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Episode summary:

In this episode, Susan talks about why setting screen-time limits can be so difficult, and why there’s so much push back from our kids when it’s time to unplug, sharing strategies for implementing healthy rules and routines.

About Susan Stiffelman

Working with children has been Susan's life-long passion. In high school, Susan had an after-school job as a teacher at a day care center. When she went to college, she became a credentialed teacher, and was later licensed as a Marriage, Family and Child therapist. She has been an avid learner throughout her career, sharing insights and strategies in her two books: Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting With Presence (an Eckhart Tolle Edition). In recent years, Susan has shifted from private clinical work to online events for parents around the world on topics like Raising Resilient Kids, Helping Anxious Children Thrive, and Raising Screenwise Kids. Susan's greatest joy is working directly with parents in her monthly Parenting Without Power Struggles membership group, and in her Co-Parenting with a Narcissist support group with Wendy Behary. Susan is thrilled to be doing work that she loves, and hope she can help you and your kids along your parenting  journey!

Things you'll learn from this episode: 


How our brain’s drive for homeostasis makes unplugging so uncomfortable

Collaborative parent-child conversations around screen

Why clarity is so essential before setting screen time rules

Could you use some support setting screen time limits?

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1: (00:07)
Hi there, and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I'm really glad you're here. This podcast is really all about helping you have more fun, more joy, and fewer power struggles as you're raising your kids. I'm your host, Susan Stiffelman. I'm the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting With Presence. And it's my honor to share some of the things I've learned in my over 40 years as a teacher, a marriage and family therapist, an educator, and a mom. I've worked with families from every corner of the globe, and I've learned and discovered some universal truths about what makes things work better and what can make things harder. A lot of the time, the things that make it harder are things we're not consciously doing. They're things we inherited as we ourselves were growing up. So, listening to this podcast and of course, reading books, and hearing other interviews and taking classes and so forth are all ways that you can break those patterns, choose to respond rather than react.

Speaker 1: (01:08)
And that's really what we're about here. So we cover everything, all things, parenting with guests like Dr. Dan Siegel, Dr. Mona Delahooke, Martha Beck, Dr. Lisa Damour, Dr. Kristin Neff, Janet Lansbury, Debbie Reber, Maggie Dent, Dr. Ned Hallowell, so many wonderful and wise speakers. You can see the whole series of episodes at Before we get started, make sure that you're taking advantage of everything that we offer at I've got over 35 deep dive master classes on everything from chores and homework to raising sensitive kids and helping anxious children thrive. So remember, when you learn a new parenting skill or you integrate new practices, you're not only making your day-to-day life easier, more fun, more, you know, joy, more connection, fewer power struggles and arguments, you're also breaking generational patterns. What do I mean by that? You know, when we're in the heat of the moment, when our back is against the wall and our, our kid is, our child is doing something that really feels very triggering, we tend to move into what psychologists call backup behaviors.

Speaker 1: (02:20)
These are not a reflection of our highest self, our greatest wisdom. It's really what happens for us when we're very stressed, we feel overwhelmed, we're dysregulated ourselves, and we don't have access to the resources that we might have intellectually taken in things that we wanna do in those difficult moments, but are harder to implement when we're in the real trenches of, of day-to-day life. As a parent, this is why I am such a great believer, not only in hearing and exposing ourself to new and invaluable ideas about conscious parenting and attachment parenting and all that, but to having the kind of support that allows us to implement and practice those things in the real day-to-day, nitty gritty moments of raising our kids. So if you're at a point where you really want help integrating some of these ideas you're hearing on this podcast or reading and other books or interviews, if you see how you're reverting to these old ways of reacting, even when you have the best of intentions to do things differently, like to be more patient or more responsive, or take things less personally, I want you to know that I also offer personal support in a membership that meets twice a month and until Saturday, October 15th, we are offering an exceptional deal.

