Parental Burnout and a Reasonable Approach to Screens (with Dr. Meghan Owenz)

Janet’s guest is Dr. Meghan Owenz, a psychologist, professor, parent, and author. Meghan’s new book Spoiled Right: Delaying Screens and Giving Children What They Really Need offers the latest research on the effects of screens on young children along with a plethora of practical alternatives. Both Janet and Meghan acknowledge that during the last many months of homeschooling, severely limited socializing, and close quarters, exhausted parents have understandably relied on screens to get some much needed (and deserved) break-time. The question many weary parents ask is: “What do they do instead?” Meghan and Janet offer some answers.

Transcript of “Parental Burnout and a Reasonable Approach to Screens (with Dr. Meghan Owenz)”

Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Today I’m joined by Dr. Meghan Owenz. She’s an author, a parent, a psychologist, family, counselor, and therapist. She’s currently a professor at Penn State University. When Meghan became a parent, she developed a special interest in researching the effects of screen use on developing minds. And this education and research led her to decide to raise her two children screen-free in their early years. And with her husband, she created the popular website Screen-Free Parenting, which offers thousands and thousands of independent plays screen-free alternatives for children. And then the emphasis of Meghan’s new book, Spoiled Right Delaying Screens and Giving Children What They Really Need is not so much on what not to do and why, but rather on comprehensive practical answers to the question, what should parents do instead?

Hi, Meghan. Thank you so much for being on my show again.

Meghan Owenz:  Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Janet Lansbury:  You were one of my first guests, I think back when I started in, I don’t know even when that was, 2015, I think, and I so appreciated connecting with you and you have your new book out Spoiled Right Delaying Screens and Giving Children What They Really Need. And it is dense with information. This is a comprehensive book, you cover every study that’s ever been done on screen use, and you also offer very helpful practical advice for delaying, minimizing, moving away from the dependency that I think we obviously all have on screens these days, we all have a dependency on it.

Meghan Owenz:  Right, and there’s so much debate and so much controversy and so much noise around it that we forget some of the basics.

Janet Lansbury:  And then especially now. Being a parent is already a lot of stress, but now there are all these added factors, and kids being home and people weren’t able to maybe have the childcare that they were used to, and everything has just been to the max. So parents have, naturally, a lot of them have fallen into using a lot of screens for their children, maybe more than they wished to. And some of them want to figure out a way to minimize that, but still to be able to have time for themselves where they don’t feel the need to use that for entertainment every time, to keep their children busy.

Meghan Owenz:  Yes, the burnout in the last 18 months has got to be tremendous because there are those logistical things that you mentioned, like maybe not having childcare or not having programs for your young children. And then there’s the broader cultural water that we’re swimming in of lots of conflict, lots of civil unrest that we’re just bombarded with all the time. That is in our minds and our bodies when we’re trying to interact with our children.

Janet Lansbury:  So how do we manage all of this? What could we hold on to?

What have you done? Because you have two young children. How has it been for you?

Meghan Owenz:  I think taking a breath and recognizing that the amount of stress that we’re dealing with is abnormal as a society, both from the election to murders that we had to witness and wanting to be educated about and advocate about, to a global pandemic, to losing family members, to worry about losing family members. That level of stress, it’s putting our nervous system in a place that it’s not meant to be for a long period of time. And you could see that in terms of how we’ve handled the pandemic as a society.

So in month one, we were like, “Flatten the curve, we’ve got this. We’re really excited about everything we we’re going to do at home.”

And 18 months or so later, we just don’t have the energy anymore at that the same level. And our children still do not have the opportunity to be vaccinated and there’s a lot of controversy over what’s the best way to keep them safe and just navigating through all of that information is exhausting.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah. And just like you said, you make it work for a while. I can only relate this, because my children aren’t young and they don’t need that kind of care from me, they’re all adults now… I can only relate it to times where, for some reason, children were sick or it was raining and raining for weeks and it was harder to do the things that we normally wanted to do. And you can handle that, as you said, for a while. You can rise to that occasion as a parent and say, “Okay, well maybe we’ll do this screen thing now because you’re sick and I need you to rest.” Or, “I can go get you some stuff for new projects that you can play with.” But after a while, it’s like the special time that was, I mean special, not necessarily in a positive way, of course, but that’s old. We didn’t know we were going to have to maintain it this long, right?

