Parental control and data usage tips for iPhone and iPad
This page provides basic tips on managing data and controlling the usage of your iPhone or iPad. It includes the use of parental controls and “screen time” systems.
What are the iPhone and iPad?
The iPhone and iPad are mobile devices created and sold by Apple. They connect to the internet either via wireless connections (Wi-Fi), or a mobile network, using a SIM card.
These devices run an operating system called iPadOS (iPads made after 2019) or iOS (iPhones and iPads made before 2019).
Software or apps for iPhones and iPads are found in the App Store.
Apple has support pages that can be very helpful for general, common tasks or issues.
Usage and parental controls
Usage and parental controls are systems that allow you to control who can access what devices, services, or internet pages at any given time.
These controls are particularly useful for managing child/student access to devices, keeping younger people safer online.
They are also useful in managing or preventing addictive internet behaviours, or keeping you focussed on a particular task.
Such controls can form a key part of a cyber-safety program.
Disclaimer: Regional Tech Hub are not specialists in this area. This page presents a small sample of the tools you can use to manage yours and your child’s device. We encourage you to read widely on this topic if you have primary or secondary age children, and remind you that many social media platforms require children to be at least 13 years of age to join.
Apple Screen Time
“Screen time” is a term that refers to the amount of time someone spends looking at a computer or device screen. Apple’s Screen Time is built-in to all modern Apple systems – desktops, laptops, and mobile devices. It’s available on iPhones and iPads running iOS12 or later.
The Apple Screen Time feature allows you to manage how you, your children, or your family use your Apple devices.
For example, you can:
- Access real-time reports about how much time you spend on your iPhone or iPad.
- Set limits on how the device is used, and for how long.
- Block or limit specific apps and features on your and your child’s device.
- Restrict access to explicit content, purchases and downloads.
- Tighten privacy.
We provide an overview of the main features of Screen Time below. Visit the provided links to get more detailed information and instructions.
- PCMag Au: How to Use Apple’s Screen Time on iPhone or iPad
- Apple: Use Screen Time on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch
- Techradar: Parental controls on iPhone and iPad: how to make an iOS device child friendly
If you’re using Screen Time or other controls for a child, be aware that there are a number of ways to get around the limitations. The “Protect Young Eyes” website outlines some of the most common “hacks”, or workarounds, and ways to prevent them.
Protect Young Eyes: 12 Ingenious iOS Screen Time Hacks (and how to beat them!)
How to turn on Screen Time
Use these instructions to turn on Screen Time for the first time.
- Go to “Settings”, then tap “Screen Time”.
- Tap “Turn On Screen Time”.
- Tap “Continue”.
- Select either “This is My [device]” or “This is My Child’s [device]”.
- The Screen Time page will display.
Once Screen Time is turned on, on each Apple device you can get a report about how you use your device, apps, and websites, any time you want.
If it’s your child’s device, you can set up Screen Time and create settings on their device, or you can use Family Sharing to configure your child’s device from your own device.
After you set up your child’s device, you can also use Family Sharing to view reports and adjust settings any time, right from your own device.
Screen Time passcode
You can create a dedicated passcode – a number password – to secure the Screen Time settings, so only you can extend time or make changes to permissions and access.
Make sure to choose a passcode that’s different from the passcode you use to unlock your device.
You’ll need your Apple ID username and password to set a passcode initially.
- Tap Settings.
- Tap Screen Time.
- Tap [your child’s name].
- Tap “Use Screen Time Passcode”.
- Type in a passcode that’s different to your main unlock code.
- Re-enter the number.
- Add your Apple ID username and password, so you can re-set your passcode and press “Enter”.
- You have now set a Screen Time passcode. You will need to enter this code if you or your child want to make a temporary change to a Screen Time option. For example, to allow a purchase in an app, or use the device outside of the hours set in Screen Time.
Once the Screen Time passcode has been set, you can change it, or turn it off entirely.
- Tap “Use Screen Time Passcode”.
- On the window that pops up, tap either “Change Screen Time Passcode” or “Turn Off Screen Time Passcode”.
- Authenticate – allow – the change with Face ID, Touch ID, or your device passcode (the one you type in to unlock your phone or iPad, not the Screen Time passcode).
View your report and set limits
Screen Time gives you reports about how your Apple device is used, apps you’ve opened, and websites you’ve visited, any time that you want to see it.
This is available at the top of the Screen Time screen.
You can see daily or weekly stats on screen time usage, including when the phone is being used, how long is being spent on each app/site and how many pick ups and notifications the device gets.
If you’ve turned on “Share Across Devices”, you can view overall usage across devices that are signed in with your Apple ID and password.
Tap “See All Activity” to get a detailed report for each device.
When you schedule Downtime in Settings, only phone calls and apps that you choose to allow are available. Downtime applies to all of your Screen Time-enabled devices, and you get a reminder five minutes before it starts.
You can set a specific Downtime for each device and also select certain apps that are excluded from the Downtime (such as messages, calls, maps etc).
