Children and Screens held its #AskTheExperts webinar “All in the Family: A Conversation about Media Rules, Parental Controls, and Family Media Plans” on Wednesday, March 10, 2021 at 12:00pm ET via Zoom. A panel of esteemed researchers, clinicians, and parenting experts discussed how to navigate parenting in the digital world, shared the latest evidence-based advice about parental controls, monitoring apps, family media plans, digital media rules conversations, and more. World-renowned experts explored pandemic parenting as well as how to plan and monitor digital media use for years to come.
Laura Jana, MDAssociate Research ProfessorModerator
Adam Pletter, PsyDClinical Child Psychologist
Katie Davis, EdDAssociate Professor; Adjunct Associate Professor; Founding Member and Co-Director
Elizabeth Milovidov, PhD, JDConsultant; Author
Tiffany ShlainEmmy-nominated filmmaker; Founder; Co-Founder; Author
Pamela Wisniewski, PhDAssociate Professor
[Dr. Pamela Hurst]: Welcome. I am Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, president and founder of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, and host of the popular Ask the Experts webinar series. Lady Bird Johnson famously said, “Encourage and support your kids, because children are apt to live up to what you believe of them.” Without giving too much away of what our esteemed experts are going to discuss today, I’ll say that over the next 90 minutes we will talk about the scaffolds, apps, and conversations that will help you do just that. Namely, they will provide guidance about the best ways to support your children to live healthy lives in an increasingly digital world. We are delighted that you and more than 600 others have tuned in for this afternoon’s conversation. The outstanding panelists have reviewed the questions you submitted, and will answer as many as possible during and after their presentations. If you have additional questions during the workshop, please type them into the Q&A box at the bottom of your screen. When you do, please indicate whether or not you’d like to ask your question live on camera if time permits, or if you would prefer that the moderator read your question. We’re recording today’s workshop and we’ll upload a video onto YouTube in the coming days. All registrants will receive a link to our YouTube channel where you’ll find videos from our past 27 webinars, which we hope you’ll watch as you wait for this video to be posted. It is now my great pleasure to introduce our moderator. Dr. Laura Jana is a pediatrician, educator, health communicator, and award-winning author who finds connections across disciplines and crystallizes big ideas into far-reaching real-world applications with a focus on social impact. She is currently an associate research professor at Penn State University’s Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research center. We are so delighted that she is here today, welcome Laura.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Well thank you, Pam. I’m really looking forward to serving as the moderator for what I have no doubt is going to be a really interesting and highly relevant discussion for today. As you mentioned, as a pediatrician but also also as a parent, author, social entrepreneur who’s dedicated to helping all children thrive in today’s rapidly changing and globally complex world, it’s been my experience that this topic, the topic of how best to approach raising children in a digital world is one that perhaps more than any other is of universal interest and importance to parents, pediatricians, educators, and researchers alike, and I’m probably leaving a whole bunch of people off that list. So when it comes to discussing children and media use, questions of interest and concern span from the more technical: which media is okay, for how long, at what age, and should we as parents be monitoring and limiting our children’s media use? And if so how? All the way to broader questions of how media use stands to impact child development and how best to parent in the digital age. Fortunately, Children and Screens has brought together today a stellar group of expert panelists to share some of their thoughts, research and practical advice regarding media rules, parental controls, family media plans and much more. So with that as a quick overview, what I’m going to do now is give each of our panelists the chance to briefly share some of their work and insights, and then we’ll open things up and leave plenty of time for our experts to address your questions. So, first up is Dr. Adam Pletter, a licensed clinical psychologist in his 20th year of private practice who has been a digital dad for over 17 years. Dr. Pletter consults with parents as well as technology companies to balance the many benefits of the digital world with healthy child development and mental health. And with that Adam I’ll turn it over to you.
[Dr. Adam Pletter]: Thank you so much and I really appreciate the opportunity to speak to you all. Go ahead and share my screen. Excellent. Okay, so let’s jump in. As the first one, first expert to go today, I’m going to try to set the stage and touch on a few different things that we all will be discussing in more detail. So, obviously any discussion on parental controls. I’m going to start off with a discussion or a moment of parenthood right, that, what is the point of parenthood, right. We’re raising children, we’re raising future adults, and you know, as you can see the fence in the background, it takes a lot of care and guidance and support to raise our future adults. It’s parental controls in any discussion, again, I’m a clinical psychologist so I work with families all day long, any discussion around parental controls really, you know, I would want to shy away from it being about the control, and I’ll touch on that in a second. But really what parental controls should be setting up is a way of safeguarding and mentoring with the aim of helping our children learn to self-regulate themselves. And that’s a huge task, you know, that will likely take a lifespan. But that really is the goal of childhood, adolescence and into young adulthood, to learn how to manage yourself. We are digital parenting pioneers, first time ever in the history of humankind. You know parents have been around for, you know since the beginning. This gap between what I as a parent, I grew up with and what my children are exposed to and having to manage and navigate is overwhelming to say the least, and very, very different in terms of my reference point. Reference points are really important because humans learn by doing and having some sort of pattern or reference that we can go back to refer back to quite literally gives us a guidance of how to then approach this next decision-making. And there’s a lot of decisions that need to be made when it comes to parenting, especially in 2021, hopefully coming out of a pandemic, right. So in terms of reference point we have a lot of references, I have a lot of references, I’m sure you all do as well, to a physical barrier, a physical way of being proactive and helping our children be safe and teaching them. From walls, to fences, laws, you