Screen Time & Healthy Balance

When it comes to children and technology, one question often prevails:

How much screen time should children have?

Teachers and professionals working with young people will likely see children at opposite ends of the spectrum: those whose parents do not allow any screen time at all, and those who have nearly constant access to devices.

Working with parents is a huge part of the job for anyone who is part of the children’s workforce, but it can often be a challenge to negotiate controversial topics like screen time in a diplomatic and constructive way.

The following FAQs should give teachers and professionals the information they need in this area to support the children and families they work with.

Screen Time FAQs

  • What do the experts say? Open or Close

    The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) have produced guidance for screen time use of under-18s. Following research into this area, they have advised that no set amount of time is nesassary to adhere to but that devices should not replace sleep, exercise or family time. They advise that devices should be avoided in the hour before bed to promote healthy sleep and have provided the following checklist to help parents and carers make decisions about their family's screen time use:

    • Is your family's screen time under control?
    • Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
    • Does screen use interfere with sleep?
    • Are you able to control snacking during screen time?

    Dr Russel Viner, President of the RCPCH comments on screen time, stating that, 

    "One size doesn't fit all, parents need to think about what's useful and helpful for their child."
    "Parents should consider their own use of screens, if screen time is controlled in their family, and if excessive use is affecting their child's development and everyday life."

    Trying to actively count or keep track of screen time hours can be problematic and raise anxiety levels unnecessarily. Instead, forming a family media plan that takes into account screen time, when and where devices are accessible and what content can be accessed will be beneficial for the whole family. Our Childnet family agreement could help families to start this plan and create guidelines for using tech.

  • What advice can I share with families? Open or Close

    When discussing screen time with families it may be useful to signpost them to our hot topic for parents and carers or our resource focussing on young children and screen time.

    Parents may also respond positively to the phrase “quality not quantity”. Explain that there is no set amount of screen time which has proven to be perfect or most acceptable, and that it’s more helpful to think generally about using the internet safely and positively. You may also want to signpost them to other online safety resources such as Supporting Young People Online.

  • How can I teach students about screen time and healthy balance? Open or Close

    It is a great idea to talk about screen time with students of all ages – particularly if you are concerned about the amount of time they spend online.

    One approach is to have a frank and honest discussion – perhaps as part of PSHE, registration or form time. Students are less likely to respond well to a lecture about what is and isn’t an acceptable amount of time to spend online, particularly as there is no evidence of a set amount of screen time which works for everybody.

    Instead, start by asking students about what they enjoy doing online. This could include the games they play, services they use and people they communicate with. Allow them to share all of the positive aspects of using the internet and then use this to transition into talking about screen time.

    You might say something like:

    “Going online is great – but how can we tell when we’ve been online for too long? What signs might we experience?”

    Young people will often have lots of insightful examples to share at this point and may mention things like headaches, neck pains and blurry vision, but also devices running out of charge or feeling hot to touch.

    Once you’ve established what kind of signs they might experience, you can then transition into discussing how best to find a healthy balance between online and offline activities. It may be useful to draw comparisons with a balanced diet. Just as a healthy diet has lots of variety and includes a balance of different food types, a healthy lifestyle needs variety and a balance of different activities. For example: eating, sleeping, conversation and physical activity, in addition to online activities.

    For more teaching ideas why not use our Screen Time and Healthy Balance Quick Activities which can both stand alone or be used to structure a lesson specifically on screen time.

  • What should I do if I am concerned about the amount of screen time a child I work with has? Open or Close

    There is no set amount of screen time which is perfect for all children – some will cope better with longer periods of screen time than others, but if you observe signs that a child is spending too long online this needs to be followed up.

    Some signs you may see include (but are not limited to):

    • a child who is distracted and struggling to focus;
    • a child who is often tired or sleepy;
    • a child who is unusually emotional or upset;

    Of course, many of the signs which could be attributed to excess screen time may be caused by something else. It’s therefore vital that any concerns about a child’s wellbeing, regardless of the cause, are reported and recorded according to your organisation’s safeguarding procedure. Whilst spending too much time online can often be remedied through work with the child and their family, it is still important to speak with your Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL), as such concerns may form part of a wider safeguarding picture.

Information for parents and carers:

Information for young people:

Primary and Secondary