Dr. Sarah (00:02):

Ever wonder what psychologists moms talk about when we get together, whether we’re consulting one another about a challenging case or one of our own kids, or just leaning on each other when parenting feels hard, because trust me, even when we do this for a living, it’s still hard. Joining me each week in these special Thursday shows are two of my closest friends, both moms, both psychologists, they’re the people I call when I need a sounding board. These are our unfiltered answers to your parenting questions. We’re letting you in on the conversations the three of us usually have behind closed doors. This is Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions.


Hello everyone. Welcome back, Dr. Emily Upshur, Dr. Rebecca Hershberg. So glad to have you with me again this week.

Dr. Rebecca (00:50):

Always so much fun. Hi.

Dr. Emily (00:53):


Dr. Sarah (00:54):

Hi. So I got a DM and I feel like this is going to be an interesting conversation because I am like, oh, we’re going to talk screens today. Hi, Dr. Bren. I’m thinking about starting screen time. Any idea if tablets are better to start with than TVs on a wall? I’m afraid the TV is visibly there, so my toddler will ask for it versus the tablet, which can be out of sight and maybe out of mind. So this seems like a very reasonable question to me, and also I feel like our answers are going to be complicated.

Dr. Emily (01:32):

As usual.

Dr. Rebecca (01:35):

Maybe we won’t even answer the question, which would be awesome.

Dr. Sarah (01:39):

Well, so first things first. I’m hearing in this, I don’t know the exact age, but it’s a toddler, so we’re talking and it’s introducing screen time, so there’s a bit of a specific lens there, although I kind of feel like we could talk about tablet versus TV for older kids as well. I have a lot of actual feelings about this one, but I don’t know if they match up with yours. Actually, the thing about screens is every parent has lots of different views and usually very valid strategies or struggles. What’s your thoughts? Do you guys deal with this at your home? Emily? I’m looking at you.

Dr. Emily (02:20):

Yeah, I think it’s funny when you said I have lots of ideas. I don’t know if it’s just older or what, but I actually, I think there is a difference between TV and a tablet with frankly TV being a little less, having a little less worry about screens for me versus a tablet having a little bit more of that weighty like, oh, this is a tablet, this is a screen. This feels different. And that might be completely illogical as my parenting response, but my feeling is for either of these things, actually I think what this parent said is really important, which is how do I maintain control over titrating access to screens for my child? And I think the fear of the TV is there or that type of thing is actually not as much the issue as having a strategy around what you think is an appropriate amount of time for your child. And I’m sure you guys will both understand that I am also extremely forgiving to parents who are like, I just need that 30 minutes of TV for my kids so I can put my other kid down for a nap or so that I can cook dinner in modern day society where there’s a lot less hands on deck, especially for this individual who has a toddler. There’s nothing terrible about that. And so I think relieving the guilt of that would be my other first gut response.

Dr. Sarah (03:59):

I almost feel like we should even have a disclaimer right now at the beginning of this episode where we’re like, we might talk about things that we would recommend or not recommend that you may be doing the things that we’re not recommending or not doing the things we’re recommending and take it or leave it, right. I do not want this to be a shammy episode where we just make people feel crappy about what they’re doing for screens because honestly, I can share with you my professional thoughts on this based on I’ve the research that I’ve read and sort of the clinical insights that I’ve gained. But I can also tell you that as a mom, I might not even follow all the rules that I’m sort of suggesting because like you said, Emily, sometimes you’re just like, I don’t care. I just need a break.


We’re going to do whatever works right now. So I just feel like that’s important point to start is just take this as an open-minded exploration of possibilities rather than a prescriptive should or shouldn’t do. But I do agree with you on the differentiation between a TV and a tablet specifically the ease of use versus friction. I think about sometimes when we’re talking about screens in terms of what has more friction and more friction being better, which is counterintuitive to how we think about technology. We want our things to load instantly and be super quick to use, so do our kids, and also that’s very carefully designed by tech companies to make it incredibly sort of immersive and addictive, and so you sort of forget the world around you. It’s so easy that we kind of don’t even think about how much we’re using it. So almost going back to a little bit more of an analog approach I think is better for kids.


So starting out with the most friction possible, that’s going to be a television that has a remote that maybe our kids don’t fully know how to operate because it’s definitely not as intuitive as a touchscreen which kids can learn in two seconds flat. I actually think is going to give you more control as a parent, especially of a very young kid. A two year old’s not going to be able to figure out the remote, and so then you are in charge of how they access it and then once it’s on how they interface with it. Whereas if you give your child a 2-year-old can interact with the screen pretty quickly, they’re going to learn how to maneuver around that device and then they’ll be incredibly independent on it, which we actually maybe don’t want right away. We want a little bit more dependence on us to be able to interact with this technology at a younger age.