Meghan Owenz:  And so being able to take a breath and recognize that this is not a normal amount of stress, likely, that many parents have been under in the past year and a half, and then figure out where you are on that hierarchy of needs in your family. If you are still in that, meeting basic physical needs, scrambling, making sure that you are able to do your job and your baby is fed and that’s all that you can do, then it might not be the time for reflection on your parenting strategies. Just some recognition that reflecting on screen time is a little bit higher on on the hierarchy, and so it might be frustrating to parents to hear information about that in the last year when they’re barely surviving. But then there are parents who have switched out of survival mode for a variety of reasons, structural and personal. And so they may want to reel in the screen time a little bit. And I think if you’re in that place, we have some good information for you, but recognizing which place you’re in first will be helpful in terms of how you hear things.

Janet Lansbury:  That makes a lot of sense. And having that self compassion to say, “This is where I’m at. I’m not in that place. I’m not in that space.” So rather than feeling bad and guilty about that, really accepting that for where you’re at, and what your needs are, you are doing the very best that you possibly can. And giving yourself that break, that there will be a time later on. And there’s nothing that we can do as parents that can’t be undone or can’t be changed.

Meghan Owenz:  I think that’s such an important message because I hear from people all the time, “I slowly introduced screen-time to my infant or to my toddler. And then it just spiraled out of control.” Which is what it’s designed to do, so that has no reflection on you, your family or your child, but it’s spiraled out of control. And now, “Oh my gosh, have I damaged my child’s brain?” And fortunately, most children are pretty elastic and we can make some changes and they can come along with us as long as we know where we’re going. And so it’s okay if things devolve for a while.

I went through a period this month where I don’t think anybody took a bath rather than once every 10 days. The adults did, but the children definitely didn’t. So we reeled that back in once we got things a little bit more under control in other areas of our life. It’s okay to let go of some other things when you’re working on things and then you reel it back in. And now they’re clean, they’ve been bathed in the past 24 hours.

Janet Lansbury:  Yes. I love that permission to give ourselves that we are in a process and it’s always going to be a process. We’re not done, “Now I’m there, I’ve got this parenting thing.” We’re always moving through the different stages, the different challenges, and then in this period right now, we’ve got all these added challenges.

Meghan Owenz:  And screen time is like that too. When we’re talking about under five, zero to five-year-olds, I really encourage the message of “not yet.” If you’re able to do the “not yet” thing, it is so much easier. It really is. And I’ll give some reasons as to why it’s easier, but then you’re moving through that. And then they’re five or six or seven, they’re 12, they’re 16. And “not yet,” isn’t an appropriate philosophy anymore at that point, but you can keep it really simple when they’re little and know that those things will come later for them.

Janet Lansbury:  Right. Actually there are two big things I want you to share about. I would love to hear about the “not yet” and how you do that. And then I would also love to hear your thoughts on weaning out of using screens, even with babies, if that’s going on, if you can recommend steps for how to move out of this.

Meghan Owenz:  There are so many research reasons for the “not yet.” Your child’s attention is developing, their sleep habits are developing, their ability for emotional regulation is developing. And most of the time media is not helping with any of those three big things that they’re doing. The biggest “ot yet” is that emotion regulation piece for me. And that’s where we get stuck, where it seems like the screen is helping us out, or the media that we’re using for our toddler is helping us out. And it’s really not.

