Technology isn’t going away.
In fact, it’s becoming more and more entrenched in everything we do. For our kids, it’s all-encompassing. It’s how they do homework, connect with their friends, watch videos, play games, and learn about sex.
There, I said it.
This week, we’re going to take a deep, collective breath, put our “big-parent pants” on, and deal with an uncomfortable reality.
It’s my pleasure to welcome Therapist Dr. Laura Anderson, as we address the alarming truth about screens and their impact on our children. As an expert counselor on the subject, Laura brings us the scary stats and shares the critical warning signs parents need to immediately put on their radar. (Plus, she offers-up reasonable solutions for keeping our kid’s screen time in check.)
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Wake-up call ~ Research results to slap us in the face
- How technology chemically & structurally changes the brain
- Recognizing the negative signs of damage
- Determining appropriate screen-time based on age group
- The benefit of transparent, random tech-checks
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
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- 6 risks with technology and kids and 6 strategies to utilize immediately to address those risks
- Dr Laura Anderson’s Website – www.drlauraanderson.com
- Dr Laura Anderson’s Facebook Page – Common Chord Psychology Services.
- Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
We’re delighted by our recent nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts!
Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, it is 8 am in New York, 3 am in Johannesburg and 8 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I’m a solution oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition
So what would you give up first before your phone? Coffee, bathing, sex?
You might be surprised or maybe not that I came across a survey on the internet about iPhone users and 40% said they’d give up coffee before they would their phone, 18% percent said they’d stop bathing every day and 15% said they’d rather give up sex.
I think we have a problem with our phones.
That says so much because we are adults and we’re making good decisions and we still would rather go without bathing then our phone. Coffee I think is a really hard dilemma, and don’t make me choose between my phone and my coffee by the way.
Grown adults, educated, good problem solvers, solution-oriented, rational, and we struggle with phone addiction.
Here’s the thing, while we’re doing that we’re telling our kids to put their iPads away.
We have our own problems, but what are we creating with our children. Studies show that excessive use of technology can chemically and structurally change our children’s brains. And think about it, I mean when I was a kid, I would play on Pac-Man and my dad would give me rolls of 25 cents, quarters in the US and I would play this game for an hour every, I don’t know 3 months when I got near a big Pac-Man game.
Things are changing, times are changing and the demands that are put on us as parents are changing.
As a parent of two young boys, I can’t tell you how often I think about this. This is probably on the top of my parenting questions is, “How do I handle technology in the home so that my kids use it responsibly for school, for assignments, for learning, for entertainment. But not that they stumble across things that are deeply inappropriate or start engaging in games that are going to change the way that they engage in the family and with others.”
I know I’m not alone, so what I have done today for Expat Happy Hour is, I’ve invited a specialist who can help us understand how we can work with our kids and tech so that we’re feeling good about how we are raising our kids today.
It is my heartfelt pleasure to welcome Doctor Laura Anderson back to Expat Happy Hour again. You might recognize her from a previous episode where we talked about gender expansive kids. She’s back as a clinical child and family psychologist who is specialized in serving globally mobile families. And today she is going to share with us her growing expertise on screen use with kids.
I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Anderson in Bangkok during a presentation that we did together on technology and how we can leverage it for the good as globally mobile families and what we can do to avoid the bad.
Sundae: So Laura, thank you so much for joining us today and welcome back to Expat Happy Hour.
Laura: Thanks for having me Sundae, it’s wonderful to be here again.
Sundae: So listen, today’s topic is on, I’m pretty sure every single parents mind. My sixth grader came home this year with a Macbook, they have screen time in school, now they’re doing their homework on their computers and much of it is legit, multimedia, etc, etc. But I feel like my kid has access to a Google, like a Gmail account, a laptop and the internet and I’m scared.
So tell us, I’ve invited you on to talk about screens and teens or tweens and younger, we want to know as parents, especially parents who are living abroad and are interacting with people from all over the world with different cultural backgrounds, different priorities. We might even use our screens as a little bit of a babysitter in transitions when it’s hard to sit in a hotel or an empty house with no container.
