In this episode of the parenting manual we discuss how conflict over screen time leads to meaningful conversations. So today's episode is another episode featuring my wife and we are going to go through something that happened this afternoon, and we had a conflict that we resolved in real-time over text messages, which is never a desirable medium by which to resolve conflict. unfortunately, that's what was available to us at the time.

Summary and Notes

Episode 16: Conflict Over Screen Time Leads To Deeper More Meaningful Conversation

[00:01:21] – Quitting screen time cold turkey
[00:04:15] – The correlation of Isaac’s tantrum in regards to screen time
[00:15:22] – The difference in energies between parents
[00:18:58] – Meeting frustration with frustration
[00:23:45] – Separating your feelings vs handling the situation
[00:27:33] – Behavior issues in schools: Behavior is communication

Quotes from the Episode:

“If we're looking at the wrong, just the answer the wrong question, then we're never going to find the right solution.” [00:10:07]

“I want to be able to have them kind of expand their boundaries and stretch and see, but then I do want to be able to reel them back in when, necessary….I want them to explore their  boundaries, not the boundaries necessarily that I set for them. [00:18:14]

“I separate what they're doing from how that's making me feel at the time.” [00:23:16]

“We need to be able to manage this situation regardless of what the stimulus.” [00:24:59]

Transcript Below

And oftentimes I think it's probably better to not even. Start over text because there's so much meaning that just is lost. But the bottom line was I got a text from my wife who was at gymnastics with my son and daughter. We did the shuffle where I took my daughter to gymnastics and then my wife met us with my son or vice versa.

And then, I got to take off and she took over at that point in time cause we were doing the shuffle. At the end of the day. And what happened was my son, normally in our house, our son does not listen to or watch any, any screen time really. for the first two and a half or three years.

we let him have an iPad that he kind of dragged around with him and his sister, had one for like the first maybe year of her life. And then, we quit cold Turkey. Like. Just, that was it. And he has not had any screen time for I think a year now. Maybe a little bit more. What is it roughly a year, roughly a year, and neither has a sister.

But what we started to do recently is I have started to watch, films on, the screen of a laptop, at a table with my son and daughter. So I'll be there. Generally speaking, I'll be sitting with them. There'll be watching something and we'll be talking about it and we'll be going over what it is that they're seeing.

my son, he enjoys some action type stuff. introducing him to some of the Lord of the rings and talking about how the man who originally wrote those books was in a world war one, and that is, he helps to contrast that with his grandfather who was in the second world war. But regardless.

both of us acknowledge that screen time, not particularly good for the kiddos, especially extended screen time. Now where we have some difference of opinion on this is what counts as screen time. And so what happened today? my wife obviously had a very busy day traveling around for work.

we're doing the shuffle with the kids and I get a text from her that says. Something along the lines of it's Isaac is, is screaming right now. , he wants me to give him a movie on my phone while we wait for his sister at gymnastics. And the text said, please, no more movies with him because it causes this conflict.

And so. I responded back and I agreed. I said, I think that we should begin limiting the screen time a little bit more. but where I disagree is that I don't feel that it's the screamed screen-time that's causing this behavior right now, because I could say the same thing because he, he'll, he'll sometimes complain that he wants more candy.

For instance, you took him to the veterans day parade and he got a bunch of candy there. And sometimes he'll want more. And so I'm not going to say if he's grumbling to me and saying that he wants more candy, I'm not going to blame his outbursts on the candy. I'm gonna blame it on my interaction with him.

I'm not going to say I'm going to blame it, but I'm going to first look at my interaction with my kid regardless of what sort of, what the stimulus is. So. What was going through your head, sweetie, at that time? I understand, you know, are pretty frustrated about that, but what was going through your head, I guess with dealing with him and then also with the text exchange that was going back and forth?

Well, I was frustrated because he was a little bit out of control in my mind. I mean, I, I realize that everyone has their own idea of what out of control looks like. But for a kid that I haven't ever had problems spending that half an hour while we wait for his sister to be done with class, I've never had an issue with him not entertaining himself or being willing to watch what's going on or.

Whatever they usually, he's fine. And today came upstairs, looked at me, I want movie! And I said, well, you know, we don't really do movies, so I don't really understand why you're asking that. And he was like, I want a movie, I want movie! And he was just had a climbing on me and climbing against the wall and getting himself in strange positions and climbing on this little like sorta.

