How to get the most out of screen time

Learn how to help your child benefit from screen time

Get tips and advice on things you can do to minimise risks from spending too much time online.

Help children develop a healthy relationship with technology and find balance with their screen time.

A mum uses a smartphone with her daughter.

4 quick tips to help you make the most of screen time

Agree on boundaries together

Create a family agreement

Every child’s screen time needs is different. Do they need their device to complete school work? Is Roblox the only place they connect with others? Does their time online negatively affect their mood?

With your child and whole family, create a Family Agreement that outlines when, where and for how long you all can use devices. And make sure everyone in the family gets on board — including older siblings, parents and anyone else living in the home.

Talk regularly about device use

Make regular chats normal

As soon as your child starts using devices, talk to them about their time online. Ask them questions about how their time online makes them feel and check in on the actions they take to decompress. In your conversations, you can also revisit the Family Agreement to see what is or isn’t working.

See advice on building good habits early with Online Safety Starts Early, created with EE for under-5s.

Set up parental controls

Choose the right parental controls

Screen time parental controls come in a range of shapes and uses. Google Family Link, for example, can provide screen time reports across apps and devices. On TikTok,  you can monitor screen time through Family Pairing or set daily limits on your child’s account. And in Fortnite, you can receive weekly playtime reports.

These parental controls cannot replace regular conversations. However, they can support what you and your child agrees on when it comes to setting boundaries.

See our full range of step-by-step parental control guides.

Find activities to do during screen time breaks

Spend time together

When it comes to taking screen time breaks, make sure children have something else they can do. Maybe that’s writing stories or making crafts or playing outside. Often, complaints around device breaks relate to ‘boredom’ or not knowing what else to do.

If screen time breaks are new, this is especially important. Try doing new things together at first to help children find different options.

“Instead of simply telling them to put their devices down,” says mum Whitney Fleming, “I would say, ‘Hey, let’s go thrifting.’ Or, ‘I looked up a new trail to hike’. . . . It was exhausting for me to work and try to fill their phone void. I had to sacrifice a lot of my free time and the things that I wanted to do for myself. I had to endure a lot — A LOT — of eye rolls and sighs and how they could turn the word ‘mom’ into three syllables. But I kept at it. . . . And excruciatingly slowly, I noticed a change.”

See her full story via this Facebook post.

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How to make the most out of screen time

While screen time is a neutral term, neither positive nor negative, not all online activities are equal. Here are a few pointers to help you understand if your child’s time online is positively or negatively impacting them.

Make sure it supports their development

Keep screen time active

Ask yourself: is this activity helping my child achieve a goal, improve their development in a certain area, promote their sense of self or build-up skills that will help them make smart choices as they grow?

Of course, not every activity will achieve these things. However, when it comes to creating a balanced digital diet, this portion of device use should take up biggest part of their time.

Have regular conversations

Make daily chats a normal part of their life

It’s important to talk about the online issues children might face during their time online. Talking regularly about how those things make them feel and the actions they can take to support their wellbeing will keep screen time positive.

Use stories, apps or videos aimed at kids to spark the conversation, and keep conversations casual — in much the same way as asking about their school day. Talking about issues before they happen can prevent potential harms.

The screen time lesson and story from Digital Matters is a great resource to help.

Agree on device-friendly areas

Use devices in common areas

Look at where they currently use their devices. Are they tucked away in their bedroom where you struggle to monitor device use? Or is there a common area such as the kitchen or living room they are expected to stay in?

Charging phones over night in the kitchen will support positive sleep patterns. Additionally, playing video games in the living room helps set clear limits on time and behaviour.

Working together to create a Family Agreement can help establish healthy boundaries.

Set time aside to check in

Review boundaries as children grow

Remember to regularly check in with children about their time online even as they become teenagers. Older teens tend to feel that they have the balance of right when it comes to screen time but having a conversation about the physical effects of screen time might help them to self-regulate their screen time better to get the best out of it.

These regular check-ins can also help you stay on top of potential issues or harms.

Model positive screen use

Show children how to use devices

Children tend to do what you do, not necessarily what you say, so model the behaviour you’d like to see in them. It’s not always easy to switch off, and this might take some practise. However, your children will benefit most from the effort you put in here.

