Screen Time

Supporting young people with having a healthy balance.

Screen time is the amount of time we spend on devices with screens, like phones, tablets or laptops. Sometimes, there can be concerns that young people are spending too long on their devices, and about the effect that screen time can have on health and wellbeing.

Best practices for parents and carers

Think about quality over quantity

Research has found that there is no perfect amount of screen time. The right amount of screen time will be different for everyone, and will depend on your family’s lifestyle. Instead, it is useful to think about screen time in terms of quality over quantity. Children might be enjoying a wide range of activities on their devices, like homework, online games, or socialising with friends. These positive uses of technology can really support young people’s wellbeing. However, screen time should not replace sleeping, eating, exercise, or get in the way of hobbies that children already enjoy, and it’s important for parents and carers to put practices in place to prevent this from happening, whether that’s utilising screen time apps or updating screen time settings, found within platforms.

Talk about warning signs

There are lots of ways to tell if you have been looking at a screen for too long. It could be sore eyes, a headache, feeling sleepy or restless, or needing to stretch. These signs will be different for everyone, and it is good to talk to your children about these signs, to help them to recognise their own warning signs. Allowing them to recognize these signs can help your children to start managing their screen time habits, themselves

Create, review and adapt expectations

Create expectations around screen time and use of technology together. Discuss how long you each think you should be spending on your devices, what limits you can put in place, and how you can help each other stick to those limits. You could use Childnet’s Family Agreement to talk about and set expectations. Once you have decided on what expectations and limits work for your family, set a date to review and adapt them as your children get older.

Explore and use wellbeing settings

Lots of apps and devices now have wellbeing settings to support children and young people with having a healthy balance of time online and offline. This could be screen time limits, the need for passcodes, ‘family pairing’ features ‘do not disturb’ functions, or disabling autoplay on apps like YouTube and Netflix.

Best practices for schools
and professionals

Start with the positives 

Students are less likely to engage with a lecture about what is and isn’t an acceptable amount of time to spend online, particularly as there is no evidence that supports a perfect amount of screen time. Instead, start by talking to your learners about what they enjoy doing online, and what positive experiences they have had. This could include the kinds of videos they watch, the apps that they use the most and the different people they communicate with. Allow them to share the positive parts of their time on their devices, and use this as a platform to talk about screen time.

Hold open discussions about screen time

Use times like PSHE lessons, form time or registration to hold discussions about screen time and a healthy balance with technology,  your learners. Talk to them about the different signs they might use to recognise when they have been on a device for too long. Those could be physical signs like headaches, feeling tired or having sore eyes, or external signs like the device’s battery running low, screen time reminders popping up, or even the device beginning to overheat. Once you have discussed and reflected on these signs, you can begin talking about how students can maintain a healthy balance on and offline. Resources and curriculum material from ProjectEVOLVE will help you to open discussions around screen time and overall digital wellbeing.

Explain the research

Working with parents and carers is an important task for any educator or professional who works with young people. It can sometimes be difficult to negotiate challenging topics like screen time with parents and carers in a supportive and constructive way, especially when there are no perfect answers. That’s why it can be useful to talk about what experts tell us about screen time. This means thinking about screen time in terms of ‘quality over quantity’, and making sure that screen time doesn’t replace sleep, exercise, or family and social time.  

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