Too much? Or waaaaay too much? Expert advice on slaying the teen screen-time dragon

If every kid is different - and screen-time can mean almost anything - how can parents ever  find the screen-time sweet spot? An expert weighs in with a method that can help.

“Many families argue about how much time kids spend on their phones. Some parents think it’s too much. Other parents think it’s waaaaay too much,” writes psychologist Alex Packer, author of Slaying Digital Dragons.

Parents aren’t the only ones who worry about screen-time. Teens do too. Nine in 10 say it’s a problem for their generation. Sixty percent see it as a “major” problem.

But, as most mums and dads now accept, there really is no magic number when it comes to healthy device use. We know (or we should!) that “screen-time ain’t screen-time.”

But we also know (or we should!) that “teens ain’t teens.” Every single one of them is an individual, with a multitude of highly specific capacities and limitations. Which is why what works just fine for one kid, may send another right off the rails.

Screens ain't screens. But teens ain't teens either.

And that makes the calculus around a screen-time Goldilocks rule - not too much but not too little - very tricky indeed. 

To clarify decision-making for the teen in your life, psychologist Alex Packer proposes parents consider a series of key questions:

  1. How is your child spending their screen-time? 
  • Are they creating or vegetating?
  • Are they a passive spectator or an active participant?
  • Are they connecting with friends or lurking?
  • Are they learning, exploring, and growing as a person, or spending 10 hours a day killing space invaders and mining Obsidianblocks?
  1. Is their screen time focused and relaxing, or assaultive and upsetting?
  2. Are they neglecting school, job, or family responsibilities?
  3. Do they feel compelled to post incessantly, even when they don’t want to?
  4. Does their mood rise and fall based on the number of likes, shares, followers, or retweets they get?
  5. Is moss growing on them?!

Packer further advises parents to look for warning signs in these six areas of their teens’ behaviour:

  • Physical (disrupted sleep, poor posture/hygiene/nutrition, eye strain, aches and pains in your neck, shoulders, or hands)
  • Cognitive (forgetful, distracted, disorganized, unable to concentrate/set goals/complete tasks/make good decisions)
  • Social (conflict with friends/family/coworkers, uncomfortable in social settings, poor social skills, withdrawn)
  • Emotional (moody, stressed, angry, sad, euphoric online—depressed offline)
  • Psychological (self-hating, use internet to escape problems, obsessed with social media, low self-esteem)
  • Life balance (neglect responsibilities, poor academic or job performance, unable to stop or reduce screen time despite negative consequences)

Packer concludes that any screen-time - even just a few minutes - that makes kids feel guilt, shame, fear, envy, anger or hatred is the wrong kind. Ditto if it urges them to do things they would never do in real life, or violates their values or harms their reputation.


Screen-time, he writes, “should enhance your offline life, your relationships, and your future options. It should make you feel confident, productive, proud, and in charge.”

If it doesn’t … it’s time to make some changes!


 With just a few clicks from your own smartphone, you can manage your child's  online play-time, study-time and sleep-time  - and so much more. 

Create a home where children thrive, and start your free trial today.




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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Excessive Device Usage, online safety

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