life Parenting

Marginless Day, Screen Time, Etc

May 2, 2023

Today has been a day without margin

Josh and I both went to speak in G’s class today!

Run –> Drive kids –> Speak in G’s class –> Podcast recording –> BLPA –> Podcast interview (BOBW guest) –> Drive kids to orthodontist.


I truly enjoy all of these things but a break in there would have been nice (and the only one who failed to schedule that was me — so I can’t really complain!). I keep reminding myself that I’ll be away at my work conference soon which will be busy but in an entirely different way. And it will be 100% worth it to be caught up/ahead on all things podcast related when I leave.

I have been better about finding my rhythms as a part-time entrepreneur. Still, I feel like I am missing open space time to dream/think/create. I am very good at creating content before a deadline – often I’ll be crafting something in my head for weeks and when the episode needs to be sent in, a coherent structure will emerge and I’ll be able to write my outline very quickly. I have figured out how to make things feel more predictable. I don’t have the ‘aimless’ feeling I first had when I went part-time.

I guess it’s a very good thing that I have more ideas than hours to execute them. But at the same time, I need to work on preserving some more white space.

i know this won’t happen without a plan and a structure, so I think going forward I will try to reserve Thursday mornings for this kind of deep(er) work. I will make exceptions if something really important comes up, but otherwise will try to preserve this time. Laura and I usually record Tuesdays, so I think this will work out.

(And mornings are way better than afternoons because my brain works better then!)

Screen Free So Far

It’s Day 3 (I know it’s only 5/2, but we started a day early because I allowed them to be on screens watch way too much on Saturday 4/29 and then hit a breaking point and just decided it was TIME.)

There have been complaints, but honestly it’s been fine. Even though I identify as a moderator, sometimes in parenting I find BRIGHT LINES to be more effective. (Though reader Amanda asked about food and I actually think this is an area where I prefer to be somewhat less stringent. We definitely have some rules/customs/boundaries around food in our home — more than some would probably advocate, and less than others — but I don’t want to be extreme.)

I listened to Cal Newport’s recent Kids + Phones episode and felt particularly happy we had just decided on a screen free month. He made great points, and I feel the most important one is what they are missing out on — what they are NOT doing in the hours filled with screens. Though the mental health data is compelling too, particularly in girls. And I can’t exactly give C different limits, NOR do I feel like screen time is great for him generally.

I plan on exerting more screen limits after the month is over, too. Maybe there was a time when we “needed” the screen time, when I was more in a survival mode. I feel like in so many ways (especially in the ages of the kids + my mental health/workload) that’s over and I can do better.

(Do I plan on keeping them 100% off forever? Nope. After the month is over, I want A to be able to text and video chat w friends and I am okay allowing C some LIMITED video game time. I also don’t mind things like craft tutorials — obviously not all screen time is created equal! But it had honesty gotten out of hand and I’m committed to figuring things out in a more careful and intentional way.)

Still left to do:

Record BLP ep (on efficiency for medical providers – yes it’s specific but I want to share my thoughts! Hopefully will have application to other fields as well.)

Upload BOBW ep for Tues

Phone call (once I get home, currently sitting @ orthodontist!)

(Was going to do sponsor stuff too but I am going to push to Thurs AM because I am ready for a break!)

20-30 min strength training


  • Reply Omdg May 2, 2023 at 3:38 pm

    Did you know that the average age of smartphone acquisition is 11.5 years? Have you thought about getting Annabel a phone? I know a few of Dylan’s classmates already have one. I was thinking about doing this for middle school.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 2, 2023 at 3:50 pm

      Yep! Maybe next year for middle school and activities, or if she’s home alone. But no social media and highly regulated use. I think she’d actually be really mature w one …

    • Reply Carrie Q May 2, 2023 at 7:24 pm

      My son started sixth grade this year. Like you both, we were reluctant to add a phone to the mix this year. A teacher friend of ours suggested an Apple Watch with cellular service. It has been PERFECT. He can still text and call his friends (and communicate with us about rides etc) BUT there’s no doubt that it’s far less compelling than a phone in terms of distraction. He also has an iPad that he uses to face time friends and access the internet.

      • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 2, 2023 at 8:17 pm

        I do like that idea!

    • Reply Daria May 3, 2023 at 11:05 am

      11.5 years wow… Rachel Nielsen from 3 in 30 podcast has a great episode about this: guiding questions when deciding if/when to give your child a smart phone: episode 283 🙂

  • Reply Grateful Kae May 2, 2023 at 3:38 pm

    Yeah, the screen time dilemma is a tough one for sure! And I have a few mixed feelings sometimes taking advice from Cal on this one, only because he doesn’t actually have any teenagers yet….it’s always easier to “hypothetically” handle situations. 😉 I was also an exceptionally amazing mother before I actually had any children. LOL.

