Dr. Meghan Owenz is the author of the book, Spoiled Right: Delaying Screens and Giving Children What They Really Need.

She is also a parent, psychologist, and university professor.

460: Relisten: Why We Should Delay Kid’s Screen Time (274)

Dr. Meghan Owenz

In this podcast episode, I talk to Dr. Meghan Owenz, author of the book, Spoiled Right: Delaying Screens and Giving Children What They Really Need.

Dr. Owenz explains why screens should be avoided for children under 5 and are actually necessary (to an extent) for older kids. We talk about finding a balance, using her S.P.O.I.L. method, and tools that can be used to reclaim some of the time our kids are dedicating to their screens.

Relisten: Why We Should Delay Kid’s Screen Time (274) [460]

Read the Transcript 🡮

*This is an auto-generated transcript*

[00:00:00] Hunter: Hey there, it's Hunter, and welcome to Throwback Thursday. Most Thursdays, we are going to re release one of my favorite episodes from the archives. So unless you're a longtime listener of the show, there's a good chance you haven't heard this one yet. And even if you had, chances are that you are going to get something new listening to it this time around.

We can have a positive goal of increasing their time spent in these activities that we have known for decades and decades of research are really good for kids. And then if they have sufficient time in those categories of activities, then we can worry a little less about the screen time.

You're listening to the Mindful Mama podcast, episode number 274.

Today, we're talking about why we should delay kids screen time with Dr. Megan Owens.

Welcome to the Mindful Parenting podcast. Here, it's about becoming a less irritable, more joyful parent. I'm Mindful Parenting. We know that you cannot give what you do not have, and when you have calm and peace within, then you can give it to your children. I'm your host, Hunter Clark Fields. I help smart, thoughtful parents stay calm so they can have strong, connected relationships with their children.

I've been practicing mindfulness for over 25 years. I'm the creator of the Mindful Parenting course. And I'm the author of the international bestseller, Raising Good Humans, and now Raising Good Humans Every Day, 50 Simple Ways to Rest Pause, Stay Present, and Connect with Your Kids. Welcome back to the Mindful Mama podcast, my friend.

I'm so glad you're here. I know I always say that, but I love this podcast and I love Connecting with you, if you're new, this is an awesome episode, and if you're returning, rock on. I'm so glad that we get to connect each week. It really makes a huge difference in my life. In just a moment, I'm going to be sitting down with Dr.

Megan Owens, and she's the author of the book, Spoiled Right, Delaying Screens and Giving Children What They Really Need. And she's a parent, a psychologist, and a university professor. I think you're going to find this a really fascinating and interesting conversation. We're going to talk about why screens should be avoided for children under five and how they're actually kind of necessary to an extent for older kids.

Really interesting, right? So there's a big age difference in how we should be treating screen time with kids. So if you have been looking for some clear guidance on screen time if you have kids under five, For over five, in fact, I think you're going to get so much out of this, you know, what Dr. Owens saw in her research and her psychology of how kids are reacting to this.

I think this is incredibly valuable information. So I want you to listen for some important takeaways. How some of the negative effects of screen time actually have nothing to do with the screen itself. She's going to share five really important activities for children that support a better relationship with screen time.

And for older kids, the teens with the best mental well being have a moderate amount of screen time. So this is going to be a very valuable episode for you. Come join me at the table as I talk to Dr. Megan Owens. Thanks. Megan, thank you so much for coming on the Mindful Mama podcast. Thank you so much for having me.

I'm, I'm so excited to talk to you about, um, about your book, Spoiled Right. You're, you're, you're definitely, this is the perfect time to be talking about screens and kids and all that with, with the pandemic. Um, can you just indulge me a little bit and just tell me what you just told me? Yes, absolutely.

[00:04:01] Dr Meghan Owenz: So I was just saying before we started recording.

Cause I can never wait to start talking. Um, but before we started recording that, you know, I have read about mindfulness and Buddhism and sometimes even meditated with my kids using little apps for a lot, 10, 15 years, and I have, I'm embarrassed to admit, never regularly meditated myself. Um, sort of like a one off here or there, you know, like a couple of times a month would have been impressive for me.

Um, and then Hunter, when I read your book, I think because it, it's not just intellectual, but encourages you to practice after every chapter. And I kind of was one of those people that was like, ah, I'm just going to keep reading, but I actually did practice too. And so I started meditating regularly when I first read your book and I never stopped.

[00:04:55] Hunter: Um, and so I'm so grateful for that.

[00:04:57] Dr Meghan Owenz: So happy and it's feeling pretty good, I guess. Yeah. Yeah. I think the, the thing for me about it is that it's not, you know, I don't stop meditating and something like groundbreaking happens, like I don't just walk into my day like, like, you know, so, so peaceful, but it's like this, this build, I think of it as like this rut in my brain that I'm like building that I can get to this like calm space a little bit easier.

Um, and so. Yeah. I don't know if other people would notice a difference in me, but I notice a difference in myself.

[00:05:28] Hunter: Yay! Yay! This is so exciting. All right, well, we'll stop tooting the horn of my book and we'll talk about your book. We can talk about any book. Let's talk about all the books. Yeah. So I'm excited to talk to you about this because, you know, I.

Well, A, because of the current conditions, but, but also because I, I really appreciate how you wrote in your book, like, I'm a therapist, a psychologist, a university professor, and a mother, and, and you can became those things in that order. So you have this background about, about emotions, about psychology, about, you know, teaching others about psychology, and then you became a parent.

And then you, you, you encountered like the screen time issues. So I would love it if you could kind of just take us back to that story about your, you know, your, your daughter's, uh, challenges and, and, and how she responded to some early screen time.

[00:06:26] Dr Meghan Owenz: Yeah, yeah. So, um, so I had that awareness, so I knew what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended.

