Tiffani Thiessen Shares Her Genius Secret to Avoiding Screen Time With Kids
The chef and actress chatted exclusively with Parents.com about how she and her husband Brady Smith work to keep their devices at bay and prioritize family time.
For years, Tiffani Thiessen has worn a variety of hats, both professionally and personally. She's an actress, producer, director, chef, author, wife to artist and illustrator Brady Smith, and mom to Harper, 8, and Holt, 3. Juggling all those roles is, in part, what inspired her most recent book, co-authored with Smith, called You're Missing It! The synopsis: "A busy Hollywood couple spins a hilarious cautionary tale about what happens when you are glued to your phone."
Limiting the whole family's screen time is something that all too many moms and dads can relate to these days. And even though they may have written a cautionary tale about it, Thiessen and Smith, like most parents, consider their efforts to stay off their devices and encourage their kids to do non-screen activities a work in progress.
"We're not perfect, and our job is not a 9-to-5 where we can go somewhere else and be doing the phone stuff and computer stuff," Thiessen tells Parents.com. "So, it's been really challenging at times, and that's why the book came about. But we really try to pick moments, especially now that our kids are in school. [We try to] get it done before they get home from school. And then from the time they're home from school until they go to bed, it's like, no phone."
One of the main observations Thiessen has made over the years is that not every kid is going to gravitate to screen time in the same way, because every kid is different in how they like to play.
"It really depends on your child," she tells Parents.com. "There are some kids who are fascinated by it and some who really could care less about it. Harper wasn't huge with it. It wasn't until she got a little bit older; she was introduced to the iPad when she was younger, but it was only because we were flying back and forth to New York. We had a five-and-half flight back and forth, because we were living half in New York, half in L.A. But she's always been that kid who likes to be outside. She's a very active, active kid, where Holton is a little more—he's a boy, so he's super-active—but he plays with his little figurines and cars and trains. He likes to sit there and do all of that. Harper was much more ... outside, climbing on trees, going on her bike. It's interesting how your kids can be so different, but they're also very similar in that sense too. Harper, as she's gotten older, enjoys sitting and doing a puzzle with us."
In fact, Harper takes after her dad, Brady Smith, who is an artist and illustrator. "She loves to sit and draw," Tiffani explains. "We'll do this big huge coloring posters, and literally, she's just finished one, and she was excited that when she finished one, I would get her another. She starts her new art class today."
She and Smith also make a point to prioritize memorable family moments, which Thiessen feels grateful to have had many of growing up. "I go back to the memories for me when I was growing up," she shares. "We didn't have phones, we didn't have iPads, we didn't have any kind of that stuff, so we sat, and we talked to our parents, and we talked about the day." Thiessen also recalls cooking with her mom and gardening with her dad, which is why she has gone on to share both of those activities with her husband and children.
"The whole point of cooking and my book [Pull Up a Chair: Recipes from My Family to Yours] was about the fact that we always had family dinners pretty much," Thiessen explains. "We didn't come from a lot of money, so we didn't go out to eat a ton, so it was pretty much family dinners six, seven days a week. That was definitely a huge time when I was bonding and having moments with my family. My brothers were out mowing the lawn and doing yard work my dad. But I was also doing that too. That's where I get my green thumb, from my dad."
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Now, the Thiessen-Smith Los Angeles residence is home to a colorful, bucolic garden and chickens that the kids interact with daily. "The garden is out there, and [we have] chickens, of course," Thiessen notes. "They help us come and gather the eggs in the afternoon."
While other families' favorite pastimes and efforts to curb screen time may be unique, Thiessen believes that, for everyone, striking the right balance is a matter of listening to your intuition. "I feel like every parent has had those moments of knowing when it was good or not good to be unplugging," she says. "I think you can feel it, you know when it's just too much, you know? And there are days when there's just no choice, and that's okay, too. We're not here to judge. I just think it's all about balance, you know."
You can check out Tiffani Thiessen's "How I Mom" episode on IGTV, beginning May 7 on @Parents Instagram.