Get Off Your Phone! Teens & Screen Time Guidelines

Get Off Your Phone! Teens & Screen Time Guidelines


9 March 2020


Today’s parents fight a seemingly losing battle against how much time their teens spend on mobile phones, tablets and laptops. 

“Get off your phone”, “no devices at the dinner table”, “are you still online? go to sleep!”, “stop looking at your phone and look at me”, “are you doing your homework or on YouTube?” – sound familiar? 

Screen time can be defined as anything from watching TV and gaming to streaming, being on social media platforms and using multimedia messaging apps. All the statements above are repeated daily, usually to no avail. Teens feel like their parents are nagging, old-fashioned, don’t get them or just plain annoying. And parents are exasperated, angry, disappointed and feel disrespected. Smart phones have drastically changed the way we communicate, work, socialise, get information and are entertained. Technology rapidly evolves and the young (and easily influenced) are at the forefront of this. 

The numbers don’t lie

In 2019, just over 50% of children under the age of 11 owned a smartphone in the United States, and this figure increases to almost 70% for 12-year-olds. Ownership no longer belongs to a certain social demographic as manufacturers and telecommunication companies offer such a wide range of models and packages catering to every budget. Remember when a phone was to simply make a call? There are some children who don’t even know we used to have to dial numbers on a rotary phone!

According to Statista, a leading resource for market and consumer statistics, there are over three billion smartphone users globally and increasing rapidly. This makes it a necessity rather than a luxury and children of all ages take up a large chunk of this figure. 

Screen time versus general wellbeing

Parents usually say the same things when trying to get their children (especially teens) off the phone – bad for your eyesight, makes you lazy, fries your brain cells, incites anti-social behaviour. These comments are usually met with rolled eyes, sighs or rebellion. The fact is that today’s teen spends less time reading books, going outside, being adventurous and imaginative and interacting with family and friends. 

A study published last year by the Oxford Internet Institute (research and teaching department within the Social Sciences faculty) stated that there’s limited evidence linking the general wellbeing of adolescents and screen time. Then there are other studies that have found lower grades can be linked to playing too many computer games; and watching too much TV or being on the computer for hours can cause mild depression. 

All these studies are correct but what parents are worried about is the breakdown of communication and what their children are reading / watching on which platform. If adults find it so hard to not check their Facebook / Instagram / email / texts constantly, how can we expect them to? There are ways of dealing with this issue and screaming, “get off your phone now!”, while you check your own is not one of them. 

Explain why too much screen time is detrimental: Have a conversation – don’t give a lecture or an order. Give practical advice and examples like explain how mealtimes should be quality time spent with family not staring at a screen. Also talk about online bullying, the negative effects of social media and how it can affect mental, emotional and mental health.

Enforce the no devices an hour before bed rule: This is harder to do when the children are teens but again, explaining that a good night’s sleep is important and looking at a screen keeps them up and interrupts sleep patterns.

Spend time with the family: Create a family routine of conversation, going for a walk, playing board games or just hanging out together. In the beginning, children will complain but stick to the routine and they will soon (hopefully) enjoy this valuable time. 

Set a good example: It’s hard to control your child’s screen time if you’re always online so curb your device habits too so they see that you’re also trying. 

Device-free areas and situations: There should be no devices at meal times, social gatherings (photo taking exempted), bedtime, when doing homework / revising, when exercising and when talking to someone. 

Devices are addictive – that’s the cold, hard truth. The earlier parents can control the situation and instil good habits, the better. Otherwise, all you’ll be doing is shouting and threatening, and we all know how well children react to that!