6 Strategies to Get Screen Time Under Control

Netflix is playing…

and your teen keeps looking at their smart phone. It’s called media-multitasking but most parents call it annoying. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 8-18 year olds devote 53 hours per week to this pursuit. You are right to be concerned about what this will do to their physical and mental health. Here are 6 strategies to get screen time under control…

  1. Make Teens Earn Screen Time

If you’re paying for the devices, they belong to you. Set this up before you give your teen a device. If the device belongs to you, or you are paying the data plan you can shut it off if this is abused. When my kids were younger we limited solo screen time to half an hour. As they got older it was an earned privilege for completing homework or chores.

Most of all make screen time a privilege not a right. Even half an hour of undistracted homework or reading, to earn half an hour of phone time, would be a huge improvement for many teens!

  1. Limit Your Own Screen Time

What teens hate most is when we don’t model the behaviors that we demand of them. If we are constantly online and looking at multiple screens, teens receive a clear message that this behavior is okay. If we can disconnect we can connect with our kids. If you can do something active together, all the better!

  1. Make and Stick to Smart Phone Rules for Your Teen

Teen parenting expert, Amy Morin, has some great guidelines for a cell phone use contract with your teen. Set some rules and stick by them. If you son or daughter can’t stick by these rules, be ready to set firm consequences. If there are no consequences your rules are meaningless. Don’t back down if the rules are broken. It is good training for the adult world.

Here are a few rules that many families set;

  • No phone use during classes at school
  • No phone use during church or youth group, retreats or camps
  • Turn over phone to parents from 10 PM to 7 AM everyday
  • Parents can check phone at any time (they have the password also)
  • No phones at the table (and family has one meal together every day)
  • Phone is off during homework or study time
  • Parents have all passwords and logins to apps
  • Students do not add apps without parent’s permission
  • Abuse of any of these rules will lead to removal of phone privileges for a time

Consider wise rules for Netflix, Video Games, and Social Networking as well. Stick to the principle that these activities are a privilege not a right.

  1. Have the Talk

Don’t nag. Instead discuss the effects of excessive screen time. Help your son or daughter understand the advantages of disconnecting and engaging in the real world. Help them to appreciate the benefits to their academic, emotional and social life if they develop hobbies and an active lifestyle. Discuss the dangers of social media addiction, lack of physical activity, pornography.

  1. Increase Face to Face Time

Don’t allow phones at the table. If you are watching a movie together as a family put all the phones away also. Schedule times together and make them happen. Communication is a big challenge in the teen years. Live to make it happen. Get out together, hiking, skating, walking the dog, or eating out. In all these contexts turn off phones and make eye contact. Ask teens questions and follow up on the answers. If teens won’t unplug set appropriate consequences and follow through.

  1. No Phones in Bedrooms Overnight

Many families have a rule that phones charge in the kitchen or some other place overnight. Students must surrender their phone at bedtime. Other homes shut off the internet at bed time but this will not cut off texting that can go all night long. If parents stick to this rule for themselves teens are more likely to comply.

Start Over if You Have To

If your teen is constantly looking at screens, it will be hard to pull viewing back to reasonable levels. You will experience anger maybe even defiance. Since phone contracts are renewed every 2 or 3 years you get another chance to set things straight and develop a phone use contract with your son or daughter. Make it clear in the contract that if they do not live up to the agreement the phone will be confiscated and the phone plan suspended.

There is a lot at stake for your teen if phone, gaming system, tablet or ipad use gets out of control. The older they get the harder it will be establish and enforce healthy media habits. It is worth making the effort to get screen time sorted out now before damage is done to health, relationships, academics or their soul.

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com