If you think locking down your kids’ iPhones or iPads is just a matter of turning on some Screen Time settings, think again.
Apple’s Screen Time controls are fairly simple, and in most cases, they can provide peace of mind. But it’s no surprise that children have gotten good at finding ways to bypass its time limits and app restrictions. Some workarounds are clever hacks, others entail sketchy software downloads. Often, though, kids are benefiting from the mistakes their parents made when setting up controls.
First, and this should go without saying: Don’t ever share your Apple ID password or Screen Time passcode with your children.
With the launch of iOS 16, expected in the coming weeks, Apple is making Screen Time and Family Sharing setup easier for parents. (See box.) With each software update, it also fixes known hacks—including many that were mentioned to me by online-safety experts, ethical teen hackers and parents. The best way to outwit your children is to make sure their devices run the latest system software.
Go to Settings > General > Software Update and make sure the Automatic Updates option is on. And always check that the new software actually loaded.
Here’s the problem: If the kids are using old, hand-me-down iPads or iPhones, Apple might no longer provide those important updates. Any device Apple doesn’t support anymore could be vulnerable to funny business.
I focused on Apple because of its dominance of the U.S. market, especially among kids. Any device or platform’s parental controls could be susceptible to manipulation, so always be on your guard.
How They Hack
Based on my conversations, here are some common workarounds children use in their attempts to bypass Apple’s Screen Time restrictions:
Changing the time zone. Setting the device to an earlier time zone can fool Downtime, the Screen Time function that prevents users from accessing a device’s apps after a preset time. Apple was supposed to have fixed this in iOS 15, but the trick sometimes still works on iPhones and iPads.
I tested it out on my daughter’s iPad Pro, which was running the slightly older iPadOS 15.5.I scheduled downtime to begin at 8:25 a.m. Pacific. At that time, all the apps went gray and I couldn’t open them. But when I changed the device’s time zone to Honolulu’s, three hours behind me in California—bingo!—I was able to open any app.
I updated the tablet to the latest version of iPadOS, 15.6.1, and the time-zone hack no longer worked.
Chris McKenna, founder of internet-safety company Protect Young Eyes, has been informing Apple of Screen Time hacks for years. When he scheduled downtime on his up-to-date iPhone and then changed the time zone to an earlier one, he was still able to access all his apps. (This might be because he is the admin for his Family Sharing group.)
An Apple spokeswoman said her team couldn’t replicate the time-zone workaround on an iPhone running the latest software, and neither could I.
Tapping for more time. After setting up a downtime schedule, parents sometimes forget to toggle on Block at Downtime. If that’s not turned on, kids can tap Ignore Limit and keep going.
Redownloading an app. When children reach their time limit on an app, they can remove it from their device and redownload it without parental approval. The app is then accessible until the next downtime period is scheduled. (This doesn’t work on the latest iPhone and iPad operating systems, based on my own testing, but several people told me it works on older versions).
You can prevent this by adjusting app permissions. In Settings, go to Screen Time > Content & Privacy > iTunes & App Store Purchases > Deleting Apps. Set that to Don’t Allow.
Screen recording. If you’ve set up Screen Time on your child’s device and your kid hands it to you to type in the Screen Time passcode, he or she can secretly record the screen by turning on the option in the control center. When you hand it back, there will be a video showing what you typed, says Claire Wang. She’s a high-school senior in Andover, Mass., who leads an online community for Hack Club, a nonprofit coding network for students.
Downloading software. TikTok and YouTube are full of tutorials on how to download programs for Macs and PCs that promise to bypass Screen Time limits without a passcode. They often require users to make an unencrypted backup of their phone while connected to the computer. One YouTuber advises kids to clear the computer’s browser history after installing the software so their parents don’t know they went to the website.
How well these programs really work—and whether they leave your phone vulnerable to malware—is something I didn’t want to test.
“No one truly knows what these applications indeed do or hold the power of doing,” said Joshua Kats, a former Hack Club member who’s now studying cybersecurity at Macaulay Honors College in New York. “There is also no proper way for parents to tell if their children downloaded these sorts of applications if the child deleted their traces.”
Turning to a burner phone. Some kids scrounge up a burner—either a prepaid cellphone or an old model dug out of a drawer or borrowed from a friend. Even without a data plan, devices can still get online via Wi-Fi.
What to Say to Your Kids
No matter how carefully you set up parental controls, children can always find new ways to get around them. That’s why Mr. McKenna, the internet-safety expert, suggests a trust-building approach with clear consequences for violations.
“It’s important to acknowledge to your kids that you know hacks exist,” he says. “Then you can say, ‘If you follow our rules, awesome, have a great time with the phone, but if you don’t, I’m telling you what will happen, and that’s your choice.’”