Tell me, let’s start with the stuff that scares the pants out of us. What should we as parents need to know about our children and screens?
Laura: Wow, yes, it’s one of those. I’m trying to hit that sweet spot where today people live with the idea that they should probably be a little scared. They should be a lot of scared because we’re getting more and more information about how much impact technology and screen time and the various risks associated with some of those screen times can really impact development.
But I also want people to leave today with the sense of, you know, there are things you can do. So that it’s definitely like heavy-hitting when you really dive into the numbers and the, quote problems that come out of issues with screens and yeah stick with us because there’s things to do.
So, I think one of the things that stands out for parents, me right away is just usage and what we know about use. I think the first thing to say is in addition to other issues around tech, a lot of people understand that too much technology, we will talk about too much and what the research shows, leads to actual changes in the brain both chemically and structurally, we can see bring change in parts of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. Parts of your brain shrink is the best that they’re able to tell us right now and it can lead the way the brain changes, can lead to lower reports of happiness, worse sleep, worse concentration, moods that are all over the place not being able to complete stuff they start and then agitation and irritation with other people in your life.
Sundae: I’m just wondering how do we tell the difference between adolescents and these negative signs.
Laura: I think what you’ll start to see are some other indicators, we pair those with other indicators of like when you know your kid is is really kind of tied to their device.
So there’s two ways that we look at what’s problematic;
One is just straight-up time of use and how much use because that will give you some indication of the likelihood that the brain structure is changing.
Two is the behaviors that your kid has around their tech use.
So we know right now for instance some of the scary stats with screen time as that very recently “Common Sense Media” here in the States did a little bit of research and surveys about eight to twelve year olds these days in the States. And I would agree with you Sundae, I think from my experiences in and out of expat living, I would say these numbers are higher from globally mobile families because of some of those factors you mentioned. My experience was that, the great news is it’s a beautifully tech-savvy world our kids are going to be super proficient to navigate the way the world has become reliant on technology. And I think my experience directly has been that communities who are far-flung and people are trying to stay connected with loved ones spend a lot more time and our kids and international schools have a lot more learning online than many other places. So know that these steps I’m about to say are typically US-based and imagine then if they’re even more exaggerated for kids in a global nomad community. So right now eight to twelve year olds are most recently surveyed to be on a device of some kind 4 hours and 45 minutes a day.
Sundae So easy when you have to the screen time at school and their homework.
Laura: And that’s what they talk about, they actually say when you look at it, there’s school and homework going on and that some of that they’re still teasing him out because when you pull the data together, some of it includes school at home or the best estimate of school data and this 4 hours and 45 minutes is estimated in addition to that.
So that’s a lot of time and they find that really when you talk to kids and ask them what they’re doing and get them to rate it, kids say they’re spending 70% of their time watching passive videos, kids report 70% so we can guess that’s also higher.
Sundae: I’m so sorry, I need to vent right now, like I know I’m kind of like 1982 right now, but when you are watching other people watch other people play a game, there has to be something wrong with that.
Laura: So right, and here’s the other dilemma that parents face, is that most of us hold a fair amount of judgment about elements of what our kids are doing. I do and then and it’s understandable and it also, as will see, we have to find ways to join them about this because much to my chagrin as a person who’s not a tech native, this is not going away. We are in it, it is not going away we as families and parents have got to figure out how we are going to stay in relationship to our kids while they are trying to navigate finding moderation. Because we know eight to twelve year olds are getting almost 5 hours, and a recent survey here in the States also said that 20%, so 1 in 5 of eight year olds already had their own smartphone. So now you have a wow portable device that adds to the dilemma of being able to turn away from the device in front of you. And then the most recent data on thirteen to eighteen year olds was 7 hours and 22 minutes minutes a day.
Sundae Okay, wait a minute because you and I did a presentation together in Bangkok where you talked about the hours where the brain starts to change and isn’t 7 there where the brain is already being impacted.
