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Empowering Teens to Manage Screen Time Wisely

As I explained in my earlier blogs on the topic, one of the most common concerns I encounter as a parenting coach revolves around the topic of screen time. For teenagers, screens are an integral part of life. From socialising to learning, digital devices play a significant role. In fact, they are digital natives - screens have been them their entire life. We are just digital tourists! From that perspective, we need to think about how we can guide guide our teens towards responsible and balanced screen use.

If you're looking for related articles, then start here, and then grab 0-3s or 4-11s if you need them too.

Challenges and Opportunities

teenagers looking at a computer

As your child moves from the start of secondary school (collège/middle school) through to the end (of lycée/high school) then your goal, our goal (as this is what I'm also dealing with at home at the moment) then the strategies and rules you put in place are going to be very different.

Teens use screens for various reasons: homework, social media, gaming, connection, and more. While these activities can be beneficial, excessive screen time can impact sleep, mental health, and physical activity.

Strategies for Healthy Teen Screen Time and Use

Much of what I have to say will be in terms of strategy will be similar to my tips for the 4s-11s, so have a read there too!

teenager using a screen for digital communications

Open Communication: Talk to your teen about the pros and cons of screen time. Encourage them to reflect on how their screen use makes them feel and its impact on other areas of their life. Your goal at this age is to work towards autonomy for your teen. In a few years time they will be leaving home and will be deciding for themselves how much time they spend on screens. With our eldest teen, we are working on this at the moment, explaining that we want THEM to dominate their screen time, not the other way round (ie that they stop using their device BEFORE the app (Qustodio) shuts them out.

Set Boundaries Together: Involve your teen in setting limits on screen time. This could include agreeing on no screens during meals and ensuring they have a break from screens at least an hour before bed to promote better sleep. Do you want them to be watching videos on their journey to school in the morning? Are they using a device at school? How many hours do they need on average on a device for homework? What about in the morning - can they check their phone before breakfast? As you work out your boundaries together, write them down, and use your list as a way to check in each week on what is and isn't working. Encourage your teen to self-evaluate, and then look together at the log of their screen use.

Encourage Balanced Activities: Support your teen in pursuing offline hobbies and activities. Whether it’s sports, music, or volunteering, having other interests helps reduce reliance on screens. This is the time of their lives when their brain begins to focus in on fewer interests (narrow and deep as opposed to childhood's more shallow and wide range) so what are they really passionate about - encourage that.

Model Healthy Behaviour: Demonstrate balanced screen use in your own life. Teens are more likely to adopt healthy habits if they see them practiced by their parents.

Online Safety:

Educating teens about online safety is crucial in today's digital age. One significant concern is the exposure to pornography. It’s important to have open, honest conversations about what they might encounter online and the unrealistic portrayals of relationships and body image in pornographic content. Discuss the impact that viewing such material can have on their perceptions and expectations, and encourage them to talk to you or another trusted adult if they come across anything that makes them uncomfortable. Don't be surprised at how prevalent porn is - anything up to 68% of teens in the US have been exposed to online porn - and the average age of first exposure is 12.

Social Media (we'll come back to this in the post about phones too)

Does your teen REALLY need a Tiktok account? Is there pressure from friends - are they telling you ALL their friends have it? What about Whatsapp? Wow - this is such a big topic it needs a blog post of its own - but I'm definitely not the best qualified. So, here's the Child Mind Institute on Social media and anxiety/self-esteem.

Cyberbullying is a pervasive issue that can have devastating effects on mental health. Teach your teens about the importance of digital etiquette and being respectful online. Make sure they know how to report and block bullies on social media platforms, and encourage them to speak up if they or someone they know is being bullied. Highlight the importance of empathy and kindness, both online and offline, and reassure them that they can always come to you for support if they encounter cyberbullying. In France, you can call 3018

amongst other things, they can have online content removed in a matter of hours.

Resources from organisations like Internet Matters and E-enfance can be very helpful in providing additional guidance and support. More on other topics on online safety in next week's post about teens and phones. We'll be looking at sexting, amongst other topics.

Final Thoughts

By maintaining open communication and setting mutually agreed-upon boundaries, you can help your teen manage their screen time effectively. It's our role as parents to empower them to make informed decisions and foster a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Got questions - feel free to reach out to me..

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