Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Learn How to Ditch the Devices With Florence Ann Romano
[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 380 of Live Happy Now. As we go back to school, it means kids are spending even more time on their screens. So, what’s a parent to do?
I’m your host, Paula Felps. And this week, I’m talking with childcare advocate and author, Florence Ann Romano, about the importance of balancing time on devices. Florence Ann is a big fan of ditching the devices and discovering off-screen play. And she’s here today to talk about how parents can get a handle on their children’s screen time, and maybe improve their own screen habits in the process.
[00:00:39] PF: Florence Anne, welcome to Live Happy Now.
[00:00:42] FAR: Thank you for having me.
[00:00:44] PF: We are headed back to school. And this makes it the perfect time to sit down and talk with you. Because as we head back, it makes managing our children’s screen time even more challenging than maybe during the summer. So, I guess to start, do you have any different guidelines for different age groups about like how much is too much time?
[00:01:05] FAR: It’s really going to depend on the circumstances of the family. You don’t have to follow these parameters necessarily and be like, “Okay, if you know they’re three-years-old, it’s only going to be 30 minutes a day.” I think it depends on what you need to use the technology for. And I’ve never been someone who is a stickler for rules consistently necessarily. I know that may sound funny. But what I mean by that is you have to be flexible. Depending on the day, depending on what’s going on with the kids, you may need a little more screen time than less. And that’s okay.
I think people get caught up in this idea that it’s balance, balance, balance. And every day is not going to be balanced the way you may define it. Certain days may be more balanced than others. And I think giving ourselves a lot of grace with that is important. Because if you don’t, then you’re really setting yourself up for failure. So, seeing what the needs of the day are, I think that’s the first way to try and vet it.
[00:02:11] PF: Oh, that’s a great approach. I was talking to someone yesterday, and we were talking about Gen Z. And he was bringing up the point like when he was growing up, if he wanted to research a paper, he went to the library. If he wanted to talk to a friend, he used to telephone. If he wanted to take a picture, he used a camera. And he’s like, “Now, that is all in one device for these children.” So, when people complain about too much screentime, he’s like, “They’re doing some of the same things we did. They’re just doing it all on one device.”
[00:02:39] FAR: Mm-hmm. And isn’t that amazing, right? In terms of –
[00:02:41] FAR: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
[00:02:43] FAR: I know. It feels like there’s so much. There’s so much that we’re technology-wise being inundated with in our face. And it’s a lot to sort through. But the idea of having technology is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be educational. It can be very useful. And I think that knowing that we can use it in ways that can be beneficial, that’s also a good way to approach it. Because if you’re only looking at it as entertainment and not educational, then you can be really hard on yourself about allowing technology. It’s just the idea that you’re using it as needed. And you’re using it in ways that are going to, again, be beneficial to kind of the rhythm of the day. And if you’re just sticking your kids in front of the TV or their iPads all day long, then yeah, I would say there’s a problem with that. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re just talking about the idea that there needs to be regulation, and then also finding the space for where it can be educational and entertaining.
[00:03:53] PF: Right. And how do you get a handle on screen time when it is? It’s not might be anymore. It is required for school. We had a situation in our family where a certain niece was allegedly doing her homework, and it sounded a lot like video games. And turned out that’s what we were doing. And so, how do parents work with that situation? Because, yes, you want to send your child. Go to your room. Do your homework. That’s great. How do you make sure they’re doing this?
[00:04:23] FAR: Making sure that they have a routine I think is what it comes down to. You want to be able to give them consistency in that sort of way, because I think it helps them become more disciplined. It helps them become more responsible. It also helps them be able to deal with the day. And I think even as adults, we see this. When we’re in a routine, when we’re productive, when we’re –We feel like we’re operating at our best selves. And children feel the same way too.
So, if there can be some structure where, “Okay, chores, and homework, and some screen time, and some reading time, those are things that they can depend on then.” And as long as they have the expectation, they’re going to be set up for more success in that way because they get used to it. They know. They know what is expected of them. And so, you’re teaching them a lot of responsible lessons there.
[00:05:24] PF: That’s a really great point, because you can look down the road and see how teaching them to balance these things is going to have effects on their careers and on their relationships down the road.
