Older kids and teens are spending more time using digital devices and social media than ever before. The increase in screen time causes many parents and caregivers to worry about how kids’ online activities are affecting their physical, mental, and emotional health.
A healthy relationship with screens depends on the types of activities kids are doing online as well as balancing screen time with other activities like sleep, connecting with family and friends, exercise, and time outdoors. Screen time limits for older kids and teens can be helpful — but how they are using screens (versus for how long) is even more important. Plus, family conflicts over screen time may be more harmful to children’s mental health than the screen time itself.
Try the tips and questions below to have conversations with older kids and teens about their screen time habits.
1. Show interest in what they’re doing online.
Try not to be judgmental about what kids and teens do online. If they sense you’re truly interested, they’ll be more open to sharing. If your older child or teen is reluctant to talk about what they’re doing online, try signing up for one of the popular platforms (TikTok, Snapchat, etc.), then ask them to teach you how to use it. Understanding what kids and teens are doing online is the first step in guiding them toward healthy experiences.
- What’s your favorite app or game right now?
- Can you show me how it works?
- What’s something you like about it? Why?
- (For social platforms) What are your favorite accounts or people to follow?
2. Help them recognize their screen time habits.
Sometimes the habits kids have with their devices aren’t the best for their health. The same goes for adults, too! Maybe screen time interferes with sleep, relationships, or learning. Talk about how we can use our devices in ways that feel in balance with other parts of life. Share your own habits as examples to get the conversation going.
- What are some of our family’s habits with devices like phones or TV? (Share a few examples, like checking your phone when you wake up, or playing video games before bed.)
- Do any of our habits get in the way of things like sleep, spending time with friends and family, or getting outside?
- Are there any habits we should try to change? Why or why not?
- Can you think of any specific times we could take breaks from our devices?
3. Talk about their emotional health.
Help older kids and teens recognize how online activities make them feel. Many teens turn to social media and online resources for mental health support and to connect with friends. However, social media can also have negative effects on some teens, especially girls and teens experiencing depression.
- How do you feel when you’re on Instagram (or another app)?
- Do you ever feel uncomfortable, worried, sad, or anxious?
- If yes: What makes you feel that way?
- Do you ever feel like you’ve spent too much time online?
- If yes: When?
- If no: Why not?
- Do you ever feel pressured to be online?
- If yes: When do you feel pressured? Why?
- If no: Why not?
4. Talk about what to do when they have negative feelings or want to set new screen time habits.
Talk through different strategies kids can try when they notice themselves feeling uncomfortable, worried, sad, or anxious when they’re online. And remind them that they can always come to you (or another trusted adult) if they need help.
- Have you ever set time limits for yourself when you’re online?
- If yes: How did that go?
- If no: Do you want to try it? I could help.
- Are there ways to connect with your friends in person more often to take the pressure off being online all the time?
- Do you know how to block someone on your favorite apps?
- If no: Can we look together and figure out how?