Ledge between the the wall and the observation deck and not a, not a dangerous place to be because of the glass that protects anyone from falling, but still not an appropriate place to be. And I was just thinking he would not be asking for movie if he hadn't just had movie. And I knew that he had had at least a little bit of movie before gymnastics because when I came home to.

Do a very quick pickup in exchange of clothing. That's what he was doing. And so my thought was, you know, he wouldn't be begging for this if it wasn't fresh in his mind six months ago when he hadn't had a liquor screen time for six or eight months. He never asked for it because it wasn't on the forefront of his mind.

And. So I was thinking, you know, I'm really, I've been increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of screen time he's getting. And you have convinced me that because it's still not very much at all. And when he does have any sort of screen time, he's never alone. And so he's always seated with a parent and you're discussing what's going on or whatever that it was.

Okay. And I had decided to be okay with that. And I think deep down I wasn't okay with that and he was manifesting exactly the behavior that I feel like screen time contributes to. We know from the research that screen time is, is really not desirable for brains to an under and after that seven and under is the next big one that really nobody under seven should be.

Going to the movies or having much screen time at all. It's not good for the developing brain, and we probably only know the tip of the iceberg for what it does for, for youngsters brains. But I can tell you from being in schools that there's, there's a lot of things about our lives that have changed over the last 50 years, and screens is one of the big ones.

And there's a lot of controversy right now, if that's what's causing. So many of our children to struggle, struggle with concentration and struggle with sitting still. And yes, that is a huge double edged sword because it's not just screens, it's inappropriate curriculum, developmentally inappropriate tasks that are being asked of them.

It's many things, but I don't think the screens help. And my personal feeling is that all screens are bad screens. That means phones. Tablets, computers, televisions, et cetera, that are, they're all negative and that we should be limiting them as much as humanly possible. And I thought we did a really fantastic job doing that until about a month ago.

And it feels like it's, it's gotten more out of control than I would like. And I was simply voicing to you that I thought we needed to talk about it and that. You know, no better time to remind myself that we need to talk about it then when Isaac's demonstrating behavior that I feel is in part due to the screen.

Well, I do want to acknowledge, and I did acknowledge that, I think you're right about the, you know, he had just watched some movie, and so the proximate nature of. Hey, he just watched this and now he's bringing it up. I think you're absolutely right that had he not just watched that, that he would not have been asking for more of it at that point in time.

And I agree with you 100% on that. my point where I think we, especially over text where we had some, some challenges was I was saying that it's not so much the yes, like the. Because he just had that, yes, that's fresh in his mind, but the behavior of being disagreeable with you and not being cooperative and being extremely rambunctious was independent of what it was that he wanted.

That if he, if he, instead of wanting movie, if he wanted a candy bar or we've seen him do that over a Gatorade before as well, where he will fixate on something and then he becomes. in sufferable, he becomes incorrigible about that behavior. And so what I was trying to convey poorly over text was, yes, I acknowledge that we need to cut down on movie.

And I agree with that. I think that what's going on right now though, is independent of the movie. So if If we're looking at the wrong, just the answer the wrong question, then we're never going to find the right solution. And so, what, what we talked about that, so then, you know, this was contentious and I apologized for, first of all, I apologize over the fact that.

I didn't just pick up the phone and sort it out with you in a, in a more direct way because it was frustrating to me because number one, I felt like there was some tone of accusation for me over like that. You're, you're, you're giving our kids cigarettes basically. and I realize it's not the same thing, but I know that this is something that's very important to you.

So if I feel that it's somewhat appropriate for him to be watching. films that we can then discuss, then it's my responsibility to, to show you that that's, that it's a parenting style that you can bring to the table. And so what we kind of went over in the tax was that, yeah, the movie may contribute to it somewhat, but what the real challenge is, is that he's behaving that way because he's not respecting your authority as a parent in the moment.

And you know, that's not fun to hear in the time being, and it's not particularly useful to hear over a text. so first of all, I, I, I just want to acknowledge that that was, that was a frustrating exchange that we had. And just talk about what happened, what you were expecting when you came home from that versus what you found when you came home from that.

Kind of delayed coming home, to be perfectly honest, we, you went to a little Christmas light display and then I picked up a quick dinner, partially because I really didn't want to cook, but it was also late, so I needed to pick up something just quickly that they could eat as soon as we got home.

