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Screen Time Guidelines for Teens

As kids get older, too much screen time can interfere with activities like being physically active, doing homework, playing with friends, and spending time with family. Too much screen time also can contribute to obesity, attention problems, sleep disorders, and problems at school.

For teens, screen time can include things like researching a school project, creating music or art, or interacting with friends via social media. But it also can include less productive activities, like watching inappropriate TV shows, visiting unsafe websites, or playing violent video games.

Some studies show that teens spend almost 9 hours a day online, on the phone, watching TV, or playing games — so what's a parent to do?

Parents should continue to set limits on screen time, preview all shows and games to make sure they're OK, and stay aware of what their teens are doing online.

How Much Is Too Much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents of kids and teens 5 to 18 years old place consistent limits on the use of any media. This includes entertainment media (like watching TV and movies), as well as educational media (like creating flash cards on a smartphone app).

Not all screen time is created equal. It's up to parents to decide how (and how often) their teens use screens and whether screen time is positive or negative. For instance, time spent on homework or other educational activities might not need to be as restricted as time spent playing video games.

For teens (and kids of all ages), screen time should not replace time needed for sleeping, eating, being active, studying, and interacting with family and friends.

Screen Time Tips

The same parenting rules apply to screen time as to anything else — set a good example, establish limits, and talk with your teen about it.

To make your teen's screen time more productive:

  • Research video and computer games before letting your teen get them. Look at the ratings, which can run from EC (meaning "early childhood") to AO (meaning "adults only"). Teens probably should be limited to games rated T (for "teens") or younger. 
  • Preview games and even play them with your teen to see what they're like. The game's rating may not match what you feel is appropriate.
  • Make sure teens have a variety of free-time activities, like spending time with friends and playing sports, which can help them develop a healthy body and mind.
  • Turn off all screens during family meals and at bedtime. Also, keep devices with screens out of your teen's bedroom after bedtime, and don't allow a TV in your teen's bedroom. 
  • Treat screen time as a privilege that teens need to earn, not a right that they're entitled to. Tell them that screen time is allowed only after chores and homework are done.
  • Spend screen time together to make sure that what your teen sees is appropriate. Watch TV, play games, go online — use screen time together as a chance to interact and communicate.
  • Use screening tools on the TV, computers, and tablets to block your teen's access to inappropriate material.
  • Teach your teen about Internet safety and social media smarts, and make sure he or she knows the dangers of sharing private information online or sexting. 
  • Keep the computer in a common area where you can watch what's going on.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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