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Beyond Screen Time Limits

Get insights, tips and ideas straight from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine

Solving Screen Time From a Former Gamer's Perspective

Apr 03, 2021
 

Gaming.  Kids are obsessed.  Parents are frustrated and worried.  On the one hand, online games are now central to the social lives of so many kids. Parents wonder, 'maybe gaming isn't that different than playing with friends in person?'  And yet something seems intuitively wrong with the hours and hours kids spend gaming.  

Parents are right to worry.  Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry aimed at hooking our children's attention, often taking them away from family, schoolwork, sports, art, music, jobs, chores, and the rest of what used to be normal activities during the preteen and adolescent years.  And yet gaming is here to stay, and research indicates that it can even be beneficial in many ways. Where is the line between good clean fun with online games and playing in a way that is emotionally or physically harmful? We can (and must) empower young gamers to find and walk that line.  

To shed light on this journey, I recently interviewed William Passmore and his mother Carol.  Now 28, William gamed intensively when he was a teen.  His mother was worried and tried unsuccessfully to get him to stop.  Both look back on those years and reflect on why William got so hooked, what ultimately worked to get him unhooked, and what advice they would give young gamers and their parents.  

You can listen to the whole conversation here, but for all you super busy parents out there, here are my top 5 takeaways:

Gaming can become all-consuming because it fulfills a need. William talked about how he was always "In the game" because he was having difficulty feeling a sense of accomplishment and acceptance in school and with friends. At the time, William felt that the accomplishment and acceptance he felt in his online life could substitute and satisfy these important needs.  He invested endless hours and effort to this end.  He describes slowly becoming troubled by the fact that what he created in his online life did not really exist.  The levels he achieved evaporated when he changed games. The things he bought vanished when he turned off his computer. He rarely saw most of his gaming friends. He was realizing that gaming was a "stand-in" and would never truly be satisfying as he had hoped. This realization ultimately empowered him to let go of gaming and invest his energies into activities that create things that exist and last.

There is an underlying shame in feeling hooked on gaming.  Wiliam describes feeling ashamed of his reliance on gaming and his inability to stop. Many kids feel the same way - as if something must be wrong with them to be hooked on screens. What we need to remind ourselves and our children is that there is a multi-billion dollar industry that is built on hooking everyone on their games, especially preteens and teens. Kids need to understand that getting hooked is not their fault.  Everyone can fall prey to the addictive conditions built into online games, and kids are even more susceptible to the gaming industry's tactics as their brains are not yet fully developed. William describes how understanding this bigger picture behind gaming helped him let go of shame, which freed him up to take an honest look at how he wanted gaming to fit into his life.  

Trying to control the situation in a black and white way doesn't work. Carol's fears for her son led her to try to control his online life, limit game time and force him back into the offline world.  Carol remembers with a laugh that William was vastly more technologically advanced than she was, and was always able to hack his way back into the games. The old way of saying "no" and removing access doesn't work with screen time. Technology is everywhere - at school, in friend's houses, on computers used for schoolwork, and on phones used to stay in touch with family - and kids who feel controlled often resort to lying and sneaking to get online.  Carol describes her journey to realizing that she needed a different approach, one that supported and guided William to find his own wisdom and ability to self-regulate his gaming.  

As a parent, lead with compassion and support. Carol and William agreed that Carol was most successful when she came from a place of understanding why he enjoyed and needed gaming so much.  Carol worked to balance this compassion with continued efforts to offer lots of offline ways to engage in the world and stay connected as a family.  William acknowledged that these offline experiences were key to his ability to pull himself out of the gaming world.  Although he had to realize on this own that he wanted a different lifestyle, Carol's ability to validate his desire to game while also exposing him to other options gave him an exit path once he was ready.  

You need a toolkit with a common language. One thing Carol said she wished she had was a toolkit or a common language that she could have leaned on to help her son. She wasn't sure of what to do and felt she was making up the game plan as she played the game.  Back when William was a teen, online games and devices were new, and parents were lost in this uncharted territory.  Fortunately, parents can now learn from families like the Passmores, who have been through it and come out the other side. I started the Solving Screen Time program to give parents and kids a game plan for screen time based on all the ways I had seen it go awry and go well in my therapy office over the last decade.  The toolkit and language Carol needed now exist - a way to connect with your child and guide them to learn the skills needed to use screen time in a healthy and responsible way.

In the end, William said that he wished he had appreciated the opportunities during his teenage years to hang out with friends and family IRL - in real life. He wished he had paid more attention to how he spent time and whether he was doing things that moved him forward in life and created real entities - accomplishments and friendships that didn't evaporate with an off switch. While he learned a ton on his journey, his message is an important one to convey to our kids.  Games can be life-enhancing; we just can't let them be life-controlling.

