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 everybody. Dr. Emily Upshur. Dr. Rebecca Hershberg. Welcome back.

Dr. Emily (00:49):


Dr. Rebecca (00:49):

Thank you. Always great to be here.

Dr. Sarah (00:52):

Yes. So last week we answered a listener question about how to thoughtfully start incorporating screen time into your young kids’ life. So we were talking about TVs versus a tablet and just making intentional decisions that are informed from parenting in the age of technology, which is always a fun thing for us to have to deal with. But then after we had stopped recording, we kept talking and I realized there’s this whole other bucket of this screen time conversation that deserves kind of an episode all on its own, and that’s screen time during travel. And so I don’t know, for me, there are definitely days when all my screen time rules go out the window and it’s so much more about just getting through the day. However, that being said, there’s definitely some things that parents can do and consider that I think can make these days go a little smoother.


So I don’t know, just hit home for me. And spring break just ended a couple of weeks ago and we went to Florida and I’ve just lived this experience. My kids are a little older than toddlers now, but I was just thinking it would be an interesting thing to revisit and kind of go deeper on because I feel like we were saying in last week’s episode, thinking about screen time in the context of what we’re doing right now in this moment, right? What’s my goal here? Is it for me to get a break? Is it to get through a travel day? Is it to give my kids some downtime? Whatever it is, there’s different kind of ways to think about it depending on what your goal is. And I feel like travel is its own beast.

Dr. Rebecca (02:37):

I think if I’m being honest about my kids, I always don’t want to say it’s a free for all. During vacation, I guess there’s two different things. There’s the travel, the actual travel, like the planes, the cars, and then there’s doing the thing that we were traveling for, going to the beach or whatever on planes. That’s the free for all. And my kids are eight and 10, and I think once they were old enough that that would actually hold their attention for the whole time. I had no qualms about doing that. I remember feeling like it was glorious that I might actually be able to close my eyes or I recently watched my own movie, the one with Lady Gaga.

Dr. Emily (03:29):

Oh yeah, good one.

Dr. Rebecca (03:31):

Yeah. I said to someone I was like, and they were like, that came out a hundred years ago. I’m like, I know, but my kids are finally holding up to me on screens during the flight, so that’s where I land. Do I feel like that’s correct? Philosophically, I haven’t even honestly thought about it. When I work with clients, I say Whatever works for your family on planes and for your kids, that same with snacks. I don’t come down either way on that. As far as vacation goes, I think you’re right. You have to think about your kid and you have to think about when you’re going to pay for it. Do you want vacation to be harder because you kind of need to occupy your kids and perhaps deal with some of the same complaints you do during the school year? Like I’m bored, or do you want and to have the screen limits be the same as you have during the non vacation times, or do you want to loosen them a little bit and perhaps have a more relaxing vacation for yourself and then probably have some hangover effect? Not in any technical way, although maybe there’s research about that, but just the way that we always do when we change routines.


But I think there’s a fear sometimes that parents have that, oh my gosh, if I loosen things up, if things aren’t predictable, we’re never going to be, it’s a slippery slope. We’re never going to be able to get back. And anecdotally I have found both with myself and clients that that’s not the case. It might take a little extra work the way it always does to transition back to routines after vacation, but it’s not insurmountable and in my opinion, hasn’t been a reason not to necessarily make that choice for your family during vacations. I just spoke a lot. I don’t know if any of it made sense, but…

Dr. Emily (05:16):

I totally agree with you. I’ve done both. I have 13, almost 11, almost 8-year-old kids, and we’ve done, I’ve experimented. I think that’s one of the things I would say, try a few different things. You’re not going to have one draconian way of doing things. I think what we talk a lot about on this podcast is being flexible and trying different approaches, and we’ve done no technology vacations. We’ve also done only technology when you travel vacations. And once we get there, they’re gone. And we’ve also done the free for all. So I think it really depends on what your child are. All of my three children have very different relationships with screens too, so it’s a little bit tricky to make a uniform policy across all children in my family. So I think you really have to adapt to what the needs are. If you have a really long flight, your kids are zoning out. We talked a little bit about this last time. I’m okay with them watching movies. I’m less with them doing a video game for hours and hours and hours that again, I might just be old and I think that’s more analog. But I think that there’s…

Dr. Rebecca (06:31):

It’s also often not an option because we won’t pay for wifi for our kids on a flight. And that’s a really easy boundary to draw because there’s a lot of video games you need the internet for.