know, is a law, you know, a society law a parental control? It’s certainly a control over society, giving us some guidance on what to do. You go at a green light, you stop at a red light and everyone agrees to that and it keeps us all safe. Car seats, I remember very well when my first child was born almost 17 years ago, you know I actually went to the police station to make sure the car seat was in in a secure way because I was nervous as a brand new parent or soon to be parent. And so I’m imagining that you all, to sign on to this webinar today, have similar types of worries and concerns and the intent of raising our kids as well as we can in this very overwhelming, confusing time. The emphasis that I’m going to take here really is on the guardrail. All kids are going to test limits, that’s part of the process of learning and through child development to trial and error, to see what works, what doesn’t work, and if you put a device in a child’s hand, which pretty much every family is doing quite early, then the children through their learning processes will test limits. Humans learn by doing. So this is a slide out of my typical workshop where, I’m not going to cover all this today, I think we will talk this through mostly, but I chose this slide not because of what’s on the screen there but because if I take a step back, what parental controls are is really a tech-based tool to help us parent in the digital world. It’s technology helping with technology, and when used in a thoughtful, reasonable way, it actually does, it’s a huge part of how to parent now. I don’t want to over rely on it, but it is a huge part of what we’re doing. You know, encouraging our kids to monitor, to slow down, to pause, think, and to, you know, for us to model and mentor how they’re learning. Parental controls encourage and maybe even force, as I often say, the parent-child dialogue, which helps the learning for both parents and children. But what I was saying earlier is that the reason I chose this slide is I really want to take a step back briefly, and kind of look at the, let’s say the young mom holding the back of her head because it’s so stressful. Trying to think this through and safeguard our kids and what is the right answer and what do we do, which again probably brought you here today, I think is a very important lens to look at this discussion. It’s just one of many lenses, but this stressed out, worried parent, especially in a pandemic is very important here. Ultimately what we’re talking about when we talk about parental control through this lens is parental anxiety, just like when I had that anxiety, the anticipatory anxiety as I was becoming a parent to make sure my car seat was installed correctly. Anxiety is a very healthy normal part of being a parent, especially a young parent, and in this overwhelming world of all of these unknowns and uncertainty, anxiety goes up because that’s what anxiety does, that’s normal. What is the antidote for anxiety? Typically control, right, the answer to if you’re feeling in control, you feel less anxious, just in general. What happens often in lots of different examples of life, not just parenting, is that because we feel anxious we get so invested in the control that it almost becomes an illusion of control, where then other clinical issues might pop up of magical thinking and different rituals in order to feel in control. I’m doing these things to feel more in control. So it’s something I just want to be aware of as we talk through the different types of parental controls, because it will give you some level of control, but don’t lose sight of the fact that we’re raising future adults. It’s not just about keeping them safe and like, in a little bubble in order for them to grow up. Having clear rules and expectations will obviously be very very critical here. So let’s just jump into this little video,
[Narration]: The Croods made it because of my dad. He was strong, and he followed the rules. The ones painted on the cave walls. Anything new is bad, curiosity is bad, going out at night is bad, basically anything fun is bad. Welcome to my world!
[Dr. Adam Pletter]: Does that sound familiar? I hear that from my kids and from kids all day long in my office that there’s so much control that anything that is fun, there’s a lot of fun on the internet, have you seen Tiktok recently, it’s a lot of fun, but with some concerns.
[Narration]: But this is a story about how all that changed in an instant because what we didn’t know was that our world was about to come to an end and there were no rules on our cave walls to prepare us for that.
[Dr. Adam Pletter]: Right. So I often feel like this, this is from the Croods, the first Croods, and I often feel like that as a parent, that there’s no rules written down. We are pioneers as I’ve said, and that non-clinical, healthy, appropriate, adaptive, protective anxiety is what is driving, again through this lens, is driving our parenting decisions. And it really is, anxiety is a prep signal to keep us protected, it’s part of the fight or flight and it’s really about survival, again survival to raise future adults. The human brain typically doesn’t fully develop until 25 to 30, believe that, and so over the life span the ability to control and think through things and have impulse control doesn’t fully develop until much later. Don’t panic, even though there’s no rules written down, we are the pioneers, our children are there with us and they know almost as much or more than we do, again I go back to this reference point. They are first generation digital citizens and there are different things that as parents we can encourage them to do. And I’ll get into that briefly now in terms of screen time. They could set their own app limits, that doesn’t have to block them but it increases their awareness. All of the parental controls should be focused on helping our children hit pause and think through what they’re doing, not be consumed by their own anxiety of the uncertainty of what’s about to happen, but to think it through in a calmer slower way which is almost antithetical to being a teenager. Teenagers by definition are more impulsive because their brains, that front part of the brain is not fully developed.
[Dr. Delaney Ruston]: The dopamine that’s secreted in the brain’s pleasure center when we get new bits of information and we look at the screens, that center of the brain is most activated when we’re kids and we’re teenagers. So knowing that they are so pulled into these in a way that we can’t even understand has made me not be as angry at them but realize there’s a lot more I need to do in my parenting.
[Interviewer]:So these are little electronic drug delivery devices, I know that’s a crude way to put it, but that’s what you’re saying
[Dr. Delaney Ruston]: Absolutely, I mean it’s amazing that there’s many studies that look at MRI scans of the brain of kids who play a lot of video games, 20 hours or more of video games a week, and when they compare them to people who are addicted to, say, drugs or alcohol, their brain scans are similar. So something is really happening on a physiological level, it’s not just psychological.