[00:05:35] FAR: Exactly. And I think it’s important for us to remember that we’re raising our children because they’re going to be adults. They’re going to have to have professional relationships. They’re going to have careers. They’re going to have romantic relationships, all of these things. And so, we’re setting them up for success as adults. And they need to learn about critical thinking, and all of those different things, when they’re younger, because that’s going to inform how they are as, hopefully, a very operational adults.
[00:06:13] PF: That’s a great approach. I love that. And one thing that you’ve talked about, too, are the implications of spending too much time on a screen. And so, I want to deal with in a few ways. And let’s start with what it’s doing to young brains, if they are just on devices, that they’re constantly on a screen, how does it affect their brain development?
[00:06:30] FAR: Well, you want people to think outside the box. Not just children, right? We all see these people that come up with all of these inventions and unbelievable breakthroughs, things like that. It’s that’s because they’re thinking outside the box. And you go back to what was childhood like for them? What did they learn? How did they play? How are they creative? And that to me is so interesting, because that I think is the real sweetness of it all, is this imaginative play part, where you are allowing the creative juices to flow. You are allowing a child to imagine, and create, and inspire. And the way they do that sometimes is through boredom. The way they do that is by having those tablets taken away from them. Playing with people. Socializing with other kids. Learning how to share. How to be empathetic. All of those different things. I think that leads to a lot of – Shapes the person in a really significant way as they grow up because they were allowed the chance to imagine. And I think we can’t de-emphasize that in our lives today, where there’s different ways to raise kids, right? Now, versus then, old school, new school.
But I think one thing that is evergreen is that we do need to continue to be able to raise our children with the emphasis on figuring out how their brains work. What they know? What they’re passionate about? And then giving them the chance to really express that.
[00:08:11] PF: And are there any tips on play that you can give? So, when you take that screen away, after the screaming stops, what are some ways in play that you can engage them that will really start those brain synapses firing?
[00:08:26] FAR: Well, you can do things that maybe don’t necessarily feel like learning. Tricking kids into learning. Maybe you’re going to bake. You’re going to bake a cake, or cupcakes, or do something like that. You’re going to be teaching math skills to them. They don’t know it, but they are going to be doing that. And that’s fun. It’s helping their brains work. It’s creative. It’s tactile. It’s really about kind of masking it sometimes for them.
And also, the option. Giving them options. Making kids feel like they have a little more control than perhaps they think they do. So instead of just saying, “Give me that iPad, and you’re doing this.” You could say, “Okay, how about we can either read a book? We can make a pizza? Or we can go swing on the swing set?” Give them options for things that you want them to do that they’re all healthy options, get them off their iPads. But make them feel like they’re involved in the decision making.
[00:09:25] PF: Oh, that’s terrific. I love that. And one thing that you mentioned was empathy. And can we talk for a minute about what too much screentime does for emotional regulation? And how we can start offsetting some of that?
[00:09:40] FAR: The idea of emotional regulation has always been interesting to me, because I think we see a lot of meltdowns happen because of overstimulation. And I grew up with a brother with autism. And Michael still has autism today. But him, as an adult even, we see him being overstimulated and he can be on his iPad a lot, non-technology a lot. And he plays this game called Angry Birds that, oh my gosh, he goes crazy when he loses. And sometimes we have to take that iPad away because it makes him too upset. And I see this even with neurotypical children. It’s not going your way, or you’ve just been binging a show. Or you’re on social media, and it’s starting to make you feel bad about yourself because you’re comparing everyone you see on social media. Sometimes you need that break. And I think we can all feel ourselves being overly stimulated by technology sometimes and seeing that sometimes it really is affecting us negatively. And it takes stepping back from it to sometimes realize that that’s what’s happening.
I know for me, if I’ve been on the computer all day, or I’ve been on social media too much. And I can sometimes feel a little depleted. And I’ll wonder where that feeling is coming from. And I’m like, “You know what? It’s because I’ve been plugged in too much today. I need to go for a walk. I need to get outside. Or I need to call a girlfriend and have a chit chat,” or whatever it is. But it’s about removing yourself from the situation. Changing it up and changing the environment. And you do feel better when you do it.
[00:11:16] PF: 100%. I did that yesterday. I had four-hour-long Zoom calls during the day. And by like five o’clock, I’m like, “I’m going outside. I don’t care what I do.” I’m not just – I will walk around in circles. It doesn’t matter.
[00:11:30] FAR: Exactly. Right. And that’s important, though, for your brain, for your heart, for all of it.
