FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Screen Time for Kids

with Den Trumbull, Michelle Cretella | October 8, 2015
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Children are using computers at younger and younger ages. Is this good for them? Pediatricians Dr. Den Trumbull and Dr. Michelle Cretella talk about the effects of screen time on children.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Children are using computers at younger and younger ages. Is this good for them? Pediatricians Dr. Den Trumbull and Dr. Michelle Cretella talk about the effects of screen time on children.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Children are using computers at younger and younger ages. Is this good for them? Pediatricians Dr. Den Trumbull and Dr. Michelle Cretella talk about the effects of screen time on children.

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Screen Time for Kids

With Den Trumbull, Michelle Crete...more
October 08, 2015
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Bob: How much screen time are your children getting—time in front of a screen—whether it’s a pad or a TV?  Dr. Den Trumbull says there are important reasons why you should be limiting the amount of screen time your kids get.

Den: Research has clearly shown through the years that televisions in bedrooms diminish the amount and the quality of sleep. A study about two months ago showed, now, that small screens are associated with less sleep in school-age children—and poorer quality—so another reason. Don’t allow them unlimited use of it because it’s a short-term solution that leads to a long-term problem.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 8th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ve got lots of advice today for parents from pediatricians about how to raise healthy kids.


Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Aren’t you glad your days of going to the pediatrician’s office are over? 

Dennis: Oh, my goodness!  [Laughter]  You know, as childhood illnesses getting passed on to parents—we were sick—

Michelle: Yes.

Dennis: —50 percent of the time, just passing on—the key would have been if both Barbara and I had been pediatricians, like our guests today. We would have had all these antibodies, running around in our bodies, protecting us from all these diseases. Do you guys ever get sick? 

Michelle: That is one of the perks.

Dennis: I mean, seriously.  

Den: Rarely.

Michelle: Rarely.

Dennis: Seriously? 

Michelle: Rarely.

Den: Yes. Our new employees at our office—they’re sick for the first year; but after that—yes; rarely sick.

Michelle: Yes.

Bob: So, the best way to build up your immune system—

Michelle: —is to be a pediatrician.

Dennis: —is to be a pediatrician.

Michelle: Yes. Get exposed to everything.

Dennis: Well, we do have two pediatricians with us. Dr. Michelle Cretella and Dr. Den Trumbull join us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.

Den: Thank you very much.

Michelle: Thank you.


Dennis: They help give leadership to the American College of Pediatricians.

What are you seeing around computer games and screens, at younger and younger ages, with your families that are coming to see you? 

Bob: Now, wait!  That’s a pediatric/medical issue?  I mean, I wouldn’t think I’m taking a child to the doctor and saying, “Doctor, my child is surgically connected to the iPad. What can we do to break it?”—but this is showing up as a part of your practice? 

Den: It is. It is.

Michelle: Yes.

Den: It seems like an innocent form of entertainment; correct? 

Dennis: Right.

Den: Right. I tell my parents, “Would you have given your child, five years ago, an XBOX and a wagon to pull around behind him at three years of age?”  “No, I wouldn’t have thought of it!”  Well, guess what?—the iPad, the tablet—

Michelle: —or the cell phone.

Den: —or the cell phone—increasingly, younger and younger children are being exposed to the screens. There is a medical problem with just screen exposure in general—



—but the content and the world that that brings into their life, at younger and younger ages, is very concerning.

Bob: Dr. Cretella, I can tell you—if I was a dad today, and I had a three-year-old in a car seat in the back, fussy on a long trip, and if my cell phone was the answer to that problem—[Laughter]

Dennis: Bob, would you cave into the dark side? 

Bob: I would cave—I would be there. It would not take caving—I’d be proactive in that regard. [Laughter]  I mean, you can understand why moms and dads quickly go: “My child is calm. Attention is focused here. So, what’s the big deal if he’s playing on an iPad for an hour?” 

Michelle: Exactly.

Bob: What’s the problem? 