Laura: Exactly, the best research we have now says 7 hours of screen use at a time over time is the tipping point at which we can say there are actual changes in the structure of the brain that contribute to what I was mentioning, decreased mood, more unhappiness, more sleep, difficulty concentrating and finishing things and then kind of emotionally being all over the place. And I know we talked about how those are many of the hallmarks for adolescence. And yeah, because that part of adolescence is a part of growing brains and like I always say building bridges in your brain basically is a big thing is what adolescence is doing. And what tech use will do is really limit some of that bridge building if there’s really high exposure over time.
So we know that there are structural changes, we also know that there are chemical changes, it’s not just structural. Here’s the thing that I think is important for parents to understand or another thing that is important for parents to understand, is that in addition to the actual changes in the brain structure, you also have changes in brain chemistry.
And tech use and invigorating and exciting constantly changing imagery games that you’re into, they impact the brain, they utilize, to take them in and to process them, they utilize, they use the same combinations of pathways in the brain. It’s the pleasure pathway and the reward center, those are the same pathways in the brain associated with other addictions, with cocaine addiction, drug addiction, sex addiction any addiction that we’re learning more and more about, involves two main pathways, pleasure pathway and reward center we call them and it’s the same.
Sundae: It’s crazy, so right now I feel like I want to just say hello to all the children that are listening because their moms and dads have set them down and made them listen to this replay because, hello honey I’m going to make you listen to this after it goes live.
Children need to understand how serious this is, it’s nuts and there’s gonna be people who say, “Yeah, yeah, there’s always resistance to technology. People thought that the telephone was going to ruin relationships and then people thought that TV was going to ruin the family.” So people are going to discount that too much tech is going to make an impact, but it’s really hard to ignore brain science.
Laura: Hmm, yes, I agree.
Sundae: I need to take a little breath right now because I’m getting all hyped up, this topic is making me crazy. And what we do on Friday night, we do movies and it’s always like, there’s an age difference with my boys, so there’s a fight around what are we going to watch and I’m like “You guys tonight it’s like 1982, we are going to watch one movie the whole family and not you on your device and on demand.” You know what I mean, and it just makes me feel like we’re also ingraining this on-demand habit when they’re constantly getting immediate reward from their tech.
Laura: Yes, and we’re doing that behaviourally and we’re doing it brain wiring, we’re doing it both ways. We’re teaching them that they can immediately that they can gratify themselves immediately and they can feel good and they don’t have to be uncomfortable for any length of time because we’re going to be able to do exactly what they want to do quickly. And we’re creating that in the brain circuitry in terms of constant rewards and they get dopamine rushes. I mean all the chemistry behind bursts of happy chemicals in their brains when they’re doing something they like and that lends itself to meeting more and more and wanting more and getting more and more time, which just creates this feedback loop.
Sundae: That sounds serious. Why do you think, why aren’t more people talking about this?
Laura: I think it’s really, you know, we know technology is a double-edged sword, I think we’ve all come to rely on it. I also think the grown-ups, myself included sometimes, who should be having these conversations are looking at our screens. Because we all got, if you look at adult use in the States was up to almost 10 hours or something, and I don’t know about you, but there have definitely been times when I’m trying to police, I’ve heard myself say out loud to my son “Well when you start paying the mortgage with that screen, then we can talk.” As he’s calling me out for being on the screen and doing things.
And I think we’re just starting to get the research, people are resistant to naming it because we love tech. And globally nomadic families need it to stay connected to other people. You need to stay connected to resources, local resources. FaceTiming old friends, as you mentioned in transition keeping kids busy while you’re managing six million life details. And I think we’re resistant because we’re almost scared to go there I think with ourselves and our kids.
Sundae: The other morning, my son goes to me “Mom, can we just have a tech-free morning?” Because I was like making eggs and checking my phone. And I thought “Oh my gosh, my 6th grade son is totally calling me out right now.” Like wake-up call!
Okay, so this is honestly just what, like you already had me at hello. Like when the brain is changing, the chemistry changing freaks me out. But I know there’s more, you talk about six key risks, what else is there?