I think Carol said it best when she ended our chat: 'Don't give in to fear. Kids want to be productive in the world.'  Control doesn't work.  Empowering our kids to tap into their own wisdom and showing them how to self-regulate is the only path for screen time.

Navigating screen time with children is tough for most parents. If you need some extra help setting up an effective plan and/or teaching your child the skills needed for healthy and responsible screen time, we invite you to learn more about our program. We got you covered! 

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents and preteens how to prepare for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


End the constant screen time battles, we'll show you how!

Continue Reading...

Go Ahead and Monitor Your Tween's Online Activity - Here’s Why

Feb 02, 2021

As kids become tweens, they tend to want to keep more things private; shutting bedroom doors more often, not sharing as much about their day as they used to. As loving parents, we want to respect our tweens growing independence and give them the space needed to make some of their own decisions. 

However, the online world is not the place to immediately allow children privacy and independence. The online world, for all the wonderful things it offers, is also pock-marked with suggestive and inappropriate content, tricky algorithms, and intentionally designed to keep our kids distracted, hooked, and insecure. 

Until your tween has demonstrated that they can handle screen time in a safe and responsible way, privacy and independence are simply not an option. 

Think of teaching your child to drive a car. It’s your job to make sure your child knows how to drive safely and responsibly before allowing them to drive on their own. Your child goes through driver’s ed class, practices driving with you coaching them in the car through a variety of environments and scenarios. When you feel that your child is able to drive safely and responsibly, you give them the keys to the car - with pride and a twinge of apprehension. 

Think of your child’s screen time in the same way. 

Do you know as much about online safety as you do about safety on the road?

Just like driving, there’s a lot to know about safe and responsible screen time. Until your child has acquired healthy screen time skills, you have to play an active role as they engage in the online world. 

The risks of not monitoring your child’s screen time are many. They may:

  • become scared, overwhelmed, or anxious if exposed to suggestive or inappropriate content
  • become embarrassed, humiliated, or shamed from online social situations
  • be at risk of falling prey to online predators
  • be at risk of giving away personal information

None of us want to see our child cornered into any of the above scenarios. We want to know that our kids are safe online. We want to be ready and aware of possible dilemmas that being online can create. We want our kids to know they can rely on us in their online life, just as they would in their offline life. We want to feel connected and close to our kids as we teach them to navigate the wonderful, yet tricky aspects of the online world.  

Here are some examples of safe and responsible screen time behavior:

  • Your child knows that apps, games, platforms, etc are designed to keep their attention.
  • Your child knows that the online world is NOT private and can be harmful. 
  • Your child thinks twice before posting and they know that their digital footprint is permanent.
  • Your child knows that everyone has access to the internet and a lot of what is posted online is not based on facts or truth.
  • Your child knows that social media can negatively affect the way people feel about themselves. Images and profiles are curated and don’t reflect real life.

Navigating screen time with children is tough for most parents. If you need some extra help setting up an effective plan and/or teaching your child the skills needed for healthy and responsible screen time, we invite you to learn more about our program. We got you covered! 

 

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


End the constant screen time battles.  Join the movement here.

Continue Reading...

Screens as Reward or Punishment (Part II): What to do Instead

Jan 20, 2021

Parents often use screen time to motivate their children to do things... 

  • “If you clean your room, you can have an extra hour of game time;”  
  • “If you get an A in math, I’ll get you your own phone.”  

… or to not do things:

  • “If you are rude to me one more time, I’m taking away your laptop!”
  • “You hit your sister! No games tonight!”

The problem with those types of rules is that they are arbitrary. They don’t really make much sense. What does screen time have to do with a clean room or hitting a sibling? Nothing. How will getting an A in math demonstrate that a child is ready for their own phone? It won’t.  

Though using screen time as a reward/punishment can work in the short term, it eventually backfires down the road (for a deeper dive read Part I). It can inadvertently make a kid want screen time more because it is being held up as a reward, something to be coveted and desired. It can also promote bargaining - “But mom, last time I cleaned my room I got more game time. Why not this time?” - which leads to conflict and confusion.  

And yet, parents need rules around screen time.  If screen time is not used as a reward or punishment, what should the rules be? 

Parents need only one rule for screen time. Here it is: Give and take away screen time based on how your kid uses screen time. What does this look like?

Start Small

Screen time exists on a spectrum. Less screen time is easier for kids to manage than more screen time. It’s easier to log off after a show on Netflix than to log off of a group game like Roblox. So start with a smaller amount of “easier” screen time so your child can practice healthy screen time and be successful. 

Healthy screen time is when they can:

  • Log off without a tantrum or grumpy mood
  • Keep screen time in balance with the rest of their lives, continuing to pursue their hobbies, getting school work done, completing chores, etc. rather than allowing screen time to dominate interests and time 
  • Respect limits, and not sneak extra screen time or apps that have been forbidden. 
  • Stay on task while online
  • Keep themselves and others safe in the online world

Screen time can be so hooking that all of these can be difficult - and yet this is what healthy screen time looks like.  

