How To Setup Screen Time For My Family

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by Jack Taylor | Last Updated:  January 14, 2020

With the release of IOS 12, Apple introduced Screen Time, a feature that allows you to determine what your screen time habits are so that you can manage how and where you spend time on your Apple device. Parents want to know how they can use use Screen Time to protect their family. As a parent, how can you use Screen Time not only to protect your family, but to train your kids to use their devices responsibly?

The easiest way to set enable Screen Time is to simply open up Settings app and tap ‘Screen Time’, and then tap, ‘Set Up Screen Time for Family’. You will then be able to set unique restrictions and limitations for each family member as you deem appropriate.

The time spent behind a screen, be it the iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, or even an iMac, has exploded over the past decade. Using these devices is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it is important to know what your children have access to, and who has access to them.

What Is Screen Time?

In short, Screen Time is an application that does 3 things:

  1. It allows you to determine what your screen habits are.
  2. It allows you to determine what applications or people your kids can access on the internet.
  3. It allows you to determine who can access your kids.

Though it might be interesting to see just exactly where you are spending your time on your Apple device, most parents are concerned with how and where their kids are spending their time on their Apple devices. Understandably, they also want to know who has access to their kids via social media. This is where Screen Time comes in.

Is Screen Time Really Necessary?

Let’s be honest, though Screen Time may help us determine what we spend our time on and where we spend time on our devices, the real power is found in determining how other family members are using their devices. Especially when it comes to setting limitations on what they can access and when they can use their devices.

It is not uncommon for preteens and teenagers to spend 7 or 8 hours every day behind a screen of some kind. They spend the majority of their time using social media apps (texting is included here), playing video games, watching YouTube videos, and visiting websites from anywhere in the world.

Though the internet is full of creeps hiding behind the facade of people interested in the same things your kids are interested in. That same internet is also full of good things where one can learn about anything they want. The point here is that the internet can be used for good, and it can also be used for evil.

As a parent, I’m sure that you would love to be able to determine what your kids are viewing, and who is interacting with your kids. So, is Screen Time necessary? Throwing political correctness out the window, I will emphatically say, “Yes. Absolutely.” If only to protect our kids, it is necessary to implement Screen Time on the Apple devices that our kids use. The added benefit is that implementing Screen Time on their devices will encourage responsible use.

Still Not Convinced You Need Screen Time?

Like New York City, the internet is an exciting place to be. You can text anyone, watch millions of YouTube videos, easily exchange pictures of yourself with others, and play interactive games with people on the other side of the planet in real time. But as with any booming city full of fun and entertainment, there are dangers out there as well.

You may trust your child, but do you trust people you have never met . . . with your child? I’m sure you would agree that it would not be wise to walk your 9 year old daughter down 5th Avenue in New York and blindly ask a passerby if they would watch your daughter for 3 hours while you went shopping.

Never mind, New York, would you allow anyone in the world to develop a relationship with your young 9 year old daughter? Someone you do not know, someone who is trying to develop a relationship her with via social media? If you understood the risk involved, you would probably answer, “No”.

Without exaggeration, granting your kids unfettered access to social media and the internet is just like asking a complete stranger to take care of your kids. Would you allow that person (man or woman, child or pedophile), into your 9 year old daughter’s bedroom alone for hours at a time? Of course not. But this is exactly what we do when we give our children unfettered access to an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, MacBook, or iMac, without setting limitations on who they communicate with on the internet.

How to Train Your Kids to Use the Internet Responsibly

As a parent, you want to protect your kids by preventing them from being exposed to the monsters that lurk out there. At the same time you want them to enjoy learning, and have the ability to hang out with their friends online via social media, be it, Snapchat, Facebook, or Instagram.

Every parent wants their children to become responsible in the decisions that they make. You even look for opportunities to praise your kids for the good decisions that they make. I know I do.

PROTIP:This is where Screen Time comes in. It will help you protect your kids and at the same time, it will train them to be responsible in how much time they spend behind the screen.

How does it train your kids to be more responsible when using their Apple devices? Let me paint a picture to help bring clarity.

When I was 10 years old, if I had been given the freedom to do anything I wanted, without any direction or mentoring from someone who loved me and had my best interest at heart, I would have become a completely undisciplined spoiled individual who believed that the world existed solely to serve me. However, when offered direction, coaching, and mentoring, I developed the discipline to handle things on my own.

Structure is required for growth and maturity. How do you train your kids to use the Internet responsibly? Offer them direction and give them instruction. Mentor them so that they develop the discipline to use their Apple devices responsibly.