If you suspect your children have already figured out some kind of hack, Mr. McKenna recommends giving them one-time amnesty. He suggests saying something like, “Wow, I’ve set up Screen Time and either it’s not working right or you’re so smart, you’ve out-hacked Dad.” He says to tell them they won’t be in trouble this time, but if the kids don’t fess up, then maybe the device disappears.
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Vacationers scratching their travel itch this season are sending prices through the roof. Here’s how some are making trade-offs.
Capri Coffer socks away $600 a month to help fund her travels. The Atlanta health-insurance account executive and her husband couldn’t justify a family vacation to the Dominican Republic this summer, though, given what she calls “astronomical” plane ticket prices of $800 each.
The price was too high for younger family members, even with Coffer defraying some of the costs.
Instead, the family of six will pile into a rented minivan come August and drive to Hilton Head Island, S.C., where Coffer booked a beach house for $650 a night. Her budget excluding food for the two-night trip is about $1,600, compared with the $6,000 price she was quoted for a three-night trip to Punta Cana.
“That way, everyone can still be together and we can still have that family time,” she says.
With hotel prices and airfares stubbornly high as the 2023 travel rush continues—and overall inflation squeezing household budgets—this summer is shaping up as the season of travel trade-offs for many of us.
Average daily hotel rates in the top 25 U.S. markets topped $180 year-to-date through April, increasing 9.9% from a year ago and 15.6% from 2019, according to hospitality-data firm STR.
Online travel sites report more steep increases for summer ticket prices, with Kayak pegging the increase at 35% based on traveler searches. (Perhaps there is no more solid evidence of higher ticket prices than airline executives’ repeated gushing about strong demand, which gives them pricing power.)
The high prices and economic concerns don’t mean we’ll all be bunking in hostels and flying Spirit Airlines with no luggage. Travellers who aren’t going all-out are compromising in a variety of ways to keep the summer vacation tradition alive, travel agents and analysts say.
“They’re still out there and traveling despite some pretty real economic headwinds,” says Mike Daher, Deloitte’s U.S. transportation, hospitality and services leader. “They’re just being more creative in how they spend their limited dollars.”
For some, that means a cheaper hotel. Hotels.com says global search interest in three-star hotels is up more than 20% globally. Booking app HotelTonight says nearly one in three bookings in the first quarter were for “basic” hotels, compared with 27% in the same period in 2019.
For other travellers, the trade-offs include a shorter trip, a different destination, passing on premium seat upgrades on full-service airlines or switching to no-frills airlines. Budget-airline executives have said on earnings calls that they see evidence of travellers trading down.
Deloitte’s 2023 summer travel survey, released Tuesday, found that average spending on “marquee” trips this year is expected to decline to $2,930 from $3,320 a year ago. Tighter budgets are a factor, he says.
Too much demand
Wendy Marley is no economics teacher, but says she’s spent a lot of time this year refreshing clients on the basics of supply and demand.
The AAA travel adviser, who works in the Boston area, says the lesson comes up every time a traveler with a set budget requests help planning a dreamy summer vacation in Europe.
“They’re just having complete sticker shock,” she says.
Marley has become a pro at Plan B destinations for this summer.
For one client celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary with a budget of $10,000 to $12,000 for a five-star June trip, she switched their attention from the pricey French Riviera or Amalfi Coast to a luxury resort on the Caribbean island of St. Barts.
To Yellowstone fans dismayed at ticket prices into Jackson, Wyo., and three-star lodges going for six-star prices, she recommends other national parks within driving distance of Massachusetts, including Acadia National Park in Maine.
For clients who love the all-inclusive nature of cruising but don’t want to shell out for plane tickets to Florida, she’s been booking cruises out of New York and New Jersey.
Not all of Marley’s clients are tweaking their plans this summer.
Michael McParland, a 78-year-old consultant in Needham, Mass., and his wife are treating their family to a luxury three-week Ireland getaway. They are flying business class on Aer Lingus and touring with Adventures by Disney. They initially booked the trip for 2020, so nothing was going to stand in the way this year.
McParland is most excited to take his teen grandsons up the mountain in Northern Ireland where his father tended sheep.
“We decided a number of years ago to give our grandsons memories,” he says. “Money is money. They don’t remember you for that.”
Fare first, then destination
Chima Enwere, a 28-year old piano teacher in Fayetteville, N.C., is also headed to the U.K., but not by design.
Enwere, who fell in love with Europe on trips the past few years, let airline ticket prices dictate his destination this summer to save money.
He was having a hard time finding reasonable flights out of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., so he asked for ideas in a Facebook travel group. One traveler found a round-trip flight on Delta to Scotland for $900 in late July with reasonable connections.
He was budgeting $1,500 for the entire trip—he stays in hostels to save money—but says he will have to spend more given the pricier-than-expected plane ticket.
“I saw that it was less than four digits and I just immediately booked it without even asking questions,” he says.
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