How much screen time are you spending on your phones? An interview with Dr. M. Rich with the Boston Children’s Hospital Center for Interactive Media Disorders
Do you ever feel like you or your kids are spending way too much time on your phones? Did you ever see yourself scrolling for hours? When so much of our lives center around our phones, it’s hard to know how much screen time is too much. Dr. Gupta sits with Dr. Michael Rich, who co- directs theClinic for Interactive Media Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital. Sanjay talks with Dr. Rich about his unique approach to treating young patients with problematic media use. Also, we hear the story of one college student who got lost down a TikTok rabbit hole.
Chasing Life with Soleil and Sage and Sky: Experts in the Use of Smartphones and the Internet (with an Appearance in Canada)
My daughter and I are together. My three daughters are all older than 13 years old. She is wise beyond her years. She is very smart. She has a good amount of confidence and it’s frightening to me.
This season on Chasing Life, we decided to do something really different and necessary for the first time ever on the podcast, I’m sitting down with Soleil and my other daughters as well, Sage and Sky.
You know what the teenagers are going to do. They’re going to live in Canada and use their phones there. And they are going to use both of those.
And so many of these discussions we hear from experts. To start the season I wanted to hear from people who use these technologies the most. Young people, my young people, my kids. They do not hold back as you’re about to hear.
What Do You Think about Growing Up? A Conversation with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent, proud dad to three teenage daughters
If you go back and look now at my childhood or even grandparents, you know, your grandparents childhood, who do you think had the best childhood? Like overall, just for a kid.
They could communicate with their phones like a flip phone or a home phone. So they’re not just laying in their bed and they’re it’s not as addicting either, because it’s not just something you carry around in your hand that’s entertaining and something to look at.
I want you to know that as I work on this very important season, I’m going to be asking these questions as a journalist, as a doctor, but most importantly, as a dad. I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent and proud dad to three teenage daughters. This is chasing something bigger than life.
Jean Twenge is the author. The year was 2017 and my oldest daughter was about to become a teenager. I think it just struck me one day. I was about to be a father of teenagers. You know, I spent so much of my life planning and training and preparing. During my time in neurosurgery residency, I used to work 100 hours a week. People often expect me to have the answers for everything. I am Mr. Fix it for my family and friends. But this issue was gnawing at me. What did I really know about raising three teenage girls? It’s especially at this time? The time of i generation. I thought this book could help.
Jean Twenge: Growing up in a world without walls, growing up in chaos, growing out of nowhere, and learning about life and death
I really saw just that very, very sudden change, especially in mental health, but also in optimism and expectations and in time use between millennials and Gen or Gen Z.
In addition to being an author, Jean Twenge is a psychology professor at San Diego State University. After reading her book, I was curious to learn more. I called her up, asking if we could sit down and chat. Honestly, she scared the heck out of me. Describing the igeneration in ways that were so grim was very distressing.
Their satisfaction with their lives as a whole and with themselves really fell off a cliff in terms of the way they spent their time really shifted that they were spending less time hanging out with their friends in person.
Twenge was making the case to me that the I generation is just fundamentally different in so many ways. Their attitudes toward religion, sex, politics, and how they spend their time are all differences that they are different in. More than anything, though, Twenge worries that the digital world has made them lonely. I remember so distinctly having that conversation and then running home and immediately checking in on my girls, hugging them and trying to do it as cool as possible. It didn’t work. Kids pick up things. They sensed something was wrong. Sage, my oldest, looked up at me and asked, Who died? You are talking to them. It seemed like they were not falling off a cliff as Twenge had described. But what did I know about it? What was I supposed to know? It was humbling. The idea that these people, the most important in my life, had one world in which we could help diligently navigate them and another that was nearly invisible to me. Mr. Fix It felt vulnerable, ill equipped and at a loss.
The reason I started thinking about technology was because of you and your sisters and wondering how technology is going to affect your lives. What do you think about that?
