Dr. Gupta will be looking into his daughters’ digital lives in the sixth season of his show
Living in the Chasing Life with the Real Experts: A Face to Face Talk with My Daughters on the Theoretical Goals of Digital Parenting
There is no denying – or escaping – this one simple but far-reaching fact: Americans are surrounded by screens. As a doctor and a journalist, but most important as a dad to teens coming of age in a screen-infused world, I’m concerned. Technology certainly makes our lives easier (and more fun), but at what cost to our health?
I explore how technology affects brains and what we can or should do to prevent it in the new season of the Chasing Life. I’m talking to experts and doing something I’ve never really done on my podcast before: I’m speaking to each of my kids – the real experts.
A couple of statistics jumped out at me: About two years ago, roughly 85% of US adults reported being online at least daily, with 31% saying they were online “almost constantly.” As of last spring, a stunning 97% of teens said they were online every day, with nearly half of them saying they were online almost constantly.
The numbers are worrying, but not surprising. We’re obliged to do so much on our screens for work and school. We do things for fun, like killing time on TikTok. Add to that constant communication; we text, Snap and Slack throughout the day. You get the digital idea: It’s easy to be on our screens a lot.
I spoke with my daughters, all digital natives, in my tiny basement studio, starting this journey. I recommend that you sit down with your loved ones and have in-depth, face-to-face conversations about any important topic even if you aren’t on a podcast. You will learn a lot.
I am an example of how most parents think their kids are smart. Our conversations were very thoughtful and had good insights. They didn’t hold back.
What is it like to be distracted by social media? A Zen Master’s Perspective on the Gupta House Rules for Families with Smartphones
And she’s right: It would be hard and isolating, especially for a young person, to be completely off everything. Sage also said she couldn’t see herself still using social media like Snapchat at age 20, 30 or 40, because that would be “embarrassing” – but she can’t envision using another platform to communicate, either.
Sky said that she manages her time by spending about three hours a day on social media, texting and playing games. I was relieved to hear that she doesn’t let it get in the way of her homework, but I was a bit surprised when she said that on occasion, she lets it interfere with her sleep (but only on the weekends, she assured me).
When I asked my youngest, Soleil, about whether it was a good thing or a bad thing to grow up with all this technology, she answered like a Zen master: “I just think it’s a thing. I don’t think it’s a good thing. There isn’t much that people can do about it. It’s just a thing.” She also reminded me that this was the world handed to her, not the one she would’ve chosen.
All of my daughters said they preferred the childhood of the Millennials, where cell phones were not the only thing. They told me that these platforms create an obligation to engage more than a desire. “I don’t want to let my friends down,” Soleil said.
My daughters think that people will have to figure out a way to control themselves as they do with temptations like chocolate and potato chips.
I also learned what they think about my and my wife, Rebecca’s, parenting decisions around screens. As part of the Gupta House Rules, we decided to make the kids wait until middle school before giving them smartphones. We have access to their social media accounts and set time limits. We also try to have family dinners every night, when we all cook together and everyone’s phone – including mine – is put away.
After speaking to my daughters and many other experts, I question whether or not we provided adequate guardrails. I would never toss my car keys to a 16-year-old with only a learner’s permit and say, “You’re on your own!” But I wonder if I did the digital equivalent.
Talking about screens makes me feel vulnerable. I constantly ask myself, am I doing the right thing? Is my dad a good dad? Is it possible I am too strict or too pushover?
As a doctor, I am used to having the answers – and the data to back up my beliefs – but this is one area where I don’t. These are uncharted waters for me, and for parents (and people) everywhere. There is no set of agreed-upon best practices. Because this is all so new, the studies haven’t been done, and in fact many of the questions haven’t been formulated yet. When we get a handle on a single question, there are five new ones. It is like a hydra, a mythical water serpent that grows two new heads for each cut off.
My parents imposed their 1940s Indian culture on my brother and me, which is why I worry about doing the same with my kids. We felt like their beliefs weren’t up to date.
I have to rely on my own experience as a parent, and it scares me. Whether we choose to follow in the footsteps of our parents or decide to do the opposite, we usually have reference points to guide us in decision-making in our families. But with screens, I can’t say, “This is the way we used to do it when I was a kid,” because nothing so all-encompassing existed back then.
