How to Set Up and Use iOS Screen Time

Customize the feature for your needs

If you want to limit the amount of time you spend using your iPhone, iPad, and other devices, Apple offers a feature in iOS 12 and up that lets you puts limits on digital devices. It's called Screen Time. This feature not only helps you apply some digital self-control, but offers parental control over kids' devices, too.

This article applies to devices running iOS 12 and iOS 13.

What Is Screen Time?

Screen Time is a feature of the iOS that lets you track how much time you use your devices, schedule time away from those devices, and set limits on the use of certain apps or groups of apps. It lets you do all of this for your kids' devices, too.

Screen Time is similar to Do Not Disturb. Not Disturb prevents people from calling or texting you during certain periods of time, including while driving. Screen Time stops you from using your device or selected apps during times you choose.

Screen Time uses iCloud, so your settings on one device will automatically be applied to every device that's signed in to the same iCloud account.

How to Set Up Screen Time in iOS 12 and 13

To set up Screen Time on your device, tap Settings > Screen Time. From there, you can configure several categories of content:

  • Downtime: To schedule time in which you can't use your device other than the Phone app or for apps you allow, tap Downtime and move the Downtime slider to on/green. Then, use the wheels to set the time for when Downtime starts and ends.
  • App Limits: To limit certain kinds of apps (such as social media apps), tap App Limits. To set the amount of time each day you can spend using that category of apps, tap App Limits > Add Limit, choose an app category, tap Add, and then set an amount of time. Optionally, you can tap Customize Days so that app limits don't apply on the weekend, for example.
  • Communication Limits: Limit your ability to text, call, and FaceTime by tapping this option. To control your communication options during Screen Time restrictions, tap During Allowed Screen Time and then choose whether you want to talk to Everyone or Contacts Only, and decide if you want to be added to group conversations. Similar options are available During Downtime. NOTE: This features is available on iOS 13 and up.
  • Always Allowed: To access some apps no matter your settings (such as for emergencies), tap Always Allowed, then tap the green + next to apps you want to allow (or tap the red - to remove apps).
  • Content & Privacy Restrictions: To access the built-in iOS tools to block certain kinds of content, tap Content & Privacy Restrictions. You'll be asked to enter a passcode. The Restrictions settings that were in the General menu of Settings in iOS 11 and earlier have been moved here. The Privacy settings can be accessed here or through their menu in Settings.
  • Lock Settings: To secure your settings with a passcode, tap Use Screen Time Passcode (if you didn't already set it up for Content & Privacy Restrictions).

Have more than one device using Screen Time and a combined report of Screen Time use across all devices? Move the Share Across Devices slider to on/green.

How to Set Up Screen Time on Kids' Devices

Setting screen in Screen Time

You can also set up Screen Time on your kids' iOS devices from this screen. First, you need to set up Family Sharing. With that done, tap the name of the child whose Screen Time you want to set.

You'll be asked to set Downtime, App Limits, and other settings on screen devoted to those options. Do so, or skip to the main Screen Time settings.

Settings screen in Screen Time

From there, setting Screen Time restrictions for your child are the same as setting them for yourself. Choose the app categories you want to limit and tap Set to choose the amount of time you'll limit them to each day. Tap Set App Limit to configure restrictions, too.

There are two major differences on this screen:

  • Include Website Data: Move this to on/green to see what websites your child visits.
  • Change Screen Time Passcode: When setting up Screen Time a child, you create a passcode to prevent them from changing the limits you set for them. This option lets you change the passcode you've already created.

When creating a passcode to protect the settings, pick something you'll remember, but the kids can't guess.

How to Use and Override Screen Time

Once you've set it up, there's not much for you to do to use Screen Time. It will go on as scheduled and block or allow categories of apps based on your settings. It will also give you a five-minute warning before Downtime comes on or when you reach your daily app limit.

Time Limit screen in Screen Time

If you really need to use your device, you can temporarily override Screen Time. Screen Time doesn't prevent you from unlocking your device or launching an app. Instead, it prompts you to improve your time management skills and willpower.

When you launch a blocked app, a screen appears letting you know it's blocked. Tap Ignore Limit to override it. Screen Time gives you another chance to make the right choice. It offers an option to Remind Me in 15 Minutes so that you can delay using the app a little longer, Ignore Limit for Today to use the app right now, or Cancel to go back to not using your device or the app.

How to Monitor Device Usage With Screen Time

Screenshots of usage reports from the iOS's Screen Time feature

Screen Time can help you understand how much time you spend on your iPhone or iPad, and what you're doing.

The top of the Screen Time settings shows your daily average time spent on devices in the last week (on iOS 13; on iOS 12, it shows your total time spent on the device today, as well as how much time you spend in each type of app). For more information about your overall activity, tap that area.

The next screen shows a detailed breakdown of your usage, either for the Week or the Day. Data you can get here includes:

  • Total time spent on the device.
  • What categories of app you used, for how long, and at what time of day.
  • Your most-used apps by time and by category (tap each app for specific information on your use of it).
  • How many times you picked your device up per hour, when the pickups happened, the total number of pickups, and your busiest hour.
  • How many total notifications you've received, how many per hour, when you got the most, and from what apps.

How to Turn Off Screen Time

Don't want to limit your device use anymore? Turn off Screen Time by following these steps:

  1. Tap Settings.

    iPhone X homescreen
  2. Tap Screen Time (and enter a passcode, if prompted).

    Screenshot of the iOS Settings app
  3. Tap Turn Off Screen Time.

    Screenshot of the option to turn off Screen Time
  4. In the pop-up menu, tap Turn Off Screen Time.

    Screenshot of the menu confirming turning off Screen Time
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