[00:11:35] PF: Yeah, and it’s hard with kids. Because when they get into that mode, we know these apps and the games get really addictive. And they just hunker down, and they don’t want to go outside. I think that’s a big difference. We wanted to go outside. There were three channels, let’s face it. I didn’t want to stay in and watch it. That was a thing. Like, we wanted to go outside and play and do all these things. But when kids are resistant and reluctant to do that, how can we get them engaged and make it something that they do voluntarily that they start looking forward to?
[00:12:05] FAR: Again, it’s about giving them options. It’s about allowing them the opportunity to do things that are going to give them some sort of sense of purpose, and entertainment, and joy. And again, giving suggestions, I think is also important too. Parents will say to me all the time, “I can’t stand hearing from them that I’m bored.” I’m so tired of hearing that. And I also don’t want to have to entertain my kids all the time. And that’s very fair. You don’t want to have to entertain your kids all the time. And you shouldn’t have to.
But, for example, there are these great sensory kits that you can buy, you can make, you can do. Montessori moms like them a lot. And you could set it up for them in the kitchen and bring them in and say, “Here you go. Now, figure out how it works. Create something. Here’s a puzzle.” You can give them the tools, but then you can walk away and you can say, “I’m going to come back in 20 minutes. I want to see how you’re doing. And show me your great work or whatever it is.” You don’t have to sit there with them unnecessarily oversee it. Depending on the age, of course you don’t give them anything that’s a choking hazard or something like that. But you certainly can walk away and come back and check in and allow them that independence.
[00:13:21] PF: Now, what kind of joy do they have when they start getting the sense of accomplishment offline and start finding these other tactile ways to experience life?
[00:13:31] FAR: It seeing the confidence come from them, where you feel like they’re able to figure out a little bit more who they are, and see that their personality is coming through and their interests are coming through. And acknowledging that with your children I think is important too. I would see some of my friends’ kids. They would be on stage at a recital or something like that. And they’d come off and give them flowers. And you’d say, “Oh my gosh! You were smiling so big. You looked like you were having so much fun.” And then that opens the conversation with them for them to elaborate on the fun that they were having. How it made them feel. And you’ll always be excited to hear them say – Even if you say to them, “I’m so proud of you. That was so brave. That was so beautiful.” Whatever it was. And hearing them reflect back to you sometimes saying, “I’m proud of myself too.” That’s the holy grail there. Allowing a child that moment of self-awareness.
[00:14:34] PF: Oh, that’s beautiful. So, obviously, you’re an expert at this. Do you see differences in children who are spending less time on screens and those who are always plugged in?
[00:14:45] FAR: I see that the combination of those things. I always say, everything in moderation. I do find that children that are exposed to a little bit of everything, it makes for a much more fragrant popery in life. You want them to be able to have a lot of different life experiences so they can pick and choose the things in their life that are going to interest them and the ways that they can make a difference in the world.
And so, yes, I think that by just limiting, and also compartmentalizing, and also exposing them to all sorts of different things culturally in society, environmentally, all of that, it just makes for a more well-rounded individual. And us as adults should constantly be challenging ourselves like that, too. We should always be learning and growing. And we should expect the same from adults that we do from children.
[00:15:39] PF: And that’s a great point that I wanted to talk about. Because as parents limit screen time for their children, they do kind of need to take stock of their own time being spent on screens. And you talk about how children or even our spouses feel when we are constantly on our devices. Can you talk about how our screen usage affects others?
[00:16:02] FAR: I think it can significantly decrease our social skills. I think that – Look at what happened during COVID. I think we saw – When we were no longer a part of the village. When we weren’t with people anymore. And all of a sudden, life started to open up again. And all of us were kind of like, “I kind of liked being in my yoga pants and watching my Netflix, and not having to go to that party.”
And even me, who was a very social person, found myself struggling coming out of COVID having to be social again. Not that I didn’t know how to talk to people. But I did find that maybe my skills were a little rusty. Making sure I was being an active listener. Making sure I was being present. And I think that I noticed those skills. Again, they didn’t go anywhere. They’re still there within me. It’s just I didn’t have a chance to practice it in a while. We saw that with children too, when they weren’t in school. When they did finally go back to the classroom, it was harder to concentrate. Maybe an already shy child now was even more shy because they were able to isolate. They were able to kind of de socialize in some sort of way. So, I think you could see this in many different capacities. And COVID actually was a really good example of how when we do stop socializing, how it can impair you.
