Children today spend nearly nine hours using their phones, tablets, computers, or watching TV, not including the screen time they spend for homework and school. Considering the average child’s lengthy screen time, there’s practically no time for other things, such as exercising, socializing, and sleeping. 

It is generally recommended children under 18 sleep roughly eight to twelve hours a day. But with up to nine hours of screen time daily, children hardly have time to sleep properly. Also, the blue light from screens affects our ability to fall asleep, with children being particularly vulnerable to this. 

It’s important to monitor your child’s screen time so they can prioritize other activities, including their sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics finds that up to 40 percent of children have sleep problems, and children under 5 simply don’t sleep enough. Needless to say, sleep plays an important role in your child’s behavior, mood, memory retention, and attention span. 

Without enough sleep, your child’s behavior may mimic ADHD symptoms, with them being hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive. Similarly sleeping badly during early childhood is connected to anxiety, depression, a weak immune system, rhinitis, and cardiovascular issues. Sleeping badly can also diminish a child’s academic performance over time.

Encourage your child to sleep more by improving their sleep hygiene. A consistent bedtime and sleep routine will help your child wind down for the evening and prepare to sleep. 

A good bedtime routine may include your child showering, brushing their teeth, and reading a book together. It’s less about the exact routine and more about teaching your child to get tired at a certain time so they fall asleep easier. 

It’s crucial to turn all screens off at least one hour before bed to help your child get sleepy. Keeping your child’s bedroom free of any electronics will teach them to associate their room with going to sleep. A 2019 study found that children who kept TVs in their bedrooms had significantly shorter sleep durations than children without TVs. 

Ways to help your child sleep more are by getting them a suitable mattress, keeping their room dark and cool, and limiting how many liquids they drink before bed.


Here are the four core things needed for any successful plan in a Tech Diet


Put simply, you need the ability to turn the internet or Wi-Fi connection on and off. This will allow you to reframe THE INTERNET AS A REWARD, NOT A RIGHT. I know this is easier said than done.

If we can reframe the internet as a reward and not a right, then it becomes every parent’s most powerful bargaining chip. Gone are the days of pocket money being a tangible reward. Internet trumps this every time.


You could try not physically taking the devices, but establishing rules early on that they’re not to be used in the bedroom. No teenager will welcome this change, but if you establish it early on – during primary school – you have a much more solid base to work from.

Turning the internet off remotely – even if you’re in the house – is far less confrontational than entering into a tug-of-war with a device.





  • You need to possess something the other party wants
  • They must walk away feeling like they’ve won

Cold turkey doesn’t work, there is one exception: if your teenager is not willing to come to the negotiating table, the internet remains off. It’s the only bargaining chip you have. No plan is not an option. Teenagers remain resolute for days or weeks without coming to the table, but 99 per cent will crack because you have something they want. 

Parents, you need to channel your inner salesperson when at the negotiating table. If you think a reasonable amount of time is 3 hours per school night and 4 hours per weekend day, don’t start with that figure. Now, implement Negotiating Rule #2: when negotiating with a teenager, they must walk away feeling like they’ve won. So start the bidding low, and I mean really low.

Get your teenager to write up their daily schedule. A realistic starting point is what time they go to bed – or what time their parents want them to go to bed – and what time they wake up. Even the most oppositional teenager will struggle to argue they need at least 8 to 9 hours sleep per night. Of course, the research indicates 9 to 10 hours is more appropriate but when you’re at war with a tech-crazy teenager, I’ll take anything over 8 hours. Then I start plugging in their other commitments with them: school, sport, homework, shower, dinner, etc.

7 am: Wake up
7.45 am: Leave for school
8 am: School
3.30 pm: Sport training
5.30 pm: Arrive home
5.30-9 pm: Homework? Dinner? Leisure time?
9 pm: Shower
9.30 pm: Bed

So in this example you’re left with 3 hours and 30 minutes to play with. You then need to negotiate how much time dinner will take (30 minutes at least?) and homework (30 to 90 minutes dependent on their age). What’s left is the maximum amount of internet time that’s physically possible. It’s typically something like 1 to 3 hours per night. Substantially different from the original demand: ‘If I don’t get 6 hours a day you’re the worst parent ever!’

What I do ask is that parents take that agreed final amount of ‘free internet time’ and stick to it. So if the exercise highlights free time between 6.30 pm and 8.30 pm (2 hours) then the Wi-Fi gets turned on for that period only.

Note: This exercise needs to be done for three different scenarios:

  1. ​School nights
  2. ​Weekends
  3. ​Holidays

I usually recommend you start with school nights as that’s typically the time screens and gaming are causing the most conflict. You can then use this as a logical benchmark to negotiate the other days.