Add Screen Time When...

As you see your child using screen time in a healthy and responsible way, you slowly build to “harder” screen time - more time or access to apps, devices, and platforms that are more hooking and difficult to manage. When you see them logging off easily, keeping screen time in balance, staying honest, you tell them “Great, you’re handling your screen time business! You’re ready for a bit more.” That's when you allow them to have additional time, a new app they’ve been asking for, or maybe even their own device. 

Dial Back Screen Time When...

Now, if they take a turn into unhealthy screen time - start begging for more game time, sneaking or becoming dishonest, losing interest in hobbies in favor of screens, missing school work assignments because they can’t stay off YouTube - this is the time to dial back screen time. These behaviors are your child’s way of communicating to you that they cannot handle the level of screen time they have. They can’t unhook. It’s not their fault - they just aren’t quite there yet.  

Reduce screen time. Take away problematic games, apps, or devices temporarily. Have them do schoolwork where an adult can watch them, versus alone in their room. When they can demonstrate healthy screen time, you let them slowly try again. Allow them to play their game again and see if they can log off gracefully. Go back to allowing them to do schoolwork in their room and see if they can stay focused. Give them their device again and see if they can stay honest.  

This way of doing screen time motivates your child to be healthy with their devices because that’s the only way they get screen time. It keeps your kid safe because you never give them more than they can handle. And though your child may not like this way at first, over time your child will come around because it is consistent and fair, and lays down a clear path for them to gain the freedom and access they so desire.  

Navigating screen time with children is tough for most parents. If you need some extra help setting up an effective plan and/or teaching your child the skills needed for healthy and responsible screen time, we invite you to learn more about our program. We got you covered!

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


End the constant screen time battles.  Join the movement here.

Continue Reading...

When is the right time to give a child a cell phone?

Jan 11, 2021

Parents commonly struggle over the decision to give their child a smartphone, and for good reason. With a phone comes wide access to the internet, social media, apps, games, and communication with friends. For the first time, your child will have these capabilities in their pocket, without you watching over and taking the screen away if it goes awry. It’s easy for kids to get into unhealthy screen time patterns once they have more access and less supervision. That’s why it’s so important to have a plan to ensure your child learns to be safe and responsible with their phone and a set of criteria for deciding if your child is ready

Are YOU ready for your child to have a phone?

Remember, once your child gets used to the freedom and opportunities that come with their own device, it is very hard to dial it back. For this reason, it’s important to set up a screen time plan effectively from the start.  

  • Are you clear on your rules? Are there any apps that are off-limits? Can they have a social media account? Where will their phone be kept at night, and at what time will it be unavailable to use? 
  • How will you be sure your child’s screen time is kept in balance with other life activities? Will you be setting a time limit or scheduling specific screen times? What will happen if phone use interferes with their schoolwork getting done?
  • Are you clear on family screen-free times? Can they use phones during family outings, car rides, when friends come over?
  • How will you know whether your child is following the rules? How will you know whether your child is using apps that are off-limits? How will you know if they are messaging and posting in ways that could harm them or other kids? Is your child clear on how you will be monitoring their activity? 
  • What are the logistics of getting and maintaining a phone? Who will buy the phone? Who will pay the monthly bill? What happens if the phone is lost or damaged?

Is your child ready for a smartphone?

Once you are clear about your rules, step back, and assess if your child is ready for a smartphone. When I ask parents how they will decide when to give their child a smartphone, I hear a wide range of answers: “When they are 13”, “When they get an A in math”, “I’ll wait as long as I can!”. I get it. Parents are confused and are taking their best guess at how to set this up. They have been missing a clear way to assess if their child is ready for a device because no one has defined what a child needs to be able to do in order to manage their device responsibly and safely.  

Below is a set of key questions that will help you determine whether your child is ready for a phone based on their readiness to manage their device in a healthy way:

  • Is your child self-aware? Can they recognize when screen time is negatively affecting them? Can they take a break or get off if they are getting harmed emotionally or physically by their time online.
  • Can your child self-regulate? Do they log off screen time without a battle? Are they balancing their online lives with their offline lives?
  • Does your child understand how the online world works? Do they know that much of what they see on the internet isn’t true? Can they determine what people or information seem dubious?
  • Will your child follow the rules you lay out? Will they respect limits in terms of what apps they can access, when & where to dock phones at night, etc?  Are they clear how you will be monitoring their online activities (at least at first)?
  • Does your child know how to keep themselves and others safe online? Think cyberbullying, predators, personal information, etc
  • Can your child stick to a well-rounded routine? Will they keep screen time from affecting a healthy routine of sleep, meals, getting homework done, maintaining offline activities, etc.?

