News Reel

Saying YES to Summer!

Children’s Screen Time Action Network has some great ideas for summer – like saying YES to kids and helping them learn resourcefulness. Check out their article below:

For most of us, school is out already and we’re in those transition weeks that can produce anxiety, both for us and the kids. Ok. So I see that parents are sick of hearing that they have to set screen limits. Like Advisory Board member Dr. Meghan Owenz says, “If you offer more fruits and vegetables, it edges out room for the donut.” Hence, my message this week is less about screen limits and more about the opportunities that a little extra time can bring to families.

Here are four ideas that go beyond summer tip lists:

1) Say ‘yes’ a lot!  It feels so good to say ‘yes.’ A simple thing… but so contrary to the many, many times we have to say ‘no’ to our kids. In our house, we had a Mom-says-yes day and a kids-say-yes day every summer. (Of course dads can do it, too!) I suggest doing the parent day first. There was a low-price limit on what they could ask – have a friend over, have dessert first, stay in our pajamas all day, go to McDonald’s (shhhh – don’t tell anyone at CCFC!) But, it brought so much joy. And the kids-say-yes day got a lot of chores done!

What I learned: I can do anything for one day. When kids are allowed to choose, they can make good choices and know their limits.

2) Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. They’re exhausted! Discussion about trips and camps can be downright cutthroat. While we did our share of both, the best excursions were local hikes, museums, and lakes with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As in life, buying an expensive summer doesn’t guarantee happy memories. You’re still juggling work, maybe adjusting your hours or working at home more, maybe driving your older kids to summer jobs. Added pressure to spend more and run more will only spread anxiety to the kids. What we think they want and what they really need—quality time with family and friends—are two different things.

What I learned: A break from the stress of school (especially for high schoolers) is best when there isn’t added pressure to make the summer perfect.

3) Trust that kids can and will entertain themselves. As long as they are safe and fed, kids will find something to do – if we let them. Boredom helps kids make their own meaning of life. Of my kids, Evan was the best at coming up with ideas and playing by himself. But, the others came around to it also, if I was willing to gently remind them, “Mommy is working right now.”

What I learned: I can put up with a little whining to build resourceful kids. The whining goes away after they know you mean business. And when everyone’s tired, you can give in to the temptation to have a little screen time now and then – once you’ve checked that it’s ad-free!

4) Set expectations. Those of you who have been with me for a while know this is my go-to parenting advice. The more you can talk about the new routine ahead, let them draw pictures of it, or have a visual calendar (not just on your phone), the better their behavior. Some surprises and flexibility are important as well. But, kids thrive on a little routine, even in the summer months.

What I learned: Sometimes I had to repeat myself, but as long as we talked about it ahead of time, the summer months went easily – and often, too quickly.

If you have a loved one struggling with their personal life please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Should Kids be on Social Media?

School is out for the summer! With it comes long days in the sun,
Popsicles, and the endless battle of screen time. Recently Screenagers
published some facts from a gathering of researchers who met recently
to discuss information on kids’ brains and screen addiction. Here are
some of their key points:

“American children spend more time in front of electronic screens than any other activity except sleeping. The brain becomes what the brain does.” Dr. Douglas Gentile

“Ditch the 1:1 program. They need smaller class size so they can better
know and connect with their teacher/guide.” Dr. Richard Freed

“Up to 9% of American youth may suffer from an addiction to games or
social media.” Dr. Paul Weigle

“The virtual world becomes your reality. The real world becomes an
inconvenience.” Adam Brooker, former gamer

“Porn consumption typically begins at the age of 8. When you give the kid a mobile device, you have to be okay with giving them porn. If you’re not
okay with that, it’s time to change things up.” Dr. Richard Freed

“During the evening when children should be finishing homework or
reading a book or cuddling with parent, is now used by screen time or
gaming. They are given a reward of finishing the day. It takes away from
ideal sleep.” Dr. Kenneth Weeks

“Kids should get bored when eating. That’s okay. That’s what’s supposed to happen. If they are eating in front of the screen, that won’t happen.” Dr. Jennifer McCauley

“The brain is a multi-switcher, not a multi-tasker.” Dr. Douglas Gentile

“It’s okay to delay entertainment screens until late adolescence.” Melanie

If you have a loved one struggling with screen addiction please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Street Drugs available on Social Media?!

Just when parents didn’t think they could deal with one more tech-related thing having to do with their teens, it has come to law enforcement’s attention that street drugs are now available on Social Media. Read Tech Talk Tuesday’s post about it below:

Last month in Marin County, California, police arrested a person who was selling drugs. What makes this arrest different than most other drug busts is that this person was selling drugs on Snapchat.

