How to tackle too much screen time

Guidance to minimise negative screen time impacts

Learn the signs of too much screen time and what you can do to help children develop positive habits for device use.

A dad uses a laptop with his daughter.

4 ways to tackle too much screen time

Know the signs of 'too much'

While the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends no more than an hour of screen time for children 4 and under, each child’s needs differ as they grow. So, it’s more important to manage signs of overuse rather than just amount spent online.

Some signs include:

  • increased anxiety when away from devices.
  • devices are interfering with sleep, or your child is more tired in the mornings.
  • trouble with focus or concentration that interferes with other activities.
  • prioritising device use over other activities (e.g. wanting to play video games instead of going to a friend’s birthday party).
  • spends most of their day sitting or lying down with devices instead of moving.
  • screen time that is more passive than active.

Remember that not all of the above signs only suggest too much screen time, and behaviour will differ from child to child.

Set or update parental controls

Every device, app, game or platform your child uses likely has some type of parental control. Most controls let you customise them to suit your child, so they can be as restrictive or open as you like. As your child grows and changes, you should update the parental controls for screen time to suit their new needs.

See a range of step-by-step parental controls guides here.

Review or create screen time boundaries

If you’ve created a Family Agreement that has fallen out of use, review it or create a new one with the family. Make sure everyone has the chance to share their thoughts, and find compromises where there’s disagreement. Giving everyone a voice will make it easier for them to get on board.

Once the agreement is completed, everyone should sign it and follow it. This includes any family member living in the home, not just children. Consider then displaying it somewhere visually as a reminder.

Find a Family Agreement template here.

Get additional support

If you worry your child is addicted to their device, talk with your GP. The National Centre for Gaming Disorders might also have help for you.

Other helpful places to find support include:

Remember that you are not the only parent to experience this struggle. It’s important to support yourself so you can support your child.

What are the signs of too much screen time?

Every experience of 'too much screen time' is unique. Here's what real children and parents said about what the signs might look like in their family.

I'll have a break down!

Mum threatened to take my phone away because I was cheeky and I was like, 'no, I’ll have a break down! I need it for my streaks and keeping in touch with goss!'

Child, aged 11-13

It feels like a losing battle

Honestly, it feels like a losing battle. . . . I’m not entirely sure we DO manage screen time.


I can't live without it

Mum says that I should finish my homework before going on my phone but I’ll keep my phone with me and keep checking it. I can’t live without it. I need to know what my mates are up to!


She would become so upset

She couldn’t be apart for her phone for a second; she would become so upset.


Not working for me

Sometimes I use the reminder alarm, but then I disable it and I forget about it. It’s not working for me.

Child, aged 16

This isn't reality

Everything can seem real on Instagram; it can hard to explain that this isn’t reality.


Twenty minutes late

I was 20 minutes late for school because I was on my phone ... I [felt] really rushed and when I feel rushed, I feel stressed.

Child, aged 13

Can become very irritable

My son is addicted to being online and can become very irritable if he can’t have access to it.


Struggles to stop

My youngest is on the spectrum and struggles to stop once he’s on a screen because he uses it as a way to avoid situations or jobs that he doesn’t want to engage with.


If your child doesn’t know what to do with themselves without access to a screen, it might be time to talk about reducing their access. We know that some forms of screen time can become habitual for children, so ensuring they have other activities to take part in is really important.

For young people, limitless access to social media can leave them feeling a little low. It’s important to have conversations with your child before they access social media and explore how it can impact them.

Visit the social media advice hub to learn more.

How to talk about screen time

If you think your child's screen time is negatively impacting their wellbeing, it's important to first talk with them about your concerns.

It’s easy for your child to lose track of time when watching or playing something that interests them. Even parents lose track of time as their child uses devices. Our research found that parents’ ideas of what harms children experienced commonly differed from what children self-reported.

children reported they experienced the feeling of ‘spending too much time online’.

parents reported their child experienced the feeling of ‘spending too much time online’.

The research shows that children are aware of the feeling of ‘too much screen time’, though that will mean something different to each child. This also suggests children might feel these limits more often than parents think.

