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New features from Apple and Google help parents limit kids' screen time
Apple and Google have rolled out new features that allow parents to limit the time their children spend on phones and tablets. - photo by DepositPhotos

I have been the big bad meany for years when it comes to controlling how and when my children use their phones. I try to help my kids keep track of how long they spend staring at screens, but they often need reminders and guidance on how much is too much. Sometimes I turn into a nag. It’s exhausting.

Apple may have just come to the rescue. New parental controls are coming to its iOS 12 this fall that should help me in my quest to teach my kids some digital moderation. Apple’s Screen Time allows parents to see activity reports about how their kids are using their phones, and then gives moms and dads the ability to manage limits remotely. Apple explains on its website that it’s all meant to help customers “manage screen time for themselves and their families”

Parents can set specific time limits for individual apps. When time is running out, a notification pops up. The child has the option of requesting more time from a parent, but if none is granted, the app is no longer accessible when time expires.

Downtime is another feature that allows parents to set a schedule. Maybe moms and dads want their kids to spend a couple phone-free hours after school on homework, or just want to set a specific bedtime for social media use. When Downtime is turned on, it gets rid of notifications, and a badge will appear over any apps not allowed.

Activity Reports will be valuable for parents who may have children who like to downplay the amount of time they spend snapping and tweeting and watching YouTube. It shows how much total time a child has spent on their phone and can show use for the current day or for the past seven days.

It also breaks the total time down into categories, showing specifically how much time kids have spent on social networking, entertainment and productivity. The report also can show what time of day kids used those apps and how much they used them after they should have been in bed. It will even keep track of how often a person simply picked up the phone. And since Screen Time is account-based, it works across all of a child’s iOS devices. Your teenager won’t be able to get around the time limits by putting their phone down and grabbing their iPad. If you’re already using Family Sharing on iOS, Apple says this will be quick and easy to set up.

And don’t think these controls are just for kids. Apple may just be saving adults from themselves. Let’s face it: Teenagers aren’t the only ones who can’t seem to put down their phones. But when setting limits for ourselves, Apple allows us to choose. Adults can also set time limits for themselves on apps, but when the notification pops up that time is almost out, there’s nothing stopping you (besides willpower) from ignoring it and continuing to scroll through Instagram.

Google also has a lot of great features coming soon for parents trying to curb kids’ screen time. Google’s Digital Wellbeing will have an app dashboard to show how often you use your phone, including time spent on specific apps and frequency of notifications. On its website explaining the features, Google says Android users will also have the option of setting time limits for apps. But once you’ve reached the limit (even if you’re a grown up), you don’t simply get a notification like in iOS — the app actually grays out for the rest of the day. The Verge reports the only way to get access to that app after time has expired is to go back in to the dashboard and manually remove the limit.

For in-depth parental controls, Google requires an app called Family Link that has many of the features Apple is putting in its next software update. Family Link allows parents to set daily screen time limits. When time has expired, a child cannot see notifications on their phone, use apps or even unlock the device. They can still answer phone calls if you’re paying for a calling plan. Unlike on Apple devices, with Google’s screen time limits, each device stands alone. If a parent allows two hours of screen time per day, a teenager could use up all their time on their phone and then move over to a tablet to get an additional two hours.

The Family Link app also allows parents to remotely lock a child’s device and set a bedtime for the phone. The app has been around since last fall, but Google released an iOS version in April that makes it a great option for mixed families who use both Android and Apple devices.

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