How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

How much screen time is too much? Any screen time that gets in the way of healthy development. Screen time should never take precedence over: 

  1. Homework 
  2. In-person Social Interaction 
  3. Physical Activity
  4. Daily Responsibilities 
  5. Parent-child Relationship 
  6. Sleep

If you have a teenage son it’s likely that he is spending a significant amount of his time on screens. Whether that’s playing video games, connecting on social media, or watching youtube videos.

Many parents I speak with in my work as a counsellor suspect that too much screen time may be negatively affecting their son. However, they often ignore their instincts because it seems like all his friends are doing the same thing.

There is also an increasing moral panic about video games and social media stemming from studies that show links between increased video game, and social media time and depression.

On the other hand, others point out that the research results are mixed and that online activity can also provide a social connection and positive experiences for young people. Watch this video for a review of some of the evidence around screen time.

what should you do?

So where does that leave you? How do you know how to set limits around your son’s screen time? How do you know if his time online is contributing to his low mood, or alternatively improving his mood by connecting him with like-minded people all over the world?

The truth is no-one knows the answer to this question. In my experience working with young men who are depressed the best way to decide how much screen time your son should have is to ask a different question.

To what extent is screen time getting in the way of activities necessary for healthy development.

Rather than asking how much is too much, ask: “Is my son doing what is needed to develop into a healthy young adult?”. If not then reduce screen time to the point where he is doing what he needs for healthy development.

Homework 

Show me a teenage boy who likes doing homework and I will show you a liar. If he’s not doing homework because he’s spending time on video games this is a problem. Getting your son to do his homework is simple but difficult. Require him to complete his homework BEFORE he is allowed access to any of his devices.

If you don’t know how read my article: How to Limit Screen Your Sons Screen Time. He may not like it, but eventually, he will do his homework. You’ll also be helping him get into the habit of finishing what he doesn’t want to do before getting rewarded. Something that will pay dividends for him after he moves out when he doesn’t have you around to set limits for him. 

In-person social interaction

While the internet has been an amazing way for young men who may feel different or unpopular to connect with others online, it is not a replacement for in person social connection.

Research shows that face to face social contact trumps facebook, phone and email for lowering depression. This is also important for developing social skills, which is even more important if your son is on the autism spectrum.

If your son is going online to the exclusion of interacting with friends in real life then require him to spend time with friends or family outside at least once a week, and doing something that doesn’t involve screens.

As with homework if he doesn’t agree, then take away the video games until he gets some real face to face contact. His mental health will thank you. 

Physical Activity 

Many studies show a connection between playing video games and obesity. This is not to say that video games are causing obesity, but they can contribute to a sedentary lifestyle which increases the risk of obesity.

Again video games aren’t the problem, doing video games to the exclusion of all else is. Whether or not your son is overweight, required him to do a certain amount of physical activity per day.

This could mean getting in 10,000 steps, or even doing a 10-minute workout of push-ups and jumping jacks. Research shows that even 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day has massive benefits for mental and physical health.

Decide on daily exercise quota for your son and don’t let him online until he’s met it. 

Daily responsibilities 

Many parents I work with have a hell of a time getting their son to clean his room, let alone help with chores around the house. But did you know this also impacts his mental health? In my experience when boys don’t do their chores it leads to anger and resentment in parents.

This mountain of irritation grows along with your son and will reach a breaking point in his young adulthood if is not addressed early on. This anger erodes trust and affection in the parent-child relationship which is essential for the well-being of kids.

Therefore it’s important you don’t let your son’s lack of helpfulness become a bitter root that poisons your relationship. How can you get him to help you more? At risk of repeating myself, the solution to this comes down to the same simple formula.

In order for him to get what he wants (time online) you need to get what you want (chores done). This will help lighten your workload, improve your relationship and also get him ready for living independently. 

Parent child relationship 

The most important factor in determining your sons mental well-being is long-lasting relationships, and this starts in the family. Take time to connect with your son whether that be through video games, or other activities.

If your son is facing mental health challenges read my article on How to Connect with Your Depressed Son. If his time online is getting in the way of connecting then it needs to be set aside until the relationship is made right.

Now this is a catch-22 because setting limits around screens may make him angry at you potentially weakening the relationship. While this is true in the beginning once he gets used to the new program he will eventually buy into the new normal.

Wifi is not a human right but if your son has always had unrestricted access it may take him a while to adjust to limits around it. 

Sleep 

Screen time should be limited if it interferes with your son getting a good night’s sleep. New evidence is demonstrating how crucial sleep is for our mental and physical health. One study of children and adolescents with depression found that those who suffered from insomnia (inability to sleep) and hypersomnia (sleeping too much) were far more likely to have severe and long-lasting depression.

Even more concerning is how sleep loss can increase suicide risk as it makes people’s emotions more negative and impairs their judgment. Click here for a step by step guide for How to Protect Your Sons Sleep. At the very least he should be switching off screens one hour before bed, and have at least an 8-hour sleep window. 

What guidelines or rules do you follow in determining how much screen time you allow your son to have? If you have any questions or helpful advice feel free to leave a comment below. 

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