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Screen Time on the Holidays

How much is enough?

Jane Ellice Staff Blogger
For those of you who don’t know me, I am the Middle School Counsellor at ATC. Probably more importantly, for the purposes of this article, I am also a mum of two girls 15 and 13, and an 11 year old boy. I am smack bang in the middle of working out how to parent adolescents with regards to screen time – particularly over the holidays…. ‘Don’t think you are going to be spending all day, every day on your phone or PlayStation… is NOT going to happen!!’

Yep, I sound pretty determined and assertive there don’t I? I wasn’t sure how to enact this plan and thus, the idea for this blog was born. I am going to take you on my journey around managing screen time for adolescents, and the plan I used on the holidays.

_(Disclaimer : We have iPhone and a PlayStation at our house, so most of what I talk about will involve these platforms. Also, when I talk anything Apple, I am assuming you have enabled Family Sharing. In my research for this article however, for most things, there are the equivalent options for Android, Xbox, Nintendo etc.

I don’t know about you, but I seem to have a constant little knot of worry about how much screen time is too much? Should I be letting my son play online games – isn’t it really bad? Why do my girls, whose phones seem to be attached to the end of their arms, NEVER EVER answer the phone when I ring? I could go on. The knot never goes away, however I do think I am getting better at managing it, and being open with my children when it comes to their screen time.

In my journey as a parent trying to navigate the digital world with my children, there are a few things I have learned along the way, and you will have to indulge me as I share these with you. Hopefully some scenarios ring true for you and you can take some comfort in knowing you are not alone!

  1. As much as possible, I try to involve myself in their screen life. So for me initially, that involved getting Instagram when my oldest daughter got it. And Snapchat too. I have a confession to make : I still don’t get snapchat. I’ve tried. I’ve had fun with the filters. But, I just don’t get it. I did the same with Fortnite– my problem here is that I can’t make my brain talk to my fingers to work the consoles…..but I actually don’t mind watching while my son plays. I like listening to my son chatting to his mates while they are playing, and the funny things they talk about.
  1. When in doubt, Google it…..(more about that later).
  1. I really try to be less ‘disapproving’ and more ‘open’ to learning about their digital world. I try not to immediately say ‘no’ without at least looking into what my concerns really are. This is a very different world, and yes, it is hard for us to understand, but without really understanding what you are objecting to, it is a sure-fire way to damage your relationship with your teen, or worse, drive them underground. Which leads into…..
  1. There’s real importance to keeping the lines of communication open with your teens. I talk to them. I get them to teach me things (they love this). I try to learn from them and this means they are more likely to come to me if and when there is a problem.
  1. Consider that not all things ‘screen’ are bad and dangerous. There is a lot of good going on in your teens world when it comes to screen time. It is the way they communicate with their friends. It teaches problem solving skills. They have heaps of fun on it. Yes there are risks, but using #4 should enable you to discuss these openly, once you are armed with a bit of knowledge about those risks (#2 and #3 above)
  1. Sometimes your teen genuinely needs you to step up and be the parent and put some limits on their device usage. And if you are able to do that in negotiation with them it should go a lot more smoothly than if you don’t.
  1. Be aware of your own screen time. Are you expecting something of your children that you aren’t prepared to do yourself? A classic one : Do you expect your child to leave his phone alone while at the dinner table, yet you are using yours?

So, how did I come up with the above tips? It has been an interesting journey over the past 5 or so years, with lots of ups and downs. I thought I would share with you some of our more recent highlights and perhaps it might help you feel that you are not alone.


Remember that little knot of worry? It was in full force earlier this year when we decided to let our son get TokTok. One night at the dinner table a month or so after he got it, he started singing a “TikTok” song about an inappropriate topic. Needless to say, when I asked him if he knew what the word he was singing about meant, he didn’t! We decided as a family that TikTok wasn’t such a great idea for his age.

Among Us

As my children so rightly pointed out, seemingly overnight about a month ago, it became The Thing To Do on your phone. Well, what they actually said was “Did you know if you start typing ‘A’ into the search bar on your phone, Among Us is the first thing that comes up – that’s how popular it is.”

I decided to be the ‘cool mum’ and get involved (see point #1 above). It also gives me a bit of cred amongst our Middle School students! Sadly, I couldn’t make my little man move, kept banging into walls and getting nowhere fast and it reminded me of how terrible I was at playing Mario Kart or anything PlayStation really. Strangely, my son and I won the first game and even though I had no idea what I was doing, my kids loved that I got involved. And, bonus, it gave me an insight into what Among Us is and how it works. It also allowed my kids to talk with me about it, which enabled us to talk about any risks involved and how they might manage them.


When Term 4 exam block was looming I felt that my girls needed a bit of help with dragging themselves off a)Netflix (on their computers) and b) their phones, in order to do a bit more study (see tip #6 above). The first thing I did was change our Netflix password. What this means for my family is that they can only have access to it on our family TV. Did you also know that you can restrict content on different profiles on Netflix ?

