managing teenage screentime

Tech Education

Managing Teenage Screen Time

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There has been a lot of discussion over the past week about young people and technology. Specifically, on the back of Matt Hancock’s suggestion the headteachers ban the use of phones in school, we were called on by the BBC and Channel 5 news (watch here) to talk about kids and technology.

We believe that there need to be limits and consequences set on using phones inappropriately in class, just as there would be for any other source of distraction. At home, we think that parents should speak with their kids and set up guidelines around the amount of screentime and the nature of the screen time that kids are allowed, taking into account the family’s personal situation and the age of the child.

But we think that the debate tilts fairly easily into a demonisation of technology in schools generally, and we are very much against that.

Last week we sponsored a screening of the movie Screenagers, which explores how families are managing – or not managing – their children’s exposure to social media, games and phones. We sponsored the event because we believe that this is an issue that families are genuinely and rightly concerned about.

Our view is that the technology is here to stay and that young people need to be taught how to manage their phone and its potential for distraction. We also observe that happening in the young people who we know personally.

The NSPCC had a great summary to how they recommend that families handle online safety and screentime, with the catchy acronym TEAM.

TALK about staying safe online. EXPLORE their online world together. AGREE to what’s ok and what’s not. MANAGE your family’s settings and controls. What a brilliant way to remember those key points!

We would add the following colour to that:
  • – Meet your kids where they are. Get them to show you different platforms and games to tell you why they engage with them. Understand how they work. Why do they like them? Educate yourself.
  • – There are tools available to help manage screentime. Disney’s Circle lets you control who’s on the wifi and even has functionality for phones. Apple is putting out new and better parental controls in their next software update.
  • – Let your kids know about new apps that are designed to help them minimise distractions. Hold offers rewards for staying off your phone, and Forest gamifies defying distraction.
  • – Beat the companies at their own games – put your phone on greyscale, have only your tools and not your distractions on the front page, turn off data when you’re revising.
  • – Put good habits in place – some that have worked for my own family are no phones at the dinner table, no second screens while watching TV as a family, and all phones charge downstairs (not bedrooms) overnight. Recently it was our kids (!) who suggested a phonestack (stacking all the phones on the table) when we went out for brunch with another family. We’ve also been known to barter time doing constructive tech activities (eg coding) for video game screentime.

Mobile phones aren’t going anywhere and young people need to learn to manage the distraction. Phones (and iPads) are hand-held computers that also offer huge resources for learning, problem-solving, connection and content creation. We need to teach young people to engage constructively with technology and to be creators rather than slavish consumers of technology. Talk with your children to understand their online world and help them find strategies to minimise distractions. The demonisation of mobile technology for young people risks throwing the baby out with the bath water.

We’d love to hear how you are dealing with distractions in your house!

Ps. Parent Tech, the distributor for Circle has provided us with a code from free shipping, FTCSHIP, if you order from their website: https://parent.tech.