Strategies for managing screen time and digital technology use
Screen time and digital technology use can be part of a healthy lifestyle for teenagers when they balance it with other activities.
To achieve this, your family might need some strategies for managing screen time. For teenagers, these strategies might include:
- family rules
Family rules for screen time and digital technology use
Family rules about screen time and digital technology use can help your child understand your family’s limits and expectations. You could even make these rules part of a formal agreement that you and your child discuss, negotiate and sign.
Here are questions to help you negotiate screen time in your family:
- Do you want guidelines about screen time hours? What about weekends, holidays and tech-free days?
- When can your child use digital technology? For example, not until after homework, or not during mealtimes? Does your child need to ask you first?
- Where can your child 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?
- How can your child use screens? For example, to make a podcast but not to watch epic fail videos?
Making the rules
It’s important to involve all family members when you’re making family rules about screen time. Your rules should be flexible enough to cover school days, weekends and holidays. The rules also need to take into account changing needs and interests as your child 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
If gentle reminders aren't enough, you might need to talk with your child about how you can help them stick to the family media plan or agreement.
Breaking the rules
Sometimes your child might break the rules you’ve agreed on. For example, your child might use their phone late at night after they’ve 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 their phone late at night is that they’ll have to give up their phone for the next 2 nights.
Routines for screen time and digital technology use
Routines help family members know what to do, when and how often. This means routines can help you build screen time and digital technology use into your family life in a healthy way.
For example, if you want to put time limits on screen time, you can make this part of a routine. For example, your child can watch TV or use the Xbox but only after they’ve finished homework and practised the guitar.
Routines can also help you minimise conflict about screen time. For example, if Friday night is an agreed tech-free family night, you can avoid any arguments 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 they’re online with friends, trying to complete a level or just having a good time. The idea of a ‘session’ with an endpoint can make it easier for your child to monitor and limit screen time and digital technology use by themselves.
Here are 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 they’re doing. You might say, ‘Hana, it’s time to save what you’re doing. You need to finish up in 5 minutes’.
Some streaming services play the next episode or show automatically. This can make it very easy for your child to binge-watch content. Check your service to see whether you can switch off this feature.
Choices about digital technology use
Encouraging your child to make choices about screen time and digital technology use has several benefits. For example, it:
- gives your child the chance to practise managing screen time independently
- helps your child develop long-lasting healthy screen use habits
- makes it more likely your child will stick to your family’s screen time rules.
You could encourage your child to make choices about:
- when to play online – for example, ‘Why don’t you do your homework before you play NBA 2K?’
- 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 time based on quality. To do this, you can:
- talk with your child about what makes a good-quality app, game, TV show or movie
- play a game or watch a TV program with your child and talk about why it’s good quality
- ask your child whether they think they’re making good choices.