Michelle: The real problem that I see—and I think Dr. Trumbull would agree—is that kids are just being handed iPhones and iPads, ad infinitum, almost from the moment they are out of the womb.  And there is a big, actually, character-building problem with that— 


—a particular kind of brain cell—mirror neurons, which contribute to our ability to sympathize and empathize with other people. The only way those neurons mature and grow in the proper way is through face-to-face contact with other people. The more screen time our children have—particularly at younger ages—we’re impeding that development—we are actually going to help them become more self-centered / less capable of empathizing as they get older.

Bob: So, younger ages—are we talking about a two-year-old?  Are we talking about a six-year-old? 

Michelle: No one—no child below the age of two needs any kind of screen time. No child below two should be getting—

Bob: Nothing. No Einstein baby stuff.

Michelle: You know what?  That’s a good marketing ploy, but it’s about money. If you really want to stimulate your baby’s brain: “Goo-goo gaga,”



“Look at Mommy’s eyes, / Look at Daddy’s eyes.”  It is that contact with mom and that contact with dad—be connected to people, not connected to technology.

Bob: —the device.

Michelle: —to the device.

Dennis: Yes.

Michelle: Science says, “The speed at which the images track across the screen—a young child watching that—it wires the brain so that the child is more apt to develop ADD symptoms.

Den: It creates a sense of discontentment when it’s turned off.

Michelle: Yes.

Den: The constant stimulation of the mind from the screen creates this artificial environment. A parent, today, feels like they have to be entertaining their child continuously. So, if we turn the iPad off, then: “I’ve got to be down there, interacting/entertaining with them,” rather than teaching delayed gratification/self-control.

If parents will notice—if they allow their child extended periods of time—let’s say

20 minutes / 30 minutes on a screen of any device—



—when they turn that off, the child is edgy and actually misbehaving, perhaps a bit more than they were before you turned it on. So, Bob, here is what I would say—I agree it’s very tempting to hand the child your cell phone, but it’s delaying potential conflict that would cause that child to grow to be more self-controlled and to delay gratification.

Bob: So, at what point, would you say it is okay—on the long trip—to give the child a DVD to watch in the back seat or a device to play with?  Is that okay to do when they are four or five years old?  When is that okay? 

Den: I really like to limit screen time. So, if you are on a long trip—eight-hour trip—an hour program seems, to me, to be reasonable.

Bob: Okay.

Den: But guess what else is very useful?  Audio CDs, where they are imagining the scenes, which is what we did with our children—



—we didn’t have the DVD when they were younger. That’s more stimulating to the mind than looking at a screen, which requires no creativity, and it’s all about entertainment.

Michelle: Yes.

Bob: Or here is way old-school—give them a coloring book.

Michelle: Yes.

Den: Absolutely.

Bob: I mean, those have kind of gone by the way; right? 

Michelle: Bob, that’s great. I’ve given my kids word searches, crossword puzzles—different things like that. Extended trip beyond two hours—is it going to hurt them to watch a movie on the DVD player?—probably not. But the key is—do not rely on that visual technology on a regular basis.

We want children to connect with other people. We want them to learn empathy, learn sympathy, learn communication skills, and to hone their imagination as Dr. Trumbull said. Reading books—all my kids—they will take a book with them on long trips. When they get tired of that, there is conversation.


Bob: “Just look out the window,”—that’s what they’re—“Just look out the window.” [Laughter] 

Dennis: I have a confession to make. We took five of our grandkids to the Creation Museum up near Cincinnati for a two-day—actually, it was more than a two-day—it was a three-day road trip; okay?  On the way up, I had done some homework. I had coloring pictures that had lessons about your worldview of Creation.

Michelle: Oh, wonderful! 

Dennis: I had some puzzles / I had some riddles.

Michelle: Yes.

Dennis: I had things they had to use their hands, and their minds, and their creativity. I gave each of them lessons on the way back with pipe cleaners to create something as lessons. [Laughter]

Den: Sounds like Vacation Bible School.

Michelle: It really does—on wheels.

Dennis: It was a rolling—

Michelle: —on wheels.

Dennis: —Vacation Bible School.

Michelle: That’s great.

Dennis: But I tell you—

Bob: Listen, I know the answer to this one—yes. I know where this went.