Laura: So, we also know that depression rates have steadily climbed since, I think it was, yeah major depression among sixteen to twenty year olds more than doubled from 2009 to 2017. 2009 is seen as kind of a hallmark moment in our history, when handheld devices were sort of largely introduced and there were, some studies report as much as a 70% increase in depression and anxiety in teens. And we’re really trying to get to the bottom of this. I mean can’t really be one factor, but one of the main ways of thinking about it, is that what we learn is a big stressor for teens is social comparison leading to depression and anxiety. And although we tend to see the research shows that girls are especially impacted by this. So they’re comparing their life to the Kardashians or they’re comparing their bodies and faces to the tons of Photoshopped images they’ve seen or they’re looking at their friend’s life that looks so glamorous and enticing, because nobody posts the fever of a hundred. It’s you just don’t do that, ou pick your best life and put it on blast and everybody knows your best life isn’t your real life ultimately. So that depression and anxiety is a big part of this and we know, there are more and more research showing the more time your kid spends on screens, the more likely they are to endorse symptoms of depression.
Sundae: Okay, so we’ve got brain changes, chemical changes, depression anxiety, so compare and despair. What else?
Laura: Just online bullying, exclusion. So you have the comparison that kids are doing on their own to other people and then you have the stress and the strain and the exclusion and hurtful words and things that are that are happening online.
And I will say too, this is another thing, I know lots of parents to be worried about that and to be talking to their son about that. But I’ve spent a fair amount of time on school campuses and you know boys are involved in this as well, they are definitely doing it.
There are a lot of social issues that would come up because of things that were said in chats offline overnight or online overnight and then it comes into school. And so there’s a lot of active harm to people’s spirits and self images being done. Both with passive exclusion, like I often say back in the day when I was a kid in high school, I didn’t get invited to lots of things because nobody gets invited to everything, but I just didn’t know about it at the time because I wasn’t seeing all the cool pictures posted afterwards as intentional statements sometimes. So exclusion and bullying happen, that’s another key risk.
Sundae Okay, it’s just terrible, I think about that any bullying that went on in high school or grade school was as fast as whispering could happen down the hall, not marked forever digitally, I’m glad they didn’t have social media in college, just another side note there. Okay, what else?
Laura: The one we think about most often is predators, and it’s interesting we teach our kids the stranger danger and it could be not who you think it is approaching you online and now you’re giving them tons of information. And that is still a very real risk, all the ability for folks to find our kids based on their snap maps and etc. etc. So the reality is, it is still a risk for folks that people are online, very unwell individuals are online posing as kids and learning about our kids and potentially ending up with our kids in extremely unsafe situations. So most people go to that first, they think that’s the primary danger involved in lots of social media, and it is still a danger but it’s not the primary or the only I would say.
Sundae You know when I was in Switzerland, in 2016, there was a child in Switzerland who got abducted and brought to Germany and the man found this twelve year old boy via Minecraft. And it was this huge thing, I was following the news with my son because it was you know, he’s missing, where is he? And then that when it came out where he was and how he got abducted it was such a wake-up call for my son of, this isn’t something that just happened in 1970, this is still going on and in places that we play.
So that’s crazy, phew we gonna get through the rest fast because I’m gonna vomit. And I want to offer some hope, what are the other ones?
Laura: The last two are the gaming addictions, highly addictive and the question “How do you know the difference between somebody likes to game a lot and somebody who’s addicted?” We can chat about that.
I think the stats on how quickly gaming is becoming increasingly addictive and isn’t just a pastime, estimates are as high as 40% actually in parts of Asia around gaming addictions estimated to have folks that are having more and more game time, are cranky when they can’t have it, lie and cheat and are dishonest. Good kids dishonest to their parents about use and try to cut back but can’t and notice that they’re cranky and go through really honestly withdrawal, it’s like a withdrawal when they’re when they’re not on it.