[Dr. Adam Pletter]: Right, it’s both, it’s physiological and psychological. So what to do with that, again tech-based, I’m going to wrap up and then we’ll talk about this in more detail during the Q&A, but, so I’m always going to recommend since I get asked about Apple every single day, using what is built in because you don’t have to buy anything extra. If you’re an Apple family as many families are, if you go right to Apple’s website, right there, it sets up family sharing, and the family sharing is key because it has that ask to buy system, where it forces the dialogue because the child can’t just download whatever he wants that he heard about in the back of the bus. So you can go through and set that up, again Apple has changed their website recently where they walk you through it pretty quickly and easily, and again it sets it up in a way where it encourages that dialogue and encourages the learning. It gives you a family calendar and again that ask to buy system so the child isn’t just grabbing whatever app or toy that they see and plopping down your credit card because that is often what is set up. That all links up with screen time, again they have a great website now where it kind of walks you through how to do that. It didn’t go there, sorry. And so this is what I was talking about before where the child can actually see how long they’ve been on, what was the first app that they picked up when they picked up their phone, and it gives that self-awareness over time, is going to help them learn and make better choices as they move forward. Okay so you can see how all this links up, you can see where the family sharing, the children are there and all of that is remote through your phone.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Adam, this is great information and I’m sure it’s going to be very helpful for people to have that very specific kind of example. You know, I’m really struck by your comments, and you and I clearly think alike in this realm. I deal a lot in the world of early brain and child development, setting kids up to succeed in this world that they’ll live in, and you know you mentioned this idea of helping them learn self-control but setting some guardrails, and you know, you said it’s their job to test limits and what I often say to that and to parents is it’s their job to test limits, it’s your job to set some. And I think that’s a perfect segue into our next speaker if you don’t mind.
[Dr. Adam Pletter]: Absolutely, absolutely, great. We’ll come back to all this, thank you.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Yeah, perfect. Because again that segue into, okay so great, you know you need to set some limits, what should those limits be? And next up I’m excited to introduce international speaker Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov, who focuses on internet safety issues and leads parental workshops, rights on digital parenting, and coaches parents on best practices in the digital age. She’s a consultant for the council of Europe, UNICEF, and e-Enfance, as well as a contributor to Internet Matters, UK Safer Internet Center, Family Online Safety Institute, and many other key actors in online child protection. So Elizabeth, I think you’re going to have plenty more that people are going to be really interested in here, I’ll let you take it from here.
[Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov]: Yes, thank you so much Laura, and I’m conscious of time because, I’m going to just hold it to five minutes, I’m not going to use any slides because I just really want to talk to the parents and like, look at them eye to eye and just kind of explain something that I hear quite a lot. So parents ask me about what are the best parental controls, and I always answer in the same way: you are. You are the parental control. With children under nine of course there are fabulous apps and devices and software and all sorts of things that you can use to boost your parental guidance, and like Adam was saying I would prefer to say parental guidance rather than parental control. But I think that over the age of nine, this can be more challenging, having parental controls on a device, unless you discuss this with your tween or teen and you’ve asked for their input and you’ve crafted a family media agreement or a device agreement together. So just keeping it really simple, I always talk about how you can ace it, right, so that’s Awareness, Communication, Engagement, ACE it. And by that I mean any time that you’re dealing with an issue online, whether we’re talking parental controls or social media or online gaming, let’s boost our awareness. So with parental controls, what are the different types? Adam just spoke about Apple and screen time, love that, on Android they also have Google Wellbeing. There are lots and lots of resources out there, but dig in there, what do you want the software to do? Then we have this communication part, right, so you’re going to be speaking with your child, and again under nine, you can speak with them in a way that’s age-appropriate, but again at this point as a lawyer I will tell you that you are the digital guardian, and so you know, take it as your responsibility to put those guardrails on. But when we’re talking about the older children, you’re still the digital guardian but you can communicate with them, you can let them know why certain things are inappropriate and you’re going to be listening to them without judging. And lastly I would say this sort of engagement piece is that we are going to engage with our children, we’re going to encourage them to share concerns and objections and show us the games that they’re on. Something that I did with my own son who’s 11, he wanted to have a chat opened up on a game, and I said but I have parental controls on this, so he said, well mommy, let’s just look at it. I said, you’re right, let’s take a peek. And so we walked through it together and I found that there were ways for him to chat with his friends that he knew and ways to block and filter, and each time I would toggle something I would say, do you need that? And he would say, no, I don’t need that. And so he knew himself what he could do and what he needed, so I think that we can really show our children the settings, things that are going to filter bad language or violent content or eliminate the chat and we really can explain to them that they don’t need all of these features. But again I really want to stress this whole idea that prior to creating a tech agreement, a media agreement, a smartphone agreement, whatever, again with my lawyer hat on, don’t think of it so much as a contract but think of it as, me as a digital parent, I’m going to respect their toys, their games, and they, as your digital child are going to respect the rules, limitations, and your guidance and values. So I’m just going to leave it at that, Laura, so that way we can speed along and get to the audience because I can’t wait to answer some questions.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Oh and I think that you’ve got a lot of people who are going to be eager to ask some questions based on what you just said. And I love your idea I mean, even I’m somebody who does a lot with words and I write and I do a lot of communication side and the shift from sort of control to guidance I think fits with what Adam talked about with, that’s guardrails and then you help facilitate with this goal of how do you back off and let kids learn those skills,
[Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov]: Right, and I say that for everything, parental controls, social media, whether you’re talking TikTok or Snapchat or video games, Minecraft or Fortnite, what have you, we can do it, parents, we can do it.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: What’s interesting, you know, I deal a lot in the sort of these skills and how do we develop them and this idea of engagement, I mean obviously awareness and communication, I’ve often told parents that we should be looked at as CEOs as in chief engagement officers,
[Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov]: Yes, yes!
[Dr. Laura Jana]: It’s what in the business world proves to be successful as well is when leaders, CEOs engage as opposed to do the sort of dictatorial approach.
[Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov]: Right. I’m going to go trademark that ACEd right now Laura, because we’re on to something here.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: And you know I’m really excited now to switch over to our next couple of experts and let them weigh in because they both are in the realm of human-computer interactions and I think it’s going to be really interesting to have their input as well. So now let’s go to Dr. Katie Davis. Dr. Davis is an Associate Professor at the University of Washington Information School where she’s a founding member and co-director of the UW Digital Youth Lab. Dr. Davis’s research explores the impact of digital interactive and network technologies on young people’s learning and development, and Katie I think I’m as excited as everyone else to hear what you have to contribute to the conversation here.
