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From chasing trains to double rainbows

So last week I was at the library to pick up some DVDs and books using the new curbside service. Long story short my order was mixed up and I ended up waiting and waiting and after one of the gracious servers had looked high and low for my DVDs and books I gave up and went home. While it was a bummer, what I did not know was the whole thing was a blessing in disguise. You see the DVDs were for the kids. Wait let me backtrack a bit. This past summer we were fortunate enough to buy a “mummy van” complete with 6-7 seats, cup holders everywhere and boy have we not enjoyed having the car – it has made even simple trips to McDonalds seem like a road trip. One of the added perks is that it came with a DVD player. Yep – here I am – founder of screens n kids purchasing a mini van with a screen – the irony. My husbands and I vision was wow this will be great for 8-10hour long trips – to I have no idea where – with all these travel bans and 14 day quarantines. I just figured the DVD would be tameable. But Lo and behold, slowly by slowly my husband and I started turning it on like constantly – as soon as we jumped in the car our son would shout, ” I want to watch the show. ” and as soon as we turned it on there it was – that glazed starry eyed look that our kids get when “watching a show.” So you can say I had a love hate/relationship with it and I just did not know how we were going to wean this thing off. Enter mix up at the library. As I drove off from the library, I had a little panic – like oh my goodness what will the kids do now in the car. I had quickly forgotten that two months ago, before we bought the van they were doing perfectly fine in a mini car with no DVD – happily counting school buses on our way to school. And I suddenly knew it as that panic we as parents are made to feel when we cannot have access to a device to hand our kids before a meltdown ensues. However, as serendipity would have it, that week on the Colin Kartchner podcast – he had a guest who had the same problem years ago when they had bought their van and ended up literally uninstalling it as a way to reduce screen use. She was highlighting how as a family they have gone screen free and the results have been amazing. So there I was – armed with “tools” from one of my favorite podcasts ready to battle a pre schooler on why I was ripping away his digital candy. As soon as I picked up our kids from pre school I waited for it, and after the snacks were devoured, the day was “unpacked” I waited for it. And sure as day, “mommy where is my rescue bots show?” I inhaled. Slowly I said, ” I had to take back the DVDs to the library and they did not have the Super why DVD ready.” Then the silence. I do not know if it was fatigue from the long day at school, or utter disbelief that the world was caving in there was just no pushback. I glanced at him using the driver’s mirror – he had already turned his focus outside. His younger sister sat happily munching on apples. I immediately pivoted – as is the routine with parenting toddlers – ” So you told me your teacher taught you Yoga today?” that must have been so cool. Then day two came, day three and on day four my son yelled from the backseat, “mommy look two rainbows.” I looked up to see the the most beautiful rainbow and its reflection I think which made it a double rainbow. I smiled to myself and nodded – yep thank you for the DVD mix up screen free gods. Today is what sealed the deal for me. Right as we approached the train tracks we see the rail tracks turn red and heard the sound of the local train in the distance. We were right at the front of the car line. And there it came – sending the kids shouting and waving to whoever would wave back from the train. As soon as the lights turned green, the road we take to go home runs parallel to the train and we did something we used to do with our “little car” before the mummy van. We raced the train until it was out of sight. All the while the kids were squealing with delight. I knew then and there that it is the small things that will save our kids from excess screen use and protect the early years. So here I am raising my hand up to say, I have messed up in this screen and parenting journey, and if you are right here with me – allow and extend yourself grace. We can swing back the pendulum to that place our kids can enjoy their childhood and still interact with technology in moderation. I heard it is called ” the digital sweet spot.” In the meantime let me go continue to chase trains and gaze at double rainbows through the lens of a 4 and 2 year old.

