Episode 316 Transcript

Hello, it is Rachel and welcome to episode 316 of your Parenting Long Game. As summer is in full swing as I’m recording, I’m hearing from a lot of parents that many things are going well this summer. But there are still a lot of big emotions around screens and screen time.

And in my last episode, I talked about what kids need if we want to see less drama related to devices– both how long kids can be on their devices and getting them off of their devices. And we can use these strategies during the summer and all year long. But what I’m doing today is going beyond the explanations and the clinical solutions.

Today I want to bring you into the world of a child whose behavior related to screens can be really frustrating for us as parents. I’m going to bring you into the world of a boy named Barrett. Now, Barrett isn’t a real boy, but he represents the voice of many of the kids that I’ve worked with, and he also represents what’s going on in a lot of the families that I support.

Now, Barrett, if he could, would be on screens all day long. He used to like doing a lot of other things. He liked being outside and reading, and he’ll still play with Legos from time to time. [00:01:00] But these days he prefers just being on his device, almost always playing games with his friends.

When his parents limit his time on screens, he whines and complains. And when they try to get him off of his device for dinner time or at the end of the day, There’s some big reaction, and even bigger power struggles. Barret angrily insists that his parents are being unfair for limiting his time when his friends are still online, and he swears that he’ll stop playing on his own if they just trust him.

Not surprisingly, they have tried to just trust him, but it doesn’t really help. He still stays on his device for way too long. And it’s so easy for many of us to see this situation from Barret’s parents’ perspective. Of course you can relate to the fact that they worry about how being on screens will impact Barret.

It already affects his moods, and they’re also worried about his brain development. They’re worried that being on screen so much and playing these games will prevent him from being able to focus or have interest in other things. They also worry about how all of this is affecting their relationship with him because everything, at least related to screens, ends in a fight.

They feel helpless to do anything because they’ve tried so many things. They’ve tried talking to him nicely about the importance of being off of screens. They’ve also tried being more firm about the importance of being off screens. They’ve given him rewards for getting off of his device. They’ve taken his device away when he doesn’t get off at a certain time.

And they’ve even tried to cut him off completely for a week at a time. But none of those strategies have prevented the whining, the complaining, the big reactions, or even the power struggles.

And honestly, Barrett’s parents told me that even when he wasn’t playing, he was in a bad mood all the time anyway. So things didn’t feel better.

So again, I’m going to share Barrett’s perspective. And I’m not saying that his perspective is what your kids are thinking, or that they’re feeling the exact same way as Barrett.

But I do want you to think about this when you’re listening to Barrett’s perspective: that your child, your children, do have complex reasons for wanting to be on their screens, just like you’re going to hear that Barrett does.

So here is Barrett’s explanation, and I’m going to use first person, so you can imagine being Barrett for just a moment.

So Barrett says, I know I’m playing games a lot, and it’s not that I even love being on my device or my computer so much. It’s just that playing games, well, that’s where my friends are. We all play these games, and we’re talking the whole time, and we’re laughing, and sometimes we do argue, but then we find a way to get to the next level of the game together, and because we were going through the struggle as a team, we bond even more.

I know these guys that I’m playing with, and even though we only play games together, I feel closer to them than I do to my friends in the neighborhood or even my friends at school. With the people in the neighborhood and some of my friends at school, it’s hard to talk to them and they often don’t like the same things I do.

So yeah, it feels better to be with my friends that I’m playing with online. And what feels even better than that is that these guys admire me. I’m really good at most of the games and especially when I have more time to play, I find these hacks and then I tell them about these hacks. And then, well, it’s like they look up to me.

That’s the best feeling in the world because no one outside of playing these games seems to look up to me.

There’s nothing that feels better than leading a group of people in this game, and when we win together, then they all say thank you to me, or congratulations, or you’re the best. And another thing about these games, when I’m in that world, I know how things are gonna go. I know what’s going to take down my health points, and I know how to get those points back.

I know what to do to get to the next level. I’m not saying it’s easy to get to the next level in most of these games. It’s not easy, believe me. But I know how to do it. I know what’s going to happen when I do specific things, but I don’t feel like that’s true at home.

When I’m with my family, I’m not always sure how things are going to go, what kind of mood my parents are going to be in, or if my little brother will be annoying. And if he is annoying, there’s nothing I can do about it. Because even if I yell at him to leave me alone, not only does it not work he doesn’t leave me alone, but then I get in trouble for yelling.

When I’m playing my games, things like that don’t happen.

And when my parents ask me to stop playing to go to dinner, that’s the worst. Because some of my friends that I play with are in different time zones, so they can stay on when I have to get off. And it’s not even that I worry that they’re going to get further in the game.

The problem is that if they’re ahead of me, they won’t look up to me anymore. They won’t admire me anymore. They may not even need me anymore. I just really need to know that I’m good at these games, that I’m good at something, because outside of that, like when my parents ask me to clean my room or something, I can’t seem to do what they’re asking me to do the way they want me to.

I keep getting distracted, and I can’t motivate myself, and then I get in trouble. And the same thing with homework or other things I don’t feel like doing. They’re so boring and I can’t seem to just push myself. And then I hear my parents’ disappointment and anger. And instead of feeling like I’m good at something, like I do when I’m playing my games, I just feel like I can’t do anything right.