I fully intended to do what they recommended, but I didn't really understand it maybe on a personal basis. Um, and then my first daughter is, she still is a very sensitive child and wicked smart, like too smart for her own good. Are

[00:06:48] Hunter: you a Rhode Islander? No. That's what I said growing up! She's wicked smart!

Oh my god, that's amazing. Okay, sorry, just

[00:06:58] Dr Meghan Owenz: go ahead. That's okay. Um, yeah, I know, that's probably not how a psychologist describes children, but that's what I think, when I think of her, like, that's just what comes to mind for her. Um, and she also had really bad reflux. She had reflux so bad that got missed for too long that she ended up with a feeding refusal.

So she was a two, three month old baby that refused to eat at all. And then, um, we, I actually sleep fed her for six months. So then from like three months to nine months, she just thought she didn't eat. Oh my gosh. She went to sleep and woke up kind of, um, full, but she didn't know the process that got her there.

And, you know, that sounds really unhealthy and, and in most cases it would be, but that was like the alternative to a feeding tube at that point. Um, and so we had to give her a variety of different medications when she was really young and some of them had to dissolve in her mouth. Um, and so it wasn't just like, you know, you shoot with a syringe into an infant's mouth or something like that, but like, we had to hold her mouth closed as gently and kindly as we could, but not allow her to spit this medication out until it dissolved.

And we tried a bunch of different ones and, you know, some of the medications didn't taste good. Plus, she had this whole idea that having things in her mouth was what caused her to Discomfort. And so she really didn't like that even as a young, young infant. Um, and so we turned to a screen and we would put it on for, you know, like make, I think it was Mickey Mouse's club.

I think I still remember the song from there. Um, and we would put that on for her for just like a minute or two to try. So she would be calm enough that we could give her the medication. Um, and she was like, she could go from fighting you and really upset to like that glazed over, Oh, what is this? Look, really, really quick at like five months of age, six months of age.

And then she, and that was the only time we used it and she didn't want it turned off. You know, she had difficulty if we turned it off, she would get really frustrated. And this wasn't like, you know, we weren't sitting in front of it on warning or anything like that. And it was just really interesting to see the pull.

that a screen could have over a little itty bitty baby, um, of that age. Um, and so I kind of started to dig in more into how the programming is designed and what's going on brain wise to understand better, um, why it was that it had, it was hard for her to turn off and why it had this mesmerizing effect on her.


[00:09:32] Hunter: I mean, yeah. That sounds like exactly what you should have done, right? Like, it was like a very useful application tool, screen time. That sounds like an incredibly challenging baby to start off with, though. I hope number two was a lot easier on you guys.

[00:09:47] Dr Meghan Owenz: He was, he was so much easier. They're both, they're both wonderful, you know, totally different personalities, but we prepped, uh, my oldest daughter, you know, we're like, sometimes babies cry, you know, All day.

You know, like, we like, really, like, she was like, whoa, why are we doing this? You know? Um, and then he came along and he was like, meh, you know, he was just like this super, super calm, super mellow baby. And she's like, you guys are really overdramatic, you know?

[00:10:15] Hunter: Well, that's good. I'm glad for you. You had it in that order.

So you could be prepared. So what did you discover with the research? What's, what was hap, what is happening in the brain? What are some of the effects of screen time on infants and young kids?

[00:10:30] Dr Meghan Owenz: Yeah. So when we're talking about, I really like acronyms. So when I talk about young kids, so under fives, I use the acronym SWAT for SWAT the screen time, because those are the five big areas where I think we have, you know, the best research, um, in terms of some of the negative associations we see with screens.

So S stands for sleep, um, children who have high amounts of recreational screen time. This means, you know, like for fun, for pleasure, um, that they go to bed later and that they have a total. Um, their total sleep duration is shorter. W is for wait, that there's um, associations in between recreational screen time and wait for kids.

A for attention, which is what we're trying to find. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thanks for clarifying that. Um, A for attention, which I think is really interesting looking at the ways in which, um, You know, a two three four year old we think of as generally inattentive. Um, you know, and looking at the ways in which screen time affects their attention.

We have, uh, experimental and longitudinal research that shows a negative effect of, uh, recreational screen time for young kids. Um, and then their attentional abilities at age seven when they're in school. The second A is for aggression. So kids are great at modeling. Um, that's why your work in terms of helping us to be mindful, right.

And to, uh, carefully choose our words, um, is really important because they're watching what we're doing and they're watching what's on screen too. And they tend to attend to the content that is, um, most overwhelming for them in a way, right? So if they watch a show and there's, There's maybe some aggressive content, but the moral of the show is that, you know, aggression is not good and we shouldn't hit or we shouldn't say unkind things.

Kids tend to remember that we hit, right? Or that we say unkind things. And here I'm talking about little kids. Um, so when they just attend to that, it's like, you know, you think about, um, some of the psychological principles that make people bad eyewitnesses, like if they see a gun, they only remember the gun, right?

They don't remember the person's face. It's kind of the same thing with kids and aggression and content. There was a really interesting study, um, of Clifford the Big Red Dog, where there was a dog with only three legs and the whole, you know, the kids were mean to him and they, they excluded this dog. Yeah.

And it was like. Disabilities are okay, and we should, you know, accept everybody and treat everybody equally. And like, the kids who watched it that were too young, so they were four or five, a little younger than the intended audience, they got the opposite message from the program. God. It was so sad, right?

They just attended to that time that was really salient for them when the kids were being mean. You know, and so that, like, they couldn't connect to the beginning, middle, and end of the show when they were too little for the show.

[00:13:24] Hunter: Stay tuned for more Mindful Mama podcasts right after this break.

They're almost like modeling, like, it's like the brain is, you know, the most developed part of the brain when you're born, right, is your, is your, um, stress response system, right? Right? Like, that's the only fully developed whole system in the brain. So, like, that part of the brain that's looking out for threats.

It's fully developed and is like, Oh, a threat, right? And so then, then that's the thing that's really sticking.

