Tag Archives: screentime

Is It Ever Effective to Take Away Privileges?
Child yelling

Q. I know you don’t believe in consequences, but is there ever a circumstance where a consequence is effective even when knowing the root cause of the behavior? Example: My 10-year-old son expressed this morning that he wished he didn’t have to go to school. He was moody and angry. I did some digging and turns out he hates music and it’s his first class of the day. I get it. I said missing school isn’t an option and asked if he could think of anything to make the day bearable. He was super angry and wasn’t open to hearing me and started to call me vulgar names/swears. I told him that calling me names is unacceptable—something I’ve told him many times. He stormed outside to ride his scooter for a bit, and I was left wondering if he should lose YouTube after school. Will it make him remember or think twice when he is in the red zone swearing at me? Is it just a thing parents do to feel in control when the situation feels so out of control? Can I do both? Does it make sense to say, “in our home when you call me vulgar names you lose privileges”? 

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Embracing Screen Time
Teenage boy with headset playing video game

Q. My son is 15 years old, so that means I shouldn’t tell him what to do, right? We have a pool, and I’d rather he swim than play video games. He prefers the latter. He seems to be all done with pool games as are his friends. When they come over, they sit with their feet in the pool and wait for their required outdoor time to end so they can go inside and play video games. Although I’ve adopted a pretty good ability to not be controlling, I’m finding it harder to apply this to my 15 year old than my older son. He wasn’t as much of a video game kid. Neither of them have been outdoor kids and I guess I have to finally get over it. Any thoughts or comments?

A. Letting go of control, what our children do and how they do it, is the greatest challenge for any parent. We have learned from lots of mistakes and want our children to benefit. But did we benefit from what our parents tried to tell us? We all have to learn in our own way at the time that is right for us.

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How to Track Your Teen on Social Media (Ethically)

We all worry about the amount of time our kids spend on social media, how much of their energy it consumes, and how it effects our their behavior and emotions. Typically, a parent’s go-to is to fear the worst. When fear gets in the way, we go into control mode. We are constantly chasing the answer to, How much is too much? When and how do I put a stop to this madness?

When your kids reach the teen years, you have much less say over how they spend their time, and you worry and fear more than ever. Yet at the same time, having a connected relationship with your teen is paramount.

Andy Earle (https://talkingtoteens.com/), a researcher into teen life, has written this piece for me on how to stay aware and in charge of your teen’s social media time while maintaining trust and that all-important connected relationship.

How to Track Your Teen on Social Media (Ethically)

Losing track of what your teen is into online? Here are three ways to (ethically) track what your teen is doing. Parents today need to get more sophisticated on social media because teens are getting very savvy. We have to go beyond basic tools like SafeSearch and iPhone parental controls.

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July ’19 Q&A – Work With Your Child on Issues that Bug You Most

Q. I currently feel like a failure as a parent. My 12 year old daughter is smart, well behaved, does well in school. However, there are 2 main areas that we often fight about resulting in a tense hostile environment at home. One is sneaking junk food. We have a policy for the kids to choose 2 junk items from the pantry after school. It generally works but my daughter ends up sneaking extras to her room. She cannot seem to stop herself from eating. I cannot constantly monitor her and increasing the ‘allowed’ unhealthy stuff on a daily basis is not an option.

The other habit is watching YouTube without my knowledge. She has to use the laptop for homework, and I cannot baby sit. I want to give her the independence of making the right choices in the long term. Watching YouTube distracts her from homework and impacts the quality of her work. And I do not approve of the type of videos she watches. They are age appropriate but have no enriching content and are a waste of time. I would like her to watch videos that will enrich her, improve her skills and help her grow as an individual.

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The Power of Acceptance

All parents struggle with fears and worries about their children and many end up just getting in their own way. When you take your children’s behavior personally and use your authority to control them to do what you want, you may wind up creating the scenario you most fear.

The problem comes when we think it’s our children who need to change when indeed it is us. Whatever you need to do to get to acceptance is the answer.