Getting a smartphone is a big responsibility - you want to make sure you and your child are prepared for this big step. If you need some extra help setting this up effectively and/or teaching your child the skills needed for healthy and responsible screen time, we invite you to learn more about our program. We got you covered!

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


End the constant screen time battles.  Join the movement here.

Continue Reading...

My #1 Rule for Screen Time

Sep 28, 2020

In my last blog, I discussed the first step in managing screen time for tweens during remote learning: the setup of a screen time block schedule. This kind of schedule allows your child to enjoy entertainment and social screen time, while not letting screen time take over their lives.  As they mature and practice, they can learn to maintain this balance on their own - and such a schedule will no longer be necessary.  

However, for most families, establishing a schedule is not enough to manage screen time.  Many kids won’t be motivated right away to follow this schedule - especially if they’re used to having more screen time.  So - how do we motivate tweens to get on board with balanced screen time?

Lay Down my #1 Rule For Screen Time

You only need ONE screen time rule to accomplish this task. My #1 Rule for Screen Time:  Kids can only have access to their screen when they are on board with using their screens in healthy ways. 

Think of it this way: Would you let your child learn to drive if they were not on board with learning how to do so safely? Of course not. Screens, like cars, pose safety risks when not operated wisely.  Kids should only be allowed to have screen time when they are on board with learning how to use screen time in a healthy and responsible way.  

Here’s how to explain this to your tween:

“In this house, you only get (non-academic) screen time when you are practicing using screens in healthy, balanced ways. When I see you doing this, I will trust you with (non-academic) screen time. Screen time is too potentially addictive and dangerous to let you have it if you aren’t on board with learning to use it wisely. So, if I don’t see the effort, you’ll have a screen time break (other than academics). Then you can try again when I see that you are ready to work on using devices in healthy ways.”

Explain What Healthy Screen Time Looks Like

OK, now your kid is listening! Your next job is to instill a vision of healthy versus unhealthy screen time. What does healthy, safe, balanced screen time look like, especially during a pandemic and remote learning? 

Healthy screen time means that your tween...

  1. Maintains focus on academics and avoids toggling over to other online activities in a way that interferes with learning (vs. disrupts learning by messaging, playing games, or other online activities)
  2. Unhooks at the end of screen time blocks (vs. becoming defiant, sneaking, or begging for more screen time)
  3. Docks devices and engages in other important life activities - chores, hobbies, physical exercise, homework, family time, play/unstructured boredom time (vs. only wanting screen time and being unwilling to engage in other activities)
  4. Engages in age-appropriate content online and respects any limit you have set (vs. seeking out content that is not developmentally appropriate)

Explain these benchmarks of healthy screen time to your tween and remember that anything less is unhealthy. Your take-home message to your tween: 

I want you to enjoy your screen time, stay connected to your friends during these isolating times, play games, relax with some videos, etc. I just want you to do it in healthy ways.”

Follow Through

Once your tween understands what you mean by ‘healthy screen time,’ and knows that they will only have screen time when they use screens in healthy ways, they are now motivated to get on board with your schedule and plan. Your tween will make mistakes - healthy screen time is not easy for any of us! Use those mistakes as learning opportunities, but stay consistent on your expectations that the schedule be followed daily, and that the benchmarks of healthy screen time be met. 

Despite your support, if ‘mistakes’ are more of a downright unwillingness to use screens in healthy ways-  be sure to follow through on my #1 Rule For Screen Time. Take their non-academic screen time away temporarily. Give it back when they are on board with learning healthy tech use. Remember, this rule is not in place to be mean or punish your child - it is there to keep them safe.  

Tune in for next week’s blog to learn how you can support your child so that they learn to hit those healthy screen time benchmarks., and then ultimately self-regulate their own screen time - without having you monitor!

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


End the constant screen time battles.  Join the movement here.

Continue Reading...

5 Healthy Screen Time Tips for Pre-teens

Sep 16, 2020

“My kids’ screen use is out of control. They’re online for school and then play games in between class sessions. I just realized my 11-year-old has figured out how to chat with friends on some messaging program I didn’t even know his Chromebook had, and now he is messaging friends throughout the day. I feel bad taking this away since he can’t see his friends, but between messaging, games, and school, he’s on his screen all day. What do we do?”

-Lila W

Parents all over the country are asking this very question. How do we possibly keep screen time healthy for our pre-teens & teens now that their school and social lives occur online?  

There is an answer.  

This is the first of three blogs that will collectively give parents a roadmap for screen time with pre-teens during remote learning. Start here, and then read more over the next two weeks.  And P.S. - if you manage screen time this way, your child will be learning critical skills for self-regulation of screen time. It’s a win-win! 

Separate Entertainment/Social Screen Time from Academic Screen Time

All screen time is not created equal. It’s not the same to complete math assignments as it is to play Roblox with a group of friends. The first step is to separate academic screen time from social/entertainment screen time in your own mind. This step begins to clarify a path for you and your pre-teen - rather than being overwhelmed by the problem.  

