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Managing Screentime Throughout the Years

Martine Oglethorpe from The Modern Parent is an expert in online safety and has written her top tips in a comprehensive guide for parents to help with managing screentime for children of any age.

A video introduction by Martine Oglethorpe.

There is no doubt the experiences of the last couple of years have culminated in a far greater uptake of screentime and online activities for our young people. Along with an increased amount of time tethered to a device, we have also seen greater exposure to more sites, apps and social networks at an earlier age. In an attempt to fill the voids imposed by remote learning, restrictions and lockdowns, young people turned to technology to continue to learn, remain connected, informed and entertained. This has left many parents and carers now feeling the negative effects of this reliance on technology and thus a desire to wean back some of that screentime and reclaim a greater sense of balance for their young people.

Whilst the impacts of these times may well vary across the different age groups, parents and carers can certainly continue to play a role in helping to support the healthy use of screens by implementing a range of boundaries, critical thinking, habit forming behaviours and relevant conversation to reassess the role that technology plays within their families.

Younger Children: Preschool to Early Primary

Video: Martine Oglethorpe speaking about younger children.

For younger children, it is still imperative that parents/carers are the ones making the decisions around their screentime. Both in terms of what they are doing on the screens and how much time they spend online. Young children have not developed the cognitive ability to be able to manage their time, to manage complex interactions, nor have they the understanding of what content is appropriate for them. So, their parents and carers must be taking on that role.

  • Keep screentime activities to shorter bursts of time. One episode of a show, for example, whereby you can give them concrete end points to their time online.
  • Stick with curated content such as ABC kids, Nick Jnr, Foxtel Kids, etc. whereby all of the content is specifically made for young people and their level of development. Whilst YouTube Kids is a better option than YouTube, it is also important to note that some things still fall through the cracks and are not always curated with the same level of discernment.
  • With apps and games, make sure you have played the game or read a review to determine the suitability for your child’s age and stage of development. Tip: can be a great resource for this.
  • Use the privacy settings available. Every game and app have a settings section where you can make it as safe as possible. Of course, for those of a young age, parental involvement is always going to be the best way to not only ensure your young person stays safe, but to help guide and nurture the best online habits and experiences.
  • Give them some clear warnings around time limits and finishing up on the screen. E.g. one more game, one more episode of a show, etc.
  • Have another activity ready for them to go on with. That way they can see that the technology is not being taken away as a punishment, but merely to ensure they have time and attention to devote to all of the other activities that are important to their day.


For these younger ages therefore, the main communication needs to be around the premise that whilst the devices and screens may certainly play a role in their lives, they are just one of the many ways that young people have at their disposal to learn, to develop, to be entertained and to connect and their safety is always a priority.

If a young person has started with some solid boundaries around technology use, it is a lot easier to manage the transitions and help them better regulate their behaviours themselves as they get older.

Middle Years: Upper Primary School to Tweens

Video: Martine Oglethorpe speaking about the middle years.

This age group has also had a huge increase in screentime due to increased time with remote learning, with many taking up some forms of messaging platforms and social media at much earlier ages due to the need to remain connected to their friends. Whilst a sense of belonging and connection was hugely important, the by-product of that is a far greater immersion in some of those social networks that happened at earlier ages and without as much guidance or teaching. Whilst it may feel for many therefore that “the horse has bolted” so to speak, and it is now hard to take back that time and access to those platforms, there are still things we can do to help those young people manage their time and online experiences.

  • Have discussions around the critical thinking they will need. Inquire about how they are using the technology to communicate. Are they enjoying positive interactions with friends? Do they know the difference between friends and followers? Do they know how to leave a group chat that suddenly starts talking in mean ways about another person? Do they know how to abort a conversation that is damaging to themselves, their wellbeing or their digital footprint? Do they know ways to determine if the person they think they are talking to online is exactly that person?
  • Remember that ‘not everyone’ has the latest app, social network or MA rated game. You still get to make the decisions around what is appropriate in your household based on the values that are important to you.
  • Play the games, read the reviews and have a play on the social networks they are using or want to use, so you are in the best position to decide if you believe that is something they are ready for and can manage.
  • Nurture those extracurricular activities that keep them connected to others and spending time engaging in activities that get the body moving and the brain thinking in other creative ways.
  • Wean a little at a time. Many are certainly finding it harder to re-engage kids in activities they did before as they have built up habits of getting more of their needs from a screen. We need to continue to encourage all of the other activities they need, and little by little (rather than any big drastic changes) we can gradually increase some of that time away from the screens.


Communication for this age group is all about the reason why we need to maintain some boundaries around screen use. Being honest around the increased role that technology played during recent times, but the need for us to reverse some of those habits now that times are changing again. Having discussions around the things technology could replace as opposed to the things it couldn’t replace can be a good place to start. This helps reinforce the benefits of face-to-face interactions, fresh air, healthy pursuits, downtime away from the constant distractions, pings, noise and time for the mind to be left to wander, be curious and think independently and creatively.

Teenage Years and Beyond

Video: Martine Oglethorpe speaking about teenagers.

Teenagers have also experienced greater reliance on technology as they were forced to work, learn and connect in online environments. Once again, they need to be able to manage the use of technology in ways that keeps them mentally and physically well and healthy.

  • Talk to them about scrolling mindfully. What are they feeling once they finish scrolling their feeds? Who are they allowing to make judgements on themselves? Whose opinions and voices are they listening to? Who are they following, what are they reading, watching, engaging in, etc.?
  • What impact is their time online having on the rest of their lives? And where is their precious time and most importantly emotional energy, being spent.
  • Are they managing the distractions posed by a connected device that is constantly pinging, beeping, alerting, ringing and vying for attention, despite the knowledge of the difficulties posed by multitasking and the hijacking of one’s brain away from the tasks at hand. Or do they need to take some steps to reduce the distractions, turn off the notifications and learn to have quality focus time on work or homework at hand.
  • Are they also getting the balance in their lives to participate in all the activities to maintain mental health and physical wellbeing?


For our older teenagers and young adults, our conversations can turn to a greater reliance on the self and the need to reflect on the role that technology plays in one’s life.

For Everyone

There is no doubt that there are some universal understandings of the digital world that we all need to nurture in order to thrive both online and off. So, for all of us, we need to endeavour to have:

  • No devices at mealtimes
  • No devices an hour before bed
  • Plenty of fresh air and exercise
  • Plenty of face-to-face interaction with friends and family


These are the backbones of good development and healthy lifestyles. Good sleep, nutrition, supportive and nurturing relationships, moving the body and getting out into nature. Make those things a priority and the time online will continue to be just one aspect of their daily living that is incorporated with safety, balance and wellbeing at the core.

Martine Oglethorpe is a Digital Wellbeing and Online Safety Educator, Speaker and Author. She has a background in teaching and a Master of Counselling and is a mother to 5 boys. She presents regularly to schools, parents, students and workplaces on healthy ways to navigate the digital world. She has recently released her new book The Modern Parent: Raising a Great Kid in the Digital World, available from Amazon and on her website

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