Practical Tips for Tackling Screen Time in Teens: ParenTalks

How much is too much? 
Why does quality often also matter over quantity? 
Am I worrying too much? 
When should I consider getting help for my child, and where?

Some or all of these questions often race through the minds of parents today when it comes to the subject of screen time and online games, and their children.

"Managing screen time is really about creating a media plan," says Dr. Sheri Madigan, Clinical Psychologist and Canada Research Chair in the Determinants of Child Development at the University of Calgary --- one of three panelists featured in the third presentation of ParenTalks at St. Michael's' College School (SMCS) this academic year.

Citing national guidelines along with research conducted by her own lab, Dr. Madigan says crafting a family media plan should ask fundamental questions, including, "where you are going to use screens, how often you're going to use screens, who is going to use screens, what type of screen you're going to use."

Dr. Madigan, along with Dr. Mark Broussenko '07, Family Physician and Hospitalist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), and John Connelly, Director of Student Affairs at SMCS rounded out the webinar panel.

SMCS ParenTalks panellists talk about screen time and gaming in teens

Here are some of the highlights from the live webinar event:


"What we've found in our research is one of the strongest predictors of children's screen duration is how often parents are on screens. So we play a big role in that. So really it's about modelling healthy device habits ourselves -- that means prioritizing device-free time, taking our phones putting them away at the end of the day, connecting at the dinner table. We need to model that as parents."

"We know screen time in large doses is not optimal for children, but if we can moderate the dose and make it high-quality in some way by either making it educational or a cooperative video game, it does not seem to have the same impact on children's outcomes."


"If you're worried about your child, the best thing to do is to take a step back and say comprehensively, how well is my child doing?"

"One of the earliest, day one, principles of basically any behavioural change program is encouraging people to have agency and empowering them to both control their emotions and then also take reign of their motivations. If you frame problematic screen use as I don't want you to do this because I say so, it's really hard to get buy-in. But if you take the opportunity to empower especially older boys and empower them to take charge of how are you being marketed to, how is your behaviour being controlled, why are you being incentivized in this way and do you want to be incentivized in this way. Do you want to live for the latest update and the latest message?"


"The student voice has to be present in any conversation that's going to be meaningful and impact the life of that student."

"Our boys, and I think students generally are instinctively curious. They like to know how things work, they like to take things apart. When you ask and you give them the lexicon, the tools to interrogate critically what they're consuming and how it works and how they are being incentivized and what's being monetized, they eat that up. They love that conversation."

The webinar also addressed the following topics:

  • Guidelines for screen time
  • The social-emotional benefits of video game use
  • Links between sleep, physical activity, and screen time
  • Persuasive Design 
  • Identifying gaming addiction

Some of the resources suggested during the webinar discussion include:

Watch past episodes and learn more about ParenTalks