Once you have separated screen time into these two categories, create a daily schedule with your child.  Keep these tips in mind:  

Tip #1: Create a consistent time for social/entertainment screen time.

Academic screen time is not movable, but have your pre-teen weigh-in on timing for social/entertainment screen time.  Encourage them to coordinate with friends.  Every family will be less stressed if screen time is coordinated among friends!  

Tip #2: Schedule their social/entertainment screen time at the end of the day.

I highly recommend that you keep one block of social/entertainment screen time for the end of the day. This gives your pre-teen something to look forward to, and incentive to complete other tasks such as homework, chores, screen-free activities, etc.  

Tip #3: Have non-screen time blocks of time scheduled in. 

Make screen-free blocks of time long enough for your pre-teen to truly engage in other activities. 

Here is a sample schedule from one Beyond Limits family with a 12 yo daughter:

7:30 - 8:30 - Get up, get ready, eat breakfast

8:30 - 2:30 - Academic Screen Time

2:30 - 4:30 - Screen-Free: hobbies, exercise, unstructured boredom/playtime

4:30 - 5:30 - Social/entertainment screen time

5:30 - 7:30 - Screen-Free: chores, dinner, homework

7:30 - 8:30 - Social/entertainment screen time

8:30 - 9:30 - Screen-Free: get ready for bed, reading, hang with parents

9:30 bedtime 

Tip #4: Stay close by. 

Have your pre-teen dock their devices near you for their screen-free time.  This way they will not struggle with the temptation to hop back on, and can better learn the art of unhooking.  When they gain competency, they can work up to keeping their devices during screen-free blocks of time.

Tip #5: Stick to the schedule.

Most pre-teens will want to message friends before school and also right before bed. It can be difficult for pre-teens to prepare for school or to wind down for bed if they have access to messaging friends. Hold off on letting them message friends at these transition times until they can maintain healthy routines without their phones.  Then let them try to add friend chats to these times of days when they are ready. 

For most families, this type of schedule will be a start, but not enough on its own.  Many pre-teens have had much freer access to screens over the last several months, so they may not exactly welcome this scheduling change. If this is your situation, stay tuned for next week’s blog where I will discuss how to get pre-teens on board with this type of screen time plan.

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


End the constant screen time battles.  Join the movement here.

Continue Reading...

How to Help Your Child Deal With Emotions vs. Numbing With Screens

Sep 03, 2020

The return to school this year is unprecedented and may be bringing up strong emotions for your child. Before returning to school, many parents allowed extra screen time to help cope during SIP. But now, with all of the screen time devoted to remote learning, many families want to roll back that extra screen time to give children more balance.

As we rollback screen time during a time of intense emotions, we have to expect push back and distress. Screens often numb or mask our children’s emotions, so if we want to shift this, we have to be ready to help our children handle their emotions in a different and healthier way. We have to connect with our children, support them through intense feelings, and help them find words and solace for what they are experiencing in this time of upheaval.  

How do we do this?

Be Present - Even if Just for a Few Minutes 

Easier said than done! As parents, we are more distracted than ever as work, home and school all occur at the same time and place. Yet, if we want our children to cope without turning to screens for solace and constant distraction, we have to help them do so.  

The first step is to find moments to show up, put down our own phones, and be present with our children. It can happen in a quick check-in between calls, a special activity, or a deeper conversation when needed. Mostly, being present just entails leaving your computer in the other room, breathing deeply, and tuning into the little being across from you.

Here’s an example of what this may look like:

Your son gets off his afternoon zoom call and immediately yells at his little brother, then begs to play Roblox. You put down your to-do list, go sit with him and say, “What’s up? You seem upset.” 

Listen & Validate

The next step is listening to understand. This is not as easy as it sounds! As you hear what he says, try to ‘get in his world.’ Reflect back how he is feeling: frustrated, annoyed, angry, worried, sad. If you aren’t sure, ask him. Try to resist corrections, defensiveness, and problem-solving. Find the words that guess how he feels until he feels understood.

Here’s one way that may go:

Parent: “What’s up? You seem upset.”

Child: “I’m not upset! I’m annoyed! I’m on my call and my little brother comes into my room making noise. Can’t you keep him out of here? I hate doing schoolwork. Can I play Roblox now?!?”

Parent: “So frustrating! It's hard to be on calls with noise around! I get it. We never used to have this problem when we were at school.”

Child: “Yea! I hate doing work from home! It’s so dumb here. Can I play Roblox?” 

Parent: “Sure, you can play Roblox at 4:30, when you have your screen time. And by “dumb”, I think you mean it’s difficult to work from home and not be in school. You wouldn’t have to deal with your brother at school!”

Note that validating doesn’t mean bending boundaries or changing rules just because he is upset. Hold firm on no Roblox (we don’t want him going to screens to numb feelings). Hold firm on inappropriate language. These boundaries teach your child to deal with feelings appropriately. Help them find the language that accurately describes how they feel and why.    

