How Much is TOO MUCH? Winning at Screen Time

How Much is TOO MUCH? Winning at Screen Time

As a teenager, my favorite way to spend the summer was with a steady diet of microwaved ramen noodles, Matlock reruns and a stack of Jane Austen novels. My parents worried that I didn’t get out enough, that I didn’t have enough friends, and somewhere in there maybe they worried that I watched too much television. Of course no one called it “screen time” back then.

Since those late nineties summers, the mild anxiety parents once had about “too much television” has shifted from a generic concern about sedentary habits to scientifically-backed fears over “screen-time limits”. But how much is too much and why?

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in February 2020 “children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours.”

Pre-pandemic, they were estimating that teens spend as much time on screens as they do sleeping, maybe more.

Some of the risks of too much screen time are measurable- eye strain, depression, insomnia. Some are less easily measured- irritability, lack of movement, lack of coping skills, poor self-image and body image issues.

But how much is too much? The American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recently changed their guidelines to reflect that the answer to that question is elusive.

Most psychologist and child development experts agree that screen time easily interferes with activities that boost creativity and mental health- activities such as time outdoors, exercising and building social skills like empathy and recognizing social cues.

But when kids are at school, parents have little to no control over how much exposure kids have to screens. Tablets and TVs are integrated into classroom lessons. And they can always find a friend with a smart phone.

However, there are many ways to optimize the time you have with teens outside of school and to help them navigate healthy and unhealthy behaviors around screens.

Teachers and parents alike can advocate for more movement in every teen’s day. Take your kids or your class outside to move around, have everyone stand up and stretch when you feel like you are losing their attention. Movement boosts creativity and information retention (and for those who stayed up too late chatting, it wakes up the brain)!

Encourage outdoor activities without screens like walking, hiking, or even sitting on a bench and reading a paperback novel. Being outside is good for everyone.

Create a parent/child tech contract like this one or this one. When teens are involved in the decision process, they feel empowered and are more likely to take heed.

When you have family time, turn off the TV and put your phones away. Pick a “getting to know you” question that everyone has to answer at dinner. Share your highs and lows of the day. Be together.

Have a centralized charging station (for everyone’s phone) to prevent late night scrolling and encourage healthy sleep habits.

Do a digital detox. This means you too, Mom and Dad. Pick a day that everyone will turn off their phones and go explore the world or have a family game night! (Listen here for tips on fun games even your teen won’t hate!)

My kids are still young, but we take a day-long digital detox whenever I have to field repeated requests to watch a show or whenever someone throws a fit about watching or ending a show. Zero tolerance. It’s a luxury we have, but at the first signs of moodiness, whining or insistence, we cut the cords.

It’s hard to say how much is too much. We use screens in so many different ways. You know your children and your students best. Look for cues that they aren’t sleeping or that their body image is changing. It’s true that they are teenagers and moodiness is often just raging hormones, but take time to listen to what they tell you and be prepared to step in.

After all, it’s our job as parents and helpers to guide teens into adulthood, and screen habits are as much a part of our lives today as brushing your teeth and eating enough vegetables.

Most importantly, make sure that you are leading by example, because too many things matter more and it’s our job to help kids and teens discover them.

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Specialist

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind.

5 Apps to Ask Your Teen About

5 Apps to Ask Your Teen About

Life has been crazy lately – especially for teenagers who are facing a school year full of unknown. But with disrupted summer plans, teens are spending more time online than ever before. They have had to go online for school, to talk to friends, to keep busy, and to stay connected to the world outside their homes.

If you’re like my family, screen-time limits have flown out the window, and we are all in survival mode to keep kids happy, entertained, and connected. It is understandable that expectations around devices are different right now, but one thing should remain the same – you should be talking to your kids about what they are viewing, watching, and downloading.

As adults, we need to help teenagers think critically about what they are consuming online. Here are a few areas where you can ask questions and engage your teen in conversation!

1. TikTok

This newer app is extremely popular with teens. If you haven’t heard of it, I would encourage you to do some research, but it is an app where users can create content (most are lip-synching videos) and watch other user-generated videos. It is fun and addictive, but many videos include adult language and content.

Ask teens if they have downloaded the app. Have they created videos? Who do they follow? Have any strangers tried to message them? What are their privacy settings?

2. Streaming Apps

There are a lot of streaming apps that have incredible content. Between Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, Starz, and more, teenagers have endless choices of movies and tv shows to watch. While this opens up great options for family-friendly movies and educational shows, it also includes content that might be inappropriate for teens. There is not consistency among age-based content ratings, so do some research on what your teens are watching.

Ask some of these questions: What have you been watching lately? What do your friends like to watch? How do you know if a show or movie is appropriate to watch?

**You can also easily check the “recently watched” or “continue watching” lists to see what your teen is viewing.

3. Instagram

Instagram is not new, but it continues to be one of the most popular social media platforms for teens. It never hurts to check in on apps you know your teen has and loves, so start a conversation about Instagram! Encourage teens to follow accounts that will encourage and help them grow. It is easy to use Instagram as an unhealthy comparison game, but teens can choose who they follow and what content they digest.

Start by asking this: What Instagram accounts encourage you when you see their posts? Who do you follow that looks different than you? Is there anyone that you need to unfollow? How can you use your own Instagram to encourage others?

4. FaceTime/Zoom

Social-distancing guidelines are constantly changing, which might encourage teens to use video chat apps to connect with friends and family. This is a great way to stay in touch, play games virtually, or interact with friends “face-to-face”. However, since these apps are readily available on phones and computers, it can be tempting to use them inappropriately, especially if there is little adult supervision.

Check in by asking the following: Who do you talk to most often on FaceTime/Zoom? Has anyone asked you to do anything inappropriate while on video chat? What boundaries would help protect you while using video chat?

5. Gaming Apps

More time can also mean that teens will turn to gaming apps/consoles to keep their hands (and minds) busy. These can have cognitive and social benefits, but we should also encourage teens to find non-technology-related ways to occupy their time. Whether it is Candy Crush, Call of Duty, or Yahtzee, teens need to make sure their time is balanced.

What games do you like to play on your phone/gaming system? Have you checked your screen time lately? What could you do to lessen your screen time average by an hour this week? How else could you fill your time if you took a tech break for an hour every day?

Technology is incredibly helpful to learn, connect, grow, and entertain. The apps listed above are far from bad, but it is still important to be intentional about how we use our time. As we enter the last half of the summer, I hope you will look at your own tech usage and start conversations with your kids about how they can use technology to make a positive impact on their day!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.


Celebrating 4 Years of Life Lived Better!

I am very excited to be writing you about what is happening with Teen Lifeline. Over the past 4 years you have kept up with us through our website (which is now updated here). After 4 years of impacting students and working with schools, churches, courts, and families we have new things to announce. I hope you enjoy hearing about what is coming and will take the time to share what we are up to with others that believe in making a difference in the life of a teen.

With this post I have two big things to announce and there will be more to come. (more…)