About the Author
Representation: Erika Storella, The Gernert Company
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An interview with Heather Miller
What made you want to write this book?
My professional life as director of an education firm that works with New York City schools sends me into classrooms on a regular basis. So I get to observe a lot of classrooms in a lot of schools, and work with a huge range--and number of students across the K-12 spectrum. I started noticing that more and more children in grades 3-6 were appearing sleepy---and some were literally asleep. You expect that in high school and in late middle school, but not in elementary school. This was happening in much larger numbers than I'd observed before. It wasn't just due to medication for ADHD. through talking to a wide range of students in the age 8-12 range, it became clear that these young children were playing video games or interacting with screens until quite late in the evening---and even those who were put to bed at a reasonable hour had difficulty falling asleep. The latter was quite possibly due to the effect of the blue light in screens reducing the melatonin that would otherwise have made them sleepy. So it was clear that a major problem was forming that had to due with parenting and screens. These kids were making up for lost sleep in the middle of their English class.
You’ve been teaching some of these ideas in workshops, correct?
Yes, I began to create a workshop for parents around Prime Time Parenting because I realized that parents don't really need abstract ideas; they benefit from concrete advice on how they can structure their lives as parents to avoid some of the pitfalls of the digital age. The response to the workshop was such that I decided to move forward with a book.
And the main idea is that, as you said when we talked, parenting can’t go on forever each night – there has to be a finish line. By better utilizing time (you say between 6-8 p.m.) and exclusively “parenting” during those two hours, parents can have quality time with their kids and also time for themselves. Correct?
Absolutely. Most parent books give lots of wonderful ideas, but they can be difficult to operationalize. Parents understandably have limited time and energy and they have their own needs, as well. It gets a lot harder to parent effectively when you are parenting every minute of the day and most of the evening. We need to liberate parents from this idea that they need to be constantly parenting---and move to intentional parenting for meaningful, but limited amounts of time each day and using the balance of time for living---and modeling---a rich, happy adult life. It has the happy benefit of also reminding us that children need more sleep than we tend to realize, so getting them to bed at an early hour is good for both kids and parents.
Why don’t parents/caregivers utilize that time better? Traditionally, what are the things that easily sidetrack us?
With the advent of the digital age, we have a lot of blurring: for example, blurring of where and when we work. Many of us work from home or modify our work schedules to meet our children's needs---and that is wonderful---but the same flexibility can turn us into people who never quite stop working or parenting. Similarly, family time gets blurred with interacting with friends via social media---this is even more true for parents than it is for the children! Boundaries and structure are important for adults as well as children. The idea with Prime Time Parenting is that you create a structure for school nights that matches your goals and values and then you let that structure protect you. Otherwise, we risk being "on call" at any hour just because others have the ability to text/email/phone us. It's about making sure that technology works for us and not the other way around.
I assume this varies by your kid’s age? (IE: You can get a third-grader to bed by 8 p.m. but good luck doing that with a seventh-grader.)
Sure---and I should note that Prime Time Parenting is for kids ages 5-13. I would try to get a seventh grader in bed by 9pm. It would be hard but the late middle schoolers (age 12 and 13) particularly benefit from structure and sleep.
Devil’s advocate here: A lot of parents don’t get home until close to 6 – 6:15 p.m. and their kids are in an afterschool program. By the time they get home, trying to cook dinner and get the pets fed already sounds frenzied and hectic. Thoughts on this?
There is flexibility. Somewhere between the 6pm to 9pm are the Prime Time Parenting hours. There is also flexibility in who oversees the routine. While it's ideal that a parent oversees the Prime Time Parenting hours, other caregivers can be trained in the routine whether they are grandparents, older siblings, and babysitters. Even after-schools can incorporate some of the techniques in the book for improving their work with children in terms of social-emotional nurturing and homework support.
You mentioned that the book is about primetime parenting in the digital age. Why add this last part – the “in the digital age”?
Because the digital age has transformed the way we live. Everything we do from working, playing, socializing,parenting and learning has been transformed by the digital age over the last two decades. It is important not to just go with the flow, but instead to take a step back and look at what aspects of this revolution are working for us and which are not. Then we can make the technology work for us---again, instead of the other way around. If you look at the Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington, The Little Book of Hygge, Daily Rituals and other popular contemporary books, they are all in the same spirit of designing our lives rather than having our lives designed for us.
Should parents have everyone shut down devices at a certain time, aside from using them for homework?
Yes, aside from needing screens for homework, I would consider the Prime Time Hours to be screen-free for everyone in the house. If parents want to turn them back on after the kids are in bed, they're adults; that's their choice! (But turning them off 30 minutes before bed is just good sleep hygiene!)
Questions excerpted from an interview with Harvard Ed. magazine.