How To Set Up iPhone Parental Controls

Apple iOS Parental Controls – Getting Better

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Apple iOS 12 Parental Controls Review

*Updated for iOS 14+, December 2020

Apple has announced the upcoming release of iOS 12. While iOS 12 won’t be released to the general public until the Fall, Netsanity is actively reviewing the beta version. The beta version of iOS 12 is packed full of new features, including some long-anticipated parent controls — like the feature called Screen Time. Screen Time is Apple’s first attempt at providing real, usable controls for parents who want to keep their children safe online.

Child safety online, is a founding principal of Netsanity, and we take it very seriously; therefore, we’ve written this sneak peek into the upcoming iOS 12 features (specifically Screen Time, Downtime, Notifications, Do Not Disturb, and Web Content Filtering) and explain in “parent-speak” how they will compliment your subscription to Netsanity.

New Feature: Screen Time

Apple iOS 12 Parental Controls - Screen Time

Screen Time aggregates device and app usage information into several colorful – and informative – charts and graphs. These graphs show primarily what categories and apps a device user interacts with the most, as well as how often they pick up their device. Also, if you have set up an allowance for a specified amount of time per day on a category or app, the Screen Time feature will show how much time is remaining for the current day if you have set up limits in Screen Time’s App Limits feature.

Screen Time’s App Limits feature “allows people to set a specific amount of time to be in an app, and a notification will display when a time limit is about to expire,” according to Apple’s release notes (Usually gives a 5-minute warning).

App Limits

However, There Are Control Limitations

As any parent who has tried to limit a child’s access to their device will know, our children are smart about getting around settings or enforcement. For instance, after taking away my daughter’s iPhone one long weekend, I noticed that the barrage of complaints from her suddenly ceased (like when toddlers at playtime are all of a sudden very quiet – you know something is amiss). Well, while she did not have access to her iPhone, she did have her computer and simply logged-in to her favorite messaging app’s companion website and satisfied her “Fear of Missing Out.” With iOS 12, an app may be blocked after a specified amount of time used for a given daily limit, but,, or any other website will not be blocked. Even when the entire category of “Social Media” is blocked, only the Social Media apps on the device are actively restricting access. We also noted that the measurement of the “time” has flaws with either too much or too little action taken.
We have approached this problem differently from the outset. Netsanity blocks websites, apps, and content using the actual network and not the app. So, when a parent blocks Snapchat via appblocker, for example, we block both the app and the website access. That is the only way to really lock it down.
We really like the Screen Time feature, especially the charts and graphs, and we believe that Apple is the only true source we can trust for Screen Time metrics, as they keep that information very secure – for many reasons. Yet, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security when you see Facebook or Instagram app screen time’s start to dwindle – especially if you don’t hear complaints from your teenager – as they are most likely increasing their web traffic on Safari or Chrome or one of the other browsers to get their “needs” met.

New Feature: Downtime

Downtime — Don’t we all need a little :)! Apple’s Downtime feature will block access to all apps, except for phone calls (unless an app is specifically in the “Always Allowed List”. This feature will mute notifications from apps and will display a badge on apps to indicate they are not allowed to be used. Parents can choose individual apps like SMS or Facetime, for example, to always be available even during Downtime.

Apple iOS 12 Parental Contols - Downtime

Warning: Parents should be careful if they use the same account as their kids as this applies to all devices, so make sure you create a child’s Apple ID. We see kids requesting parents for more time which will create a “spamming” effect. Kids will click the button repeatedly until a parent physically takes the iPhone away – you have been warned!

Downtime is a similar feature to Netsanity’s existing timeblocker and timeout features that are popular with parents. With the timeblocker scheduler or timeout, you can also lock the screen, hide all the apps, and disable the internet. Netsanity’s timeblocker provides for different schedules based on the day of the week and allows you to set it on one or all devices including non-apple devices, like an Android Samsung smartphone or tablet.


With the new release, Apple allows parents more control over how notifications are delivered. You can turn them off completely via the Notification Center. They have also integrated with Siri, so Siri can make suggestions for notifications settings. We think this is a great feature and will allow parents to curb some unneeded distractions.

Netsanity’s Timeblocker and Timeout feature work similarly to reduced notifications. For instance, when I child is blocked based on a set schedule, for instance for bed-time, notifications and news on the locked screen are blocked from displaying.

Do Not Disturb

Apple has had Do Not Disturb (aka DND) for a while, but it was most notable in the “while driving” feature. With the release of iOS 12, Apple has added even more capabilities. Now, there is also a new DND during Bedtime mode to help kids get a better night’s sleep by dimming the display and hiding all notifications on the lock screen until prompted in the morning. DND has new options from Control Center where it can be set to automatically end based on a specified time or location.

Porn and Website Blocking

Apple IOS has had limited content filtering for years. Parents needed to go into device restrictions on each device and manually set those filter options. Those capabilities have now been exposed to parents so they can be managed remotely. However, those are in effect only for Safari and are very limited. Furthermore, Screen Time is built completely around monitoring the app’s usage but gives no insight into how your children use the browser or where they are spending their browser time.

Unlike Apple’s limited filtering, Netsanity has extensive, network-level parental controls that will block not just porn, but 30+ other categories with one click. Parents need to be aware that most porn is accessed via hidden apps, non-Safari browsers, proxy servers, and the dark web. Apple’s content filtering does not address any of those access points. Parents who need a serious website filter will still need a powerful tool, like Netsanity’s content filtering and network-level blocking to protect their kids from pornography, proxy sites, and other harmful content.

Furthermore, Netsanity offers both YouTube and Safe Search options. This means that you don’t have to completely block Google searches nor the YouTube app to protect kids from unsuitable content. We feel that Apple missed out by not having those as core options, and points to the continued need for services that are designed specifically for the task of parental controls.

Netsanity + iOS = Complete Solution To Protect Your Children

Apple’s new features are a welcome addition and will drive more adoption for parental involvement in their children’s online activity. As in most things, not every feature solves every unique family situation. There are many times where a solution for one child will not work for another.

Parents need true content filtering, porn controls, the ability to block websites in addition to apps, other device restrictions, etc… Apple’s new parental controls will not fill all those rabbit holes that children invariably go down in to. Finding a comprehensive secure way for children to navigate the Mobile/Internet world, is all we do at Netsanity. And for that reason, we applaud Apple’s recognition that they must do more, and believe that Netsanity + Apple iOS 12 gets us much closer to our goal as parents.

Matt, CTO – Netsanity

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