    In our case, I feel pretty strongly that the answer is not “no phones, no screens, ever”. I mean the reality of today’s world is that it is highly digitalized. I think pretending it’s not, or wishing it weren’t, doesn’t really do my kids any favors. (I know you aren’t saying you will keep yours completely off forever, either.) I just feel a parental responsibility, I guess, to figure out how to help them navigate this and learn to use them in moderation and responsibly. At the end of the day, I think their college years and adult lives will definitely include a lot of screens, by default. So, I’m hesitant to ever just take them fully away (which would solve the problem in the short term, yes) and then lose the opportunity to help them develop good, healthy habits with them while they’re still under my roof.

    But I totally agree there has to be some balance and limits, and I definitely find it very very challenging. There are so many variables depending on the kid, the family, the situation, etc…. it’s exhausting to even think about. I am probably actively screwing this part of parenting up, as we speak. ha.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 2, 2023 at 3:49 pm

      “No screens ever forever” – def not. But also unlimited – def not. Laura is not too strict but she does take away her kids’ phones at 9pm including her almost 16 year old.

      • Reply Grateful Kae May 2, 2023 at 5:02 pm

        Yes, I’ve always thought it sounded like Laura takes a nice, balanced, non-extreme approach to screens: certain limits while not being overly rigid. I think it helps, in her case and in the case of my kids generally too right now, when the kids are just pretty busy with “other stuff” in their lives. Like between my boys’ work/ sports/ activities schedules, they just don’t have THAT much downtime really many days to even be on their phones… so it can be sort of a non-issue, in a way. (Though, some days it still definitely is.) Your kids are getting into more and more various activities it seems too, so you’ll probably find the same.

        We always had a hard no-screens rule on Monday-Thursday when they were younger which worked out well. It’s a little fuzzy now that they are older and have phones of course, but we still generally don’t allow actual “gaming” (xbox) on weeknights. They do do more chatting/texting and you tube watching and chess playing etc on their phones though on weeknights than I’d prefer sometimes… My kids have always sort of cared less about TV, so that part has never been a real problem for us.

        • Reply RH May 2, 2023 at 6:09 pm

          It’s interesting to read the ‘no gaming on weeknights’ but yes to things like youtube because we’re the opposite! My son is 10 so doesn’t have a phone but I’d much rather him spend an hour playing Minecraft or games on the Switch vs Youtube nonsense. But you’re right, I’m sure it completely depends on the kid. We’ve also learned he does much better with going to bed if the 30 min before bed involves no screens except TV.

    • Reply Arden May 2, 2023 at 6:23 pm

      I have to say I actually laughed out loud with your “I was an exceptional mother before I had kids”. My SIL is the greatest mother of all time of…none.

  • Reply Elisabeth May 2, 2023 at 4:00 pm

    Screens are so, so tricky. For the most part, we let our kids lead. Neither has a phone and I hope to keep it that way until my daughter hits high school (when it feels like for communication purposes it will be useful).

    I think, in our local demographic, my kids watch a lot of screens. They have never had a specific number of hours a week, and have never “earned” or “lost” screen time. Many of their friends only have a certain window 1-2 times per week where screens are allowed.

    Honestly, that all just felt way too complicated. My husband travels a lot from work, I work part-time from home which means there are times they are home and I need to work…and screens can be the “safest” free babysitter. Thankfully, both our kids seem to enjoy off-screen activities a lot and for the most part they don’t watch much of anything during the week. But there are definitely weekends where they’ll watch 2-3 movies, and I’m learning to be okay with it. Movies are fun and I watched a lot of screens when I was a kid. Sometimes 2 hours on a movie allows me to be a much better mom later.

    I AM dreading the smartphone days, though…so it will surely be another story at that point.

  • Reply Lily May 2, 2023 at 8:31 pm

    Would love to hear more about how your time and task management systems shift as you move into entrepreneur work mode. I had 3 years in a super busy management role where most of my day was full of meetings and tasks that had to be done ‘right now’ – very reactive and I just had to keep up with the flow. But then I moved into a different more technical ‘individual contributor’ role – my work is largely unstructured and somewhat self directed, deadlines are far off but with big chunky projects, I’m mostly working alone, and from home. It has been a big transition, even though I’ve worked like this in the past. It’s taken quite a while to sort myself out, and I’m still struggling with systems. I do love the work that I get to do now – and I really needed this change as part of burnout recovery – but in some ways think I made a mistake because I have to fight so hard to avoid procrastination, whereas the pace of my old job just keep me moving.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 3, 2023 at 12:20 pm

      oooh interesting topic! Will file this one away!