[00:13:55] Dr Meghan Owenz: Sounds like. Yeah. Yeah. And then they're just, they're just not paying attention at the end when everybody's like calmly getting a message, right? They're like somewhere else. Right. Um, and then the T is for talking.

So there's a connection in between screen time and young children and language acquisition. So, a really interesting study that showed, you know, for each 30 minute increase they had with a handheld device, like a parent's cell phone or an iPad, um, that toddlers, uh, were 49 percent more likely to have a language delay.

Um, and so, you know, kids learn talking through, there's been a lot of efforts to teach kids taught via language through videos. Those companies have been sued. I'm lost. And they just do not learn language through videos and anything that says your kid is going to learn language by watching and engaging with a program.

That's, that's just not the case. They get it from human interaction.

[00:14:48] Hunter: They're sleeping less. That's so huge because of the whole, the way your, your brain learns and that can lead to learning deficiencies and just things like that. I know that my own daughter had like a sleep, sleep apnea. And when we finally got her tonsils out, then her.

That's when her reading went crazy. You know, it's like, oh, now she could sleep the whole night through. And then she started to read and read and read and read and read. It was pretty amazing. Um, so weight, attention, aggression. So I guess as you were like looking into this, you started to say, Oh crap, what have I done to my child?


[00:15:29] Dr Meghan Owenz: Yeah. Yeah. We stopped really quick with what we were doing. And, um, and I should say that if there are parents listening whose kids have some sort of a medical issue and they use, you know, Screen times to judiciously to help the child with a treatment of some sort. That that is not considered, you know, a bad use of screen time.

Right. But, um, you know, but for us, it was like, wait a minute. Let's, let's back up and let's see if we can help her. You know, understand that we have to do this in a more respectful fashion. Um, that isn't just kind of distracting her from it, but it's trying to loop her into what we're doing and maybe it won't be as easy for us in the beginning, but maybe that means that it'll be more meaningful for her in the long run.

Right. That we don't do things to her, but we try to do them with her, you know, and that sounds silly for a six month old, but it really is a different perspective that was meaningful for us.

[00:16:24] Hunter: No, I, I think that makes a lot of sense. I mean, it's kind of like the, you know, it's like you, you can do those things with a six month old.

You just, you start to say it all out loud, like, I'm, you know, I'm gonna take off your diaper now. Does this feel okay? You know, I think all that kind of modeling that respectful language, even if they're not getting all of it and et cetera, that's, that, that's how you start, right? That's how you start to learn and practice those things.

And that's how kids start to get those expectations. Yeah. How they'll be treated.

[00:16:56] Dr Meghan Owenz: Yeah. Yeah. So we stopped pretty quick. Um, and, and then she didn't have any screen time and we got to two, um, and here I had started digging, you know, I had really been involved in digging into the research and doing some writing and things.

Um, and we looked at her and we're like, now she's two and one day. So now she, at the time, you know, that it was like, that was the switch to one hour in the, in the American Academy of Pediatrics, uh, policy statement, and we were like, why, why would we do one hour of screen time a day at this point? Um, and so we decided to keep going and to keep her, you know, totally screen free as long as possible.

She's nine now, and her brother is six, and I really believe in keeping the kids, delaying it as long as you can based on your family circumstances, but definitely till age five. Um, and so, both of them were totally screen free through to age 5, which is much easier than, you know, kids your age, Hunter, you know, that's just not an option, but the thing is, it is easier to keep them screen free, so if you can do that, um, if you can put a little effort up front, it, it is much easier, and there will be plenty of time later when they have to be introduced to screens for a variety of things.

[00:18:10] Hunter: Yeah, I'm so with you. And I was so frustrated with my husband, who's a computer programmer, who was like, oh, she's two, like, she's two and a half, like, let's get her started on some early, like, programming kind of things. And she got hers, and I was like, okay, fine. And I was sort of arguing this sort of other side, um, but I'm, I'm really with you in that.

Thank you. Um, you know, that we limited our kids screen time a lot more than most other kids, maybe less than some people, um, and we got to see so much, so much creative play and, and now is a whole different story now that they're 11 we're in a pandemic and it's, it's a totally different story. But. This is really different.

Like what you're advocating is really, really different from what's happening for most kids, right? Like, do you, do you know what kind of the statistics are for most kids now? Cause I mean, I see that all the time, a kid in a stroller who's too young to like go walk holding a phone and watching the phone while they're walking outside.

And it's like, like, I just, you know, but, but this is, this is the, this is the lay of the land these days, right?

[00:19:25] Dr Meghan Owenz: Yeah, yeah. And so some of that, I mean, we have, we run a, my husband and I together run a website called ScreenFreeParenting. com where we're just trying to be, um, as loud and trendy as we can to get, to fight with the technology companies who are really pushing parents and pushing kids to do it younger and younger and younger.

And I, and I do feel for parents in that. Most parents introduce it thinking that, um, it is something that is good or healthy for their child, right? And so they don't want their kids to be left behind. They want help teaching colors or numbers. Um, and then once they introduce it, they realize that it's like a really messy playground where like nothing is designed appropriately for their child.

And they're like running around trying to save them from, you know, the climbing structure that's way too big for them. And, you know, it's just. Persuasive design runs so rampant in children's applications and games and programs that then you have a kid who has no emotion regulation because they're two and so they just don't, they don't come with that, right?

Um, and they want more and more and more of it. And it ends up, the parent ends up in this crazy power struggle where they are set up to lose because the programming has been designed so that the kid will want more of it.

[00:20:42] Hunter: So, how did you guys, you and your husband, how did you limit the screen time, or basically have not much screen time at all, very, very limited screen time before the age of five?

Assuming that you watch some Netflix now and you're on your own, like, how did you do that yourself? Do you, you know, what, what did, what were some of the strategies that you did?