Dr. Emily (06:43):

Totally. We were just on a flight and actually we let them do, which didn’t have free wifi, but they had free movies on their thing. It was like American Airlines or something. And so we were like, go for it. Watch all the movies you want. We’re not giving you screen time. This is the screen time.

Dr. Rebecca (07:00):

The screen time is there.

Dr. Emily (07:02):

Yeah, is there, yeah. And I think again, just sort of titrating that. And then we do do brain breaks and we do a little bit of a check-in beforehand. So we’ll be like, all right, so what’s the plan for the flight? Assuming a flight goes as normal, which doesn’t always happen. We say, all right, well you have to do at least a break to snack without the screens a break to read a little bit without the screens and then you can veg out for a bunch. So I think we do try to just be mindful about it and talk about it as a process opposed to just letting it go. Even if we’re just letting it go. We’re talking about that, all right, we’re just totally letting it go right now. We could get grouchy after we do this a little bit too much. And we sort of meta talk about the process as we’re doing it. And I think again, the thing that we’re always coming back to is there’s no right or wrong. It’s sort of like how you approach these things and being mindful and doing it with intention is always my goal.

Dr. Sarah (08:05):

And prepping your kids. I love that piece of being like, Hey, we’re we’re going to preview the flight, we’re going to preview the plan. And so that way if we have established as a team that we’re going to take a brain break or whatever your language is for your family, then your kid understands, okay, that’s going to be tough. I might not like that. What’s my plan for managing that? But they know it’s coming versus you sort of halfway through the flight being like, oh my God, they’re starting to get really kind of zombie-like I need to take this away. And then hey, guess what? You take it away and they are totally taken for a loop and they have a really strong reaction to that. Or you don’t intervene because you feel like I can’t now, but it’s not helping. And then you have a really hard time after the fight. So it’s, I think it’s good for us and our kids to have a game plan and also flexibility. The plan could change.

Dr. Emily (09:05):

I mean, one thing I always say about screens is, is it interfering with your values? So something that came up on our flight was that my kids were spacing out on their screens when the flight attendants would come by and ask them if they’d like anything to drink. And I was like, absolutely not. You need to pause and address the human that is speaking to you. That’s our values. There will be no screens until you can do that. You can watch a screen for the whole flight, but you also have to interact appropriately, socially, appropriately for our values with the surroundings. And so these are just tiny little things that they require work. I still have to pause my movie on a flight to say, Hey guys, come on, pause your thing. Let’s pay attention. Let’s use eye contact. Let’s address people when they speak to you.


But those are intentional things that I want to do when my kids are on screens because even if they’re going to be using a screen, I don’t want them to be walking down the street sort of zoning out, crossing a street I want them to be, or when people talk to them or when we do when eating, we try to reduce screens. Those are just our particulars and I think everybody probably has their own, but for me it’s like that whole relationship with it, we have to work on it. It’s not just they know how to do it, we have to teach them.

Dr. Sarah (10:22):

Yeah. I love that. Brings up a point that or a thought that I had that’s kind of sort of relevant to the travel piece, which is context switching, being able to do one thing in a certain setting and understand there’s different expectations than others. Whether it’s I’m on a screen, but if someone comes up to me, I need to put that screen down and interact with them. Now I’m engaging socially and I have to be able to switch from one mode to another with some fluidity. And as you get older, those are skills that we want to really sort of hone in our children more consciously. But also this idea, Rebecca, what you kind of brought up was this idea of we are going to have to readjust back to normal life after this trip no matter what. And some parents are very nervous that if we do something outside of our routine with screens on a vacation, then when we come back it’s going to be a nightmare.