They have such strong emotions that are really intense and hard to not get wrapped up in, and it seems like the media makes everything better. So you can see a child starting to melt down and you can give them some media and they are pacified or they’re really needy and they’re clingy and they’re looking for you for interaction and attention and entertainment at a time when it is not possible for you to provide that. And you give them the screen minutes, and it seems like the screen resolves that.

Well all those little things are these tiny little normative experiences with negative emotions like: Mom’s in the shower, she can’t pay attention to me, I’m frustrated, I’m bored, mom’s talking to someone on the phone, this line of the grocery store is too long. All those little exposures we give our kids just naturally, without even thinking about it. They learn to tolerate negative emotions.

And what happens is we realize really quickly that the media makes it easier for us because it calms that negative emotion, or it seems like it does. But all that’s really doing is distracting them from the negative emotion. And so they’re not getting that exposure, and they’re not learning how to work through it on their own. They’re not learning how to tolerate it and move into the next thing and direct their own attention.

And so when a child has had that experience, it feels like, how could you do it without a screen, right? Because they have very limited capacity to tolerate their own negative emotions or to tolerate time independently of an adult or an entertainer or an entertainment device. And so that’s why the “not yet’ is really helpful for toddlers and preschoolers, babies, because we want them to have those exposures and learn that, “It’s okay to feel bored, and I’ll be back with you in the set period of time. And you might not like it, but I know that you can handle it.”

Sometimes if we can do that, they actually are able to handle it better than we thought over time, because they’ve been learning. So that’s the big “not yet” in my mind, is, let’s wait until they can understand how to handle their negative emotions before we distract them from them.

Janet Lansbury:  That makes a lot of sense, just so they can know that that’s a normal experience. It’s just part of life that you sometimes feel like life isn’t fun and you’re not busy and there isn’t anything to do. And it’s a dull moment or moments, and you’re not getting your parents’ attention at that time and that’s disappointing, but that’s what life is, those age appropriate moments of downer feelings.

Meghan Owenz:  Then when they’re older, now they’re being introduced to media in a way that is fun. It’s not being used to cover for a negative emotion or to cover for somebody’s absence, but it’s being used as a way to connect as a family when you watch a movie or something like that. That’s the “not yet” to me. Is all that good stuff, all those good memories you have about watching a movie. “Am I never going to be able to do that with my kids?” No, you will. Just when they’re ready for it.

Janet Lansbury: So what does the science say about… because one of the perspectives I posted about screen use, a lot of parents complained that for their children with autism, there were studies showing that it actually did help them to use screens. And I was wondering if there was actually science on that.

Meghan Owenz:  A lot of the media research is painted with a really broad brush and it is appropriately critiqued for being done so. But that is the development of social science research and the way that it happens to look broadly at a population before you start looking at smaller individual groups.

So we might see that overall screen-time, for example, is negatively associated with book reading and the screen-time is what’s driving the relationship there. We see that the more time a 24 month old spends with a screen, the less time they’re reading at 36 months.

So we can see some negative effects really broad there, we’re not looking at individual gender or race or ethnicity or a pre-existing diagnosis or things like that. It’s definitely a fair critique that this research might not be true for my child.

There’s a model that’s applied to all sorts of things, not just media, and that’s the orchid and the dandelion metaphor. The idea is that children are on this continuum from dandelions to orchids. Everything in the middle is great. Neither one is better. But we know that dandelions are really hearty. And so research-wise, these are the kids that do the same, whether their environments is negative or positive, they’re really hearty. We can mess up and we can try really hard and they do the same.

And then on the other end of the spectrum, we have orchids, which we know are really hard to care for. These are the children who do exceptionally well in a positive environment, but they also do really poorly in a negative environment. So they’re just more sensitive to the environmental input that they have.

We’re starting to look at… the media research is starting to look at children individually this way, kind of trying to separate out. Because when we look at things and we see a mild or moderate effect of media, it might be that that effect is really strong for some kids, like our orchids. And that affect is just not present for other kids, like our dandelions. And so they’re canceling each other out in some ways.