[00:21:05] Dr Meghan Owenz: Yeah, yeah, so I think, um, where I still try to be, one thing that I have totally failed at during the pandemic is we were really conscious, we both work full time, really conscious about the work that we did in front of our kids with a screen, um, and really conscious of our own phone use and kind of thinking ahead to like, When they're teenagers, this is what we're going to want them to do with the phone that they might have.

And so we need to do that now. Like let's, let's be really, um, intentional and respectful about our use of technology. And then the pandemic hit and there's like, we're just like all over the house supervising while also in meetings and teaching classes. And, um, so we're, you know, initially I would have students hand things in on paper so I could grade on paper while I was also supervising the kids so that they could understand better what I was doing.

Um, you know, so it wasn't like this confusing black box that pulls me in kind of thing, right? But they could understand, like, students write things and, and mom reads them, um, and I give them feedback and they could see that and be like, okay, that's totally boring. I'm going to go back to the Fort I was making.

Um, um, But in terms of our own recreational screen time, we do things, uh, you know, similar to you. We have a screen free day a week and it is so restorative. It feels like there's extra hours in the day there. It's wonderful. Um, and we would, you know, if we were going to have Netflix, or like something we were gonna do with screens for fun.

We would do that after our kids went to bed, you know, sleep is so important for kids. And so they were in bed by seven 3730 and that gave us plenty of time. Um, if we wanted to do something like that.

[00:22:40] Hunter: Okay, cool. Yeah. I mean, I think that sounds really. Really pretty reasonable. I mean, especially considering.

Thanks. Um, you know, considering the negative side effects that we're seeing, I, in that whole image of, like, that kind of, like, hypnotized toddler, just staring into space, and you talk about, you, you describe a, a situation, I think it's, like, the first chapter where, you know, there's, like, this, uh, someone, a, a, a child, like, kind of, like, hypnotized, completely wrapped during a 74 minute presentation of, uh, Uh, children's songs.

And it's like, uh, for like, uh, I don't know, 20 month old. Yeah. That's frightening because that's not what kids are supposed to do, right? They're not supposed to be completely wrapped for 74 minutes.

[00:23:29] Dr Meghan Owenz: No, no, there is something wrong there, right? Like if your kid is sitting silent, glazed over, not realizing they're hungry or tired or something like that for 74 minutes at 20 months of age, there's a problem there, but that wasn't an end description.

That was a Description of a child who is watching a YouTube video of, um, songs, baby songs, um, and it could have been any content because it was really just flashing, constant screen shifts, which is some of the worst kinds of screen time, and that's what I mean by You know, this playground equipment that wasn't meant for them, you know, it wasn't, they didn't look at a child and think about what does a kid need, which is what some high quality program was designed that way.

I mean, Sesame Street was designed that way, looking at children, looking at, um, educational gaps of kids in kindergarten and figuring out how could we use media to help with that. Lots of children's programming, um, now is designed for how can I loop them in and make them look at my thing the longest so that I have the most ad revenue, right?

Um, and so there's like no thought about what would be good for this kid. Sesame Street had built in breaks to it of like, that were encouraging the kids to get up and leave and go outside and start a conversation and things like that. And the program is exactly opposite that now, right? It's encouraging your kid to watch it and not realize that the sun has risen and it's starting to set.

[00:24:51] Hunter: It's amazing. It's like the attention economy. And now I think of like my 14 year old on TikTok, which is like, apparently my husband, he signed, he got onto TikTok for a little while, just to experience it. He felt like he said, he said he felt like his, it hurt his brain after a while. Like his attention was scrambled as an adult.

And I'm like, Oh man, TikTok. But this is the same kid that You know, she, yeah, we had this, this screen free life and, and I would like to just, I want to kind of segue into that question of like, what, you know, okay, so you didn't have screens, you didn't have their hour screen time every day, you know, between the ages of two and five.

What did your kids do? Right? And, and that's the question that, that we get, uh, that I've gotten a lot, but I'm really interested to hear about your answer, like what happened with that?

[00:25:44] Dr Meghan Owenz: Yeah. Yeah. So what I talk about in the book is that, um, you know, we see all these negative associations, that sort of SWAT acronym we just went over with, uh, little kids and screen time.

And there's two major theories about why we have those negative associations. So one theory that I think has really gotten disproportionate attention says that it's due to the content. Like that video on YouTube has fast, rapid screen shifts, and that's causing attention problems later on, or the content in Clifford the Big Red Dog is developmentally inappropriate.

And so if that's the problem, then we keep telling parents, watch with your kids, check ratings, play with your kids, you know, do all these things to like check out and make sure the content is great. But there's another theory, and that's the displacement theory, which says that some of the negative effects of screen time might have nothing to do with the screen time itself.

Your kid might be watching like, Beautiful nature documentaries, you know, or whatever, right? Um, but like water in a bathtub, as they fill up their day with more of that, there's less time for these things that are really good for physical and psychological development of children. Um, and so it's the loss of those activities that is driving.

Some of these negative effects. Um, and if that's the case, that's confusing as a parent, cause now you have to orient not only to, you know, what your kid is doing, but also to what your kid is not doing. And you don't really know the answer to that. Right. Um, but the positive thing about displacement is that it gives us an in.

Like we could have a positive goal of. Increasing their time spent in these activities that we have known for decades and decades of research are really good for kids. Um, and then if they have sufficient time in those categories of activities, then we can worry a little less about the screen time because we know it's not displacing the things that are really key for their cognitive, emotional, physical development.


[00:27:42] Hunter: yeah. Yeah. I love that. And I like, I like how you talk about that too, because you're right. Like, you know, you mentioned that, you know, like, kind of like weight loss. Like we we're, we don't do well when we say don't do this, or you have to be restricted in this. And like, we all hate to be restricted.

Everyone, all human beings at every age hate to be restricted. And so instead with the displacement theory, you're saying like instead, like, let's focus on what we do wanna do at that time, how we can fill that time. So. Let's, let's get to like the idea of the, maybe the pandemic later. Let's imagine a non pandemic world.

