10 Strategies to Limit Your Teen's Screen Time

Set Limits on TV, Computers, Video Games, and Smartphones

Set healthy limits on your teen's screen time.
Carey Kirkella/Getty Images

Without adult guidance, most teenagers would spend almost all of their waking hours behind a screen. Whether they're texting on their smartphones, or they're watching videos on their laptops, their electronics use can easily get out of control. If your child says "everyone is doing it," he may be correct. But that doesn't mean there aren't serious consequences. Let's look at strategies you can use to limit your teen's screen time and how it can benefit your whole family.

Too Much Screen Time for Teens Is the Norm

A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8- to 18-year-old children devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to entertainment media each day. That totals more than 53 hours per week or 2770 hours each year!

The majority of these screen hours are spent "media multitasking," meaning teens are using more than one medium at a time—like watching TV and scrolling through social media simultaneously. When the study accounted for the children's multi-tasking efforts, they found that teens are actually exposed to about 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content each day.

Consequences of Excess Screen Time

Too much screen time has been linked to a variety of problems. Excessive electronic use raises the risk of obesity, interferes with social activities and family time, and takes a toll on a teen's mental health

In contrast, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that parental monitoring of a child's media use can have protective benefits on his academic, social, and physical outcome. Taking the time to strategize on how to set limits is very worth your time (and the resistance you will get) as a parent.

Strategies to Manage Your Teen's Screen Time

Knowing that parents can make a difference for their child through limiting screen use, what can you do? What strategies have helped other parents implement and enforce these rules? Every child is different, and one strategy may work better for one child than another. That said, we hope that at least a few of these 10 techniques will help you set healthy limits for your own child.

1. Make Screen Time a Privilege

One of the ways in which screen time has changed dramatically in recent years is that it's often felt to be more of a right than a privilege. If you grew up watching the four channels available, you may have felt fortunate to watch a cartoon on Saturday morning. The combination of having just about anything available on a screen 24/7 places more pressure on parents to say when a child can and cannot have screen time.

Make it clear that screen time is a privilege that needs to be earned. At first, this may be difficult. But the lessons from learning to delay the gratification of screen time and control her impulses will stay with your child for a long time. Also, make it clear that the privilege of screen time can be taken away at any time. Teach your teen to do homework and chores first, before he turns on the TV or plays on the computer. 

2. Role Model Healthy Habits

Telling your teen to shut off his electronics while you’re sitting in front of the TV isn’t likely to be effective. Teens will learn more from what you do than what you say. Be a good role model by limiting your own screen time. Let your child see you make the choice between looking something up on Google or checking the score of a game. Show her how you have learned treat media as a privilege. 

3. Discourage Multitasking

Most teens think they’re pretty good at multitasking. They try to text message while doing their homework or use social media while talking on the phone. If your child has a phone, you're probably all too familiar with their justifications for doing so. Discourage your teen from doing two things at once and discuss how multitasking actually interferes with productivity.

4. Establish Clear Rules about Electronics

Most teens, especially younger teens, aren’t mature enough to handle free reign with their electronics. Establish rules that will keep your teen safe and help your teen make good choices with video games, cell phones, TVs, and computers. Examples of good rules include having a set time when screens need to be turned off at night and removing screens from bedrooms.

5. Encourage Physical Activity

Encourage your teen to get some exercise. Going for a walk, playing a game of catch, or even doing some yard work can ensure your teen will get the physical activity she needs. Think of activities you can enjoy as a family so it seems less like exercising. Does your family like hiking? Consider geocaching, an activity (often on hiking trails) in which families hide or hunt for objects using GPS. (A geocache is a container which may contain toys and other treasures). Some families enjoy tennis. Others enjoy going to the local rock climbing gym. Physical activities such as these not only enforce time away from screens but are beneficial for your child physically and socially as well.

6. Educate Your Teen About Media

Have frequent conversations about various aspects of media. Discuss how advertisements often try to convince young people that certain products will make them more attractive or more popular. Discuss the dangers of too much violence exposure and help them learn how to be an informed viewer.

7. Don’t Allow Electronics During Mealtimes

Shut off your TV during mealtimes and don’t allow text messaging or web surfing while you’re eating. Instead, use the opportunity to talk about your day. You may be hearing more and more about how family dinners can make kid's lives better. Don't let screens cheat your family out of this priceless time.

8. Create Screen-Free Days

Every once in a while it can be helpful to have a screen-free day. You might even consider a longer digital detox—like a week-long vacation from electronics twice a year. It’s a great way to ensure that everyone still has plenty of activities that don’t involve electronics.

9. Schedule Family Activities that Don’t Involve Electronics

Involve everyone in activities that don’t involve electronics. Whether you play a board game or go for a family hike, make it clear that during your time together there won’t be any electronic use.

10. Hold Family Meetings to Discuss Screen Time

Schedule a family meeting to discuss screen time use. Allow your teen to give input about the screen time rules. Address problems and problem-solving together. Make it clear that you want everyone in the family to develop a healthy relationship with electronics. If you've never had a family meeting, there are good resources available on how to hold successful family meetings, such as making sure every family member has the opportunity to share his thoughts.

Benefits of Limiting Screen Time

The studies discussed earlier tell us some of the hazards of excess screen time and how monitoring and limiting the use of electronics improves outcomes for kids academically, socially, and physically. Yet the benefits of limiting screen time might seem even more real to you if you think about what children miss out on when they are behind a screen. Considering that the average teen spends almost 3000 hours a year behind a screen, what else could she be doing? Some things a child can do instead of looking at a screen include:

  • Communicate with parents and siblings
  • Socialize with friends
  • Read books
  • Be creative and use her imagination
  • Play outside and enjoy nature
  • Do homework
  • Carry out family chores
  • Get enough rest

Take a moment and think of some of the activities you enjoyed growing up and how it would be different today. Don't let your child miss out on those opportunities.

Parents Need to Work Together

Limiting screen time is all well and good as long as parents work together. Studies have found that interparent conflict (conflict between parents) in setting these limits is associated with a child having more conflict in his or her relationships. It may also result in greater exposure to violence. Before setting media limits with your child make sure you work together with your partner so you can present these rules as a united team. For parents who aren't together, this can be more difficult. If you are facing this, try to see that uniting (even if divorced or otherwise separated) is important for the health of your child. If this remains a problem, it might be helpful to sit down with a third party such as a therapist to look at ways in which you can compromise so that your child has her screen time limited but without making it an area of contention between parents.

Bottom Line on Limiting Your Child's Screen Time

It's quite clear that excessive screen time is damaging to our children academically and from both a physical and psychological standpoint. At the same time, screen time is causing our children to miss out on many activities which are important in nurturing the family and friendships. Try some of the strategies listed here to reduce your child's screen time. If you need something positive to counteract the resistance you will get from your child, keep track of the activities which replace screen time. You may be pleasantly surprised. Electronics and screens aren't going away anytime in the near future, and there are positive aspects to their use as well. As parents, we can teach our children to use these screens as an asset which is a privilege. rather than a right that is detrimental.

View Article Sources