Screen time and young people | Advice for parents | Jigsaw Online

Screen time and young people

The term ‘screen time’ gets bandied about quite a bit. When the phrase is linked with young people reports are often negative.

The term itself is quite misleading as not all screen time is equal.

The media often covers studies linking teen depression and screen time, or young people’s use of social media and anxiety. However, recent studies have challenged the way these studies were conducted. Researchers from the University of Oxford have stated that the use of phones, tablets and laptops is no worse for teenagers’ mental health than eating more potatoes.

That’s not to underestimate concerns you may have if there are huge fights about turning the Wi-Fi off. Being on the receiving end of grunts from behind a phone day in, day out can cause a lot of frustration for parents.

It's important to have an idea of what your young person is doing online and keep up to date about it

What is ‘screen time’ for them?

When a young person is spending what you think to be far too much time on their phone, computer or games console, ask what they are doing.

Are they playing a game that involves problem solving skills and creativity? Or is it a violent one person shooter game? Are they scrolling a social media feed of people in very staged photos talking about diets and workouts that makes them feel bad? Or are they communicating with friends in a meaningful way?

Ask them what sites and apps they use regularly. Get them to show you show you how some of these work and discuss what makes them so compelling. If this is not forthcoming, dive in and see for yourself.

You will more than likely not be able to keep up, or find the same things entertaining. That is to be expected. But parents often tell us they don’t understand the online world, so educating yourself on the basics can helpful discussing what’s going on for a young person.

Getting a sense of what your young person’s screen time includes and what they are doing online is important.

Keep communication lines open

Aim for regular and honest discussions about what your young person is doing or watching online. This is really the best way for you to keep up. Find out what you can but keep these channels of communication open and judgement free. This is so they know they can come to you if anything they see does upset them.

Setting boundaries

Some parents complain that young people no longer take an interest in anything other than their phones or laptops. Screens are their portals to everything from school and college work and communication with friends, to entertainment and leisure time.

However, many companies invest a lot in persuasive technologies to keep us all scrolling, clicking and picking up our devices instead of putting them down. We all need a bit of help managing our relationship with technology.

Having defined boundaries can be helpful for young people to push against and work out where their comfort levels are. Involve young people in deciding what the boundaries are and also the consequences are if they are crossed.

This way what you develop is realistic. Consequences must be followed through. How you set boundaries and what they are will depend on the age of your young person.

Keep communication channels open and judgement free so they know they can come to you if they see anything that upsets them

Look at your own use of technology

The level of connectivity we have nowadays is relatively new for all of us. Take a moment to look at your own behaviour. Are you constantly checking your phone? Do you have your laptop on your knees in front of the TV? Saying one thing and then doing another won’t inspire any faith in boundaries or win any arguments about technology use.

Smart devices and sleep

A good boundary to set for all the family is no phones or laptops in the bedroom. It’s well documented that phones and laptops in bedrooms are playing havoc with our sleep due to stimulation and screen light. Poor sleep habits can have negative impacts on our mental and physical health.

Develop a wind down routine as a family. A good routine involves switching off from screens at least an hour before heading to bed and taking this time to talk, read a book, tidy up, take the dog for a walk or just get ready for the next day. Nothing too stimulating.

young man with phone

Apps to help manage screen time

There are of course technical solutions for managing our use of technology.

The Forest app is an app that grows a forest on your phone the longer you leave it.

Flipd is popular with people studying for exams or up against a deadline. The app helps you stay focused and on task with features like scheduling reminders and blocking apps on your phone that you find distracting.

Moment helps you track your smartphone use with a round-up of daily, weekly and monthly stats. The app will help control your screen time with notifications, interruptions and alarms.

Finding a balance

Ultimately, we want young people to self-manage and regulate their own behaviour. Just like treating junk food as treats, or lie-ins as occasional, you want a young person to know that binge watching Netflix or playing an online game all night should really be exceptions to the rule.

Involving them in setting boundaries, the consequences when broken and ‘modelling’ good use of technology will go a long way towards encouraging a good relationship with technology for young people.

Next steps:

  • For information, advice and resources on staying safe online try webwise