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Hack the Hackers: Fight Back Against Screen Time Bypasses

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as “unhackable” software. Even the most sophisticated technology has loopholes, and kids are bound to find them out. Although children continue to be resourceful and determined to break through screen time restrictions, we’re sharing 11 ways to help keep them from unhinging their limitations.

Stay Vigilant

We can give you all the advice in the world, but the best way to manage screen time is to be aware and offer an alternative. Children will continue to try and hack their limitations on their devices, but if you can recognize when this happens and deter it, they’ll have a much high likelihood of following their set timeframes. Additionally, kids will be more likely to listen to screen time limits if you offer an alternative activity like coloring, riding bikes, playing games, etc.

Device Deterrents

There are a number of device-specific ways to try and ward off hacking screen time limitations. Though many of these are Apple product-specific, they could be easily translated for Android.

Use a good passcode – like choosing a PIN for your debit card, choose a non-obvious passcode for your phone and other device settings. 

Select “Block at Downtime” – this setting blocks certain apps at a certain time instead of suggesting to the child that they should turn in for the night. To do so: 

  • Go to Settings > Screen Time > Family > Your Child’s Name 
  • Go to “Downtime” 
  • Enable “Block at Downtime” 

Use communication limits – this setting allows you to control who your kids can talk to and what groups they’re allowed to join. Additionally, some kids will update existing contacts with new numbers and emails to get around this hack. If you allow contact editing, you can check these things and correct the change. 

  • Settings > Screen Time > Family, Your Child’s Name 
  • Go to “Communication Limits” 
  • Set preferences for “Allowed Communications” and “Allow Introductions in Groups.”
  • Select additional preferences in “During Downtime” 

Set limits and stick to them – wavering on any kind of discipline will make it more of a struggle to stick to, especially for your kids. Pick a time limit and enforce it; don’t allow any additional time (unless as a reward of some kind). There’s a setting you can enable called “Block at end of limit” to help you enforce your regulations. 

  • Settings > Screen Time > Family > Your Child’s Name
  • Select an individual app or app category and tap “Next”
  • Set time limit and enable “Block at End of Limit”

Block time zone changes – this keeps your kids from using this to deter any kind of time limits.Blocking time zone changes keeps kids from getting around bedtime limits.

  • Disable Screen Time on your child’s device
  • Settings > General > Time & Date; toggle “Set Automatically” on if it’s not already
  • Re-enable Screen Time from their device and set a passcode
  • Go to “Content & Privacy Restrictions”
  • Go to “Location Services” then select “System Services” 
  • Select on for “Setting Time Zone” 
  • Go back to “Location Services” and “Don’t Allow Changes” 

Disable Siri – this will keep your kids from using voice commands to bypass your limits. 

  • Settings > Screen Time > Family > Your Child’s Name 
  • Go to “Content & Privacy Restrictions” 
  • Enter your passcode and select “Allowed Apps” 
  • Disable “Siri & Dictation” 

Discourage sideloading apps – by checking your child’s device settings, you can see if they’ve downloaded any software that allows them to sideload apps. You can also check their screen time for what apps are being used. If you see any apps with missing icons or unrecognizable names, this could mean that there’s some sideloading going on. 

  • Settings > General > Profiles and Device Management 
  • Delete any profiles listed

Keep them from deleting and reinstalling apps – you can delete apps all day, but if you don’t remove them from iCloud and hide them in your “past purchases,” your kids will simply redownload the app. One way to avoid the redownload is to restrict access to the app store.

  • Settings > Screen Time > Family > Your Child’s Name > Content & Privacy Restrictions.

To hide the app:

  • Open the App Store app and select “Today” at the bottom of the screen
  • Select your child’s account or photo at the top of the screen
  • Go to “Purchased”
  • Swipe left on the app you want and tap Hide

Delete Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) – keeping a child from using VPNs is a bit more involved because the only way to do so is by manually deleting VPN apps from their phones.

  • Use the above steps to restrict your children’s ability to re-download the app. Like sideloading, you should continue to watch their Screen Time reporting for any unfamiliar or missing apps.

Halt vault or hiding apps – like VPNs, one way to know if your child has a “hiding” app is to look for unfamiliar or unexplained apps on their phone. You can also check the app store for apps with keywords like “secret”, “hidden”, or “vault”, and if it says “Open” instead of “Get” next to it, that means that app is already downloaded on their device.

Unhackable Protection

As much as we’d all love to think that we’ve got this screen time thing under control, kids will likely continue to find new ways to bypass our screen time limits. One way to give them unhackable protection and your peace of mind is to build their internal protectionEyePromise® Screen Shield™ Teen was designed by a group of ODs and MDs with high-quality, natural ingredients to support children’s eyes during screen time by building their eyes’ natural protection against harmful blue light emitted by screens.

Learn more about this one-a-day chewable eye vitamin for screen time.

Being aware of why your children are using their devices and for how long is the best way to manage their screen time. However, digital parenting continues to change and requires parents to adapt. For a few more suggestions, download our digital parenting infographic.

Read parts 1, 2, and 3 of the series, explaining where kids learn these tricks to get around screen time limitations and how they manage it.

Sources for the Series

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