Dennis: —but by the time we moved into lower Kentucky, as we were travelling our way back to Nashville, I had run out. Papa—

Michelle: You know what? 


Dennis: —Papa Kangaroo was out of games.

Michelle: Out of pipe cleaners.

Dennis: Yes, he was. We dropped in the DVD,—

Bob: There you go.

Dennis: —and it got quiet back there.

Michelle: So what?  You’re—yes.

Dennis: But it would have been “So what?” if it had just lasted 90 minutes; but I’m sorry to tell you—much of the trip back—not only to Nashville, but also, to Russellville, Arkansas, where our daughter and her husband live / who was so generous to loan us his van to allow us to take these five kids. It’s easy to understand why parents cave into this.

Den: Sure.

Michelle: Of course.

Den: That’s grandparents’ privilege—

Dennis: Thank you.

Michelle: Yes.

Den: —and sure, their parents had to rehab them when they returned from the grandparents. I understand that / I get that. But let me mention one other point about screen time—sleep / sleep.

Michelle: Yes.

Den: Science and research has clearly shown through the years that televisions in bedrooms diminish the amount and the quality of sleep.



There is a study, now, that small screens are associated with less sleep in school-aged children—and poorer quality—so another reason. Don’t take that screen into the bedroom. Don’t give—don’t allow them unlimited use of it because—I’m going to say again—it’s a short-term solution that leads to a long-term problem.

Michelle: Right.

Bob: Dr. Trumbull, I know one of the things you are very passionate about is cultivating character—for a parent to be working on developing godly character in the life of a child from the very beginning of that child’s life. When a child is two, three, four, five years old, one of the things you are going to have to do is—you’re going to have to correct / you’re going to have to discipline. How do you coach a parent in terms of the discipline toolkit that he or she needs to take into parenting?  What works?  What doesn’t work?  What’s good?  What’s unhealthy? 

Den: You’ve got an hour to talk about that, Bob?  [Laughter] 



It starts with a marriage. We’ve got to model self-control. Secondly, we have to demonstrate our love to our children on a regular basis—face to face—“Hey, where is the electronic device/digital device?”  No, no—take it away!—it’s face to face. Then, thirdly, they need affirmation and correction. They are the two technical terms you might look at. Affirmation is easy. That’s what we love to give our children / they love to receive it. Correction is more difficult, and children must have correction to learn the way to go.

Now, that correction can take many forms. Early on, as an infant, it is distraction; it is restraint; it’s redirection. Then, 12- to 18-months of age, it may be a playpen timeout, where they are in isolation for one-and-a-half to two minutes when the milder measures have failed. Eighteen months to about three-and-a-half—



—you would bring in timeout in a chair and spanking when milder measures fail. Did I say spanking?  Yes, actually, spanking. There is good evidence that when judiciously and caringly used, spanking is very good at enforcing timeouts—because if you enforce the timeout and you are serious about it—then, guess what?  You don’t need to spank very much.

Bob: Now, wait. I thought pediatricians were telling everybody that spanking is a bad thing.

Den: Some may be; but they are not looking at it from a scientific standpoint. It’s more of a social persuasion that we’ve kind of migrated into. And there are a number of reasons for that, but children need guidance.

Here is the problem—18 months to 3 years of age—reasoning doesn’t work; okay?  And I—our toolbox, as you might say, is very limited. Spanking opponents would say: “It’s unlimited. There are all kinds of things you can do.”



Name them for me, please, because there aren’t; but as they get older—three-and-a-half years and up—then, privilege removal.

Michelle: Right.

Den: You can rely even more upon reasoning—natural and logical consequences. All of these things are on our website at our American College of Pediatricians website. But that’s kind of the progression I would take. Remember—affirmation and a devotion to your child and a stable marriage must be the foundation upon which we use those. It is how you use those as much as what you choose.

Bob: And let me just mention to our listeners—if they go to, we’ve got a link to your website so they can find what you are talking about. But I’m fascinated by the fact that, when we begin the conversation on discipline, you talk about the importance of a stable marriage relationship.

Michelle: Absolutely.

Bob: How is that connected to how you discipline a child? 