It’s probably affected our lives a lot. And like, it’s just like how human evolution is going to go on. The technology that’s in our lives today probably isn’t going to change a lot as we get older. I think we will be more on our phones when we become adults than we are now because people say that adults aren’t on their phone as much. I don’t believe it’s a good thing. Like there’s plus and minuses, but like. There’s like certain downs that a lot of people try to avoid and like they try their hardest. But like even if they try to avoid it, they’re going to be exposed to it in their lives. There’s nothing people can do about it. It’s just it’s just the thing is going to get worse as we go on or better as we go on. Depending on how you look at it.
When should I give my oldest a phone? Middle school drama. What I needed to do about COVID in the kids’ room before I left school
We waited until middle school, and I really like that. I know that. Like for parents, it’s difficult. Always with their oldest. So they’re asking, when should we give them a phone? You know, they’re sort of trying to figure it out. Wait until you’re ready for middle school.
I do remember that day just because there was COVID. I went and visited my friend’s house. We hung out outside and I got my phone and we made a TikTok together. And I was like, new phone!
Every other time you’re being, like. There is always a parent to look after you. Once you’re in middle school, you have the freedom to go off and do things on your own, which also allows more of the danger of doing things on your own.
To me, it’s true. You know, middle school drama. Like, if I’m like, hanging out with one of my friends and like, another friend finds out that we’re even, like, talking to each other, they’ll be like, oh, my God, I can’t believe you now, you’re so annoying, I’m like, okay, I’m friends with them. Deal with it.
The shift from social media to a normal life: When teenage girls met, they felt like they were special, and how to cope during the time that they used social media
Wow. Teenagers like that kind of shift. It was an obligation to use social media as much as possible, so they went from using it casually to feeling like they had to. Depression rates doubled during that time. What is the egg and what is the chicken? Did one cause the other? The shift seemed to happen in a split second. But keep in mind, there were a lot of other things happening in the world at the same time. My girls were born into a tough time in history two wars, two significant recessions, climate change, and now a pandemic. So are the devices to blame for making kids feel better in an already difficult world or are kids using the devices to feel better?
A limited access is something I don’t want. When people are younger, they aren’t going to be able to control themselves, otherwise they go somewhere else or have access to things that they don’t currently, so a society where they can control themselves is necessary.
Tik Tok: Why aren’t I Going to Snapchat? What I’m going to do, and how I’ll tell my friends
I do. I don’t want to go on TikTok today if I need to cut back on it. So then I just won’t, and then I’ll just communicate with my friends on Snapchat. It is not that large of a deal. But if I say that I’m not going to go on Snapchat, it’s a bigger deal because then people are like, Soleil, why aren’t you responding? What about Soleil? What about Soleil? Where are you? And even if people don’t do that, then I’ll just be, I’ll just feel like people are doing that even when I’m off of it.
It’s not right away but it’s me. Like, I feel like also, like, that’s just bigger for me overall because I also just sort of want to like. Like if I respond to something like that, then like when my friends are, like, upset about something or like something else is going on like that, they need to talk to someone about they feel like, oh, Soleil will be able to respond. In the end, Soleil will be able to give me good advice.
What Millennials Think about Social Media and their Parenting? Is Smartphones a Great Tool for Mom, Dad, Mom, and Other Teens
Solar reminds me so much of her mom. Rebecca is my wife. She wants to show up for her friends. The devices created a world in which professionals were expected to always be available. The same can also be said for our kids. They want to be there for the ones that mean the most to them. And honestly, that raises a lot of different emotions for me, including pride.
I often talk to my girls at the dinner table about what I’m working on because I always want to genuinely hear what they think. I said this time felt different. I was learning from Soleil. There’s another part of the conversation that struck me, and that was when Soleil said that the generations before her had it best. Why? Because they got to grow up with flip phones, not smartphones. Is she right? After the break, professor Jean Twenge will weigh in on all of this.
You talked about challenges teens are facing when we spoke last time. It stayed with me, that’s for sure. I mean, it’s you know, again, if you’re a parent, I think frankly, anybody I think that if you’re a parent, it hits you right in the chest because you know that I’m wanting to do the right thing. But is, you, you believe that smartphones play a role, a significant role in all of that?