So gaming addictions in some ways the easiest thing to draw, and easy, the next one is too, and easy thing to draw parallels to our classic kind of addiction model with the brain changes and the happy chemicals and kids and wanting more and more to get back to their baseline of a good mood. So gaming addictions are definitely, The fifteen to sixteen year old boys are the greatest risk for gaming addictions, where interestingly enough girls risk for truly unhealthy relationship to media is phones. So girls tend to find themselves attached to their phones in unhealthy ways and boys end up by age fifteen or sixteen at a big risk for gaming addictions.
Sundae Okay, and so you left this last one last on purpose, didn’t you?
Laura: I did, I wanted to work into the title that this week we’re going to be talking about pornography for their children,
Sundae: This is something I don’t want to even think it’s something that my kids will ever get exposed to, but I’m not naive. You told me when we were doing the research for our conference in Bangkok that by age nine most kids have been exposed to porn online. Is that true?
Laura: It is true, either on a friend’s, one of those eight year olds that now has their own smartphone, at school or whatever. They’re there, they’re being shown pornographic images, either through their own discovery or through a friend or a buddy or somebody’s older sibling or cousin introducing them to a variety of pornographic images by age nine. That was one of those super scary numbers for most parents that is jaw-dropping.
Sundae: Yeah, you should see my face, like I’m just, the revolt and disgust on my face and shaking my head at the same time. I just can’t even start, like I cannot let it in my brain that kids so young are going to be exposed at that age to something they’re not developmentally ready for.
Okay, so what we need to do before people vomit like I feel like doing, is let us understand, where do we have control? What can we do to minimize these risks?
Laura: Yes, you know what the way I sort of boiled them down, is sort of handily enough, they’re sort of six strategies, they don’t go one for one, but they’re a great way to think about having a family plan. And this is one of those things where it’s not going away. It’s similar to how your family may approach alcohol use or drug use or, like this is dating and sexuality and safety, like these are conversations that if we stick our head in the sand about then our kids are not prepared, they’re not prepared to find balance, to find moderation, to learn how to keep the good stuff about technology and not get sucked into the parts that are bringing life changing and depression causing.
Sundae: I want to just know from the audience, like how many people right now want to stick their fingers in their ears and go la la la la look just let’s ignore it, so go away. These are tough conversations.
Laura: They definitely are, you hear a lot of people say, “Well not not my kid.” and I think they are hard conversations, and they’re hard behavioral changes because it’s real. Honestly, it’s an intervention for the whole family because yes, there is some evidence that for developing brains, what we just know is that your frontal cortex, that’s the part of your brain that controls impulses, helps with thinking and reasoning, that’s not fully developed until twenty five. And so we have reason to believe that the technology uses potentially most brain changing prior to age twenty five, and yet at the same time our brains, our adult brains can also benefit. And here’s the bonus, most families will see the other, quote, benefit is attaching, connecting with your kids because we have at the same described where there’s four people in a room all on a different screen, is not uncommon at all. Or two screens, the two screens for download that our kids have going.
That one, and so this is sort of like a family boot camp. So what do we do? We can’t stick our head in the sand, we can’t shut off technology til the end of time, but there are a couple of strategies. And the first one that I say is sort of pivotal, is just really honestly having real conversations and talking with your kids, not at them and really honestly laying it out for them. Giving them the research that brain changes are happening and that mood changes, we know kids are less happy gaming for instance. There’s a little bit of a tipping point, we have been able to see that an hour or so or two maybe of gaming, kids do feel more socially connected. They make friends online who were genuinely people they check in with every day. Beyond two hours, the research is showing difficulties.
So talk to your kids, then you’re modeling that you’re being reasonable, you’re thinking through this with them, you are coming to informed decisions.
It’s safety, it’s like making your kid wear a seatbelt or having a plan about where your driver is. It’s safety and planning and it’s our job that even though it makes us a pain in their butt, that is protection.
Sundae You know what happened in our family, I did talk to my kids about the screen time and the brain changes. And my seven-year-old came to me one night and he goes, “Mom, I think I’m going to take a break from YouTube.” And he goes, “I think I’m addicted”. And it was so sweet because I think he was thinking about his relationship to tech. And whenever they’re like “What? The power is out, we can’t have our iPad.” Or they’re upset about something, we pause over like, “What does that say about your relationship with tech.” And I could do better, my friends get mad at me because I think I’m too stingy with tech. But it’s important, and I think the fact that a seven-year-old even understands you can have an unhealthy relationship with tech, I think is a good start.