We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. -Richard Louve

Screens,Kids and Covid

Today started week three of being quarantined with kids at home. This past Sunday evening at the Dollar store I was like oh boy its Monday again – what are we going to do tomorrow? Our kids are below 4 years old so there are no homework assignments or Zoom class meetings to attend. It is daily hum drum of literally finding things to keep them busy, active and engaged. Parents have been weighing heavy on us here at Screens n kids over the last few weeks as we know it is not easy to suddenly go from a structured routine to literally being recruited into a boot camp no one signed up for. In addition the expectation to work from home, cook, do laundry and of course home school. Enter screen time. Now the added pressure of how do we manage the screen time during this time that seems to be for the unforeseeable future – weeks, months, rest of the academic school year? At screens n kids we are always stressing on the importance of healthy screen use, setting limits on use etc.I remember when we took a 17 hour flight with our then 2 year old – one of the videos we watched on tips for travelling with a toddler – I clearly remember the mum in the video saying, ‘This is not the time to be a screen and snacks Nazi.” Basically she was saying listen – download all the videos you need to keep your child pre-occupied while airborne and stack up on those lollipops and goldfish snacks. So here I am extending you grace during this period where things are looking sideways to gently remind you, “This is not the time to be a screen Nazi.”As parents we are so torn – asking questions around how much screen time is too much, are they falling behind in their classes? The reality is that our kids – all ages – during this time will watch more TV, Ipads, and play more video games than is normally healthy for their brain development and they may (or may not) fall behind on some classes. Some kids may actually learn so much more in the comfort of the home environment. True learning never happens in environments that are highly stressful – its just the way our brains are wired. But honestly if as parents we are able to not loose our mind on a day to day basis over their screen use we will have won half the battle. What I would prefer is be a Nazi over your mental health – your mind will get you before any virus does. Kids during this time are looking for a safe place to pour out their emotions. As we watch the news they are watching for our every reaction – they are seeing how we respond to stressful situations. They will not remember the specifics of the virus but they will remember how their home felt on a day to day basis DURING the pandemic.While I am not recommending throw all screen time limitations out the window – set guidelines for yourself and your child that are manageable and do not be alarmed if once or twice a day they seem to go over the limit. Continue with the regular chores that need to be done before screen use, any reading assignments – the basic day to day necessities. Kids have a certain bounce back factor – they are far more resilient than we as parents. However we need to cultivate that resilience during tough times such as these and one of the ways is making sure our own mental mettle remains in check. We will get through this folks!

The Invisibles – who are they?

Screens n Kids had the opportunity to interview the author behind the awesome kids book The Invisibles. The genius idea / theme behind the book is to speak to kids on the importance of spending some time away from their screens and back to the fundamentals of childhood play – the creativity, the imagination and simple fun.

You can order a copy directly from the website –

What do you do in your free time? Gardening in the warmer months, crochet/knitting in the colder months, and reading a good book any time of year.

Do you need to be in a specific place or room to write, or you can just sit in the middle of a café full of people and write?I usually need a quiet space. It can be the kitchen, living room, home office etc. just so long as I have a pen & paper or computer. 

Who are some of the children’s authors you grew up reading?Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, Stan and Jan Berenstain (The Berenstain Bears), Beatrix Potter, Robert Munsch, C.S. Lewis, Kenneth Grahame (Wind in the Willows)… and so many others!

What is the / are some of the most important things about a children’s book?I love how children’s books offer a porthole into an imaginative world. It’s a place where there’s often whimsy and fun, but can also have deep messages and meaning underscored for a child’s development.  

How long have you been conceptualizing the Invisibles in your mind before you actually decided to put it down into a book?That’s hard to say because the theme of the book – helping kids balance screen time – was something that percolated in my mind when my oldest child started to spend more time on screens. The actual characters and story came together in about 30 minutes (for the first draft) several years later.

Who / What was your main inspiration to write the book Invisibles?My children as well as other children in our lives (my kid’s friends and relatives). In spending time with other parents, I realized we all had a common issue – too much screen time for the kids and the many challenges and solutions we shared towards regulating that screen time.  