Dr. Rebecca (06:50):

Yeah, I’m not sure. I think I agree with that sometimes and in some ways there’s other kids that I think really thrive doing the more active stuff on a screen on a tablet that you can do and not on a tv. I mean, they have amazing drawing games for kids, let’s say for toddlers. And so there’s part of me that’s sort of the old part to Emily’s point comes in where it’s like, just give him paper and crayons.

Dr. Sarah (07:21):

That’s what was in my head when you were saying that. If you get a draw, give them paper and crayons.

Dr. Rebecca (07:25):

Yes, and that’s not the world anymore if you’re a toddler in 2024, drawing on a tablet is first of all really freaking cool and you can do a lot of different things. And also, I mean, don’t love talking about screens, even though I think, Sarah, your point about not shaming is so well taken and I can name 10 different families that I know personally and professionally that do 10 different things and they’re the quote right things for their kids and families based on all the factors. But I also, I think there’s just a bias that we have when we start conversations about screens that immediately starts with all the dangers that they can be associated with and not necessarily the incredibly cool powers for good that they can do. And I just think it’s important to bring that into the conversation early on. Screens are incredible technology.


Yes, we have to be aware of all of the possible risks, and yet how unbelievably cool that our kids can learn how to do these amazing things on screens and we can teach them to be curious and have fun and enjoy, and we don’t have to go in as parents with our anxiety already elevated. As I hear from this mom’s question because of all the fearmongering there is that most of which from the research I’ve read is relatively unfounded barring six hours of like you stay home alone on your tablet and I’m going to go party.

Dr. Emily (09:05):

And I think, I don’t know. To me, I think also the kids change. I mean in every child has such a different relationship with this, so for me it’s in birth order. Forget about that. You have all the best intentions of not…

Dr. Rebecca (09:21):

With your first kid.

Dr. Emily (09:23):

You know, having a plan. And I crush that for kid number one and for kid number three, not so much.

Dr. Rebecca (09:28):

And the cost benefit analysis you already said of, I have a choice of losing it at my kid all night long because I’m so exhausted and overwhelmed versus giving them a tablet for three hours, which is never something I would recommend in a vacuum compared to playing outside and drawing with crayons. But if that’s not an option on a particular, and then if you outweigh the risks of yelling at your kids versus tablets, that’s an apples to oranges comparison. But I might argue that there’s a case to be made for decreasing your parenting stress as being healthy for your kids. I think the question is really, really complicated.

Dr. Sarah (10:11):

And it’s very difficult to separate all of these conflated variables that we’re talking about. Parental stress and bandwidth and burnout are I think a big factor in whether or not we might choose to use a screen in a certain moment. And I think it’s totally appropriate if we are burnt out, have no bandwidth and are under a tremendous amount of stress to be able to say, I’m triaging right now, and that’s totally okay. But I would then say we need to look at this stress burnout and bandwidth issue as I approach a lot of this stuff as a maternal mental health provider, I work with lots of kids and families and parents to help children, but there’s no way that I’m not also looking at the parents’ mental health as I’m doing that because you got to look at the entire family system. And if course we’re chronically using screens as a way to modulate our own stress levels, then we have to look at that too. Not that that’s, oh, you’re doing a bad thing, shame on you parent, but whoa, what’s going on for you? That you have only that tool in your toolbox right now and how do we expand your toolbox and also decrease your stress levels? And that’s less of a screen time issue as it is a parental mental health issue.

Dr. Rebecca (11:36):

And a societal issue.

Dr. Sarah (11:38):

For sure.

Dr. Rebecca (11:39):

We’re putting a whole lot more money into developing tech that’s going to be addictive for kids than we are to taking care of moms and parents with regard to, and that’s intentional because guess who makes money from one and not the other? We can get very conspiratorial and patriarchy bashing.

Dr. Sarah (11:57):

It’s so funny, this mom is asking us, literally, I got a toddler TV or tablet and we’re like, it’s the patriarchy.

Dr. Rebecca (12:08):

But it truly, there’s a piece of it that is, and I do think as much as that we’re going down a rabbit hole, and there is a concrete question here. I also think it depends on, there are kids who have a tremendously hard time putting down their tablet, and anecdotally, I can name 10 off the top of my head where I would say, whoa, whoa, whoa. They’re clearly not ready. This is so stressful for the family just putting it away when they’re done, they have this hangover from it. You have this and then other families where it decreases stress to give it. And that’s why I was talking about data. I really do feel like in some ways it’s all so unique right now to kids and families with some broad strokes of generalizations. Of course.