Den: Children are watching. They are watching how we interact with our spouse—


—how we treat our spouse, how we talk about others, how we serve others, how we help others. They, then, translate that to how they behave with their siblings. You know, the home is kind of a microcosm of the real world. We have to have that foundation of love and respect for one another, as spouses, in order to verbalize that to our children and require that of them.

Dennis: And they pick up the concept of respecting another human being—

Michelle: Oh, yes.

Dennis: —through the attitudes of Mom and Dad. And as little children, they lock on their faces, like radar units—and they are detecting: “Is there a bit of disrespect?” “…cynicism?” “…trying to hurt the other person?”  If they don’t catch that in those early years, they are going to practice it well into adulthood.

Michelle: Yes.

Bob: So, I’m presuming both of you—Dr. Cretella/Dr. Trumbull—you both practiced corporal punishment in your home? 

Michelle: Yes.

Den: Yes.


Michelle: And it was never the first resort; but absolutely, there were times.

Bob: So, when did you do it?  How did you do it?  Kind of walk us through it. How did you decide, “Okay, this is a spanking, not a timeout”? 

Michelle: When I’m talking to parents or others, I will say, “If safety is a concern—that is not a time to talk to your toddler.”  [Laughter] 

Bob: Right.

Michelle: They are going to touch the hot stove—in that case—I mean, one of my little boys went for that. I just grabbed his hand—quick little slap on the hand—that’s it: “No!  Hot!”  He didn’t try it—he got the point.

Bob: Right.

Michelle: He got the message. My little girl was refusing to hold my hand to cross the street. She got a little swat on the bottom and was brought right back into the house. Safety is a big one for me. I think, Dr. Trumbull, you were alluding to also in other scenarios— 

Den: Reinforcing milder measures—

Michelle: Yes.

Den: —such as a child not staying in timeout / disrespectful behavior,—



—when milder measures have failed. I always want to say, “When milder measures have failed…” 

Michelle: Right.

Den: One of the reasons spanking doesn’t work for some folks is they use it excessively. They don’t reinforce the milder measures first, or they don’t use the milder measures first.

Bob: Do you advocate using a hand?—using a wooden spoon?  How did you do it when you were raising your kids? 

Den: Well, I pretty much leave that up to the parent—but a flexible paddle like the bow ball paddle kind of thing, that’s made of paper board would be fine—or the open hand—one or two swats to the bottom, always in private. This is really important—the child should always be forewarned: “If you do ‘A,’ ‘B,’ or ‘C,’ you are going to get a spanking.”  He or she does “A”—“We’re going to get a spanking.”  You don’t impulsively use it.

Bob: Right.

Den: But rather, if you forewarn them and if you always use a method, as I’ve just described, then, the child will not perceive that as hitting.



Hitting is impulsive / aggressive; but whenever you are proactive, rather than reactive,—

Michelle: Right.

Den: —and those are two key words—

Michelle: That’s very key.

Den: —when you use spanking, proactively, in a loving manner, as I’ve just described, your child will appreciate that that was not retaliation / aggressive retaliation but rather a deserved consequence.

Bob: You and Barbara—you practiced corporal discipline with your children and kind of had a framework set out for how you did it; right? 

Dennis: Right. Barbara called it a measured amount of pain—so it wasn’t too much. It was an appropriate amount of pain.

Bob: Never bruising.

Dennis: No.

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: No, but it was appropriate to the situation that had occurred. For us—what we gave a spanking for—we really got out of Proverbs, Chapter 6, verses 16-19. There, it lays out some things God hates. It was bloodshed—now, I’m not talking about reserving spanking for murder.



 [Laughter]  I’m talking about—you know—biting.

Michelle: Yes.

Dennis: We wanted our children to understand, “You don’t bite to get your way.”

A lying tongue—we wanted our children to understand that deceit was really an important issue. There is a time between the ages of three-and-a-half, and four, and five-and-a-half and six, where kids go to some school of lying—I don’t know where it is / it is a boot camp—but every one of our kids all went there. It’s like—they just come up with these extravagant lies that are impossible to believe. But it’s amazing how gullible we can be, as parents, to think that it really is the truth; you know?  Yet, what you have to do is train your children to understand: “God doesn’t like that, and there is a reason why. The truth matters.” 

