Teens and Their Screens

Posted by on July 12, 2022

Negotiating screen time with my three children has become both a daily necessity and an unwanted distraction.

“I finished my homework. Can I have more time?”
“You said I could have 10 more minutes!”
“My friends get more time than I do.”
“She’s had the ipad for longer than I have”.
“It’s the weekend – I get more time!”
“I’m just doing my homework!”

During the pandemic, children’s average screen time tripled from 2-3 hours per day to 7-12 hours per day. Remote learning and social isolation created a ripe environment for kids’ endless connection to their devices. During lockdown, technology was both a blessing and a curse. We relied on technology to occupy us during this wearying time and we so desperately wanted it to end. Parents felt helpless and also hopeful that their children’s screen time would return to normal following health restrictions being lifted.

Teenagers using mobile phones

The season change has me imagining my kids playing outside with their friends, visiting in-person, and moving their bodies again. That’s the dream I carry inside. But, I often look around to see them texting and gaming, lying on their bedroom floor staring into their screens. Sometimes it feels near impossible to go back to our pre-Covid ways. And yet, I know that our children’s health and wellbeing warrants less time on their devices. So where are we now? Where do we go from here?

Tips to use screen time in a healthy way

It’s an opportune time to rethink screen time and to reestablish healthy guidelines for our kids (and maybe ourselves too). Setting rules is never easy (or fun) for parents. It’s just part of the job. Limiting screen time does not have to be extreme to be helpful. Our kids need to know that we appreciate the importance that their screens play in their lives. Technology is a gateway to many enjoyable and fundamental parts of their social lives – friendship, relaxation, and fun! Embracing their love of the screen and maintaining limits is possible!

Food for Thought to Help Your Teen Use Screen Time in a Healthy Way

1. Think about screen time within the larger context of your teen’s overall health and wellbeing.

  • Are they getting enough sleep?
  • Are they staying in touch with friends?
  • Are they getting some physical activity most days?
  • Are they eating a somewhat balanced diet?

Teenagers and their screens

Talk generally with kids about the importance of balance – that as human beings we need fresh air, exercise, a healthy diet, social time with friends and family AND screen time. It’s our job as parents to set parameters that help define this balance.

2. Think about setting screen time limits defined by:

  • WHERE your child can use screens – For example, no screens in the car or in bedrooms at night.
  • WHEN your child can use screens – For example, screens can be used for a maximum amount of time after school, screens may/may not be allowed before homework, no screens at mealtime, no screens past a regular nighttime hour.
  • HOW your child can use screens – For example, screens can be used for homework/listening to a podcast/watching an educational clip but not for scrolling TikTok and Instagram.
  • HOW you handle screen time for children of different ages – Screen time limits will be flexible and change as your child matures and develops. Managing parental controls can be immensely helpful in this area.

3. Teens pushing the limits on screen time does not mean that you are not effective or successful in this area. Much of the content that teens view is designed to be enticing. Teens often want more content, more time, and more freedom with technology. Pushing the boundaries is part of being a teenager. Be empathetic about their desire for more screen time AND be consistent about the limits set.

Teens using mobile phones

4. Model healthy screen time use. Model healthy screen time use. Model healthy screen time use. Enough said.

5. Take an interest in what your kids are viewing. Ask them questions about their games, their shows, their content. Feign interest even if the content is boring or unappealing to you as a parent. Your kids will appreciate you taking an interest even if they don’t admit that to you.

6. Facilitate alternatives. Going places – to the mall, a ball game, a museum, a coffee shop. The list is endless and kids will rediscover the joys of experiencing a world that’s largely been closed for the last few years.

Truth be told: Sometimes I pine for the old days, the era before smartphones and even cellphones. I look back with nostalgia trying unrealistically to recreate my childhood for my own children. Technology seems to have widened the gap between generations. But then I remind myself to embrace screen time because it is important to my kids and their childhood. And, as long as they are still learning, playing, laughing, and participating, I can embrace scrolling, gaming, and surfing too.

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