And I was just kind of expecting you to be. Happy to see the kids and probably not really acknowledged me that much. Not that you ever like, not that it's ever bitter necessarily when I come home, but I, I didn't have a good feeling from the text because I felt like you were taking my texts as accusing you of doing something when all I was wanting to say was, Hey, this thing that we agreed to a year ago.

Doesn't really feel like it's being followed and it kind of screwed me over tonight and I would like some reconciliation about how we're going to a eliminate, or at least drastically reduce screen time. And I want acknowledgement that like, you know what? Even though you don't think it's a big deal.

It can be a really big deal. And the research says that it is a really big deal and that's, that's important to me. So I wasn't, I was kind of expecting to have you be really defensive and maybe you want to talk about it, but probably have to get through dinner and bed with the kids before we could talk about it.

Cause you know, it's hard to have a much of a conversation when there's two. Really hungry kids. And instead I came home and you said hi to all of us. And then you sort of asked Isaac about, you know, what happened and why did you act the way you did? And gave him some examples, which I had done in the car with him before we got home.

I had said, you know, mommy is really frustrated with how you behaved in there and I need to understand. What you think caused you to have a hard time listening to what I was asking you to do. All I needed you to do was play on your own or sit and watch, and you did pretty much everything but die, climbed, climbed all over things and you were a whining for movies.

And you know, we don't really do movies, so I just need to understand what happened. And, and he couldn't really put his finger on it with me. And. I asked him if, you know, if daddy was here, you probably wouldn't have done this. What is it that daddy does that, that mommy's not able to do? Is it that you're scared of daddy?

And he was like, no. And he took a deep breath and he was like, I guess I just need to listen a little bit better. Which was cool that he acknowledged that. Although I wish he could have figured that out in the moment, cause that would have made my evening whole lot more pleasant. but Anthony sort of went through a similar thing with him and they kept the sort of rebalanced the energy.

And I wasn't, I was proximate to the conversation because I was assembling dinner, but I was not part of the conversation, which I think actually was important since I probably had not useful energy to bring to the conversation.

So what's, what's challenging, and I think this is something that we have kind of examined in our marriage and as we raise kids is the kids see a definite difference in the energy that I bring versus, what, what you bring to the table. And we don't use force with the kids. We don't, we don't hit them.

We try not to yell at them or raise our voice with them. I wrestle a lot more with the kids, than you do, which is fine. I also get frustrated with them and I know you get frustrated with them too, from time to time. What, what I've noticed is that, with both kids. And I know that this is something that I think it frustrates you as well because you see that I will oftentimes be able to be like a fire extinguisher when our kids are getting to that sort of phase where they're like going to start just being completely ridiculous.

And I, I think it's, it's kind of frustrating to you cause you don't, don't, you don't quite. I don't know, how do I say this? it's not as natural for you maybe to do it as it is for me. And it's also really challenging for me to explain what it is that I'm doing, to you for, for you. And I think that the, the big thing for me, and, and we've kind of looked at this as one of the things that I do is I, I break, like, I refer to it as like breaking a frame or doing a pattern interrupt on.

One of our kids. So for instance, when our boy is about, you know, like freaking out or whatnot, like sometimes I'll literally just like pick him up with a big smile on my face and like he's really frustrated and then I'll just do something like silly, like stare at him while I'm picking him up until he starts laughing and then I'll put him down right away and we'll just say, Hey, what's going on?

It looks like you're really upset about something. Do you want to talk about that? And then he has like, just changed his state all of a sudden. And wha what I find is, I don't know if it's that little bit of physicality, it's not aggressive physicality, but it is some physicality. I don't know if that's, if that's something that's, you know, you're not maybe as comfortable with, but I think that it would be.

And the, you know, and there would be some people that would, that would argue that, Hey, you know, like if you had the authority, then your kids would never get to that place to begin with. And I mean, I'm not, I'm not a drill. I'm not a drill instructor here. I want to be able to have them.

Kind of expand their boundaries and stretch and see, but then I do want to be able to reel them back in when, when necessary. I don't want them to, I want them to explore their boundaries, not the boundaries necessarily that I set for them. I want them to go a little bit past that and then I'll tell them when they need to stop.

