Managing Your Teen’s Screen Time: Finding Balance in a Digital Age

Are you concerned that your teenager or pre-teen is overly attached to their smartphone? Do you find it hard to get more than one-word answers because they're always looking at their screens? Adolescents and children can spend significant time on their phones, whether scrolling through social media, playing games, or chatting with friends. As a parent or carer, you may be worried about the impact of this behaviour on your child's well-being, including their mood, concentration, and overall mental health.

With smartphones so common, managing your teen's screen time can feel challenging. However, as a parent, you play a crucial role in this. According to Ofcom's Children's Media Literacy Report 2024, by the time they're 11, nine out of ten kids own a mobile phone. This marks a significant change in how young people interact with technology, and it's up to you to guide them.

While negative media coverage of children and young people online is prevalent, it's important to remember that screen time and technology are not entirely negative. In fact, they can be beneficial for tweens and teens, who use their phones for various reasons, including schoolwork, playing games, and entertainment.

The positives of screentime

Some positive aspects of screentime for adolescents include:

  1. Social Connection: Social media helps teens stay in touch with family and friends, especially those who live far away. It also offers online communities where teens can find support, share their interests, and build relationships with like-minded peers.
  2. Creative Expression: Technology allows teens to explore and develop their creative talents. This includes photography, video editing, graphic design apps, and coding.
  3. Skill Development: Multiplayer online games can help teens develop teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills. Social media management can also teach digital marketing and networking skills.
  4. Access to Diverse Perspectives: Social media, news apps, and online forums allow teens to engage with different perspectives, broadening their understanding of global issues and helping them develop empathy and tolerance (and couldn't we all do with more of this?).
  5. Empowerment and Advocacy: Technology can be used for social change. It can help raise awareness about social justice issues, organise events through social media, or participate in online activism.

Finding a balance

However, finding a balance between online and real life is essential and it's wise to assess each situation and child individually.

So, how much is too much when it comes to your teen's smartphone use?

Ask yourself:

  • Are they physically healthy?
  • Are they getting enough sleep?
  • Are they keeping up with their hobbies and interests?
  • Are they catching up with their friends (online or offline)?
  • Are they doing ok at school?

It's crucial for parents to play an active role in helping their teens find a healthy balance and sensible use of technology. Here are some strategies to manage your teen's (and your own) screen time and tech:

  1. Model healthy smartphone habits: Children learn from the habits of the adults around them, so to set clear boundaries, it's best to establish these healthy habits for yourself first.
  2. Implement screen-free zones for the whole family—no phones at the dinner table is a good baseline. No electronics in bedrooms after a specific time is another boundary well worth putting in place. For instance, you could set a tech cutoff time for the whole family at 9 p.m.
  3. When establishing these guidelines, it is important to have an open conversation with your teenager. This approach is more likely to gain their acceptance and cooperation. Be ready to review these rules regularly, every few months, as devices and needs evolve. Schedule regular family dinners or social gatherings without smartphones to encourage face-to-face communication and meaningful connections with family and friends.
  4. Add these to your family routines. Establishing clear rules for everyone, such as setting certain times as family time, can prevent arguments about social media use. This way, everyone can enjoy quality time together without any distractions.
  5. Give them the chance to practice managing their screen time. There's a balance between monitoring and trusting them to work it out. Having a sense of autonomy over their use will make it much more likely for them to stick to the family screen time rules. Encouraging them to think about the positives of maintaining a healthy balance helps.
  6. Encourage your teen to maintain a balance between online and offline activities. Remind them to engage in the offline activities they enjoy, such as playing games with friends, having face-to-face social interactions, and pursuing creative hobbies.
  7. Discussing important issues such as cyberbullying, online privacy, and digital footprints with your teen is crucial. This not only helps them become responsible digital citizens but also fosters a sense of open communication and trust.

You can help your teen use their smartphones safely, respectfully, and ethically by keeping communication open.

Do you have concerns about your teen's smartphone or tech use? Are you worried about the impact this is having on their well-being? As a counsellor specialising in working with parents of tweens and teens, I'm here to help you navigate the challenges of the digital age and create healthy online habits. Contact me HERE today to find out more and schedule a session.