In this episode: A parent has noticed positive results from limiting her daughter’s TV time, and now she wants to remove all screens from her daily routine. “I’d really love some advice on how to go about this,” she writes, “and what to say when explaining why this change is happening.”
Transcript of “Not Easy to Cut Off Screen Time”
Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Today, I’m responding to an email from a parent who has recently seen some positive results from removing electronics from her three-year-old’s bedtime routine. And now, she wants to see if she can make all the screens disappear from her daughter’s daily routine, but she’s wondering how to help her through this transition.
Here’s the email I received:
“Janet, thank you for everything you say. My daughter is nearly three and very into electronics. I won’t lie here. It’s our fault. Since she was less than a year, the TV has been a constant foreground and background entertainer. Somehow, we allowed an iPad to become a part of her daily routine and I’m only now really starting to understand how disruptive these devices can be. We have started turning off the TV after 5:00 p.m. and already noticed a difference in her sleep, evening mood, readiness for bedtime, etc.
But during the day, it is a real struggle. She asks for her iPad all the time, especially when she’s feeling overwhelmed or needing a break from what she’s doing. Does that make sense? I’d like to take it away cold turkey, but I’m not sure how to help her through the transition. I’d really love some advice on how to go about this and what to say when explaining why this change is happening. Thank you so much.”
Okay, so this kind of change for our child needs to be approached like any limit that we would set. And that means, number one, we have to be very confident that we’re making the right decision, that what we’re doing is the most loving thing for our child. If we have any doubts around that, it’s going to be much harder for our children to adapt to these changes. That’s step one, which in this case, might be understanding that the way this little girl is using the electronics is actually not that healthy…
She’s using it when she’s feeling overwhelmed or needing a break from what she’s doing. And, really, those overwhelmed feelings, those bored feelings, those “I need to rest” feelings or frustration, whatever it is that’s making her want to take a break, those are all feelings that are very healthy and really need to be expressed and removed from her body by sharing them.
Children at this age, they usually share it by whining and crying and repeatedly asking us for things. And they’re just “Ugh!” It’s that feeling that I think we can all relate to of not really having the energy to do something else and we just want to do something easy and entertaining that will just take us out of this moment we’re in.
Now, maybe it is okay to do that kind of thing when we’re older, but for children this age, it really isn’t positive for them to be reaching for fixes for their feelings because what happens is then the feelings aren’t expressed and they get stored up and it makes it harder for them to feel them at another time. These feelings of boredom and in between, and “I don’t really want to do this,” or “I’m tired,” will all ideally be normalized for children so that they have a lot of experience going through them and getting to the other side of them. And knowing that, yeah, it is uncomfortable for a few moments there, but then it passes. And the more children can experience that, the more resilience they will have, the easier life will be for them.
Let’s face it, we all have a lot of bored, uncomfortable, in-between moments in our life and giving our children the message that those are a healthy part of life, as well as the parts where we are engaged and we are into something, is a wonderful gift and an important gift. With all of that in mind… And there may be some other post on my website that might be helpful to this parent and encouraging to her to feel confident about these limits she’s going to set… I have a post on my site called “Miracles That Happen When We Turn Off TV” that talks about parents’ experiences with their children’s newfound creativity and engagement and their long attention span and things that are healthy for them where actually their minds are doing the work to focus and how this happened because TV was taken out of the picture.
There’s also a wonderful website called Screen-Free Parenting and Dr. Meghan Owenz, who is the author of that site, we have a podcast together that is called: “The Facts about your Kids and Screen Time” and I think you might find that very encouraging for the approach that you want to take here. Also, she has a written post on my site, a guest post, “Screen-Time Studies Parents Should Know About.”
Once we’ve taken step one, which is total conviction, then we’re ready for step two, and this holds true with any kind of boundary that we’re going to set. We have to have conviction.
If you’re looking up to your parents as leaders which children do, they’ve got to be sturdy in their beliefs. They’ve got be certain for us to be able to go through the changes we need to go through. Also, this parent’s own experience will help her with that, since she already is experiencing the great difference with turning off the TV after 5:00 p.m.
With all that encouragement to be sure of ourselves, now, we can face our child asking for the iPad all the time. Yes, in the beginning, that’s going to happen. That’s going to be the early part of this transition.
Sharing that thought with our parents that we want it. We want it. We want it. Our ability to let go of this is going to be dependent on again, our parents’ conviction and their response.
When we have total conviction in our actions as parents, we are quite willing for our children to feel unhappy with our decision.