Dr. Emily (12:54):

I think where I come with that, just to give that a metric on an individual level is how has this impact impacting your family life? Is it to your point exactly, Rebecca, is this decreasing some stress and relieving some, allowing you to cook, which you really like to do and your kid is okay and it’s not a big meltdown when they take it when you take it away. Or in our family it was like, you don’t want to go swimming today because you’d rather be on your tablet, and that’s against our family values. So I think it’s a little bit of what are some of the metrics in your family life that could be disrupted or eased and with this relationship with technology and just being mindful about that and moving forward in a way that’s mindfully attuned to those dynamics and making a choice around that with this parent introducing TV and seeing how it’s going, if her toddler is like, okay, I’m ready for dinner after the TV time, or even is like, oh, and has a two minute normal toddler reaction to a transition, maybe that’s okay. And I think that you have to do a little bit of throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. You have to do a little trial and error and see, and maybe talking about that through a process even with a younger kid like, oh, it’s hard to turn this off. So I think we have to do a little bit less of this is also appropriate. I think just sort of working together to figure it out as a family.

Dr. Rebecca (14:36):

Absolutely. I agree.

Dr. Sarah (14:38):

And I do think if you are being intentional about how you want to introduce screens, it’s one thing if you’re already in it and you’re trying to say, is it okay, how do I back it up? I have worked with families who have young kids who are on YouTube engaging in the web-based kind of interactions on tablets, and they’re finding it to be problematic and it’s so much harder to dial that back.

Dr. Emily (15:13):

I think that’s a great point though, Sarah, because I think when you were saying that, what I was thinking is maybe we should pull back a little and treat tablets and TV not too dissimilar from anything else we do with our children, which is matching their developmental level to the thing we’re doing. So when my kids were little, their screen time was predominantly the animal planet and sort of like the nature channel. We did a lot of nature, a lot of planet historic, and I think that’s developmentally appropriate for younger children. So I think screens, we don’t have to reinvent a whole new wheel for this YouTube content and more sophisticated adult content isn’t developmentally appropriate for younger kids. You wouldn’t give them the game life, you would play Uno. So it’s like I think you sort of have to balance that. What you would imagine is, and we have lots of material on this and I’m sure it’s out there, but what you imagine is the developmentally appropriate content for your child’s age and stage, and that can also be reflected in their screen time.

Dr. Sarah (16:26):

But I think there’s content which you’re speaking to, which I think is totally appropriate to be thinking about. But then there’s also vehicle because there is research that talks about how the shortened attention spans that have been coming, unlike the difficulty with executive functioning that have been associated with a lot of screen time use and younger kids, and a lot of that is the ability for us for kids to jump to the end of a video, skip to the next thing, forward, forward. The way that even YouTube for kids, which the content may be child friendly, the mechanism by which they’re watching it and engaging with it is developmentally not particularly appropriate for really young kids because they do have really, if you watch a child play a little child, two, three years old, they don’t just very rarely do, they focus on one thing for a very long period of time.


They start something over here and then they walk over here and then they do this thing over here, and then they come back to that other thing and then they move in and out of play zones with great frequency and that’s appropriate. They will do that too on a tablet if that’s the vehicle that they’re using to engage with. And that’s not, I think, as optimal. Whereas if they’re sitting in front of a television and we put a show on for them and they can watch that show or they can lose interest and go off and maybe they’re going to go build something over here, or maybe they’re going to follow us into the kitchen and ask for a snack and maybe they’ll come back and watch a little more and they’re really just, it’s a part of the environment. It’s a part of the play space that they can interact with and choose to move in and out of it as they are so inclined to do. That’s actually not a bad thing. That’s using the television show as another anchor in basically their play environment developmentally for young kids. I think that that’s more optimal than giving them a screen that allows them to do all that moving and changing and shifting attention in one tiny little place without getting up and engaging with their environment like their bodies want to. It creates a kind of…

Dr. Rebecca (18:50):

What if you’re sitting next to your kid? What if you’re doing it with your kid?

Dr. Sarah (18:54):

That’s actually different, I think, but that’s a different function. We’re talking about replacing perhaps independent play with in independent television time or independent screen time. I would put those all in the same bucket. What does independent television or screen time displace? Probably independent play for very young kids. However, if you’re sitting there…

Dr. Rebecca (19:18):

I was going to say, I know a lot of, I’m just want to interrupt. I think you’re right. They are very different, but it’s important to different, that’s one of the differentiations that when I have clients, they don’t necessarily make, it’s like, oh my gosh, we were at the airport, or we have pictures on my phone. Is it okay to show them to my 2-year-old a screen? It’s like, whoa, whoa, whoa. There’s no chemical. I mean, I’m sure there’s someone out there who believes this no doubt, but to my mind, there’s no chemicals emanating from your screen that it makes the screen the issue. I think that’s important. If you are sitting with your two and a half year old doing, just to go back to it, some cool drawing thing on an iPad, what a cool activity that might hold their attention more than something. Again, just these differentiators, and I think they feel kind of more obvious to us, Sarah, because we have these conversations 10 times a day, but for people who are listening, I think just noting that you are talking about giving a kid a tablet and walking away and doing something else. We’ve all been talking about that because we’ve been talking about the stress factor. That’s different from sitting with a kid and doing some cool activity on a tablet.