  • Reply Amanda May 2, 2023 at 10:13 pm

    As a person whose parents gave me no screen limits I definitely agree that the issue is what you’re missing out on. I don’t think all the TV that I watched damaged me, but in retrospect I could have learned/done/experienced so many things in those hours. Now I actually kind of struggle with hobbies and even though I don’t watch much TV now I kind of wonder if all the screen time growing up is part of the reason.

  • Reply Jessica May 3, 2023 at 5:41 am

    With my 7th grader this year, I learned that group texts can function pretty similarly to social media for that age group. These big group texts of 20+ kids really do introduce most to the same problems that social media has. Just something I hadn’t thought of previously and now am considering boundaries on group texts for my younger kids. Also, my middle schoolers are not allowed phones at their schools. I didn’t realize that they participate in these big group chats through google chat on their schools devices during school hours. Basically, what I have learned this year, is that all of that is ubiquitous and it is hard to fight it. I don’t have answers, but just wanted to share the couple things I learned this year with teens and screens because I hadn’t realized the group texting dynamics and that they were able to group text in a classroom that doesn’t allow phones.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 3, 2023 at 12:19 pm

      very good to know. I can see the social dynamics being issues but at least it’s kids they know, not influencers . . .

    • Reply Grateful Kae May 3, 2023 at 1:23 pm

      Jessica, YES! Same concern here with group chats….and SO hard to control. I feel a lot of it is “good” chatting- for example, my younger (7th grader) has a group chat with just his swim team friends, and they coordinate meet ups at the gym and other things, and they actually seem to have all grown so much closer as aa group through this, because at actual swim practice so much time is spent with their heads underwater… so I would really hesitate to like, forbid him from participating in it? But I also see opportunity for issues to arise in some of the bigger chats where a ton of adolescents are essentially chatting online/sharing media with no real adult supervision….

      • Reply Heather May 4, 2023 at 3:10 pm

        Middle school teacher here to agree that group chats are a scary place. AirDrop is another big ticket item. Group chats and AirDrop are where unsavory pictures get passed around the most and where a lot of the bullying is done. Also, what a lot of these kids don’t realize is that if they receive the picture to their phone and don’t report it, then they also become party to it. There are a lot of great parental control features for both IPhone and Android that parents should learn the ins and outs of. Most of these controls allow you to restrict APP access, APP stores, and so on.

        I also agree with the idea of taking away a child’s phone after a certain time. Also, as a teacher, one of our biggest headaches is parents texting during school hours. So, often, when I tell a student to get off the phone their immediate excuse is that they were talking to their parent. Every school that I have ever taught at allows parents to call with info regarding transportation changes or other things, so texting during school hours between parent and child is unnecessary and creates bad habits.

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 4, 2023 at 5:09 pm

          Did not think of airdrop … omg.

          One thing I like about Annabel’s (tiny) middle school is that they have strict rules about phone use – apparently teachers will take it away for the day if they see it out. I don’t think they can even use them at lunch but I need to verify.

  • Reply gwinne May 3, 2023 at 8:53 am

    Fascinating to think through all this. Every kid, and every family, is different. Also, screen types and uses are different.

    I grew up in a TV watching family. I like TV.

    When my big kid (now 19) was tiny, I had very strict limits, like 30 min TV/day. By the time they got a phone (12?) they were on screens what felt like all the time. The phone for watching things and texting friends and the computer for school work. Part of that was me not being able to set great boundaries, but the amount of effort it would have taken to set great boundaries was insurmountable at that time. But still, they were active in school activities, a straight A student, volunteer work, etc. They excel at hobbies (art, knitting, etc). Then high school and covid coincided. They HAD to be on screens most of the time; screens served many different functions, including socializing. They are an adult now who spends a lot of time on screens (largely the phone)….but also an A student at a top-tier university holding down what’s close to a full time job. Would I like them to spend less time on Instagram and more time reading books? Yes. But. Adult. I’ve learned some things here.

