Here’s What Parents Get Wrong About Screen Time, According to Dr. Becky

It all comes down to family jobs

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It’s Saturday morning and you’ve made pancakes, played with cars, read six books, had a dance party and played 12 rounds of hide-and-seek. And it’s not even 8 a.m. yet. So what do you do? You turn on the Paw Patrol so you can get a few minutes of peace and quiet before doing it all over again. Except what was meant to be a 20-minute break turned into your kid zoning out in front of the iPad for way longer than you’re comfortable with. So as the pups wrap up yet another adventure, you gently tell your child that TV time is over and ask if they’d like to play Magna-Tiles with you. Cue the epic meltdown.

Whether you have a toddler who freaks out when you turn off their favorite show or a teen who can’t pry her fingers away from the iPad, screen time battles are the bane of every parent’s existence. We recently caught up with child psychologist and author Dr. Becky Kennedy to discuss her partnership with Amazon Kids and we pleaded with her for a solution.

The expert’s not-so-surprising response? It’s all about setting boundaries and validating feelings. Now if you’re a millennial parent, then you’re probably already familiar with this tactic. But here’s a refresher on how it might sound, per Dr. Becky: “I’m going to let you be on your device for this amount of time (or use language that your kid understands, like you can play this many levels of the game or you can watch this many episodes of that show). I’m going to come and let you know when you have a minute or two left. After that, you could even give me the tablet, or if it’s hard for you to give it to me, I’ll take it and you might be upset. That’s OK. We’re going to get through it together.” This type of clear communication that establishes your decision in advance is critical to making screen time a “less chaotic experience in your family home,” says Dr. Becky.

But what if you do all the boundary setting and validating of feelings, and your kid still melts down? Well—and here’s where you might be surprised—that’s actually what is supposed to happen. Per Dr. Becky: “Our job is not to make our kids happy, and our job is not to end their meltdown or avoid their meltdown.”

The expert likens it to a pilot who has to reroute a plane. Would passengers be annoyed? Of course. Would the pilot land the aircraft safely and then worry about the fact that passengers were unhappy? Of course not. The pilot is simply doing their job and doing what is in the best interest of the plane and its passengers—regardless of how they feel about it.

Your job is to be the sturdy leader in your family—and your kid has an important job to do too. “Our kid’s job in childhood is to have and express feelings. Because the only way they become adults who know how to manage feelings is if they have practice feeling those feelings.” In other words, your job is to hold the boundary by turning off the TV and their job is to be upset about it—and that’s it. You don’t have to do anything else—no pleading, no negotiating, no lecturing.

“They’re going to cry. It’s not easy. It’s definitely not convenient. And yet, we are all doing our jobs very well,” she explains. In fact, Dr. Becky says that the most important time for parents to do their jobs isn’t when kids are happy or calm—it’s when they’re a little chaotic and out of control. “That’s when they need a sturdy leader the most.”

And for what it’s worth, Dr. Becky says that she’s not about shaming parents for using screen time. “Screen time is a tool,” she says, adding “it’s like anything else in parenting and about figuring out what works for you and your kids.” So there you have it—permission to cue up Ryder and friends so you can take a shower, granted. Just remember to hold that boundary when the credits start to roll.

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...