Educational Advice

The Screen Time Diet: helping your teen find balance with their tech

·// March 11, 2022

For teens, the wave of activity on TikTok, Instagram and games like Roblox can take up hours of their day. Too much screen time can mean they aren’t socialising, staying active or spending enough time doing their homework. But tech can also offer lots of amazing ways for them to learn new skills, get creative – and even revise for their exams. The future of work (and everything else) will only be more tech-centric, so learning how to use it in a healthy, balanced way will help set them up for life.

  1. Finding their five-a-day
  2. When is screen time “good” screen time?
  3. Tech for good: 6 apps and websites to help teens learn and create
  4. How much is too much?
  5. Finding balance with screens as a family
  6. Help them change their screen settings

Finding their five-a-day

Making the most of tech is a bit like having a healthy diet. Adam Alter, Social Psychologist and author of “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked” says, “It’s important to eat healthy foods alongside candy and dessert, and the same is true of the ’empty calories’ that come from spending too much time passively gazing at screens.” So like dessert, ‘bad’ screen time should be balanced with ‘healthy’ screen time – and keeping the balance is much better than banning tech altogether.

When is screen time “good” screen time?

Psychologists divide the way we use tech into two categories – passive and active screen time. Active screen time is when we’re learning, bending our minds, doing something creative or video chatting  with another person. Passive screen time is when we’re vegging out, watching a film or scrolling absent-mindedly through social media. Active screen time is the healthy part of the screen time diet, and ideally it should outweigh the amount of passive screen time they spend.

Tech for good: 6 apps and websites to help teens learn and create

There’s a whole world of opportunities to learn, discover, play and create on their screens. Here are some examples your teen will love:

Ted – Home to over 3000 inspirational and educational talks, from “The Mysterious Origins of Life on Earth” to “What emotions look like in a dog’s brain”.

Firetech – Watch them learn to code – they’ll be building websites in no time. If they’re into gaming, they can learn how to design and script their own games here too.

MyTutor – We provide one-to-one online tuition to help boost teens’ grades and confidence. They get their very own mentor from a top uni, and lessons fit with their  schedule. Plus, on our Instagram and TikTok social channels, we’ve got loads of learning resources, study hacks, and ‘how-to’ explainer videos for GCSE and A level subjects.

Google Sketchup – For any budding designers, architects or artists out there. Build 3D mock-ups of houses, people, inventions and anything else they dream up.

Magisto – An online video editing app. See their creativity take-off as they turn simple videos from their phone into beautifully crafted films. Oscars here we come!

Lumosity – While some tech use is said to shorten our attention spans and memory, this brain-training app has puzzles, games and exercises to make them become a problem-solving mastermind.

How much is too much?

In between socialising, gaming and watching Netflix, you’ll be surprised if their eyes don’t go square. Your teen should still spend time being active, connecting with friends in-person, and enjoying screen-free time with family.

As a parent, you’re the best person to tell if your teen needs more time away from their screen. Here are some tell-tale signs that they need a change:

  • They’re finding it hard to concentrate on off-screen activities like reading and writing
  • They have a meltdown when separated from their phone
  • They avoid spending time in-person with friends and family

Your teen can ask themselves these 4 questions to find out how they’re using their screens, and how it’s making them feel:

  1. Why did I pick up my phone just now? Was it to do something specific like chat with a friend, or was it to scroll through Instagram and TikTok out of habit? 
  2. How was I feeling before I reached for my screen? Sometimes we mindlessly scroll when we’re feeling bored, sad, or lonely.
  3. Is there anything else I could be doing right now? If they’re scrolling out of boredom or habit, encourage them to do something active. Like a chat or video chat with a friend or relative, or even better– get outside for some fresh air.
  4. How do I feel about myself after being on my screen? If your teen is sad or moody after scrolling through Instagram and  TikTok, they might be comparing themselves with others. Clinical psychologist, Dr Louise Egan says, ‘we live in an age of social comparison, especially with social media.’ It’s easy for teens to  think everyone around them is having a better time when pics on Instagram are made to look that way. 

These simple questions can help them notice patterns with how they’re using their screens and how it affects them.

Finding balance with screens as a family

If your teen needs help finding the right balance with their tech, you can  join them in making a change to your screen routine. If you both try to cut down on your screen time together, you can talk about it with each other and cheer each other on. One dad had a competition with his daughter to see who could cut down their screen time the most, and it actually helped them change their habits in the long term. Here are some handy pointers for getting a balanced screen diet for the whole family:

  • No phones at the dinner table! Family meals are an important time for everyone to bond and connect with each other. You can choose any meal that works – breakfast or dinner tend to be easiest for everyone to get together.
  • Chat about how screen addiction affects their role models. Clinical Psychologist, Dr Louise Egan, says it’s a good idea to listen to podcasts and watch documentaries with your teen on how screen addiction affects celebrities and role models. This way, the conversation around ‘screen time’ doesn’t just revolve around parents nagging them about it. You can chat about the podcasts and films afterwards to see what they thought.
  • Design a screen time routine with them. Instead of banning their phones, Dr Egan says you can help them put together a weekly routine that includes screens. It might look like this: socialising, studying, being helpful at home – and screen time for balance. You can work out the details together. The American Academy of Paediatrics has a screen time calculator you can use to work out the right balance for your family. 
  • Plan fun activities. It’s easy to fall into the same old routine on the sofa. If you plan to go to a museum, or sign them up for activities they enjoy after school – it’ll be less screen time.  
  • Encourage their passions (even if it’s gaming). If asking your teen to stop gaming feels like an uphill battle, Dr Egan suggests turning their obsession into something positive. An Easter holiday course on gaming design or coding could get them excited about a career path. 
  • No screens before bed. Entrepreneur Ariana Huffington swears by “putting her phone to bed” in the evening and keeping her room phone-free to help her wind down and sleep better.

Help them change their screen settings

There are lots of ways you can help your teen adjust  their tech to work best for them. Many phones have a “screen time” section in their settings where they can track and limit their use of particular apps and the use of their phone overall.

Apps like Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Facebook all have “usage” sections in their settings  where your teen can see how much time they spend on them. From there, you can help them set goals to keep a healthy screen time balance. 

They can even set their phone display to black and white so they won’t be as distracted by push notifications and ads.

There are APPs like Focus that help your teen when they’re revising. On Focus, there’s a Pomodoro timer built in so that they can make the most of their study time–without distractions popping up.

It might take some trial and error to help your teen find what works best for them, but it’ll be worth it! As well as helping your teen find a healthier balance for life, you might even find it brings your family closer together. 

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