I have realized since that it was when social networking giant Facebook acquired the photo-sharing site Instagram that it took off in popularity. Around the time when the majority of Americans started to use Facebook, it was also around that time. And for teens, it’s when about 75% or so started using social media every day. It was about one-third and one-half as recently as 2010. About half use social media, half didn’t. Then it seems optional, once it gets to that 75%, 80% or so, then it feels more mandatory. You’re left out if you don’t use it. Teens tell me that they feel like they are unable to win because they don’t use social media. Sometimes they feel left out. They’re going to spend all their time on it if they use it. Neither one seems like a great choice.
You know, I think we have to take the broad view on this in a number of ways. So one is just to to look at some of those other issues and see if they line up. So the economy is a great place to start. So you see the biggest increase in teen depression between 2011 and 2019. That’s the time when the U.S. economy was in a state of disrepair. The teen was starting to get depressed at the same time as it was improving. The reason that I think you could make such a strong case for technology having an impact is it’s not just something that people are worrying about that they read about in the news. It’s something that fundamentally changed people’s day to day lives. And that was especially true for teenagers.
What do we do when we are on the phone? How do we look at it? A survey of the E-Memory Collaboration at the LHC
Do you look at this as the device itself being, you know, the culprit, or is it the opportunity cost lost in terms of what you could have been doing instead of being on the device?
It’s a lot of different factors. And I think it’s really important to acknowledge that it’s not really the device itself, it’s how we use it. Overall, the smartphones are amazing. They can offer a lot of things for us, like having the boarding pass on our phone when we’re on the airplane, or the ability to call someone when you get a flat, or the list goes on. If we use smartphones just for those and then put them away, I would have very few concerns. But that’s not generally how we use them, because social media apps, for example, you know, are designed to keep you coming back. It’s just it’s so tempting to always pick up the phone You are distracted by something else. Just because our whole lives are on it.
What do young people tell us about you? It’s hard to tell what young people are saying about you, but what you’re telling us
I am a child of immigrants. My parents came here from India in the late sixties, and it’s very interesting and I think non-intuitive when I tell people this that they didn’t they didn’t go back to visit India for at least, you know, ten, 15 years after I was born. They were raising me as they had been raised in sort of 1940s, India, But I was living in the United States, in Michigan. You know, my point being that that was who they were. They were trying to impose values on me that were from how they grew up. When we went back to India in the in the eighties. They were impressed with the fact that the place is completely different. Right? Is there a way you can avoid the trap of trying to describe this new generation by an older generations values?
Well, I think that one way the best way to avoid that is to listen what young to what young people are telling us. The surveys and data I’m drawing from tell me what young people are saying about themselves. And I think that’s what we have to listen to. And that’s what they’re telling us. They are saying that they feel stressed. They’re telling us that they they feel like they’re not useful, that they’re having these symptoms of depression, that they’re not happy.
It’s hard to argue against that. My oldest daughter use’s the most and we’ve only allowed it for our younger daughters, but she’s an authentic person when she’s using the device. When I see the comments after something is posted, it can be very affirming. Love you. You go girl. You know, a bunch of things like that. It was almost it. it’s it’s emotional as a as a parent to see other children reacting to your child that way and and also understanding how they must feel reading all those positive comments, the tendency, the narrative is to think, okay, you’re going to potentially be surrounded by toxicity. But I haven’t anecdotally, I haven’t seen that. What about what about you?
Dr. Rich thinks that a lot of his patients have underlying conditions, such as Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. He believes that the use of social media, or technology, increases the volume on those conditions. And I thought that was a really critically important point, because what he is saying is that for many of these children, social media did not cause the problem. It created more of a noise.
Well. I’ll ask this bluntly. Am I not a good parent for letting my teenagers be on social media? You are a professor of psychology. You have written a book about this. And your teenage, or, you know, adolescent age daughters, you don’t you don’t allow them to have social media. Am I doing the wrong thing?
Their use of the screen media is a way to self-sooTHE rather than a problem in and of itself. It’s how they are using it, that makes it difficult to live.
How much screen time is too much? We’ll be having a virtual house call with a mediatrician who you might not have heard of before.
Chasing Life: A Child’s Play in a World Without Filled Feeds, Without Protection from My Father’s Law
We are trying to raise our kids in a different environment than we were growing up in. What that means is we don’t really have access to the rights and wrongs of parenting that we gleaned from our own parents. Right? We are going to have to figure it out as we go along.
