• Should You Limit Screen Time or Do This Instead—Mighty Parenting 211 with Tiffany Shlain

  • screen time

    These days it seems like every time you turn around, your teen has their face in their phone—or tablet, or laptop, or GameBoy…you get the picture. Our lives revolve around electronics and we can’t imagine being without them. Fun interaction with your family becomes a chore to arrange. How can we get ourselves and our teens to take a break from screen time without simply banning tech use in our homes? Tiffany Shlain joins Mighty Parenting podcast host Sandy Fowler to discuss the impacts of technology on our brain functions, why devices are so easy to get attached to, and how to get some regular tech-free time with our kids without removing screens from our lives entirely.

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    A Favorite Quote from the Show: 

    A Tech Shabbat resets you and reconnects you every week.

    High Points From Our Conversation on Limiting Screen Time:

    Quote about screen time

    Tiffany loves technology. Her husband is a professor of robotics; she founded the Webby Awards to honor the best parts of the web. Tech and screen time is deeply rooted in their lives—but Tiffany realized one day that she didn’t love it all the time. She wasn’t fully present anywhere. She was always somewhere else as soon as she pulled out her phone.

    Tiffany’s family is Jewish. They’re not deeply religious; they did occasionally do Shabbat, which usually involves candles, a home-cooked meal on Friday night, and a deep thanks for the meal. Some people turn off their electricity for a day. Deeply religious members of society do a complete day of rest on the Sabbath.

    One time they decided to do a Shabbat with the home-cooked meal and also turning off screens for the day. They did it with another group of people, a ceremonial day once a year, called the national “day of unplugging.” 

    According to Tiffany, that day was mind-blowing. It was immediately this state of connection with her family, a state of connection with herself, and a sense of calm and presence that she felt she had missed. The day felt really long and luxurious, they did things they loved to do— but with no interruptions from screens. It didn’t feel like a million other people were with them as they were being together.

    They kept doing this week after week—one day of no screens, with family time to do whatever they wanted to do together (reading, cleaning, talking walks, talking, whatever). Anytime they had guests over, they’d tell them that Friday was their no-screens day. 

    They’ve kept up this tech shabbat for twelve years running now, and they’re still doing it; Tiffany’s daughter is going off to college and she plans to keep doing it to avoid being overwhelmed and stuck to social media.

    Tech shabbat resets you every week and connects you. It reconnects you with your family and yourself.

    Technology is seductive and alluring; it’s the promise of everything, immediately available, in one device, and before we know it screen time becomes all the time—but our brains were not designed to be fully active 24/7. These devices keep our brains engaged way past the point of actual benefit or true entertainment. 

    You’re in a constant state of want and do. Turning off tech takes you from a state of want to a state of presence. You start appreciating what’s actually in your home and in front of you, instead of thinking about all he things the Internet says you need.

    The ideas of shabbat and the Sabbath are over 3,000 years old; they’re ancient ideas for wellbeing that have lasted into the modern age. 

    Try out tech shabbat. Pick the same day each week, arrange your life and put it in your calendar for four weeks in a row. Invite some people over some fo those weeks for a screen-time-free dinner and evening. Allow yourself to be fully present and engaged on those days.

    Plan out your tech shabbat a bit. Write down any places and times people need to be. Have one contact number available to everyone for emergencies only. Maybe brainstorm a list of things you or your kids want to do: cooking dinner, walking the dog, visiting the beach, playing frisbee in the backyard, etc.

    There’s different strategies to engaging in tech shabbat depending on how old your kids are. If they’re younger, you just tell them that this is what’s happening. If they’re older, you don’t. Tell them you’re trying an experiment as a family. Fill the day with things they love to do; it’s not a day of obligation, but one of enjoyment.

    Everyone has to be on board with this. Design the day to include activities that everyone likes; have everyone contribute to the planning, including how to keep the screens off for non-critical interaction. For example: set auto-responses for texts and emails, set Do Not Disturb on phones for calls, set social media posts or notifications to off/silent/delayed for 24 hours.

    It’s okay if our teens aren’t immediately gung-ho excited about this. We need to temper our expectations in that front. Let them be there, give them space, let them be responsible for their own feelings. Don’t let their feelings determine whether you’re going to enjoy this. Give it time.

    If you’ve taken screens away as a punishment before, you need to try to remove that association. Tech shabbat is not a punishment, it’s about connecting with others and doing things you love outside of technology.

    Take a break every week to refresh and recharge. This is a way of living that brings more joy, connection and balance to you and your family. It allows for strengthening emotional bonds and stimulating your teens’ growing brains that need external entertainment and enrichment. Creativity actually comes through the process of boredom, and it’s hard to be bored with our noses in screens all day.

    Tech shabbat helps intensify your connections with other people, with your sense of community. Have your kids invite friends over on your no-screen-time day. Invite their families to dinner too; it’s a great way to meet your kids’ friends and also get to know their parents and families.

    The pandemic has affected everyone; many ways we were used to functioning had to change, and one of those changes was the blurring of days. It’s easy for days to blend together when work infiltrates your home because you can’t go to your workplace. Deliberate change sets boundaries, and it’s good to have boundaries, to have a day we don’t work, only do things we love.

    This one day is not just putting down devices and canceling screen time—it’s real rest, real rejuvenation. The work of life needs to be set aside today. It’s a day to not be running.

    As your children leave home, what do you want them to take with them? What experiences, memories, morals and values do you want them to carry? Hopefully what they take away is a lot of fun memories and the ability to be resilient and resourceful on their own.


    How To Change Your Family With Intentional Parenting And Daddy Saturdays | Justin Batt | Episode 87

    Technology And Relationships Plus Smartphone Addiction  | Danny Kim | Episode 88

    Digital Wellness for Teens and Families | Kai Hersher | Episode 154

    Our Guest Tiffany Shlain:

    Tiffany Shlain discusses screen time

    Tiffany Shlain is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, founder of the Webby Awards, and author of the national bestselling book 24/6: Giving up Screens One Day a Week to Get More Time, Creativity, and Connection, winner of the Marshall McLuhan Outstanding Book Award. She lectures and performs worldwide on the relationship between technology and humanity. The Museum of Modern Art in New York premiered her one woman performance Dear Human. Shlain has received over 80 awards and distinctions for her films and work, including selection for the Albert Einstein Foundation’s initiative Genius: 100 Visions for the Future, and inclusion on NPR’s list of “Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.” 

    @tiffanyshlain tiffanyshlain.com   For information on her work, visit tiffanyshlain.com and follow Tiffany on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

    To learn more or connect with our guest visit tiffanyshlain.com.

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