Screen Time in iOS 12 offers a lot of different options for reining back how much you, or your kids, use your iPhone and iPad. You can track your activity, and also set time limits for apps and categories of apps to ensure you get some downtime. Here’s how to set an iPhone time limit for a specific app that you just can’t put down.

To use Screen Time and set up iPhone time limits, you need to be running iOS 12 on your device. iOS 12 is available for iPhones as far as back as iPhone 5s, iPads including iPad Air, and the sixth-generation iPod touch. You can go to Settings -> Software Update if you aren’t yet up-to-date.

On an iPhone or iPad running iOS 12, open Settings and tap on Screen Time. The Screen Time page acts as a hub for all different types of time limits, content restrictions and activity overview. You can set an iPhone time limit called Downtime, which restricts usage of your entire device on a daily time schedule.

You can also be more granular and add time limits for specific apps. Unfortunately, if you tap the App Limits button on the screen, Screen Time will ask you to select categories of apps to apply limits to. You can pick categories like Social Networking, Productivity, or Games which encompass many installed apps into a group. It’s not immediately obvious how to set an iPhone time limit for a specific app …

How to set an iPhone time limit for a specific app

From the Screen Time homepage, do not tap on the App Limits icon. Instead, tap on the graph at the top of the screen to enter Screen Time. This will show you every app that you have used recently. You can change the bar at the top to see stats for today or the last week.

Scroll this list until you find the app that you want to add a time limit for. (You can press Show More to see more than just a few of the most-used apps.) In this example, I am going to limit the time I spend on my iPhone and iPad watching YouTube.

Tap the app name, in this case ‘YouTube’. It will tell you statistics like the average amount of time spent in this app per day. Tap the ‘Add Limit’ button at the bottom of this screen.

You are now adding a time limit for just this app. Time limits apply to every device on the same iCloud account. If you press the Edit Apps button on this view, you can add more individual apps into the same bucket of time.

Scroll the picker to select a duration, and you can even be more granular and select a different iPhone time limit for every day of the week. When you are done, press Add in the top right hand corner.

The time limit is now enabled for just the specific app you chose.

How does the App Limit work

With an iPhone time limit active, the operating system will count in the background how long you are using the app. For apps like YouTube, time is counted when you use the YouTube website in Safari or the YouTube app.

When the limit is reached, the home screen will be greyed out. Attempting to use the app will display a full-screen overlay that says your Time Limit has been reached. You cannot use the app when this panel is visible.

As an individual, you can press the Ignore Limit button if you want to give yourself some extra time — obviously this feature needs some self-restraint. You can disable the time limit for today, or add an extra 15 minutes if you just need to finish something you were doing.

How to set a time limit for my kids

Adding an iPhone app limit for your children is almost the same process as described above. The only difference is on the homepage of Screen Time, scroll down to see the ‘Family’ section. Tap on the child you want to add iPhone app limits for, and then you will see a nearly-identical set of screens with data for your child. You can then set an app limit by following the same steps above.

For a child, when their time is up with an app, they cannot simply press Ignore Limit. Instead, they can request extra time. If requested, an alert pops up on the parent devices asking to allow the additional time. This request can be granted or denied.

Note: All Screen Time features for families require Family Sharing to be set up. 

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About the Author

Benjamin Mayo

Benjamin develops iOS apps professionally and covers Apple news and rumors for 9to5Mac. Listen to Benjamin, every week, on the Happy Hour podcast. Check out his personal blog. Message Benjamin over email or Twitter.