Yes. The same Snapchat our youth send selfies to their friends. It’s happening on Instagram too. Dealers use code words, hashtags, emojis and display actual pictures of what they have to offer.

“Drugs on social media is incredibly prevalent,” says Josie Sanguinetti, School Resource Officer for the Marin County Sheriff’s Department. “I’ve seen as young as 10 and obviously as old as 18 and many adults. And drugs do not discriminate. Every high school and some middle schools in the county have been touched by this.”

One San Rafael Police Department narcotics officer told my co-producer that he could find marijuana, Xanax, prescription painkillers and Molly (MDMA) within an hour of searching on social media.

Simple searches with hashtags like #weed4sale, #oxy or #painpills will pull up story after story (that is IG or Snapchat stories) with pictures of drugs and cash and emojis such the Christmas tree, fire, and $$ that means it’s for sale. Requests are left in the comments or you can direct message the dealer. With the right language, you can receive a response. Often dealers will request the conversation about price, quality and delivery details be had on encrypted messaging apps like Kik or What’s App. Deals are done either electronically with payment through apps like Venmo and PayPal and product is then mailed to the buyer or delivered in person and paid for in cash.

Although Instagram and Snapchat have made some efforts to ban certain hashtags and search terms, they are not able to flag all posts.

“We’re not yet sophisticated enough to tease apart every post to see if it’s trying to sell someone illegal drugs or they are taking Xanax cause they are stressed out,” Facebook’s Vice President for Global Marketing Solutions, Carolyn Everson, told the Washington Post in September of last year. “Obviously, there is some stuff that gets through that is totally against our policy, and we’re getting better at it.”

After the Washington Post article was published, Facebook (who owns Instagram) released a blog post with steps they are taking to combat the sale of drugs on their platforms.

“We’ve made progress in the fight against illicit drug sales on our platforms, but we have more to do. We’re committed to making sure we do everything we can to prevent this kind of abuse,” Monika Bickert, the company’s Vice President of Global Policy Management, said in the post.

If you have a loved one struggling with screen addiction please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Take the Hack Challenge

Controlling screen time for children and teens is harder than it sounds. This week Screenagers gives some “hacks” to decrease time on screens – are you up for the challenge?

Which hacks decrease undesired screen time? This is the question to ask kids and teens this week. From that discussion, see if they, ideally along with you, will choose to adopt one of these ideas for 24 or even 72 hours. It’s a Hack Challenge—and who doesn’t like a challenge?

I say “ideally along with you” because we are all in this together. But just because we all have challenges around managing screen time does not mean that as parents we should take a hands-off approach. I hear people say about kids that ”They just need to learn by themselves to manage screen time.” The Screenagers team is dedicated to the idea that defining sacred screen-free times in the day is key for helping youth reach their conscious goals and unconscious goals. And, finding hacks to decrease distractions fits into this 100%.

As always we would love to hear from you—what challenge did anyone in your group decide to try? Perhaps you have a different hack that you can share. Please email me directly at You can use the tab on the left to post this TTT on Facebook, or come to our Facebook page and share with us there. It’s so wonderful to continue to learn from each other, and to be a supportive force when anyone does take on a challenge!

Here are 8 hacks that can help cut down on screen time and that can make for a good Hack Challenge.

1. Reorganize your home screen (if your child does not have a phone but uses an iPad or another device with apps they can do this on those devices)

Having all your favorite apps on your home screen can be quite tempting. Try to remove all the tempting apps and replace with just your calendar, your clock, and your calculator. My co-producer, Lisa, removed Facebook and Twitter from her home screen and it has significantly decreased the amount of time she spends on social media.

2. Delete certain apps

When it seems a particular app is taking too much of your time, of course the best thing to do is to delete it. Many youth have video game apps (by the way, I was amazed to see how many ads they get on Instagram for additional games). Perhaps your teen will take the challenge to remove a game app for 72 hours?

3. Use blocking software

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 45% of teens say they are online “near constantly.” Apps like “Freedom” and “Self Control” are aimed at helping people minimizing this. They can block social media, online shopping or anything that distracts you online for whatever amount of time you designate.

4. Time Control Apps

On an iPhone, you can set Screen Time which sets a specific amount of time you can use particular apps. Android phones have something on their “Digital Wellbeing” dashboard called App Timers that allow you to set time limits per apps.

5. Turn-off autoplay on YouTube

According to YouTube, about 70% of the videos people watch on the platform are those that were suggested by the algorithm—and of course, many of these are the ones that start auto-playing (and thus we start “auto-watching”). A simple way to regain control and always stay on purpose is by turning off autoplay. This will prevent another video from automatically loading.