[00:17:30] PF: For adults who are in the situation where now they’re spending a lot of time on their devices, how can we kind of correct that and become more aware of how much time we as adults are spending on devices?
[00:17:46] FAR: I think it’s always difficult for us to preach to our children about getting off technology when we as adults have a really hard time doing that ourselves. Ad walking the walk and talking the talk. I’ve seen a lot of families be very successful, where they actually use a timer, where all of them have to put their devices away. And it’s maybe during dinner time. Or maybe it’s after everyone’s done with homework, and they’re going to have a little family time. And they’re all maybe not even going to talk to each other. They’re all going to do like a family reading session. Everyone picks up their book. They all gather around, get real snuggly, and read.
Again, it’s about understanding that it’s not the quantity of the time. It is the quality of the time and also leading by example as adults. Showing them, “This is something I do myself.” Instead of, “When I have some downtime between meetings, or between Zooms, or whatever it is, I pick up my book instead of my phone, and I read maybe a couple chapters. Or I go outside. Or take a walk around the block.” It’s showing our spouses, showing our partners, showing our significant others that you also are prioritizing them in that time. You have a half hour free. How about during that half hour, we take a walk around the block together? Or we’re going to have lunch together real quick. Or whatever it is. Again, it doesn’t have to be the quantity. Because it’s very difficult in life to be given quantity of anything when we are all such busy people. But those small moments lead up to big results.
[00:19:19] PF: Yeah, and sometimes we have those great intentions and we say, “That’s what I’m going to do.” It’s like, Florence Ann is right. I’m going to do that from now on.” And then you get the work text, or things like that happen. So, how do we maintain those boundaries? Because I know so many people who are like, “I’ve tried. Like, I tried to just set it aside.” But then you’re concerned about your mother. You’re concerned about work. You’re concerned about all these things that you might be missing. So, how do we chill our minds out and except the boundaries that we need to set?
[00:19:51] FAR: Boundaries are hard. Because people assume when you say the word boundaries, that all of a sudden it means that there’s rejection or that they’re wrong. Or that it’s a dirty word when you say that. People get like their shield up in some sort of way. Communicating, that’s the first rule of any good relationship, friendship, romantic relationship. Asking for what you need instead of waiting for the person to fail, because you’re expecting them to read your mind.
And so, making your wants, needs, desires aware to the other person, that is going to help you tenfold. Because you’re not going to just be sitting there waiting for someone to pick up on your mood, or pick up on your vibe, or again, wait for them to fail you in some way. Ask for what you need. Ask for what you want. But then also, be open minded, enough to hear what they also need. It can’t be one sided. And that’s every relationship that we have in this world, even with your children. It cannot be one sided as a parent. If you mess up, you need to be able to say I’m sorry to your child the same way you’re going to say sorry to your spouse or your friend.
[00:21:03] PF: I know that you have so much great advice. Your website is a wonderful resource. What would you say like the one thing everybody listening out there, if they can just remember one thing from all this? How do we make the school year and our work more about human connection than Internet connections?
[00:21:18] FAR: Well, my favorite line is a quote from Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you did. People forget what you said. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” And that to me is life right there. And I think we need to teach our children that from a young age, that the way we make people feel is important. The way that we’re kind. The way that we’re compassionate. And the only way that we’re really going to be able to do that is if we do unplug from those devices and we are aware of what’s going on around us, and who maybe needs help, and how can we be helpful? And so, that’s my last message, I suppose, as we go into this new school year that we as adults as well as children should be abiding by.
[00:22:01] PF: I love it. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today. Like said, you’ve got a lot of wisdom to impart upon us. We’re going to tell people where they can find you. But I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today.
[00:22:12] FAR: Thank you for having me. It was such a joy.
[00:22:17] PF: That was Florence Ann Romano, talking about how to create a balance with screen time. If you’d like to learn more about Florence Ann, watch her Windy City Nanny YouTube series, listen to her podcast, Finger Painting the Future, or follow her on social media, visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.
And if you haven’t hit our back to school sale yet, make sure you get in on the special deals we’re offering. Right now, you can get 20% off our back to school merch when you use the code Happy Learning at the Live Happy Store. Grab some of our bestselling mop top pens, our cheerful coffee mugs, or our fun buttons with positive messages, and get it all at 20% off. Just visit our store at livehappy.com and remember to use the code Happy Learning.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all new episode. And until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.