The following is a story from one of my clients that I find truly inspiring. Her struggles to understand her son and ultimately herself have led to a wonderful relationship. I hope it motivates you to trust your children and let go of a small bit of your fears. You will always have fears and doubts — you wouldn’t be a conscientious parent without them. But in the moment, when your child needs your connection, you must be able to at least temporarily put those fears aside.

 

Reflections on my journey with my son – Mother of three

I am enjoying a playful moment in the kitchen with my 6’6, 17 year old son. He likes to get in my space and see if he can startle me with his big teenage energy. I get flustered and cry out, “You make me feel anxious when you do that!” He smiles with this gentle warmth and looking right in my eyes​ ​he says lovingly​, “​Mum, it’s not what I do​ that makes you feel anxious. It’s what you ​think​ about what I do.”

The wisdom of his insight seems far beyond his years and the truth of it shimmers in the moment. It has been a lot of inner and outer work for me to get here. I remember hearing years ago that I couldn’t worry and love at the same time. Given that choice I wanted to choose love as the energy that I was offering my children — also to myself as the worry felt utterly agonizing to live with. However, so often things happening on the outside seemed to justify worry and that “thought slide” became easy to glide down with ever repeated use.

We found Bonnie Harris when our child was in middle school. My husband and I consulted her, driven by our deep concerns that our son was developing a gaming addiction. Having been an incredibly active, outdoor-loving child, all of a sudden, he seemed willing to forego what we thought of as his “healthy” choices for spending hours on end in his room in front of a screen. We had entered into a pattern of trying to curb his screen time followed by endless arguing. We had majorly lost connection with our son.

I will not forget that late afternoon meeting in Bonnie’s office, me tearful, my husband and I feeling distant from each other because of our own fighting over how to parent our son, and both of us worried about him. After hearing what we had to say and a long, thoughtful pause, Bonnie gestured to the empty chair in our circle and asked gently, “What do you imagine your son would say if he were sitting here with us and could speak for himself?” Immediately I was drawn to my heart space that felt full of compassion and love for him and I said, “I think he would say, “You don’t understand me.’”

It was an instant, dramatic and powerful paradigm shift. I got out of my head which was very much about me and into my heart where I could truly be with ​him without my thoughts. And he really had spoken to me. At the end of that meeting, Bonnie suggested we make the shift to tell our son we trusted his inner guidance that would help him regulate his gaming. She prepared us that he might really go wild with this freedom for a time, but she suspected things would work out.

I wrote him a letter to express what we had learned and how we were shifting to a place of trust in him. It was greeted with a huge smile and relief. It was so clear that he wanted connection with us too and to feel that we had faith in him to make his own choices.

What a journey it has been in the last 7 years. I cannot count the number of times I have gotten buried in worry while my son smiled at me and said with his eyes, “Trust me.” The title of one of Bonnie’s books is, “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons”. I always used to focus on “When Your Kids Push…” but I had an Aha! moment recently and saw “​Your ​Buttons​” ​seemingly for the first time​.​ These are not our kids buttons, they are ours. And we can certainly do something about our own buttons.

Here is an example of how I have come to discover my own issue and address it. I have often fretted about seeing my son have an interest and then not have the discipline to develop it. He loved playing basketball in middle school, and I imagined he would play in high school but to my surprise he didn’t play any sports for the first three years. To get into a place of trust, I took a good hard look at the button that was being pushed. Where did I have an interest and no discipline? My contemplation led me to start taking voice lessons and practicing daily. It took enormous effort at first, but I felt so fulfilled when I honored my commitment! I saw how it also took my attention away from worrying about my son and it set an example of discipline that he could notice… or not!

To my absolute utter surprise, my son is now on the Varsity Basketball team in his senior year because he said he realized he missed it and wanted to play with his friends. When he tried out, the coach said, “Well son, this is unusual to be trying out in your senior year, but you don’t know what you can do if you don’t try!” He mostly doesn’t play in games but loves practicing, being on a great team and is often getting his teammates cups of water during a timeout. He’s happy and he did it his way. He also has even said that he can see how far he could have come if he had kept playing. And he feels comfortable saying that to us because he feels his parent’s detachment. I know I didn’t cause any of this but because I focused on myself, I feel so fulfilled with my own pursuits and I bring a more joyful, independent me to enjoy going to the team’s games.