Do validate that they deserve some downtime on the weekends and holidays, and you’ll end up with something like 3 to 4 hours per day on those days.



When I say 2 hours, I mean 2 hours. TOTAL. (Or whatever the right number might be for your family.) Internet on, internet off. That time includes homework, social media, gaming, YouTube, Netflix, whatever. I don’t care what it is. This is not designed to be a trick for teenagers. I tell them straight up. And you need to make sure they know that while negotiating the total amount.

The reason I wrap all internet use into one chunk of daily time is so that it’s objective to measure, and it reduces debate.

Have you ever had a fight start something like this? Teen: ‘That’s not fair, I wasn’t really gaming, I was doing research for a history assignment – that doesn’t count!’ It can be draining for parents to constantly debate the grey. The Tech Diet aims to remove as much grey as possible.


When your teenager claims she needs 2 hours of internet per night for school work, I want you to contact their Year Coordinator, House Master or appropriate person at school and ask, ‘Hey, Mr Smith, Alison says she needs 2 hours of internet per night for school work, what do you think an average Year 10 student needs per night in order to complete the work?’ (They usually reply something like 20 to 60 minutes of internet for homework per night.)

The total amount of internet use per day you negotiate with your teenager will include homework and assignments.

Sending the teachers a friendly email to explain what you’re doing at home, and that you would encourage any feedback about incomplete work, will be an added layer of protection.

Make no mistake, work will be missed in the short term. 


In the following example, the teenager’s parents were concerned that their son was growing apart from his friends, not exercising and was becoming aggressive in the home more often, so they made their demands explicit. You need to do the same.. If you’re at the point of having a plan that’s agreed by all, it might look something like this for a teenager:

7 am: Wake up
7.30 am: Leave for school
8.30 am: School
3.30 pm: Sport training
5.30 pm: Arrive home5
.30-6.30 pm: Homework
6.30 pm: Dinner
7-9 pm: Internet
9 pm: Shower
9.30 pm: Bed

No physical aggression
Must go to sport
Do homework first
If I don’t do these, I’ll lose 30 mins of my internet time.
Maximum penalty: 24 hours

You need to relay to your teenager that you’ll be taking time off for any physical aggression in the house – hitting, kicking, punching, pushing, etc. – that they can understand.

EXAMPLE:  The Wi-Fi password for today can be unlocked by sending a photo of your clean room to me. The photo needs to include your swimming trophy (to stop you from re-using an older photo). Thank you for playing. May the odds always be in your favour. Love, Mum 

Now, develop some objective rules that you as parents want to see in order for your teenager to get their time. I typically ask parents not to pick any more than three. You can’t tackle everything; pick your most important three.

Have you ever had a fight with your teenager that got so heated and out of control that you banned them from one or all of their devices for weeks or months? Are they really learning the lesson once we get in that territory?

The 24 hour rule is in place because a teenager with nothing to lose is a dangerous teenager.

The 24-hour rule (or 48 hours for those parents who just can’t bring themselves to be that lenient) is a guarantee to your teenager that no matter how heated things get, you’ll all wake up tomorrow and start again.


if parents give their child or teenager a mobile plan with zero data, their kids will be pretty unhappy. And rightfully so. Most teenagers communicate through social media messaging.

 A teenager with a mobile data plan that allows them 10, 20, 30GB+ will find that using the home Wi-Fi as a reward is a complete waste of time. It undermines the entire plan as your child will weigh up, ‘Should I do what Mum is asking? Ahhh whatever, I’ll cop the consequence and just watch YouTube on my phone.’

Use apps like screen time as an add on or supplementary strategy to your overall Unplugged plan.

They should not be the only thing you use

Remember: Your best course of action is to find a mobile phone plan that gives your child very limited data, so you can control the Wi-Fi.


I’ll tell you what happens if you pull out any template forms during this negotiation – you’ll lose your teenager, instantly. They typically interpret that as a set-up.

Children and teenagers twill try to argue any grey space, unclear terms and everything in between at any chance they get.

It has to be written down and locked in.

It should feel more like a brainstorming session than a legal meeting. Let me clarify that. ​YOU want to end up with a legal document scribbled on the board in terminology that’s very objective

It’s either done or it’s not.
It’s either that time or it’s not. ​

The trick is to keep it casual enough that your child doesn’t feel they’re being set up.

Once you have an agreement, take a photo on your smartphone or tablet (see, I knew they were good for something!) and then text or email it to your teenager. It’s a record of everyone agreeing and is far better than putting that piece of paper on the fridge for your child to rip down during the first meltdown.

