Saying it Plain

If there were a food that your child wanted to eat and you knew that if they ate it they would be at increased risk for: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, bullying, sexism, racism, obesity, radicalization and being preyed upon by sexual predators, would you let them eat it?

If they really wanted to eat it (all their friends were eating it!) yet you knew that it was likely to: decrease their literacy, their empathy, their ability to read social cues and their engagement with family, relatives, neighbors, community and the natural world, would you let them eat it?

If they really, really wanted to eat it (and your child hated you because you wouldn't let them eat it) but you knew that that they would, upon eating it, spend hours alone in their room and  become disengaged from family meals and activities, and you also knew that when this food ran out, or it was time to buy more, there would be bitter arguments between you and them (and there would likely be lying and sneaking on their part, in order to get it if you denied them more). Would you have this food in your house?

Would you let them eat it so that if they decided to eat that food when they were older that they would have "practice" with having eaten it earlier (remember those increased risks: anxiety, depression, radicalization, bullying, lack of empathy...)? Would you want them to eat it so that you could "talk to them about it" (remember: this food makes kids much less receptive to the adults who should have influence, another one of it's effects is dividing kids from the adults who care for them)?

Wouldn't it make more sense to wait until their brain was more fully developed before exposing them to such a risky food? Wouldn't it make more sense to support immune health--made up of knowing oneself, connecting to the natural world, having interests that come from within, being embedded in community, and having a soft heart-- before being exposed to such a dangerous substance?

Yes, your child may get extremely angry at being denied what they want; that is likely and, also, fine. It has never been our responsibility as parents to give our children what they want; it is our responsibility to make sure we are providing what our children need.

In the area of the internet what our kids need is: protection from gaming companies who use our understanding of neuroscience to lure and addict kids (not a very different model than the one used by Juul), protection from Youtube algorithms designed to manipulate, radicalize and prey on the young and vulnerable, and protection from a social media culture where conformity rules, bullying is commonplace and armoring oneself becomes a necessity due to the wounding that is rampant.

When you mess with immature brains and tender emotions, you get serious consequences that affect not only current, but also future, development. We need to take a clear-eyed look at exactly what we are allowing exposure to when we allow access to YouTube, Snapchat and facebook. We cannot afford to be hazy-eyed, out-of-touch, "cool", "relaxed" or laissez-faire in this area of parenting; the stakes are far too high.


{This post was inspired by: learning who PewDiePie is, hearing one too many tweens claim that their goal is to be "an influencer" when they grow up and hearing from several parents over the course of a few weeks about how their white teen boys were becoming more misogynistic and anti-semitic after spending time on Youtube.}


Want to learn how to support healthy emotional development (beyond nixing Youtube) - Heart Matters: The Science of Emotion begins in two weeks.


  1. Amy on December 22, 2020 at 8:27 pm

    I was exploring your website and came across this post, and I don’t know if you’re aware of how judgmental it seems. Screen time is so much more complex than junk food; this is why there are books written about it by experts, endless newspaper articles, workshops like your own, etc. Nobody seriously disputes that junk food is unhealthy or whether parents should feed it to their kids all the time. But screen time touches on issues of social skills, family structure, neurodiversity, and other similarly complex concerns. Maybe treat it with the seriousness it deserves? This kind of dismissive sanctimony drives me away from the Neufeld approach, which I would otherwise be drawn toward. How about a nuanced exploration of what screen time even consists of, technological solutions for protecting children from the dangerous corners of the internet, ways for parents to stay involved in their kids’ internet activity, insight into the ways autistic and ADHD kids relate to screentime. Yes, my child spends hours alone in his room (during a pandemic) online. But I know *exactly* what he is doing in there; he’s practicing his Minecraft skills and texting (nicely) with peers about video games they have played or are planning to play together. Would he be angry if I deleted Minecraft? Absolutely. He is autistic, which at age 11 means he has trouble regulating his emotions and coping with ambiguity (like how to entertain himself if he can’t do the thing he loves to do) and trouble with transitions (switching from one activity to another) and sensory processing (such that “healthy” time outside or in family conversation is stressful). He would be beyond angry; he would become violent toward others, our home, and himself. Your post about all the terrible things that will happen if we let our kids “eat all the candy” they want — “anxiety, depression, eating disorders, bullying, sexism, racism, obesity, radicalization and being preyed upon by sexual predators” — doesn’t even begin to describe either the positive effects of screentime for my family or the negatives we would all experience if we tried to go screen-free. I hope my perspective is valuable for you; it is precisely the kind of knee-jerk preachiness I see in your post that makes me think that what you tout as guidance and help for families might in fact do more harm than good.

    • on December 22, 2020 at 9:31 pm

      Hi Aimee,
      I really appreciate your comment here and I’m sorry that you found my post offensive in the ways you describe. I don’t think any sort of “debate” via comments will be at all useful, but please know that I have lots of thoughts on screen time and kids who are hypersensitive and/or on the autism spectrum and appreciate what you describe going on in your house and for your son. As I noted at the bottom of this post, I realized it was a bit of a “rant” and it was fueled by a specific set of circumstances and was meant as a reply to a certain flip way of thinking about internet usage (which sounds very different than the way you approach it!). In any case, thanks for letting me know and I’m sorry if this soured you on the Neufeld paradigm because I believe (as do many of the parents of autistic kids that I work with) that it has something quite different and powerful to add to the conversation about parenting neurodiverse kids.

    • Tamara on March 7, 2021 at 6:08 am

      I’m in a group that focuses on moderating and managing tech in teens and something that has come up a lot is using a good monitoring tool. There are benefits to tech as well as dangers, and thoughtful monitoring by parents (especially of social media sites) can help keep kids safe.

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