Dr. Sarah (20:28):

But that I think would fall into that different Very good point that you’re making is to differentiate. That’s a good question kind of in general to be using as a filter when we’re thinking about, do I want to give my kid a screen in this moment right now? What is it displacing? Right? If it’s displacing independent playtime, maybe I want to be mindful of how much independent playtime I’m choosing to displace with a screen, because we do know that independent playtime is important, and I can hear people watching this right now being like, but my kid will play independently there. That is a skill that has to be built. It is not easy. I acknowledge that, and also if you want to learn strategies for independent play, I will link podcast episodes that I’ve done on that because there is stuff you can do to help build that skill that’s for a different episode, but assuming your child has that skill or you’re interested in having them build that skill, independent screen time is going to displace that, and that’s not a problem.


You just want to be mindful of how much and how frequently you’re displacing it. That’s one bucket. To your point, Rebecca, the other bucket or one other of many buckets might be connected time with me, their parent, and again, you don’t probably want to displace all of your connected engaged time with your kid doing screen-based activities exclusively, but if you want to incorporate that into your connected time, I think that can be incredible and really, really valuable, and perhaps even more of an appropriate use of screens. Appropriate is not the right word, but has been associated with more benefits. I have seen lots of studies that say that the parents who watch shows and engage, narrate them with their kids helps them tremendously. So there’s definitely research that suggests that watching shows with your kid having family movie night, it introduces all this rich topic of conversation and opportunities to create learning moments and have connection, and it’s great.


There’s good things that happen with that. So if you’re going to be like, I’m only going to do screens X amount of time, maybe we’re focusing more on those connected sort of shared screen use moments and maybe less of the independent play time, and also sometimes you’re going to give your kid a screen during that sort of independent time so that you can go cook dinner because you don’t want them to get in your way under feet when you’re cooking dinner, you need a break. So I think there, there’s a time and place for all of it, but I think it is very valuable as you’re pointing out to separate the function of that screen time, what might it be displacing, and then being mindful of how much is it being used, what’s the ratio in that particular bucket of screen time versus…

Dr. Rebecca (23:36):

Yeah. Yeah. I think those are two important questions for sure. That can frame the decision.

Dr. Sarah (23:48):

And then there’s a third category for sure, which is travel, and I’m like, go nuts.

Dr. Rebecca (23:53):

Go fricking nuts. There’s like a hundred categories. That’s kind of to my point. I mean, I feel like I’m the crazy person on the sideline who keeps waving the sign like, no, it’s complicated. Stop trying to make it simple, but I know we do have to make it simple. And I think those two questions that you frame plus travel are good starting places, and I think that as we have more and more questions and presumably podcasts about screen time, just to keep in mind all the nuances and all the stuff we still don’t know.

Dr. Sarah (24:22):


Dr. Rebecca (24:23):

Because they are relatively new.

Dr. Emily (24:25):

I agree, and I think as parents, everybody has a natural gut reaction. Mine is always like, oh, even for travel, even when you’re saying travel, I’m like six hours of them on an iPad, but I think that the truth is screens are here. The thing I say to myself all the time is, screens are here, screens are here to stay. My gut instincts of some draconian, no screens, no screens for you is not realistic. And so I think being more open-minded and figuring out the balance rather than yes or no screens, yes or no is really I think what I would end on. That’s sort of how I feel about it, is figuring it out as part of the process.

Dr. Sarah (25:12):

So let’s all give everybody a lot of grace as they parent their children in this world of screens. Good luck to you all. Send us more questions about screens though, because I like this and I feel like this is, it is a complex conversation and I know that this conversation that we’re having right now might bring up more questions as people are listening, so send them in. We can keep talking about this. All right, have a great day.

Dr. Rebecca (25:40):

All right. Bye

Dr. Emily (25:41):


Dr. Sarah (25:44):Thank you so much for listening. As you can hear, parenting is not one size fits all. It’s nuanced and it’s complicated. So I really hope that this series where we’re answering your questions really helps you to cut through some of the noise and find out what works best for you and your unique child. If you have a burning parenting question, something you’re struggling to navigate or a topic you really want us to shed light on or share research about, we want to know, go to drsarahbren.com/question to send in anything that you want, Rebecca, Emily, and me to answer in this new series Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions. That’s drsarahbren.com/question. And check back for a brand new securely attached next Tuesday. And until then, don’t be a stranger.

✨We want to hear from you! Go to https://drsarahbren.com/question to send us a question or a topic you want to hear us answer on Securely Attached – Beyond the Sessions! ✨

191. BTS: What are the do’s and don’t for introducing screens to my toddler?