Again, do this in a casual way. Something like this:

‘Hey, Mike, I’m going to take a quick picture of that, and I’ll send it to you and Dad so we all remember. That way you can remind Dad of what Wi-Fi time you’re allowed so he doesn’t short-change you.’

Don’t write lengthy notes on your phone or palm cards and pull them out halfway through making the plan. This is not a business meeting. That’s a quick-fire way to ensure your child goes from healthy negotiation to ‘the world is against me’.

If you don’t feel confident that you’ll be able to stay on track, complete this Get Your Game Face On worksheet as a first step. PARENTS ONLY TO COMPLETE

Write in your preferred answer for each of the first four questions, then go back and put in brackets your bottom line. The point you will just not be able to live with if it goes past that. For example, if your ideal bedtime is 9 pm on a school night, but you could live with it being 9.30 pm, that’s your bottom line. If you agree to 10.30 pm you’ll have steam coming out of your ears and it just won’t sit right as a parent. Don’t agree to anything that’s fundamentally past your bottom line.

1.​How many hours would we ideally like our child to be online during a school night?
Preferred answer:______ [Bottom line:______]
2.​What is the ideal bedtime on a school night?
Preferred answer:______ [Bottom line:______]
3.​How many hours would we ideally like our child to be online during a weekend?
Preferred answer:______ [Bottom line:______]
4.What is the ideal bedtime on a weekend?
Preferred answer:______ [Bottom line:______]
5.​What’s our price? What are the three things we would like to see improve?

  1. ___________________________
  2. ___________________________
  3. ___________________________

(Remember to write tangible behaviours, not just ‘respect’ or ‘better attitude’.)

If you and your partner fundamentally disagree with each other’s views on these answers, don’t proceed. ​You both need time to think it over and get on the same page.

You should not even attempt to discuss this with a teenager if you can’t come to an agreement first. (Kids have a field day at the negotiating table with two parents who can’t agree with each other.)

How long should a contract last? ​Until they’re 18 years old? ​Or have repaid me all the money they owe? The time frame should be clearly written on the plan. If you get this part right, it can be your best friend. Get it wrong and it’s your worst enemy. If it’s too short a period, you’ll be worn down by the endless re-negotiating. Too long and you may have locked yourself into an element that’s clearly not working.

Depending on when the plan is made, that will likely be somewhere between 1 and 3 months. This is done for a few reasons:

  1. ​It’s easier for teenagers to agree to something that’s seen as a trial. Now, if it’s successful, you’ll push hard and perhaps pull rank to implement it in the longer term., citing all the great ways it has helped.
  2. If it’s not successful it gives your teenager an opportunity to be heard again and an opportunity for you to tweak the rules.
  3. The most important reason to have time limited reviews is that most kids will inisist on some smaller points that you know full well are not going to work. If this becomes an impasse at th negotiation phase, you may choose to agree to that part for a short period, and if they can’t manae that, it will be changed in the next plan

Telling a teenager they MUST get extra tutoring rarely has them skipping along, with maths book in hand. Ask the teenager what their plan is to improve in that area. They’ll give some vague rhetoric like “I just need to work harder. I don’t need a tutor. I can do the work myself every Saturday”. Negotiate a period for the teenager to try their plan and set a goal for the next test. If they don’t reach that goal, we tell the teen that will then result in trying mum and dad’s plan of hiring a tutor once a week.  We all know the teenager’s vague plan is unlikely to work. But the longer we argue that in theory the more conflict we create. In most circumstances it is easier to put deadlines and boundaries around that plan and have them test it out. They’re usually much more willing to try the alternate plan if they feel they had a crack at their own first.

PARENTS MUST HONOUR THE CONTRACT OR PLAN JUST AS WE ARE EXPECTING A CHILD OR TEENAGER TO DO. There can be no room for double standards. You’re the parents and shouldn’t feel this is a straight forward democracy, but you should only pull rank if it’s absolutely necessary.

Pulling rank works only so many times before you have a full blown rebellion on your hands.

Concede some small parts when negotiating and locking in a plan. If you have the major things covered and you find yourself bending on some small things, that’s better than having no deal at all. This is precisely why the “Get your Game Face On worksheet” asks you about your ideal numbers, and then your bottom line. 

Set up a clear goal as a side note to the plan

It looks something like this:
10.30 pm bedtime (Wi Fi off) but will be reviewed at end of school term.
If school records indicate late more than three times this year, it will revert to 10 pm next term.

(anytime you can link a goal or behaviour to something that’s judged by an external person, it limits the need for conflict in the family) Think of it as outsourcing.


It’s easier to come up with a holiday plan if you have an existing plan in place for school days. It allows for a logical starting point. When negotiating a school holiday plan, consider the general balance. If they have a week away camping, you may validate and agree to an extra hour er day for the week they’re back.