Developing a family agreement is a great way to manage screen time. Be inclusive, do it as a family and lead by example - you may have to cut back yourself.
Health effects of time online
As a parent, you might ask yourself - how much time online is too much? While there are no standard time limits, there is a fine balance that families can achieve with the right knowledge and conversations. Look out for these common signs of too much screen time:
- headaches, eye strain
- not enough sleep
- obsession with devices and online games
- withdrawal from friends and social groups
- extreme anger and outbursts
- not doing well at school.
How can I help my child?
As a family, set some expectations on how much time your child should spend online. What are some of the things they should be doing online to be creative and productive? Balance this time with physical activity and time spent outdoors.
- The department's Digital Citizenship website has published recommendations for families on screen time and also strategies to moderate and improve time online.
- The Australian Government's Department of Health provides guides on how much physical activity your 0-5-year-olds and 5-17 year-olds should be engaging in.
- The Western Sydney Local Health District provides visual fact sheets and tips on managing screen time. Translations of these fact sheets in eight languages are also available.
- Common Sense Education has published a family media agreement template that you can use.
- The eSafety Commissioner has also published family tech agreements that parents of 2-5 years old and 5-8 years old children can use.
Do a family screen audit
It's important that families work together to figure out the rules around technology use. It's great to start with an open discussion and do a screen audit of everyone's technology use together. Once you have done this, you'll be ready to set technology rules as a family.
What is a screen audit?
A screen audit is simply a process of examining our relationship to screens. Generally, an audit is done when individuals or families want to examine how frequently and for how long they use their screens.
If you're concerned about how much time your children are spending with screens, it's important to first examine how much time you and other adults in the house, are spending on the screen each day. If you want to reduce the amount of time your family spends with screens, it's important to lead by example.
How to do a screen audit
A screen audit is best undertaken by the whole family together. A good way to start is to get everyone to respond to questions about their screen use. Some example questions are:
- How much TV do you watch per day?
- How much time do you spend on the computer for study or work purposes?
- How much time do you spend on mobile devices each day?
- How much of your time online is for entertainment or gaming only?
- How much leisure time do you spend online versus offline?
Get everyone to note down their responses to each question, and try to identify the times of day that the screen time occurs. Another way to conduct a screen audit is to create a logbook, where, over the course of a week, each family member logs the duration and type of their screen time.
Set screen time guidelines
Once you've completed the audit, it's time to look at the results, identify where changes should be made and determine how much screen time members of your family can engage in each day. Again, this should be done together as a family, as there may be some compromises to be made. Consider setting up family screen time rules, and ensure that all members of the family stick to them. Some ideas for setting rules are:
- Decide how much TV is allowed during the week versus the weekends.
- Decide whether computers and mobile devices are allowed in bedrooms.
- Decide how much screen-based leisure time is allowed per day.
- Decide whether to set times of the day where screen time isn't allowed (eg: at the dinner table, when guests are over, or in the morning before school or work).
After a week of following the new rules, check-in and see how it's going for everyone. Have you found that you are doing other things together? Is everyone feeling happier and more connected? There may need to be a few tweaks until you get it right, but there could also be fewer arguments and less stress for your family about technology.
While your teenager might not thank you at first, replacing technology and screen time with other things of interest to them and reminding them of the longer-term benefits will increase your chances of success.