Help Your Child Soothe in Non-Addictive Ways

If he is too upset to have this conversation right now, help him soothe and distract in non-screen time ways (see the list from my previous blog). These other ways allow a person to feel some emotion while engaging in activities that bring comfort and/or a mental ‘change of scenery.’  When they have soothed without screens, return to discussing the original problem and validating feelings. In this way, your child learns to soothe but not numb emotions. They learn to tolerate and express feelings. They learn that adults are safe sources of help and understanding.

Help Problem Solve

One of the most validating things you can do as a parent is to help your child solve the problems that upset them. After listening, engage your child in solving the problem together.  

“Most problems have solutions. How do you want to solve this one? What are some ideas we can come up with to keep your brother out of the room when you have your calls?”

When you solve the problem together, your child learns that seemingly overwhelming experiences can be solved. They learn that they don’t need to panic or numb - they can face the challenges life (and COVID) brings and cope effectively.  

Allow Appropriate Screen Time

Schedule a daily screen time so that your child can enjoy some entertainment and social time with friends. When they want to turn to their screen for emotional coping, help them in the ways just described, but remind them that they do get screen time at their normal time. This way they learn that screens are to be enjoyed in moments of calm but not used as a crutch to cope with hard times. (See upcoming blog for how to schedule daily screen time and ensure that it doesn’t interfere with healthy development.)
Remember, if you don’t want your child turning to screens to cope with feelings, you have to let them turn to you! This means staying connected and present for their feelings, especially those surrounding their upcoming school year. If you want more guidance on parenting from a place of connection, see Dr. Laura Markham’s work here.

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


End the constant screen time battles.  Join the movement here.

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How to Help Your Child Focus on Schoolwork vs. YouTube

Aug 25, 2020

“What?!? You are supposed to be doing math and you are watching cat videos on YouTube?”

Charged with attending school on a device filled with more entertaining activities, our children will have a very difficult time staying on task.  

When children toggle back and forth between schoolwork and other online activities, not only does it take them longer to finish assignments but research indicates that media multitasking is linked to lower levels of short and long-term memory, especially on tasks that require sustained, goal-directed attention (schoolwork).  This behavior needs to be addressed to ensure our children can learn effectively this fall.

How do we handle this scenario when we can’t take away their device?  How can we ensure they get their education when the online world is so enticing?  Here is what to do:

Blame the device, not your child

Though completely understandable, when we get angry at them for being on YouTube children feel judged and wonder what is wrong with them that they cannot stay on task online. This will disconnect you from your child and also further decrease their ability to focus on schoolwork.  Not the direction we want to go.

To find a new strategy, let’s take a look at the root of this problem. The fact is that most of us struggle with distractibility while working online. Platforms and Apps are designed intentionally to hook our attention, and these designs work on all of us, including our children. In other words, the design of the device is the problem - not the child. Our children toggle to YouTube not because they are inept or irresponsible, but because the developers are really good at what they do.

Rather than reacting with anger, take a breath, and remember to blame the device, not the child.  Say:

You are on YouTube rather than math! Oh, dear! It is so hard. YouTube is designed to grab your attention. So hard to resist those pictures of those cute cats - and right next to a hard math assignment!”

Approaching the problem this way helps keep you connected to your child. Now you can move on to solving the problem.

Assume That Your Child Doesn’t Know How to Resist Media Multitasking

Young children do not have the executive functioning ability to consistently resist clicking the tempting cat video, and pre-teens and teens are just beginning to develop the cognitive capacities to do so.  Assume that your child does not know how to resist multitasking.  

In this case, your job is to help them develop this ability.  Think - how do I solve this problem in my own life?  Here are some common strategies to teach your child.

  • Turn off sounds/alerts
  • Temporarily disable chats
  • Move tempting apps out of sight
  • Close unneeded windows
  • Make work assignments fullscreen
  • Set focus goals ex: When I finish my assignment, I will take some time to watch YouTube
  • Use timers ex: 30 minutes of focus followed by a 10-minute online break
  • Sit near others who help ensure focus

Tell your child:

It’s not your fault that you click on YouTube... and I do need to teach you how to avoid doing this.  If we give in to these temptations, the constant switching around can actually decrease our brain’s capacity to learn and remember.  It also takes much longer to complete work.  Believe me, I’ve been there! Here is what I do to deal with this.  What do you think would help you? 

Work with your child to put a plan in place. It will take time for your child to develop this skill. Be patient. Stick with it. With practice, your child can learn this!

Check to See if Schoolwork Help is Needed

Adults and children will naturally toggle more when faced with particularly challenging OR particularly unengaging tasks. Becoming distracted by other online activities can be a sign that they are struggling with their schoolwork.  Ask them which subjects tend to be harder to focus on, and explore why this may be so.  Help them get more support in these particular areas.

