Parenting SA

For children and young people today TVs, computers, gaming devices, smart phones and tablets are part of everyday life. Screen technology is a big part of how they learn, socialise and have fun.

There are also health and wellbeing risks if too much time is spent in front of screens, or devices are used inappropriately. Parents can help children stay safe and healthy as they get the most from these technologies. It is important to develop healthy screen habits early in life and to enjoy other activities too.

Read and download the Safe screen use - Parent Easy Guide.


Hi, I’m Kristy Goodwin and I’m a digital wellbeing author, researcher, speaker and Mum who’s endured her kids’ techno-tantrums from time to time.

For many families managing screen time can be a significant source of stress and tension. Screen time often ends in ‘scream time’. Our kids and teens find it hard to switch off their devices. They’re wanting to spend more and more time with screens and this is leaving many parents and carers concerned and frustrated. But, it’s not all doom and gloom online!

Technology is here to stay and it can play a really important role in our kids’ and teens’ lives. Online games, apps and platforms can help our kids to connect with their friends and family in new ways, learn new skills and be exposed to new ideas. Many young people find it hard to manage their own screen time.

We know that most kids’ leisure screen time is spent engaging with apps or games that meet one of their most basic psychological needs: connection. We all have a need to connect with others and be part of a group. This need is fulfilled when our kids chat online, play multiplayer games and use social media. It also makes it hard for them to unplug as the online world meets this need for connection.

We also know that many young people find it hard to switch off devices because when they're online their brains are releasing dopamine, a chemical released in the brain that makes humans feel good. It makes them not only want more and more of whatever makes them feel good (their phone, a touchscreen device or gaming console) but dopamine also overrides the part of the brain that would usually help them manage their behaviour. It’s called the prefrontal cortex. So, it’s biologically challenging for our young people to manage their own screen time and this is why you play an important role.

When it comes to managing screen time, we need to think beyond simply ‘how much time’ they’re spending online. Whilst time online is certainly important,we also need to think about other aspects of their screen use. We need to be considering what they’re doing online, who they’re interacting with, where devices are used in the home and stored when not in use, how devices are used - is it supporting their physical health - and when devices are being used.

So how can we transition kids off screens without tears and tantrums?

We need to give kids enough warning that their time online is coming to an end, rather than just suddenly demanding they turn their device off. We can do this by saying, “When this episode ends, I’d like you to turn off the TV.” “When you’ve finished this battle, I’d like you to put the console away.” This gives our kids a sense of control in their life. It’s hard for children under 10 years of age to have a real understanding of time. App developers also make it hard for our kids to feel like they’re ‘complete’ or ‘finished’ online. The auto-play feature is often a default setting, so one episode, level, or game rolls into the next.

We also know many kids enter a hypnotic state on their devices thanks to repetitive music. So instead of giving young kids a time limit, you’re better to give them a quantity. For example, you might say to them, “You can play two battles today.” “You can watch three episodes.” If they’re a bit older, you’re better to give them an endpoint, as opposed to an amount of time. For example you might say “You need to turn it off at 7pm” instead of saying you can have an hour on your device. Use a kitchen timer or the device’s timer to remind you and them that their time limit has been reached.

We can also help children and teens manage their screen time by suggesting other activities they enjoy. Perhaps say to them, “When you put your laptop away, do you want to walk the dog, or go for a swim?” This is likely to work much better than saying to your child, to put their phone away and go and tidy their bedroom, do their homework, or set the dinner table. These are unlikely to be appealing options for them. We need to have realistic expectations as parents and carers.

It’s ‘normal’ for there to be an adjustment period, after our kids have turned off their devices. Their sensory and nervous systems have often been bombarded online, so the offline world can sometimes be a little difficult to ‘re-enter’. I often say kids need ‘green time’ to balance their ‘screen time’. Getting your child outside after they’ve been on a device can reduce cortisol levels (which is our stress hormone) and help them better manage their emotions. Movement can help them to discharge any cortisol that may have been built up whilst they’ve been online, it helps them to regulate their nervous system too and helps their brains produce feel-good chemicals.

We also need to help our young people be okay with being bored and idle with their thoughts and big feelings. It’s important they get used to having these feelings at times. We need to be careful that we don’t always allow them to use screens when they’re dealing with big emotions such as boredom, anger, or frustration.

As a family, you could come up with a list of alternative activities that they could do after they’ve been on a device, or instead of using a screen. I refer to this as a ‘Bored Board’ where they could identify the activities they enjoy doing offline. So, every time they declare, “I’m bored!” you can direct them to the board to choose something they’d like to do. This can help your child learn to play independently.

Another way that we can help our kids develop healthy screen time habits is by being a good digital role model ourselves. Now I’m the first to admit that this can be tricky at times. However, it’s really unfair if we’re always telling our kids to turn off their devices, from behind our phones or laptops. Our brains are biologically wired to imitate and copy. So, if we’re being good digital role models, our kids are much more likely to do the same.

As parents and caregivers we need to ensure their screen time is not displacing their most basic physical and psychological needs. Our needs for human connection, sleep, physical movement, sunlight and play. We need to help our young people form healthy and sustainable digital habits. However, sometimes boundaries are a bit like vegetables - kids do not want them, but they need them. Kids do not like them, but they need them.

As a parent or caregiver you play a really important role in helping your child or teen develop digital habits that will support them. So find some time to set up your family’s digital boundaries and help your young people to better manage their screentime.


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Last published: 15 May 2023 11:36am
Provided by:
Department of Human Services
Last Updated:
02 Mar 2021
Printed on:
03 Oct 2023
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