Originally published: December 2023

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Some days it might seem like your teen is always on a screen—a smart phone, computer, TV, video game, or other digital device. If you wonder about the effect on their well-being, you’re not alone.

Research confirms that there are benefits to using technology—it can help teens learn, socialize, play, and bond with family. But there can also be negative impacts on physical and mental health (like physical inactivity, isolation, and exposure to harmful content or behaviour).

Interestingly, both zero screen time and excessive screen time can be hard on teens and their families. The better approach is to empower teens to use digital devices responsibly and safely, and in ways that support their overall well-being. Here’s what you can do.

Keep lines of communication open

Talk openly with your teen about what they’re doing online. This will build trust and boost the chances they’ll come to you if they have a problem or an uncomfortable experience. These ideas can help:

  • Ask your teen about their views on different apps, games, and social networks. Show them that you’re interested in what they’re doing on devices. Listen to their opinions, even if they’re different from your own.
  • Encourage your teen to talk freely about their online experiences, including anything that feels awkward. Remind them that they can come to you any time without fear of being judged or getting in trouble.
  • Join your teen in digital experiences—play video games together or try a new app. Watch how they engage with digital media. Ask questions and talk about what you notice. This can prompt conversations.

Empower online safety

Together with your teen, stay on top of technology trends. Explore new platforms and learn together about parental controls, privacy settings, and permissions.

Talk about the dangers of sharing personal information or connecting with strangers online. Teach your teen different ways to protect themselves. For example:

  • Encourage them to connect online only with people they know in real life. Tell them that if they’re going to meet someone they’ve only met online, you need to know and supervise.
  • Remind your teen not to share passwords with anyone other than family. Help them with privacy settings for devices, accounts, and profiles.
  • Ask your teen for their permission before you share photos or videos of them online. Encourage them to do the same for others.

Create healthy boundaries

As much as you can, try not to dwell on the amount of time your teen spends on devices. Instead, focus on the quality of their online experiences. Encourage them to take part in digital activities that are engaging, interactive, and educational (instead of passive or solo).

Consider making a family media agreement. It can help set clear expectations around using technology and staying safe online. Work together to land on something that’s in line with your family values and flexible enough for each person. Be open to negotiation with your teen. Let them take responsibility for shaping and respecting the rules.

Prioritize offline experiences

Try not to let digital devices interfere with offline activities for your family. These tips can help:

  • Make device-free zones in your home (like common areas where people hang out).
  • Set aside devices for most meals and snacks. Shift the focus to conversations.
  • Encourage everyone to put their devices away at least an hour before bedtime, and to keep them out of bedrooms.
  • Put away your own technology when your teen is around, especially if they’re interacting with you. Give them your full attention—they’ll appreciate you for it, and you’ll set a great example.

Stay alert to signs of trouble

Be honest with yourself about how your teen is doing with screens. Even small changes in their mood or behaviour can be a sign that something isn’t right. If you’re concerned, reach out to a health care professional. Or for health advice or information 24/7, call 811.

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