[Dr. Katie Davis]: Great, thank you Laura. I’m going to share my screen now. Okay. Hi everyone. So my focus today is not so much about parental rules or parental controls limiting the amount of time kids spend with technology but how parents can support their children’s positive experiences with technology and perhaps reflect on what makes your own experiences with technology more or less positive too. But before we get to the positive tech experiences, I do want to take a minute to talk about what my research has to say about where screen time tensions come from, especially in families with teenagers. So at first blush it might be easy to assume that technology-related tensions come from parents’ and teens’ different perspectives and their different approaches to technology. So, parents tend to say kids these days are so different, well teens say parents are so out of touch. But in fact my research suggests that parents and teens are actually far more similar than you might think. So when we spoke with a group of parents and then separately with their teen children about their own tech use, especially their phones, both groups described experiences in remarkably similar ways. So I’m going to read two quotes from our interviews and I invite you to guess which one belongs to a parent and which one belongs to a teen, and we’re gonna do a poll to see how good you are. So the first quote is, “I’m on my phone way too much, like I’m jonesing right now to check it.” And the second is, “but I’ve just been looking at my phone, like I’m just looking at it because people are messaging me and I want to look at them so bad, but I’m here and I’m trying to not do it.” So now we can show the survey and do you think the first quote was a parent or a teen, do you think the second quote was a parent or a teen, or both from a teen both from a parent. Okay, there’s quite a split, okay so, let me do the big reveal. It looks like most people think the first one was a parent and the second one was a teen, and you are correct. So the first one was a mother and the second one was a teen. But in addition to sounding extremely similar, I also want to call your attention to the fact that this mother and teen are expressing pretty strong feelings about their phones. So language like “I’m jonesing right now to check it,” “all I want, I want to look at them so bad,” it suggests that neither is really feeling particularly good or in control of their tech use, we’ll come back to this in a moment. So parents and teens are also very similar in how they talk about each other’s tech use, and again as I read the next two quotes we won’t do a survey but I just invite you to guess, which do you think is speaking, either a mother or a teen daughter. So the first one is, “she’ll literally just take her phone and sit like this, imitating phone in front of her face, hey daughter or mother, nice to see your head.” The second one, “I always joke with daughter or mother too. I’m like, hi you’re so beautiful, I always see your forehead, that’s all i see.” So the first one is a teen complaining about her mother and the second one is a mother using very similar language to describe her children’s phone use. So it turns out this image of looking at a family member’s head as they stare at their screen appeared often enough in our data that we gave it a name, the forehead effect. So in a nutshell, both parents and teens are unsatisfied with their own tech use, generally speaking, but they also feel that the other person’s tech use is more problematic than their own. So this suggests that both parents and teens have work to do to become more self-aware and intentional about their own tech use, and at the same time become more other-aware and empathetic, recognizing that they are likely to have different goals and purposes for using technology, but these differences don’t mean that one is more important or legitimate than the other. And this is where the empathy comes in, trying to understand where the other person is coming from, what they value and what they’re trying to achieve through their technology use. And in this process of empathizing parents and teens are likely to find they have more in common than they might think. So in my last two minutes I just want to focus in on this piece about becoming more self-aware and intentionable about your technology use and also your teen’s technology use. So in April of last year, my students and I started a study examining the experiences of Seattle area teens during the pandemic, and through interviews and daily surveys with them we looked at the connection between their technology use and their well-being. In particular we looked at how their daily well-being fluctuated depending on how much total time they were spending with technology on any given day, how much time they spent specifically with social media, and also setting time aside completely, how much satisfaction they got from their tech experiences. So it turns out that how much time teens spend with technology on one day had absolutely no connection to how good they felt the next day. The same thing was for social media, it didn’t matter how much time they spent on TikTok or Instagram, what mattered was how they evaluated the time they spent with their favorite platforms. So teens who rated their time with technology as more satisfying, more meaningful on one day, tended to report higher levels of well-being on the next day. So what exactly makes for a tech experience that’s more or less satisfying? So in our research we found that a satisfying tech experience does one or more of the following things. So, it might allow teens to engage actively and intentionally in a pursuit that aligns with their overarching goals and values, it might provide opportunities for them to learn new skills and pursue their interests, or it might allow them to connect with others and especially their friends. So to put everything together, two overarching goals that I think all families should be striving for are one, to reduce tensions among family members when it comes to everyone’s tech use at home, and two, to increase both parents’ meaningful satisfying technology experiences and their teens’ meaningful satisfying technology experiences as well. So tensions can be reduced by parents and teens becoming more self-aware and intentional in their own tech use, and also more aware of and empathetic towards each other’s tech use. When it comes to increasing meaningful satisfying technology experiences, be on the lookout for experiences that fill at least one of these three qualities: active intentional engagement, the opportunity to pursue interests and learn new skills, and also the ability to connect with others, especially for teens, their friends. And I will stop there, thank you.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Thank you Katie, really really cool information and again, I think there’s gonna be a lot of questions and interest in this idea, it’s not just amount of time as much as it would be nice to have a set, here’s the strict amount of time per age that we use, but great to hear the research on this. We’re gonna take a little bit of a shift now and hear from someone else before we get back into some more research. We’re gonna hear from Tiffany Shlain, and Tiffany is an Emmy nominated filmmaker, founder of the Webby awards, and author of the national bestselling book, 24/6: Giving Up Screens One Day a Week to Get More Time, Creativity, and Connection, winner of the Marshall McLuhan outstanding book award. And with no more introduction needed I think you’ve got lots of people interested in sort of your approach to all of this Tiffany, so I’m going to let you take it from here.
