Managing screen time – starting with an open conversation with children is key

Online safety expert Alan Mackenzie shares his insight on screen time management following workshops with children to see what they say about the issue.

There is a lot of media attention on screen time; just before typing this article I was reading new World Health Organization guidelines, suggesting no ‘sedentary’ screen time for babies, and limits of one hour per day for 2-4-year-olds. Sadly, these guidelines are at odds with good academic research, but it’s a subjective argument to which I doubt there will ever be a one-size-fits-all solution.

In February I worked with 16 classes of Year 6 children to have some open and engaging conversations around screen time. I wanted to understand their thoughts, how screen time is regulated at home, and what they thought about rules that were put in place.

This wasn’t to get children to rise up and start arguing with their parents about their screen time but to give the children the information to have a good, open conversation with their parents.

What do children say about screen time?

In all of the lessons there were common themes from a majority of the children which I have paraphrased for clarity:

  • Screen time is misleading. Time is important, but talk to me and understand what I am doing, this is more important.
  • There should be time boundaries in place. We don’t want them, but we need to know when we are pushing boundaries.
  • Learn the dynamics of the games that I’m playing; when you call me down for dinner I might be annoyed because I’ve just spent 30 minutes trying to finish a level in my game and I can’t save it. Instead give me a warning – 15, 10 and 5 minutes.
  • Understand what I am doing online; you might see me sitting in front of my device for hours and get annoyed with this, but I’m doing lots of different things. I’m learning, I’m having fun and I’m socialising with my friends. Spend some time with me and learn what I am doing (a few children described this as ‘spend a day in my shoes’).

When I’m delivering parents sessions in schools, I sometimes sound like a broken record, repeating how important it is to have open and honest conversations with the children about their online activities. But as you can see from the few examples above, they’ve got a lot to say.

Screen time top tips

Have a conversation at home with your children. Explore screen time and screen use with your child, ask them for their concerns or frustrations so that you can talk about it together.


Visit our screen advice hub for more tools and advice to help children get the best out of their screen time.

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