Oh, that's wonderful. It'll happen sometime. What, what are the things that, what are, what are we, what are we wanting to do with our kids that this strange time is displacing?

[00:28:30] Dr Meghan Owenz: Yeah. So as I was digging into the research, I was looking at these things that are really good for kids. And I was also looking at the things, the activities of childhood.

that have an inverse relationship with screen time. Meaning as screen time goes up. The time that children spend in these activities goes down. Um, and so the cool thing about that is that maybe as the activity time spent in those activities goes up, screen time will go down. Um, and so the five activities, it's another acronym and the acronym is SPOIL, which is the title of the book, Spoiled Right.

Um, and it stands for, S is for social. Face to face social interactions, play, um, where children are learning, cooperation, competition, perspective taking, all those things. The P in SPOIL is for play, free play, that is, you know, freely chosen by the child and self directed. O is for outdoor time and you play with your kids.

You can't read the chapter on outdoor without like throwing the book in the corner and running outside because it's just so good for your kids. We see an impact and, and then opposite effects of screen time, right? Like we see an inverse relationship in between total sleep and screen time. The more screens kids are engaged with, the less sleep they have.

The more time they have to take. The more sleep they have, right? So like it, it really counteracts some of these negative effects. So time outdoors, um, the I stands for independent work, like chores, things that your child kind of has to put aside their immediate interest. In Pursuit of a Long Term Goal. So that could be chores, that could be schoolwork as they get older.

Um, and then the L in SPOIL stands for Literacy Based Activities. Reading, being read to, listening to an audiobook. Paging through a book and looking at pictures as a pre reader. Um, that those are the five activities that seem to be really kind of losing out to screen time and some other cultural things.

Um, and that are really, really good for kids and have the opposite effect of screen time. You know, time outdoors. reading, play, they all build attention skills. So if we're worried about the impact of attention on our, uh, you know, screens, on our children's attention, we can increase their time spent in these activities and hope that it's at least leveling things out a little bit.

[00:30:43] Hunter: Yeah. This is the, this is the thing that gives me hope for like this past year. I was my children and they're remote learning and they're all, no access to friends except for on Minecraft. Um, that. At least, like, the first nine plus years, ten plus years, they had so much outdoor time, so much free play time, so much creative play time, social, free, you know, all of those things that are shown by human development.

I mean, this is just like what humans need, right? Like, human kids need. Young kids need free play, outdoor time. We all need outdoor time doing chores. Can we dive into a little bit more of these? Which one is your favorite one to dive into first?

[00:31:30] Dr Meghan Owenz: I don't know. Um, but I will, I do want to say that you are right.

That you should feel a little bit better with like the pandemic induced crazy screen time of everybody. Um, because there, there is research to show that, you know, screen time habits and rules in the family when the children are young. are predictive of problematic, um, media use later when the kids are older.

And so it, it does help to kind of set that foundation, even though things maybe might feel a little more chaotic and out of control as they need it for school or they need it for some socialization aspects, because they have that grounding in how to socialize, how to direct their day, how to direct their attention prior to having got the screen.

And that's really different than a child's view. Um, didn't get to have that experience. So I, so I do think that you should feel good about that.

[00:32:20] Hunter: Good. Megan. Yeah. I mean, it makes a lot of sense. Like those are like zero to five. These are incredibly prime brain development years, like psychological development, emotional development, development of everything.

Our kids are, you know, human beings are so immature and underdeveloped when they're born compared to every other animal in the world, right? So like, these, these years are incredibly important. Now I'm worried that, uh, the listener who has a child who is age four and is saying, Oh my God, Megan and Hunter, like, that sounds great and I agree with you and everything, but this past year has been what it has been.

And, and do you have any steps for helping people walk it back? If it's gone too far, because that's the hardest thing is like creating those boundaries and, and, and having healthy boundaries. And I want to ask you about, I'm curious about, I have a friend who has kids who are all 10 and older, who has started to make a, take a more screen neutral approach, like no restriction kind of in the house.

And I'm, I'm curious if you've heard anything about that. I'm just totally curious about that. So those are one question. Then the second question, I guess. Yeah. How can we walk it back?

[00:33:43] Dr Meghan Owenz: Let's

[00:33:43] Hunter: go

[00:33:43] Dr Meghan Owenz: there. So how to walk it back. Um, for little kids and for older kids, I would have two different answers. So let's assume that the kids are under the age of five, so they're little and they don't need it for socialization.

Cause you know, a 13 or 14 year old, um, does maybe need it for socialization. I, I will get behind the, in the 13 year olds corner and say like, She's kind of right a little and research, um, supports that idea, but our little ones, they really don't. Um, so I really recommend, you know, participating in a really fun week, like Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, Screen Free Week, which is coming up, um, and talking to your kids about it ahead of time and saying, Hey, you know, in the pandemic, we've all, you know, mommy, daddy, everybody has gotten really, had a lot of fun on their screens, um, more than we usually do.

And for this one week, we're going to take a break and we're going to try to remember all those things that we'd really like to do instead and really fill that week with fun stuff and ask them what kind of things they would like to do. You know, if you can pick up more audio books in the library, try to think through some of tough times in your household, if it's, you know, in the morning or if it's in the evening, if it's dinnertime, whatever it is, and what you're going to put in place there.

And I have some, some good ideas for that in the book, as well as on our website. Um, and you want to try with little kids, you know, a span of time a week would be great where they don't have screens as part of their regular day and see how things lay out, you know, because it can be hard to figure out what impact it's having on their sleep or what impact it's having on their play, um, when it's such a prominent.

And then after you take a little break, it can be easier to prioritize like the spoil categories while also having, you know, some screen time that is at an appropriate time for your family with an appropriate content. So that's how I would walk it back. Um, then you asked the question about the person with no limits.

Um, and I think it's probably going to depend a lot on the individual child. So we've talked a lot about research wise, you know, like what is the tipping point? What is the number of hours where screen time becomes problematic? That's almost always a question that parents have. And research has found, you know, like a range.

