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by Larry Magid
This post first appeared in the Mercury News

We live in stressful times, and unfortunately, that phone in your pocket or hand can make things worse. But if you’re willing to use them, both iPhone and Android phones have tools to help manage your or your child’s well-being.

These include the ability to turn off notifications at night or when they might annoy you, monitor or limit the amount of time you spend using your phone or certain apps, schedule “downtime” when you’re in bed or perhaps other times during the day or night, restrict calls or texts to certain people or groups, keep kids away from sensitive content and many more settings.

iPhone settings

On iPhones, one of the best places to start is by going to Settings and scrolling down to Screen Time. Then click App & Website Activity, where you can turn on “downtime.” Then set a schedule. At that point you can go back to Screen Time and tap App Limits to determine which categories of apps or specific apps will be suppressed during this period. You can also select Always Allowed to exempt specific apps from downtime. You can specify contacts you want to allow to reach you even during downtime. There is also a “sleep focus” feature that lets you set your bedtime and create a wind down period about 45 minutes before bedtime.

iOS downtime for children & teens

Parents who have set up Family usage can scroll down to the name of a child and set downtime for that child. This section can also be used to set up content restrictions depending on the type of app. Apple has default settings based on the child’s age, but you can easily override them.

Apple also has a screen distance setting, which it says can reduce eye strain and the risk of myopia in children. The feature will suggest that you hold the phone, if equipped with Face ID, at a recommended distance.

Starting with iOS 17 (the current version), an adult’s or child’s iPhone can also be used to detect nudity in images before they are received. If these settings are in place, the images will be blurred, giving you the option to view them or not. Adults can set this up for themselves and parents can configure settings for children.

Android settings

Android has “bedtime mode,” “Focus mode,” and “Do not disturb.” Bedtime mode allows you to set a schedule that can gradually dim your screen and silence your phone, though you will still hear alarms and get calls from designated contacts. It can also be used to check how much you cough and snore during scheduled bedtime.

Focus mode lets you pause specific apps and their notifications on a schedule or on demand, such as when you need a break. Do not disturb will pause calls, notifications or messages from all but designated people and apps.

Android parental controls

Android has parental controls, similar to those in iOS, that are configured in Google’s Family Link app that parents can download for both Android and iOS. There is also a Family Link website that you can access from a PC or Mac. Family Link lets parents set up screen time limits, approve or block apps and help control your child’s YouTube experience. It can also try to block explicit sites in Google Chrome, although, as Google points out, “no filter is perfect, but this should help hide sexually explicit sites.” Family Link will not work with other browsers that can be installed on an Android phone, but it can be used to prevent children from downloading other browsers.

You can access Android well-being settings for both adults and children by clicking on Settings followed by Digital Wellbeing & parental controls. In addition to the aforementioned settings, there is a dashboard that shows you how many minutes you’ve recently used Apps. If you’re finding that you’re spending too much time on an app, you can set a timer that will prevent you from using it after time runs out, but you can always change the settings to continue to use it. You are in control.

Android also has a handy “flip to shhh” mode that lets you place your phone face down to turn on Do Not Disturb.

Health and fitness apps

iPhones and Android phones both come with health and fitness apps that can track your steps and other activities. When paired with a compatible smart watch, they can provide even more data, including heart rate and sleep tracking. The Apple app is called Health, and the Google one is called Fit. These apps are very useful even if you don’t have a smart watch or fitness tracker.

Although these tools can help, they are no substitute for personal discipline when it comes to when, where and how often you use your phone. Let’s face it, too many of us, including me, interact with our phones when we should be paying attention to other people or just chilling by ourselves. You already know that it’s rude to use your phone in theaters, houses of worship or when you’re with other people, but these habits don’t just annoy those around you, they impact you as well.

Now it’s time for me to take my own advice.

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