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Screens and safety monitoring

The modern world relies heavily on the internet, smartphones, and computers. Just as adults use these tools on the job, middle schoolers and high schoolers often need them to complete their schoolwork.

Of course, they also use them for entertainment and social connection. So how much screen time is too much for preteens and teens? The answer isn’t necessarily cut-and-dried.

Here’s what to consider.

How much screen time should a tween have?

On a typical school day, you might consider limiting your middle schooler’s screen time to two hours. To some parents, this might seem like a lot, and to others, it might seem too restrictive.

It’s ultimately a personal choice for families. But in the end, time spent watching TV or scrolling through social media shouldn’t compromise getting enough sleep, being active, doing homework, eating meals as a family, or getting face-time (not to be confused with FaceTime) with friends on the weekends.

How much screen time should a teen have?

For high schoolers, a family media plan, like this one from the AAP, can be more useful than a set number of hours of screen time per day. Allowing independence and privacy is appropriate for teens, but remember that technology is designed to be addictive. They can still use your help and support with limits, especially if they get distracted while doing homework!

How to limit your maturing child’s screen time

Worried your child is spending too much time online? Here’s what you can try.

Make it about their health and wellbeing

Make it clear to your child that using a smartphone or computer can be helpful, but can also cause many kids to have increased feelings of anxiety or distress. Homework often calls for internet use, but outside of that, it’s something parents can and should regulate to help tweens and teens stay regulated and healthy.

Establish rules

Most teens and tweens — and let’s be honest, even some adults — are unable to self-limit their screen time. That’s why it’s up to parents to establish rules about what electronics can be used for, when they can be used, and for how long. Each child may need different approaches, and that’s okay! 

Have phone-free family meals

Consider making it a rule that everyone in the family has to put their phones away when eating meals together. This will give you a chance to connect face to face, talk about each other’s days, and actually enjoy the meal in front of you. With busy schedules, this daily family time can be crucial.

Lead by example

If you tell your child they can’t be on their phone for more than three hours a day, you’re wise to follow suit. Your message will be much more effective and respected if they see you limiting your screen time too.

Media safety for preteens and teens

Though the internet is undoubtedly a necessary tool for success in the modern world, it also opens doors to age-inappropriate content and other temptations for teens and tweens. And since tweens and teens have trouble appreciating the long-term consequences of their digital footprint, it’s okay to get involved.

We recommend talking to your child early and often about online safety and media responsibility. This includes the dangers of sharing private information, talking to strangers, sexting, and cyberbullying. 

Kids of all ages should know that their devices are monitored by you, and that you don’t need permission to take a look — any time — at what they are up to. Safety monitoring apps and alerts for parents are important, but there is no substitute for physically looking at their devices and checking in. Each family, and even each child, will have unique rules about respecting privacy, passwords and parental controls. 

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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