Our strategy and rules for screen time for teens


Setting screen time for teens is no easy task. We spend a good portion of our kids’ early years steering them away from technology. There’s a lot of research suggesting that kids 0-2 years of age shouldn’t have screens at all and older children’s time on screens should be strictly limited.

Try telling that to the teens! Once kids grow up to be teenagers, it’s even harder to limit screen time for teens. Television, computers, iPads, gaming devices and mobile phones all compete for our teens’ time. Plus, at our house, there are two more big reasons why it’s increasingly hard to limit screen time for teens:

•  Our teenagers have an iPad for school and need the iPad and other technology for their homework

•  Social media networks are the key communication tool for teenagers

This means applying the same rules for the teenagers as the younger kids doesn’t really work. In our home we group activities like TV watching, Wii games, online time, iPod time etc all under the banner of ‘technology time’. You can find my earlier writing on technology / TV time here:

•  To TV Or Not To TV?
•  The Impact Of Background TV
•  TV And Children

Teens and screens - strategies and rules for teen screen time


The positives and negatives of screen time

I want to state that I think screen time can be great for kids. I spend lots of time online myself and while I am aware of the negative issues that can arise from social media networks (bullying, comparisonitis, access to porn, etc), I think it can also be a fantastic way for teenagers to connect and communicate with friends.

I think screen time can be great for kids.

The issue I have is with too much technology is that it is too much of a sedentary activity. Time spent in front of a screen means less time spend doing other activities, in particular physical activities and interacting face to face.

In my experience, itseems the propensity of kids/teenagers to stay in front of a screen is very personality driven. Two of the five kids in our family, really struggle to self regulate. The other three naturally tire of screen time and seem to self regulate much better.

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How much time do kids spend on technology?

According to the Raising Children Network:

  • The average young person consumes 4 hours and 49 minutes of media in a typical day.
  • About a third (33%) of young Australians aged 12-14 years spend more than 10 hours on the internet each week.
  • On average, young Australians spend 2 hours and 26 minutes watching television, DVDs and downloaded television content in one day.
  • More than one in five parents (22%) would like their child to be less involved with electronic media and communications activities.

 Managing screen time for teens – what we do

In order to allow our teens some autonomy, we use a fairly open style of access:

•  No technology before 10am or after 10pm

•  No technology to be used in the bedroom

•  Take regular breaks (no more than 1 hour stretches of time) from the screens

•  Homework is take priority over technology

Some days our teenagers regulate themselves better than others.

Some days it seems as if they are stuck permanently to the screen. On those days when they are not self regulating, I will enforce a break.

I used to change the wifi password to prevent the temptation for the kids to jump online before school in the morning. I also used to wait to give them the password in the afternoons, until they had spent enough time off line or completed outstanding tasks. I don’t tend to do this anymore as I’ve learned that it doesn’t teach them self-regulation when it comes to screens. They detested my having control like that and I didn’t love withdrawing privileges.

Other approaches for screen time for teens

To bring some new strategies and rules for screen time for teens to the table, I asked other families what they do. I wanted to know what they do to help their teens learn to regulate the amount of time they spend on technology. Here are some of their suggestions:

•  Screens are strictly off at meal times.

•  One screen-free day a week.

•  Setting a time limit (eg. 2 hours a day)

•  Spending less time on screens ourselves

•  Drawing up a contract and agreeing boundaries together

How do you manage screen time at your place?

Image: Glen Carsten Peters 

Written by Nicole Avery

Nicole Avery is a Melbourne mum to five beautiful kids aged 8-18. Nicole is slightly addicted to spreadsheets, tea, running and CrossFit. She's also the master organiser behind the blog Planning with Kids and the podcast This Family Life.

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1 Comment

  1. Kooky Chic

    We do screen free Sunday which seem to work but what is even better, we moved off the grid last year and winter is not so great for any type of screen. That’s one reward for living like we’re in the dark ages.



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