Are Your Kids or Teens Unlocking Apple Screen Time Limits?

We’ve writ­ten a lot about the impor­tance of lim­it­ing and mon­i­tor­ing screen time for kids. While we believe that tech­nol­o­gy can enrich kids’ lives when used respon­si­bly and with mod­er­a­tion, we also encour­age par­ents to take a hands-on approach when it comes to how their chil­dren use elec­tron­ic devices and con­sume dig­i­tal content.

Many par­ents won­der how much screen time is too much, but aren’t sure how to mea­sure or track the time their kids actu­al­ly spend on smart­phones or tablets. In 2018, Apple took a big step for­ward to help par­ents keep tabs on their chil­drens’ screen time. They intro­duced a fea­ture in iOS 12 apt­ly named Apple Screen Time” to assist par­ents in lim­it­ing the amount of time their kids spend in front of a screen and to pro­vide bet­ter con­trol over the apps and con­tent chil­dren are engag­ing with. If you aren’t famil­iar with Apple parental con­trols, you can eas­i­ly set up Screen Time on any iOS device (see our guide here).

While Screen Time is a step in the right direc­tion, it isn’t per­fect. Since its release, sig­nif­i­cant flaws have been quick­ly and eas­i­ly dis­cov­ered by tech-savvy chil­dren and teens. Infor­ma­tion about bypass­ing parental con­trols has been shared online and is spread­ing rapidly.

Par­ents can take steps, how­ev­er, to fight back against parental con­trol hacks and pro­tect their children.

Apple Screen Time Exploits and How to Fix Them

General Tips for Parental Controls on Apple / iOS Devices

The num­ber one best line of defense is nev­er to share your pass­word or pin code with your chil­dren. Make your parental con­trol pin dif­fi­cult to guess (don’t use a birth­day, tele­phone dig­its or oth­er sig­nif­i­cant num­ber) and dif­fer­ent than oth­er pass codes. 

Next, (espe­cial­ly for younger chil­dren) block the App Store and the abil­i­ty to down­load apps unas­sist­ed. To do this, go to Screen Time > Con­tent & Pri­va­cy Restric­tions > iTunes & App Store Pur­chas­es > Installing Apps, and then select Don’t Allow. You can still give your child access to the apps you want them to have by using the Fam­i­ly Shar­ing feature.

Now, on to some of the more cre­ative parental con­trol workarounds that kids have dis­cov­ered, and how you can com­bat them.

Resetting Time Limits by Deleting and Re-Installing

The prob­lem: Kids are delet­ing apps after they’ve hit Screen Time lim­its and rein­stalling via Fam­i­ly Share or iCloud. This resets the clock on time lim­its and nul­li­fies any pre­vi­ous restrictions. 

Solu­tion: If you dis­cov­er that your kids are using this parental con­trol workaround, you should com­plete­ly dis­able the App Store. It will pre­vent your child from access­ing Fam­i­ly Share with­out your assistance. 

Next, set strict store restric­tions, select­ing the Don’t Allow” set­ting for installing and delet­ing apps and mak­ing in-app pur­chas­es. It will block the abil­i­ty to delete and rein­stall apps for the pur­pose of extend­ing screen time past pre­de­fined limits.

Bypassing YouTube restrictions via iMessage

The prob­lem: Kids are bypass­ing Screen Time lim­its for YouTube by send­ing them­selves videos and using the YouTube iMes­sage app to view them. iMes­sage apps don’t adhere to the same lim­its as the over­all Screen Time function.

Solu­tion: The best way to pro­tect your kids from unsu­per­vised or unap­proved YouTube usage is by delet­ing the YouTube app entire­ly and block­ing the web­site at the sys­tem set­tings lev­el. To block YouTube at a sys­tem lev­el, go to the Set­tings app and tap Screen Time > Con­tent & Pri­va­cy Restric­tions > Con­tent Restric­tions > Web Con­tent and tap Lim­it Adult Web­sites.” You can then tap Add Web­site” under Nev­er Allow” and enter https://​www​.youtube​.com/.

Screen Recording to Discover Parental Control Passcodes

The prob­lem: By screen record­ing what’s hap­pen­ing on their device after hand­ing it back to a par­ent, kids are cap­tur­ing Screen Time pass­codes and using them lat­er to bypass, dis­able or change limits.