You might say, “Well, I have a kid who we read all the time, they play independently, they watch this hour of TV and I turn it off, and they move on. They have absolutely no problem with it. And I’m tired of hearing of that.”

Well, you have a kid who’s more on the dandelion side of the continuum and that’s great, but your neighbor might have a kid who’s a little more on the orchid side of the temperament, where the child has a really difficult time turning the screen off. Or when you turn the screen off, moving away from it, the child has a really difficult time finding things to do when they’re not in front of the screen, decreased interest in other activities.

There are scales to measure whether your kid has this problematic attitude towards media, where your child, your orchid is so dysregulated after the screen that you’re like, “Why did I use that for a break from myself? Because now my kid is melting down and just so fussy. And it’s so much worse than if they would’ve played by themselves.” You’re noticing that in your kid.

So there is some difference in terms of how children are responding to media. And we’re only just starting research-wise to get into what some of that difference is.

We know for example, that children who have previously been diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to choose media that is fast paced, that’s changing and that’s violent. And that, that media might have more of an effect on those children.

So there are ways in which your individual child is going to respond differently than other children. And you have to take a breath when you read things and wonder whether it fits for your child or not. And if it doesn’t, you move on and if it does, you see what you can garner from it.

Janet Lansbury:  That’s really interesting. So a child with ADHD, why are they drawn to those more violent, quick paced shows that actually have a worse effect on them? Is that like wanting the kind of food you’re allergic to, or-

Meghan Owenz:  No, I would say that it’s more like that the brain of a child with ADHD is looking for stimulation and they’re not finding their environment to be sufficiently stimulating often. And so they appear inattentive. So the media that’s the most stimulating, that we have for a lot of children that might be overstimulating, it’s hitting a sweet spot for children with ADHD. It’s really appealing to them because it’s so stimulating, because it’s fast paced. Oftentimes because it’s violent, that’s not the child’s fault, but that’s the way the media is designed.

But it’s just one teeny tiny example of the way media is going to affect different children differently. And why, as a parent, you have to pay attention. What really matters for you is that one child affect. And so noticing what is your child’s behavior like after they’ve had some time with a screen, and then looking more broadly: what is your child’s behavior like as the screen-time has increased?

I’m sure you noticing that they’re more dysregulated that they’re having more difficulty playing by themselves. So they’re having a really hard time getting started, that other things that were interesting to them previously now, really aren’t, and they’re asking constantly, for their favorite show or for their favorite game. Those are all signs to me that my child is having some difficulties. They’re having a little bit of a problematic relationship with the media. And you may want to think about how you’re going to reel it in or how you’re going to wean them down off of a screen habit.

Janet Lansbury:  Is that also what you meant by the stuff that’s going on on screens is actually designed to create more, I don’t know if I want to use the word “addiction” but… create a greater need for it?

Meghan Owenz:  Yeah. So persuasive design is something that I’ve written a lot about. We just published a journal article about it, should be out maybe next month. Just the idea that you’re using media to change someone’s behavior.

Now, when the field was first developed, the idea was like, “Oh, we can use media to change people’s behavior and all these positive ways”. Well, the primary way that persuasive design has been implemented is to try to increase quality time on device. How much time are people spending on a particular platform or a game or program? The more that you increase time on device, the more that you increase your revenue, largely through advertisements or subscription services. Netflix, one of their CEOs is famous for saying that their biggest competitor is sleep.

So there’s evidence that adults are not particularly good at recognizing the elements of persuasive design — things like auto-play, push notifications, the way a story arcs, so it doesn’t end at the end of your episode, but it actually ends in the middle of the next episode, algorithms on different social media platforms that are really designed to draw you in and pull you in, and also maybe show you more controversial stuff that might rile you up.

There are all these efforts that adults need to try to manage their own habits.

We know at a basic level that under eight, children can’t really recognize, for example, advertising, and the fact that somebody is trying to persuade them to do something that maybe they don’t want to do. Before age eight.

