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Stop doomscrolling: How to set screen time limits on your iPhone

A person holding mobile phone with their thumb on an icon

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

I’ll be the first to admit that I use scrolling through socials as a crutch – a quick fix to alleviate 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 completely detoxing, only to binge-scroll when I return to the socials. But recently I turned to an in-between that encourages scrolling more intentionally: setting screen time limits on my iPhone.

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My goal is to develop enough discipline to know when it’s time to step away from content entirely. 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 let you set a time limit for any app you have downloaded. While I set limits mostly for social media, you can also set them for any app you want some space from.

First, head 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 you’ve selected the Screen Time button, you’ll be faced with your daily average stats, which — warning — might be a little startling.

iPhone Screen Time settings. A red box encases 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’ve come to terms with the fact that passive scrolling adds up way more than you thought, select the App Limits option from the menu. From there, select the Add Limit button. 

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

Once you’ve selected the apps, click Next.

Screenshot of app limiting selection on iPhone with blue checkmarks next to Instagram and TikTok

The two usual suspects that enable my doomscrolling are Instagram and TikTok. So, I elected to limit my time spent on them. 

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

You’ll now be invited to select how much time you want to spend using the apps you selected. 

I gave myself an hour limit on both TikTok and Instagram to be allocated throughout my day. 

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

Screenshot of setting a screen time limit for apps on iPhone

Since I selected Instagram and TikTok at the same time, I had to 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 limits, the screen interface will show that the App Limits button is toggled on (green) as well as the apps that you’ve selected to limit. 

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

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The most important part, however, is making sure that you don’t set the limits to just ignore them. When your time is up, try and put your phone down and pick up a book, or even the TV remote and watch without scrolling.

Screenshot of App limits toggled on in iPhone settings

Once you add limits to your apps, you’ll see the App Limits button is toggled on. To add more limits to your apps, select the Add Limit prompt. 

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET


Can you set screen time limits on iPhone?

Yes, you can set a time limit for different apps by leveraging the iPhone or iPad’s “App Limits” option. Go to your iPhone’s Settings > Screen Time > tap on the App Limits option from the menu > select which apps you want to set a particular limit on (note that you’ll have to select in batches if you want to set different time limits across a variety of apps) > choose your time limit. 

How do screen limits work on iPhone?

Screen limits let you choose a set amount of time you spend on given apps. Depending on how much space you want from a given app, you can set anywhere from 1 minute to 23 hours — those are extremes, but you have a lot of freedom to choose your boundaries. Once you’ve timed out, a notification from iPhone will appear, locking the app for the remainder of the day. While it’s tempting to ignore the limit and extend your time, try not to give in. 

Why can my child ignore screen time limits on iPhone?

Once the set screen time has expired on a certain app, iPhone will notify users that their time is up. On the bottom of the notification, however, is the option to ignore the limit. Users can ignore the limit for another minute, 15 minutes, or the entire day. The lock will then be lifted accordingly. iPhone makes it a little too easy for you — or your child — to easily ignore limits, so it takes a bit of willpower to resist. If you’re a parent looking for stricter controls, check out our picks for the 5 best parental control apps

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