Building a Screen Time Profile for Your Kids

Rather than just throw a bunch of screenshots at you, I thought I would be more helpful by offering you a real world example in the form of two fictional characters, a 9 year old girl named, “Emily”, and a 16 year old boy named, “Johnny.”

Together, we are going to create a Screen Time profile for both Emily and Johnny. As we build the Screen Time profile for each, I am confident that you will begin to understand how such restrictions and freedoms can be used in the Screen Time profile that you build for your child.

To begin, we are going to enable Family Sharing. With Family Sharing, you can share music, movies, apps, and even files with your family members. You will be able to view reports and adjust settings for your kids at any time, all from to convenience of your iPhone.

However, if you have never set up Family Sharing before, you can click here for instructions on how to do so from Apple’s site. From there, you can add a new family member at any time.

If you’re already in a family group, simply open the Setting app, and tap Screen Time, and then tap your child’s name. If your child does not already have an Apple ID, you can create one for them by opening the Settings app, tap your name at the top of the screen, then tap Family Sharing, and then tap Screen Time.

Now, if you already have family members set up in Family Sharing, you will be able to view reports and adjust settings for your kids at any time, all from to convenience of your iPhone.

Now, let’s assume that you do NOT have family sharing set up yet. You can still set up Screen Time on your child’s device now and set up Family Sharing later so that you can fine-tune settings for that device later from the convenience of your iPhone.

As a side note, understand that you can set up a Screen Time profile on a Mac, iPad or iPod but for the sake of convenience, the instructions offered here can be used on an iPhone, iPad or iPod.

An Overview of the Setup Process

Before we delve into how to set up Screen Time for your child, I want to offer you an overview of what you can do with it by showing you each of the screens through the setup process. After showing what each of the setup screens allow for, we will then create a profile for “Emily” and “Johnny”.

From your child’s device, (be it an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch) tap the following:

From there, you will see an overview of Screen Time and what it offers, showing you the following screen.

Tap Continue.

Now if you are using your child’s iPhone, tap, “This is My Child’s iPhone”. You will then be walked through the Setup process for your child’s iPhone, as shown in the following screenshots.

Downtime

Here you can schedule downtime for you child. Basically, when you enable this feature, calls, messages and applications can be used, but only if you allow access.

For example, let’s say that you set Downtime on your child’s iPhone from 10:00 pm to 7:00 am, but your child wants to play a game to “settle down” before going to sleep. If your child tries to play that game any time after 10:00 pm and before 7:00 am, you will automatically receive an alert to your phone stating that your child would like permission to play that given game. You can grant access all from your iPhone, for 30 minutes, an hour, or for 24 hours.

App Limits

Apple allows you, as a parent, to limit the time your child can spend using a given app within a 24 hour period. Yes, it lets you set daily limits for individual apps, categories of apps, social networking apps, or games. Once your child has reached their time limit, your permission will be required to allow for more time, or you can deny their request.

For example, if your child just got home from school, and their Screen Time limit has expired, but they want to play their game for another 30 minutes before doing their homework, what can they do? They can request more time by simply tapping a button to request more time to play that game. Once they do, you will immediately be notified on your iPhone, and you can then either allow or deny more time, (and you can determine how much more time they can play their game).

Content & Privacy

Screen Time allows you to customize the content that your child can access. For example, you can ensure that your child can not access explicit or mature content when using iTunes or the App Store, and you can even prevent access to specific websites. Additionally, you can ensure that your child can not change the privacy setting on their device without your express consent.

Screen Time Passcode

Any time you wish to allow your child more time to play a game, for example, or if you wish make changes to your Screen Time settings, you will be required to enter a Screen Time passcode.

For example, as your child matures and begins to demonstrate responsibility in their Screen Time habits, you can change settings to allow for a later bedtime. At the same time, you can maintain a “no porn zone” from any Apple device forever. Any changes to Screen Time, however, would require the passcode to modify the settings.

Be sure to choose a passcode that’s different from the passcode you use to unlock your device, however. Kids can be sneaky and manage to get the passcode you use to unlock your phone by simply watching you type it out, (assuming you don’t use Face ID to unlock your phone). This means that you are the only person who can extend time or make changes to their Screen Time profile.

How to Create a Screen Time Profile for Preteens

As already mentioned, the fictional character for the Screen Time preteen profile we are going to create here, is named, Emily. She loves life and the friends she she has made in school. Instinctively, as a parent, you want to encourage healthy relationships where she will grow and thrive.

Because 9 year old girls are very susceptible to influence, you’ll want to ensure that she is only influenced by those who genuinely care about her, people of whom you personally know and trust, who also want to see her thrive and grow into a young woman of strong character. Before we build her Screen Time profile, I want to point out that there is a difference between being taught something, and being trained.