So little babies, they can’t recognize persuasive design. Toddlers can’t recognize that this show was actually just trying to reel you in or this game is trying to get you to play longer. They’re only holding that little jewel out in front of you, so you’ll play longer. And the intermittent rewards and things that are really ever present in children’s applications in games. They can’t recognize that at all.

And it’s difficult for us adults to recognize that. So when you think: I’m going to use this for this set period of time, like maybe I did when I was a kid… I remember Sesame Street, and then I went out and played and whatever it was fine. Well, the media landscape has changed so dramatically and now we’re putting all the onerous on parents. Like, “You should really move it to this period of time.” And it’s so hard for the parents because it wasn’t designed that way. It wasn’t designed to be consumed in 30 minute fights.

So that’s when your child has a meltdown and that’s why the “not yet” model is really nice before your child develops some of the cognitive ability to recognize and discuss some of these things, which is not going to happen before they’re six.

Janet Lansbury:  Wow. So what about this task then of helping wean our children off screens maybe at various ages, if it’s different for various ages. What are your thoughts about that? I love your method. You call it the “SPOIL” method and what does it stand for?

Meghan Owenz:  One of the problems with screens might be not so much what your child is doing or seeing, maybe they’re not watching anything violent and it’s developmentally appropriate, but displacement is the idea that it’s taking time away from things that your infant or toddler or preschooler would be doing otherwise.

So it’s maybe not so much the media itself that’s problematic. It’s just… what would they be doing if that wasn’t there? And we don’t really know the answer to that unless we turned it off for a while and saw.

Research-wise, we know that there are five big things that all kids under five need a lot and is really associated with positive child development in terms of their social, their cognitive and their physical development.

So I use the acronym SPOIL… Maybe try to forget about the screen time for a little bit, just in terms of how you’re monitoring it, how you’re assessing it, what you’re doing, and really try to pay attention to how much…

S – stands for social time that the child has with you, with other babies, with other toddlers.

P – How much play time do they have? Both with others, but also independently. Whether exploring objects, they’re scoping, they’re pouring, they’re dumping, they’re melding, all of the things that young children are doing with toys and things.

O – stands for outdoor time, which is essentially the antidote to screen-time. For kids and adults alike it’s associated with improved sleep, improved attention, it’s called Attention Restoration Therapy, which basically means go outside because it helps you. It helps you with the ability to focus and pay attention, reduce stress, increase serotonin production. So it helps with mood stabilization.

I – is for independent work. Just about every developmental theory highlights, like from three to six, kids really need the opportunity to feel like they have some impact on their environment, that they’re capable, that they’re autonomous. And that looks like child-sized chores that looks like maintaining their own hygiene, dressing themselves, all those things that kids say, “I want to do it by myself.”

L – And then the L in SPOIL stands for literacy because you basically can’t overdo that.

So, focusing on the things that children really need, you can’t overdo. There’s no harm in your child having too much time to play prior to age six. No harm of reading to them too much. You know that those things are really good and you don’t have to worry about: Let me look at the clock. How long have they been doing this for?

If they get really involved in it, that’s great. If they can keep doing it, and you’ve got this little quote unquote “bonus time” where you didn’t realize they were going to be so involved in those Tupperware containers and other things that you had laid out or that they discovered.

And so if we can focus more on those things, those are the positive things that also have the opposite research interactions with brain development and social development and physical development that screen-time has.

Janet Lansbury:  So creating in your environment more opportunities for those things, if possible, instead of just thinking about cutting out screens. I mean, you would be doing that — cutting down the time, but opening up to how you can make those other things more possible.

Meghan Owenz:  Yeah. And how can you make those things more possible in a way that recognizes your limits as a parent? So it doesn’t mean when turning off the screen that you are entertaining your child all the time. That’s not helpful, right?