A story about a student who’s pulling all nighters in a Tik Tok tok and what she can do about it
It just kind of started to really wear on me physically first, I think. 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 you will sound typical at first. It’s about a college student named Jerome Yankey. He wasn’t studying for exams, but he was pulling all nighters. He wasn’t outside with his friends.
It was difficult to stop. It was as hard to say, okay, I’ve seen enough because there isn’t enough on TikTok. There’s no fun on TikTok. There’s no end point. You just keep going.
The journey of a young man who wanted to be an influencer: a Tik Tok account. A tale of two days, three nights before Christmas
If I only had half an hour to wake up and a bit of free time in the day, then I’d be spending between 5 and 6 hours a day.
That journey is where you say, Hi, this is my TikTok account. I don’t have any followers. I’m going to post because someone might see it and I know my friends who are on here. That is how TikTok works.
This was a story of a young man with big dreams of becoming an influencer, a Tik Tok star. The ending of the story is a typical one and not a happy one. As with most people, Jerome’s videos never really took off, and that was frustrating. All of that scrolling was making the downward spiral even worse.
I was just scrolling through endless content and watching, and then I was done. I started to become less of a creative and more of a cynic, you know? I would only be checking out the content. I would see it I would be like, I could be funnier. They’re not that good.
How Jerome and I Met: Where I Wanna Be? When My Daughter and I Go Down the Rabbit Hole, What I Have Done About Her
Jerome says something deep inside of him stirred. Maybe it was an urge to simply look up from his phone and actually enjoy the real world around him. It was like emerging from a fog.
It wasn’t until I was away from the app that I realized that I wasn’t unattractive, unsuccessful or unpopular. I was comparing myself to the ideals of every form, not because of anything else.
That. That is the thing that really stuck with me about Jerome’s story. How innocently it all started. I can’t help but think how I can keep my daughters from the same place as I am, as a dad of three teenage daughters. I can see how much they enjoy it. I do see the appeal. We’ve made videos together. Here’s what I’m worried about. As much as I work hard to protect them, in their real world, I do worry about their digital world and what might happen to my girls when they don’t have as many rules or supervision. When my oldest child,Sage, heads to college, she will be the same age Jerome was when this all 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. I know not everyone can do that. In fact, sometimes it gets so bad people need medical help.
It is there as a resource for helping those children and families who have really gone down the rabbit hole, if you will, of gaming, of social media and of what we call information bingeing.
What do we really need to learn about Internet addiction? The lessons of Dr. Michael Rich from Chasing Life with Sanjay Gupta
We’re in a new world and we have to figure things out as we go along. And it’s not even generational anymore. I worry about my 14 year old sibling because the environment is morphing and evolving so fast, even though I have 17 year old patients who say, you know, I’m cool.
I have questions, many, many questions. The amount of screen time is too much. What are the warning signs? Things are not going well. What can you do about it? He has lots of tips for parents and kids as well as anyone trying to navigate this new world. I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. And this is Chasing Life.
The story of Jerome Yankee isn’t that out of the ordinary. More than 20% of teenagers in the US say they use TikTok a lot. That’s mind blowing all of their time on a single app. And you know what you’re doing? It’s not limited to TikTok. It’s teens, for that matter. Three out of ten adults say they are online almost constantly as well. But here’s the thing. This data isn’t useful and it is important. It doesn’t paint a complete picture. 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 think they’re addicted as well. And here’s one thing that I learned. We need to be careful here, as we like to throw around the word addiction. 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. Most do agree, though, that regardless of the semantics here, whatever you want to call it, too much doomscrolling can be bad for you. A lot of people are in need of help. And that’s where Dr. Michael Rich comes in.
Before the lockdown and we went to virtual visits. I had about a 30% no show rate on first visits for kids who are struggling with their interactive media use because the parents would wuss out and wait until the night before or the morning of and saying, we’re going to take you to a doctor, is going to take your video games away. The kids would say, no, 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 says that a lot of his patients have underlying conditions, like obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, sometimes just plain old stress from school or life. He thinks that they use social media to increase 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 amplified it.
