Digital Parenting: The Inside Scoop on Screen Limits for Tweens

Digital Parenting: The Inside Scoop on Screen Limits for Tweens

E-safety consultant Elizabeth Milovidov shares advice on keeping kids safe and parents sane in the digital age.

tween screen limits
© Tatiana Gladskilkh/Shutterstock

If you are reading this article, it’s because you are the proud parent of a child — a child born in the digital age, while you, however, were not. This series is intended to provide you with straightforward tips on bringing your offline parenting skills online with a limited amount of fuss and whine.

In Part 1 of this series, I shared how insiders in the eSafety industry deal with their own children, the rules that they set and a listing of best practices for digital parents of children aged 0-8. As I sat down to start writing Part 2, originally destined for parents of children 9-17, a good friend of mine, Rachel Lankester, (founder of The Mutton Club for UK women over 45) said “Whoa, whoa. I’m a mother and stepmother to teenagers and they deserve an entire book!”

I immediately took what she said to heart, and while I’m not writing a book yet, I am more than happy to split this article into two. I promise I won’t split the teenager article up, but I may do an eventual piece on gender differences in Internet use as boys and girls demonstrate different media preferences and habits. A teaser for things to come.

© Veroncia Louro/Shutterstock
© Veroncia Louro/Shutterstock

This Part 2 is dedicated to parents of tweens (children aged 9-12), while Part 3 will be for those courageous parents of teenagers. Because it’s clear: the issues for teenagers are quite different than those for tweens, because of sexuality, maturity, independence and a whole myriad of reasons that we will cover in Part 3.

But for now, let’s focus on our adorable, technology-loving tweens.

Best Practices for Digital Parents of Youngsters aged 9-12

Digital savvy ≠ mature Internet user

  • Your tween’s lack of maturity coupled with no real life experiences means that they may not be prepared for all that the Internet has to offer. And while your tween may be different, your parental guidance is still warranted at this age.
  • There is a reason that most social media sites have an entry age of 13. It’s because your tweens are too young to be exposed to the site. If you’re having difficulty explaining these limits to your tweens, read this article on why social media age restrictions matter by Diana Graber. Your tween may be comfortable clicking around the net, but don’t accept that technical competence as a sign that they can use Internet freely and well. Ask them to explain a URL or how to perform other searches rather than a Google search or how to find primary sources in Wikipedia.
screen limits
© Asufe/Shutterstock

Screen time

  • Common Sense Media surveyed 2658 teens and tweens regarding their media habits and found that tweens aged 8-12 are spending 4.5 hours per day using screens for NON SCHOOL purposes.
  • And for those parents who argue that your tweens are creating art, music and journaling whenever they are at the computer or on a tablet, well, think again. The same Common Sense Media survey showed that teens and tweens spend less than 10 minutes a day making stuff.
  • Understand what are signs of too much screen time and even addiction.
  • Try to offer non-tech time and activities for your tweens. I know that it is difficult as “everyone is online Mom,” but stay vigilant and keep proposing alternatives. Need some ideas? Check out Becoming Minimalist or even WebMD for ways to reduce screen time for young people.
© Ollyy/Shutterstock
© Ollyy/Shutterstock

Encourage reading

  • Despite all that screen time (and don’t forget that it also includes TV as a top media activity), reading was ranked as second most popular activity by tweens. Whew! All is not lost.
  • One of my favorite go-to’s to help inspire my children to become lifelong readers is Brightly, owned by Penguin Random House, which provides reading tips and advice for different age groups, including our fabulous tweens.

Computer in family places

  • I really do like to encourage families to place computers (and all wifi enabled devices) in more family-centered locations, so that parents can check in on their kids and also notice how much time they’re spending online.
  • Removing electronics from bedrooms may improve sleep and also reduce the feeling of intimacy that a young person may have when all alone in their room chatting with a friend or stranger. You see where I’m going with that one, right?
  • But the reality is that your children may also go on tablets or gaming consoles or any other wifi enabled device when they are at a friend’s house, on a sleep over or just hanging out in a café. (Even McDonald’s has open wifi).
  • The better rule of thumb instead of “computer in family places” is “communicate in family places.” Talk to your children. I know I said it before, but talk to your tweens about their technology experience and maintain those communication channels.
© David Pereiras/Shutterstock
© David Pereiras/Shutterstock

No Multitasking

  • Even though your tween is a superhero and may be able to do many things at the same time, be sure to reduce mobile device usage on activities that require full attention like walking or doing homework: “As soon as your brain has to do novel things that involve much more processing and sustained attention, multitasking will undermine performance,” says Timothy A. Pychyl, director of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University.

A word about cell phones

Safe tech and safe sex talk

  • Nope, I really don’t want to think that tweens are talking about sex, much less sexting (the sending and receiving of sexually explicit emails or photo messages using a smartphone). But the reality is that they are.
  • Even if you feel reticent to have that safe tech talk with your child, let me share some facts that might encourage you to put your game face on and go have that talk: sexting tweens are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior (USC survey); sexting tweens do not understand consequences such as bullying, blackmailing, photo going viral (Chicago parent); sexting tweens do not understand criminal consequences of sharing ‘child pornography.’ (LawStreet Media)
  • Our tweens need education in this area, and as a parent, you can step up to the plate and begin that safe tech talk.

Okay, digital parent, I know that that was a lot of information and I did limit what I could share with a reasonable word count. But stop hyperventilating and get in the game. You are forewarned and definitely forearmed.


Tips for Parents of Kids 0-8: Digital Parenting: The Inside Scoop on Screen Limits for Children (Part 1)

Tips for Parents of Teenagers: Digital Parenting: The Inside Scoop on Screen Limits for Teens (Part 3)

Elizabeth is an international speaker on Internet safety issues, leads parental workshops, writes on digital parenting, and coaches parents on best practices in the digital age. She is a consultant for the Council of Europe, Microsoft, UNICEF, Family Online Safety Institute, and e-Enfance, as well as a contributor to Internet Matters, UK Safer Internet Centre, and many other key actors in online child protection. She has several guides and workbooks on parenting in the digital age available on Amazon and she co-wrote several publications for the Council of Europe, including the Internet Literacy Handbook and the Digital Citizenship Education Handbook.


  1. What a fantastic article for digital dinosaur parents and their digital native kids. It’s a minefield out there! Thank goodness for people like Elizabeth to help us steer a way through. It is so up to parents to be proactive when it comes to their children’s digital safety. Can we see the teen version soon please?!

  2. Elizabeth rocks! Her articles are always very well written. I like that she makes everything sound less scary and less intimidating. Really looking forward to the article about teens…..and then her book!

  3. Thanks for these tips and reminders! So many parents are not keeping an eye on what their tweens are watching on those screens. It does get harder to control as they get older. It’s tough when they come home saying “but so and so has a PC in their bedroom”. But I still believe they’re still too young for that! Some teachers of 9 and 10 year olds at our children’s previous school were complaining that some kids are staying up so late on their computers (after parents go to bed) that they are falling asleep in class.


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