It’s not that you’re involved all the time when they’re not on the screen (that can be problematic in other ways), but that they have time for independent play. Children can listen to stories on CD, or through a player when you were not available to be reading to them. They can sit outside in a safe space and watch the sun and play with leaves and do all sorts of things that you don’t have to be involved in. You don’t have to direct it.

So get away from that myth that if you are not using a screen, you’re orchestrating every minute of the day, because that’s where it gets exhausting. That’s where we really get into trouble.

Janet Lansbury:  Exactly. It’s totally unsustainable, you can’t do it. And you are going to give up some point very early on.

But you know, it’s like what you were talking about the quote “negative” emotions. That’s what I think keeps a lot of us from making those boundaries and just saying, “No, I’m not going to play with you right now. Here’s when I’m going to be available. And I can’t wait to play with you then, but now is a no. And it’s okay. If you get upset, you can be really mad at me, but this is what I’ve got to do.”

Instead of: Now I’ve got to go set up an activity for them and make sure that they’re okay.

Maybe in the beginning, if your child isn’t used to this, maybe that will help you scaffold into the next step. But ideally you want to get to where they’ve got the ideas and they’re using their own imagination and innovation and their instincts about what they actually want to work on and need to work on in this step of their learning, and they’re creating those as well. So that’s where we ideally want to be. But in the meantime, it’s okay to give them some options of things to do.

Meghan Owenz:  Yeah. I want to comment on that. You said there were two things that I think were really good there that I want to highlight.

The first is the difference of the message when the child is upset and we think that they can’t handle it. So we try to fix it for them. We’re inadvertently sending the message that they can’t handle it: You can’t handle this time when I’m going to be away from you. So I have to be with you, or I have to give you this device instead.

Instead of the message of, “I know you’re frustrated right now, or you’re mad at me right now, and you really wish we could do this thing, but I know that you can move through this and that you can tolerate this. I know that you’ll be okay and I’ll be over here or I’ll be wherever I’ll be.”

It’s a really different message of empowerment that we’re giving our children when we’re saying: I know you can tolerate this emotion. I know you can tolerate this period of time without me.

Maybe changing your mindset around that might be helpful, too, to see that they’re really smart, creative, independent people who can come up with really good things to do that you wouldn’t have even thought of. I think that’s a different message.

The other piece, Janet, that you said that I want to touch on is that we’re talking about a time when you’re able to step back and that might not be right away if you feel like you have had a media habit that has gotten out of control. So having that empathy around, “We used to do this phone thing or this tablet thing for this many hours, we’re not going to do that anymore.”

Coming up really clearly in your mind and your partner’s mind about what the new limit is, what you’re going to be doing going forward. And then having empathy for the idea that these applications, programs, streaming devices are designed persuasively to reel your child in. And it is not within their brain capacity at this time to understand how to put limits around it. So you’re doing it for them, but understanding that because it’s designed that way, it’s going to be very frustrating for them. And it’s a transition and it’s a change for them. And during that time period, you might step in a little more.

Now, the way that I would step in is less of being an entertainer and more of consciously setting up their space ahead of time. And then being able to sit with them through some frustration. So not weaning them from the TV to you, but weaning them from the TV to their environment.

If you know that your child likes stamps, stacking things and stickers, whatever it is that they like, you set up their environment with a space where they’ll be able to do those things when they would previously have been using media. And you sit with them and say, “these are the types of things we’re going to do instead.”

And you pay attention to your child over time too, to modify the environment of what they have in their space that’s really safe and has also been previously interesting to them.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah, that’s great. And I think even also pay attention without playing “with,” which is another thing that helps your child to feel freer, to invent their own games and not have you as part of it. Because a lot of times children feel, especially very young children… they notice that unless they’re getting the parent to play with them, the parent is putting their attention elsewhere. So to sometimes give those periods where playing with your child looks a little different, and it looks more like you’re just there, fully attentive. You’re just interested in what your child’s doing.

And they say, “Play with me, do this, be this character or whatever.”

You just say, “You know, that’s an interesting idea, but I just want to see what you’re up to. I’m just here.”