Do Not Disturb
The Do Not Disturb feature is a separate setting to Screen Time. It may be useful to set Do Not Disturb alongside Downtime, so you have consistent times.
This is a very helpful feature that silences incoming calls and notifications during a specific period of time – for example, while driving, or when in a movie. It’s a single button-press to turn it on manually, or else you can schedule it to occur at a set period every day.
The specific “Do Not Disturb While Driving” option can be set up to text contacts with a message saying you are driving and will see notifications when you get to your destination.
You can set daily limits for app categories or individual apps with App Limits. These are calculated in minutes and hours during the day. For example, you might want to spend only two hours a day on social media, or limit your child’s gaming to an hour every day.
Limits refresh every day at midnight, and you can turn them on and off or delete them at any time. You will need your Screen Time password to make any changes.
Your child can request “extra time” if they go above the set limit on an app or app category. You’ll need to provide the Screen Time passcode to allow the request.
- Select the device you want to add a limit to.
- Tap Add Limit.
- You can add limits to individual apps, or to entire categories of apps (for example, “Social” or “Games”).
4. Select the app or category and tap “Next”.
5. Scroll to select the hours or minutes you want the app limited to each day.
6. You can vary the limits on different days.
7. Click “Add”.
8. The limitations to the app are listed.
9. Click on the app again if you want to change or delete the limit. This does NOT delete the app itself.
This allows you to control who you or your children can communicate with throughout the day and during downtime. These limits apply to Phone, FaceTime, Messages, and iCloud contacts.
This is also where you can decide and manage which contacts are available on an Apple Watch paired through Family Setup.
Communication to known emergency numbers identified by your iPhone or Apple Watch supplier is always allowed.
You need to have your iCloud contacts enabled to use this feature.
Content & Privacy Restrictions
You decide the type of content that appears on your device. Block inappropriate content, purchases, and downloads, and set your privacy settings with Content & Privacy Restrictions. You can block explicit movies & music, multiplayer games, certain web content, even specific websites.
There are a lot of options in this section; more than can be covered on this page. Apple covers the options and abilities on their website.
Family Sharing allows you to share certain Apple resources between a “family” group. It also links with Screen Time so you can see usage reports and adjust settings for children in your family group.
Each family member needs their own Apple ID to be added to a group. You can create an Apple ID for a child by tapping “Set up Screen Time for Family” from the “Screen Time” screen, OR under “Family Sharing” from the main “Settings” screen.
Apple: Set up Family Sharing
Once Family Sharing is set up, children in the group can use “Ask to Buy” to make online purchases.
With Ask to Buy, when kids want to buy or download a new item, they send a request to the family organiser. The family organiser can use their own device to approve or decline the request. For example, if a child wants to buy an app, the family approver can see the app and decide whether to allow it.
Other parental control systems
In addition to the systems built-in to the iPhone and iPad, there’s a range of other services you could look at.
- Microsoft Family Safety. This is an app that provides many of the same services as the controls built-in to iOS. However, it works for anyone who has a Microsoft 365 account, can be viewed via a webpage when on a computer, has apps for Android and Apple systems, and may be useful if you’re trying to manage a range of devices and computers.
- NetNanny software. Available for Mac, Windows, and mobile devices.
Browse these lists to find other options.
- TechRadar: Best free parental control software and apps in 2021: protect your kids online
- Best Parental Control Apps: Top 10 Best Parental Control Apps for iPhone and iPad
- PC Mag Australia: The Best Parental Control Software for 2021
Other time-tracker apps
If you just need to track your time, you might find the Parental Controls or Screen Time systems too limiting. You may need to track and record time for work purposes, for example.
Look instead for apps or software that track, record, and manage your time.
Control data usage
There’s a range of ways to prevent your iOS devices from using more mobile or Wi-Fi data than you’re expecting.
We’ve listed the easiest and most common ways to turn off, or on, various features built-in to Apple devices, to keep data usage to a bare minimum.
Note that many of these options relate to automatic or background functions of the device or of apps. You may find you don’t get notifications, that apps are a little out-of-date, or news doesn’t refresh, when you use some of these functions.
Experiment with turning various features on and off until you’ve got the right balance of being kept informed and up-to-date, having to manually update content, and keeping data costs low.
You may need to re-apply these settings after completing an update to your device.
Use Low Data Mode
With iOS 13 and later, you can turn on Low Data Mode to restrict background network use and save mobile and Wi-Fi usage.
You might want to use Low Data Mode if your mobile or internet plan limits your data usage, or if you’re in an area with slow data speeds.
You can turn on Low Data mode separately for mobile and Wi-Fi connections.
- Go to Settings and tap Mobile
- Tap Mobile Data Options, then turn on Low Data Mode.
- Go to Settings and tap Wi-Fi.
- Tap the Info button next to the Wi-Fi network that you’re connected to.
- Turn on Low Data Mode.
Your Low Data Mode preferences for each Wi-Fi network are kept up to date across all your devices through iCloud.