Solu­tion: You’ll know your screen is being record­ed if you see a flash­ing red icon in the top left nav­i­ga­tion bar of the device. Always check for this icon before enter­ing your pass­code. You can also dis­able screen record­ing com­plete­ly. To do this, go to Set­tings > Screen Time > Con­tent & Pri­va­cy Restric­tions > Con­tent Restric­tions > Screen Record­ing > Don’t Allow.

Factory Reset

The prob­lem: Chil­dren are doing a com­plete fac­to­ry reset and set­ting phones and tablets up as a new” device. This com­plete­ly eras­es Screen Time set­tings and allows kids to use the device with­out restrictions.

Solu­tion: Make sure your child isn’t using their own Apple ID on the device. If the Find My” fea­ture is enabled, it will require an Apple ID pass­word to be entered upon set­up of the reset device. It’s also a best prac­tice to check Screen Time met­rics on a reg­u­lar basis. If a reset occurs, you’ll know imme­di­ate­ly by the sud­den absence/​drop off of any usage metrics.

Time Zone and Device Time Changes

The prob­lem: By mov­ing the device date back from the cur­rent one or set­ting the device time zone to a region behind your own time, chil­dren can access addi­tion­al screen time beyond what you have allowed. 

Solu­tion: Set the time zone and date to update auto­mat­i­cal­ly and block changes at the sys­tem set­tings lev­el. To dis­able changes to time zones, take the fol­low­ing steps:

Go to Set­tings > Screen Time > Con­tent & Pri­va­cy Restric­tions > Loca­tion Ser­vices. Under Sys­tem Ser­vices, ensure Set­ting Time Zone is tog­gled on. Tap Don’t Allow Changes” at the top of the Loca­tion Ser­vices page.

Using Siri to Send Messages After Time Limits Have Already Been Reached

The prob­lem: Kids are using Siri to dic­tate and send mes­sages to their friends after they have reached the max­i­mum screen time allowed in the Screen Time settings. 

Solu­tion: Dis­able Siri by going to Screen Time > Con­tent & Pri­va­cy Restric­tions > Allowed Apps and tog­gling off Siri & Dictation.

Sending Messages Using the Share Function

The prob­lem: Kids are bypass­ing time lim­its by send­ing mes­sages through the Share” func­tion built into many apps. For exam­ple, by tak­ing a screen­shot and using the Share to Mes­sages” func­tion, they can bring up the Mes­sag­ing app and then delete the screen­shot to bring up a blank slate to send their text. They can also go into the Con­tacts app and elect to share a con­tact via text. They’ll then have access to iMes­sage in a sim­i­lar fashion.

Solu­tion: There are no com­pre­hen­sive solu­tions yet for iMes­sage, but in the case of the Con­tacts share workaround, you can set a short time lim­it (1 minute) for the Con­tacts app in Screen Time.

Accessing Messages After Downtime

The prob­lem: When mes­sage noti­fi­ca­tions come in after down­time is acti­vat­ed, kids can still swipe down on the noti­fi­ca­tion to read and respond to the message.

Solu­tion: Unfor­tu­nate­ly there is not an ide­al solu­tion for this loop­hole except to dis­able all mes­sage notifications.

Launching the Safari Browser from Inside 3rd-Party Apps

The prob­lem: Apps that use built-in brows­er expe­ri­ences allow kids to access Safari even when Screen Time lim­its are in place. For exam­ple, if a child opens an app like Gmail or Face­book Mes­sen­ger and taps a link, the web view with­in the app will open a new brows­er win­dow. Even if the address bar is hid­den in the view from with­in the app, kids can still click through links or send them­selves links to an app that pro­vides access to a brows­er window.

Solu­tion: Change sys­tem set­tings to Allowed Web­sites Only, which will restrict in-app browsers, and set strict lim­its on which web­sites are avail­able on the child’s device. To do this, go to the Set­tings app and tap Screen Time > Con­tent & Pri­va­cy Restric­tions > Con­tent Restric­tions > Web Con­tent and tap Allowed Web­sites Only.” You can then con­fig­ure the cus­tomized list of web­sites that your child can access.

Staying Vigilant to Protect Our Kids

While parental con­trols on iOS devices can help lim­it screen time, they are far from per­fect, and cer­tain­ly not a replace­ment for parental mon­i­tor­ing of a child’s online habits and behaviors. 

The best solu­tion for build­ing healthy screen time habits is to help your child under­stand why they need lim­its and what the dan­gers of screen time addic­tion are if they don’t fol­low the ground rules you’ve set.