No expectation that they have to perform. No expectation that they have to draw you in or you’re going to go elsewhere. Giving them those moments can be very, very powerful, showing them that anything that they do is interesting and worthwhile, also, that it doesn’t have to be fancy stuff that looks like imaginary characters, or a game or a board game or something. It can just be somebody puttering around or sitting there and looking out the window, just being together.

Meghan Owenz:  When you talk about that. It just makes my shoulders kind of relax, envisioning myself as that child, that I don’t have to do anything to reel you in. Because I think we feel like that all the time in our relationships — that we have to reel people in and keep them entertained. And how relaxing that must be if we give space to our children, that they don’t have to reel us in. We’re there. It doesn’t matter what it is they’re doing or what role they give us. We’re just going to be there for them to do whatever it is they want to do.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah.

You mentioned to me what you’ve noticed about your children with what’s going on now, where they’ve had to be homeschooled and what they’ve gained from that. Because I think it’s really an example of… I’ve honestly seen the amazing results of being careful around about screens with my children. I’ve really seen how it’s helped them to flourish in so many ways. And it sounds like you’re doing that too with your children. Can you share a little about that?

Meghan Owenz:  My children are six and nine, and they really had no exposure to screens prior to age five or six. And again, that was the lazy parent choice, in my opinion. Knowing the research, it is so much easier to just “not yet” that problem than to open the door to something that was not really designed for them and for their developing brain.

So as a result of that, and the fact that I work full-time, my husband works full time, our children have had a lot of exposure to directing their own time, their own day, which started really small when they were infants and now has expanded into, “How much time do we have today, that is free? We have four hours. We can’t go anywhere…” You know, during the pandemic. But to them, it’s “four hours but we don’t have to.”

They just have no problem directing their time for really extended periods, because you’re building that muscle over time with children, by not over-entertaining them.

And that’s a screen thing, but that’s also, a sport thing really early on, an enrichment thing really early on. If you give them space that the world is theirs to explore, rather than it’s a world that adults need to teach them about constantly, then they have this different attitude that makes it easier for them to entertain themselves and direct their day. And it’s made them a little more resilient, though they’ve had their struggles here and there with the pandemic. It’s made them a little more resilient, I think, to having a lot more time on their hands.

Janet Lansbury:  Well, thank you so much for your time, your book, and sharing with us today. I enjoyed it, personally, I always love connecting with you, and thank you for all of your work.

Meghan Owenz:  Janet, it goes the other direction too. I’m constantly leaning on you for the support in managing children’s emotions and setting boundaries in a way that feels really accessible and really possible for parents. I love your work around that.

Janet Lansbury:  Wow. What a nice thing to say. Thank you so much, Meghan.

Meghan’s offers a wealth of information, practical suggestions, and support on her website Screen-Free Parenting and you can check out her new book, Spoiled Right, right HERE.

Please check out some of the other podcasts on my website, There are many of them, and they’re all indexed by subject and category so you should be able to find whatever topic you might be interested in. Both of my books are available in paperback at Amazon: No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting.  You can get them in eBook at Amazon, Apple, Google Play or, and an audio at Actually, you can get a free audio copy of either book at Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast.

Thank you so much for listening and all your kind support. We can do this.

For further information, Dr. Meghan Owenz was kind enough to share references for the studies she mentions in this podcast:

The Orchid and Dandelion Model:

Boyce, W. T., (2020). The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Sensitive People Struggle and How All Can Thrive. Bluebird.

Pluess, M., Assary, E., Lionetti, F., Lester, K. J., Krapohl, E., Aron, E. N., & Aron, A. (2018). Environmental sensitivity in children: Development of the highly sensitive child scale and identification of sensitivity groups. Developmental Psychology, 54(1), 51-70.

Applying the Orchid and Dandelion Model to media use:

Piotrowski, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2015). Finding orchids in a field of dandelions:Understanding children’s differential susceptibility to media effectsThe American Behavioral Scientist, 59(14), 1776-1789.

Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2013). The differential susceptibility to media effects model. Journal of Communication, 63(2), 221-243.<

The research study regarding ADHD and violent media:

Nikkelen, S. W. C., Vossen, H. G. M., Valkenburg, P. M., Velders, F. P., Windhorst, D. A., Jaddoe, V. W. V., Hofman, A., Verhulst, F. C., & Tiemeier, H. (2014). Mediaviolence and children’s ADHD-related behaviors: A genetic susceptibilityperspective: Media violence and children’s ADHD. Journal of Communication, 64(1), 42-60.

Thank you again, Dr. Owenz!



Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Huh. So the solution to parental burn-out is no screens until five? How many families actually follow that?
    Re: burnout and the RIE ‘solution’ (independent play), to what extent is that really downtime for a parent? My understanding is that we’re also supposed to be observing their play. And with a baby and a toddler (my current situation), independent play where I’m not referee’ing and making sure the baby isn’t getting stomped on is practically non-existent.
    More generally, RIE’s solutions usually seem very, very aspirational to me. This is just yet another example of that.

  2. Amanda Anderson says:

    Great podcast! I am curious what Dr. Meghan Owenz’s thoughts are on AudioBooks? Does this have the same impact since there is no visual component?

    1. Hi Amanda, I am a huge fan of AudioBooks for kids. They are less overstimulating without the visual component, build listening comprehension, and are easier for children to walk away from. Continue to monitor for content – selecting audio content that is appropriate for your child, including length. I also suggest using audiobooks in a fashion that your child can independently control (i.e., Using actual CDs that they put in a player and press play).

  3. This is definitely relative for me, thank you for sharing.

  4. Mary Angelica says:

    Question: is any kind of screen time bad, or mostly screen time that is media consumption or games for kids? What happens when you are a work from home parent whose work is largely done from a computer? I do a lot of programming for work, and before that I spent my days typing grad school work and my dissertation.

    I have my three month old with me during my work days which for now isn’t much of a problem. ​But I still have to put inn a few hours by the time my toddler is home. There was a point in which the toddler was watching stuff up to an hour a day, and with the help of dad we were able to cut it down, but certain times dad isn’t there.

    There comes a point where my eldest just wants to be with me, having not seen me all day. Since grad school, what I have done is set up an old computer or tablet without internet connection and opened up a word document, paint app, or calculator to play with. He learned to type, maneuver the apps, etc. The paint app on the tablet was how he learned to write letters, explore colors, etc. as well. I’d check on him repeatedly since he was right next to me, and he got to feel like he was doing “work”. I figured that if I made computers something to master rather than merely for passive entertainment, I could avoid many of the pitfalls of screen time for children in a world full of screens while teaching him that the computer is to be used as a tool rather than for mere pleasure.

    Is this sort of thing ok to do, or is there something about screens that makes this also a bad idea?

  5. I’m wondering if you could talk about how to introduce screens when the time comes. My two kids (ages 5 and 3) have been screen-free until my older son entered kindergarten this year where he has seen his first tv shows and movie 🙁 Now he’s interested in seeing more and while I’m not planning to introduce anything just because he’s asking, I do feel like he deserves more than the “not yet” I’ve been telling him for a while now. And we are trying to figure out our plan moving forward. Thanks!!

  6. First and foremost I totally appreciate the information and insight re: the challenges many parents have experienced during the pandemic and those without, a “village”. I also appreciate that children on the Autism Spectrum were considered. Unfortunately we’ve relied heavily on screen time with my child as she doesn’t have the attention, play skills, and interests, similar to traditionally developing child. I often lack the knowledge and skills myself to know how to help her. The wait list for these specialized service are often 1-2 years long. Early Intervention services aren’t enough. Parents and children in these situations are suffering. There is limited information out there to assist beyond screen time. Would you have any advice?

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