5 tips for parenting teens on screens
For over a decade, parents and teens have been tussling over the use of devices and screens. And now, with a global pandemic thrown into the mix, many teenagers are essentially living life virtually.
School? On a screen. Entertainment? On a screen. Socialising? Yep – that’ll be on a screen too.
There’s no doubt that screens are a great way for teenagers to stay connected with their friends and the wider world, particularly at the moment. But it’s easy for screen time to spiral out of control.
Of course, a full digital detox simply isn’t practical (or recommended) in a world of restrictions and lockdowns. But with excessive device use negatively affecting everything from your teenager’s sleep patterns and posture to mental health and brain development, here are a few tips to help you and your son manage screen time.
1. Co-create some family screen rules
Balance and boundaries are essential to healthy device use. And co-creation is key to setting boundaries your son will actually stick to. Explain to your son why you need to set limits, then sit down together and decide what will work for your family, including:
- Where your teen can use screens
For example, no phones or iPads in the bedroom or at the dinner table.
- When your son can use screens
Perhaps weekdays mean no screen time until remote learning tasks are complete and the WiFi is off-limits after 9.00pm.
- How long he can use screens for
How many hours each day for recreational use? What about the weekend? Can he ‘earn’ more time and if so, how?
- What he can use screens for
Chatting with mates online or creating music in GarageBand might be A-OK, but you might set limits around certain games or YouTube content.
2. Make decreases gradual to avoid anxiety
If you find you need to put the brakes on screen time, take it slow. Ensure your son has his say and give him choices and reminders rather than harsh consequences and ultimatums. And if you’re setting new limits, show him you can follow them too, which leads to…
3. Model good device behaviour
If you’re like me, your screen time will skyrocket during lockdowns. Telling your teen to shut down his device while you’re mid-Netflix or Instagram binge won’t go down well. As much as possible, play by the same rules you’ve asked your son to follow and be willing to have him call you out if he catches you mindlessly scrolling.
4. Make regular physical activity non-negotiable
Exercise keeps your teen’s body and mind healthy and helps him stay focused and ignore distractions. Options may be limited at the moment, but make at least an hour of exercise – preferably outside – part of the daily schedule for both you and your teen. Take a brisk walk or jog before school, go for a bike ride before dinner, kick the footy around or play a game of basketball. It’s a great way to spend quality time with your son and will help keep both your energy levels high.
5. Keep screen time and bedtime separate
Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the sleep-disrupting effects of device overuse, including fewer hours of sleep and poorer sleep quality.
It can be tempting to let your son stay up later or give in to requests for one more episode or game. But psychological stimulation and bright light from screens can suppress the natural release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, making it harder for your son to fall asleep naturally. As well as avoiding device use at night, try and make bedrooms a phone-free and iPad-free zone for the whole family.
Lastly, remember that there’s no manual for parenting in a pandemic. Circumstances will mean that screen rules are sometimes bent and even broken, and that’s okay. As a friend of mine so beautifully put it, we’re all in survival mode getting by with a little guidance, a little trust and a lot of love. So let’s go easy on our teens, and on ourselves.
Bec Cavalôt is a Melbourne-based writer, and mum of two beautiful, boisterous boys. You can find her at www.cavalotcopy.com. This article is about Positive Masculinity
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