Parental Controls for Screen Time

With over 95% of teens having access to smart phones, and plenty of younger children as well, it’s no surprise that parental controls for screen time have become ever more important. The upcoming holiday break from school means kids will be tempted to rack up even more screen time, so now might be an ideal time to implement some parental controls if it’s on your to-do list.

There are a number of great options to help control screen time on phones, tablets, and computers. This post will review several popular options to help you find the right fit for your family. Some are oriented just for mobile devices, while others provide parental controls across multiple devices.

Parental Controls for Screen Time on Mobile Phones

iOS 12 Screen Time Controls

With the rollout of iOS 12, Apple added extra features in the form of Screen Time, found in Settings, to help understand and oversee device usage. We’ll focus here on parental controls, but know that you can use the same features to help set smart limits for yourself as well.

Once enabled, Screen Time provides both monitoring and control options. From the monitoring end, it tracks and reports everything from total minutes of phone usage to information on which apps your kid utilizes the most. This can be viewed from both a daily perspective and over the most recent week.

From the parental control perspective, Screen Time offers several different ways to provide oversight. One feature, Content & Privacy Restrictions, allows you to establish privacy preferences and limit explicit content and language across your child’s device from Music and Movies to Apps and Web Search Content. Another feature called App Limits can restrict time for app categories (like Social Media) or for specific apps. Using it would enable you to do things like allow Instagram and Twitter over break, but limit viewing to a certain amount of time each day. An additional control, Downtime, takes this a step further and lets you establish hours when the phone can’t be utilized for more than calls.

All in all, the combination of the different parental control knobs provides a lot nuance in your ability to manage screen time on an iPhone.

Android 9.0 Pie Digital Wellbeing

Android’s screen time monitoring tool, Digital Wellbeing, is still in a beta version. To give it a try, you’ll need to sign up for the Google tool on your Pixel or Pixel 2 smartphone. In its current form, Digital Wellbeing aims to help with your screen addictions, and is not geared to provide parental controls. (There is no password protection for the settings you establish, so your kids have the ability to edit them.)

Digital Wellbeing provides information on the number of unlocks, minutes the screen has been on, and number of notifications received each day. Like Apple’s Screen Time, Wellbeing allows you to mute notifications and set app time limits. The Wind Down feature switches visuals to grayscale and applies blue light filtering. Implement that with the Do Not Disturb feature (restricts notifications) in order to get ready for a good nights’ sleep.

Google’s Family Link For Parents App

While Digital Wellbeing can help you manage your own screen time over the holidays, you’ll likely prefer Google’s Family Link app to help your kids cut back on their Android time. This parental control app enables parents to set daily screen time limits, bedtimes, and lock or unlock your kid’s Android phone. Google’s Daily limits will apply to your child’s device – not to individual apps – and sets an allotted time a phone can remain unlocked each day. Similarly, Bedtime will automatically lock your child’s Android at the specific time you set.

Just like iOS Screen Time, Family Link provides safety and privacy features to help parents protect their children’s digital worlds. If you worry about the content or type of apps your child can access, Family Link lets you change Google Play filters to restrict downloads of Apps, Games, Music based on the level of maturity. Family Link does enable you to prevent your kids from changing the app settings you select.

Parental Controls for Screen Time on Multiple Devices

SelfControl for macOS

Intended to restrict your own internet time, SelfControl also works as a parent control to minimize a child’s screen time. A free tool for any internet websites and applications, SelfControl works in the opposite way from mobile app timers. Rather than setting a time limit for using an app, when you click the “Start” button, SelfControl blocks your selected sites for your selected time period.

And beware – once begun, there are no ways to override your self-imposed restrictions. The blocked sites stay blocked even if you delete the app. SelfControl can help you maximize your family time during winter break, but also consider using it to help your child focus on completing homework assignments – not updating Facebook – during the school year. Not a Mac user? SelfRestraint and Cold Turkey offer similar apps for those with Windows devices.


A cross-platform option for parents, ScreenLimit works for most mobile devices and desktop operating systems. Just like other screen time parental controls, ScreenLimit lets you set daily time caps on your child’s devices. Unlike other screen time apps, ScreenLimit also allows you to reward your kids with screen time for good behavior and completed homework or chores.

ScreenLimit also seeks to streamline your digital life with your physical life and let you make the most of your holiday time and beyond. ScreenLimit offers a schedule system to help with bedtimes, the start of school, and homework. And, with an included messaging system, ScreenLimit helps you and your family stay on schedule with each other. Completely block certain apps and allow unrestricted time on other apps like homework help or online learning sites. ScreenLimit offers a free selection of blocking features, and annual plans run for $39.99.

Norton Family

The Norton Family software package lets you monitor and protect all the online worlds of your children. Parents are able to set time limits on their child’s computer and phone, including setting up weekly schedules and hour limits. With Norton Family, you can supervise your child’s search history and social media use. Also, Norton Family includes a parent portal that keeps you informed on what content and apps your child accesses and what time they connect.

Norton Family additionally features security measures to ensure that content and apps are child-proof and appropriate. Parents can view the websites their kids use and block any sites they deem unsuitable. The software provides detailed reports on your child’s screen time use to your email inbox and your parent portal. Norton Family flags any unsafe searches or sites and encourages parents to talk with their children and teach healthy digital habits. Subscription plans start at $49.99 per year.

Concluding Thoughts

Implementing some parental controls for screen time might be a great way to help get your family to spend quality time together over the holidays — and perhaps even set some new habits for the new year.
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