Data saving tips
This is a general summary of things that use up data.
Most of the options you need to change are in the “Settings” section of your device.
- Even if you have mobile access to your property, connect your mobile phone to your home or property Wi-Fi network, as this internet connection most likely has more included data.
- If you use Telstra, look for Telstra Air hotspots. This provides free internet access. Visit our page on Telstra Air for more information.
- Turn off “push notifications” for emails, social media and GPS apps.
- Turn off video autoplay for social media. Change your settings in apps like Facebook and Instagram so videos do not automatically start playing.
Use SMS – text messages – rather than iMessage or apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. These apps use internet data to send messages.
Disable or defer automatic iOS updates
By default, your iPhone or iPad will automatically download and install updates to the operating system when it’s night-time, plugged into power, and connected to a Wi-Fi network.
Updates can take up a lot of data, however. They’re not counted under an nbn™ Sky Muster™ Plus plan, but they are counted under any other data plans.
You can therefore turn off updates until you’re connected to a less-restricted network.
- Go to Settings, tap General and then tap Software Update.
- Tap Customize Automatic Updates (or Automatic Updates).
- If “Download iOS Updates” is green, tap the button so it turns grey.
- When you want to download an update, repeat these steps and turn “Download iOS Updates” back on again.
You can delay iOS updates by turning off Wi-Fi entirely as the update won’t download over a mobile connection.
- Go to Settings and tap on Wi-Fi.
- Click the green button next to ‘Wi-Fi’ so it turns grey.
You’ll need to click the button again to turn on Wi-Fi for internet access.
Note: when you turn off Wi-Fi, you won’t have internet access unless you have mobile phone reception in your location.
Turn off automatic app updates
Apps will update automatically unless you tell them otherwise.
If you have multiple Apple devices using the same Apple ID, any apps downloaded on one device will automatically download to the other ones, unless you tell it otherwise.
- Go to Settings and tap on App Store.
- Change the settings in this section to limit what’s downloaded automatically.
Turn off Wi-Fi Assist and stop apps using mobile data
Wi-Fi Assist automatically defaults to using your mobile data when Wi-Fi signal is poor. This means your mobile data could be used without you realising, meaning you can run out of data more quickly, and possibly be charged excess data fees.
Wi-Fi Assist is particularly notorious for chewing up your data, and it’s turned on by default in iPhones and iPads with a mobile connection.
You can also specify which apps can use mobile data, and which must wait for a Wi-Fi connection to update.
- Go to Settings and tap Mobile
- Go through your apps and uncheck (tap so they turn grey) those you don’t need constantly accessing mobile data.
- Uncheck the Wi-Fi assist option at the bottom of the screen.
Notifications can use just a small amount of data each time, but your device is constantly checking to see if there’s anything to be downloaded, so it can rapidly add up. This can use both battery and data.
To prevent this data usage you need to modify notification settings for each separate app.
- Go to Settings and tap on Notifications.
- Tap the app to open its notifications settings – for example, Facebook.
- Tap Allow Notifications off to disable notifications altogether.
- Otherwise, change the notifications to a method that works best for you.
Turn off Background App Refresh
Apps use “background refresh” to look for new information. It’s particularly used by news and information apps, but all apps have the option available.
It’s turned on by default, but most apps don’t actually need it in order to do their job.
Go into this setting and adjust it to suit your requirements. You can turn it off entirely, or to work just over Wi-Fi, or over Wi-Fi and mobile networks. You can also turn it off or on for every app on your phone.
- Go to Settings, tap on General
- Tap “Background App Refresh” and select whether you want it on at all.
- If you do leave it on, scroll through your apps and turn it off for anything except those you really want kept updated (e.g., ABC News, email, or weather apps).
When Background App Refresh is turned off apps will still refresh when you open and use them.
Syncing or backing up your device
We recommend backing up your device to a desktop computer or a remote location.
iPhones and iPads naturally synchronise and back up to either iCloud, Apple’s remote storage service, or your local computer.
Syncing to iCloud means your information is available for you anywhere. However, it uses data every time you back up or synchronise your device.
Consider backing up and synchronising to your desktop computer instead, by plugging your device directly into it and using either iTunes (older MacOS versions, or Windows) or Finder (MacOS Big Sur and more recent).
You can change these settings on both your devices and your computers.
An easy and easy to forget tip is also to shut down all your apps and browser windows when you have finished with them.
Apple tends to suggest you don’t need to do this with the more recent versions of the iOS or iPadOS; however, an open app can potentially be refreshing and using data.
Closing apps is done slightly differently depending on the version of your device: use the Apple article to do it correctly.
Apple: Close an app on your iPad
Need more tips?
More tips and tricks not covered here, can be found around the web. These articles may help.
WhistleOut: 6 ways to cut down data usage on your iPhone
MacReports: How To Reduce Your Data Usage On iPhone
Lifewire: Ways to Reduce Your Mobile Data Usage
Macworld: How to save data on iPhone or iPad