Screen time management strategies

Screen time can be part of a healthy lifestyle for teenagers when it’s balanced with other activities. But this isn’t always easy to achieve.

That’s why your family might need some strategies for managing screen time and screen use. For teenagers, screen time management strategies might include:

  • family rules
  • routines
  • sessions
  • choices.

Family rules for screen time and screen use

Family rules about screen time can help your child understand your family’s limits and expectations.

Here are some questions to help you negotiate screen time and screen use in your family:

  • Do you want guidelines about screen time hours? What about weekends, holidays, ‘binge days’ and tech-free days?
  • When can children use devices? For example, not until after homework, or not during meal times? Does your child need to ask you first?
  • Where can children use devices? For example, in family rooms but not bedrooms late at night? What about in the car or while visiting other people’s homes?

Making the rules
It’s important to involve all family members when you’re making family rules about screen use. Your rules should be flexible enough to cover school days, weekends and holidays. The rules also need to take into account your child’s changing needs and interests as she grows.

It’s a good idea to revisit the rules every few months and whenever you introduce a new device into your home. This helps you ensure the rules are still meeting everyone’s needs.

Enforcing the rules
Sometimes gentle reminders will be enough to enforce your screen use rules. For example, ‘Remember, you agreed to finish your science homework before going on the PlayStation’.

Breaking the rules
Sometimes your child might break the rules you’ve agreed on. For example, your child might use his phone late at night after he has agreed on a 9 pm screen curfew. Useful discipline strategies in this situation might include loss of privilege. For example, you might agree with your child that the consequence for using his phone late at night is the loss of internet access for a day.

Routines and screen time

Routines help family members know what to do, when and how often. This means routines can help you build screen time into your family life in a healthy way.

For example, if you want to put time limits on screen use, you can make this part of a routine. For example, your child can watch TV or use the Xbox but only after she has finished her homework and practised the guitar.

Routines can also help you minimise conflict about screen use. For example, if Friday night is an agreed tech-free family night, you won’t need to argue about whether you or your children can use the PlayStation, check Instagram or watch YouTube.

Screen time sessions

Your child might find it hard to stop using screens, especially if he’s online with friends, trying to complete a level or just having a good time. The idea of a ‘session’ with a definite endpoint can make it easier for your child to finish screen time and move on to other activities.

Here are some tips:

  • Agree on the length of the screen time session before the session starts. Your child will be more likely to cooperate when it’s time to stop. For example, ‘How long will it take you to finish the level? OK, let’s agree you’ll finish up in half an hour’.
  • Give your child a warning when it’s almost time to stop. For example, ‘Jaspit, we agreed half an hour. You’ve got 10 minutes left’.
  • Give your child time to save or finish what she’s doing. You might say, ‘Hana, it’s time to save what you’re doing. You need to finish up in five minutes’.

Choices about screen use

If your child has choices about his screen use as well as input into your family’s screen time rules, he’s more likely to cooperate with the rules and limits.

Also, if you encourage your child to make choices about her screen use, you give her the chance to practise managing screen time independently as part of a healthy lifestyle.

You could encourage your child to make choices about:

  • when to play online – for example, ‘Playing Fortnite before bed could make it harder for you to get to sleep. What about using your mindfulness app instead?’
  • what to watch or do – for example, ‘Why don’t you work on your podcast rather than flicking through Instagram?’
  • when to have breaks – for example, ‘You’ve been sitting still for a while. How about getting up to stretch?’ or ‘Do you want to set your timer, or would you like me to remind you to take a break?’

One of the keys is encouraging your child to make choices about screen use based on quality. To do this, you can: