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Parental Controls on iPhone

Learn about how parents can use Screen Time, Device Supervision, and other techniques to keep children safe online

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Tech Lockdown Team
Updated April 4, 2024

Screen Time is the easiest option for parents to consider if they want to enable parental controls on their child's iPhone. Screen Time is the built-in setting that can be used to set App limits, control what kinds of apps are allowed to be downloaded, and other content restriction features. This guide will go over how we recommend parents set up Screen Time to provide the most protection for their child.

While Screen Time is a good start, parents should also consider using other techniques in order to provide the most amount of protection possible. These other options include using third-party apps, and using device supervision or management. But first, we'll take a look at Screen Time, and what settings it provides to parents.

What is Screen Time, and Why Should I Care?

Apple describes Screen Time like this: "Screen Time lets you know how much time you and your kids spend on apps, websites, and more." In other words, Screen Time is designed to monitor and restrict you or your child's activity. 

It's important to notice the language that's being used by Apple to describe it. Screen Time isn't designed to act like a guardian for your children, it's designed to allow you to monitor your child's activities and set some limits accordingly. This means that you, as the parent or guardian, will have to stay on top of how your child is using the iPhone, and which limits you need to set.

Different households are going to have different ground rules. Some parents want a more restrictive approach for their kids, while others want to just block the bad stuff. This guide will offer approaches that will lean towards a more restrictive setup (and we highly recommend it, especially for younger eyes).

Screen Time is great for monitoring and setting some basic limits. However, there are more ways to add layers of protection to a device. Later on in this guide, we'll talk about device supervision and management, and how these can really lock down a device. A supervised or managed device also make it very difficult (or impossible) to bypass settings, including settings that are normally not enforceable with Screen Time.

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Enabling Parental Controls on iPhone with Screen Time

Screen Time can be set up in one of two ways:

  1. For yourself - You can choose the settings on your own iPhone, but the restrictions can be easily turned off or changed.
  2. For your Child - You can choose which settings are enabled, and then enforce them with a passcode. This passcode can be reset by the parent if they forget.

For parents, we recommend using the second option. This means that your child will not be able to turn off these settings. In order to do this, you will need to have your own Apple ID so you can reset the passcode in case you forget.

Setting a Passcode for Screen Time

Using Screen Time to Block Inappropriate Websites Automatically

Under Content Restrictions, you will have several options. Many of these options you should go ahead and disable, or at least confirm that the default setting is sufficient. 

You can limit:

  • The Music and Video age rating for the device.
  • The TV and Movie age rating for the device.
  • Age rating for Apps and Books.
  • Whether Adult Websites are limited.
  • Whether you want Siri to show web content.
  • What kind of interactions with other players are permitted with the Game Center.

Blocking a Website on Screen Time Manually

You can also add a website manually. You may need to do this is there is a particular website that isn't automatically filtered out correctly.

Set App Limits with Screen Time

Another feature that Screen Time provides is the ability to add limits to apps. A limit is like a daily timer, which will set how long an app is allowed to be used per day. You can use it to kinda block certain apps (this is not the best way to do this, it's far more effective to use a supervised or managed device). 

You may have a noticed a small problem. This method doesn't truly block the app - someone can still open the app for one minute. This is an unfortunate limitation present in the Screen Time, because it only limits apps, and doesn't allow you to block an app entirely. There are ways you can do this on an iPhone, but it requires you to have a supervised or managed device.

Using Screen Time to Prevent Installing New Apps

One of the last topics we'll cover in regard to Screen Time is how to prevent new Apps from being installed. Doing this is pretty easy:

Why disable Deleting Apps?

If you are using a parental control app, or have a content filter on your child's iPhone, then you can prevent them from being able to uninstall it by turning off the ability to delete apps. 

Recap of Screen Time for Parental Controls

Screen Time is a pretty good option for parental controls overall. It allows you to have some control over your child's device, set up the important stuff (like app limits and websites), and even can prevent new apps from being installed. These are great, but there are several caveats.

  • Firstly, blocking apps is not a thing with Screen Time, at least, not in a way that's useful to parents. You can choose some apps to be disabled, but these are going to be some of the default apps for iPhones. In order to "block" another app, you have to set a low time limit for that app. 
  • Secondly, web filtering is not the best. The category is limited to just Adult Websites, or sites that you specifically choose. This is a very good starting option, but what if you want to limit other websites, like different social media or entertainment sites and apps? What if you want to see logs about your child's activity?

We recommend two things: using a DNS Filter, and Device Supervision/Management. Device Management allows you to have much more control over the kinds of restrictions and settings are allowed on your devices. These settings are also hardened against all kinds of bypass methods, so rest assured that your device is protected. DNS Filtering allows you to have network-level filtering for your devices and is more effective than Screen Time.

In the next section, we'll discuss device supervision and management, and how you as a parent can use them to enforce parental controls beyond what iPhones usually allow.