Speaker 1: (03:36)
You're gonna get two months of access to the membership, which includes four coaching calls with me. You can attend live or catch the replay. There's a foundation course, there's a rotating free masterclass on topics like chores or anxious children. You also get access to the whole library of our previous member sessions, and those are timestamps. So you can look for the questions that are most relevant to you, and you get two months of that for $50. Right now, that's basically $12 and 50 cents for each of the four sessions that I'm gonna be doing over the next eight weeks. You can ask a question or you can even get personal coaching from me for just a fraction of what I charge in my private one-on-one sessions. So if you're trying to actually put into practice some of the things that you've been learning about healthy parenting, secure attachment regulation, all of those things, this is just a great opportunity.

Speaker 1: (04:31)
I hope you'll check it out at Now, in today's episode, I'm gonna talk about something that came up over and over in my recent Tech-Wise Parenting Summit, and that is how to compassionately but decisively set limits around screen time. I know this is a really big one, , this is the kind of the the hardest area for many, many parents. I, I hear from parents in my membership, people who book time with me, people who submit questions on our social media platforms. This is really difficult. And you know, you probably know what happens when you remind your kids that it's time to unplug. Whether they're on social media, they're playing a video game, they're watching YouTube videos, whatever they're doing, we brace ourselves. Maybe you feel anxious, maybe you get really mad. You know, you just want your kids to appreciate that they even have access to these things and that there has to come a point when the thing gets turned off so they can do their homework or get ready for bed or come to dinner or whatever it is, maybe help out around the house. And a lot of parents get very, very agitated for, for good reason because it can become a real place of conflict and negotiation and yelling and screaming and threatening and bribing and hateful words spoken. There's even videos of parents coming into their kids storming into the

Speaker 2: (05:57)
Room with a sledgehammer and breaking the device. So first we don't want you to do that. Let me explain a little bit more based on neuroscience about what's going on for kids and why it is hard for them to unplug. If you took part in the Tech-Wise Parenting Summit and that's still on my website if you're interested. Then in several of the conversations, particularly one with Dr. Anna Lembke, and you can catch a clip of this on the page that has clips from every one of our speakers. Dr. Lembke wrote a book called Dopamine Nation, and she talked in our conversation about how our, our brain wants homeostasis. What do I mean by that? The brain doesn't want too much or too little of everything. So when the, your child is playing a game or they're getting social media attention or likes, they get dopamine, they get this dose of the feel good neurotransmitter, that dopamine is the reward neurotransmitter.

Speaker 2: (07:02)
So they're feeling good, they, there's always the promise of more and more and more of that. So in many cases, a youngsters playing a video game or they're really heavily engaged on social media and they're kind of flooded with dopamine, they're getting almost what you could say is too much of it in terms of the brain's desire for things to be even. And so what does the brain do in response to that? If you're getting too much of a, of a dopamine externally, it produces less dopamine internally, and that means that you now have fewer receptor sites. You are now more reliant on the external source of dopamine to bring you up to an even comfortable state of moving through the world. If all of your dopamine is coming or a lot of it is coming externally. Therefore, then when your parent says, time to unplug, you're now left just in your own body with whatever dopamine, your own brain is manufacturing and it's doesn't feel like enough.

Speaker 2: (08:02)
You don't feel good, you, you crash. You may feel depressed, you may feel malaise, sort of on we boredom. And so what do you wanna do to bring that dopamine back to a comfortable level in your brain? You want to seek it out to a, from a reliable source, which is the video game or the social media site, whatever it is, the YouTube, the new, new, new. So this is going on to your kid's brain, and I tell you that so that you can approach your kids with more compassion and understanding when you say, Hey, it's time to unplug. There is going to be a crash because the ordinary world is just, it can't compete with offering that kind of feel good reward experience that is bathed bathing the brain when they're plugged into something. So how do we set reasonable and realistic limits with our kids?

Speaker 2: (08:51)
It starts with us getting clear and sometimes it's helpful to have a conversation with your kids, a collaborative discussion about how much time on your screens do you feel is enough? How much is too much? And of course, I'm giving you the cliff notes here. This is a, a deep conversation. There are many, many aspects to it, but we invite our kids to weigh in and then with their input factored in, you decide, you decide what is the appropriate amount of time for them to have access to their screens, their devices, whatever it is that they enjoy. How much is too much? How much is just enough? And you're gonna of course, probably change your mind over time depending on what's going on with your kids and in your family's life. And then you announce kindly what the rules are gonna be, what the new improved guidelines are gonna be, so that there aren't these daily arguments and negotiations.