    My younger child is 11, with ADHD. I will get them an old school flip phone or a watch with texting capacity when they start middle school, for practical and safety reasons. I will hold off on smart phone until 13+. They also spend hours watching TV every day; I have set boundaries about WHAT they can watch and, at a certain point, how much. What my kid heard from the doctor was 2 hrs of screens per day, and that has become a hard rule for THEM that they “should” have 2 hrs of screens per day, and for many reasons that’s not the battle I want to have now. What seems most critical in our household is that the cutoff time for screens happens at least an hour before bed.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 3, 2023 at 12:15 pm

      “But still, they were active in school activities, a straight A student, volunteer work, etc. They excel at hobbies (art, knitting, etc). ” — totally agree that in that case would be superfluous to limit screens – doesn’t sound like they needed it!!!

      When I see my kids NOT WANTING to do things or repeatedly quitting activities that aren’t immediately 100% fun at every moment b/c the iPad/video games is more fun that’s when I feel like I need to limit it. And yep – that has happened at times. But it sounds like your older kid highly was/is motivated with varied interests, and they truly have done awesome! I think probably it really is going to vary by kid.

      (How many adults “don’t have time” to exercise but spend 3+ hours on screens?)

      • Reply gwinne May 3, 2023 at 1:08 pm

        Reading my kid’s college application essay was really enlightening and gave me the bird’s eye view I was lacking when I just saw kid-on-phone-in-bed in those COVID years. NOT the healthiest. But they actually did a lot otherwise? Also very much an ADHD multitasker, with videos in the background while doing other stuff.

        With Tiny Boy, I will seize upon transition to middle school (and hopefully homework; there is NONE in fifth grade unless you don’t finish in school) to clarify some boundaries.

  • Reply Jenny May 3, 2023 at 9:55 am

    Yes, this is a fascinating subject. I grew up watching a lot of TV, or it seemed like it at the time. But this was in the 70s, we only got three channels, and a lot of the time it was just obviously more fun to do something else. I also think the TV viewing we did falls into a completely different category than the things kids have access to nowadays.
    Both my kids got iphones in middle school. I resisted with my son, but he was the only one who didn’t have one, and (according to him) it was affecting his social life, so I gave in. With my daughter I didn’t even try to resist. I know it’s not great, but as long as they’re doing other things (both my kids are very into music) I feel like it’s okay.
    Anyway, a day with no margins is hard. Even on my busy days I usually have a little down time, like 30 minutes to eat breakfast in peace for example. I hope you get your Thursday morning time tomorrow!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger May 3, 2023 at 12:18 pm

      totally agree it’s the “other things” that are so important and would influence my decision of how much to limit. In younger kids I also see impact on behavior, so that guides things too.

  • Reply Daria May 3, 2023 at 10:27 am

    Sounds like a really hard day. I’d be crawling into a hole by now lol

    Screens and I have a complicated relationship. Grew up with mom who was very against TV (3 world country) and I feel like I inherited that from her. “Bored? Great, find something to do.” Over the last year I have relaxed my attitude a bit but still we let our family values “steer”, i.e no screens first thing in the morning, cartoons only after the kids have contributed to the family somehow, went outside, read, played together or independently for a while. The kids set timers “hey Google set the timer for 20 minutes.”
    Thank heavens for warmer weather in NJ lately- they go to play outside, and I noticed once they are outside, they stay outside.
    Lastly, loved reading the discussion on here – need to see what other parents are doing.

  • Reply Dana May 3, 2023 at 11:32 am

    I wasn’t allowed TV at all on weekdays and only limited on weekends. We were busy with sports and activities so I think it worked out and I was a high-achieving student, but I felt like it socially isolated me and did not want my child to have the same experience. Now my son watches a lot of youtube and plays a lot of computer games. Sometimes I think it’s too much but I also think it has been very useful for him as he attempts to learn self-regulation and how to navigate in the world as someone who is neurodiverse. He is not interested in sports or other activities at all but I’m not sure whether electronics time limits would change that. So I guess I’m ok with how it has worked out even if I wonder whether to limit time in the future.

  • Reply Taryn May 3, 2023 at 1:46 pm

    We don’t do any screens except TV in the mornings on the weekends so my husband and I can have an hour to drink coffee together. Otherwise they are bored a lot of the time and find creative ways to fill that time. The house is definitely louder and messier than if we allowed screens, but my 11 year old is super musical and plays outside and my 9 year old is very creative and always doing crafts or cooking/baking something. It can be hard sometimes, but I like the creativity. My 9-year old has ADHD and a very addictive personality so I know screens would be horrendous for her. Our current thought is a phone when they are driving age (17). We shall see.

  • Reply Maxine May 4, 2023 at 9:52 am

    I’m super excited for efficiency for medical providers! I do reach Epic inbox zero daily (with help) but charting is always an issue, even 10 years later. Love any and all tips!

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