The Pain Point for Parents – How the Kid is Spending Too Much Time on a Screen, How They’re Staying Up All Night
I was a part of the film industry. I enjoy Screen Media, but I also respect it. And I think that in any great love affair, there’s a deep respect as well.
Yeah, when you have a parent who is bringing a child in to see someone, they are worried, right? 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. They’ve been unable to keep up with food due to the pain they’ve been having. So they’re coming into you with a worry. The worry is what? Exactly. Like I get the worry is that they, I think my kid is spending too much time on a screen. What?
Parents notice the young person withdrawing from various aspects of her or his life. They aren’t getting up for school. Sometimes they’re staying up all night gaming or on social media or whatever. They understand that the young person withdraws from them most acutely. You know, the kid stays in their room. The kid, you know, is on screen. You know, instead of having meals together, instead of just spending time with the family. So I think that’s the pain point for parents.
What Do You Need in a Neuropsychology? What Does It Take To Make You Feel Better? How Do You Feel? What Is Affects Your Life?
Do you define for the patient and or the family what is too much, what is abnormal in this world? And we have to define within normal limits in medicine. That’s how you get lab results within normal limits. What is within normal limits here?
Where the problem comes in is when their day to day functions are impaired in some way. They are not getting enough sleep. They are overeating. They are missing school or falling asleep in school. They are withdrawing from their friends. And actually, one of the things I do with these young people in the first visit, if I can, if they will let me through the chink in the armor is try to identify their pain points, the things that they wish were going better, whether it be school or. I don’t want to have some ideal that says over x number of hours is problematic and impairing your life. I want to look more at what their life is from the time they wake up to the time they go to 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’ll almost always say no. And then we’ll explore why that might be.
Eating disorders, substance use disorders and things like that are what it would be like if it were TV watching. 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 think social media is a cause of anxiety or depression at this point in time, even though it’s been framed as such by some, so I don’t think that’s true. What the interactive media environment does for them is it provides them a place where those anxieties, depression, etc. can kind of manifest themselves even more, even if they were not noticed otherwise.
One of your patients, if you were seeing them in a world where we did not have as much screen time or social media. 15 years ago. Did you know what, 20 years ago, whatever it may be. Is the child still 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.
Why do kids see screens as addictive? Dr. Rich admits it’s not a “nice” thing to see, but it does make a difference
While Dr. Rich recognizes that screens can feel addictive, he doesn’t think it’s the right way of describing it. Why? We need screens just as much as we need food.
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 view addiction as a weakness and punishment, and we do not think it will improve people’s lives. These kids do have certainly short term problems withdrawing from these behaviors. When one sees that the behavior is not doing anything to the young person, but the young person Seeking out and pursuing this behavior because it makes her or him feel better due to their anxiety or the fact that they have spent the entire day feeling behind, it’s obvious that it’s Including their social interactions where they can’t keep on top of a conversation. They come home and play a game of first person shooter with a screen behind them. And not only are they in control of that universe, but in many ways they are better than so-called neurotypical kids at a game that actually reinforces and rewards distractibility, hyper vigilance, and all the aspects of ADHD that are problematic in a classroom setting.
Is that a good analogy? Dr. Rich’s last point and how to teach children how to drive a car in a safe way
That’s fascinating. That’s a really, especially that idea of how you might have a day like you described, where you’re feeling behind all day and then you come home and you can regain some sense of control. I mean, yeah, that sounds familiar, 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 victories. I need a few wins because I’ve had a bunch of losses today, but I can beat this computer at this.
That last point from Dr. Rich really stopped me in my tracks and it stuck with me. What you are asking people to give up is if you treat someone who is addicted to alcohol or cigarets. Abstinence, that makes sense. But again, for most people these days, that’s simply not realistic with technology, let’s face it. So Dr. Rich’s approach is let’s learn to live with it and along the way, respect it. I am aware of that huge change from the doom and gloom warnings. We often hear that social media is harming us like a bad drug and that it. Needs to be cut out of our lives.