In short, I’ve learned when someone pushes my buttons, the only thing I have control over is what I do with the opportunity to see and address my own stuff. That’s so empowering.

I have gotten very creative about my buttons too! I’ve looked for many ways to bring my attention back to myself and not wandering around into my son’s business. When my son got his license and I saw my mind going wild about the potential scenarios that might result from my thrill-seeking teen, I created an imaginary warm, loving and burly bodyguard that I would mentally see by my son’s side to look out for him. I would send them off in my mind with love. It puts my mind at rest in an outer situation where I had no control. It lessons my stress. The button was my own tendency toward anxiety.

After our first meeting with Bonnie, my husband and I jumped fully on the same page to make connection with our son the priority. Over the years we’ve consulted Bonnie when we felt we were parenting in a way that seemed so outside the “norm” of a “top down” approach that is so advocated in our culture. We were checking in with our intuition and having discussions with our son and arriving at solutions and compromises. It was so helpful to have a third party look at all of it and confirm that we were on the right track for our family because our connection and open communication was there. I remember during one of our discussions with our son, he said, “Mum, I know you really care about me, but I think what you don’t understand is that ​I ​really care about me too!”

I heard years ago that something so important to a human being is the ability to make choices. That a teen, when confronted with control from parents will do everything in their power to demonstrate that they have choice, even if it means that the way to do it is by doing something that may appear self-destructive. Whatever we resist persists, especially with regards to teens.

I have witnessed parents fighting to control their teenagers, and it appears that what they are really doing is teaching their teens to cultivate a habit of being really good at lying. What else are the children going to do when faced with a punishment if they tell the truth? And I have seen the heartache of a parent feeling disconnected from their child and at a loss for how to ever get that back with sincerely no understanding that perhaps the way to do it is to let go of their expectations of how things should be and sink into acceptance of what ​is​ with an open heart.

Byron Katie, in her book “A Thousand Names for Joy”, page 186, says it so exquisitely:

“It’s painful to think you know what’s best for your children. It’s hopeless. When you think that you need to protect them, you’re teaching anxiety and dependence. But when you question your mind and learn how not to be mentally in your children’s business, finally there’s an example in the house: someone who knows how to live a happy life. They notice that you have your act together and that you’re happy, so they start to follow. You have taught them everything they know about anxiety and dependence, and now they begin to learn something else, something about what freedom looks like…. If your happiness depends on your children being happy, that makes them your hostages. I think I’ll just skip them and be happy from here. That’s a lot saner. It’s called unconditional love…. If what they do brings them happiness, that’s what I want; if it brings them unhappiness, that’s what I want, because they learn from that what I could never teach them.”

So here I find myself, a woman and a mother who is continually growing and learning and living into new subtleties that are revealed on this journey with my son. There is part of me that wishes I could go back and tell my younger self that all that energy of worrying was for naught, but I had to learn it for myself just as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz couldn’t know about her ruby red slippers and their power from the very beginning.

My son is in a wonderful place in his life, applying to colleges on his own terms, exploring all sorts of new hobbies, one of them being a passion for wall climbing. This young man who I wondered years ago if he would ever even stick it out through high school scored in the 98th percentile of the SAT. When I asked him how he got such a high verbal score he told me about how he is usually reading articles when he is on his phone. I never thought of that! He never had a book in his hand, so I thought…​

And all those hours of gaming? He still loves to game with his friends, and I imagine it will always be a hobby, but it doesn’t dominate his life. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that he has a real knack for computer programming and plans to major in Computer Science. When I watch him program, I see that all those skills he was learning with his fingers in gaming are what he puts to use in programming.