And yes, that can be true. And also all things could be a bit of a nightmare. Coming back from a trip, I just had the hardest drop off ever all this week with my daughter because, and it has previously been so smooth, but she’s readjusting to something different again and she’s sensitive to that. And I do think it is helpful to remember though that adjustments can be hard and that’s really normative and kids can switch, they can understand. Most kids typically can understand that what I do in this context might be different than what is expected in this context and I can adjust to that or we want to help them be able to do that. That’s actually kind of a healthy thing, that kind of flexibility.

Dr. Rebecca (12:09):

I’m going to be vulnerable for a moment and make a meta comment. I think it’s so indicative of how this conversation can go and of mom-ness. Screens, as I said, on planes are a total free, I am so excited that I can do my own things on planes. They do become zombies. And so it goes, when I heard Emily talking about being thoughtful and mindful, I went to a place of like, oh my gosh, I’ve done this all wrong. Here’s my colleague and friend who’s so mindful and having this conversation about how they take a brain break. I don’t think we’ve ever in a million years called anything a brain break. Do you know what I mean? And then I go to a place of like, but Emily doesn’t know how hard my kids are, and so I get to do this and then I go to a place of like, oh, but Emily’s kids are hard too and she still manages to do this, so I’m clearly the worst and I just am being vulnerable by sharing it because it’s so much noise.


The amount of energy that it just took me to have all those internal conversations. First of all, I didn’t hear a thing that Sarah said, right, I was having, and also all that it does is make me feel bad. And I’m the person on this podcast along with the two of you that says over and over again, there’s no right way to do things. And yet it’s so insidious, it creeps in and we are all close friends and professionals. If it can creep in here, it’s just if any of you are listening and it’s just everywhere, and I’m just right now going to model self-compassion and put my hand on my heart and just be like, you’re doing the best you can every trip at a time with your kids and maybe next time we’ll have a brain break or maybe we won’t. And I don’t know, I just wanted to highlight that. I think again, the point of beyond the sessions is this sort of meta idea of hearing what goes on for us as child psychologists who are also moms. And there’s a lot of the mom noise still.

Dr. Emily (14:11):

I also love that. I think the other thing that you made me think of when you were saying that is there’s one thing how we hope it goes, and it’s another thing how it really looks. I am even reflecting like, okay, when I want my kid, I’m yelling at them on the plane to put down their device. It’s not pretty and lovely. And there’s pushback on both of our sides. And I think again, the same thing of we just can’t be perfect. We’re just trying. And the other thing that makes me think of is screens might not be the thing, Rebecca, that that’s the priority for you to try on. You don’t have to be a hundred percent in a hundred percent of the things. It’s like you probably nailed chores at home and I’m like, ugh.

Dr. Rebecca (14:59):

Chores at home – nailed it.

Dr. Emily (15:01):

You know what I mean? You might have put more intention into that.

Dr. Sarah (15:04):

I know there’s a win in there.

Dr. Rebecca (15:07):

Of course there is. Yeah. No, you’re a hundred percent right. And also look, am I working on social skills with both my kids and making eye contact and treating unknown adults as adults? Absolutely. Have I made a conscious decision that I am not going to deal with that on planes because we don’t fly that often. We probably fly once or twice a year and the amount of pushback I’m going to get about everything’s sort of this cost benefit. And I think as we talk about these things, it’s not only the usual, there’s no right answer, what works for your family, but it’s also just like each moment is a choice and there are trade-offs all along the way, and what you see is not everyone’s whole story. And it’s like I might see a mom yelling at her kid on the plane to put her device down and I might say, oh, if only that mom had pre-gamed this and front loaded it and talked about a brain break before, and it turns out it’s Emily like an expert child psychologist who did all the things. And so it’s just that tendency to judge ourselves, to judge others to criticize, to feel bad. It’s so right

Dr. Emily (16:12):

There, and I think the other piece is when we feel that, can we identify it as you just so beautifully did, and can we reframe it a little? Can we say, okay, I didn’t do that. I’m not a total disaster. Maybe I’ll try that next time or maybe I’ll introduce this concept. Maybe I’ll do something a little bit different. I think is also, it would be nice if that was a nice way for us as moms to be less critical on ourselves and say like, huh, I’d like that idea. Maybe I’ll try that next. It’s not a done, the cake is not baked, it’s not a done deal.