The more you can let her know, “Ah, yes, you’re thinking about it again. I hear you. Ah, it’s so hard, isn’t it, when you were doing that all the time and now, I’m saying no to that? It’s really hard. I hear you.” Not that we’ll say all those words, but that is our attitude, that we really welcome our child to go through the discomfort. And I would approach this with her as, “Yes, we were letting you do this. We’ve decided that it’s not healthy for you to be doing this all day and so now, we’re going to say no to it.”
But again, we’re quite willing to hear disagreement with our decision, our child’s discomfort with our decision. We want to hear that, in fact. We welcome that. We roll out the red carpet for those feelings. That’s what will help her to pass through this more quickly. If those things aren’t in place, if we’re a little uncomfortable, or if we’re a little unsure or if we just want our child to not make us feel worse by having their feelings around this and to just kind of get better, an “It’s okay, you’re fine” kind of approach, then we’re not allowing the feelings to flow and for her to make that transition.
This is the courageous part. There are so many courageous parts of parenting. This is one of them: setting limits, making changes. I would totally cop to, “Yes, we were letting you do it a lot, I know. We feel we made a mistake and now, we’re going to do it this way.” Coming from that conviction in yourself. This mother asked, “Does that make sense?”
Oh, yes, it does make sense to me, but she’s going to be asking for it all the time. I don’t know if any of you have ever had a habit with certain foods or cigarettes or alcohol or anything that you wanted to change and how hard that is with all the feelings that come up. Those impulses are really strong… to go to those things that get us out of where we are, that make us feel a little better.
I would not expect this to be at all easy for her but I actually think if this parent has conviction, the shift children make is usually surprisingly quick. But I still think our expectation — for us to be in the right head space — has to be, “I’m going to get blasted. She’s going to be uncomfortable. This is going to be tough for a couple of days.” And then you may be surprised that it’s even shorter than that. This parent says, “I’d like to take it away cold turkey but I’m not sure how to help her through the transition.”
The way to help her through the transition is to be confident. Yes, I would do this cold turkey because it’s even harder for children to let go when they are sometimes allowed the habit and sometimes not. Parents can say, “Only these certain times on the weekend and the afternoon,” but they will have to face maybe a few more days of the asking all the time, because the child just wants to be clear so that the child can let go. They’re just asking for clarity.
To help her through the transition, be clear. Be confident, and it would be nice to not be using these devices around her. That might be difficult for this parent, but I think if she does need to use her phone or something, I would say, “Now, I’m going to use this phone because I need to talk to daddy or I need to do this specific thing,” so that you’re really sharing with her what you’re doing. You’re being honest about it. You’re being upfront. But I would not have the TV on around her. I would not be using the iPad around her. I would do those things when she is taking a nap or asleep at night or you are away from her. That will make it easier on her and, therefore, easier on the parent to not have her asking quite as much as she would if this is around her all the time.
This parent’s actual question to me is, “I’d really love some advice on how to go about this and what to say when explaining why this change is happening.”
You decided, as parents that adore her and need to be the best parents for her, that this wasn’t something you wanted for her during the day anymore or this is something that you don’t want her to be using. It’s better for her brain not to. You don’t have to have a lot of explanation. Just be simple and come from a place of: “We are doing the hardest thing because we are so passionate about being the best parent for you.”
That’s what I always told myself, and I believe it’s true, when I had to do these hard things that I knew we’re going to make my child unhappy in the moment. I had to see the bigger picture. I had to be the adult, the parent, the big person and the fearless person. Yes, there is some messiness that happens and a lot of discomfort, and then we’re amazed. And like I said before, it’s usually much easier than we thought it was going to be.
I hope that helps and as I said before, please check out some of those other articles and my podcast with Meghan Owenz, “The Facts About Your Kids and Screen Time.” I think you’ll appreciate that.
Also, please checkout some of my other podcasts at janetlansbury.com. website. They’re all indexed by subject and category so you should be able to find whatever topic you’re interested in. And remember I have books on audio at Audible.com, No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting. You can also get them in paperback at Amazon and an ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Apple.com.
Also I have an exclusive audio series, Sessions. There are five individual recordings of consultations I’ve had with parents where they agree to be recorded and we discuss all their parenting issues. We have a back and forth that for me is very helpful in exploring their topics and finding solutions. These are available by going to sessionsaudio.com and you can read a description of each episode and order them individually or get them all about three hours of audio for just under $20.
Thanks for listening. We can do this.