So, you are really helping your children understand where the boundaries are—and also, at the same time, understanding there is a loving, compassionate, grace-filled God behind the rules / behind the standards.



It’s not just holding a standard up to your child—and rules.

Michelle: Right.

Dennis: It’s bathed—and that’s really back to what you talked about, Dr. Trumbull—about the relationship of a mom and dad—it’s bathed in a relationship—both the context of the marriage, but also, a relationship with the child.

Den: And the child knows the difference between a parent, who is disciplining for their own convenience versus for their own good / the child’s own good. They’ll detect that in a minute.

So, if you’re doing it—just walk us through how you would—let’s say the child is misbehaving. You say: “Come on. We’re going back to your room. You are going to get a spanking.”  Is that how you’d do it? 

Dennis: Well, the younger the child, the closer the time to the actual discipline—

Bob: —the transgression.

Dennis: Yes.

Michelle: Right.

Dennis: With a young child / a toddler, you’ve got to do it almost immediately. They tie the transgression to the pain, and they get it. As they get older, I would discipline—or Barbara would—she might say, “When your dad gets home, we’re going to have a conversation.” 



Well, they all knew that Dad would come home. So, a part of the punishment was anticipating—

Bob: —the conversation.

Dennis: —yes—the conversation and dealing—because I wanted our children to know that behind their mother stood their dad, who was going to protect her and was not going to let them mug her.

Bob: A few swats / a measured amount of pain—

Dennis: Well, and it’s bookended, on both sides, by love: “I love you. That’s why we are talking about training you to do what’s right.”  And you have that conversation before you do the spanking; and then, you affirm them again at the end, after the crying has occurred and after they are on your lap. You’re holding them, and you’re caring for them. Then, you say, “I just want you to know—I love you. If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t go to this trouble because the easiest thing for Daddy or Mommy to do is nothing.” 

Bob: You and Barbara sat down with a group of young parents, a number of years ago; and we brought in some video cameras. It wasn’t a fancy anything.



It was just that conversation to have you talk about—

Dennis: Right.

Bob: —earlier childhood discipline. Those videos are still available. If young parents would like to watch you and Barbara interact over spanking and other issues facing parents of young children—hear how you guys handled this when you were raising your kids—go to and click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” Look for the Right from the Start video series from Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY to request the videos—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” 

By the way, on our website at, we have a link to the American College of Pediatricians website as well. If you’d like to find out more about the ACP, and about the work they do, and about the resources they offer—some great resources/



good stuff to download and go over, together as a family—go to and look for the information about the American College of Pediatricians.

You know, undergirding everything we’ve talked about today is this fundamental idea that what really matters, as parents, is that we bring up our children in the nurture—the Bible calls it the nurture and admonition of the Lord so they understand God’s love, and His care, and they understand His discipline as well. We model it in how we love and care for them and in how we discipline them.

Here, at FamilyLife, we believe that spiritual foundation is essential for your family. Our goal is to see every home be a godly home. So, this daily radio program is all about providing practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and for your family.

And we have a number of you who listen who feel that goal is important as well.



We know that because, from time to time, we’ll hear from listeners who say, “Keep doing what you’re doing, and we want to help make it happen,”—folks who will call us, or go online, or write to us and mail a donation to help cover the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program.

If you’d like to help with a donation today, we’d be encouraged by that. We’d love to hear from you. You can mail your check to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223. Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY—make your donation over the phone. Or you can go online— is the website. Click in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, where it says, “I Care,” and make an online donation.

When you donate today, we’d like to send you a thank-you gift. It’s a resource from Barbara Rainey called “Untie Your Story.” It’s all about getting conversation happening at the dinner table—



—either during a special occasion or just on a night when you’ve got everybody having dinner together at your house. You can request the “Untie Your Story” resource when you make a donation, and we are happy to send it out to you.

Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about some of the health issues that preteens and teens face. One of those things we’re going to talk about is Attention Deficit Disorder. So, I hope our listeners can tune in for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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