Teens, Tweens, + Screens: How Much is Too Much?

How much screen time is too much? Or, is that really the right question?

‘Screen time’ once meant free-time on social media platforms, gaming, texting, messaging, or scrolling. But today, it refers to far more — like additional time for online education and schoolwork. Research. Learning. Zoom.

Yes, time spent in front of screens is growing — along with a plethora of concerns surrounding the negative physical and mental health effects associated with too much of the wrong screen-time-stuff.

So, How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

As parents we ask this question, searching for the magical amount of time that’s fair, appropriate, and ensures schoolwork is completed.

But for the right answer, we need to be asking the right question.

And experts today suggest asking a different question altogether — one that leads to a broader, more inclusive parental approach. It’s no longer just about a time schedule. It’s about involvement. And awareness.

What we should be asking, experts say, is ‘How can I better mentor and monitor my kids to encourage healthy screen time?’

To Mentor + Monitor

Mentoring illustrates actionable behaviors, while monitoring requires awareness of how children are engaged during screen time. It’s a one-two punch of effective parenting to help encourage happier, well-balanced, aware, active, and productive tweens and teens.

10 Tips to Mentor and Monitor

  1. Show – Be the example. Show fun, productive activity without screens. Encourage participation in outdoor projects, exercise, backyard games, hiking, gardening, baking — any activity that encourages opportunity for personal connection with family and friends. Show that life does not revolve around the screens in your home; rather, show that screens merely complement an already-full, active life.
  2. Talk – Discuss with your children the things they see online. Encourage kindness. Discourage negativity. Ask questions. Keep the conversations flowing.
  3. Research what’s fun – Show teens your research regarding fun places, interesting hobbies, and more. Encourage them to do the same. Take turns and share your findings.
  4. Safety first – It’s not just for sunscreen and flotation devices. Teach kids about online safety and privacy. As the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges, teach your child “about safe Internet and social media use, ensuring they understand the dangers of sharing private information online, cyberbullying, or sexting.” 
  5. Phones + homework – It’s exclaimed in households everywhere: “But Mom!! We need our phones for schoolwork!!” Um, no, they don’t. Most children have computers at home; use the computer and put phones in the other room.
  6. Screen-free eats – Experts agree that any family meal should be screen-free. All screens (including parents’) should be off, and/or placed at a central location. Keep face-to-face conversations positively charged, instead. Ask questions about their friends, school, and interests.
  7. Screen-free family outings ‘Nuff said.
  8. What’s your background? No, not on your smartphone or desktop. What’s the background like in your home environment? Turn off all screens (including the TV) when not in use.
  9. Get some quality zzzz’s – The AAP recommends turning off all screens at least one hour before bedtime. They also suggest keeping all screens out of teens’ bedrooms after bedtime.
  10. Controls – The AAP strongly advises parents to use parental controls. There are apps available to monitor your child’s social media usage.

With boundaries, mentoring, and monitoring, screen time can be used and enjoyed in a healthy, productive way. What’s most imperative is for parents to communicate openly and freely with their children. Be their person to confide in during the tween and teen years. By being their safe outlet, you just might be the only real ‘outlet’ they’ll need.

Want More Info?

Healthychildren.org offers a tailored-to-your-family Media Plan, which evaluates and helps determine screen time goals for the whole family at their website. Or, should you wish to learn more about screen time for all ages, check out the new book Courage to Connect by Michigan author Mark Ostach.

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