I think we should treat the phones, tablets, and social media as the power tools it is, and think about the way we would think about a child while driving a car. Right? Kids want to own a car. But that being said, I don’t think we would teach our child to drive either, because everyone else is doing it regardless of what their age is or in a way that is sort of a have at it, you know. We will give a four year old a toy like an iPad and tell them to go play Angry Birds because it will calm them down. I believe we need to teach these kids how to use tools in a safe way because we don’t teach drivers how to stay safe by saying don’t hit that tree. They learn to be safe when they are taught to drive a car. I think that we need to approach it not out of fear, but out of a sense of mastery of this powerful tool.
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 every now and then. If you said so, what is my biggest concern with my teenagers? I’m worried they use it when they’re behind the wheel of a car far away, because that can be catastrophic. Do I worry about how much they’re using it overall? Sure. I worry a lot when they use it and what they use 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. You know, something that would be perfect, in the middle of the day between things you don’t want your child doing at three, in bed at night, or sitting in the dinner table, you know, online. We should pay attention to the content. Is this content healthy? Is this helpful content or not? And what is the context in which they are doing it? So I think the one place where screen time comes in is really what I’m doing. Yeah. Could I be having a conversation at the kitchen table with mom or dad? I think I could be playing with my friends. And that is where the kind of seductiveness of the online space can get in the way of the rich and diverse menu of experience that is so helpful to growing up.
Chasing Life: The First Treatment of a Throat-Breaking Mother, by a High-Energy TV
And I’m going to get his advice for improving my own family’s relationship with technology. Stay with us. And now back to Chasing Life. Before we hear anything from Dr. Rich, I want you to see one of his patients.
Dr. Rich was the first to see Allison as a preventive measure. Amy said that she was having trouble raising Allison and her siblings in a world that was different from the one that she grew up in.
When I had my throat cleaned, the TV got repaired in the back of my dad’s closet. And we didn’t have a TV in our house until I was about 16. It was definitely baptism by fire coming at that, with screens everywhere, raising kids.
A Downtime Check on the Health of the Person Using the Phone (Interview with Dr. Rich on the Podcast, Episode 05/04/2009)
I implemented downtime where I can’t use my phone until 715 in the morning and I can’t use it after 830 at night so I can wind down for bed and have my morning routine. I set limits on how much time I can spend onYouTube. I can only spend a certain amount of time doing games. I can only spend a certain amount of time on other apps. I don’t spend a lot of time scrolling.
It’s pretty impressive. And again, keep in mind, she’s only 13. Now, Allison, I have to tell you, I can really relate to your parents. Going to the doctor to get their health looked at can be a lifesaver. And in many ways, that is what your parents did for you here as well. Also for all your fans. This is what the conversation with Dr. Rich on the podcast is supposed to do for you. Think of it as a check on the health of the person using the phone.
How Do You Get the Trust of Your Doctors? Why Do You Have to Wear a Red Shirt to Lose Your Hustlers?
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. We are both the same age. I’m just saying that. How can I tell them about my world? How do you gain the trust of others?
What Is Your Favorite Game? Tell Me What You’re Doing, And When I’m Going To Lose My Fingers
I ask them what games they play, or what socia-, seriously. You know, and I show them that I am knowledgeable about it in ways that are not pejorative, that are not saying it’s a bad place. I’m approaching it as the world in which they live. A lot of parents make that mistake, they’re dealing with it as something else, which is a mistake. There is a person standing at the top of stairs saying to turn off Grand Theft Auto. I hate that. I suggest that parents sit next to their child and play Grand Theft Auto with them, because there’s some really interesting things that can happen there. Number one is, instead of saying, I hate that, get rid of it, it’s bad for you, you’re saying, I love you, I care about you. I want to understand what makes you engage. I would like to understand what you’re doing. 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. Right. You’re coming from a very different place. You are learning something from that child. 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. That isn’t the reason it’s a punishment, it is the next step.
People must come to you all the time and say, when you distill it all down, then is there a best way, not a right way, but is there a best way to raise kids in an increasingly digital world? What are the top tips that you give?
At the end of the day, I asked Dr. Rich what his main question was. I wanted to be aware of where this is headed when he looks at it. Does he have hope for the future?
I am hopeful. It’s kind of an occupational hazard as a doctor and I’ll acknowledge that. I hear from the kids that I’m hopeful. And so I think that we will get better. Some problems we don’t know about will be encountered. I believe that things are going to get better. There will be some problems in the road. The real question comes down to will we be able to spot those potholes and steer around them? Or will we hit them and have to resolve them? I’m confident that we can do this. We have to take a yes we can attitude toward this and be prepared for problems to occur and solve them without guilt.
