Screentime rules and internet safety

There’s no one set of rules for screentime that are right for every family. Only you can judge how much screen time is suitable for your family and you mustn’t let other peoples rules dictate your own. Use rules as a means to reduce arguments and upset – if everyone knows what the expectations are and they are adhered to much as possible then it should help. And don’t forget, screentime can be great fun! Joining in a game with your child could be a great way to connect with them and have some fun on their terms.

Setting rules

Setting rules doesn’t need to be about strict time limits and it isn’t necessarily appropriate, for example you wouldn’t expect differently aged children to abide by the same time limits. However, there may be some areas you might like to consider applying some rules to:

  • Specific times of the day when screentime is allowed, such as after homework is completed or after an activity or a mealtime at the weekends or holidays. Whatever you think works for you, mealtimes can be a useful natural break in the day to use as a start or end to screentimes.
  • Equally, times or places when screens are off limits such as during mealtimes or at the dinner table or no phones or tablets in bedrooms overnight.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when thinking about setting up your screen time rules.

  1. Stick to the rules Rule number one – stick to the rules! Breaking the rules you set is confusing and allows room for arguments in the future. Make sure your rules are reasonable and realistic before you set them out to prevent needing to change them. Of course, there will be times when the rules need changing or adapting; holidays, as children get older, lockdowns etc. But try to discuss these and agree them beforehand and not at the time to avoid ongoing arguments.
  2. Be clear Set rules that are simple and clear. Write them out and put them somewhere everyone can see. Go through the rules with your child and let them know when they will start.
  3. If this, then that If you expect homework or chores to be completed first, make it very clear what the expectations are. ‘If you do your maths homework, then you can have half an hour on your tablet’. Consistency is the name of the game and will help to create good habits.
  4. Give warnings Don’t just pull the plug without warning half way through a game, that’s likely to cause outbursts and unfinished or incomplete games can really bother a child with ADHD. Give plenty of warnings that time is nearly up. Try to be consistent in your warnings – 10 minutes and 3 minutes for instance. If they only need a few more minutes to finish a game then consider allowing that, an incomplete game may cause more stress. Using a timer is another good way to help them see how much time they have been on a game. Children may feel like hours go past in minutes.
  5. Set an example. Although adults can’t be expected to adhere to the same rules as their children, scrolling through Twitter during a family movie session or at the dinner table isn’t ideal. Try to at least stick to the spirit of the rules you set for your child.
  6. Have something to do next. Having an activity for children to move onto rather than just ending what they are doing will help them to not spiral in behaviour. For those that are likely going to need some sensory input, 10 minutes on the trampoline or taking the dog for a walk are ideal activities to move on to. Maybe mealtime or bathtime works as a next activity. You know your child best and what type of activity will work for them when they come off the screens, whatever it is have it ready to go.

Internet safety

When thinking about ground rules for screentime it’s important to also think about internet safety, here’s a few pointers to get you started.

Ground Rules for internet use
  • Linked adult and child phones is a really useful tool and can be used to set time limits on apps and times when the phone or tablet turns itself off – downtime. It can also allow you to see how much time is spent on each app.
  • Consider what should be kept private online (personal information, photos etc) and decide rules for making and meeting online friends. Establish clear rules about acceptable language use. Overuse and consistent exposure to crude and derogatory words can desensitize children to the full impact these comments might have on others. 
  • Think about if you know what your child is doing online in the same way that you do offline. 
Online Safety
  • You can install antivirus software to protect your computers from any unwanted or accidental downloads. Oftern, home hubs come with Parental Control functions allowing you to set access times to the interent for specifc devices so you can be sure kids can’t get online when you don’t want them to and also block unsuitable or age restricted content. 
  • Remember that parental control tools are not always 100% effective and sometimes unsuitable content can get past them.
  • You may want to locate your family computer in a supervised family area so you can keep an eye on what your kids doing. Try to be aware of the use of webcams in applications which allow voice or video chat – kids may not be aware that they are on or an app has be given permission to access the camera or mic.
  • Removing electronic devices such as phones and tablets from bedrooms at night will prevent the temptation to sneak onto them during the night. Consider if you want to place your child’s games console in their room, research has shown they will be used significantly more.
  • Talk to your child and ask them to show or even teach you how they use the internet, learn which websites or tools they like to use and why. Learning together can often open opportunities to discuss safe behaviour with your child.
  • Always ensure your child knows how to block or report people online who send mean or inappropriate messages or content. Encourage your child not to retaliate or reply.
  • Make sure your child knows to tell an adult they trust if they see something online that makes them feel scared, worried or uncomfortable.
  • It’s essential to be realistic – banning or restricting the internet or technology in an effort to protect your child may not work and can make a child less likely to report a problem. Education around safe use may be more helpful.

Websites for more information:

Brush up your knowledge about apps, internet safety and how online games work, especially in respect to the potential of interacting with other people online. Find out more by having a look through some of the websites listed below.

Internet Matters 

A not-for-profit organisation to empower parents and carers to keep children safe in the digital world.

Think U Know 

UK organisation with child and parent sections which offers advice to help keep children safe online and how to deal with internet based problems.


The NSPCC has this page with tools and advice for how to keep families safe.

Childnet International

A non-profit organisation working with others to help make the internet a great and safe place for children.

BBC Own It 

Aimed at children, the BBC Own It app is a new, free app designed to support, help and advise children when they use their phones to chat and explore the online world.

Setting up screen time limits on devices

Google for Andriod devices

Apple devices