The second thing I did was to relook at the Screen time feature on the iPhone, that I discovered about a year ago. With one of the latest updates, Screen time has changed. There are now quite a few new features that I am going to walk you through, plus, I’ve included a link at the bottom of the article. Please realise though, that the features of Screen time I am going to talk about really only work if you have Family Sharing enabled, because it allows you to control your children’s phone usage remotely, from your device.


This feature enables you to shut everything down on a phone for a particular time. In discussion with my girls, we chose 4pm-6pm (Monday-Friday). When the phone is in downtime, you can choose what they can still have access to. I chose for them the phone (for emergencies because they never use it for anything else) and in negotiation with the girls, music, email and camera. Two things happened with my 15 year old. Pretty much straight away when she went into Downtime for the first time, there was ‘apparently’ an issue with doing her homework, because she needed to ask her friend for help but she couldn’t use her phone. I suggested she use her laptop and Google it or ask tomorrow, but trust me, I did wonder if was being too mean. Secondly, after about a week, for some reason she did need her phone during Downtime, so I turned it off. The next day I remembered that I’d forgotten to put it back on, and she informed me that she was happy for it to go back on, that she had quite liked having the break from her phone! (See tip #6 above).

App Limits

I set a 2 hour limit for All Apps and Categories. This will come into its own more on weekends and holidays when I will relook at this limit in discussion with the kids. Tip: Make sure you slide the “Block at End of Limit” button to green” or time limit doesn’t seem to work.

Content and Privacy Restrictions

Now, this is where it gets quite cool (and perhaps reduces that little knot of worry a bit). In here you will find CONTENT RESTRICTIONS. This allows me to set their music/news/podcast access to “clean” rather than “explicit”. It allows me to set what rating (PG, M, MA15+ etc) I am happy for them to access for movies and TV shows. It allows me to limit adult websites. If I wanted to, I can turn off their access to searching the web. There is also a spot in there to allow or not allow Explicit language. Then, it allows me to restrict access to any apps that were rated 12+ or over, or 17+ or over. So, I hear you ask…..What happened when I chose 12+ for my son ?
It…..blocked…..YouTube……. Did I know it was going to do that ? No!

Now at the risk of going off on a tangent, my son pretty quickly found a way around this by then going to YouTube on the internet (on his phone) and putting it on his homescreen (see #3 – the underground bit – except that he giggled his way through doing this, telling me he had ‘ruined my evil plan’ to block YouTube). I then countered that move by blocking the YouTube website – you find this in the ‘Web Content/Never Allow’.

In the end, what did I decide do with this ? I think I have a pretty good relationship with my son, and I’d also like to think he is pretty sensible (singing songs about inappropriate topics at the dinner table not withstanding). So while he begged to be allowed access to YouTube, it gave me a great opportunity to talk to him about why I was worried about the access he has to YouTube, which led to an excruciatingly embarrassing (for him) discussion about internet pornography, a topic I’d been avoiding for some time.

There is also a feature where I can choose to allow them to play multiplayer games with their friends only.
Note, this pretty much renders “Among Us” useless unless they can get 10 of their closest friends wanting to play it at the same time. This is where talking to your kids and being prepared to listen to them and negotiate rules around screen time becomes important (tip #3 and #4 above).

So, these highlights plus the cool new features of Screen time on the iPhone, lead me to where we are now. Researching for this blog article and managing screen time on the holidays.

What Did I Plan?

Rather than surprising your kids on the first week of the holidays, it’s good to plan this out and discuss the limits you are going to put in place. I suggested that they think about what they would like those limits to be, and to be prepared to discuss these. I armed myself with ideas for other things they can do when they’ve exhausted their screen time such as board games, cooking, cleaning out cupboards, reading and learning how to touch type. CHECK OUT the free program, Dance Mat Typing and all 3 of my kids can now touch type.

Some other things I’ve learned along the way

- The whole “no screens in the bedroom” is not highly recommended, despite your son telling you otherwise. Most parents I know do enforce this rule.
- You can set time limits on gaming consoles and I used this website to research how.
- Nothing to do with kids, but while playing around with Screen time, I discovered the useful iPhone feature Do Not Disturb While Driving (it can be found in Settings – Do Not Disturb). This is great if you have a learner driver.
- To keep up to date with the issues surrounding kids and the internet, I follow two very good pages on Facebook. You might like to check them out – ThinkUKnow Australia led by the Australian Federal Police and Susan McLean – Cyber Safety Expert.

Helpful Websites

How to set downtime on iPhone and ipads
Remember that sneaky little trick of my son’s when he got around me blocking YouTube?
A great article on the options for both Apple and Android users on parental control apps.
The best parental control options for 2020
Qustodio is another option for Android users (and Apple users too), and the App that the College recommends.


Please check out ATC SCHOOL TV, an online resource full of credible and sound information with realistic, practical ongoing support strategies for our parents. CLICK HERE or go to the ATC App Parent Links. The “Cyber Safety” and “Positive Parenting Series” are fabulous. If you need to reach out, please don't hesitate to contact me.

See you in Term 1!