CNN Audio is the producer of Chasing Life. We have a team of producers that includes David Rind, Grace Walker, Eryn Mathewson, and Xavier Lopez. Our senior producer is Haley Thomas. Andrea Kane is our medical writer and Tommy Bazarian is our engineer. Dan is the technical director. The executive producer of CNN Audio is Abby Swanson. A special thanks to Ben Tinker, Amanda Sealey and Nadia Kounang of CNN Health and Katie Hinman.
What happens when you’re not going to sleep? A story about a college student who hasn’t done enough on TikTok
I think it started to wear on me physically first. Because that was when I was just scrolling for hours, you know, not going to sleep. It was taking hours out of my day.
The story I’m about to tell will sound very similar to what you’re used to. The student in this story is a college student named Jerome Yankey. He wasn’t preparing for exams but was pulling a lot of all nighters. He was not hanging out with his friends.
It was hard to stop. It was as hard to say, okay, I’ve seen enough because there isn’t enough on TikTok. There’s no winning on TikTok. There’s no end point. So you just keep going.
The journey of a young man with big dreams of becoming an influencer, a Tik Tok star, and what happened to Jerome’s YouTube videos
Add it all up, half an hour to an hour when I wake up, you know, a little bit in the free time during the day, maybe during a meal, another 2 hours during the day, maybe averaging 5 to 6 hours a day, even more if I had more free time.
And it is that journey of saying that like, Hi, this is my TikTok account. I have zero followers. Someone might see it if I post it because I know my friends and they are the ones who have a chance. Because that’s how the TikTok algorithm works.
This was a story of a young man with big dreams of becoming an influencer, a Tik Tok star. The ending to the story is not a happy one. As with most people, Jerome’s videos never really took off, and that was frustrating. It was only a matter of time before all that scrolling was making things worse.
I was simply watching, just scrolling, just kind of just droning on through endless content. That’s when I started to become less of a creative and more of a cynic, you know? All I would be doing is looking at the material. I’m sure I’d see it. and I would be like, Oh, I could be funnier than that. Or, Oh, they’re not even that good.
What Happens When Your Daughter Gets Closed: A Story About Jerome, His Family, and How I Met Your Parents in the Early Stages
Jerome says something deep inside of him stirred. Maybe it was an urge to just look up from his phone and enjoy the real world. It was like emerging from a fog.
I was taken away from the app because I realized that I was not unattractive, unsuccessful, or unpopular. It wasn’t the fact that I compared myself to the super ideals of every other form that was important.
That. That is the thing that really stuck with me about Jerome’s story. It all started innocently. I can’t help but think about how I can keep my daughters from going to that place, because I’m a dad of three teenage daughters. Look, I see how much they enjoy the app. I am aware of the appeal. Heck, we’ve even made videos together. But here’s what worries me. I worry about what could happen to my girls when they don’t have as many rules or supervision, even though I work hard to protect them in their real world. My oldest child, who is going to college, will be the same age as when this happened to him. It’s hard to believe, but might the same thing happen to her? Thankfully, Jerome managed to figure it out on his own. But I know not everyone can do that. In fact, sometimes it gets so bad people need medical help.
It’s there to help families that have gone through the rabbit hole of internet and gaming and binged on information.
Trying to live in a brave new world, yet I worry about my 13 year old sibling and 14 year old sister and I don’t worry about them
We’re going to have to figure out how things work in a brave new world. It’s not even a decade old anymore. I worry about my 14 year old sibling because the environment is changing so quickly, and 17 year old patients say they are cool but I worry about them.