Laura: Yes, it’s conversation, there’s no guarantee, but if you stay connected to your kids and in conversation about the risks, and there are ways to talk to nine year olds about pornography. We just know and that’s you know, it’s funny, we started to talk about it and then the risk with pornography, a lot of folks just do it to sort of reiterate. The common risk people think about with too much pornography watching is, it’ll change how my child relates to the humans in their life and it will change their expectations about what dating and intimacy are going to be like and it will set them up to not be able to function healthily in real relationships.
Well again to sort of be startling enough to push parents to have these conversations, pornography and the images are very very likely or can overtime create that same or light up that same pleasure center and pleasure pathway and reward centers and really truly be addictive, so that more and more imagery is necessary, more and more, changing imagery, more intense imagery is needed to create the same sort of reaction in your body. And we know that over time ongoing pornography use is clearly related to depression, that people who are truly porn addicted rather than just experimenting in moderation end up with significant depression and difficulty finding their baseline of joy and happiness and they may have other physiological reactions to this. So it’s not just about “Hey your view of dating is going to be warped.”
Here’s maybe one of the scariest things about all this, whether it’s gaming or pornography or online shopping, the best understanding we have of brain science is that if your kids are doing a ton of these things in adolescence, they’re almost priming those addiction pathways. They’re digging the tunnel, they’re creating a path, paving the way so that their body goes to that response. So when they drink or do drugs or do other than that, there’s familiar, that we’ve already exercised the muscles in those centers and sections of the brain so much that it’s easier.
Plus if you have a family history, just to give a nod to that quickly, what we know is that for families who have addictions in them, and if anybody out there knows a family without addictions in them, have them call me because I’d like them to be part of a study.
Sundae: I was just thinking how many people in my family have died from addiction.
Laura: And we do know that it sets, it does, like when you’re looking at some of these poor news, gaming, shopping at the online, gambling online behaviors that can become addictive. We do know that you can have a predisposition to get in trouble with those faster, habit behaviors, some people really are just wired and born and it runs in families to quickly struggle with moderation. So if you have a family, if you’re in a family for whom you know, habit behaviors have caused problems, then it is important to have conversations with your kids and keep your eyes open because it is true as with many other things that can become habit. Some people are not as prone to getting sucked in as other people are, so it’s great to know your kids.
So yeah, having frank conversations about that with your kids. There are ways to talk to kids about pornography and that’s one of the things I do is real conversations with kids at different ages to explain to them both the way the images are impacting them emotionally and socially in addition to what we know about how their body is going to respond to them over time, all the while not shaming. Then again, the reality is we want kids to have a healthy exploration of what they’re dating and intimacy life is going to look like, there’s lots of different views and values around. Pornography, every family gets to decide that for themselves and what we know is if pretending that your kids not going to see it, pretending that not going to have to have conversations with them about it doesn’t doesn’t serve your kids and may actually set them up.
So yeah, the first recommendation for dealing is frank talk about each of those six tick’s, like literally go down the line. Here’s what you need to know about…, here’s what you need to know about… For the compare and despair, there are great little quick videos out now that really highlight how much Photoshopping there’s being done and all of these things that we know aren’t real that our kids may not yet know how to think about critically. So there’s lots of great resources out there, compiled lists of resources for parents to be able to sit with their kids, specifically have things that you can sit down with your kids and they act as conversation starters. So somebody’s already done the work to figure out how to talk about this and then you can just take it from there with your kids.
Sundae: So I’m just wondering, I still kind of feel like vomiting but I am very proud, I have to say thanks to the conversation that we had in preparation for our conference that we did at “Families in Global Transition.” I learned a lot from you and I have had almost every single one of these conversations with my kids and I’m glad that I’m starting now and not in ten or fifteen years, But I’m wondering when should we start having these conversations? I know that you should tailor how you talk about it based on their age, but when is the earliest we can start?