[Tiffany Shlain]: Thank you, and it’s just been a pleasure to hear everybody’s different perspectives. We’re all passionate about the same issue and I can share with you that my background is in tech. I founded the webby awards, my husband’s a professor of robotics, we’re very interested in technology and when does it amplify our lives, and when does it amputate our lives. And about 11 years ago, you know, we were the first ones to get the iPhone back in 2007 and I think we were one of the first crew to get very addicted to it and I didn’t like the way I was feeling, and I had this kind of very dramatic series of events that really made me question how I was living. I lost my dad and my daughter was born, my second daughter, so my family and I started doing something, we’re Jewish, we are not religious but we’re cultural Jews, but there’s the concept called Shabbat which is 3000 years old and the concept is a day of rest, and really in America only Orthodox Jews will take a complete day of rest, and with most cultural Jews maybe they’ll do a Shabbat dinner a couple times a month or something. But my family and I decided to actually, we call it our tech Shabbat, so for 11 years now, from Friday night to Saturday night all screens go off in the house, and it is literally the best thing I’ve ever done as a parent with my husband. And you know we always have people over on Friday nights and during the pandemic at a distance, so Friday’s very social and even our friends’ kids, I mean now our daughters are almost 18 and 12. So that’s a very social night, we often will invite their friends’ families over if they want to be social, but it’s for family and friends, and there’s no screens and it’s literally my favorite conversation of the week because we let people know that we don’t use screens on when they come over so there’s no one looking down at their screen. And you know cell phones are like yawns, one person brings it out and then everyone brings it out and then all you have is foreheads, right. So we turn off the screens, you know Friday night, and then Saturday is very analog, we do all these things that bring us joy that don’t involve screens, cooking, napping, reading, we go out in nature, and usually, I mean it’s my, I mean as a filmmaker it’s, I feel the most creative, I think it’s really taught our kids how to live without a screen, like they can walk outside without one and be really resourceful and enjoy it. And then it has a ripple effect the other six days, but I’m gonna say that I find the other six days harder. I think the whole concept of out of sight, out of mind is much easier when we have this very clear boundary, so for us as a family it’s been really great that it’s just, you know parenting is all modeling behavior and we all do this thing together which is that we turn off screens for one day a week. And I ended up writing a book about it which really, called 24/6 which really walks people through how to bring this in your life and a lot of neuroscience. I make a lot of films about neuroscience and the why you should do it, and of course for different age kids there’s going to be a different conversation, and a lot of, there’s a lot of women who like, I want to do this but I have to get my husband to do it. I’m like, have him read the book, maybe he’s going to respond to the science more. But you know the kids, I think the other six days I also talk about little mini interventions that I do and our kids do, you know we have no screens in the bedroom, 9:00 PM they go downstairs because there’s so much research on how much kids are checking it and all of that. So, but again I feel like as a, it’s interesting the word control or guidance which I really love that reframing, but for us it’s like, we hope you know our oldest daughter is about to go to college and she wants to bring this practice with her in college, and she says it’s really protected her from high school burnout just because she can’t do homework on saturdays because we don’t let her, because we really believe and there’s so much research that a true day of rest is going to recharge you and even a rest from the social drama on social media, and I feel an immense sense of rest from the pandemic news and the election news and I just feel so recharged so, it’s kind of showing them that this is this ancient wisdom like yoga and meditation but it’s this concept of a day of rest that we’re kind of updating in a non-religious way that anyone can do and it’s, it can be life-changing and I just did an event last week where I had all these teens on who did some form of unplugging on how profound it’s been for them. So I’d love to close with a two-minute film, I’m a filmmaker, that I’ve made on the subject called Dear Student.
[Tiffany Shlain]: So, I did want to say that I have had so, the book’s been out, there’s a lot of people incorporating this practice but I think in the last, since the pandemic, so many teens and college students are writing to me wanting a change because I think everyone, the pandemic just accelerated this screen overdose in such an extreme way for everyone so I’m feeling very hopeful that perhaps one of the benefits from the pandemic was it took it to such an extreme that even the kids or the teens in the next generation are wanting a rebalance.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Right Tiffany, I think you’ve really captured something in that again, the pandemic really brought this to the forefront. If there was anyone who wasn’t spending time thinking about it before, they certainly are now. What I also love about what you’ve done is this mix between research and practical, tangible, what do you do about it, and again I appreciate you letting me interject you between the researchers there because, again it’s so good to have the research and what do we know and what are we figuring out, and the what do we do with that, how do we come up with something that’s in some ways simple, but having just sent three kids off to college in the last four years, it’s not necessarily simple until you do it and i love the fact that you said it’s actually harder on the other six days, that that one day really is is sort of the day you get enjoyment. That certainly has been my experience as a parent as well.
[Tiffany Shlain]: Yeah, I think it’s, and there is so much research, out of sight out of mind, that if you’re trying to go on a diet don’t have cookies there every day, like, it’s like, don’t have the temptation around every second and that, that’s the one day I feel like I’m the best parent where I’m not wrestling like we all do the other days of like, ahh, just because it’s not part of the negotiation for the day.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: And the irony, Tiffany, you know, I deal a lot in the world of early childhood, is the same thing holds true for two-year-olds, out of sight of mind, then you don’t have battles.
[Tiffany Shlain]: Yes!
[Dr. Laura Jana]: What I’m going to do before I let people get some questions off to you as well, I’m going to come back to this kind of idea of what the research behind all of this is, and I’m going to shift finally, but you know, last but not least to Dr. Pam Wisniewski, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science and the director of the Socio-Technical Interaction Research, STIR lab. Her expertise in human-computer interaction research helps her teach students to understand the value in user-centered design and evaluation. So before we get to questions, Pam you are up and we’re looking forward to hearing what you have to share.
