Screen Time Reflections

A recap of our September TulsaKids Live! Event, featuring Valerie Larson-Howard, LCSW

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending our TulsaKids Live! event, “Screen Time Strategies” with Valerie Larson-Howard, LCSW. TulsaKids Live! is a monthly parents meet-up hosted by TulsaKids, featuring local experts in different fields. We’ve learned about nutrition, brain development, creative activities to do with kids, etc. And of course, the subject most requested was: Screen Time.

So for those of you who weren’t able to make it, I thought I’d recap the event because I took copious–if illegible–notes. We will see how this goes 🙂

Larson-Howard began by pointing out that a Google search of screen time + children will yield a host of doom-and-gloom-type results. However, as one attendee pointed out, when things sound that alarmist, it’s best to take it with a grain of salt. Larson-Howard pointed out that this is a difficult area for parents because smart phones, etc., are so new–and research is slow. But, as was pointed out at least once throughout the discussion, parents back in the day were just as concerned about television, kids sitting too close to screens, etc.

My biggest takeaway from the discussion was that families need to discuss what their values are, and how screen time fits into that. Larson-Howard said that she often has her clients make a pie chart and fill it in with all the facets of their lives: school, extracurriculars, etc. Screen time falls within the pie chart, but it is only one piece of a person’s life.

Part of a discussion about family values includes explaining to your kids why you limit screen time. Later in the conversation, Larson-Howard pointed out that teaching kids to think critically about advertisements is another on-going conversation parents need to be having with their children. One parent was concerned about “influencer”-type advertisements, in which a kid might follow someone on Instagram and not realize that a lot of what they are seeing is sponsored content, or that the account manager has been given clothing to wear, etc.

Another factor to discuss with your kids is the design of products like Facebook and Instagram, and how their “infinite-scroll” capabilities are designed to keep you hooked. Even educational games (not to mention social media notifications) may train a child’s (or adult’s!) brain to crave the dopamine effect triggered by accomplishing a level, etc. Larson-Howard pointed out that “you have to be smarter than the technology”–and train your kids to be so as well.

Each attendee was invited to write a question on a piece of paper, which was then placed in a bucket and read anonymously. Here is a sampling of the questions. (The answers come from my notes, not my own brain.):

1. How does a parent limit social media/online gaming, etc., without causing kids to feel socially isolated? 

It’s important to recognize that a lot of socialization does take place online these days. But remind your kid about that pie chart–they need to be spending time on other activities as well.

2. What to do if video games seem to be triggering rage/anger? 

Larson-Howard reminded us that kids can’t always turn off their games right away without losing their work and possibly inconveniencing their friends if it’s a collaborative game. So if your child is getting angry when you tell them it’s time to be done playing, make sure you’ve given them some warnings before just telling them to turn it off.

And of course, if they’re still getting angry, there can be consequences followed by discussion.

3. Parental Controls?

There are a lot of options out there, and we didn’t get into specifics. But one attendee mentioned that there are options you can set up that will turn off the screen after a certain time limit. Again, if there isn’t a warning, the child could lose valuable work if the screen goes dead while they’re in the middle of a school project, game, etc. Another parent pointed out that he thinks it’s important to teach the kids what their time limit is, and to have them turn the game off themselves. This helps them learn time management and taking responsibility.

4. How do you communicate with your kid, or your kid’s friend’s parents, when screen time rules differ from house to house? 

If your child is upset because a friend has fewer screen time restrictions than your household does, remind them that “Everyone has different rules. These are our rules.” And explain your reasons behind them if appropriate.

Again, keep in mind your family’s values and what’s most important to you. If it’s really important to you that your child doesn’t play video games rated T (teen), then make sure you tell your kid’s friend’s parents. On the other hand, if you have a rule about “no more than ______ minutes/hours of screen time each night,” maybe that can be a little flexible when at a friend’s house.

5. What are your thoughts on taking away kids’ phones (in particular, girls’ phones) when they’re sleeping over at your house? 

After some discussion, I think we probably concluded that it made sense to do so! One mom said that she always does this because it lets the girls focus on having fun together, rather than getting distracted by their phones. It can also keep them from making bad decisions–sending photographs they’ll regret later, etc.

As part of this discussion, Larson-Howard reminded us that it’s always a good idea to take a child’s phone away at night, at least an hour before bedtime, because research shows that this helps both kids and adults sleep better. Plus, it takes away the temptation to text late into the night, or check social media in the middle of the night, etc.

Larson-Howard said that their family’s phones spend each night charging in the master bedroom. And also that if your child protests, “But I use my phone as an alarm clock!” you can always just get them an alarm clock.

6. How do you teach your child to self-monitor, especially when it comes to access to porn? 

One attendee recommended the book, “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Your Kids,” as a good way to introduce kids to what porn is and what to do if they encounter it, even if they have no idea what sex is, and you’d like to keep it that way for awhile. It looks like there is also a version for even younger kids (ages 3-6), teaching them what to do if they see something inappropriate. I haven’t read either of these books, but they both have five-star reviews on Amazon.

And again, have ongoing conversations with your kids about expectations, etc. Valerie Larson-Howard reminded us that “Parental controls can’t replace good parenting”–something to keep in mind!!

Learn more about Valerie Larson-Howard at

Other recommendations from the discussion:

Book: “How to Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life” by Catherine Price

Website: (Has lockscreen options that prompt you to reconsider whether or not you really want to use your phone right now)

App: Forest App It may seem counterintuitive, but this is an app that encourages you to stay away from your smartphone. You grow “trees” during the time that you are off your phone.

Well, hopefully that was helpful! It was hard to remove my adorable photo of Joss, but I just downloaded one of those lockscreen options from, so we will see if that works! It says, “What do you want to pay attention to?” which should be a good reminder to stay off my phone and try to give Joss more of my undivided attention. Because I do check my phone a LOT, both for work and for personal use…so I need to be reminded that I do not have to know exactly how many likes my latest Instagram post got for TulsaKids at all hours of the day. I can wait until I get into the office in the morning.

What are your best screen time tips/tricks?

Categories: Spaghetti on the Wall