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Solving for Common Problems with Apple Screen Time

Updated April 1, 2024

Each iPhone comes with Screen Time built-in, but Apple's parental controls has some glaring issues and compatibility problems that need to be accounted for. If Screen Time is not working for you, or you've found some ways to bypass it, this post will help you solve for these limitations.

If you've read any of our other guides, you'll see that we recommend combining screen time app limits, web content filtering, and basic restrictions with your Tech Lockdown DNS Content Policy . This is an ideal parental control and self-control setup for the iPhone.

However, as many people come to realize, Screen Time has quite a few gaps that can weaken your Blocking System by opening up loopholes for bypassing restrictions.

In this article, I want to go through some of the weaknesses of screen time and how you can solve for them.

Screen Time Pin is Easily Bypassed

This first point mainly applies to people who are using Screen Time for their own self-control. 

If you go through the initial setup process, you can select This is My Child's iPhone even if it is your personal device. 

This allows you to set a 4 digit pin, which will be used to unlock screen time.

Some people choose a random pin while other people ask a partner to set the pin.

If you are self-managing, you might find it difficult to forget a 4 digit pin, even if it is random. Furthermore, as the owner of the iPhone with your own Apple ID linked, you have several ways to recover the Screen Time pin.

One way to work around this is to set a different recovery email when you set up screen time. 

If this doesn't work for you, I'm afraid that standard screen time probably won't cut it. 

You'd need to go a step further than screen time by supervising or managing your iPhone .

Once you convert your iPhone to a supervised or managed device, you get access to the same Screen Time features, but they are configured a different way that is harder to bypass.

Step-by-step Instructions

Managing iOS devices can be a confusing process, so we've made step-by-step instructions available to Tech Lockdown members. See the Guides section in your Tech Lockdown account.

Web Content Filtering Browser Compatibility

You can use Screen Time to enable a Web Content Filter to limit Adult Websites or specify specific URLs that should be blocked. This should enforce SafeSearch on Google and a few other search engines.

However, many people discover that the content filtering is inconsistent outside of the Safari browser.

One way to solve for this would be to block apps on the iPhone to restrict access to other browsers so that you are using the browser that has the best support for Screen Time.

This is why we recommend using screen time's web content filtering as a backup option alongside your DNS Content Policy .

DNS Filtering will work reliably across all browsers and Screen Time won't conflict with it. This means that it's a great backup blocking layer. 

Limiting Private Browsing

Increasing browsing transparency is a core part of parental control and self-control with accountability.

A less well-known feature of the Screen Time web content filter is that it also can  prevent private browsing  in a few limited ways. With the Web Content Filter enabled, some of the browser's private browsing features will be disabled. For example, deleting browser history.

However, many people notice that this has now changed so that specific history entries can be deleted . There isn't an easy workaround for this. If Apple decides to make changes, like allowing individual browser history entries to still be removed, there isn't much you can do about that.

Furthermore, this limited feature lacks compatibility with browsers other than Safari. 

More browsers are building in support for Screen Time since Apple now provides a Screen Time API  that iPhone app developers can use to accommodate parental control settings. However, the other side of this is that some browsers will specifically ignore this in order to focus more on privacy and provide an alternative for people who want to bypass Screen Time.

You can use the previous workaround of blocking apps on the iPhone to limit the ability to download unsupported browsers.

However, if you use a DNS Filtering service, you'll already have an immutable DNS log of browsing activity .

DNS logs can be viewed from a dashboard and don't require physical access to the iPhone's browser. Furthermore, it will reliably support any browser you use on iOS.

Blocked Apps have to Already Exist on the Device

The Allowed Apps section of Screen Time is used to toggle availability of each app. This basically blocks apps, but they have to already exist on the device.

In order to not open up any loopholes with the App Store, you also have to prevent installing new apps.

Disabling the App Store isn't a good option for everyone, especially when you consider that this will prevent apps from updating. We'll go into this more later.

There are two other ways you can block apps without them already existing on the device.

The first way would be to use your DNS Content Policy to create a block rule for the specific app you want to restrict access to.

While this won't prevent that app from being downloaded from the app store, it will cause the app and associated mobile website from working, rendering it useless.

Another approach would be to supervise or manage an iPhone to get access to app blocklists.

You can restrict apps this way without them having to already be installed on the device. It will prevent them from being downloaded from the App Store. You won't need to disable the App Store completely with this approach.

Disabling the App Store Prevents Apps from Updating

A major issue we've noticed is that using the Screen Time option to prevent installing apps from the app store will also prevent app updates.

In order to update apps, you'll have to unlock screen time, allow installing apps, then run those app updates before locking screen time again.

This is incredibly tedious and often leads to people reverting this option entirely.

A better approach would be to use device supervision/management approach to disable the app store.

You can specify the option Allow automatic app downloads so that app updates continue working even though new apps can't be downloaded.

Manage iOS Devices at Home
Manage iOS Devices at Home
Become a member to access step-by-step guides.

App Time Limits Bypassed in the Browser

When you set App Limits with Screen Time, this does not apply to the mobile version of the website in the browser.

For example, you could use the YouTube app, hit your App Limit, then simply switch over to Safari and go to The browser experience is similar to the app downloaded from the app store. 

There are two ways you could improve your Screen Time configuration to solve for this:

  1. Add a time limit for Safari as well
  2. Use the Downtime feature to schedule downtime from everything

Another way to handle this would be to create a scheduled Content Policy rule to restrict when apps or websites can be used.

For example, you could go to the Content Policy editor in your Tech Lockdown account, create a Block rule, and select the YouTube app.

Selecting the YouTube app would cause this rule to apply to both the app and website.

Then, assign a schedule to that rule. My approach is to group several distracting apps and websites into a single scheduled rule that only allows access during my lunch break.

Final Thoughts

Some weaknesses of Screen Time can be solved for by adjusting your screen time settings, but you'll likely need to combine Screen Time with a DNS Filter for it to be effective.

If this doesn't go far enough for you, you'll have to swap out Screen Time for device management/supervision configurations, which unlock new capabilities in addition to preventing bypass in better ways.