Teen screen time: A balancing act

Do you wonder if your teen or nearly teenager's smartphone has become an extension of their body? Does it feel like an impossible dream that they might take their eyes away from their screens to give you more than a one-word answer? Teens and tweens can spend an enormous amount of time on their phones, scrolling through social media, playing games, or chatting with friends. As their parent or carer, you may well worry about the impact of this on your child's well-being, including their mood, concentration, and overall mental health.


With smartphones so common, managing your teen's screen time can feel challenging. According to Ofcom's Children's Media Literacy Report 2024, by the time they're 11, nine out of 10 kids own a mobile phone. This marks a significant change in how young people interact with technology.

The positives of screentime

You are probably all too aware of negative media coverage regarding children and young people online. While being aware of potential dangers is vital, it's also important to remember that screen time and tech are not all bad. Tweens and teens use their phones for all sorts of reasons, including schoolwork (yes, really!), playing games, and enjoying entertainment. 

Some positive aspects of screentime for adolescents include:

  • Social connection: Social media helps teens stay in touch with family and friends, especially those who live far away. It also offers online communities where teens can find support, share their interests, and build relationships with like-minded peers.
  • Creative expression: Technology allows teens to explore and develop their creative talents. This includes photography, video editing, graphic design apps, and coding.
  • Skill development: Multiplayer online games can help teens develop teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills. Social media management can also teach digital marketing and networking skills.
  • Access to diverse perspectives: Social media, news apps, and online forums allow teens to engage with different perspectives, broadening their understanding of global issues and helping them develop empathy and tolerance (and couldn't we all do with more of this?).
  • Empowerment and advocacy: Technology can be used for social change. It can help raise awareness about social justice issues, organise events through social media, or participate in online activism.

However, finding a balance between online and real life is essential, and it's wise to assess each situation and child individually. 

Finding a balance

So, how much is too much when it comes to your teen's smartphone use? Ask yourself:

  • Are they physically healthy?
  • Are they getting enough sleep?
  • Are they keeping up with their hobbies and interests?
  • Are they catching up with their friends (online or offline)?
  • Are they doing ok at school?

It's never too late to help them find a healthy balance and sensible use. Here are some strategies to manage your teen's (and your own) screen time and tech:

  1. Model healthy smartphone habits: Children learn from the habits of the adults around them, so to set clear boundaries, it's best to establish these healthy habits for yourself first.
  2. Implement screen-free zones for the whole family: No phones at the dinner table is a good baseline. No electronics in bedrooms after a specific time is another boundary well worth putting in place. For instance, you could set a tech cutoff time for the whole family at 9 p.m.
  3. Talk with your teenager when establishing these guidelines: You're more likely to get their buy-in if they've been part of the discussion. Be prepared to revisit these rules regularly, every few months, for example, as devices and needs change. 
  4. Have phone-free gatherings: Schedule regular family dinners or social gatherings without smartphones to encourage face-to-face communication and meaningful connections with family and friends. Add these to your family routines. Establishing clear rules for everyone, such as setting certain times as family time, can prevent arguments about social media use. This way,everyone can enjoy quality time together without any distractions.
  5. Give them the chance to practice managing their screen time: There's a balance between monitoring and giving them some space to work it out. Having a sense of autonomy over their use will make it much more likely for them to stick to the family screen time rules. Encouraging them to think about the positives of maintaining a healthy balance helps.
  6. Encourage offline activities: Remind them to keep up with the offline activities they enjoy, such as playing games with friends, having face-to-face social interactions, and creative hobbies. 
  7. Talk through issues: Discuss important issues such as cyberbullying, online privacy, and digital footprints to help your teen become a responsible digital citizen. By keeping communication open, you can help your teen use their smartphones safely, respectfully, and ethically.

Are you concerned about your teen's smartphone or tech use? Are you worried about the impact this is having on their well-being? As a counsellor specialising in working with parents of tweens and teens, I'm here to help you navigate the challenges of the digital age and create healthy online habits. Contact me via my Counselling Directory profile today to find out more and schedule a session.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Seaford, East Sussex, BN25
Written by Jennifer Warwick, MSc Psych, BACP Registered | Counsellor and Parenting Expert
Seaford, East Sussex, BN25

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People constantly rush, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted.

I specialise in supporting parents and carers as they navigate their child's tween and teenage years. Contact me for an introductory chat by phone.

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