What is the main theme you wanted to put across in your latest book Invisibles? why do you think it is important?Technology is a great tool, the purpose of this story to help children balance screen time with other activities towards a healthy and balanced lifestyle. As the issue of screen time comes to the forefront in our modern-day, there are many strategies and regulations from educators and parents to help kids. This book serves to inspire and encourage children to also play a part in their own self-regulation of screen time.

Who is your main target audience? Parents? Teachers? Children – what age?We absolute want parents and educators involved in bringing this story to the children, the main audience and age group are kids senior kindergarten to grade 4. 

How in your opinion do you feel the books’ theme can make children look away from their screens and take regular breaks?It’s amazing how an idea/inspiration for a child can motivate them. In this case, the inspiration is found in these imaginative, adorable creatures called the Invisibles. These Invisibles represent imaginative play and how children end up missing out on this by spending too much time on screens. Children easily relate to these cute characters and feel welcomed into their world of play without relying on screens. 

Do you feel e-books offer the same experience as regular had copy books? If not why so?There’s nothing like the feel and interaction with the pages of an actual book. I own an e-reader to house my collection, but whenever possible, I’ll try to get a physical copy from the library or buy one myself. There is a place for e-books and this story is available as an e-copy in certain formats, but especially for younger children, I feel a physical copy just adds more to the overall reading experience.

In your years as a children’s writer – do you think children are reading less, more or relatively the same?I’m relatively new to the children’s author scene, but from observation as a parent and member of my community, I think time on screens has affected how children may view reading. Sometimes it’s positive in that a series or movie will cause kids to read the book version, but I don’t think it’s always the case. 

What is our role as parents / caregivers to spark that imaginative flame in children?Children have a wonderful world of discovery before them and I think it’s up to us to help them interact positively with their world. Things like encouraging free play, imagination, physical activity and engaging with others through friendship and family bonds, and especially fostering their unique interests along the way.

What advice would you give writers struggling with their first book?Don’t give up! There can be frustrating times along the way, but keep at it and it can happen. 

Tech Execs and Their kids screen use

I was watching a video the other day of former Facebook vice president of user growth Chamath Palihapitya and a couple of lines that were profound were

“I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are.”

My children are not allowed to use these tools

“I would encourage all of you, as the future leaders of the world, to really internalize how important this is.  If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you.  If you push back on it you have a chance to control it and reign it in.”

“There is a point in time when people need a hard break from some of these tools.”

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works.  No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

I dug a bit deeper on Silicon Valley tech execs and their kids interaction with tech and devices etc. The verdict is in. They are in on something that the rest of us are still yet to figure out. Majority – like 90% of them are screen nazis with their kids.

Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda did not permit their children to have cellphones until the age of 14. Even after the children of Bill and Melinda Gates received cellphones, their use was severely limited. Gates told the Mirror in 2017 that his kids have a firm screen-free “bedtime hour” after which all tech use is off limits. 

Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s 11-year-old son doesn’t own a cell phone — and the TV can only be accessed with “activation energy.” “At home, our television is not easily accessible, so that there is ‘activation energy’ before you can easily go watch TV,” Pichai said. “I’m genuinely conflicted, because I see what my kids learn from all this.” To learn more about activation energy read

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams has replaced Ipads with books – lots of them for his children

In Steve Jobs’ household, dinnertime was reserved for face-to-face conversation with his children — meaning no iPads or iPhones in sight. In an interview with a reporter, family dinners in particular were special to Jobs, the late Apple CEO, because they provided a space for him to discuss different topics and connect with his kids.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and his wife Anu carefully negotiate what sites their children are allowed to go on, and for how long.

Investor and ‘Shark Tank’ star Mark Cuban set up special routers in his house, allowing him to monitor when his kids are using the internet — and shut down all activities when they go over their set screen-time limits.

