Screen time and digital technology use for teenagers: part of a healthy lifestyle
Screen time and digital technology use can be part of a healthy lifestyle when it’s balanced with other activities that are good for development and wellbeing. These activities include physical activity, extracurricular activities and socialising. Getting the right balance also includes making sure screen time doesn’t interfere with sleep.
Our tips can help your child use screens in a balanced and healthy way.
1. Use rules about screen time and digital technology use
Rules might cover:
- where your child can use digital technology – for example, only in family rooms, not in the bedroom at night, or not in the car
- when your child can use digital technology – for example, mealtimes are free of TV, computers and phones, or no social media until chores and homework are finished
- how your child can use digital technology – for example, for making a podcast or watching a TEDx talk, but not for doing things on multiple devices at once
- how you handle digital technology use for children of different ages – for example, there might be some games that your older child can play only when their younger sibling is out or has gone to bed
- how your child can stay safe online – for example, by talking with them about upsetting and inappropriate content, privacy and location settings and personal data safety.
It’s OK if your rules include time limits to help your child balance screen time with other things like physical activity. For example, it might help to know that Australian guidelines for physical activity say that teenagers should have at least one hour of moderate to vigorous activity every day.
If you negotiate your family’s media rules or plan with your child, it gives your child the chance to understand the rules and take responsibility for following them. Negotiating the rules also sends the message that you trust your child to become a responsible digital citizen.
2. Aim for short screen time sessions
Getting up and moving around is important for your teenage child’s energy levels, development, sleep, and overall health and wellbeing.
When your child is using digital technology, it’s best for your child to have short screen time sessions and take regular breaks. For example, you could encourage your child to:
- use a timer to set breaks
- get up and move when the timer ends
- make use of natural breaks to move around – for example, when they reach a level in a game.
3. Make physical activity part of your child’s day
Physical activity keeps teenage bodies and minds fit and healthy. Your child needs at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. This might include everyday activities like walking or riding to school, sports like netball and football, or organised fitness activities like exercise classes, swimming and running.
Teenagers often need to plan the balance between physical activity and other activities, including screen time. Keeping track of physical activity using a wearable activity tracker might motivate your child to find a balance.
4. Look into extracurricular activities
Extracurricular activities, interests and hobbies are good for your child because they give your child the chance to meet new people and develop new skills. This means they’re a great way to balance screen time.
Extracurricular activities can be just about anything your child enjoys outside school, like sport, drama, Scouts and Guides, or hobbies like craft or photography. They can also be things that you’ve encouraged your child to do, like language classes, music, debating, religious instruction, swimming, community activities or casual work.
5. Encourage socialising and friendship
Even if your child uses social media to keep up with friends, it’s good for your child to socialise face to face too. Being with other people helps your child develop social skills and gives your child a social group to do new things with, especially things that are different from what your family does.
You can support your child’s face-to-face friendships by making sure your child feels comfortable inviting friends over and giving them space in your home. You can also help your child plan social activities like sport in the park or a trip to the movies.
6. Avoid screen time and digital technology use before bed
Teenagers need plenty of sleep – 8-10 hours a night.
Screen time and digital technology use before bed can affect how quickly your child falls asleep. If your child avoids mobile phones, smartwatches with apps, tablets, computer screens or TV in the hour before bed, your child is likely to get to sleep more quickly.
7. Keep digital technology out of bedrooms at night
If you keep mobile phones and other devices out of your child’s bedroom at night, your child won’t be able to stay up late playing games or messaging friends. This can also stop your child being disturbed in the night by notifications, messages or calls.
Teenagers use digital technology for schoolwork, entertainment, socialising and more. They often have a lot of screen time and regularly use more than one screen at a time. Healthy screen habits help your teenage child make better choices about when and how to use digital technology in their free time.