Internet Addiction and Mental Health: Finding a Way to Avoid It: A Tale of Jerome Yankee and the Boston Children’s Hospital Mediatrician
Jerome Yankee’s story may sound extreme, but as I said, it’s actually not that out of the ordinary. Nearly one in four teens in the US say they use TikTok a lot. That’s mind blowing for them all to be on a single app. You know what? It is not limited to TikTok. Or teens, for that matter. A lot of adults say they are online a lot. But here’s the thing. The data is important, but it isn’t useful. It doesn’t tell the whole story. What these numbers don’t tell us is how all of that time on TikTok is actually impacting people’s mental or physical health negatively or positively. If those surveyed thought of themselves as addicted like Jerome did. Here is one thing I have learned. As much as we like to throw around the word addiction, we need to be careful here. For now at least, Internet addiction is not a thing. It’s not an official clinical diagnosis. There’s even still a lot of discussion on whether or not it even qualifies as a mental health disorder or even how to define it, how to measure it, how to test for it, and especially how to treat it. Too much doom scrolling can be bad for you even if you choose to call it that. There are a lot of people who need help. And that’s where Dr. Michael Rich comes in.
We traveled to virtual visits before the lockdown took place. A third of the time, parents wouldn’t show up for children’s first visits because they’d wait until the night before or the morning of the visit to see if they NEEDED a doctor. And of course, the kids would say, no effin way, I’m out of here. As soon as we went virtual, our no show rate dropped to zero because they’re comfortable in this environment.
Dr. Rich is a mediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital. A mediatrician. That’s a fun way of saying that he cares about young patients’ problematic media use and how it affects them. Kids lives are being disrupted by time they spend online. It is not lost on him that it is ironic that he istreating patients for problematic media use via a screen. There are many twists and turns in this story. In fact, before Dr. Rich got his start in medicine, he actually worked in media.
What is the Pain Point of Parents, or Are They Bringing a Child in to See Someone Like You? — When Parents come into you, they’re worried
I was a part of the film industry. I adore Screen Media, but I also respect it. And I think that in any great love affair, there’s a deep respect as well.
When there is a parent bringing a child in to see someone like you, they are doing it because they’re worried. I mean, if a parent is taking their child to see the doctor, period, and leave alone for something like this, it’s because they’re worried. You know, they’ve been having pain, they’ve been unable to keep food down, whatever it may be. So they’re coming into you with a worry. What is the concern? Exactly. Like I get the worry is that they, I think my kid is spending too much time on a screen. What?
Well, what the parents see is the young person essentially withdrawing from various aspects of her or his life. They are not up for school. They’re staying up all night on social media or gaming. So they see the young person withdrawing actually from them most acutely. The kid is in their room. The kid, you know, is on screen. Instead of spending time with the family, you would spend more time with them. So I think that’s the pain point for parents.
What Do You Need to Know About Addiction and Addiction? How Do You Feel? What Are You Do? What Happens When You’re Seeing It?
What is too much and what is not normal in this world for the patient and family? We need to define within normal limits in medicine. That’s the way you get lab results. What is within normal limits here?
There is a problem when their day to day functions are impaired. They’re not getting enough sleep. They are overeating. They are missing school. They are leaving their friends. If they will let me through the chink in the armor, I will be able to identify the pain points of these young people, things that they wish they were doing better. I wish that I had more friends, because I think it impairs your life if you only have a limited number of friends. I want to look at what happens when they wake up and what happens when they sleep. So I think that it really has been about how are you feeling in your life? How are you doing? Are you getting grades in school that are reflective of your capabilities? They will almost invariably say no. And then we’ll explore why that might be.
If your patients are seen in a world where we don’t have as much screen time or social media, they will be one of your patients. 15 years ago. It’s 20 years ago, did you know what it was? Would that child still be seeing you? But instead of social media, it would be ex, you know, TV watching or, you know, some other sort of hyper binge activity.
Yes, it would be TV watching or things like eating disorders, substance use disorders of various kinds. And what it has in common with those is that these are behaviors that are trying to make them feel better or feel more in control of things. I don’t see social media or the Internet as a cause of depression or anxiety, as is being framed by some, because it may or may never happen anyways at this stage of life. What interactive media environments do for them is give them a place where they can feel better if they are depressed or anxious.
While Dr. Rich recognizes that screens can feel addictive, he doesn’t think it’s the right way of describing it. Why? Just like we need food, we need screens.