Snapchat cofounder and CEO Evan Spiegel and former Victoria’s Secret Angel Miranda Kerr limit their 8-year-old’s screen time to 1.5 hours per week. Spiegel himself grew up not watching TV as a kid, and has said it forced him to read, build things, and think for himself. He told the Financial Times that he wants to pass on the same benefits to his daughter.

Self regulation v self control

Having a three year old means after an hour or two of watching Paw Patrol it is easy to switch off the Wifi and tell our toddler the internet is gone. It is low key deceitful actually the first days it was borderline sad to see his innocence. He simply says “oh, no more internet” and he walks over to put the Ipad on the charger and begin searching for his fire truck. I however know the older the kids get the harder / impossible it will be to simply turn off the Wifi and cry wolf.

This got me thinking about the importance and difference between self regulation versus self control when it comes to screens and kids. Dr. Shanker and his team at The Merit Center have done outstanding work on self regulation and writes: “Self-control is about inhibiting impulses; self-regulation is about identifying the causes and reducing the intensity of impulses and, when necessary, having the energy to resist.” In short self control will help you see that cheesecake at the store and say, ” you know what, let me not take it since I have already had plenty of ice cream today.” Self regulation on the other hand will tell you, ” mmh let me stay away from that aisle as I will encounter a juicy cheesecake and may be tempted to buy it even though I have over indulged today.” Self regulation minimizes your exposure to situations that you have to exercise restrain.

With screens and kids, self regulation will be the corner stone of how kids will manage their digital footprint. The day a child will watch an hour or two of a show and at that point be able to power down the device and say, “okay I have had enough I need to go and get some sunshine.” Now that is a huge parenting win. Rules of engagement with screens are extremely beneficial however what will seal the deal is the ability of the child to actually recognize okay my two hours are done or about to be done I need to start powering down (self regulation.)

Rules of Engagement.

Children Feel Safer when they know what the rules are – Fred Rogers

This term has stuck in my head from a movie that came out in the early 2000s by Samuel L Jackson…it just sounds so good – Rules of Engagement. I think about any high stakes activity – a bomb team about to approach a bomber, anyone going to battle, a negotiator about to talk someone off a ledge, Navy Seal before a covert mission – I would imagine there are people who have sat down and said okay what are the rules of engagement? How do we interact with the suspect etc etc. I have co-opted the term to ask what are the rules of engagement with screens and kids? Are there any in your home? are they reasonable? Kids have poor self -regulation – they need to be taught how to manage big emotions. We as adults are struggling with how to manage our time online and our brains are fully developed. I think rules of engagement with screen should also be tailored for adults as well. Set yourself times when the screen is off limits, for kids ensure certain tasks get done before engaging with screens. What I think may be more beneficial – especially if the kids are older is engage them in writing up these rules – give the power back to them. That way they own the outcomes.

Here are a few I jotted down and an awesome family contract I found on common sense family media. They are doing amazing work looking at tech and its impact on families as a whole..

Rules of Engagement

0 – 5 years

  • Screen Limit per day – not more than 2 hours in a 24 hour period.
  • Online content will be monitored at all times.
  • There will be no screens in technology free zones – dining table and bedroom
  • Screen time will not occur before daily baths and chores get done
  • There will be no screen use ½ hr to an hour before bedtime.
  • There will be encouragement of educational shows.

Family Media Agreement – link file:///C:/Users/Penny/Desktop/SCREEN%20TIME%20MATERIAL/screentime%20contracts/common_sense_family_media_agreement.pdf

Blue Light, screens and sleep

Today we will get a bit scientific as we dig a bit deeper into the term “technological insomnia.” Before we entered the technology era, our bodies were in sync with the rising and setting of the sun. In the evening, people had candles, fireplaces and oil lamps to light their environment.  Nowadays most of us take a look at our phone before going to bed. We start reading our messages. One message has a link, which takes us to a video. After that, we check our social media, then see an article, then another video. Almost without noticing it, an hour or more has passed. These effects in children translate to changes in behavior, motivation and academic levels as their sleep cycles are altered.