Laura: I think that there is, when we look at use for instance, and this will answer your question too, but to say right now the best guidelines we have are that nobody under the age of two or three should be on the screen.
Sundae: And I have seen the opposite, have you been to a restaurant and seen the 16 month old on the iPad?
Laura: Yeah, there are certainly ways that it would work and would have worked for me, but we know that because of the way that the brain bridges are exploding at that time and just bursting onto the scene that when they’re not being stimulated through engagement with the environment and peekaboo games and changing, that that that we lose really important mirror neurons. That’s a whole other gobbledygook conversation other than to say key things don’t happen if your kids are not getting the direct interface with others and if we’re starting to use that pleasure reward immediate, gratification center.
Sundae: So no restaurants from the age two to three.
Laura: Also the plane trips are key screen time, which we all understand. And so some moderation again is the key. But typical under zero to two three, it’s actually the one area there isn’t much room for moderation, it’s like those kids really should not have access, Five to twelve, the rough data says no more than two hours.
Sundae: Just hold up, no more than 2 hours and that includes school screen time, playing screen time, and I’m assuming collectively over the weekend too sometimes people watch more on the weekend. No more than two hours.
Laura: And it does stand to reason, I mean if your kid is in the building, winning of Minecraft, if they are actually creating and dreaming and stacking things up and designing. Yes, it stands to reason that that will be slightly quote, better for them than watching somebody watch somebody watch somebody on a passive YouTube channel for whatever random challenge is happening or whatever.
Sundae: What do you think about random tech checks?
Laura: Yes, so that is one of the things, so in answer to how soon to talk about it can never be too soon and I do want to say that in school I think maintaining like in kindergarten “That’s plenty of screen time, we’re going to get out and move our bodies and get the wiggles out.” I think just naming for kids that this is something in our life we can enjoy and too much is not best for our growing brains and bodies starting very young, getting increasingly frank.
So I don’t think it’s ever really too young to talk about it and similarly setting the tone early in your family for the fact that, yeah to have transparent checks, that it’s just something you reserve the right as a parent to do. And a lot of this makes a lot of parents nervous, it makes a lot of parents really nervous and interestingly enough I see it makes especially expat parents nervous.
I think there’s another little phenomenon we talk about where sometimes, not all the times, with everybody moving, the parents sometimes parent apologetically around technology. Like “My kid, there’s nothing we can really do anything here in the city because of traffic.” We tell ourselves genuinely that, “Gosh we got our kids in this situation and tech makes them happy and all right, I’m just going to say yes, I’m going to say yes because I know they’re having a hard time.” Or “I want them to be happy”. And when it’s been equally hard, in my experience for parents to understand, two things are true, you can actually take your kids device, you can you can limit the time on it, you can take it, you can also let them know there are going to be checks and I think if the checks are framed in a way ahead of time again that it’s part of safety and that it’s part of developing brains.
Like I’ll talk to teenagers “Look, here’s the deal, yeah you’re capable of doing tons of things and you still need some support in some areas.” And here’s what we know that this is just for transparency and conversation because I don’t want to be functioning in a gotcha kind of way. And I see parents get themselves into ton of tight spots because they do a check but they’re not transparent about it. Now, they have information that they got from the check and they have to let their kid know that they were sneaky or they have to figure out, like I’ve seen parents do incredible mental gymnastics to try to figure out how to let their kid know they know something without telling them how they know.
Sundae: I am really transparent with my kids about checking and I’m hoping that the intention is if they know I can check, if they know we can go back and look at history right, we’ve got friends who’ve got really good tech skills, it will help me to steer them to make better choices.
Laura: Yes, and it will stay and the hope is too that it will also be points of conversation, that each of those is an opportunity to have a conversation, “I noticed this.” or “Hey, I noticed you want everything you were looking at, let’s talk about it.” And I think that’s an easier conversation to start earlier, I know there are parents out there who are like “Great, so my seventeen year old, I’m going to sit them down and tell them I’m going to scroll through their chats or texts.”
