The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has guidelines on how parents can help their children manage screen use. It’s specific for children ages two and up (1 hour of high-quality programing such as Sesame Street or Daniel Tiger).
However, the AAP gives vague guidelines for adolescents and teenagers about screen time.
There is not an exact number teens must adhere to because there are many different factors that play into a teen’s life. The AAP does discuss the importance of a balanced life. A balanced life that involves a positive amount of screen use, not one that consumes most of the teen’s day.
Here are the screen use guidelines from the AAP regarding teenagers:
8-12 hours of sleep (depending on age)
1 hour of physical activity
Time away from media
Media-free times (e.g., family dinner)
Media-free zones (e.g., bedrooms)
Teens and children should not sleep with devices in bedroom
When teenagers are completing the guidelines above, their screen use should be at a positive place. The AAP has several tools to help families navigate screen use.
AAP Screen Use Tools
The first is the Family Media Plan. This plan can be customized to fit your teen and family’s needs. It goes over rules and guidelines to help everyone use screens in a positive way. The family media plan helps parents set up positive boundaries and guidelines for their teen.
Another tool the AAP has is the Media Time Calculator. This tool gives you a snapshot of your teenager’s day. You and your teen can fill it out together and see how much time is spent on all their activities. The time left over is screen time. This gives parents and teens a good understanding of what their day looks like and how screen time can fit in.
Below is an example of a filled out Media Time Calculator.
As a professional working with teens and families navigating healthy screen use, I see a lot of people struggling to balance screen use. The AAP’s tools are fantastic ways to help families to help navigate healthy screen use.
In my work, I have found a few other guidelines parents should keep in mind to help their teen with healthy screen use.
Be the Role Model
Parents must be the role model for the type of screen use we want in our teenagers. If we are spending three hours a day watching Netflix, scrolling Facebook, and watching YouTube, we can’t expect our teen to spend 30 minutes a day playing a video game. Yes, we as parents have more privileges than our teen, however we need to set the example.
Just like you model healthy eating, exercise, sleep, social interactions, and work, so we need to model healthy screen use.
Learn About Your Teen’s Screen Use
More than co-viewing, learn about what your teen likes about their screen use. Learn what they like about video games, social media, or YouTube. Simply explore what they like and enjoy. Everyone has a reason to use screens. Be non-judgmental and curious when learning about your teen’s screen use.
The benefit of learning about your teen's screen use is to improve the relationship and our understanding. The better we understand where our teen is coming from, the better we can teach, guide, and mentor.
If there is a problem with what your child is doing on their device, talk about that later.
Engage in screen-free activities that are fun and exciting. Find activities your teen can enjoy individually and the family can enjoy together. Screens are fun, but so is the physical world.
Set and Enforce Boundaries
It can be difficult for teens to regulate their time on screens. Games and programs offer so much positive reinforcement that it’s hard to pull oneself away from screens. When we see our teen not self-regulating their time online, we as parents need to step in.
Follow these ideas when enforcing online boundaries for your teen.
Start with A Conversation
Prior to enforcing any boundary, we need to talk about it with our teenager. Set clear expectations of what you expect regarding screen use. Discuss the positives of screen use and the fun your teen can have online. Also discuss the boundaries with time limits, appropriate and inappropriate sites/apps, and consequences for breaking boundaries.
An Hour or Two
It’s okay if you don’t know an exact limit to your teens screen use. Depending on how much free time your teen has, an hour or two of entertaining or social screen time can be a good number to start with. Again, this is based on your teen completing other areas that make up a healthy lifestyle.
Appropriate and Inappropriate Screen Use
Have a non-judgmental discussion with your teen about what they should and should not do online. Focus on safety and consequences. Discuss how talking with strangers online can be dangerous. Viewing pornography can create unrealistic expectations for sex, objectifies others, and can be addicting. Sexting or live video sex will get you into trouble and potentially harmed.
If we as parents come at it from a “because I told you so” mentality, our teenager might not care. Some teens are motivated to please their parents so saying “because I told you so” will work with them. However, when possible, it’s good to give our teen reasons to follow rules. Don’t speed because you will get a ticket. Get 8+ hours of sleep per night because you will feel better and have more energy. Don’t talk to adult strangers because they might try to take advantage of you.
Teenagers are smart and if we give them a legitimate reason to do or not do something, they might push the boundary, but it will make more of an impact than without a reason.
Talk with your teen about your expectations and consequences if rules are broken. To prevent blow-ups, give your teen a 10- or 5-minute warning before they have to get off screens. It’s best for your teen to set a timer of some kind to self-regulate. However, it’s okay to give them a warning.
Consequence for Breaking Rules
Enforce a consequence if rules are broken. When time is up and your teen gets back on their device or is disrespectful in any way towards you, take away the device or turn off WIFI. Tell them to go to their room. When your teen does an inappropriate behavior, it needs to be addressed.
Be as specific as possible about what consequence will happen if they break a rule. This sets you and your teen with a clear understanding of expectations.
Here is an example of a conversation you can have with your teen about screen use.
“Screens can be awesome and I want you to enjoy your time online. Here are some ways to do that.
All responsibilities need to be met, then you can have at most two hours of screen time. If you go over that time, sneak to get back on your device, yell, curse, throw things or are disrespectful in any way when screen time is over, you will lose your screen time privileges. If you still have time today, you will lose the rest of that time. If you used all your time today, then you will lose an hour tomorrow.
You need to maintain good sleep (8+ hours per night), exercise daily, and engage in screen-free activities. No phones will be in bedrooms during bedtime, this includes all family members. We all can charge our phones in the kitchen at night. We won't have devices during mealtimes and during board game nights.
Navigating healthy screen use is hard. We as parents will be working on making positive choices with our screen use. Doing so will improve everyone's healthy and wellbeing."
Parents of teenagers can feel like fighting two uphill battles. Parenting teenagers in general can feel like a constant struggle. Navigating positive interactions with devices that are designed by some of the smartest people to be addicting can feel impossible. It’s natural to get discouraged and overwhelmed.
Luckily, you are not in this alone. Many parents struggle with navigating healthy screen use. Don’t be afraid to talk with other parents around you. Get support from resources like Common Sense Media or Cyber Wise. You can always reach out to me if you would like support navigating screen use for teen.