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Good screen vs bad screen - how to get the right balance

Updated: Jan 6

For many children, in particular older ones deprived of their social groups, lockdown slowly resulted in them retreating like zombies into a parallel tech world, with reports of some children spending hours on end watching YouTube, Tik Tok, or playing games like Fortnite.

One five year old spent so much time online, they developed an American accent.

Now with the threat of further lockdowns we sought some practical advice on re-setting boundaries with our children around tech.

Elaine Halligan is the Director of The Parent Practice and has shared her pointers on how to get a healthy balance between 'good' screen time and 'bad'.

Technology has always been a big issue for parents, as we’ve always fretted about the amount of time our children are spending in front of screens, but the digital babysitter is now invading our lives 24/7 as screens are used for schooling, gaming, socializing and guilty pleasure. We fear our children ( and even ourselves) will start to develop an addiction to technology. We have all read about the fact that Steve Jobs would not allow his children to use an i-pad, and that many Silicon Valley executives are selecting schools with minimal IT resources in the classroom.

The horrifying statistic is that by the age of seven, the average British child born today will have spent an entire year of her life in front of a screen, and given lockdown and COVID, I am confident that statistic will worsen.

Here are 7 top tips to ensuring you and your children find your way through the new normal digital landscape, where screens are no longer a one dimensional activity and not all screen time is equal.

1. Think ahead

Begin with the end in mind. What is the ultimate destination? To encourage children to feel in charge of technology and use it responsibly, as opposed to technology being in charge of them.

2. Decide the What, Where, When and With whoms...

You need to decide WHAT they can access, WHERE they can use screens, WHEN they can use technology, WITH WHOM they can connect online and WHAT the limits are.


Watch out for the parental guidance certificates and if you think your 6 year old child will have a hard time pulling themselves off Minecraft ( recommended for +8) which because there is no end point, is incredibly compelling, be aware you may have to supervise them and help them learn self regulation.


For homework? Or surf or game? This depends on your family schedule but it’s advised that no screens are accessed during the hour before bedtime as screen-usage interferes with sleep.


Do keep internet-enabled devices in a common place where you can monitor them. And have a DROP ZONE where the devices can stay and recharge when they are not being used. We recommend devices in the drop box at mealtimes and always out of the bedroom at night. Adults too!


It’s all about quality over quantity and you need to decide what’s right for your child, based on his temperament and age and stage of development and what he is using screens for. Work out a plan for your family’s lifestyle, as settling down on a Friday night to have movies and popcorn is a lovely bonding family ritual and no one wants to have to count minutes and turn a film off half way through!

3. Involve your child in the discussion

Don't just impose the rules from on high! Be interested in their views. You will have more influence when you listen to their opinions. Screens have become a vital lifeline for many children and teens to socialize with their friends during lock down

4. Write it down

I guarantee you will forget the rules and by writing them down it de-personalises them. Then you have a contract, with both sides needing to respect and abide by it.

5. Keep it positive

Don’t have ‘DON’T’ rules such as “no mobiles upstairs” or “no gaming after 7pm”. Instead use ‘DO’ rules like “mobiles are used downstairs” and “you can game after homework and before 7pm.”

6. Follow through

Often we start by thinking of what we should do when they mess up! But really we should be deciding what to do when they get it right. Adults rarely notice when children get it right. Do comment when they follow the screen rules. SEE IT, SAY IT. The positive consequence of following the rules is earning the right to use screens again.

7. Model good habits

Be aware that if your own phone is surgically attached to your hip 24/7 and you are making calls at the dinner table and taking your phone to bed, it can be hard for the children to accept your rules. You’re not modelling your own values.

Elaine Halligan is Director of The Parent Practice, an organisation delivering practical solutions to enable parents to bring out the best in their children, and author of a best selling book called ‘My Child’s Different’. www.theparentpractice.com 020 8673 3444


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