And I’m like, you know, it’s never too late to have a conversation about the fact that you’re not saying that you’re going to sit down every night and pour over their personal information, you reserve the right to be able to monitor it and it’s like supervising other behavior, it’s curfews, it’s checking in about safety and dating and all these other things. It really is about safety and safety tools in terms of every family finding their way around.
Yes, I am not opposed to it and I think if you’re going to do the checks and again every family decides, but if you are a family that is going to do the checks and I recommend them because they’re great springboards for good conversation, that they’re better off being transparent, they are. We’ve been catching it later, so yes, that’s another story.
Sundae: Let me just check if I’ve missed something;
One stop putting your head in the sand and realizing that these things are real even all six of them. It’s that, not my kids phenomena, is actually happening to lots of kids whose parents think “Not my kid.”
The next thing is, start early with frank conversations about the risks and the realities, including how our brains change structurally and chemically and the risks on bullying and despair etcetera, etcetera, all of the things that we mentioned.
And then stay connected to our kids in modeling healthy habits around tech.
And then decide what your family plan is, how are you going to approach tech in your family?
That’s so much.
And here’s the thing Laura, you are so good at creating scripts for tough conversation.
So I want to make sure that I’ll know how to contact you, I know on your Facebook channel you offer some interesting insight around scripting around the various topics. And this is also what you do professionally in your therapy and consulting sessions.
So tell us where can people contact you if they want more and they want more direct support from you.
Laura: Yeah, that’s great thanks. So yes, it’s actually one of the things I love most I think after twenty something years of working with kids and families, so much of it comes back to, I can give information and I can help prepare people and then I spend a lot of time responding to parents saying, “Well, what do I say when and well, how do I actually talk about that?” And I am like “Great that is that’s what I do.”
The only things I would mention really quickly is sleep too, that would be another part, so not to go back and hash all of that over but there’s getting getting kids devices out of their bedrooms, charging them in a common area and getting them off an hour before bedtime. Because one of the other big areas that we know is impacted, especially for teens, they can’t disengage, they’re up till 2:00 in the morning. It adds to the cranky teenage stuff for sure.
So the good news is the takeaway, if folks want to find me to figure out how to have real conversations, I do have concrete plans, actual tech plans written up for families to think about which pieces fit for them too. Because it isn’t just conversations, there are also really different behavioral strategies that the family can practice on a weekly basis too.
Sundae: That’s wonderful, thank you so much, I know that this is going to impact tons of families and I can even just think about the last Friday that I had with my family. We didn’t watch a movie and we played some stupid charades game and giggled and laughed and had so much fun. And I realized “God, we haven’t connected like that in a long time, it’s because we didn’t do movie night, we did something else.” And it’s nice to get back to that again, like I said 1982 sometimes.
Laura: Actually in my extended family we have, and this is probably a great note to end on, forced family fun. “You can whine and moan and complain, but guess what? I am going to force you to enjoy my company again.’”
Sundae I love it, forced family fun Friday, it’s gonna be the new thing. Oh my gosh, this is fantastic.
So wonderful to have you again on Expat Happy Hour, for all of you who are listening, you can find. Dr. Laura’s details in the show notes and reach out to her.
And I’m so grateful that you stuck with me through even the hard stuff because this is important and our kids matter. So it’s worth going through the tough conversations.
This is Sundae Schneider-Bean, and you’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour, thank you for listening.
So there you have it, I hope that this gives you more food for thought for screen use with the children that you love. Whether it’s your grandkids, your nephews and nieces, your own children or students in your classroom.
Things I’m taking away from today’s interview is, it is undeniable that boundaries need to be put in place and that communication with these children is central about the use, the quality of programming they’re watching, the content itself and the dangers. And really really clearly not being naive to what our kids are exposed to.
This is Expat Happy Hour, you’ve been listening with Sundae Schneider-Bean, thank you for being here.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Christian Laos Long “Technology is a useful servant, but a dangerous master.”