How to teach teens healthy screen time

Excessive media use can lead to learning and attention problems, lack of sleep and obesity.
Teen boy on a tablet

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By Michelle Balani

Teens are spending more time on screens than ever before, and it is important to limit the amount of time your adolescent spends on the computer, playing video games or watching television. Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to learning and attention problems, lack of sleep, and obesity. While eliminating all electronic usage is almost impossible, you can help address this issue by establishing rules and routines and choosing screen activities carefully. Setting limits on the amount of time your teen spends on electronic devices will help them become more responsible users.

Monitor your teen’s electronic activity. There is no doubt that teenagers love technology, but giving them free rein to do whatever they want with electronic devices may not be for the best. Tom Hoerr, Head of St. Louis-based New City School, adds that not only is a limit necessary and healthy, but you can use it to help your teen set priorities and make choices about how and when a screen will be used. Author Faye de Muyshondt suggests that you come up with a family media agreement together and have your teen sign a digital contract, to help provide them with a blueprint of appropriate behavior. You may want to monitor the sites they visit and their online activity, and block any sites that you find inappropriate. If your teen feels that you are invading their privacy, explain to them that having access to electronic devices is a privilege. Help them understand why they should agree to use technology appropriately so that privilege will not be taken away.

Create an etiquette policy for electronic devices and have the entire family follow it. Since your teen will be spending more time using electronic devices and social media, you can help build them online etiquette by establishing a screen time politeness policy. Work with them to come up with this policy, and include examples, like not answering her cell phone or texting during a conversation with someone else or while at the dinner table. Giving specific examples of proper online behavior is a good way to further your teen’s understanding of manners in the real and virtual worlds.

Set limits on homework and electronic devices. Missouri-based school counselor Dr. Shari Sevier suggests that you have a central place in the home where you can monitor your teen as they do homework. Dr. Sevier adds that it’s important to restrict cell phone use while your teen is doing homework because it can be a distraction. This may be the biggest challenge, as teenagers typically love their cell phones. Without that distraction, your teen will be better able to focus on their homework. Sevier says that teenagers will take homework much more seriously if you put some strong parameters around how and when they study.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Thomas Hoerr, Emeritus Head of School, New City School, and Sharon Sevier, School Counselor, Missouri School Counselor Association.