When you teach someone something, it happens at one point in time. When you train someone in something, you are endeavoring to develop a new behavior in that person over a period of time. Screen Time will help serve as a tool to help develop behavioral patterns in your kids.

Preteens are inundated with technology and use technology (social media), to communicate with their friends. The world is VERY different today than it was when you were a kid. You may have hung out with your friends at the mall. Today, kids text, use FaceTime, and post on SnapChat or Instagram. In time, these platforms will become “dated”, and new ones will pop up replacing those used today.

The point is that you need to take this into consideration. Like it or not, the majority of the social interaction that your kids participate in is directly tied to their access to social media. Even if you don’t want that to be the case, their friends are using social media, and if your kids aren’t, then their social interaction is limited, at least to some extent. Again, just keep this in mind when setting up a Screen Time profile for your preteen.

Downtime

Given that Emily is only 9 years old, she will need a lot of help in getting up in the morning and getting ready for school. Believe it or not, you could use Screen Time as a tool to give her the incentive to get up and get ready in the morning. Let me show you how.

You could set her available Screen Time to start at 3:00pm when she gets home from school. As an incentive for her to get ready in the morning, you could grant her access (from your iPhone), once you have confirmed that she really is all ready to walk out the door. Yes, with your permission, she could use her iPhone after she is all ready for school. Are you now beginning to see how Screen Time can help you?

Emily probably has a 9:00pm bedtime, and if that’s the case, she will need time to get ready for bed, so we should ensure that her Downtime is set to 8:00pm at the latest, so that she has time to shower, brush her teeth and get ready for bed. After she has gotten already for bed, she can make the request to play her game or use SnapChat by making a request from her iPhone. You can then grant or deny that request for a specified time all from your iPhone. It’s that simple.

App Limits

How does Downtime differ from App Limits? While Downtime means that ALL apps (with the exception of the phone app) are unaccessible, “App Limits” actually limits the time she can use a specific app within a 24 hour period.

You get to determine how much time she can spend on a social media app each day, (like Facebook or SnapChat). Do you remember the time when your parents limited how much time you could spend talking on the wall telephone each day when you were a kid? App Limits does the same thing.

When her time limit is about to expire, she will get a notification on her device telling her that she’s only got five minutes left, so there will be no surprises. It behaves just like a parent telling a child that they only have five minutes left to use the app, except Screen Time cannot be influenced by whining. Once the time is expired, the only way to get more time is for you to approve a new request for additional time.

Content & Privacy

Here, you can restrict explicit in mature content from Emily in iTunes and the App Store. Additionally you can restrict the websites that she has access to.

For example, because you are trying to develop responsibility in your nine-year-old daughter, you may want to provide a list of 5-7 websites that she has access to. After a few weeks, add a few more websites to that list. This will show her that you truly do want to develop her into a responsible young adult. If you follow through with this, she will respect you for it.

With Screen Time, you have the ability to prevent iTunes from playing any music that has foul language in it. You know the old adage, “Garbage in, Garbage out”. As Emily’s parent, you have the ability to determine what she is allowed to listen to, and I’m not talking about the style of music, I’m talking about the content, or rather the words used in the songs that she listens to. Screen Time allows you to determine if foul language is permitted in the music that she listens to.

How to Create a Screen Time Profile for Teenagers

While setting up Screen Time for preteens is more focused on protecting their innocence and accessibility, (who has access to them), setting up Screen Time for older teenagers is more about helping them make wise decisions in where they spend their time and who they spend the time with.

Using our fictional character named “Johnny” to build a Screen Time profile for, we need to first assess Johnny so that we can develop a Screen Time profile for him.

Having been a 16-year-old boy at one point in time in my life, I can tell you that not much has changed at all when it comes to figuring out what is most important to him. Here is the definitive list that permeates his thinking.

Your son and may have some hobbies, of course, but they all play second fiddle to his interest in girls. Don’t let him fool you. All of his friends talk about girls, and the music he listens to talks about girls. His infatuation with girls probably has already permeated his thinking and everything that he does. Given that, it is probably very wise to bring balance into his life, because he almost certainly wants to text and talk to girls. It does not matter whether they are his girlfriend or not. They might be his “friend”, but as his parent, you need to be well aware of who is influencing him and how they are influencing him.

If I may, permit me a minute to talk about girls and the power that they have over young boys. If you are a Dad reading this, you already know what I’m talking about. If you are a mom, you must admit the girls have an unbelievable power over young impressionable boys. At the same time, these young boys have sexual urges that are extremely difficult to navigate on their own. This is where you come in.