I so look forward to having more of my assumptions dismantled. In fact, I find he has taught me that making assumptions about him, or anyone else for that matter, and judgement of any kind is a huge waste of energy and time. He has been and continues to be my greatest teacher and I am so grateful for it. After all, it is my immense love for my son that has been the force to guide me to continually choose connection with him and set aside my ego when required — to settle into the place of simply not knowing the answer of what is “right”. As I see it, that’s a win-win!      

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Hugs Reduce Stress

Toxic stress in early childhood can harm children for life, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Don’t think your children have experienced toxic stress? All children do to differing degrees. Whoever said childhood is bliss didn’t know what he was talking about. Children experience stress just by being a child. From nightmares, worry about transitions, being afraid of the dark or thunder storms, social fears, children have a hard lot. And that doesn’t cover huge emotions and dysregulation that they cannot possibly understand when asked, “What’s wrong?” Then being punished, criticized, or threatened for behavior they can’t control…. You name it, a day rarely goes by when a child doesn’t experience stress.

Stress arises for a child when sensing a threat with no one to protect him from that threat. Children who experience this kind of stress in the early years, even prenatally through mother’s hormones, “…are more likely to suffer heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical ailments…also more likely to struggle in school, have short tempers and tangle with the law.”

A now more than two decade long scientific study by the Academy and the CDC shows the long term, harmful effects on society when we turn a blind eye on the problems faced by young children. From the stress children experience when their parents abuse alcohol or drugs, emotional or physical abuse or neglect, emotional or physical treatment between parents, mental illness, separation or divorce, to a child crying out and not being comforted and feeling unloved — stress comes in all shapes and sizes.

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, originally conducted from 1995-1997, is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being. We now have research showing the connection between disrupted neurodevelopment, social, emotional and cognitive impairment, risky behaviors, disease, disability and even early death to Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let’s look at what we can do about it.

The Academy has issued a policy statement that includes, “Protecting young children from adversity is a promising, science-based strategy to address many of the most persistent and costly problems facing contemporary society, including limited educational achievement, diminished economic productivity, criminality, and disparities in health.”

 

Prevention Strategies

The study outlines extensive strategies to turn the horrendous statistics around — strengthening economic supports to families, changing social norms to promote positive parenting, quality care and education, better parenting skills training, and intervention methods.

We can’t always control the environment for our children. Death and loss, natural disasters, accidents, an ex-spouse’s choices, disciplinary measures at school, hurtful remarks and bullying are all beyond our control. Nor should we hover and protect our children from growing up and experiencing the world we live in. Many circumstances children find themselves in can be toxic and traumatic, but when they have a protective factor to turn to safely, namely a parent or caring adult who understands, listens, accepts, and connects, a child can deal with and learn to make sense of most experiences. Ignoring, sweeping problems or sensitive issues under the carpet, screaming at and punishing big emotions that parents don’t want or know how to deal with undermine the protection you can provide.

Your connection to your children is the protective factor they need most. But connection is harder than we think, as most parents know. It often requires a mindset shift away from traditional parenting methods.

 

How you can provide that protective factor:

Stop threatening and punishing — the #1 tactic used by parents to coerce children’s behavior. In order to be the grounding force your children feel safe to come to no matter what, they must trust that you will never pose a threat to them. If they have nowhere to turn for an understanding ear, they will turn exactly where you fear most. This usually means

When we remain stuck in the mindset that punishments and consequences for inappropriate behavior are the way to get appropriate behavior, we forfeit our child’s trust. Mostly what the child learns is “you don’t understand me”, because behavior is provoked by emotions that parents typically pay no attention to. It is the emotional state that needs connection. When that is ignored and parents focus on behavior, the primary link to the protective factors parents provide is broken.

Habitual tactics are easy to fall back on when a child’s behavior gets tough. It is so tempting to pull computer time and cell phones, put kids in time out or send them to their rooms. These tactics miss the mark and only make kids mad. And if they “work”, it is only to get that cell phone back. Sneaky, conniving strategies result, and that all-important connection is risked.