I like that. I do. This season is a reason why I wanted to do it because we can attitude towards this issue. I wanted to see the impact that social media and technology is having on us. But I also wanted to make sure that the tone of our conversations were right. It’s not about being a bad parent. It is not about being a bad kid. It’s not about right or wrong. I might not be making the right decisions as a parent all the time. I know that. But I think that’s okay because instead of right or wrong or true or false, it is about doing the best you can with the best intentions in mind. We are in the Wild West when it comes to these technologies. We will make some of this up as we go along, but it’s all about learning the best path for you. For some people like Allison and her mom, Amy, it did make sense to tackle these issues early before anything bad happens. Jerome had a problem after being able to self identify, and then one day decided to stop cold turkey. For some of you listening, you may be worried about your habits and not know what to do to change them. That’s why in our next episode, science journalist Catherine Price is going to teach us how to break up with our phones.
I have a suggestion for all of us to take breaks so that we can better understand and appreciate how technology is affecting us and how we can better appreciate its benefits.
Yeah, I think I could quit Tik Tok and Instagram. It would be more difficult to give up on something that’s my main source of communication.
Chasing Life: Digital Cleansing and What We Don’t Know about Cellular Technology, Social Media, and the Internet – a Channel Audio Perspective
Chasing Life is a production of CNN Audio. Our team includes Grace Walker, Eryn Mathewson, and David Rind. Our senior producer is Haley Thomas. Tommy Bazarian is our engineer. Dan Dzula is our technical director. Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of CNN Audio. A special thank you to Ben and the guys from CNN Health, as well as some other people.
I went into this conversation wondering about digital cleanse and now I think of it in a different way. This is not necessarily about limiting like those social media camps. It’s about being aware of your phone’s effect on your life, and finding balance by not using it. And part of that is to have conversations with the people in your life and ask what they think about your phone use. That’s not easy, but it’s really important. And then once you’re aware of that, the question becomes, what can we do? What can you do to change it? Catherine will explain to us how to begin the break up process when we come back.
How do you break up with your phone? Two questions to chae-rin about being away from my phone for a few hours
My daughter is in the studio with me. I’ve been bringing my daughters along for the ride this season, and I’ll be doing it again next season.
She feels that a week without her phone is impossible, so I decided to sit down with her. What was the biggest challenge of that week?
I had to memorize my friends phone numbers in order to talk to them. It’s not convenient to have to call someone every time you have to say something to them.
What if it’s important? What if Sky and Soleil need to be picked up from their sports or their friends houses They can’t text me to let me know when they’re picking me up because they have no idea how to get there. And they can’t call me when I’m on my Alexa. I only have to call them.
Being away from my phone feels good. For sure. I thought about it and wondered if I should go off the grid. After all, for most of my life, I did not have a cell phone and I certainly did not have social media. My reality, though, is that it feels impossible to take a break even for an afternoon. But my next guest thinks it’s doable and the key is to start small.
It was 4:00 o’clock in the morning when Yoo Chae-rin realized she’d been on her phone for 13 hours. This was when the 16-year-old decided she needed help.
In other countries like the United States, people will actually pay pretty big sums of money just to disconnect for a week or more. I’m not interested in that. I don’t plan on sending Sage to one of these camps. Frankly, it would be just a lot easier and cheaper to take away her phone. But before we get to that point, I did want to know if she would ever consider hitting the pause button herself.
It is really hard for people to think aboutlocking their phone in a drawer or getting rid of one app. I think the question is, how do you know? How do you know when it’s time to scale back? And if so, how do you do it? I’m going to ask two people about the best way to break up with your phone.
Why I’m a Neurosurgeon: What I’ve Learned in the Last Two Years and What I Don’t Have to Learn About My Phone
I was asked about this after a recent interview, and I had to think about it because I am actually a neurosurgeon and I am in the no-phone-zone a lot. After all, I can’t use my phone when I’m scrubbed in the operating room. That doesn’t mean that separation isn’t difficult for me. I told him what I wanted to say.