If you were to give free reign to a 7 year old child in a candy store, they would be sick within an hour because they will have eaten everything in sight. Leave a 16-year-old boy to fend for himself when it comes to girls, and you will find a young man who was addicted to pornography, one who is developing a worldview of women as an object to be conquered.

In the same way that you would not allow your young child free reign to eat anything and everything they want in a candy store, it is also very wise to limit what and who your 16-year-old teenage boy has access to. With this in mind, let’s consider how we might develop a Screen Time profile for him, one that will set limitations and yet at the same time develop responsible Screen Time habits.

Downtime

As with Emily, it is important to ensure that Johnny’s Apple device is off-limits at certain times throughout the day. I think it would be very wise to enable downtime for Johnny when he goes to bed at night because if you don’t, you may find that he is texting or using FaceTime throughout the night when you are fast asleep. Remember, this is not a matter of you not trusting your son, this has everything to do with developing responsible Screen Time habits in your son.

Today, one of the biggest issues that teachers deal with at school, is competing with their student’s cell phones. When we were kids, we would pass notes during class. Today, kids text each other. If they are not texting, they are using Facebook Messenger, which in effect, does the same thing.

The point is that cell phone use during school hours prevents them from being focused on their studies. If you enable Screen Time Downtime during school hours, you still will still be able to call them in an emergency should you need to do so. Additionally your kids will be able to call you should they need to do so for any reason. So, in our case, Johnny’s iPhone use will be limited to phone calls only during school hours.

App Limits

We need to be careful when limiting app used for Johnny. Remember, the majority of his social interaction occurs through his Apple device. That includes the use of FaceTime, texting, Facebook messenger, and Snapchat.

If you do set App Limits, be sure that you fade these limits out over time. Again, the goal here is to develop responsible screen time use.

Content & Privacy

Here, you have the ability to prevent Johnny from listening to any music that has foul language within it, but eventually you are going to want to remove that limitation, and here’s why. If you make all the decisions for him, he won’t make any of the decisions for himself. If he does not make those decisions while living with you, those decisions won’t be his, and when he has moved out and gone away at college, guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to rebel and swim in rebellion.

You want him to be making his own decisions well before he is off to college on his own. He’s not going to make every decision in the same way that you would, but if you have trained him to make decisions on his own, and he understands that you value his decisions, he will respect you for that. You just might be surprised at how many good decisions he makes when you let go and let him make the decisions.

This same concept also applies to website said he visits. Instead of providing a list of websites that he can access, it might be a better idea for you to let him know what websites he cannot access. For example, you can ban all pornographic websites on their devices using Screen Time.

While music might be something that you allow Johnny to eventually decide for himself, pornography probably is not. So, for Johnny’s Screen Time profile, we are preventing access to any pornographic websites. That would be wise.

How to Get Your Kid’s Buy-in

Most parents are brand new to this. It’s not uncommon for a parent to feel that if they implement Screen Time on any of the devices that their kids use, that they will end up looking like the bad guy.

If I may, just remember that you are not their friend, you are the parent. It is your responsibility to train them how to use their devices responsibly. It is not their friend’s responsibility, it is your responsibility as the parent.

How are you approach the subject of implementing Screen Time on their devices makes a world of difference. If you come at them as a controlling parent, he will not get their buy-in. If your approach is to use the screen time primarily as a disciplinary measure, you will not get their buy-in. However, if you approach the subject as one who is concerned about their well-being, you just may gain their respect because you are demonstrating that you care enough about their a safety and Screen Time habits.

How do you do that? Have a conversation with them about how much you love them.

Have a conversation about how you value who they become.

Have a conversation about their future.

Have a conversation about wanting to help them become their own decision makers.

Once you convince them that you truly do want them to develop into young adults who can make wise decisions on their own without your input, you will get their Buy-in.

Remember, consistency is what it is all about. It may hurt at first, but it is definitely well worth the pain involved. Follow through.

Closing Thoughts

Screen Time is not a replacement for parenting, but it sure does help a lot. It will help you develop balance in their screen time use, and at the same time, it will train them to make wise decisions in how they make use of their time behind a screen.

Sit down with your kids and have a conversation with them letting them know that you truly do want them to develop the ability to make wise decisions for themselves. Screen Time is a tool that will help them to develop into that person.


Jack has been helping people with computers needs for several years, and he loves to help people succeed. He brings a wealth of wisdom and insight from an entrepreneur's perspective and enjoys freelance writing. In fact, when he's not writing an article or working on his YouTube channel, you might find him binge-watching Suits or formatting his computer . . . again, just for fun. To learn more about Jack, click here.