But what do you think I,

I'm not really clear why you're. More effective than I am. I mean, I D I do think there's something about just male, female energy. And I think sometimes I, I add to Isaac's energy that's not helpful as opposed to like counter balancing it or

whatnot, have noticed to bring frustration, frustration with your frustration.

Yeah. And I, you know. I think probably I could interject sooner so that I'm not coming with so much. I mean, I think a lot of coming with so much frustration is the fact that it's gotten to a point where I needed to stop right then, and sometimes it's possible to talk to him before he get so frustrated that you're meeting it with not great energy, but sometimes it's not.

Like frankly today he came out of his class. And just jumped in my lap whining for a movie like there, there was no ramp up like we didn't go. We didn't have a chance to interject when it was level five. I received the child at level 10 and I wasn't in my own home where I could, you know, one of the things as teachers always says is like, give yourself a timeout.

Like, tell him. Right now we're not doing that, and I don't want to interact with somebody who is talking to me like that or behaving with me like that and just physically isolate yourself. So I actually did the next best thing to that. After he climbed all over me and was whining, I said, you know, it's really not safe for us to sit here because you can't sit still on my lap.

So I'm going to go downstairs to where there's like a sort of penalty box observation area. Because I feel like I would be safer there and you can come or not. And he decided to come, which didn't surprise me cause he's not a kid who likes to be, you know, separated from us. And he came down there and it, it did get better.

It didn't completely go away. And part of why it didn't completely go away, it's cause I was still mad. I was still frustrated at him. And if I had acknowledged the fact that like, Hey, at least he's not like. Whining and begging for a movie anymore. Once we got down there, it was a lot of like, Hey, don't climb on that.

Hey, you know, you can climb here or here, but not up here. And in the back of my mind thinking, I just paid for an hour for you to climb and jump around. Why do you possibly have more energy? But I didn't because I know that's how he rolls. He's always been a high energy kid. So I think I used some tools, And I'm not sure what it would have looked like if you had been there and handled it or not. Maybe he wouldn't have even asked you. Maybe. Maybe there's enough of a, like, my dad is physically a bigger person than my mom and I don't want to do that with him. And I think part of, I mean it's interesting to me cause I talked to him about it.

I said, what is it? Because it's not like he's a kid that's scared of us because we're physically going to harm him. So it shouldn't matter that dad is bigger than mom. But I, I do think there's a, most of it is the energy that I match him with. And, and frankly, like just sometimes you just need dude energy.

So I would like to attribute my parenting success to my sporting bulk. But, let's take, let's look at, take a look at his teacher. I mean, she manages not just him, but an entire class of kids with nothing but feminine energy. And I would, I would say that she's probably better than me. I mean, she's really, really good.

And she has, she has nothing but, but feminine and energy that she manages. And, and I like. If she had to calm a kid down, she could probably do it faster than me. so I, I would like to say that it's, it's my sporting bulk, but I, I don't think it is because I've seen some magic happen with, with other people who don't, don't have that.

And they have almost the opposite of that. But I think you helped me kind of clarify something too today, because I think what makes me successful with them is that I separate. I separate what they're doing from how that's making me feel at the time. And I realized that right now because that's what I do with the kids.

But I didn't do that with you today on the text message. I didn't do it until you got home. That's when I separated how I was feeling because I was feeling accused. Versus how I was handling the situation. And so when I took my frustration out of the situation, the situation was resolved in like you were pleased with how it resolved itself, right?

Yeah. Yeah. We still haven't had the discussion about screen

time

needs to happen. A lot of the texts was avoiding the big question that I had, but what means like the sugary treats to return of the . Better energy I was happy with.

So my, my point is that it's two separate issues. It's not , it's not the screen like, yeah, that all these studies about screen time, let's handle the screen time separate from the behavior because the behavior in the moment could have erupted over a Gatorade.

It could have erupted over a. A treat, it could have erupted over a toy. I think that if we attribute it to screen time, then it takes a little bit of agency away from us as parents to say, Hey, we need to be able to manage this situation regardless of what the stimulus is or what the thing is, what the shiny object is that's causing.

This distraction here. And that's what I'm saying. I have no problem cutting off a huge amount of screen time. I have no problem cutting down on treats. But what I do have a huge problem with is trying to solve the wrong, solve the problem with the wrong tool, or not even solved the right problem or, you know, focus energy on, on the wrong problem to solve either.