When I was on an international flight and it was going to be a long flight, I realized that the plane did not have any internet service. And I remember thinking, Wow, that’s going to be a long time off the grid. But instead, I read books. I got more sleep than I would have if I hadn’t. I did some other work. When I finally had cellular service again, there wasn’t much that I had missed. There wasn’t some huge thing that had happened. Between the time that we landed and the time that we got to our gate, I was able to answer emails and text messages. I was all set. I think I’d have spent more time on the device. In terms of my actual work responsibilities, I was able to complete them quickly. How do I feel? I feel fantastic. And I feel fantastic in part because I am allowed to feel fantastic. I don’t have to be somebody who’s beholden to the phone.
I typically don’t use the word digital detox because to me it implies that you’re trying to totally take a break from technology for an extended period of time, which I don’t think really is realistic for most people. I think having rituals in which you occasionally take breaks from your phone is a good thing.
How Catherine Price Gets Up During Night and How to Break Up With Your Phone: 30 Day Plan to Take Back Your Life, and What She Has Done Recently
That’s Catherine Price. She’s a science journalist and she’s author of the book, “How to Break Up With Your Phone: The 30 Day Plan to Take Back Your Life.” As with Catherine, like me, this work is deeply personal. She really began to focus on it after her daughter was born.
I found myself up late at night often, in this room, feeding her. I would have an out-of-body experience because of the lack of sleep. She would look up at me. I was devastated when I looked down at my phone.
You know, that really got to me. Catherine told that story to her daughter. I remember my own daughter Sky once, she was just five-years-old, running into my room to show me a drawing. I admittedly was distracted. I was on my phone. I did not give her the attention she deserved. She ran from the room. Ten years later, she still never let me forget it. After Catherine had had this moment with her daughter, she did something. Something I feel like I can relate to. She used this personal moment as an inspiration for change, and not to be a parent. She got this benefit in a lot of ways. She was given too much time on her hands.
Do you wanna take a digital Sabbath? What do you need to do now that’s all you need? How do you find the inflection point?
It is one ritual that I love to do and I encourage anyone that is interested to take a digital Sabbath. Just have a 24-hour period where you don’t interact with your devices. If that freaks people out, you can shorten it. Just do it for a night. In my experience, I like walking and doing something with our daughter. and I’ll practice an instrument I’ll do another thing. I will look at the clock, and it is at 11:00 o’clock. and I’ll no idea It is only eleven o’clock in the morning. Many people do not want their devices to be turned back on at the end of the day because of the sense of relaxation and calm that comes with it.
It is not one thing that we think of as just one thing. It’s like saying a refrigerator is all food. Like if you look inside the refrigerator, you’ve got all sorts of different categories of foods, and some of them are good for you and some of them are really bad for you, and some of them are delicious in small quantities, but will make you feel gross if you have too much. And I think that’s very much the same with our phones. So are you going to get addicted to your banking app? I don’t think so. I’m not particularly worried about that.
But when you talk about addiction, if you just drill down on that metaphorically, would it be more like like opioids or more like like food? Like we need food. We know we can eat it too much. If you don’t require opioids, you’re just taking them because you’ve become addicted to them. You do not need that. Nicotine could be a good example. There’s no redeeming qualities to nicotine and and I’m not trying to sort of gild the lily here. I’m not saying where the next point will be. What point do you say that the device itself is something that I need to take a break from versus, you know, just certain aspects of the device?
But this is the reason I asked the food versus the drug question. What you’re saying is it’s different for every person. How do you find the inflection point? You wrote a book about this. And you also realize, I think this was a study that you mentioned from the American Psychological Association. Most people kind of get that it probably be a good idea to unplug for a while. It will be good for their mental health. I think you said two thirds of Americans in that study believe that. A very small number of people actually do it.
I think one of the important factors in figuring out whether or not you are okay using your phone is whether the people in your life are okay with it. You might think that your alcohol use is not that bad. and then you talk to your spouse or your children and they’re like, actually, it makes me really uncomfortable or actually it’s harming our relationship. I think that people should always talk to their families, their friends and their kids, no matter how young they are. It’s amazing how perceptive, really young kids can be about this and ask how they feel about your device use. That is a real wake up call for people.
