How to set screen limits on your iPhone (and why you should)

A person holding the mobile phone with their thumb on an icon

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

I’ll be the first to admit, I use scrolling through socials as a crutch—a quick fix to relieve boredom that turns into the ultimate procrastination tool. I, like many these days, have conditioned myself to look at life through a screen.

I’ve tried to “unlearn” my scrolling habit by doing complete detox, only to binge scroll when I’m back on social. But lately I’ve found an in-between that encourages more careful scrolling: setting screen time limits on my iPhone.

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My goal is to eventually develop enough discipline to know when it’s time to step away from content altogether, but for now I rely on my iPhone to set the boundaries for me. Here’s how you can too.

How to set time limits on an iPhone

Your iPhone settings allow you to set a time limit for each app you’ve downloaded. While I set limits mostly for social media, you can also set them for any app where you want some space.

First, go to the hub of any phone, the Settings app, which is signaled by a gear icon. Then click on the Screen Time option from the menu.

After selecting the Screen Time button, you’ll be faced with your daily average stats, which – warning – could be a bit frightening.

iPhone screen time settings.  A red box encloses the daily average time and a red arrow points to the App Limits option.

Looking at my average screen time in my iPhone settings definitely served as a wake-up call. I took to the App Limits menu to limit my time on the apps.

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

After you come to terms with the fact that passive scrolling increases a lot more than you thought, select the App Limits option from the menu. From there, select the Add Limit button.

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You will then see a list of apps organized by category. Select the category in which you want to limit screen time, and from there a drop-down menu will appear with specific apps.

Once you have selected the apps, click Next.

Screenshot of the limited selection app on iPhone with blue check marks next to Instagram and TikTok

The two usual suspects that trigger my doom scrolling are Instagram and TikTok. So I chose to limit my time spent on them.

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

You will now be invited to choose how much time you want to spend with the apps you have selected.

I gave myself an hour limit on TikTok and Instagram to spread throughout the day.

Note that if you select the apps all at the same time before pressing Next, they all have the same time limit. So if you want your time limit to vary from app to app, select the apps in different batches.

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Screenshot of setting a screen time limit for apps on iPhone

Since I chose Instagram and TikTok at the same time, I set them both to the same time limit, which I chose to be 1 hour.

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

Once you’ve set your time limit, the screen interface will show that the App Limits button is enabled (green) as well as the apps you’ve chosen to limit.

You can press the Add Limit button and repeat the process if you want to set another time limit on another app.

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The most important part, however, is to make sure you don’t set the limits to simply ignore them. When your time is up, try putting down your phone and picking up a book, or even the TV and watch without scrolling.

Screenshot of App Limits enabled in iPhone Settings

Once you’ve added limits to your apps, you’ll see that the App Limits button is enabled. To add more limits to your apps, select the Add Limit prompt.

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET


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