So yeah, I want to play all the time. I want to be with my friends. The ones who want to be with me, the ones who think I’m someone cool, someone who can teach them something. And I want to be someplace that makes sense to me, somewhere where I know things are going to work and how things are probably going to go. And I want to be someplace where I feel good about myself. Instead of feeling like I’m messing up all the time.

I don’t wanna fight with my parents all the time. I just wanna feel good.

So now that you’ve heard Barrett’s story, you can pretty clearly see why the strategies his parents were using, the ones that most of us used to address the drama around screens, you can see why these strategies don’t work.

Given Barrett’s explanation, does lecturing him about the importance of being off of screens help what he’s going through? Does rewarding him for being off of screens or taking away the screens altogether help with what he’s going through? Those things don’t work because they’re Band Aid parenting strategies. They don’t address what’s really going on for Barrett.

The problem with the way we deal with screens is that we’re fixing the wrong problem. We’re not addressing the real reason for kids’ behavior, which is often related to them trying to get their needs met, even if it’s in an unhealthy way. Barrett is desperately trying to meet his needs for connection and for significance, to know that he matters. He’s trying to feel capable and powerful.

These are needs that he has that the game fulfills. And not being able to get those needs met creates a lot of yuck for him. Our strategies don’t help with that. They only create more yuck and then our kids are more drawn to their games.

And I actually want to go a step further and help you understand what’s going on for Barrett by giving you a situation that you may be able to relate to. Even if you haven’t been in this specific situation, you may have been in, you may have experienced something similar.

Over the years, I’ve talked to many adults who will at some point admit that they sometimes enjoy their jobs more than they enjoy parenting. They usually say this sheepishly and often with a lot of guilt, but I want you to know that not only is that very common, but it’s also very similar to what Barrett is going through.

Because we often also get our needs met from our job. Often there, at our job, we feel competent, or even good at what we do. At work, there may be people who look up to us, who respect us. We get connection at work with colleagues and with others. At work, we feel in control. We know that if we work hard, good things are pretty likely to happen, or if they’re not happening, even though we’re working hard, we can consider changing jobs.

We have some control. And if we’re really lucky, we may even feel fulfilled in our work. In this way, our jobs often meet our needs for connection, significance, capability, and control.

Now, parenting, on the other hand, does not meet very many of those needs at all. We often don’t feel competent or good at parenting. Our kids often don’t look up to us or respect us. We have to be so transactional in parenting — who’s eating what meal? Did they shower yet? Is their homework done? — that we’re often unable to feel a sense of connection with our kids or in our family.

And we also feel that even as parents, when we work really, really, really hard, it doesn’t always pay off. So to the parent who’s honest enough to admit that sometimes work feels better than parenting, I say, of course it does, because that’s where your emotional needs are met. Yours are met at work, so you’re drawn to it.

They’re not met in parenting, so you’re going to be more resistant to spending a lot of time parenting.

And this is what’s happening for Barret. His needs are being met on his screens, and outside of that, his needs are not being met, so he is resistant to be there.

As humans, we’re wired to automatically move in the direction of pleasure and good feelings, and we avoid what doesn’t feel good. But as humans, we can also be aware that we’re doing this and learn to do something different. And that’s great news because that means we can help children like Barrett, who are currently using screens to cope.

We can shift away from Band Aid parenting, just trying to change his behavior by lectures and punishments and rewards, and instead address his yuck, and teach him how to handle the uncomfortable things in his life, so that his brain doesn’t feel like screens, are the only solution.

Now today I described what things are like for Barrett, but every single child has a story like this one that is unique to them.

If you want to discuss what might be going on for your child, what they need, and what you need to be able to give it to them, head over to the show notes and there’s going to be a link to set up a conversation with me about your situation as it relates to screens.

We can chat about what’s going on and why what you’ve tried isn’t working. The link is on the show notes for this episode at Rachel-Bailey.com/316.

Because I really want you to understand how to get into your child’s shoes. Because when you consider their point of view instead of just trying to change their behavior on the outside, you can help them meet their needs in healthier ways.

And when their needs are met, they feel better and act better. So of course that means there’s going to be more peace in your home because they’re feeling and acting better. But it also means that your child is going to understand themselves and their urges and why they’re doing what they’re doing instead of feeling bad about themselves.

And when you go beneath your child’s behavior, your child is going to feel closer to you and they’re going to know that you are someone safe. When you go beneath their behavior and you understand what’s going on, you can foster more resilience because you can understand what the obstacles are and you can teach them how to face those obstacles effectively.

All of this is going to lead to healthier self esteem in your child. They’re going to respect and understand themselves, but they’ll also know how to do hard things. That is long game parenting. So again, if you’d like to have a conversation about what your child’s story may be, we’ll use my expertise in understanding emotions behavior, and my experience having worked with thousands of kids, and we’ll use your expertise in your child and your family, and we will understand what your child is likely going through.

It’s a free conversation we can have. All you have to do is check out the show notes for this episode and you’ll see directions for how to have that conversation. That’s at rachel-bailey.com/316.

And lastly,  just know that if this podcast helps you in any way, I would really appreciate if you would subscribe, rate, and review. It helps me keep coming back every week to give you tips and it also helps me reach other parents who want to understand their children and give them what they need as well. Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you again soon.

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