Hold Firm Limits

I suggest holding a firm limit on media multitasking.  This does not mean obsessively looking at your children’s screens while they do school work this fall.  This will drive them crazy and it is not possible to enforce a rule that they can never get off task, especially with pre-teens and older.  Instead, pay attention to whether this behavior is interfering or compromising their schoolwork, and if so - make a change.

The overall message should be that they can only have the freedom to do their work online away from adults if 

  1. They have shown that they know how to avoid media multitasking AND
  2. They are reasonably willing to do so

If either of these is not the case, your child should do their schoolwork within the supervision of adults until they meet the above criteria. When they do, let them try doing schoolwork in their room once or twice per day, and build up from there.  If media-multitasking again interferes, bring them temporarily back into common space.  

Remember this like every new skill, this takes time and practice.  Be patient but stick with it.  Though they may not enjoy this process, at a deeper level they will be relieved to have help learning to manage this tricky aspect of the online world.  And the skills you are teaching are critical to their future success in the screen-filled world in which they will live.  

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


End the constant screen time battles.  Join the movement here.

Continue Reading...

Using Screens to Numb Feelings

Aug 20, 2020

As a mom, I'm very aware of how stressful these times are for parents. We are juggling an impossible amount as we continue to make our way through this pandemic.  As school re-starts, I am also aware of how hard this time is on our children.

Many of our children are wondering if life will ever be the same. They miss their friends.  They worry about how they will learn without their teachers by their side. They are fearful of getting sick or that vulnerable loved ones may fall ill. They don’t want to be taught math by their stressed-out parents. This is part of the reason why so many of them are begging for more screen time.

So many children and adults turn to screens to numb out and avoid emotional discomfort. We feel awkward at a social event and reflexively reach for our phones. We feel lonely and suddenly find ourselves binge-watching a Netflix series. Screens provide endless distraction and as a result, give us relief from painful emotions. This is part of what makes screen time so addictive. 

However, this is a dangerous habit and one we do not want to encourage in our children. First of all, after being suppressed and pushed away, emotions can come back more powerful. This is the cause of some post-screen time tantrums. Second, our feelings are important messengers that tell us about our needs and wants, alert us to when something is wrong or not working for us, and keep us connected to our deeper selves. When we numb with screens (or anything else) we risk becoming disconnected from these internal signposts. Life becomes harder to manage. Relationships will be more confusing. It is harder to confront and overcome challenges. We don’t want this for our children.

Instead, let’s teach our children how to tolerate emotional discomfort, to understand their feelings, and listen to the information feelings communicate. We want to help them develop a healthy repertoire of strategies to soothe themselves in painful times, a repertoire that does not include potentially addictive activities such as screen time.  

So what does this look like in daily life?

Recognize the Pattern

Notice if your child tends to turn to their screens when they are upset. Last year my 8-year-old began to beg for the iPad after school. Then I learned that she was having difficulties with her friends at school. When I asked her about this, she said “Of course I want to watch a show! Then I can pretend everything is fine and not think about my stupid friends.”  Ding ding! A mother from my screen time workshop noticed her shy 12-year-old daughter picked up her cell phone each day during the carpool to gymnastics. Cha-ching! Our children will not likely notice this unhealthy pattern developing - so we must be vigilant.  

Connect with Your Child Around the Problem

The next step is to help your child understand that using screens to avoid pain is not a wise path. Start by validating that it makes sense to want screens when upset and that they are in good company - most people fall into this pattern at one time or another. Then explain the risk and what to do instead.  I said this to my daughter as she begged for the iPad after school:

After a hard day at school, it is totally understandable that you want to watch a show.  The show takes you into a different world and for a time, you can forget about your problems. I find myself picking up my phone too after hard days. The problem is that when we push away our feelings, they can come back stronger. Also, your anger at your friends may be telling you something important and if you push away your feelings, it will be harder to figure out what to do. Instead, let’s think of other things you can do that feel good to get through the feelings. 

Brainstorm Other Soothing Options

In general, temporarily distracting or soothing ourselves when upset can be very helpful.  However, distracting with screen time is problematic because it can be so numbing and addictive that little to no attention is paid to the feelings and problems at hand.   

The answer is to help your child come up with other ways to soothe themselves when upset.  Look for activities that help them feel comforted (such as cuddling with pets) or temporarily distracted (a family outing), but don’t lend themselves to addiction.  Here are some ideas:

Active: jumping on a trampoline, playing a sport, riding a bike/scooter, taking a walk, gardening, cooking

Creative: playing a musical instrument, drawing, journaling, painting nails, building Legos, playing with dolls

Relaxing: listening to a story, taking a warm bath/shower, reading, listening to music, playing board games/card games, petting a dog/cat

Comforting: using warm blankets, cuddling with stuffed animals, cuddling with a family member, using a hot water bottle/heating pad 

Your child will mostly resist turning to these soothing activities, and complain that none of them “work” to help them feel better.  With these options, your child must do more emotional work in tolerating their feelings because they are not so numb.  Don’t give up!  With practice, your child can learn to face their distress and soothe in healthy ways.  Dealing with pain will ultimately create the resilience we all want for our children. 

