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How Smartphones Can Help You Limit Your Screen Time

Android, iPhone controls can also point out bad habits

spinner image an illustration of a man sitting against an hour glass looking at a phone screen
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You may be lamenting the many hours your kids or grandkids spend on their phones. Too much screen time generally isn’t good for anyone — including you.

Your digital addiction may have worsened during the pandemic, and it has not gotten any better now that you're out and about more. An overdose of screen time has been linked to eye strain, insomnia, physical pain in the neck and shoulders, and depression. BJ Fogg, a Stanford University behavioral scientist and author of Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything, has noted that the time we spend on screens may come at the expense of other behaviors that are healthier or more beneficial.

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Your iPhone and Android devices have built-in parental control tools that, when applied, can put the kibosh on or severely limit your child’s time in front of a screen. But these tools can also help you monitor, and be incentivized to curb, your own screen habits.

spinner image screenshots from a google pixel showing how to track and regulate screen time
On Android devices, you’ll find parental controls in Settings under the Digital Wellbeing & parental controls umbrella; on a Google Pixel 6 Pro, for example, you will see a chart that reveals how much time you’ve spent in various categories of apps, or the apps themselves.

Wellbeing’ controls on an Android

You’ll find these tools on Android phones in Settings under the general Digital Wellbeing & Parental Controls umbrella, though the way the information is presented varies by manufacturer, since many companies make Android handsets.

For example, on a Google Pixel 7 Pro, you will see a chart that reveals how much time you’ve spent in various categories of apps, or the apps themselves, and the number of times you’ve unlocked the device.

Tap the circle that shows how much time you’ve spent on the phone to summon a dashboard view that lets you dive deeper into the stats, including a bar chart that shows the amount of time you spent on the phone earlier in the week you’re looking at. Tap the oval Screen Time button to switch the stats to Notifications Received or Times Opened for specific apps, which you can view by hour or day.

Back at the initial Digital Wellbeing & Parental Controls settings page, you can scroll down for various ways to help you disconnect.

For example, tap Bedtime mode | Customize to turn on a Do Not Disturb for Bedtime mode that will let you receive calls only from designated contacts, repeat callers or alarms. Or tap Screen options at Bedtime | and then Grayscale to change the screen from color to a less distracting black and white.

Focus mode’ pauses apps

Another option is Focus mode, which will let you pause distracting apps altogether or set a schedule for when you want to pause or take a break from the app you select. Icons for apps you’ve paused are grayed out.

If you need to access a paused app, tap the grayed-out icon and tap Use App for 5 minutes. When you’ve wound down to one minute, you will receive a notification and the screen will switch to black and white. When the minute is up, the app shuts down altogether, even if, say, you’re in the middle of watching a video.

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Scroll down further for more controls that will let you reduce interruptions. You can manage notifications by app or turn on Do Not Disturb so you won’t be bothered by apps or people and alarms, except those you permit to get through.

And if you do have a youngster whose overall phone use needs to be tamed, tap Set Up Parental Controls at the bottom of the Digital Wellbeing screen and set controls in conjunction with Google’s Family Link app.

spinner image an iphone screenshot showing how to regulate and track screen time
On iPhones, screen time controls are under Settings. If you tap Screen Time, you’ll see an overall view of your daily average use on the phone as well as a bar chart that shows activity each day of the week.

Screen time settings on an iPhone

Screen Time controls for the iPhone are listed in Settings. Tap Screen Time for an overall view of your daily average use on the phone, as well as a bar chart that shows activity for each day of the week.

Tap See All Activity for a more granular look at the apps you’ve used, including the number of times you’ve picked up the phone, the time of the first pickup of the day and the first apps you used after picking it up. You can view stats by the day or week.

You can also see your daily averages for notifications, and the number of notifications that come from specific apps. From the first Screen Time screen, you will see controls for Downtime, App Limits, Communication Limits, Always Allowed and Content & Privacy Restrictions, each worth exploring on your own.

Worth noting: You can apply the above controls for up to five family members who are part of your Apple Family Sharing group. You’ll see their names listed below Family in Screen Time settings.

Downtime’ limits late-night app use

When the Downtime setting is in effect, only the apps that you’ve selected and phone calls will be available. Tap Turn On Downtime Until Tomorrow if that is your preference, or tap Scheduled to choose when you want the setting to kick in and end. Tap Turn On Downtime Until Schedule if you want to turn on the setting during a period that you haven’t scheduled.

You’ll receive a five-minute reminder before downtime kicks in.

If you tap and enable App Limits, you can set daily time limits for given app categories. You can set limits for All Apps & Categories or for specific categories, Social, Games, Entertainment, Shopping & Food among them. Such limits reset every day at midnight.

If you’ve reached the limit on an app, you will see a screen that tells you so, though you can tap Ignore Limit to request one more minute, ask for a reminder in 15 minutes or ask to ignore the limit for the day. The icon for the app will be dimmed.

As the name suggests, Communication Limits lets you control who can communicate with you either during allowed screen time or during downtime. And Always Allowed lets you choose apps available even during downtime. You can also permit all or specific contacts to get in touch during these times.

To ensure that nobody messes with your phone, tap Use Screen Time Passcode to create a four-digit code. Use of a passcode will also let you secure more time should a time limit expire.

And tap Share Across Devices to report your combined screen time across any other devices you have that are signed in to the same Apple iCloud account.

While it may not totally reduce the time you spend in front of a screen, visit Focus under Seettings or in Control Center to silence alerts and notifications and apply other limits when you are working, sleeping , driving or simply don't want to be disturbed.

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