Manage iOS Devices at Home
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Using Device Supervision and Management to Enforce Parental Controls

There is a difference between a Supervised and a Managed Device. Both use something called profiles to enforce a group of settings on a device. This is usually done because (1) profiles install settings on a device in such a way that they cannot be changed from the device itself, and (2) there are many more settings that are normally impossible to change on a standard device. 

What is Device Supervision?

Device Supervision is when you manually push a profile onto a device. This profile is created by you first, and then enforced on your chosen device through a physical connection. 

Device Supervision is not as robust as Device Management (there are many features that you can only unlock with a Managed Device), but it is much easier and still allows you to enable many settings that are not possible on a standard device. 

Some of the things you can change with a Supervised Device include:

  • Enforce device settings, like VPN and network settings.
  • Prevent uninstalling apps (very useful if you pair this with a content filter).
  • Disable erase content & settings.
  • Block apps (not just limit them).
  • Enforce Screen Time and have presets for blocked websites.

What is Device Management?

Device Management is a big step above Supervision. Not only can you enable the the same settings as a Supervised device, but you can also unlock other settings:

  • Remote Management
  • Unlock DNS Filtering (this means that you can restrict content at the network level)
  • Enable Kiosk Mode (this allows you to create a highly restricted device experience)

The biggest downside for a Manage iPhone is the complicated process to actually set it up. Unfortunately, this is too much to get into with this article.

Tech Lockdown premium members get access to our guides that walk you through the process of creating supervised and managed devices, in addition to our included DNS Filter.

Creating and Enforcing an App Blocklist

This is a feature that you can unlock with both a Managed and Supervised Device. An App blocklist will prevent the app from being allowed to be installed in the first place, so you can control in great detail what's even allowed on a child's device.

Enforcing Screen Time Restrictions

You can enforce the same Screen Time restrictions that we mentioned earlier in the article, but without the ability to unlock with a passcode. You can even pre-load websites to the allowed and never allowed list.

Kiosk Mode: The Ultimate Lockdown

The most powerful form of content blocking is Kiosk mode, which is a feature only available to Managed iPhones. With Kiosk mode, you choose what apps are allowed to be displayed on the home screen and disable all other apps.

Pairing a DNS Filter with Device Supervision and Management

You can choose Apps that will be enforced. On an iPhone, this will have to be done with a Managed device, but once set up, you will have unlocked network level-filtering.

This is what we strongly recommend parents consider using on their child's devices. Network-level filtering allows you to do so much on your devices, and it's done independently of the websites and apps being used.

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What Can You Do with a Network Filter on an iPhone?

The ultimate approach to content filtering on any device happens at the network level. As a taste, these are just some of the things that a DNS filter can do.

Enforce Filtering on an iPhone with Device Management

As mentioned previously, you can have DNS Filtering on your own devices, and enforce it with device management. This is especially useful on mobile devices and smartphones, because filtering travels with the device. 

Install a DNS Filter on Your Home Network

One of the most powerful features of a DNS Filter is its ability to filter an entire home network. This is extremely powerful, since any devices connected to this network now all take advantage of the filtering, including any special settings that you've configured for your network. Learn more about how to enable a content filter on your home router .

Block Categories of Content

Almost all DNS filters include many different categories that you can choose to block. For example, Tech Lockdown's DNS Filter has Adult Content filtered by default, but other categories and settings can be set up. Safe Search for browsers, YouTube restricted mode, and other content categories can be enabled, and can be applied to an entire home network.

Block Websites

You can block websites that don't fit a specific category. These blocked websites will apply to the device that you set up and can work in addition to iPhone's Screen Time. This is what we call Layers of Protection. The more layers you have, the less likely one of your layers failing will cause your filtering to fail.

Block Content on Social Media

Because you can use a DNS filter to choose which web addresses you have access to, you can apply that knowledge to block some features within websites.

A perfect example of this is blocking YouTube thumbnails . Thumbnails are how YouTube attempts to distract you and keep you watching. By disabling them, you can still use the service without being distracted.

Other examples include enabling Safe Search for browsers , setting YouTube's restricted mode , and more!

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

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Screen Time Block Inappropriate Content?

For the most part, yes. Websites that have been tagged by Apple as Adult can be limited. However, this is not always perfect, and occasionally, some websites will not be properly blocked. This is why we recommend using multiple solutions on top of each other.

Can Screen Time Be Bypassed?

Yes. Screen Time can be enforced with a passcode, and while setting it up, you will be prompted to enter your Apple ID in case you forget your passcode. If you make sure that this Apple ID is not accessible by your child, then they won't be able to reset the passcode themselves. 

I Use an App for Parental Controls. Can I Prevent This App from Being Uninstalled?

Yes. In some cases, you can use Screen Time to prevent apps from being deleted, which can prevent a parental control from being uninstalled. However, the most effective way to ensure that an app cannot be uninstalled is to make it a Supervised or Managed Device.

How Do I Set Up a Supervised/Managed Device?

We provide premium guides that members will get access to when they sign up . These guides will walk you through the process of setting up your own Managed devices. 

I Have an Android Device. Can I Still Make It a Managed Device?

Yes! We provide instructions for how to manage both Android and iPhone devices .