Dr. Rebecca (16:45):

There’s curiosity and there’s flexibility. Again, it’s that pendulum that I went to that I always go to, which is first I’m a terrible mom, but then it’s like, absolutely not. I am the best mom and I did the absolute right thing for my family, so screw all you. And then it’s like, no, actually if I can just quiet the voices, it’s probably somewhere in between. And if I can approach it with curiosity and compassion and flexibility as you said, then there’s the space to try new things and try and fail and trial and error and all the things that we, I think talk about on here and encourage people to do. And it’s still just so hard to get there ourselves.

Dr. Sarah (17:22):

And it’s really common kind of like you’re describing to go to one extreme and then slingshot to the other extreme and then land somewhere in the middle. But that landing in the middle part, if that’s your final destination, you’ve done a great job. That’s the work. It’s not like, can I always be this self-compassionate in the middle wise mind mom? It’s like, no. Can I swing to one extreme perhaps notice it swing to the other stream, perhaps notice that and then notice this process of swinging and say, oh, wait, hold on. I see what I’m doing here. Let’s just come back down to center and give myself a break. But that is actually the process. It’s kind of like when people think of meditation as being like, oh, I can’t meditate because I can’t quiet my mind. It’s like, well, no, actually meditation isn’t a quiet mind. Meditation is just knowing and noticing. When your mind wanders and then tempting to bring it back to the quiet knowing it will completely go back to some other thought in a second, and I have to bring it back. It’s the bringing it back. That’s actually the final outcome of good. You’ve done a great job.

Dr. Emily (18:35):

Well, it’s the process. And that’s what I really think what’s resonating with me about this conversation is I might have all the best intention. I might try all the best intentions, and that doesn’t even mean they work, and that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. I can still keep trying and failing because my kid isn’t having an aha moment, but that doesn’t mean my attempt is wrong, and I might have to do that attempt a hundred times before I even see a tiny little bit of change. And it doesn’t mean that that’s folly. That doesn’t mean, oh, well that didn’t work, so now I’m done and I’m going to move on to something different. I think that’s one of the other things. If I say, please put down your screen, and they don’t the first 150 times, it doesn’t mean that my intention of doing that is like, well, that didn’t work, so I’m going to move on to the next thing. Right?

Dr. Sarah (19:28):

It’s like that metaphor that I use a lot of you plant a seed and every time you return to this, it’s one drop of water, one drop of water, one drop of water. You dropping those drops of water is helping that seed to grow into a plant. You just aren’t going to see it for a very long time. But if you stopped doing it, it’s not going to turn into anything. So you got to be patient.

Dr. Rebecca (19:54):

I think of that metaphor a lot when I think about how some of the screen experts with whom I agree say how important it is to teach our kids to be reflective about how screens make them feel and how my kids are. They make me feel great. End of story. The end, I’m like, this really feels like I’m slamming my head into a wall, but maybe when one of them is 16, maybe they’ll be able to say, wait a second. I end up feeling cranky when I put it down. But in the meantime it’s aspirational and it’s that one drop of water at a time.

Dr. Sarah (20:28):

Yeah, I’m 38, I’m about to be 39, and I still have trouble with that one, so it takes a while, but I am getting there. I definitely do know now that I am super addicted to my phone and it doesn’t make me feel good, but it took me a while.

Dr. Rebecca (20:43):

I remember it was one of your podcast episodes. I remember listening to it and you had an aha moment. You were like, wait, I think that’s me.

