Parental Controls
3. Set Up “Downtime”
To start setting up the first one of these iPhone parental controls, tap on the icon for “Downtime” on the Family Sharing screen. Once the secondary menu has opened, you’ll want to enable the Downtime feature by tapping the switch at the top of the screen. Next, choose which hours you’d like Downtime to occur between. If your teen needs to use their phone for an emergency or special occasion, they can always request more from you directly through the app and you can grant them one-time bonuses.
Next, here’s the part that makes this such a powerful one of these iPhone parental controls. After you set up the actual downtime, you’ll have an option to tap on “Always Allow”. This is a list of apps that your teen will still be able to use, even during their Downtime period. By default, Messages, FaceTime, and Maps are all enabled. So if you want to block these during downtime as well, be sure to remove them from here.
Like all of these iOS parental controls, the Downtime feature can definitely be taken too far by parents. In my opinion, the best use for this feature is for shutting your teen’s phone off during the night so they can get uninterrupted time to sleep.
The recommended amount of sleep for teenagers, according to neuroscience, is 9.25 hours per night. So it’s reasonable to tell your teen that you’re going to set their phone to deactivate for 9 hours and 15 minutes. Ask them what time they would like this to start and end to give them some choice.
Also, I would recommend removing “Messaging” from the Always Allowed list so that your teenager isn’t bombarded by messages during the night. You might want to get rid of Facetime and Maps as well. If they ever need to use these for a legitimate reason, they can always request some time and you will get a notification on your phone.
Remember, in order to get your teens to accept these iOS parental controls, you have to put them on your own phone as well. Since the recommended amount of sleep for an adult is 8 hours per night, you can set your own Downtime to last for just 8 hours.
4. Set Limits on Apps
The next of the iPhone parental controls I’m going to cover is how to limit the amount of time your teen can spend using different types of apps each day, depending on what day of the week it is. For instance, you could set the limit to 30 minutes of SnapChat per day on weekdays but 2 hours per day on the weekends.
Tapping the “Set Limits” icon on the Screen Time home screen will open a menu that allows you to choose apps either individually or by category. This makes it one of the most well-targeted iOS parental controls on the list. You can specify exactly which apps each rule applies to.
Keep in mind you can make multiple rules, so you don’t have to limit all apps the same amount.
To start, let’s put a limit on how much time your teen can spend playing games every day. Simply select “Games” from the menu to apply your rule to all games. On the next screen, choose how much time you want your teen to be able to spend playing games every day. If you want, tap “Customize Days” to set different values for each day of the week.
Make sure that the option labeled “Block at End of Limit” is selected. Like the other iPhone parental controls on this list, this limit isn’t set in stone every day. You can always grant your teen more time if you want.
I think the best strategy for setting up these particular iOS parental controls is to start with an observation period. Let your teen spend a full week just using their phone freely without any limits. Then look over the data together with your teen and compare it with your own data. Based on what you see, place some limits on any areas that look problematic.
Keep revisiting these limits constantly and adjusting them to find the perfect balance. For example, if you’re on a road trip and want the time to fly with fun, family gaming, loosen those restrictions for a great bonding opportunity.
Remember, don’t put these iOS parent controls on your teenager’s phone without setting them up on your own phone as well. Set some limits on your own use of social media, email, sports, and news apps along with the ones you set for your teen. Involve your teen in the process of deciding what both of your limits should be so it all feels fair.
Many of these apps are key forms of communication for your teen, so be respectful of that and remember how much time you spent on the phone with friends or shooting the breeze together when you were a teenager. These apps are the modern day equivalent, so limiting them too severely could be cruel and socially stifling. Think about that when you are setting up these iPhone parental controls for your teen.
5. Create Content & Privacy Restrictions
This is the place where you can actually start to use these iOS parental controls to limit the things your kids have access to on their phones. You can lock certain features of the phone itself and even filter out certain internet content or choose whether Siri understands dirty language or not.
After tapping the icon for content and privacy restrictions from the family screen time page, you’ll arrive at the main page for Content & Privacy Restrictions. Flip the switch at the top of the screen to “ON” to activate the settings.
From here you can decide whether your kids will be able to purchase things on the App Store or need to get your approval for new purchases before making them. You can also set certain apps that are “Not Allowed”. These will be completely blocked from the phone. This is one of the most powerful iPhone parental controls because it eliminates the need to erase things from your teen’s phone and fight about it. The apps are just instantly blocked.
There are a few other important iOS parental controls on this screen as well. The “Do Not Disturb While Driving” option is a feature that automatically blocks all incoming messages and alerts while your teen is behind the wheel. The “Share My Location” feature allows you to see your teen’s location using the Find My Friends app, which is automatically installed on all iPhones. Check out both of those iPhone parental controls yourself and our recommended settings below.
Tap on “Content Restrictions” to open up the second menu. Here, you’ll find the iPhone parental controls for limiting the music, movies, books, apps, and internet content your teen has access to on a very granular level.
The best settings for these particular iOS parental controls depend on your specific situation, of course. But I do have some recommendations. These apply to teenagers, age 13 and up.
First, I don’t recommend using these iPhone parental controls to block specific apps from the teen’s phone unless the teens agrees they want to stop using that app and has asked for your help. Let teens decide for themselves what apps they want to use, otherwise they are going to feel like you don’t trust them (and they will be right).
The beauty of these iOS parental controls is that you’ll get a screen time report at the end of the week and see exactly what your teen has been up to. Then you can talk to them about how they are spending their time digitally and set some limits if anything gets out of hand.
I also don’t recommend limiting teen’s exposure to internet content or music and films or books. Just limit the amount of time they can spend watching movies and surfing the web (see Step 4) and have frequent discussions with them about what they are seeing and how they feel about it.
One setting I do recommend activating is the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature. You want to change this to “Always On”. This will prevent your teen from ever turning it off either accidentally or on purpose.
Summary of iPhone Parental Controls
In this article, I’ve covered all of the main iOS parental controls that are currently available. The best thing about all of the iPhone parental controls we’ve talked about here is they are all included free with any iPhone. So there is no need to purchase and install additional parental control apps onto your teen’s phone in order to use them.
Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to clamp down firmly on your teen’s digital life, please use these iOS parental controls instead to start a dialogue with your teenager about self-discipline and the need to keep ourselves in check. Prove you aren’t a hypocrite by also sharing your own screen time report with the rest of your family and putting the same iPhone parental controls on your own phone too.
You could start a new tradition of sitting down after dinner on Sunday and looking through the family stats from the week. This could include an open discussion about what digital issues each family member is struggling with. When you do this, then these iOS parental controls won’t seem so restrictive and authoritarian to your teen. Your teen will feel included in a larger conversation with you.