Um, however, it is really child dependent. So you might have kids that are at the low end of that range that are showing what we would call problematic media habits. And there's a validated scale for that. So they're like at the low end and they're, you know, Having trouble verbalizing about anything other than the game they're playing, and they're having a really hard time turning it off, they're thinking about it more and more, they're sneaking it, it's causing fights in the family, like those are all signs that it's problematic for them.

Then you might have a kid at the high end who has like No issues whatsoever. And they're still outside and they're still sleeping great. And so there's, there's some differences there in how it's going to impact different kids, right?

[00:36:43] Hunter: Stay tuned for more Mindful Mama podcasts right after this break.

What I kind of come back to is that, uh, when I get, uh, where I get confused about this is that it's not like. It's not like, uh, it, it's addictive, right? I mean, this, it's has all that persuasive, you know, psychology behind it to make it addictive, like more so than, you know, reading, even reading Harry Potter is as addictive as Harry Potter is with all those cliffhangers, but, right.

I mean, that's, that's, that's what I get hung up on as I think about that idea.

[00:37:20] Dr Meghan Owenz: Yes, yes. So, and the thing is that Harry Potter ends too. I mean, maybe it doesn't feel like it if you're reading it aloud to your kid, um, and you're falling asleep while you do it, but it's a really good book, but you know, parents are tired, um, and the books are long, but, um, you know, it does, it does have an end point.

And then the kid moves on to something else. The thing is that. the internet and children's programming and games. Like there is no end, you know, like they could do it forever and it would never, they would never get to the bottom of it. And that's something that like most parents, we didn't experience as kids.

Cause there was, there was no internet when I was a kid. Um, and there was TV, but it was self limiting because there was, it was only, Child Appropriate at certain times, you know, like Saturday mornings. I

[00:38:05] Hunter: thought it was Three's Company after school. I was like, so I'm Child Appropriate, but I watched it anyway.

[00:38:10] Dr Meghan Owenz: Right, right, right. I watched, yeah, I remember that too. But, you know, and so, like, eventually there was nothing on for us to watch. Like, if we stayed up too late, then you were watching an infomercial. And you were like, what am I Do I want that? What is this? Do I want 40 CDs of classic rock? No, I don't. Right, right.

And so I was like, this is, I'm, I'm actually tired. I'm gonna, I'm gonna go to bed. Right. And so that, that will never happen to our kids on the internet. Like it never gets boring. Um, and so it really requires the parents to do so much more work than parents of previous generations did in creating those boundaries, um, around the screen time.

And so maybe you have a kid who is just. Real easygoing, um, doesn't have problematic media habits, um, and they're able to turn it off and good for them. But that doesn't mean that that parent or that kid is doing anything better than the parent of the kid who really can't turn it on. Okay, um, because of persuasive design, because it was designed that way for the kid to not turn it off.

For them to feel like they're going to die, they're going to miss out on something, they're going to, you know, these are all psychological phenomenon that we're now studying. We're studying FOMO or fear of missing out in teenagers, like it's a real thing. It's like anxiety and depression, you know, it, it research wise is a real thing.

It's a real thing because it was created to be a real thing. Because if they could induce those feelings in that teenage girl or boy, they could get them to log back on. They could trigger them to log back on and tunnel them back in and spend more time and they would, their, their products, you know, value.

[00:39:51] Hunter: Merch, the YouTubers. Mom, Wilbur is going live doing blah, blah, blah right now and I'm like. Isn't it recorded? Like, can't you just watch it later? Like, why do you have to go right now to do this thing? Like, I, I hear that for sure. Yeah. You know, following the Minecraft YouTubers in my house.

[00:40:11] Dr Meghan Owenz: Yeah. Yeah. And so it's, uh, it's unfair to the kids and it's unfair to the parents.

Um, and the spoil system is a way of trying to say, hmm, Like, deep breath. These are the things that really matter, so you don't have to get media whiplash from every study because it's going to take decades to figure out all the ways in which it's problematic and all the ways in which it's not. Um, but you can focus more on the things that are really good for kids and families and then maybe worry a little less when they like are.

Feel like they need to run to YouTube immediately to watch that video because you know that they spent time outside and you know that they've been reading and you know that they've been playing with a friend and talking to you and like had all these positive experiences that are necessary for their development.

It's not infiltrating those things. If you can keep it, if you can prioritize those and not let them get edged out, then you can worry a little less.

[00:41:07] Hunter: This is, this is very helpful. I love this. So parents of young kids. Reduce the screen time as much as you can. Fill with that good time. I love the idea of kind of a detox week.

I can imagine some challenging conversations between parenting partners about this because it's not like a real fun thing. It's kind of like your dryuary for some parents. Like, do I really want to do that? Um, and, um, but I, I think that's a great idea. This, when, when is the screen free week? What, what week is it every year?

I used to remember it was like, uh,

[00:41:42] Dr Meghan Owenz: I think it's May 3rd, but I will feel terrible because I work with the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood a lot. They're a great organization. You can sign up on their website. They, it's C C F C, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, and they'll send you, like, a kit.

Um, they're a non profit. They'll send you like a kit with ideas and things like that. And they have, um, information for schools that want to promote it and participate in Screen Free Week and ways to integrate it with the curriculum and all those sorts of things. But it's coming up and I want to say it's early May, but I could be totally wrong and I'm sorry if I am.

[00:42:15] Hunter: That's okay. That's okay. So, um, Now, what, um, what do you think about older kids? Selfishly, I'm asking, how do you think about older kids and, you know, the world we're current, currently living in this spring slash summer of 2021 where we're remote learning, you know, the only way to see friends, some friends is on the, is, you know, playing Minecraft and talking to each other.

Um, and, um, do you have any advice for us who are struggling in that situation with some older kids?

