Facing an uphill battle against your kid's seemingly nonstop screen time? Here are several ways you can rig a device to set limits.

By Maressa Brown
November 01, 2019

From Disney+ to YouTube to other apps and games, kids have access to more content via the internet and devices than ever before. Yet, current American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations state that kids under the age of 18 months have no screen time, and those 18 months to 2 years only participate in video chatting. Additionally, children under 5 should have just one hour of screen time, and those over 6 should have consistent limits. Attempting to set healthy boundaries around screen time is a challenge for any parent. Thankfully, there are some smart, intuitive ways to do just that.

1. Try the "Guided Access" feature on your iPhone or iPad.

A post recently shared in the Parenting subreddit touched on the usefulness of this setting. A Redditor writing under the handle squonch stated that although their little ones' screen time is limited "as much as possible," it's "nice to play something educational." The parent found it frustrating that every time they'd be playing with their son, he'd be pressing the home button or swiping to other apps. Turning on Guided Access can help.

Just go to Settings - Accessibility - Guided Access, and you can toggle that setting to the "on" position. Apple explains that the feature "limits your device to a single app and lets you control which features are available. You can turn on Guided Access when you let a child use your device, or when accidental gestures might distract you."

The original poster (OP) on Reddit pointed out that once you're in the app you want to use, you triple click the home button (or power button on newer devices), then when you press "start," the app is locked. "You can't come out, power off the device, etc., and at last your little one can be in full control," they shared.

You also have the ability to set a Guided Access passcode, which the OP noted "may be useful when caving in to the demands of older kids asking, 'Can I play a game on your phone?' No more worry of them accidentally emailing the boss or finding anything they shouldn’t."

2. Enable the "Screen Time" feature or "Digital Wellbeing" app.

Screen Time, a feature that debuted on Apple devices last fall, can be accessed via the iPhone's settings. It will show you stats about screen time use for the day or week, including the amount of time you spent on specific apps and on the phone overall. You can also use it to set specific time limits for specific apps or even categories of apps, like social networking or games. And when you run out of time, the phone actually locks you out.

Apple notes that on a device that's primarily used by your child, parents can set up Screen Time and create settings right on their device or they can use Family Sharing to configure their child’s device from their own device. Family Sharing allows parents to view reports and adjust settings from their own device, as well.

There's also a way to block use, downloads, and purchase of certain types of content using the Content & Privacy Restrictions.

On Android devices, you can use Google's Digital Wellbeing app, which works similarly to track usage and set app time limits. They also have a Google's Family Link app, which allows parents to set time limits and approve what their kids can and can't download from the Play Store.

3. Download and activate the Screen Time app

Screen Time is also the name of a parental control app that's available for iOS, Android, and Kindle devices. Not only will the apps set limits on screen time during specific blocks of time (perhaps when your L.O. is supposed to be doing their chores or homework), but parents can activate a feature called "Free Play" that will temporarily override settings, when the time is right. It also monitors kids' browsing history.

There are free and premium versions of the app. The latter offers even more granular features, like the ability to set specific daily time limits for kids' screen time, instantly pause kids' devices, block apps at certain times of the day, or block all activity at bedtime.

The Bottom Line

Despite facing what can feel like an uphill battle against perpetual device use, there are increasingly more ways for parents to control just how much—and what type of—screen time their kids have access to. That said, nothing really beats pairing screen time with one-on-one time. As the Redditor who loves Guided Access put it, "This is never a substitute for supervision—playing with devices can be fun and educational but never to substitute being there and interacting with little developing minds!