When the body is exposed to only to the natural light of the sun, the hypothalamus area of the brain sets its sleep patterns according to when it is light outside and to when it is dark. Light is detected by the retina, which sends signals to the hypothalamus. When it starts getting dark outside, the hypothalamus signals to the body to start creating sleep hormones, like melatonin, and to drop the human’s body temperature to prepare for sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Screens emit what is known as blue light. Blue light inhibits the release of melatonin. Our brain essentially has become unable to detect that it’s nighttime. Children may be at higher risk for blue light retinal damage than adults. The juvenile lens absorbs less short-wavelength light than the adult lens, allowing more blue light to reach a child’s retina.

Screen hack: Limit limit the amount of screen use at least an hour before bedtime in a way start setting the internal biological sleep clock in motion.

Pediatric “screen”-ing at doctors appointments?

The other day I took my 15month old for her shots and regular check up. The pediatrician went through the regular recommended screening questions – Is she sleeping all through the night? how many ounces of milk is she drinking in a 24hour period? Is she saying 5 words? Is she responding to her name etc etc..On our drive home I begun thinking mmmmh I think there needs to be a recommendation put in by the “higher ups” – the pediatric societies -recommending regular pediatric screen screening at kids appointments.

W.H.O has already laid down the guidelines as far as screen times based on age – see link here . I think there is a great chasm between the research and what is getting to parents. So much research and data is available on kids and the effects of extensive screen use – the data is out there – someone needs to put it in the hands of parents. Like all it would take is just use the evidence and tailor the questions to a particular child’s age – how many hours of screen time is your child exposed to in a day? You see the problem with research is it is so bureaucratic in its implementation – so much approval needs to be done – is it grounded in evidence? is the evidence enough to warrant policy etc etc. My only concern is what happens to this generation of “digikids” that has to wait for research to return the verdict on what is happening as far as too much screen use. I dunno, maybe I am crying wolf, maybe I am just being a helicopter worry wart parent, maybe I am getting ahead of myself – so many things I do not know. But what I do know is that we are co-parenting with a third parent and that parent is screens and we need to figure out this screen-kid relationship and how to co-exist in a healthy way.

Screen Toolbox Kit: Based on your kids age – make yourself aware of the WHO guidelines you can have in the back burner to be aware of as your child is accessing devices in a 24 hour period

Put down the screen and Pick up a book – any book

Did you know that children who are read to more often have improved language and listening skills, experience stronger emotional connections to their loved ones, and gain a lifelong love of reading. Experiencing and engaging in language-rich interactions helps children develop communication skills, patience, empathy, and literacy—all of which are critical to success in school and beyond.

I remember growing up one of my favorite lines was “Once upon a time.” This phrase took me to an enchanted world of children living in boxcars, I would help youth detectives like Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew solve crimes ; heck I could walk on chocolate covered streets once upon a time. Screens are taking away the power of imagination from our children – the idea that they can be whoever they want to be, live wherever they want to be and escape the complexities of this world for even a few minutes.

When we read with our young ones, we help grow their curiosity and memory. Stories transport them to places and times they have never experienced, enhancing their understanding of the world. Holding a child close while reading can help them manage moments of anxiety and create a positive association with reading that endures throughout their lives.

There is a great initiative out of Wisconsin that is putting books back in the hands of parents and into the minds of kids

Screen Toolbox Kit: Pick up a book and read to your child, any book..Heck make up a story if you must.

– Once you learn to read you will be forever free – Frederick Douglas

W.H.O Guidelines – practical or nay?

The World Health Organization – recently recommended new guidelines for screen time use and kids. The panel assessed the effects on young children of inadequate sleep, and time spent sitting watching screens or restrained in chairs and prams. They also reviewed evidence around the benefits of increased activity levels.

Their recommendation is that “children aged two to four should not be allowed more than one hour of “sedentary screen time” per day and infants less than one year old should not be exposed to electronic screens at all,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said.