[Dr. Pam Wisniewski]: I’m going to go ahead and share my screen. So what I’m going to talk about today is to address a lot of the questions that we got from parents of like, what is the best parental control apps for me to use? And unfortunately I’m not going to give you a succinct answer on that. Instead, I’m going to change the conversation a little bit to talk about a teen-centered perspective of parental control apps and online safety, because in the field of human-computer interaction, we like to focus on the users. And in this case instead of treating users as parents when it comes to the online safety of our youth, my lab what we do is like to focus on teens. So obviously as a parent it makes sense that we’re scared. If you look in the news headlines, our teens are at danger all of the time and it makes us have this sense of fear just like Adam was talking about, about the anxiety, but what happens when we have fear? We want to get control, we want to solve the problem, we want to shield our teens and protect them because their future is at stake, and so we become protectionists. So that makes sense, while we might ask the question of what parental control apps are best for keeping my teens safe online. According to peer research about 16% of parents use parental control apps and that’s increasing over time. So one of the things that we did in our lab is that we analyzed 75 apps that were available on Google Play for the purpose of adolescent online safety and risks, and here are some of the findings from that study. One of the important things when you think about design and the affordances of technologies are human values, so there’s this concept called value-sensitive design where we have to be intentional about our use of technologies because each technology that we use has certain values embedded within it. In this case what we found is really ultimately why these apps are often called parental controls. We created a framework of teen online safety strategies that balances between parental control and teen self-regulation. So the common ways that parents can monitor teens in their digital media use is through monitoring, restriction, active mediation, or talking or giving instruction about technology use and education, but the analogous ways that we can do this as Adam suggested is really the ultimate way to move is towards helping teens self-regulate their online behaviors through self-monitoring, managing their impulse control, coping with risks, and also education. Well what we found when analyzing these apps is that they’re really heavy-handed towards the authoritarian style of parenting through monitoring and restriction. So this is where you as a parent might want to ask yourself, do I consider myself an authoritarian parent, or do I consider myself a parent that wants to give and promote autonomy and privacy and other family values? And so the takeaway from this is to have intentional technology use, not when you’re just using technology, but also when you’re using technology to monitor technology use. What we also found is that many of these features were very privacy-invasive to the level of giving parents the exact conversations a teen was having with other people including their family and friends, and had all or nothing restrictions with no ability for teens to negotiate. The one feature provided for teens was an SOS feature to get help from an adult. So what are we telling teens, that we trust them, that we think that they’re equipped to handle these decisions on their own? Or that they need to come to mom and dad to get help when they encounter risks online? So ultimately what we’re doing is we’re sending teens some mixed messages, and this is what I hear from teens all the time. Well we want them to care about their privacy but at the same time we’re taking all of their privacy away. We want them to earn our trust but we’re not giving them the opportunity to do so. So this fear-based approach to parenting equates to an abstinence-only approach to online safety, and what do we know about abstinence-only approaches to other types of risk behavior? They don’t often work. We also don’t want to equate all risk exposure to harm because teens need to be exposed to some level of risk so they can learn how to cope with them and be empowered to deal with these risks on their own, so that they can become productive members of society as they age into adults. So the most interesting thing about our research is once we hear from teens about these parental control apps. We analyzed 736 reviews that were posted on Google Play by teens, and we found that many of these apps were overly restrictive. Not preventing them from doing the typical things that we don’t want teens to do like watching pornography, but not allowing them to do simple things like their homework. They were privacy invasive where a number of teens equated their parents to stalkers because they used these apps, and most concerning is that many of these apps seem to harm the parent relationship of trust with a teen, where teens equated this use of parental control apps to lazy parenting, why don’t you just talk to me. There were some positive beneficial characteristics mentioned by teens from especially those who felt like they really did need to get their technology use or their mobile app use under control, similar to what Katie said, and especially those who wanted to buy into the technology themselves. The most positive ratings were the ones from teens where they were the ones who decided to install the technologies on their own devices. So what I can say in terms of guidelines for choosing the right parental control app is to make sure that the app’s not overly restrictive, check out the different features and the values embedded in those features. Make sure that the apps consider your teen’s privacy, you don’t need to be part of every conversation they have online as much as you need to know who they’re talking to. Make sure that the app facilitates open communication and trust between parent and teen instead of changing your relationship to add more tension, and make teens part of the decision. If you have their buy-in, they’re going to be more apt to use the app and to abide by it. Teens these days, if they don’t like the parental controls that you’re putting on their phone, they go out and buy a burner phone anyway. And finally, don’t be fooled, no parental control app is going to be a magic bullet, you still have to do all of these other parenting strategies that all of these great experts are telling you, to have open communication and a dialogue with your teen. So what else can we do? Well I think that we should treat only safety as a developmental process, so when children are young, that’s when you use parental controls, similar to putting training wheels on a bike. But then as teens grow up into like 13 to 15 year olds, we need to focus more on teaching them exit strategies and coping skills. What do you do if somebody asks you for a naked picture? And then finally by the time our teens are ages 16 and 17, we really need to release some of that parental control and give our youth support as they mature into adults and let them know that you’re there to help, and withholding judgment, very important what Elizabeth also said. Finally it’s important to teach your teens to be good digital citizens online because online safety is a skill that’s learned. We shouldn’t just give our teens trust, would you give your 16 year old the keys of your car without teaching them how to drive? No, but that’s what we’re doing with young children at the ages of three and five by giving them a tablet without any kind of parental controls on it. And then we need to listen and support our teens. They’re using technology to mediate important life decisions such as their sexual relationships with their first boyfriend or girlfriend, so we need to make online safety a part of the everyday discussion of developing social emotional skills, their mental health, sex education, and we want to make sure that teens feel comfortable sharing these experiences with us. And finally we shouldn’t treat online risks as more deviant than typical risk teens encounter offline, just because of our amount of fear. Alright, thank you.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Pam, that was great. And I have to say, you know that you’re, you touched on this idea of risk, and one of the things I’ve done focusing on the early brain and child development realm and connecting it to 21st century skills needed throughout life, one of the things I point out is that as parents we tend to try to minimize risk for our kids, and I point out the irony I actually have called sort of being able to do intelligent risk taking an idea called wobble skills, right like wobble but they don’t fall down.