Dr. Sarah (20:51):

Yeah. And it’s a huge struggle. That’s another thing we could talk about a little bit here, which is our use of these technology devices. It’s pretty hard to tell your kids, Hey guys, take a brain break, no screens while we are sitting there watching movies the whole time. Because thank God there are movies on planes because it’s a lot of sitting still. And I like to watch movies on planes, and I remember when you were saying like, oh my God, I finally got to watch a movie on a plane. I remember the joy, the sheer joy I felt the first time I took an airplane ride and I got to watch a movie while my child ignored me. The whole flight. It was like, oh my God, I’ve made it past that threshold of, oh my, I don’t have to string Cheerios on a pipe cleaner for this entire flight. Thank God. Thank God. It’s nice and we benefit from it, and that’s okay, and we might feel guilty about it, and that’s okay too. And if we want to help our kids have awareness around their screen use, we also have to model that for ourselves.

Dr. Emily (22:01):

A hundred percent. I thought about that a lot. Oh, sorry, Rebecca. I was just going to say I think about that a lot because I started reading again because as a mom of young children, every time I picked up a book, I fell asleep within promptly 30 seconds. So I just couldn’t read for a long time to be totally honest with you. And I started reading again and my kids were like, you read books? And I was like, yes, yes, I do. I read books. And I think that even that sort of notion of like, oh, that’s something else you can do with your downtime to recharge or to relax, whatever it is. I’m even a little co to say that because it was just a really hard thing for me personally as a young parent with young kids to have lost. And then I even felt guilty then about not having shown my kids that after they, I’m always telling them to read, by the way, always every day. So I think that’s another piece of it.

Dr. Rebecca (23:03):

I read on a Kindle, but I really try to use my actual Kindle and not the Kindle app on my phone so that they see I’m reading a book, because otherwise they might think I’m on Instagram as opposed to reading. So it’s like, what does it look like to ’em? But I was just going to say to the point that we made at the beginning of this and kind of practicing different boundaries and different rules on travel, my kids kind of know now that they get to use as much screens as they want on planes and also have the junkiest snacks. And as I’m trying to focus on my successes, it’s like they know that, right? So they’ll go into an airport store and say, we’re getting gummy bears, this, this, and this. But they would never go into a store in our regular life and think they could do that. So it’s also, as you come up with the routines that work for your family, it’s not impossible to sort of bookend them as specific and special to specific and special occasions. And when the plane ride ends, by the way, they might be like, wait, can I have one more gummy worm? And it’s like, Nope. Now we enter real life again where there’s nothing.

Dr. Emily (24:14):

I love that because that’s actually, I think there is something as adults, we do that. I buy, I never read magazines that are like people other, I read those on travel. I think there’s something kind of nice too to be like, this is my mode of vacation. This is my brain candy. And you’re creating that with your kids. I think that’s a really nice tradition in some ways.

Dr. Sarah (24:35):

Yeah, it’s rituals.

Dr. Rebecca (24:36):

You’re such a good mom. It’s unbelievable.

Dr. Emily (24:37):

You’re amazing.

Dr. Sarah (24:40):

Amazing. No, I think these rituals are special. And honestly, their core memories for our kids. I remember my mom’s from Puerto Rico and we used to go to Puerto Rico to see my grandparents twice a year every year for two weeks at a time. And my core memory of going to visit my grandparents was watching Nickelodeon all day long, and it was the best. I loved it. I didn’t get that at home. I did not have cable at home. I didn’t get to watch all the Nickelodeon and Nick at night stuff, and I gobbled it up and it was fun. And I’m sure my mom is cringing to hear me. She’s listening be like, that’s your core memory of visiting grandma, grandpa in Puerto Rico at the beach is Nickelodeon for hours. Oh god. And also, I have nothing bad about that in my memory. I have other core memories from visiting. That wasn’t the only thing I ever did, but I loved it. And so just let our kids have those things too and have those core memories that are maybe disaligned with our beautiful visions of our fantasy of parenthood. And maybe it’s wonderful for them and that can be good too.

Dr. Rebecca (25:55):

Love it.

Dr. Sarah (25:56):

Love it.

Dr. Emily (25:56):

That’s great.

Dr. Sarah (25:57):

Love you guys. I’ll talk to you soon.

Dr. Rebecca (25:59):

Love you. Absolutely. Thank you.

Dr. Emily (26:01):


Dr. Sarah (26:04):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! ✨

193. BTS: Is it okay for screen time “rules” to go out the window on travel days?