And that’s why I sort of move away from addiction as a model, because we as a society use the term addiction as pejorative. We approach addiction like it is something to be punished and not healed, and we think of addicts as weak people with weak character. These kids are having short term problems withdrawing from these behaviors. But when one understands that it is not the behavior doing something to the young person, but the young person seeking out and pursuing this behavior because it makes her or him feel better because it is alleviating their anxiety or it is helping them who have ADHD and have spent the entire school day feeling behind Clueless, you know, like they’re dumb. Including their social interactions where they can’t keep on top of a conversation. They go home and play a game of first person shooter with a screen at their side. In many ways, they are better than kids who play a game that encourages distraction, hyper vigilance, and all the other issues of attention deficit disorder in a classroom, because they are in control of that universe.
What Is Happening When I’m Behind All Day, and How I Can Reconcile It With Social Media, And What Does It Tell Me About It?
That’s fascinating. That’s really an idea of how you could have a day where you are feeling behind all day. You can regain control when you come home. That sounds familiar to me, doc. Frankly, it sounds familiar in terms of what I may see with my kids, but even myself to some extent, you know, like I will find myself playing some silly game on planes, you know, and things because I’m. I need to regain some sense of control. Maybe I need some wins. I need a few wins because I’ve had many losses today, but I can beat this computer.
That last point from Dr. Rich really stopped me in my tracks and it stuck with me. When you treat someone who’s addicted to something like alcohol or cigarets, what you’re asking really is for people to give those things up. Abstinence makes sense. That’s not realistic with technology, for most people these days. It is Dr. Rich’s idea to learn to live with it, and to respect it. Look, I know that’s a huge shift from the doom and gloom warnings. It is said that social media is like a bad drug and hurts us. It’s necessary that we be cut out of our lives.
Thinking about it as a power tool, more like an automobile maybe, you know, sort of framing. I think it’s really interesting as my children are starting to drive. I think about that all the time as well. Like if you said, what is my biggest concern about screens with my teenagers? When they’re behind the steering wheel of a car far away, that can be catastrophic, and that’s why I’m most concerned about it. Is it important to concern about how much they’re using it? Yes. But I worry far more about when they are using it and what they are using it for.
What really matters here is content that we are both consuming and creating in this space and the context in which we are using it. In the middle of the day between things you don’t want your kid doing at three in the morning, in bed at night, or sitting at the dinner table, you don’t want them to be online, that would be perfect. We should really focus on the content. Is that a healthy content? Is this helpful content or not? And what is the context in which they are doing it? And I think the one place that screen time comes in is really what is this displacing that I could be doing? Yeah. I was wondering if I was talking at the kitchen table with my parents. I wondered if I could be playing with my friends. The online space’s seductiveness can make it difficult for a rich and diverse menu of experience that is so helpful to growing up.
Going Back to Chasing Life: Dr. Rich’s Steps Towards a Better Relationship with Technology. I. Allison’s story of baptism by fire
And I’m going to get his advice for improving my own family’s relationship with technology. Stay with us. I’m heading back to Chasing Life. Before we hear more from Dr. Rich, I want to first introduce you to one of his patients.
Allison had never before seen Dr. Rich as a preventive measure. There wasn’t yet a problem, but her mom, Amy, says that she was struggling to raise Allison and her siblings in a world that was so different from the one that she grew up in.
The TV was broken in the back of my dad’s closet, and it got fixed, quote unquote, when I had my tonsils out. And we didn’t have a TV in our house until I was about 16. It was definitely baptism by fire, you know, with screens everywhere, raising kids.
What I Can’t Do for My Smartphone? An Empirical Study of Dr. Rich’s Wellness Check for Smartphone Usage (Revised)
I put up a downtime that prevents me from using my phone until 715 in the morning, and I can’t use it after 830 pm so that I can sleep. I made app limits so that I can only watch a certain amount on the video sharing site. I can only spend a certain amount of time doing games. I can only use a small amount of other apps. So that means that I don’t spend countless hours mindlessly scrolling.
It’s pretty impressive. And again, keep in mind, she’s only 13. Allison, I can tell you that I also relate to your parents. We often think about going to the doctor for a checkup. Your parents did everything they could to help you as well. For all of your people who listen. This is what the conversation with Dr. Rich on the podcast is supposed to do for you. Think of it as a wellness check for smartphone usage.