Ms. as you know, from being a medical professional and you'll misdiagnosis is a huge, a huge challenge, a huge problem. It causes a lot of pain and a lot of discomfort to, to many, many people. And so I'm saying in this particular instance that I think that we could be misattributing something to screen time that we could actually put, give ourself more ownership of and say, you know what, I am not going to be frustrated because when I get frustrated then.

I have a bad outcome. And I know that if I was frustrated when you guys came in the door today, that we would not be doing this episode right now because we would be frustrated with each other. And so that, you know, as kind of a big insight to me and a learning moment right here, just kind of as we, as we sit here and have this chat.

So, I want to thank you for that. And I think, you know, I mean, I think we're certainly on the right track. What do you think.

Yeah, I mean, just being mindful of it. And I mean, what happened tonight is, I mean, part of the reason I got a text message for me is because it's such an outlier.

It doesn't happen a lot. That's largely because we are able to just talk to our kids and not have any more, you know, large swings of behavior one way or the other. I mean, they're. Pretty well behaved. They are not perfect, and it certainly takes constant checking in with them, but normally we can just check in and, and talk to them.

It doesn't usually become a big thing, which is part of the reason that it grabbed my attention. but also just kind of being aware of the fact that. Behavior. At least in my professional life, Anthony keeps calling me a medical professional, which I have worked in a lot of hospitals, but as a pediatric physical therapist, I'm currently working in schools, so I spend a lot of time in classrooms and behavior's a huge, huge problem in schools.

And when I have that hat on. I don't have to deal with the behavior issues. First of all, like that's, that's classroom where behavior specialist or administrators, somebody else is dealing with that. But when staff members get frustrated by behavior, the really good ones will always remember that behavior is communication that usually the child with the biggest behaviors.

Has the most to say that they, they for some reason, cannot tell us. You know, the lights are too bright. Your microphone is too loud. The kid next to me is grinding his teeth and I can't stand it. I don't like this book. I don't like this school. I don't like this writing assignment. Whatever it is, it doesn't matter what it is.

But there's a lot of kids that have bad behavior and behaviors communication. So. You know, looking at our own kids behavior the same way and saying, okay, this is an outlier. Why did he do this and why? What is he trying to communicate with us? Which is why both of us instinctively went right to him and said, what is it that you were trying to tell us with this behavior?

Because I interpret it as this, this, and this? Is that what you meant? To communicate to mommy. When I was talking to you and you were swinging from the rafters and not listening, is that really what you meant? And usually he'll say no or, or sometimes he'll stop and sort of, he won't say it this eloquently cause he's six, but he'll say like, Oh, that is not at all what I meant to communicate.

You got it completely wrong. Mom, what great. so how are we doing? I mean, nothing's perfect, but I feel like just. Acknowledging the issues and that it's probably multifactorial and that behavior is a form of communication has probably at least 20 steps closer in the right direction than than the average person.

Because frankly, like what happened today, maybe wouldn't even show up on somebody else's radar because this sort of thing that happened tonight happens all the time for them. And they've sort of decided that this is just the way that it's going to be. And this is part of why parenting is so hard and yes, parenting is hard, but it, the issue that happened tonight doesn't have to be every night and with a little bit more work, hopefully we'll make these instances, even if you were in far between than they already are.

Well, let's close it out with this. I think that this is a great example of why we want to record this podcast as an example for our kids because we want them to understand when they get older. Exactly the process that we went through in terms of how we made decisions about parenting them, how we chose to work as a team when they were going through some challenging time or when they were.

Upset about something or when they were just behaving like a six year old wild and swinging off the rafters. I think that not only is this going to be really useful for them, but for also for somebody else listening to this who says, you know, that sounds a lot like me. I think it's, it's useful a lot of times.

You know this, this, this is the first we've not, we've had these conversations before numerous times, but this is the first time we've recorded them because what we realize is, number one, we're not alone. There are a lot of other parents out there who go through this same process, but maybe they don't have someone else to hear and say, yeah, other people go through this too.

Other people put this amount of effort and. And they think about these things and they try and improve their parenting skills as well. So that's that. I'll let you close it out for tonight.

I don't really have anything else to say, so have a great night.

All right. That's it for this episode. We'll see you in the next show.

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