It’s breaking up with your phone and then making up with it. You’re not saying I’m never going to date another human being again if I break up with a human being.
You’re just saying that relationship was not right for me. Hopefully, you have a moment of self-reflection to evaluate what was good and what was bad about it and what you would like in the new relationship.
What should you do if you’re really struggling with your smartphone? A suggestion to people: Put a rubber band on their phone and go out and tell them what to do
If you were trying to quit smoking, it would be really dumb to keep cigarettes in your pocket. If you know that one app isn’t beneficial to you, then you should remove it from your phone. You can always check it from a desktop. You can always reinstall it to look at it for your at your phone, on your phone and then delete it afterwards. Or you can check it from the browser, but get the app off your phone. You also then can do things like go into your settings and make it so that you can turn it very easily to black and white. That is in the accessibility settings. Google it. Minimize your notifications like I think of those as interruptions because they’re there to interrupt you. So what’s worth being interrupted in the middle of your family dinner?
Actually go down to the level of looking at the apps in your phone and asking yourself, well, which one of these are necessary or useful or truly enjoyable? I think that the ones that are actually waste of time are the ones that I don’t want to spend a lot of time on.
Okay. You know, the first thing you need to do is to delete those extra apps. I’m going to just do these right now. Clubhouse gone. Oh, my look at all these games. It takes a lot of time to do this. Solitaire, space shooter, alien shooter. I didn’t know I had so many games. There is another solitaire, Golf Rival. All of them gone. The hard ones are over here. I’m moving them to the side for now. But got rid of TikTok and Snapchat. Gone.
The thing about the design of many of our most problematic apps is that they’re designed to hijack our brain circuitry so that we end up checking them without even realizing what we’re doing. The reason why we end up spending longer is that they’re designed to make us lose track of time. So one suggestion I have to people is to put like a rubber band or something on your phone. The idea is that when you reach for your phone on autopilot, you have to ask yourself why there’s a rubber band on my phone. And then you can say, Oh, I just picked up my phone. What am I doing?
As a lover of the brain, I’m really into this idea. I think that it’s all about disrupting the things we do every day and making us rethink what we’re doing. It’s like if your brain went into this automatic mode and you had to bring it back online in a split second. That is the split second Catherine is describing. When you feel that rubber band, for example, it makes you think and that can be just enough to break the cycle.
I created a new exercise called: What for? Why now? What else? For a short time. And once you notice your phone’s in your hand, you just ask yourself those questions. What am I supposed to do with it? Then you ask yourself why now? What was that time sensitive reason you picked it up. Sometimes you have a reason. It’s your friend’s birthday. You need to get a gift for them. The majority of the time it will be an emotional reason. I had it, it’s going to be like, I was anxious. and I want it to be soothed. I waited on this line, and was not interested in the experience. I had a desire for a distraction. I wanted to feel connected. So identify what your brain is actually after and then you can move to the third step – the what else? What else could you do in that moment to get the same result? It would be great if you could call a friend on the phone instead of using social media. If you need a break from work, can you walk the block instead of going to the news? It doesn’t really matter what the answer is. There is no preset right answer. You might decide you actually want to do nothing, or you might decide that you actually do want to be on your phone, and that’s fine. The point is to make certain that we don’t use our devices or the app we use in them in ways that are detrimental to our brain, instead of just relying on our minds being the only ones who might be capable of that.
What are you doing? Why now? What else are you talking about? I really love this. It requires a mix of mindfulness and also the idea of building regular routines into your life. So you are constantly reminded how good life is offline. Now, I’m not trying to make this sound too easy. These can be tough habits to break, but they’re worth it.
Trying to change a habit through willpower is a guaranteed way to fail. It’s much better if you can give yourself a positive alternative. I want people to ask, what do you want to do with your time? What’s something you would like to do? You don’t have time for that?
Pay Attention – I’ve been there, I’m sorry, I haven’t been here, but I’ll admit it, I don’t want to be there
My list is a long one, and this is probably the most amazing thing about approaching your phone usage this way. You will suddenly seem to have more time and more attentiveness.