How do you gain the trust of your patients? It’s hard to believe, but what do you do when you’re lucky?’
How do you gain the trust of the patients you treat? I mean, I’m not saying that they’re looking at you saying this guy is some old guy. You and I are the same age. I’m not saying that much. I don’t think they understand my world. How do you gain confidence in yourself?
What are the best games to teach kids about Grand Theft Auto? What should parents tell their children about the game or what society they are interested in?
I ask them what games they play, or what socia-, seriously. I show them that I am knowledgeable about it in ways that are not negative and I do not say it’s a bad place. I’m looking at it as the world in which they live. I think that’s a mistake that a lot of parents make, which is that they’re sort of dealing with it as something else. They’re standing at the top of the basement stairs saying, turn off Grand Theft Auto. I don’t like that. What I encourage the parents to do is sit down next to their child and play Grand Theft Auto with them, because there’s some really interesting things that happen then. The number one thing to do is get rid of it, it’s bad for you and I care about you. I want to understand what engages you. I want to understand what you’re doing here. And then when you finally figure out the 47 different moves with your thumbs it takes to steal a car, and you ask your child, okay, I finally figured out how to steal cars. Let’s talk about why we might want to do that and rehearse it over and over and over again. Right. You’re coming from very different areas. You are that child’s student and you are learning that from them. You’re changing the power differential in ways that are really meaningful to the kid, which is, I care about what you do. I care about you, and you’re not wagging a finger at them so much as you’re saying, Let’s understand this together and you’re giving them a way of moving on. It is not a punishment so much as it is the next step.
If people come to you and tell you that there is a best way to raise kids in an increasingly digital world, then you should look into it. What other types of tips do you give?
I actually say to parents, instead of developing killer apps, we should be developing our killer Bs. The on screen activities should be balanced with the off screen activities in a way that we are aware of what is not happening because we are on a screen. The second thing to remember is to use the screens in a focused, directed manner, not in a way of being a default behavior if I’m bored, pull out or something like that. And that’s where I say, you know, let’s be mindful in our use and let’s be aware of what we might be giving up because our kids really do want us to talk to them. Yeah. And that’s the final killer b which is be present, because having these screens in front of us does not allow us to be present. And frankly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Often the parent is gazing at their phone while they sit with me. I will confess my 16 year old when he sees me in front of my computer or looking at my phone, he is right in my face, said the mediatrician.
What Do We Need to Know When We’re Going Through the Looking Glass? Dr. Rich and I – Focusing on the Future with the Wild West
At the end of the day, I asked Dr. Rich if he really cared about the data. I wanted to be aware of where this was headed when he looked at it. Does he feel hopeful?
I am hopeful. As a pediatrician, that’s kind of an occupational hazard is optimism. I am hopeful because of what the kids are telling me. And so I think that we will get better. We will also encounter problems we don’t even anticipate yet. I think that things will get better. There will be some roads that have some problems. Will we be able to spot those holes and steer around them? Or are we going to hit them and have to resolve them as problems? But either way, I’m confident that we can do this. We need to be prepared for problems to happen and be able to solve them without guilt.
I love that. I do. This issue is a big reason why I wanted to do this season. I wanted to understand the effect social media was having on us all. I wanted to make sure that there was a good tone to our conversations. Being a bad parent isn’t something to be concerned about. Being a bad kid isn’t the focus of it. It’s not about right or wrong. As a parent I might not be making the right decisions all the time. I am aware of that. It’s fine because it’s about doing the best thing you can with the best intentions in mind. The technologies we use are in the Wild West. There is little doubt that we are making some of this up as we go along, but it’s all about learning what path works best for you. It was good for Allison and her mother, Amy, to tackle these issues early. Others, like Jerome were able to self-identify, they have a problem, and then one day just decide to stop cold turkey. And I do realize that for some of you listening, you may be still worried about your habits and still not clear what exactly you need to do to change. Catherine Price, an award winning science journalist, will teach us how to break up with our phones in our next episode.
Get in the habit of taking a break, so that you can both better understand the effect that your relationship with technology is having on you, and then also appreciate its benefits more.
I think I can quit all of them. I’m probably my main source of communication, and that would be harder to give up.