Educational Advice

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

·// June 24, 2020

For teens, the wave of daily activity on Snapchat, Instagram and games like Fortnite can consume hours a day at the best of times. And since the pandemic, with almost everything having been online for a year, getting teens to spend a healthy amount of time with their screens has become even harder.

Too much screen time can mean they don’t socialise enough or stay active. At the same time, tech offers lots of amazing new ways to expand their minds, learn skills and get creative. The future of work (and everything else) will only be more tech-centric, so learning how to use it to their advantage is a way to set them up for life.

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.

Like with all families, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Different kids and their families have their own unique set of needs, personalities, interests and problems, and as a parent you’re the best person to judge when something’s going right. It can still be hard for everyone to know when screen time is good screen time, and when it’s a problem. Here’s some advice for navigating issues and tips for managing their lives on and off the web.


Tech offers teens amazing new ways to learn, create and play

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 to 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

There’s a whole world of opportunities to learn, discover, play and create on the web. 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”.

CodeAcademy – Watch them learn to code – they’ll be building websites in no time.

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 your schedule.

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 vids 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 awesome brain-training app has puzzles, games and exercises to make them a problem-solving mastermind.

How much is too much?

With homework tasks often set by email, online research and essays for school needing to be typed up, your teen might be glued to their computer whether they want to be or not. In between socialising, gaming and watching Netflix, you’ll be surprised if their eyes don’t go square. They should still have time to spend 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

Finding balance

If your teen needs a bit of help finding the balance, a great approach is to do it with them. If you both try to cut down 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.

There are lots of other ways you can adapt your family’s routine to help everyone to benefit from tech, while keeping certain times and places free from screens too. Of course, parenting styles and kids are all different and you’ll know when you’ve found what works for you. Here are some handy pointers for getting a balanced screen diet:

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.

No phones at the dinner table!
Family meals are a great 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.

“We should try to keep the best things about our phones while making it possible for us to disconnect, recharge, do deep work, have an undistracted meal with a friend and sleep without having the phone buzzing nearby”, Ariana Huffington

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

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

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

It might take some trial and error to help your teen find what works best for them, but it’ll be worth it!

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