iPhone Screen Time bug is breaking Downtime limits — what you need to know

iPhone 14
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iOS Screen Time feature is currently bugging out on iPhones, says a report by the The Wall Street Journal, which may mean that usage limits that you've previously imposed on your own device or those of your kids are no longer there.

The bug isn't fully identified yet, but the ultimate result is that Downtime settings on an iPhone (or an iPad or iPod Touch) get reset. That means potentially unlimited use for any user that previously would have been locked out when Downtime kicked in. WSJ reports the experience of one parent who had to continuously reset Downtime every few days to keep the limits for his children in place, as well as how one of its own editors needed three attempts to restore Downtime settings for one of his children's devices.

The good news is you can still implement Downtime limits on a per-device basis. But coordinating limits across several Apple devices can end up somewhat tedious.

More frustrating is the fact that this issue has appeared on iPhones before, with the original complaint in this long thread on the topic on the Apple Support forums appearing in December 2022. Apple in theory fixed everything back with iOS 16.5, but the problem is still obviously present, as well as in the iOS 17 beta.

 Apple responds to Screen Time bug

Apple is at least aware of the problem, with the WSJ quoting an Apple spokeswoman saying: “We are aware that some users may be experiencing an issue where Screen Time settings are unexpectedly reset.”

“We take these reports very seriously and we have been, and will continue, making updates to improve the situation,” the spokeswoman continued.

Given how phone-focused the world's become, helping kids (or adults) develop a habit of dedicated no-screen time each day is a worthwhile effort. But without a specific time given for a fix, you'll have to keep an eye on your kid's screen time yourself, or invest in one of the best parental control apps as a substitute.

Apple's currently testing iOS 16.6 in beta form, with the stable version likely to arrive within a month. That's a likely time that a fix for this Screen Time issue could arrive, but Apple's not promised a specific timeline for squashing the bug at the time of writing.

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Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.