Teens and Screens: 4 Rules to Live By

Susan V. Schaefer, M.Ed., M.A.T.

When my sons were teenagers, on any given day at any given time, they were in front of one screen or another. I would tell my younger son to turn off the Playstation, so he moved to the computer. I would tell my older son to get off Snapchat so he moved on to the TV, then I would tell him to turn off the TV and he would be on his phone doing who knows what, and round and round we’d go.
It certainly seems that teenagers are spending way too much time playing video games, watching TV, and on social media, but how much time are they actually spending in front of a screen? Shockingly, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s 48th Annual Conference, teens on average spend seven hours a day in front of a screen, and this study did not even include text messaging. This is more time than they spend in school each day, and more hours than they usually sleep each night. This study found that girls, for the most part, spend more time on social media sites where boys spend more time playing video games.
Common sense tells us that all this time sitting around by themselves can’t be a good thing, and it’s not. As we have all heard, one in three children are obese. The World Health Organization named video games as the leading cause of childhood obesity, although I tend to think mammoth orders of French fries and greasy pizza might also have something to do with it.
Too much screen time has also been linked with relationship issues. It seems the more time teens spend on video games, the lower the quality of relationships with parents and peers. In addition, people tend to get: depression, anxiety problems, sleep issues, and lower grade point averages, which have all also been attributed to excessive time in front of various screens.
Like many parents, you probably have tried cutting down your teens’ screen time with little success. After all, it’s hard to argue when they point out that you actually gave them the screens in the first place. But the real reason you probably failed? Teenagers are scary and it’s just easier to give in than suffer their wrath.
Some Tips to Get Control of Your Screens: 

  • No surprises. Call a family meeting and tell your teenagers they are spending too much time in front of all their screens and there are going to be some changes.


  • Lay out the new rules (hint: ask your teens to help make the rules to make them feel they have some control, make small concessions but stick to the big picture). My suggestions:


  • Limit video games to the weekends only and no more than 4 hours a day.


  • No screens at all until all homework is done (work first then play, like the rest of the world). They may say they want to play or watch TV to relax for a while after school, but this activity actually agitates them. Find another way to relax.


  • No TV in the bedroom. Studies show that teens get five hours less sleep a week if they have a TV in their rooms.


  • No TV or smartphones at meals (that means you as well!).


  • End the meeting. Do NOT engage in a power struggle.


  • Now is the hardest part. You absolutely must stick to your rules. No giving in just this once.

    Once teenagers see weakness they will devour you!

    Keep in mind there will be an adjustment period, but once your teen realizes you mean business they will come around. Also, most teens tend to go all out on video games for a period of time and then begin to lose interest. Some studies say the average is about two years, give or take. Although I never would have believed it at the time, this was true for both of my sons.


    Susan V. Schaefer, M.Ed., M.A.T.

    Susan V. Schaefer, M.Ed., M.A.T.

    Susan Schaefer is the owner of Academic Coaching Associates, LLC, the first company on the East Coast to combine academic and life coaching, creating an extraordinarily effective holistic approach to student achievement. With a proven record of improving academic success for students, both nationally and internationally, Sue is committed to helping students realize their academic potential and achieve their goals.

    Sue is also a sought-after speaker on many educational subjects, and has published numerous articles on education and parenting. She wrote a weekly education column for Patch.com, appeared on Huffington Post Live, and the WXLM radio show to name just a few. Prior to opening Academic Coaching Associates, Sue was a classroom teacher and holds teaching certificates in both Connecticut and Illinois.


    2446 Albany Avenue, Suite 301
    West Hartford, CT 06117

    (860) 297-1591

    Susan Schaefer

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