[Dr. Pam Wisniewski]: Yeah, calculated risk.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: But not massive failure and you know what I tossed in there since this is a tech related discussion, silicon valley’s unofficial motto is fail early, fail often, fail forward. And I always have to qualify that by saying, that does not mean don’t use car seats, it does not mean ride barefoot down the middle of the highway without a bike helmet on, but your concept of of partnering with teens and letting them learn, and maybe making a little bit of, you know some adjustments as they go along because otherwise they won’t be able to deal. And again this gets back to a very rapidly changing world and we know they’re going to get exposed to it, so thank you very much for that presentation. True to our word we’ve actually left a good bit of time here for questions and answers and what I think we’re going to do, we’ve got a mix of questions coming in, and Pam don’t go anywhere but everybody else get ready to jump in here, is we have some people who want to ask questions live and we’re going to turn to them and then I’m also getting some submitted that I will read, but let’s first shift over and we’re going to go start with Carolyn who’s joining us today and has a question about her ten year old. So Carolyn, if you want to jump on feel free and ask your question and then I’ll toss it to one or more of the experts depending on the question.
[Carolyn Ryan]: I tried to remember exactly what I had worded it but I’m in the midst of my Verizon again, why my phone rings when I call her, and there’s just a big mess I can’t get around it. And that’s what it is, these children have so many, between like Whatsapp and these, you know different servers that they use and it’s just, I can’t, I don’t know… last two weeks but my phone stops working, and she said she doesn’t know, she just didn’t know, i really don’t believe her but I… so I don’t even know how to handle it, and my husband says it’s fine.
[Dr. Pam Wisniewski]: I think, um.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: I’m gonna jump in here, I got the essence of what you were asking, plus I had seen sort of what you had submitted, this idea of what do you do when your ten year old or when your child kind of gets around these parental controls, and what do you do. So I’m going to toss it back to Pam since she was just addressing that and then maybe Adam, you can add some quick thoughts afterwards if it strikes you and then we’ll move on to the next question, so thank you very much Carolyn, appreciate the question.
[Dr. Pam Wisniewski]: Hi Carolyn, what I loved about your question was that, how can I keep up, and the answer I’m going to give you is hopefully going to be a relief to you. You can’t. There’s no way you’re going to keep up with the latest technology, it’s like trying to put a governor on your car but then there’s always going to be something, other feature added that’s going to add another level of risk. So the way that I suggest to parents to deal with this is, instead of trying to stay one step ahead of your teen, instead have your teen teach you. So sit with your ten year old daughter and compliment her on her tech savviness and say, hey you know, you should think about getting a degree in computer science, and promote that through curiosity and say, could you show me how TikTok works, and how you manage your privacy settings, and asking questions about it as you go, because in a sense what you’re doing is giving her a level of agency and pride and knowing… teach you something and doing that be more open to you as well. And so maybe you don’t have to feel that fatigue of always feeling like you have to stay ahead.
[ Dr. Laura Jana]: Great, and Adam did you have some thoughts to share on that one as well?
[Dr. Adam Pletter]: Yeah, I didn’t read the whole question but I would certainly agree with everything Pam just said, you know and I think Elizabeth mentioned something earlier about, you know there is no app really for this. It’s really the dialogue, the parent-child dialogue and having the the ten year, even a ten year old, savvy ten year olds, I work with them every day, you know can not just teach you but you know even if they’re gonna be holding some back because they’re afraid you’re gonna then take things away or whatever, but it’s this short series of conversations that you could have. As again Elizabeth mentioned earlier you know having these conversations to help the child know that they can and should really come to you when they’re having difficulties or they have questions like any other parenting decision or landscape, this is just more complicated as we’ve all said several times because we are digital parenting pioneers and we don’t have a reference point here, and as again Pam just said we’re not going to keep up it’s about, you know, following along and being the parents trying to respond as best we can.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: And Adam, let me push you a little bit on that because I know that there’s this question about, okay so you’ve got a ten year old or whatever age child and they’re sort of testing your limits right, and then when you, when you do have those conversations it’s not just a matter of, oh very tech savvy but they say, I don’t know, like I don’t know how that happened. What from a parenting strategy around the tech, what would you say to that. And then we’ll jump in, I’m going to give the other panelists a little heads up, we’re gonna go into an interesting question about, related specifically to neurodiversity and how it relates to sort of autism and ADHD and things, but Adam first if you want to address the, okay I don’t know.
[Dr. Adam Pletter]: So I’ll say this as a joke, I’ll try to be succinct, I’m not the most succinct, so basically what I would go back to is setting up some sort of system where the child’s access is contingent, not in a really formal really strict way, but is contingent if then, when then, on what they’re able to demonstrate, what is the behavior that they’re showing, not just what they say, because kids are really good at saying the right thing, I’ll do that later, can I do this if I get, you know, when you do this then you get that, and pulling the access back as the motivator for them to either be more honest or it’s okay to take a break, whether it’s Shabbat or not, it’s good, it’s good to take a break and reset.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Great, well thank you for that, and like I said we’re gonna make a bit of a shift here to a topic that also comes up quite frequently. I in fact advise on some research that’s going on related to kids who are on the autism spectrum disorder or have ADHD and their, you know, and other forms of neurodiversity and their technology use and what might you say to variations on that. So if I, if anybody wants to jump in, if an expert, oh I see Pam’s first to take off her mute. I’m going to toss it to Pam but if someone else wants to chime in afterwards feel free. Pam?