6. Limit notifications

One study found out that the average person receives about 63.5 notifications each day. This interruption is distracting and can lead you down a rabbit hole of time spent on your phone. You’ll be amazed at how much time you save by turning off notifications — limiting them to only those you need.

I have set up my phone so that the only notifications I get are the day of a flight, a car ride, and text—but even for texts I have an app that lets people know that I will not receive their message until I stop my car. People who know me well call me if it’s urgent.

7. Take ads off your page and other distractions

You might have noticed that some websites are cluttered with multitudes of distractions like autoplay videos, pop-up ads, and sidebars that make it difficult to concentrate on one thing.

There are several browser extensions that allow you to remove ads and distractions from your webpages, leaving you a clean page of just text and images. Mercury Reader, a Chrome extension, is a popular one. If the ad blocker does not allow you to read an article, it usually gives you the option to turn it off just for that page. You just look at the top of your screen for a notification.

8. Make your phone only perform in black and white

Try making your phone screen grayscale. The colors on your screen are like candy to your brain. Changing your phone to black and white is less rewarding to your cerebrum and you may then spend less time scrolling. The red notifications, i.e., you have emails waiting, messages to respond to, etc., can cause stress and are difficult to ignore.

This is a great topic to have a conversation about with youth in your life. Here are some questions to get you started.

  • When you realize that you have spent too much time on your screen, what gives you the power to stop?
  • Let’s all pick one of the ideas above to try. But first, try to measure how much time you spend on the screen now. Then, compare that to the amount you spend when you try one of the hacks.

If you have a loved one struggling with screen addiction please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Screens and Meals – From babies to adults, mealtime should be screen-free

Screens are quickly taking over every aspect of daily life, and are already replacing regular interpersonal communication, but the rise of screens at mealtimes is particularly disturbing. In the article below, written by Cris Rowan, the benefits of screen-free mealtimes is explored in depth.

The evening meal is traditionally recognized as a social occasion involving family members, a table/chairs, and a home cooked dinner. When I was a child, dinners involved my two brothers and I suffering through an hour-long event where we had to listen to my father go on and on about work issues which were totally unrelated to us. I did though look forward to our family dinner ritual where each of us got to relay one good thing and one bad thing that happened to us that day…and we weren’t allowed to interrupt! Looking back now I realized how incredibly formative our dinners were in helping me learn how to listen, wait my turn, and regulate my behavior to fit into the social unit we call a family.

Fast forward to today’s hectic lives where meals are haphazard and fast paced, and often paired with screens. While at first glace this may be the ‘new normal’, use of screens at meals when combined with distracted parenting is causing significant safety issues. Neonatal Intensive Care units are reporting rising rates of aspiration from babies being bottle or breast fed while parents are attending to their phones, termed “brexting”. Toddlers are failing to reach important emotional and social developmental milestones by being conditioned to eat and use the potty while watching You Tube cartoons. Unable to self-regulate their behavior without a device will negatively impact these children the rest of their lives. As children are increasingly allowed to use screens during meals, they are eating more food and eat for longer duration, contributing to already rising levels of obesity and diabetes. As food content choice in both children and teens is driven by TV commercials which push high carb and low nutrition, general health declines. Brain development theory states “neurons that fire together wire together’ meaning that when we pair food with screens, the brain becomes conditioned to eat while watching TV or alternatively turn on a screen while eating.

What used to be a family event marked by social interactions, eating is now an ‘asocial’ episode performed in isolation. Humans are “pack” animals who develop optimally within their packs and don’t do well when isolated. There are many hazards to infants whose parents are on their phones during breast or bottle feeding, but the biggest worry is that this is a salient time for establishing a life sustaining bond. From birth (and even in utero) the infant’s “job” is to attach to their parents. Secure attachment between child and parent is a life force which ensures survival. When a parent is distracted by screens, the infant is tasked with working very hard to establish attachment, often resulting in what is termed anxious or disorganized attachment. Failure of primary attachment plays out in many ways and can eventually result in mental illness as a child, youth or adult.Competing with cell phones and tablets, children are struggling in their attempts to get their parent’s undivided and nourishing attention. The Still Face Experiment video demonstrates of the effect of parental inattention on child well being, which illustrates what happens whenever a parent looks away from a child at their screen.

Eating together as a family without screens, not only nourishes children’s bodies but also feeds their souls. So parents…please put down the phone and pick up your child. Your job as a parent will only get easier.

If you have a loved one struggling with screen addiction please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.