If you or your child feel like they are is spending too much time online, here are a few ways to talk about it.

Keep it casual

Avoid having a sit-down conversation that creates anxiety. If your child feels like they are in trouble, they might approach the conversation already feeling defensive.

Instead, invite them on a walk or talk to them during a drive home. If possible, talk somewhere with little distraction or when devices are put away so both of you can focus on the chat.

Lead with understanding

Regardless of how your child responds to your concern, try to listen and understand their point of view. As a child, they won’t always understand your concern and might feel defensive. While their language should still be respectful, understand that their tone could reflect concern or anger that they struggle to put into words.

Give them time to talk and finish what they have to say. Listen and respond calmly, taking deep breaths or breaks when you need them.

Understand that you might have to return to the conversation multiple times before you each start to find solutions.

Ask for their suggestions

Research with TikTok found that teens commonly felt they lacked agency when it came to their mobile phones. They reported that this made them feel anxious, frustrated, guilty, powerless or weak. The research found that “most teens wanted to take responsibility for their screen time themselves, without input from their parents.”

It’s important to involve children in the discussions and decisions around screen time. Ask them for ways you can help them reduce their time on devices.

They might push back to say they don’t need to reduce the time. However, if you want them spending less time on devices, clarify that this is non-negotiable but that you will help them find a solution that works for them.

Remember that even if it’s difficult, it will pay off in the long run. See one mum’s story when she took on the challenge (via Facebook).

Tips to tackle too much screen time

If you or your child feel like they're experiencing too much screen time, here are 3 tips to help them balance their time online.

Create device-free moments

While your child might need their screens for school or staying in touch with their friends, make space for screen-free moments.

When you create your Family Agreement, set rules for where they can use devices. Boundaries such as only using devices in common areas like the kitchen will leave places like their bedroom free from screens. This can also help ensure there are moments for regular device breaks.

Find space for new activities

If you’re trying to tackle ‘too much screen time’ by taking away devices for a set time, remember to fill the gaps with something new.

Go for walks, play outside, make crafts, read books — together. While this might seem difficult at first, it will pay off in the long-run. Because children are growing up surrounded by tech, it’s important to show them how to play away from tech. Too often, adults expect children to know skills without ever being shown. Just like learning to use tech, some kids will need to learn how to not use tech.

Encourage critical thinking

Our research found that young people desire agency in managing their screen time. While younger children might need a little more guidance, you can empower teens to take control by helping them develop their critical thinking.

Questions before screen time

Encourage children to ask these questions before they use their device:

  • What do I want to get out of this time online? Is it to connect with friends, relax or be entertained? Thinking about what they hope to get out of something before they start it will help them reflect on what impacts their behaviour.
  • Are there other things I should be doing? What do they need to prioritise? This quick check before starting an activity can help make sure it won’t
    negatively impact another part of their day.
  • Will this activity enhance the rest of my day? Could they try out a recipe with friends later? Or create content based on their skills, experiences or interests? Would a friend or family member want to join them? By thinking about how everything in our day might fit together, we make the most of what we do.

During screen time

While using a device, remind children to ask themselves ‘How am I feeling?‘. Has this answer changed during use? Do they feel better or worse? Do they feel how they expected to? What affected these feelings?

Taking a moment to consider how they feel before, during and after an activity is a great habit to get into. Moreover, it can help children learn mindfulness and recognise how screen time affects their wellbeing both positively and negatively.

Questions to ask after screen time

Once children finish using a device for something, these questions can help them reflect on their experiences.

  • How did I spend my time? Did they learn something new or watch something made by another person? Did they create something themselves? Thinking about what they did, and not just how long they did something, can help children understand their motivations. As such, they can approach future screen time feeling more conscious about their actions.
  • Did I do what I set out to do? Did they expect to do what they did? What guided their actions? Reflecting in this way can help young people understand their screen time behaviour and what affects them.
  • Could by experience have been better? What went well? What didn’t go well? Why? Thinking about what they could do differently next time or what gave them the most joy in an activity can help children shape their next experience for the better.

See other parents' experiences

See what other parents think about screen time and learn what they do to manage it.

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