Fri. Sep 22nd, 2023

08/05 Update below. This post was originally published on August 2

iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 got off to a rocky start, with iPhone 14 and 14 Pro users particularly hard hit. Subsequent updates have done a lot to correct this, but now Apple has confirmed another major issue that affects all iPad and iPhone owners.

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Apple acknowledged an ongoing bug affecting the Screen Time feature, a parental control tool on iPhones and iPads that allows children to bypass time limits and access potentially unsafe content without their knowledge.

“We are aware that some users may be experiencing an issue where Screen Time settings reset unexpectedly. We take these reports very seriously and we have and will continue to make updates to improve the situation,” said an Apple spokesperson.

Screen Time allows parents to remotely manage their child’s iPad or iPhone by setting restrictions on device use at certain times, setting app time limits, and blocking inappropriate content. The bug causes the time limits and content restrictions to reset or not sync across all devices within a Family Sharing group.

Apple previously addressed a Screen Time settings issue in the May iOS 16.5 update. However, the fix clearly didn’t work and there are numerous reports from parents on forums and social media still encountering the issue on iPhones and iPads running the iOS 16.6/iPadOS 16.6 releases and even the iOS 17/iPadOS 17 public betas.

Screen Time was introduced in 2018 as part of iOS 12 and provided parents with a native solution for controls that previously required third-party apps. The feature has since become a crucial tool for families to manage and monitor screen time habits.

Apple hasn’t given a timeline for the Screen Time fix, but with iOS 17 dropping support for the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, 5th-generation iPad, and first-generation iPad Pro, it really needs to come to iOS 16. iOS 17 is coming out next month. The clock is ticking.

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08/04 Update: More details about the Screen Time bug have now emerged, as well as steps you can take to minimize its impact.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery is that this bug was first discovered in October 2022 and can be traced back to an Apple Communities forum post. At the time, over 2,500 other users confirmed that they were affected by the issue, which reset screen time restrictions. The user explains:

I used my kids’ screen time to limit the time for certain apps. It worked well for years, but now I’m going to set the boundaries and then they suddenly disappear after a day or less. Other settings will also be cleared, including downtime and content restrictions. I changed the passcode and the kids swear they didn’t try to change any settings. This problem started about two months ago.

Users have also found a partial solution until Apple releases a fix: set your Screen Time settings individually on each device and don’t use cross-device syncing. Multiple users report that this is more reliable, and it strongly suggests that the bug stems from an iCloud sync issue rather than Screen Time itself.

08/05 Update: Some users are finding that the following steps may resolve the issue for them, although it should be emphasized that it won’t work for everyone:

  1. Disable Screen Time on the device to be limited during downtime – this is usually your child’s device.
  2. Make sure all photos are synced to iCloud. Any unsynced photos may be lost in the process. You can verify this by scrolling to the bottom of the Photos app to check if there are any pending.
  3. Sign out of iCloud on all devices that have the authority to approve Screen Time requests or have set Screen Time restrictions. This includes both your child’s devices and your own devices.
  4. Reset the same devices – this does not mean that all content will be erased. Just reset all settings by going to Settings, then ‘Transfer or Reset iPhone’ and finally select ‘Reset All Settings’.
  5. Reconnect all devices to iCloud by logging in again.
  6. Reactivate Screen Time and set your desired downtime limits.

Since this process involves resetting multiple devices, it is only recommended for those who have significant problems with the Screen Time bug on a daily basis. Apple’s public acknowledgment of the issue should also mean an official fix will be released via an iOS 16.6.1 update in the coming weeks.

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