 

What to do instead – Problem Solving promotes connection:

  • Do nothing in the heat of the moment. When emotions are calm and the prefrontal cortex is back online, work on the situation. This is where parents stumble. We want to forget about it and move on.
  • Resist the temptation to blame. Own and acknowledge your feelings.
  • Look to your child’s need or emotions that provoked the behavior and connect with that need. “You must have been furious with your sister to hit her. Tell me what got you so angry.”
  • Discuss the problem without blame. Own what part of it is yours, “I’m really concerned that you don’t consider my feelings. It is not okay with me when you call me names.”
  • Acknowledge that your child was having a problem that provoked the behavior. It was a mistake, not a crime. Trust your child’s desire to be successful. We all say and do things we don’t mean.
  • Engage your child to come up with a solution that all can agree on.
  • Don’t expect the agreement to work. It’s a process. Keep refining until the behavior stops.
  • Do focus on acceptance, listening, predictability, playtime.
  • Take your focus off behavior and onto what could be going on with your child to get back to compassion. All connection requires compassion.
  • Hug a lot.
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    Jan. ’19 Q&A – Fantasy Play, Honor Who Your Child is, and Understanding the Draw of Xbox

    Fantasy Play

    Q. My 4 year old loves pretend play. She often starts out the day by saying, ” pretend I’m Peter Pan and you’re ….” It almost seems like a deep-seated need to play this way. I find that if I don’t play with her like this then she is harder to deal with. I guess another way I think about it, is that when I play with her and follow her direction, it fills her up. I haven’t studied child psychology, but I was wondering if you could provide more insight into this type of play.

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    Nov. ’18 Q&A – Refusing Warm Clothes, Night Diapers and Handling Peer Pressure

    What to do when a child refuses warm clothes

    Q. I am stuck on an issue with my almost 4 yr. old son. He has been insisting on wearing shorts and t-shirts for the last few months no matter what the weather. When this came up, refusing coats/long sleeves/pants, I went with it, allowing him choice in clothing. I thought, when he gets really cold, he’ll put on more clothes. He didn’t. I compromised and allowed him to wear leg warmers, long socks, etc. It got colder and colder and he wasn’t adjusting at all. Finally, I insisted that he wear pants and a coat when necessary (during an evening out he became so cold, was shivering, and claiming he wasn’t cold and temps were in the 30’s). He has fought it completely. He doesn’t want to leave the house because it means putting clothes on. He willget dressed but its only if I practically force him to. I have held firm though, as this has been our most recent decision on how to handle this. It’s not getting easier. I considered it could be a sensory issue but I don’t think it is based in what he tells me and how he acts when he’s dressed. He will pull his pant legs up and want them rolled up like shorts, however, he’ll wear leg warmers and any kind of material of pant. I thought he might be trying to control this part of his life because recently we cut all screen time and he had no choice in the matter. 

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    Oct. ’18 Q&A – Pull-ups for Poops, Healthy Anger and Early Adolescent Rejection

    Pull-ups for Poops

    Q. My 4 yo daughter won’t poop on the potty/toilet. She uses a pull-up to poop (she is very independent in the process). She holds it if she isn’t at home. She is totally fine with peeing in the toilet and has been for about 2 years now. Two things I think are contributing are that she gets constipated and has had some pain with pooping. She says she isn’t ready to go on the toilet because she’s scared it will hurt more. We are working with her Dr. on resolving the constipation and in the last couple months it’s been a lot better. She also regressed in this area when her baby sister was born. I’m not sure if that’s still part of it or not after a year and a half. She does have a few “baby” things she still wants to do, so maybe this is one of those things too. She has said she knows she’s too big to still poop in a pull up (her dad and I have never said anything like that to her). We have tried really hard not to make a big deal about it and let her decide to do it on her own, but I’d really like to stop buying pull-ups!

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    Hindsight on Gaming and Screentime

    Gaming and computer usage is probably the hottest topic in parenting. I have said much about it and share some articles here, but there is nothing like the horse’s mouth. This mom of an 18 yr. old son and two teen daughters, commented on my Facebook Group so eloquently that I asked her if she would write more about her experience. Below is just that. I couldn’t have said it better, so I share it with you:

    My son is now 18 and we had a talk recently about gaming and Fortnite specifically as we seem inundated with commentary around parent’s frustrations and concerns about the amount of time their kids are spending playing this game. It was a fascinating chat as we have some perspective now and can reflect on what worked and equally importantly what did not work well managing his love of gaming growing up.

