Short Answer: Yes, your teen needs screen time limits, but it’s not quite that simple. What screen time limits look like depends on your teen and your relationship with them. The limits you set have much less to do with the screens and much more with the teens.

Eyes On The Prize: You’re raising a future adult. You’re working yourself out of a job.

Long Answer: I was waiting for the “On-Air” light on the set of a local talk show. My segment was about technology and families, particularly teens, smartphones, and social media. I was excited because:

I’m passionate about how technology affects families and relationships, so I’ve been following the research for some time. 

And I’m parenting a teen, and I talk to other parents about these issues. I’m in this with you. I know it’s hard.

My mind was on my messaging as I waited for that light to come on. What do I tell parents about screens and teens? Easy.

Emphasize parenting principles.

1. There’s no substitute (app, program, setting, filter) for a strong, healthy relationship between a parent and their teen. 

2. Talking to teens about screen time and technology is an ongoing thing. It requires talking about many other unrelated things. Things THEY want to talk about when THEY are open to talk. ★ If parents don’t put in genuine relationship work, teens won’t hear their parents talk about screen time (or just about anything else).

3. Stay informed about the technology your teen uses, but, more importantly, stay informed about your teen. Notice their moods, changes in their behavior, and how they spend their time. Is your teen generally responsible and trustworthy? Developing appropriate life skills? Well-rounded and balanced? Have things like pornography, sexting, and cyberbullying already been a part of their screen use?

4. Leading by example is essential when it comes to screen time and technology.

What is your relationship with technology? Are you modeling the behaviors you’d like to see from your teen?

On-Air! 

And to my frustration, the host only wanted to talk about kids being abducted because of what they posted online. Wow.Oh.Okay.Um.Yeah. We can talk about all that, I guess. This is the kind of stuff parents are up against when talking to their teens about screens.

What makes it HARDER to talk about screens with teens?

  • The media feeds parents a steady stream of sensationalized, scary stories.
  • The research in this area, frankly, is all over the place. (To be fair, we’re talking about relatively new and constantly-evolving technology.) This can confuse and frustrate well-intentioned parents. Examples?

I could link to studies to “prove” all of the following:

  • Screens keep teens from socializing. No, they help teens socialize.
  • Screens hinder cognitive development. No, they help cognitive development.
  • Screens hurt teens’ mental health. No, hurting teens gravitate to screens. Or, screens can help heal teens’ mental health. (I think all three can be true.)
  • Screens make it harder to keep teens safe. No, they make it easier to keep teens safe.  
  • Screens interrupt teens’ sleep patterns. No, they can help repair those patterns.

Teens quickly point out any hypocrisy between their parent’s message and their parent’s example. And teens are often more tech-savvy than their parents.

These screens on smartphones, tablets, and laptops are already ingrained in your average teen’s life. In positive, practical ways:

  • Online learning. 
  • Homework and projects. 
  • Virtual college visits. 
  • Work and sports scheduling. 
  • Connecting with family & extended family. 
  • Shopping for stuff they need. 
  • Outlets for creativity & developing new skills & hobbies. 
  • Not getting lost driving. 
  • Calling for help if they need it. 
  • Simply texting that practice has been canceled is a huge help.

A screen is a tool. How is your teen using it? True, it’s a powerful tool, but screens aren’t good or bad. And they are here to stay.

So, let’s get practical.

Here are some adaptable ideas about screen time limits that may (or may not) help your teen.

⇨ I don’t usually make a point about this, but the links in this blog take you to the info you want and need. Click ’em for some deeper practical information for screens and your unique teen!

  • Screens can isolate. Screen use only in “common areas” of the house. No screens in their bedroom. Or no screens in their bedroom at night.
  • Screens can distract. (Part 1) Screens get put to “bed” in the kitchen or the parent’s bedroom to charge overnight, so teens can read, think, and even be “bored” before they fall asleep. Teens can use old-fashioned alarm clocks. ☆ Are You Up For It?

Set the example. Everybody’s phone charges overnight outside the bedroom. You might unwind and fall asleep better, too! 

  • Screens can distract. (Part 2) “Notifications” are a phone’s way of saying, “Notice me now!” But notifications can be turned off completely, muted, put in “Do Not Disturb” mode or “Driving Mode.” Help your teen learn to check their phone when they need to, not when their phone wants them to. Here’s notification help.
  • Screens can demand. Most smartphones come with Screen Use Monitoring weekly reports. These reports show time spent on social media, entertainment, productivity, etc. ☆ Are You Up For It? Offer to compare your report with your teen’s. Make a game out of it. You can both set goals for next week!

Talking To Your Teen About Screens… And Other Things.

  • It can be challenging to get your teen to talk about anything. Here’s help. And here.
  • In general, you’re working toward a conversation with your teen, not a confrontation.
    • Try to have a genuine dialogue. Listen to your teen’s ideas and input. It’s not a weakness to collaborate, negotiate, and have some give and take. Agree to boundaries that leave room for your teen to prove they’re responsible and trustworthy. Being clear about consequences for choices outside those boundaries is essential.
  • Screens can tempt even the BEST teen into making BAD decisions – it happens. Try responding instead of reacting. Pornography. Sexting. Cyberbullying. Posting things that come back to haunt them when they apply for a job or college. 
  • Try to interact with your teen and their screens. The fancy term is “joint media engagement.” Watch ’em play some video games. Ask them to show you the funny Tik Toks. Ask about posts that confused/frustrated/angered them today? This can start great conversations.
  • Ask your teen how social media makes them feel about themselves and their life. Then listen and listen. When it comes to social media, encourage your teen to create, not just consume.

Eyes On The Prize: You’re raising a future adult, and screens are gonna be part of their life.

One day, you won’t be there to limit their screen time, but you can prepare them now.

Today, more than anything, your teen needs you.

FYI: I shared an interview experience that disappointed me. Check out this “On-Air” experience that went well! 

Other blogs:

How to Create Social Media Rules in Your Marriage – First Things First

When (and How) Should I Give My Child A Cell Phone? – First Things First

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First

How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them – First Things First

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