Schedule in screen time breaks

Take regular breaks from devices

Make sure that you take the time to unplug from tech as a family to encourage balanced screen time. Apps like Forest which build beautiful forests the longer you stay off devices can be useful.

You can see other apps that can support screen time breaks and wellbeing here.

Create healthy habits early

Start early for lifelong habits

If your child uses a device — even if it’s a tablet for 20 minutes per day — then it’s time to talk boundaries.

Establishing boundaries and limits early will help children build good habits early, which will stay with them as they grow.

Help them use devices in a range of ways

Create a balanced digital diet

Find apps, sites and games to play together or that can support a balanced digital diet. From managing wellbeing to building skills, there are so many things children can use devices for. Give them the space to explore their passions, enhance their skills and discover their identity in a safe way.

Learn more about creating a balanced digital diet here.

How to talk about screen time

Screen time needs change by age. So, get age-specific advice with these guides to help you have the right conversations about screen time.

How to manage children's screen time

Take these simple preventative actions to help keep children's screen time positive.

Use parental controls

Parental controls can support positive screen time

Make use of parental control tools on the devices and platforms your child uses. Some controls can remotely close down apps or games, reminding your child when they reach daily agreed limits. Others have night settings, which slowly reduce the amount blue light given off by the screen during evenings. This can help children wind down before bed.

Learn how to use parental controls with our range of step-by-step guides.

Show your children their activity logs

Help children take ownership of their screen use

Platforms like Fortnite, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok offer screen time reports. Additional screen time management apps can do the same. When children see the time they spend online, it can often surprise them and help them make a change.

In research completed with TikTok, teens said they “wanted to take responsibility for their screen time themselves, without input from their parents.” Additionally, the type of tools they found most effective were those that provided “more data about their usage” because it “would shock some into acting and would give others a more nuanced understanding of their screen time habits.”

Tools like Screen Time on Apple products and Digital Wellbeing on Android offer screen time management tools on smartphones.

Turn off notifications and autoplay

Limit opportunities for passive screen time

Work with your child to turn off notifications on their smartphone and other devices to limit the distraction from other activities.

Additionally, turning off autoplay on YouTube or streaming services like Netflix can help children stay on top of their screen time. Having to actively go to the next video or episode keeps them from too much passive screen use.

Set timers and reminders

Use tools to notify children about limits

It’s easy to lose track of time when engaging with screens and for children, it’s even trickier to keep track. This is particularly true for some children with ADHD or autism who need time to transition between activities.

You can set timers on devices as well as on additional devices — for example, using the reminder function on your Echo device. This makes it harder to simply swipe a screen time reminder away. Visual timers on a different screen might also help.

How does screen time affect mental health?

I’m worried my child is addicted to gaming

The World Health Organisation classifies gaming addiction as a disorder and provides the following list of signs and symptoms:

  • Struggling to control their time spent gaming.
  • Frequently or always giving priority to gaming over other areas of life.
  • Continues or escalates gaming, even when they know there are negative consequences.
  • It interferes in relationships with family and friends as well as socialising, education, work or other important areas of life.

If this behaviour happens regularly over a period of at least 12 months, it might be a sign of addiction.

Ask yourself if your child is physically healthy and sleeping enough, and look at their behaviour. Are they engaged with school and friends or are they withdrawing?

If you’re worried about your child, you can seek support your GP or learn more from the National Centre for Gaming Disorders.

Visit the gaming advice hub to learn more.

I’m worried that social media is impacting my child’s mental health

Social media is a great tool for children to stay connected and share experiences together. However, it can also negatively impact children’s wellbeing with links to negative self-image and anxiety.

How to support your child

  • Talk about the impact of seeking approval from people who online that may not know them.
  • Remind them that social media is not the only way to socialise. Encourage them to invite friends over and interact offline.
  • Use the news to discuss issues around using social media too much.
  • Talk about how people show a curated image of their real life, which isn’t always the truth.

Learn more in our social media advice hub.

Create a healthy relationship with screens

Use these guides to help children develop positive screen time habits.

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