Screen time for teenagers

Screen time for teenagers is about choosing quality programs and apps and developing healthy screen habits.

Child development experts also recommend limiting daily screen time for children and teenagers. Screen time limits can help lower the risks of screen time for your child, which include physical, developmental, safety and other risks.

For children aged six years and older and teenagers, the most recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say that there should be consistent limits on the time they spend on electronic media and the types of media they use. It’s also important to make sure that screen time doesn’t take the place of sleep and activities like physical play, reading, creative play like drawing, and social time with family and friends.

If your teenage child can combine good-quality media choices with healthy screen habits and some screen time limits, she can make the most of screen time now and in the future.

Why screen time quality is important

Teenagers use screens for schoolwork, entertainment, socialising and more. They often spend a lot of time on screens and regularly use more than one screen at a time.

If you’re wondering about whether your child is spending too much time on screens, it might help to think about the quality of the content your child is watching or using. Does it help his learning, spark his imagination or improve his understanding of real-world issues? For example, watching TV programs and movies that present different ways of thinking about the world can introduce your child to new ideas.

It’s even better if your child is producing content, as well as just consuming it. For example, writing a blog, using an app to create music, or shooting and editing short movies can develop your child’s communication, creative and problem-solving skills.

Children often want to have the games their friends have, or have as much screen time as their friends say they have. A family media plan can give you some ground rules to help you manage this kind of peer influence.

Good-quality apps and games for teenagers

Good-quality apps or games for teenagers:

  • encourage creativity – for example, by encouraging teenagers to create content like video clips, animations or comics
  • encourage problem-solving – for example, by taking teenagers through the possible results of virtual science experiments
  • help develop communication skills – for example, by helping teenagers learn other languages
  • help develop social skills – for example, by encouraging teenagers to play as part of a team.

Other practical things to think about include:

  • age range – it’s a good idea to check that the age range for an app or game matches your child’s age
  • privacy settings – check the terms and conditions to see whether and how apps collect data and make sure you’re comfortable with what data will be collected, and what it will be used for.

Good-quality TV programs, movies and videos for teenagers

Good-quality TV programs, movies and videos for teenagers:

  • have positive messages about relationships, family and life – avoid those that make violence or bad attitudes look good
  • inspire interest in new topics or improve understanding of real-world issues
  • are age appropriate – for example, the themes of some movies aren’t suitable for teenagers
  • encourage teenagers to think about themselves and their own values as they think and talk about characters and storylines.
Online reviews can help you decide whether a movie, app or game is high quality and has educational benefits. Try our movie reviews or reviews on Common Sense Media. Use Australian Classification to find out what different age classifications mean.

Healthy screen time habits for teenagers

Healthy screen time habits are an important part of making the most of screen time. These habits help your teenage child make better choices about how to use her free time.

Here’s how you can reinforce these habits with your child.

Role-modelling healthy screen use
All children – including teenagers – do as you do, so being a role model for your child is a powerful and positive way to guide your child’s behaviour when it comes to screen time.

You can be a role model for healthy screen habits by using screens in the way you want your child to use them. For example, if you want family mealtimes to be screen free, you need to avoid checking your phone during meals.

Encouraging quality screen time
If you sometimes play or watch with your child, you can remind him to think about what’s on the screen rather than just passively watching. You can do this by asking him questions about what he’s playing or watching.

You can also talk about the characters in games or TV programs, including their behaviour and the situations they find themselves in. These conversations give your child the opportunity to think about her own behaviour as well.

Balancing screen time with other activities
It’s important for your child to balance screen time with other activities that are good for his health, learning and development. These include physical activity, quiet activities like reading or listening to music, and conversation with family and friends.

You can help your child find this balance by negotiating some family rules about technology use. You could think together about who the rules apply to and whether they’re fair to everyone in the family. Rules might cover:

  • limits on screen time that take into account family events and routines – for example, your child might have more screen time on the weekend when she has less schoolwork
  • areas where your child can use devices – for example, you might agree that your child’s phone stays in the family room at night
  • times when devices can be used – for example, you could have a family rule that mealtimes are free of TV, computers and phones, or that there’s no screen time until your child has finished chores or homework.

It can help to create a family media plan for everyone in the family. Your plan could cover things like screen-free areas in your house, screen-free times, and programs and apps that are OK for your child to use.

You can also encourage your child to do something outside or look for entertainment options that don’t involve screens – for example, board or card games.

Check out Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for helpful tips on screen time and how to balance it with physical activity.

Managing screen time

The best way to help your child find a balanced approach to screen time is to let your child make choices about his electronic media use within your family’s agreed screen time limits. This gives your child the chance to put his healthy screen habits into practice.

You and your child can talk together about how much screen time she needs for school-related tasks and how much she can spend on things like watching TV, using social media or playing video games. It’s also essential for your child to think about when she’ll spend time connecting with family and friends, playing sport and doing other off-screen things.

Sometimes your child might break the rules you’ve negotiated. For example, your child might use his phone in his bedroom late at night when you’ve agreed not to have phones in bedrooms at night. Consequences are a useful discipline strategy in this situation. For example, the consequence for breaking the screen time rules might be no screen time for a day.

Another way to deal with this is by helping your child develop strategies that stop her from breaking the rules – for example, she could set a timer that lets her know when screen time is over, or she could make sure all screen devices are out of her bedroom.

Monitoring screen time
It’s best to avoid using surveillance apps that let you secretly monitor your child’s online activity because this sends the message that you don’t trust your child. It’s better to talk openly about your own screen time and encourage your child to do the same.

This helps you to understand the choices your child makes as an increasingly independent screen user.

You can help your child to stay safe when he’s online by talking with him about internet safety and cyberbullying.