Inside: Family therapist Susan Stiffelman talks all things electronics, from how to manage the power struggles over electronics, what is too much, how to say no, and when these often-perceived enemies are actually wonderful tools.
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When I ask my communities what is your #1 biggest struggle, guess what I hear a lot?
- “Electronic battles”
- “Sneaking Electronics”
- “My kid’s addicted to their screen!”
- “Getting my kid to get off electronics.”
Sound familiar? Trust me, you’re not alone.
Most of us only had a TV when we were kids, and all our parents had to do was wait till the news started and we were off. We’ve got no idea how to navigate the electronics minefield.
That’s why this week, I’ve got someone who can help us navigate these murky waters. I’m absolutely thrilled to introduce my guest, Susan Stiffelman.
Susan is a superhero in the parenting world. She’s spent her entire life working with kids as a family therapist for more than 35 years and as a teacher before that.
Susan is the author of the book and podcast “Parenting Without Power Struggles.” She also authored “Parenting With Presence.” Susan is on a mission to help parents break free from old, ineffective parenting patterns.
In this conversation, we’re diving deep into the complexities of parenting in the electronic age.
We’ll explore our own beliefs around electronics, delve into the brain science behind screen time, and provide the key to getting your kids off screens. Plus, we’ll discuss how electronics aren’t always the enemy by turning them into a tool, especially for neurodivergent kids.
So don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn how to be “the captain of your ship” while also staying compassionate and in tune with your children’s needs.
Join us now!
Why Electronics Are Addictive
For Susan, she is always looking at the root of what is going on. What is the dark underbelly of electronics that is so elusive that it leads people compulsively to a life that is lived on the screen?
Technology is a part of their world, and it’s here to stay. Denying it won’t help. Screens offer an endless ocean of dopamine-fueled distractions for your kids. And it is not like we adults are immune. I love a good Netflix binge as much as the next person.
The designers of games, streaming services, and websites are all rewarded for getting and keeping people’s attention. The system is rigged to feed your brain what it wants to keep you coming back.
Good Connection (And We Don’t Mean WI-FI)
So how can we help people counterbalance that with human connection, with cooking, dancing, or just staring at the clouds? All the things that make us feel good in our skin?
The secret sauce is in connection. Now, I don’t just mean 1:1 time.
Instead, Susan walks us through 6 key ways to build connection: proximity, sameness, belonging, significance, love, and being known. Building connection helps our children feel safe enough to tell us the truth about what they are going through.
(To learn more about these ways of connecting, tune in for the full episode on YouTube).
Our role is to guide with a steady hand and an open heart. It’s about building a safe, loving environment where your kids can explore, make mistakes, and still find their way back home – no matter how stormy the seas may get.
But the key to accepting guidance is connection. And when we lay down hard limits, we use the removal of electronics as a threat and punishment, when we yell and argue when it’s time to get off, we break rather than build connection.
And then, when they are struggling to get off electronics, we can say something that includes softness and safety, like:
“Sweetheart, it looks like the only thing you feel comfortable doing is playing on your game. I would love to hear more about what’s going on with you.”
Electronics as a Tool
How many of you are losing sleep over setting the “right” amount of screen time?
Trust me, I get it. The word “addiction” looms large in the back of our minds, doesn’t it? We read articles, see alarming headlines, and think…
“Okay, 20 minutes of screen time, that’s it!”
But we know we’ll never stick to it. So, when you feel overwhelmed, let’s pause and breathe for a moment (yep – stop, breathe, anchor, like I wrote in my recently released Calm the Chaos book). So, let’s zoom out a bit.
How can we help people counterbalance screens with human connection, with cooking, dancing, or just staring at the clouds? All the things that make us feel good in our skin?
It’s not about rigidly counting the minutes.
It’s what it is used for that matters.
Electronics are not the enemy. In fact, they can be a powerful learning tool, a medium for art and writing, a fount of knowledge. They are a way to connect with friends or family or meet new people with similar interests. How your child uses technology is far more important than for how long.
An Evolved Electronics Plan
One thing that seems really clear is that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to an electronics plan.
We know from the adult neurodiverse community that electronics are an extremely important tool to help them get communication, connection, and navigate a world that is overwhelming for them.
Sometimes, screen time is how kids decompress, especially after an overstimulating day at school, and this is a good thing. But sometimes, if your child is profoundly anxious or depressed and is hiding from the world because they don’t feel okay in their skin… Well, that is a problem for which you need to seek help.
But for many, it is somewhere between the two. The screen may be being used as a temporary safe haven from real chaos causer in your child’s life; it could be school stress, home dynamics, or other underlying issues.
When you see electronics as a tool for getting an underlying need met, you can tell a lot about what is going on for them.
It’s not about finding the one right answer but about becoming more mindful and less fearful.
When we get curious and discover what needs electronics are meeting when we are clear on what role we want electronics to play in our children’s lives, we become more flexible and less rigid as we navigate the complex terrain of raising humans in a digital world.
Let’s approach this challenge with kindness – for our kids and ourselves. We all deserve that grace.
And never forget,
You’ve got this!
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Calm the Chaos Parenting is a podcast offering parents practical tools and strategies to navigate the challenges of raising strong-willed, highly sensitive, and neurodivergent children.
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