[00:42:59] Dr Meghan Owenz: Yeah, so first I have a great deal of empathy because, um, screen free is, for little kids is held up as it's like this, you know, some sort of like crazy ideal that really involved parents do, and I think it's actually, from my perspective, it's just like the lazier choice, you know, like I remember at like three, it was like, I can co view a program with you.

And I was like, I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to watch, you know, I'll, I'll, if I'm going to sit with you, I'm going to read to you. I'm going to do something that, you know, you can learn to do later on your own to entertain yourself. So like, it's, it's way the lazier version and yet it's good for your kid.

[00:43:31] Hunter: Now, I just, I want to interject here because I just wanted for the parents who are like, oh, it's easier. I have to, Back you up, Megan, because it is. You just say, there's something to do is right around the corner. Some gap, Kim Payne said that something to do is right around the corner. You have some open ended toys around.

You don't have to have a lot. You just kick them outside if you have a backyard, if you're lucky enough to have that. But, but you don't have to be your kids. We're not saying be your kid's entertainer. Megan is not saying be your kid's entertainer. They can do that. They, it will be like. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes of painful whining and all you say is something just right around the corner and become more boring than whatever it is around your house and, and it is, it's, it's not that hard.

Sorry. Yeah. Cause I wanted to back you up there.

[00:44:19] Dr Meghan Owenz: I'm glad you highlighted that because I also think the parents that come to me and are like, Oh my, how do you do, how? I could never do that. I could, I would never be able to shower. I would never be able to do this. I would. They're dealing with a problem that the screen created that only the screen can solve.

Um, and because, you know, every time their child maybe had to deal with some negative emotion, like mom's in the shower, mom said, no, mom won't do this for me or dad or whoever. Um, they were, they, they had access to a screen. And so they actually never dealt with any of those negative emotions because the screen can totally distract them from it and they don't know that they have to feel it.

And so. When you take away the screen for that kid who's had it for a while, like boredom does feel worse than it does for a kid who hasn't had it because they Thank you. Don't have all those little micro dose exposures to it. And so that parent says like, my kid would lose it if I tried to make dinner, if I tried to take a shower, if I tried to have a meeting.

Um, but the thing is that over time when they're exposed to, you know, the next great thing is right around the corner, you've got lots of toys. I'm busy right now, but I'll be with you in a, you know, 15 minutes when I'm out of the shower or whatever it is. Then they, they have to deal with that over time and they get used to it.

And emotion regulation builds. I'm not saying like we want to make our kids measurable, but we do want our children to be exposed to things like frustration and boredom. Um, and to know that they can get through it. The message is not like, I want you to be frustrated, but you're frustrated. That's a human thing.

And I know that you're going to get through it and I'll be here. Um, and we're, we all deal with frustration over time. Again, not something our parents had to deal with. Cause like if I wanted a lollipop in the grocery store and my mom said, no, there was no like magical device that was going to sing to me and change colors and like make me feel better about it.

Like I just had to deal with it and like be mad at my mom, you know? Um, but that was good and, you know, so over time, your kid will develop this capacity for self directed play, um, as they get exposed to it in little doses. We, that's how we all did it. We all got exposed in little doses to not having somebody's attention 24 7, um, and we learned how to direct our own day and then it get, and then it is so easy once they have had some exposure to that because they are busy and they know where the limit is.

[00:46:40] Hunter: Yeah. I love that. That detox week. Okay. So it's not as hard as you think. Parents of younger kids. Now, parents of older kids. Parents of older kids. Okay.

[00:46:47] Dr Meghan Owenz: So those parents get a big dose of empathy for me because research shows, um, what you know, which is that, you know, those, those kids aren't, that are screen free and 14, they're not really doing so good.

Okay. So there's sort of this U shaped curve with screen time and mental wellbeing. Um, that the kids with no screen time are not doing very well, and the kids with too much screen time are not doing very well. And the kids who have a moderate amount, they're the ones that are doing the best. Um, and so you don't get to do the super easy thing and just be like, Oh, I'm just, we just don't do that in our house.

Right. Um, you have to parent in the middle, which is harder. Um, But going along the research, you do have to have some limits if your kid doesn't seem to be able to find them on their own, right? Which is most kids.

[00:47:35] Hunter: I mean. Yeah, which is, which is most human beings. Like, like, you know, I mean if we didn't have to, work and, and I don't know, you know, like how many people would you be watching Bridgerton for seven hours?


[00:47:51] Dr Meghan Owenz: I just get totally lost in it. Um, it never ends. It's amazing. It never ends. So, um, You know, you have to kind of parent in the middle and you have to be the one to place the limits because the screens come with no limit, there is no end to them. Um, and, but I do recommend that you can do the same thing, the same spoil system by sitting down and talking with your kids about what do they want to do more of.

Like, how can you turn this into a positive thing instead of it being you get two hours and you don't get any more, and we're gonna turn it off, like, sitting down and saying, what are the things that you haven't gotten to do of what are, what are the things you wanna do more of? Creating a list as a family and then really showing up to try to increase time spent in those activities as a family to incidentally reduce the screen time.

Because what, what you referred to at the beginning, Hunter, is my favorite research study, which is those positive versus negative goals. They had families where there was one obese parent, um, which is a predictor for the childhood obesity. And they broke them into two groups and one group got a diet plan to avoid high fat, high sugar foods.

They got this negative goal, right? That's like cut the screen time, only do two hours, whatever. Um, and then the other group, they didn't talk to them about high fat, high sugar foods at all, but instead they got a nutrition plan to increase fruits and vegetables. And they followed them for a year and the families that had lost more weight.

were the fruit and vegetable families. Um, they had increased their fruit and vegetable intake. They had cut high fat, high sugar foods without being told to, because as they ate more fruits and vegetables, they just had less space for them. Um, and so this idea of focusing on avoidance and limits, we have limited willpower and only last for so long.

