We all spend a lot of time on our phones, and it’s possible – quite possible – that some of us spend too much time. In 2018, we published an article explaining how to use Apple’s then-brand new Screen Time feature, which was built to help people keep their screen time in some sort of healthy ratio.
Back then (when iOS 12 came out) you could use Screen Time to monitor how much time you spent on your phone, use an app limits feature to limit your (or your kids’) daily time on different apps or types of apps. , or use the Downtime feature to block access to all (except some) apps.
Since then, and especially since iOS 1
Go to Settings > Screen Time to start using Screen Time. Here are some of the things you can do.
At the top of the Screen Time app you will see an accounting of your activity over the course of the day. Click “View All Activity” to see a breakdown of which specific apps you’ve used and how long you’ve been using them.
Downtime allows you to set periods when you want to force yourself to rest your eyes and not stare at the screen. It does this by locking the apps you are likely to spend time with. These locks aren’t absolute – as you’ll see later, you can cancel Downtime when you need to.
Start by choosing when you want to start your time without your phone.
- Tap “Downtime” and enable it.
- Select the days (it can be every day or only on specific days) and times when you want to avoid being swallowed up by your favorite iPhone apps. During those times, only specified apps that you pre-selected (along with phone calls) will be allowed through. For example, you can turn off Facebook and Twitter during work hours, but keep the Messages app going for texts. (We’ll cover how to choose which apps to disable in a moment.)
- You will be warned before Downtime starts. If you need to keep working on an app, don’t worry: you’ll have the chance to ask for another minute, be reminded in 15 minutes, or ignore the limit for today.
Keep in mind that Downtime and the other Screen Time features can be applied to all of your devices that use iCloud. So, for example, if you set it up on your iPhone, it can also apply to your Mac or iPad. To share your settings across all your devices, go to the main Screen Time screen and turn on “Cross-Device Sharing”.
Now that you have chosen when you want some downtime you will probably want to select which apps must remain active.
Back at the main Screen Time screen, select “Always Allowed”. Here you can choose which apps you can still access during downtime.
- You will see two sets of apps: Allowed apps and Choose apps.
- To select an app that you always want access to, even during downtime, tap the app’s name in Choose apps and it will appear in the Allowed apps list.
- To disable any of the allowed apps, tap the minus sign next to the app, then tap “Uninstall.”
There are more ways to personalize Downtime. Let’s say you want to be notified about text messages from specific people – you plan to focus on a project and don’t want to hear from your friends, but you still want to receive text messages from family members. You can do that.
- On the same “Always Allowed” page, tap “Contacts” at the top of the page.
- Under ‘Allowed communication’, select ‘Specific contacts’ and choose which contacts you want to let through, even during downtime.
Note that the “Allowed Communications” page can also be accessed from the main Screen Time page.
Another way to keep your app usage in check is to limit the amount of time you use an app (rather than limiting what time of day you can use it). For example, if Twitter is your personal black hole, you might decide to spend no more than, say, two hours a day on Twitter.
To set your app limits:
- From the Screen Time screen, select ‘App Limits’ > ‘Add Limit’. Enable “App Limits” and tap “Add Limit”.
- You will see a list of categories, such as ‘Social’, ‘Games’ and ‘Entertainment’. Tap on a specific category and it will open to display a list of all your apps that are in that category.
- Select the apps you want to restrict — or select an entire category to choose all apps in that category.
- Tap “Next” in the top right corner.
- Select the maximum amount of time you can use the app(s) on a daily basis. When you reach your limit, you’ll be interrupted by a screen where you can either apply the limit (just tap the “OK” button) or just shrug and select “Ignore Limit”.
- If you choose the latter, you can get an extra minute, ask to be reminded in 15 minutes, or decide to ignore the limit for today.
Note: If for any reason you don’t want to use an app at all, except in rare cases, you can set the Screen Time to 23 hours 59 minutes. The app will then be out of range unless you go back to “Settings” > “Screen Time” > “App Limits” and disable the limit.
Screen Time Passcode
If you want to keep certain apps out of the reach of your kids — or your roommate — you can create a passcode needed to make changes to Screen Time. The access code is also useful if you think you need an extra barrier before undoing one of your restrictions.
- Go to Screen Time and tap “Use Screen Time Passcode.”
- Set a four-digit passcode and re-enter it when prompted.
- Enter your Apple ID and password so you can use it if you forget your passcode.
And that’s it. To change or remove your passcode, go back to Screen Time and select “Change Screen Time Passcode.”
Content and Privacy Restrictions
The final selection in Screen Time isn’t so much about when you use your iPhone as it is about what you see or hear on it. Select “Content & Privacy Restrictions” if you want to allow or restrict explicit content, keep TV shows or movies to certain ratings, set an age limit for apps, restrict which websites are allowed, and a number of different limits for want to set up games (such as multiplayer games, connect with friends, or private messages).
Most of this is aimed at parents who want to oversee what their kids see and hear online, but if you’d rather avoid accidentally crashing into ‘adult’ websites, this could be useful. There are also some privacy features, such as stopping Apple ads or not allowing apps to change your microphone settings, Bluetooth sharing, and other features.