As a pediatric sleep consultant, I help parents everywhere make sleep a thing with their children. But, as my kids get older, I need more than sleep help (and you might, too!). In this episode of Little Z’s Sleep Podcast, I’m talking with Andrea Davis of Better Screen Time to help navigate the issues of screens and technology with your children!
Why do I care so much about this topic? There is a strong connection between screen time and sleep. Over the years, I have seen families use screens as a reward for sleeping through the night or as a part of the bedtime routine. Or, even more concerningly, as a tool for dealing with the middle of the night or early wakings.
It is high time that we get some help with our screen time relationship, which is why I invited Andrea Davis of Better Screen Time to come onto the podcast. I need help creating screen time boundaries as much as you, so let’s chat with Andrea.
At the time of this podcast, my girls were five and six years old, and it was summertime. In the mornings, we had a sitter, but in the afternoon, I could easily pop on the television to get some more work done. All of a sudden, my girls were dependent on those screens (and I was too!).
So let’s welcome Andrea, mother of five, with a degree in special education. She is on a mission to help parents worry less about tech and connect more with their kids. You can find all her resources at betterscreentime.com.
“When did you start Better Screen Time?”
“Officially, it was in 2018, but it started a long time ago when my oldest was around two years old. My good friend was an avid reader and all of her kids liked to read too. I asked her what they did to encourage reading, and she said they didn’t have a TV. That sparked some curiosity, so we ended up putting our TV in the closet, using it sparingly. Since then, we don’t use it much except for a family movie night or national events like the Olympics.
Fast forward to the end of 2016. We moved from Illinois to Oregon, and it was a big move! My oldest was lonely and wanted a way to connect with friends, so I gave her an old smartphone. Unfortunately, it didn’t take me long to discover that it was much too soon, and I hadn’t prepared her for personal devices. We needed to be able to get in touch with her, so then we went to a ‘dumb’ phone. Gap phones that didn’t have internet access weren’t available yet so we didn’t have a lot of options. Spoiler: our middle schooler hated it and it wasn’t fun for her. I thankfully didn’t regret that decision.
The world was telling us that phones were to be feared OR just hand it over and move on because this is the world we live in. Neither of those answers felt right to me so I started doing research about the implications of smartphones for children. I initially started parenting with phones from a place of fear, but then I realized we needed a plan and to take things slowly. Eventually, I wanted to share what we learned with other parents so they could make a plan too.”
“Our audience is going to learn so much from this topic! We provide online courses for children 0 to 5. Most of my listeners aren’t facing these issues yet, but I like that they can glean from your experience.
So when is the best time for a family to start thinking through whether they need a screen time plan for technology?”
“If you have a smartphone as a parent, you need a plan. As parents, we need to have some boundaries in place so that we can parent the way that we want to without the smartphone getting in the way.
And that’s where really having a family tech plan is helpful. For example, if you’re married, you should sit down with your spouse and decide if you are going to allow screens in your bedroom. You are ultimately deciding now what you want your boundaries to be for your future kids. It’s a journey—you don’t have to have it all figured out.
You definitely need to start making a plan sooner than later. This plan can include things like time of the day and how you will handle your phones—categories like where, when, what, and how long.”
“If you read anything from screen time experts, they’ll definitely talk about the importance of deciding on some tech-free zones in your home. Some people call them sacred spaces, but, whatever you call them, it’s important to decide on those places in your home. For example, my two oldest teenagers share a room, and it is so fun listening to them giggle and chat at night. I truly think deciding to keep our bedrooms a tech-free zone would have hindered that!”
“There’s just a lot to be said for where we use screens, but what kind of content is OK with your family? Sometimes your children will discover something at someone else’s house and it’s not a part of your family culture or values. It’s important to talk about this while creating a family tech plan.”
“Talking about how long to use devices is an important discussion with kids. Asking questions like, “How long until you start to feel like a zombie on your device?” can help establish guidelines like 30 minutes is enough time to play games or watch a show.
What about younger children? The American Academy of Pediatrics says that tech activities for 18-24 months might be Facetiming with grandparents, but other than that, not so much.
After that point, between ages 2 to 5, they recommend less than an hour a day.”
“If your child is dependent on screens for bedtime or throughout the night, I have a great resource! Our Preschooler Sleep Training program will teach your preschooler to have the confidence to fall asleep independently and sleep 10-12 hours all night long. Tailored for ages 3 to 5, it’s a comprehensive and thorough program.
Back to screen time! Sometimes when my older daughter comes homes from school, she wants to watch a baking show with me. I want to hear more about your screen-free rituals in your home so that we have the resources to not always choose screens.”
“The AAP (you can read about this more here) used to limit screen time for older kids, but they now focus on making sure your children are getting sleep, physical activity, and being social. We have to find ways to strengthen those family relationships without letting screens get in the way.
One obvious way is family dinner—which is specifically device free. You are connecting over your day or sharing stories. There is so much power in doing this. Some families have different rituals, like going on a walk after dinner.
If you mostly have little kids with devices, modeling things like putting the phone away during family game night and giving them your attention is a powerful ritual.”
“This is such an important topic, even for parents of children 0 to 5. What is one thing you wish you could tell moms of younger children about screen time?”
“I would say be the change you want to see. When I speak with families about screen time, my favorite rule to implement is to keep devices out of bedrooms and bathrooms. It protects your child from cyberbullying, sexting, pornography, and any myriad of things that happen on a device alone or in a private area.
Creating those digitally minimum or absent spaces can free your mind from the distraction of always grabbing your phone. Another idea is to take one day off of social media a week!
If you practice these protocols when your children are younger, it’s almost like taking your shoes off when you come in the door. Your children see you parking your phone in a special spot and giving them your full attention.
When you are raising kids, you have so much influence and control at this point. There is so much room to dream about what you want your family dynamic to look like in the future.”
“This has been such a helpful conversation. Where can we learn more?”
“Our website is betterscreentime.com. You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram. We also have a book called Creating a Tech Healthy Family. We help walk you through these difficult tech conversations with your kids.”
I want to thank you for sharing your heart behind this. Check out betterscreentime.com to get all the details.
Sweet dreams. See you next time.
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