Speaker 2: (09:44)
One of the things I'm a great believer in is routines and rituals. I'm actually gonna be doing a class on this soon, so stay tuned on my website. Make sure you're getting my newsletter. Because kids thrive when they know what is expected of them. They know what's predictable, and that's where rituals and routines come in. When your kids do, stick to the rule that you guys establish, you know, okay, it's gonna be you finish your homework and then you get 45 minutes and then there's a break where you play outside, and then you can maybe have another half an hour, whatever it is for you all, make sure that if they do stick to it, they turn the device off when a, when it's been agreed upon that you appreciate it. You know what? I know that wasn't probably so easy for you. You'll probably having some fun with that video game.

Speaker 2: (10:28)
Really appreciate that you honored and respected the agreement we came to. If you have to set a limit and you don't think it's gonna go well, you know, please don't expect your kids to say, gosh, thanks mom, for reminding me to unplug from the video game so I could go outside or so I could help out around the house. They're not gonna do that. First thing is, ground yourself, ground yourself. The more we are emanating that captain of the ship energy that I talk about so much in my work, the more we're rooted in our, our clarity and in our love, which recognizes that limits is, are important for children, and that one of the ways our kids develop resilience is to encounter frustration, then you can approach them without taking their anger personally. If they argue and negotiate, stay calm, you can remind them kindly of the rule or the guideline and frame it even as you know, honey, this is the plan that we've put in place, and until we renegotiate something, which isn't gonna happen today, this is my expectation.

Speaker 2: (11:31)
If you would like to still have access to your device tomorrow, I hope you'll be able to unplug and stick to the plan. So you're implying that their use of their devices the next day might have something to do with how they turn things off today. Don't take their pushback personally. Remember what's fueling it. Remember that dopamine that, that that reliant has developed on the external avenues for feeling good and, and being distracted and stimulated. Empathize if need be, draw there are tears. But stay in that role of the captain of the ship. I know that it's hard and that many times you're gonna revert to that lawyer I talked about arguing, justifying, negotiating, or the dictator where you're overpowering, threatening, bribing, controlling. Just notice if that's what's happening without judging yourself. And you may wanna build up to screen time by doing setting limits around smaller issues, you know, like watering the garden.

Speaker 2: (12:26)
If you need more help with this, and please know that lots of people do. It's not intuitive. A lot of the things I teach are, they make a lot of sense and they're in alignment with who we wanna be, how we wanna show up for our kids. But they may not be natural. We may not have experienced this growing up. So it's harder to actually implement or enact these things, and especially when things are not going so easily, when there's conflict, please allow me to support you. You, I can help you get more comfortable setting limits. It's why the membership program exists. And for the next two days, you can get four sessions with coaching or the opportunity to ask a question or just listen to others, which is such a great way to learn for just $12 and 50 cents a, a session. Such a great opportunity for real personal support from someone who has been doing this for over 40 years.

Speaker 2: (13:16)
And so I bring to all of our sessions, all the experience and expertise from the many, many thousands of families I've worked with. So let's wrap up now, I would like to invite you to acknowledge yourself for showing up today here to learn more. Remember, you're not just helping your family have more connection, more joy and ease, fewer arguments, which is a wonderful goal, but you're helping break patterns, meaning you are helping your children embody and learn a different way of approaching their children if they decide to be parents, so that you don't pass forward down the generation, some of the more challenging aspects of how you might have been raised, the less perhaps functional, healthy ways. So it's beautiful work that you're doing. I acknowledge you for it. And now we'll just take a breath or two, maybe you put your hand on your heart and just thank yourself for the, the effort, the intention, the commitment that you have to raising your children, your beautiful kids with as much love, compassion, clarity as you can. So remember, no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy. Stay well, take care and I'll see you next time.