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9 ideas for screentime balance


Nature is known to provide cognitive benefits and enhance our overall physical and mental wellbeing. Yet, for some children, spending too much time on technology, sees them not getting enough exercise or spending enough time outdoors.

However, there is no easy answer to how much time your child should be allowed with technology, because not all screentime is equal. Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer, who I mention in my book, developed the concept of ‘Digital Nutrition’. She frames ‘Digital Nutrition’ in the following way,

‘Imagine that apps and games came with nutritional labels to help us understand their impacts. Imagine we considered the way we consume digital content the way we have learned to consider food and it impacts on our wellbeing.  Imagine that we understood the ‘virtual vitamins’ contained in the activities we engage with online and made choices from a more informed perspective.’ (See more on her concept here).

So instead of banning screen time, we need to help our children to critically consider their screen content, as well as to engage in healthy, enjoyable physical activities.

Start by setting a clear screentime plan, with structure around when and for how long your child can use entertainment media, such as online games and movies. Also, add suggestions for offline activities. Your plan should also include consideration for controlled access by a parent for children and younger teens, age restrictions for games and movies, as well as consequences for breaking the rules.

Some boundaries might include:

  • A balance of screentime and ‘green time’ (literally seeing nature) activities. For example, perhaps encourage children to spend one hour outside after a one-hour session on a screen (in the garden, at a park, kicking a ball, jumping on a trampoline).
  • Thinking about healthy online places to hang out.
  • Non-screen entertainment options (board games, reading a book, playing an instrument, playing with toys, dancing, cuddling animals, arts and craft, swimming…).
  • Developing a mix of face-to-face socialising opportunities (at sport, music lessons, youth group, scouts, family dinners etc…).
  • A list of weekly physical activity (it is recommended that children aged 5–12 years engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day).
  • Devices in a shared visible place in the home and ensure that all technology (including your teen’s phone) is out of bedrooms at night (this is a VITAL part of healthy tech habits).
  • Agreed bedtimes per age, with screens switched off around one to two hours before bed (to calm overstimulated brains).
  • What to do if something disturbing or inappropriate for kids pops up their devices (HINT: Tell them you will not ban the device. Verbalise how proud you are that they came to talk with you about it – more on this in my book)
  • How parents will model healthy screentime habits.

Get the whole family involved in creating the list. Children are more inclined to stick to a plan they feel they were part of creating. Put this up as a tangible list on the fridge if your child needs it.

Get this FREE downloadable poster for younger kids here

Collett is the Resident Psychologist for Mums At The Table TV and Magazine, where a variation of this article was originally posted.

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