3 ways the next iPhone and iPad update will make managing screen time easy

Your kids might not be thrilled, but come the fall, you'll be able to remotely manage what your kids do on their device, and for exactly how long. Woot!

Little girl on the couch with a tablet and headphones, looking engaged
Photo: iStockphoto

Keeping track of kids’ screen time is an ongoing challenge for most parents, and Apple knows it. That’s why the maker of the iPhone and iPad has been quietly working on creating features to help parents manage this challenge. Earlier this week, it announced that the tools will be available in the next operating system update, and it revealed exactly what they are. Here some of what iOS 12 will let parents do:

Photo of an iPhone screen with apps showing how much time has been spent on each one
Activity Reports let parents see how much time their kids are spending on each app. Photo: Apple

View reports that show you exactly what your kid is doing on their device
You know your kid is using their device a lot—but exactly how much time is spent on homework versus gaming or social media? With iOS 12, that will no longer be a mystery. Using your own device, you’ll be able to quickly and easily see exactly how your kid is spending their time on their device using “Activity Reports,” available through your Settings. For example, you’ll be able to see which category of apps your kid is engaging with the most (social media, entertainment, games, etc.) and precisely how much time they are spending on each category and each specific app within that category. Remote access to your kid’s daily and weekly Activity Reports is available if you’re in the same Family Sharing group (which you totally should be! But if you’re not, you can view the Activity Report on your child’s own device).

screenshot of a game with a notification showing how much time the player has left to use the device
Kids will receive a notification when their time on an app is running out. Photo: Apple

Set limits on specific apps
With a couple of quick taps, parents can now set a specific amount of time that your kid can spend on a specific app, websites or a category of apps. So you want to let your kid watch some YouTube for an hour? Set that up remotely on your own device, and when an hour is up, the YouTube app will stop working. Don’t worry—your kid will get a notification when time is running out, and they’ll even be able to request a bit more time with the “Ask for More” button. You’ll receive a notification, and easily approve or reject the request.

Photo of an iPhone settings screen showing the 'downtime' feature
Parents can block their kids from using their device during a set chunk of time, like when they should be sleeping. Photo: Apple

Prevent your kid from using their device during specific times
Your kid will hate this, but you’ll love it: You can now schedule a block of time to limit when your kid’s device and/or specific apps cannot be used (think: bedtime or homework hour). During that chunk of time, which Apple is calling “Downtime,” a badge will appear on whatever apps you’ve selected that can’t be used, so kids can plainly see that the app isn’t available to them at that time. Parents can choose specific apps that will always be available, even during Downtime or after a limit is set. For example, Phone for times when kids might need to contact them, or Books to complete homework assignments.

Organizations that advocate for children’s healthy use of tech so far have good things to say about the new iPhone and iPad features. “With kids and teens spending as much as six to nine hours a day glued to their iPhones, these new features will go a long way in helping parents manage screen time, something we know they have been clamoring for,” says James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense, a US nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of ever-changing media and technology. “We commend Apple for joining the digital well-being movement and hope other tech and social media companies will do the same, as there’s a lot more work to do.”

Apple says iOS 12 will be available in the fall of 2018.
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