Smartphones are central to teen’s daily routine, if not integral to it. Whether it’s sending something on Snapchat to keep a streak going as soon as they wake up, getting up to speed on news on Twitter or live streaming thoughts about their day on social media, it can be hard to keep teens away from screens.
To support teens, it’s more about equipping them with the tools to self-regulate their own screen time and be critical about how it is impacting their well-being. Find tips and advice to help them do just that.
Less screen time limits
Although almost 9 in 10 parents take measures to limit their child’s use of devices, parents of teens are less likely to take any measures. As they get older it is important that they have more freedom and fewer restrictions – they need to start to develop the skills to manage this on their own.
Increased use of social media
Half of parents of 14 – 16s are concerned about their children’s use of social media and its impact on their overall mental wellbeing.
It can be tempting for children to multitask with a screen but often it can become a distraction. To help them strike a healthy balance it’s important to set simple rules that they can follow.
Putting their phone on ‘do not disturb‘ when doing important activities like homework, creating device-free zones in the home and taking regular breaks from tech are a great start to help them prioritise family time and sleep over screens. Also, setting a good example with your own screen time use is essential.
Learn how they communicate with others online to better guide them as they become more socially active online and draw from friends, passions and online sources to build their identity.
The more you get involved and understand the things your children do online, the easier it is to gain their respect and influence what they do in their digital world.
Also, making screens part of family time, like a movie or an online games night is one way to make it more inclusive and engaging.
Be open and honest about the online risks teens face so they feel confident to talk to you if they get into trouble online – and don’t overreact – remember that the dialogue is important and you want them to come back to you the next time they need support.
Also, make them aware of practical things they can do to deal with risks online, like blocking and reporting on the platforms they use.
It’s also important to remind them to think carefully about what they post and share with others online to help them maintain a positive online reputation that will serve them well later on in life when applying for a job or higher education.
Whatever devices your teen uses, take the time to sit together and review the free tools available to help them assess the time they spend online and make them aware of privacy settings they can use to stay in control of what they share. Also, looking at app permissions can be a powerful way to get them to understand what can happen with their data.
All consoles and some social platforms have built-in settings that allow you to set alerts to tell you when you’ve reached a certain amount of time and give you a summary of time spent to improve digital wellbeing.
It’s important to make teens aware that most platforms are purposely built to keep them watching or playing, this can help them avoid mindless scrolling. Encourage them to be more critical about the media they watch and the platforms they use and to explore apps and websites that will compliment what they enjoy in the real world and develop their key skills.
Often a sign that a child is spending too much time on screens is when they may feel anxiety or stress if they are disconnected or separated from their phone.
Lack of sleep and exercise and no willingness to visit friends may be a sign they need to take a break from their device.
Not all screen time is created equal so it’s important to encourage children to have a healthy balance between passive screen time (i.e watching YouTube) and interactive screen time (i.e. creating content or playing games online).
There is no safe level of screen time but it doesn’t mean that all screen time is harmful. Lack of evidence has meant that experts have found it hard to recommend a cut-off for children screen time overall.
One size does not fit all when it comes to screen time – it’s more about getting it right for your families needs.
It is important for teens to understand some of the research and evidence around screentime and the potential problems it can cause. Rather than just giving them rules and telling them it is problematic tell them why that is the case.
The platforms and devices that we use every day have been cleverly designed to keep us using them for as long as possible. Persuasive design is built into the DNA of all of these products. Tristan Harris from the Center for Humane Technology explained that we as individuals can try to use our devices more responsibly, but it’s our willpower against hundreds of engineers who are paid to keep us glued to the screen. This means that it is completely understandable that we may find it hard to put the device down or to spend less time on a popular game or app.
For example: Research from 2017 found that the mere presence of a smartphone, even when turned off and face down, drains your attention. Honest Data (2020) found that 30% of 18-44 felt anxious if they haven’t checked Facebook in the last 2 hours.
Research published in the American Economic Review (2020) determined that 1 month away from Facebook leads to a significant improvement in emotional well-being.
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