    Looking back, my seminal moment came when he was 16 and wanted to use his own money to build a PC for gaming. He is now able to reflect on how we approached screens — this part was not always comfortable to hear — and how gaming now fits into his life as one of his many interests, hobbies and passions.

    He has always gamed, and this was a real hot spot for us. We all argued about it – my son and I argued, his Dad and he argued, and my husband and I argued about how long he was on line or whose turn it was to get him off! We valued family time, and him having multiple interests and balance, so we set rules which have always been simple and clear: A maximum time a day, one screen at a time (no double dipping), never in the bedroom (in the kitchen until he was a teen) and only after chores and homework. The consequence for not getting off was that the time was further limited the following day.

     

    The biggest lesson that I learned when he was younger was to try and engage. It never worked to shout from the next room or give no notice when it was time to get off. A better strategy was to engage first with what he was doing (perhaps asking to see his Minecraft creation), agree on a 5 or 10-minute warning (a timer worked well) and acknowledge him for the tough task of getting off. I tried to remain calm but clearly did not always get it right.

    When he was 16 and asked to buy and build his own gaming PC, the answer was quite simply, NO, as surely that would just lead to more focus on and time online. He was angry and frustrated and wrote a long email setting out all his issues around my approach to his gaming.  He pointed out, and I realised during the “discussions” around this new PC, that I just did not “get” his love and interest in gaming. He told me that this was his hobby, that I never understood or liked it (did I know the names of the games he played?) and that I had no trouble being involved in his sisters’ interests (I made it known that riding was a much healthier pursuit!). I only ever saw and brought up the negatives without taking any time to appreciate that he enjoyed the strategy, the action and the fun while finding new friends and feeling part of a community. He even added links to research and articles that highlighted the benefits of various games.

    He reminded me that he did well in school, had other interests, and kept to the limits and rules. And he was right! I needed to address my own issues and show the empathy he deserved.  Deep down (and not so deep down!) his gaming was a real button pusher for me. I worried that he loved gaming too much. I would react badly when he needed help getting off. I realize now that I was extrapolating to a life addicted to gaming and his subsequent ruin.

    He did get his PC and through many conversations (the two-way kind) about why, where, when and how this PC would be used, I gained a deeper understanding and closer connection with my son.

    For his part, when he looks back he can now see that the limits were an important part of learning self-control, although he still thinks that I was at times too rigid and didn’t completely “get it”.  He acknowledges that just as in the off-line world kids need to be taught and learn safety, self-control and resilience, they do need these lessons in the on-line world too. Just as they won’t learn from experience if they never leave the house, they won’t learn how to manage their on-line life unless they are allowed on-line with appropriate boundaries.

    So, what about Fortnite? According to my son, it’s compelling as it is cross platform, it’s free, it’s simple and team oriented yet strategic and the objective of being the last man standing is fun! It is however just another game – as Minecraft was for him growing up. So, the same principle applies. We are trying to teach on and off-line resilience as there will be another Fortnite in the future.

    A few of our suggestions:

  • Educate yourself – know and understand what they are playing and all the features.
  • Set age appropriate, clear boundaries that reflect your values and their age, stage and temperament. Just as you would not let them loose in the mall until old enough and without first teaching how to find you or their way home, don’t let them loose on-line without some training and rules.
  • Be consistent, be respectful and above all be empathetic.
  • Support your kids in their off-line interests. Be a mud slinger – let them try lots of things and see what sticks.
  • Family time – eat as many meals together as you can, have fun and keep the conversation going!
  • Know your child — My son is very intense, sensitive and did not like transitions when he was young. Understanding your child’s temperament is vital when it comes to having appropriate expectations for their ability to manage screens and their need for help in doing so.
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