Screen Time for our Children, our Teens…and Ourselves

Renee  Sklarew
Freelance Writer
Northern Virginia Magazine
DC Parenting Teens Examiner

My husband and I are always worrying about the amount of time our kids spend on the internet or watching TV. During a recent interview with Dr. Michael Oberschneider, our region’s leading authority on screen time issues, I heard some practical advice I want to share.

Dr. Oberschneider of Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services says “How can you expect your teens to be more balanced about screen time, if they see you staring at a screen or Blackberry all day?” He says parents model behavior for their kids! That comment reminded me of a recent basketball practice when I noticed most of the parents focused on their cell phone screens the entire time. Some were texting, some were reading emails, but for the most part, there was little interaction between adults.

Oberschneider says that it’s such an irony for parents to complain about their kid’s lack of attention and tendency to depend on screen time, especially when they can’t turn it off themselves. He describes his observation of a visit to Costco on the weekend and seeing excited families carrying out  huge flat screen televisions, as if they are “coming home from the hunt with a bear!”

Regarding kids with academic problems and signs of nervousness, Oberschneider explains: “I would say there’s a tendency in our society to focus on the labels and diagnosis more than there needs to be. For over half of kids that come in here, the parents say ‘fix my kid, he’s ADHD or OCD.’” In Oberschneider’s practice, he observes that seven out of ten families come to him convinced their child has a diagnosable disorder.

“The kid may have attentional problems, or anxiety, or sensory problems, but it could be secondary to family dynamics. In reality, when we slow things down, and work on the way families engage, it’s not surprising that the anxiety goes away. The impulsivity diminishes,” says Oberschneider.

He recommends to parents that they try to spend more time talking–and the perfect place is at the dinner table. In our region, Oberschneider recognizes the reality of long commutes and long days at work. Then there’s basketball or play practice. Of course, making dinnertime a daily ritual is challenging. But we have to try, Oberschneider believes.

In his practice, he works to help parents become more in sync and more consistent. The result–“often the symptoms dissipate.” He says to consider whether your kid is acting out. “Attention symptoms often indicate that they’re in need–that they want more time together.”

He also recommends we lower pressure and stress on our kids to achieve. Oberschneider tells this story of one of his patients, a prominent and successful father of a three-year-old. The man asked: “Doc, what do I got to do to get my kid into Harvard?” Oberschneider was obviously shocked, and he answered, “Why don’t you let him be three, four and five.” The best thing any parent can do, The psychologist explains, is to expose them to all kinds of things, but let them be a kid.

Oberschneider is a columnist for The Washington Post, he’s won the Top Psychologist award from The Washingtonian.

Watch Dr. Oberschneider speak on stress and the economy on local news channel 8.

Oberschneider’s practice offers a workshop on parenting difficult children. It covers:

  • Developmental perspectives on age appropriate behaviors
  • Parenting strategies and techniques
  • Self care and support

Classes are led by Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services psychologists.  Please contact the office manager, Renee Rider, for more information at

Read more of my articles on technology and teens here.