If you feel your attention has been slipping over the past few years, you can’t even get through like a blog post without needing to go do something else. It’s probably because you’ve been training your brain to be more distractible. Our brains naturally want to be distractible. So whether it’s putting your phone in another room for half an hour and forcing yourself to read a book, or if it’s doing a meditation or just something where you’re focusing on one thing, these practices are very important in restrengthening our ability to focus.
You know, it’s interesting that you can have so much joy just by paying a lot of attention to something. I was operating all day yesterday and this is something I say in the operating room with my residents, you know, when you’re operating, you’re scrubbed and obviously, there’s no phones and you’re really focused and you have a thing, in this case an operation, and then you are going to complete it. You know, maybe that’s a human evolutionary thing for the brain to to survive, to have been able to pay attention to things. It could be that it is a little bit of both. You know, you need to be easily distractible as well so that you can recognize threats. My experience is that there’s a lot of joy in paying attention.
And that means that every time when you’re making a decision in the moment about what to pay attention to, you’re making this much broader decision about how to live your life.
And I found that so powerful that for me, myself, I’m not a tattoo person. I do not think it’s too much commitment. I made myself a bracelet that said pay attention. And it’s exactly that. We need to be more intentional about our attention. and it is becoming more and more difficult to do so because our attention is a resource that’s worth a lot of money. It’s more important than ever to understand its value. It’s even more important than time. You can spend time in the same room with someone, and you can be with them. But if you’re not paying attention, if you’re if you’re just co-scrolling on your phones, like, were you really together?
I told you these were going to be some vulnerable conversations. It wasn’t easy to hear this from my daughter. I think as parents, we will always wonder how well we did. Did we find that balance between discipline and joy, liberty and rules? It’s always better to trust, but always verify. The truth is, there were times I knew Sage was paying too much attention to something that gave her little in return – her phone, her social media, her scrolling. But part of me also felt that she had to learn some of this herself. She needed to learn to be self-awareness. And yes, she needed to learn that her life was what she paid attention to and that there was so much beauty in the world. It’s true for everyone. It’s certainly true for Sage. But also for Catherine, whose own journey started when she realized how often she was on her phone around her newborn baby.
How do you how do you feel like your childhood has been in terms of the how much we’ve allowed you to use these devices, you know, the permissions we’ve granted you, the liberties, things like that, the the rules. How do you feel it’s worked out for you?
If I don’t think I want my kids to be on social media as early as possible, then I won’t let them do it. I would want to not limit what they can do. I want to make them aware of how much they use, and not what they see, but how much they view. I don’t think I’m better with it now, but I think when I was younger. I used my phone a lot.
I think it depends on the person to say a totally obvious thing. I would say that my personal hope is similar to what you just described, which is that through conversations like this, hopefully through things like “How to Break up with Your Phone” and then all the documentaries and the new books that have come out about this issue, people become more aware of the tactics that are being used against us and the impact it’s having on our experience of our lives to the point that we actually get disgusted with some of these platforms. I think disgust is an important emotion when it comes to changing behavior. My hope is that teenagers will understand that TikTok is a waste of time. The people behind that are trying to steal my time assume I’m dumb enough to be fooled. And guess what? I’m not. I have my own priorities and I will not do that. That’s what I hope will happen. Am I optimistic that that’s going to happen in a society wide basis? No, I don’t think so. I think a lot of people are fine or just not thinking about it. But I am hopeful that there are increasing numbers of people who are becoming aware that this is an issue and that they do want to take action on it, and that the biggest thing missing right now is a society wide movement really to take back control. I would like to help start those conversations and am interested in being part of that movement.
I worry a bit about the central role social media has in my life. Bo Burnham’s “Inside” doesn’t seem very good, so you think to yourself. And then you look over at loneliness and isolation and mental health problems, and it does seem a little bit correlated, if not causative.
Hank Green: Making a Living on the Internet without Overcoming His Obsession With His Social Media Role (An interview on a podcast on Facebook, Twitter and Facebook)
Hank Green talks about how he makes his living on the internet without taking over his life. We’ll be back next Tuesday. Thanks for listening.
What’s your relationship with your phone? Have you reexamined your habits around social media since listening to this podcast? Record your thoughts and email them to ask at CNN.com, or give us a call and leave a message. We might even include them on an upcoming episode of the podcast.