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


End the constant screen time battles.  Join the movement here.

Continue Reading...

Why Can't I Have Screen Time? You're Always on YOUR Computer!

Aug 12, 2020

As we continue to work and learn from home, many parents are facing this question from their children: “Why can’t I have screen time? You’re always on your computer!” 

Until five months ago, parents worked while their children were in school and out of the house. Not anymore. Our children are surprised to see how much time we spend on our screens during the workday. They can’t see the logic of us telling them to log off and go play, while we continue online hour after hour. Parents are worried about creating an atmosphere of hypocrisy, but also need to get their work done. Here’s what to do:

Get Your Work Done

I hear of parents trying to hide their computer or phone usage, even when they’re online to get work done. Don’t! You already have too much stress - let’s not add hiding your screen time to the list.  

The reality is that much of what we need to do as adults and parents revolve around screens - more so every day. This is the reality of life in the 21st century.  Screens will be an unavoidable and deeply integrated part of your children’s adult lives too. Instead of hiding, let’s use this as an opportunity to teach your child about this reality, and how to manage it. 

Differentiate Entertainment from Work Screen Time

When your child asks why you get to stay online when they need to get off, It can be useful to show or tell them exactly what you are doing online. They tend to imagine that we are online doing what they want to do online - playing games, texting friends, looking up some cool youtube video. Ha! Not generally so! Tell them:

“As an adult, there are so many things I do on my phone. I’m rarely doing something for entertainment, though it may be hard to tell the difference from looking at me. On my phone, I work, organize your education and social life, get all the things we need for the house, pay all our bills, etc. This type of screen time is different from getting on to play games, text with friends, and watch videos or shows.”

When your child begins to understand that you’re usually doing boring but necessary adult things on your phone, they will begin to complain less about hypocrisy.  

Differentiate Children & Adult Screen Time

There are many areas of life where children and adults have different rules. The same is true for screen time. Adults have the fully developed brain necessary to manage screen time effectively and children do not. This is important for your child to understand. Here’s an example of what you can tell your child to help them understand, 

“As an adult, my brain is fully developed so I’m able to understand and manage the tricky aspects of screens. Children’s brains are still developing and some types of screen time may affect this development. Also, as you are still developing, you are learning how to deal with screen time. That’s why for now I need to tell you when to get on and off, when to take breaks, and when you have had too much. Over time, I will teach you to do this and you can balance and manage your own screen time.”

Your child may not like this distinction. But, if you offer a clear explanation, over time they will accept it and badger you less about being able to use screens as freely as you do. 

Show Them How You Manage Screen Time

This new reality of working in front of our children offers a unique opportunity to show them how you deal with the tricky aspects of life behind a screen. This is valuable information for them so don’t miss the opportunity! Show them how you stay focused on work tasks and avoid clicking on every alert that comes through.  Explain to them how you know when you need a break from your screen (when your neck hurts? when your eyes are blurry? between every meeting?) and see if they can begin to identify their own physical and emotional cues for breaktime.  

You can even share your screen time struggles - how it can be difficult for you to get off social media, how you sometimes find yourself down a YouTube rabbit hole when you should be finishing a project. This will help them feel normal and less judged for their screen time struggles. Describe the strategies you use to manage these struggles (or at least try to use). Have a good laugh together! Screen time can hook us all! 

Family Screen-Free Time

It is more important than ever to create and honor family screen-free times. These times accomplish two important things:

  • By putting down our phone for meals, family outings, or even just a 10-minute break during a busy day, we model balance for our children. They see us resist the temptation to constantly check our phones and we show them this is doable (though often hard!). 
  • Screen-free times allow us to connect with our children with our full attention - no distractions. Connection is more important than ever as our children are also experiencing stress under these current circumstances and need to know we are tuned into their needs. Connection allows us to have some fun, share some laughs, have a tickle session, or bake some cookies together. Our children will be less resentful of our constant screen time when they feel they also have our attention at predictable times throughout the day.

Children are perceptive and sensitive to what’s “fair” and “unfair”. When they see you doing the thing that you’re asking them not to do, it elicits strong feelings of inequity. This is where some of the struggles occur over screen time - a lack of connectedness, you versus your child. By letting your child in on why and how you are using screen time and why it’s different for adults versus children, they start to understand that you’re not just being mean or hypocritical. Connecting will help you and your child navigate screen time as a team. During this pandemic, we could all use more connection.

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


End the constant screen time battles.  Join the movement here.

Continue Reading...
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