And so if we can kind of flip, it's the same conversation, but it is a different perspective. And so if we can talk to our teens about what they want to do more of, and that's not, you know. More time on the screen. Um, you know, and, and we can show up and help them with those things. And we can help them see the good experiences that maybe take a little more effort.

You know, teens can get together for something like a baseball game, socially distanced and masked. It was like impossible for a four year old to have a socially distanced masked play date. Like I've done that, you know, like they're like, what? Six feet away? Like. No, what, what am I supposed to talk to him about?

I, what, what, what he's read? I don't, what are you saying? You know, like, they just want to play and like get in each other's faces, like we're like teens, like they want to talk. Um, and so you can get together outside and you can sit outside masked and just like, there's ways to get teens together that is harder than Then just allowing them to do it on their phones, but it will also result in them having more fun and feeling better.

And so it'll be self reinforcing. So just like we need to like show them the good books and you know, help them understand the good foods. We need to show them the meaningful ways to really get their social needs met and things like that.

[00:50:37] Hunter: This is so, so helpful, Meagan. I, I really, really appreciate it.

It's making me think, like, my teen and I, she's in scouts, BSA, she's in a, uh, girls troop of the Boy Scouts, and we went on an ice hike. I'd never would have planned something like that or done something like that, um, and I was so happy we finally did it, you know, like, it, like, we did it. It was amazing. And it was safe and wonderful and all this stuff, but I love that.

So do you want to do more of? That's great. Okay. Megan, I could probably talk to you about this longer. There's so much to say, obviously, but, um, listener, definitely check out Megan's book Spoiled Right. You know, check out the ScreenFreeParenting. com. So much great information there. And, yeah, I believe in this, you know, it's like, uh, it really, what do, you know, yeah, we need to walk the middle path and right now our culture is pointing us to so much excess and distraction and, which is really harmful for our minds and our hearts ultimately, right?

Nobody's going to look back and say, oh, that one hour of screen, of TV, that was like one of the best times of my life. No one's going to do that, right? That was, so anyway, um, Megan. Is there anything that we missed that you want to leave the, the view, the listener with and, and, and also, you know, any, any other places you, you want them to reach out and find you?

No, no, you can find us there. 

[00:52:08] Dr Meghan Owenz: You can find us on Facebook. Um, the book has for each of the categories, all the research on them. And then I think like 20 to 25 different ideas for each category to get you started. Um, so if you have a child and you're not sure how to get started, we give you a bunch of ideas and you're, you, like Hunter said, you'll have the ideas in the beginning as you're helping a child maybe wean or decrease the time they're spending on a, on a screen.

And then. They take off, right? And, and you don't really have to do much. You don't have to entertain them all the time. They will, they will be able to entertain themselves.

[00:52:44] Hunter: Thank you so much, Megan, for sharing this research and all these incredible ideas and doing the work that you're doing to, uh, to, to help us all in this, this area.

I think it's, it's really, really important. I can't wait to give away the wonderful two copies of the book that you have at the top of yours to some people who can use it. And, um, and, uh, and yeah, thanks for coming on the podcast. Yeah, thank you so much, Hunter. Thanks for having me.

I am so on board with Megan's campaign to reclaim some of the time our kids are dedicating to their screens, especially now, post pandemic. I think that we can start to be more intentional, hopefully, about the way it's can Take over our kids lives. So I hope you found this episode valuable. If you did, you know, it really makes a huge difference to me when you let me know.

I love seeing the screenshots. You can take a screenshot of where you're listening to this and share it with me. I'm at Mindful Mama Mentor on Instagram and let me know what takeaways you're getting from this awesome interview with Dr. Megan. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for listening. I'm So glad to be connecting with you.

We're moving into spring in my life, and it's beautiful here in Delaware, and I've been able to see some amazing things recently. I got to see a baby horse born in the middle of the night. And I'm just feeling really grateful for that, really grateful for my vaccine, and my tax dollar is paying for that vaccine.

Thank you. And I hope that you are seeing some light after our long winter as well, wherever you are. And maybe that's just in your personal world and not in your country yet, but I hope you're seeing some of that, some light in your world. And I can't wait to connect with you again next week. Thank you.

Thank you so much for listening. I really appreciate you sharing your time and spending this time with me here. It's, it's awesome. So glad we can connect and I wish you a wonderful, peaceful week and. Less stress, more joy, all that good stuff. Take care. Namaste.

I'd say definitely do it. It's really helpful. It will change your relationship with your kids for the better. It will help you communicate better. And just, I'd say communicate better as a person, as a wife, as a spouse. It's been really a positive influence in our lives. So definitely do it. I'd say definitely do it.

It's so worth it. The money really is inconsequential when you get so much benefit from being To your children and feeling like you're connecting more with them and not feeling like you're yelling all the time or you're like, why isn't things working? I would say definitely do it. It's so, so worth it.

It'll change you. No matter what age someone's child is, it's a great opportunity for personal growth and it's a great investment in someone's family. I'm very thankful I have this. You can continue in your old habits that aren't working or you can learn some new tools. Goals and gain some perspective to shift everything in your parenting.

Are you frustrated by parenting? Do you listen to the experts and try all the tips and strategies, but you're just not seeing the results that you want? Or are you lost as to where to start? Does it all seem so overwhelming with too much to learn? Are you yearning for community people who get it, who also don't want to threaten and punish to create cooperation?

Hi, I'm Hunter Clark Fields, and if you answered yes to any of these questions, I want you to seriously consider the Mindful Parenting Membership. You'll be joining us next. Hundreds of members who have discovered the path of mindful parenting and now have confidence and clarity in their parenting. This isn't just another parenting class.

This is an opportunity to really discover your unique, lasting relationship, not only with your children, but with yourself. It will translate into lasting, connected relationships, not only with your children, but your partner too. Let me change your life. Go to mindfulparenting. org MindfulParentingCourse.

com to add your name to the waitlist so you will be the first to be notified when I open the membership for enrollment. I look forward to seeing you on the inside. MindfulParentingCourse.


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