[Dr. Pam Wisniewski]: Sure, yeah I mean this topic is actually very near and dear to my heart, my husband is high functioning autism on the spectrum and we’re in the process of getting our daughter evaluated, and I’ve done some initial research with social media use of people on the autism spectrum and some of the things that I can say are that there’s benefits of technology used for people on the spectrum because it gives them the ability to navigate some of the social skills and communications in a more mediated environment. That being said, the social norms of technology are sometimes tricky for these individuals to navigate, so for instance when you’re on Facebook and you’re friends, sometimes that’s taken literally as, well, this person’s my friend. Or this person is available online to chat, so why aren’t they messaging me back. Another issue that comes up quite frequently when it comes to neurodiversity and young men is the topic of pornography. I’ll just have to be honest with you, pornography is so much easier than having an intimate relationship with another human being, and so sometimes it might take the place of that. And so while some exploration into pornography and sexual exploration for teens, older teens is appropriate, having these discussions early on with our children who are on the spectrum to let them know that, hey, you know, you need to understand that what you see in pornography isn’t what is typical in in a normal healthy relationship between two people, and then also dealing with some of the issues around addictive patterns and behaviors, abuse.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Thank you very much for that answer and it’s nice because we’re getting a lot of questions in and I’m trying to kind of put several together, but really honing in on some very specific aspects since clearly people want to know what to do with all this great information. I’m going to let whoever wants to jump in on this one address the idea of how to monitor gaming, specifically the issue of gaming and what to do or not do in, with regards to monitoring that. Do we have any takers on that one?
[Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov]: Yeah, I just raised my hand.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Great Elizabeth, thanks.
[Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov]: Yeah so, play with them. Play with them. That’s the first and foremost just because, well not because I’m wearing a Minecraft shirt and because there’s a Nintendo Switch behind me, but play with them so that way you can see and understand what they’re doing and you can intervene. So for example I was playing Minecraft with my child and actually we were looking on YouTube and there was a Minecraft video, and there were street names that were racist, and so I was able to use this as a teaching moment and just say okay, and this is what happens, so what do we do. There are things that happen in Roblox, in Fortnite, I mean there is no game so please parents, there’s nothing that’s safe right? But the best thing you can do is play with them so that you can show them you know how to respond if someone has a snarky comment, what to do in Minecraft if somebody destroys your world, empathy, kindness, resilience. I mean, we say these things all the time and we can show them and we don’t have to be the best, I mean I’m horrible at Minecraft, horrible, but I do play so I would say play with them. Okay Pamela I saw that, we’re gonna play.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: And you know Elizabeth, I have to say, I’ll toss in, I have a little bit of an addictive personality myself and never really got into this new age of gaming, but nothing shocked my now 23 year old son more than me saying, okay show me the game. And what’s funny is he’ll say now, yeah I don’t think you’re gonna like this one, right and game, whether it’s gaming or watching things, but that idea of sitting down and knowing what you’re talking about and even for you know, my three kids, my middle one, my 23 year old is the one who he would think he didn’t care, he really cares what I think right, sort of that compass of what do I think is good, bad, you know sort of moral compass? And so when he says you know, I don’t think you want to see this one and he knows I’ve seen him reduce his use based on that alone. So I love that idea,
[Dr. Elizabeth Milodov]: Yeah I think it’s fantastic, and I’m glad that you mentioned just, your, our values because it’s culturally religious, everyone, we can all do this. I did some work for the Ministry of Communications in Qatar and I am not, I don’t know Islamic religion and yet I was able to look at their pillars and align it. Again it’s the same thing we’re all looking and talking about the same thing, as Tiffany was saying, you know Adam so succinctly called it Shabbat or not, it really is, it is this, we could all put our own values and expectations on how we use technology.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: And you know to another point from kind of pulling from all the panelists, what this also brings is you can pick any specific aspect and it relates to parenting and how we approach parenting in general applied to this topic, things about, there can be rules about gaming, just like you know when does a child have to be home at night depending on their age, can be set some time limits or if there’s chores that need to be done, there can be those sort of base rules as well. I’m going to toss, oh you know what Adam if you want to jump in on that one before I move ahead I’ve got an interesting question.
[Dr. Adam Pletter]: Really quick just in addition to everything that was just said which was awesome, understanding the game also helps you parent the child playing the game, and really brief example like Fortnite if you know, if you don’t understand that the game, at least the original battle royale version of Fortnite, some of the parents out there are nodding, it’s out of a hundred people so understanding the gameplay is going to help you set more appropriate limits around the game itself. And I can go on but I’ll leave it at that.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Perfect. So here’s this interesting question that was raised and Tiffany I think I’m going to toss this one to you. What’s the best process for transitioning kids who over-consume media to little to zero during the week? Is there, do you have a secret for success in that transition, is it rip the band-aid off and there you go? How would you suggest approaching that?
[Tiffany Shlain]: Yeah, I think it’s a lot in the positioning and, you know, it’s a lot about framing it as what brings you joy without screens instead of, I’m taking away a screen. And everyone in your family has a different definition of what brings them joy, the foods, you know, shopping, reading, playing music, but everyone’s got a different answer to that. So what I would suggest and I really go into detail with this in the book is framing it as, what do you wish we did more of, what would be fun to do together, and then fill the screen-free day with that, because then it becomes your favorite day. It’s not a punishment, it’s what you get back and it’s reminding everyone in your family, including the parents and I say this because I’ve gotten so much back of just, long walks without a phone and being present, I mean I just feel like it’s about rediscovering analog pleasures and everyone knows what those pleasures are but you have to, unfortunately these days every analog pleasure is interrupted by a text or a notification and then you’re off the thing. So what is it like to be present and do we, I mean I’ll go bigger picture because I don’t want to live in a society that has no room for reflection or presence and that’s the world we’ve created. I don’t want to live in a 24/7 world, I don’t want to live in a world where I’m always reacting to everyone else and this one day a week, I’m not in this perpetual state of reaction to a text, to a notification, to the news, to a phone call, to the new whatever it is, it’s exhausting and I think after this year especially, I think you have to have courage to carve out the space and say, I value this as a person, we value this as a family, and until you’re 18 years old, we actually make the rules, and I want to value this as a society. I want to value a society that values inward thinking and not thinking all the power in the universe is right here because that’s what we’ve created is that, I want my kids to be able to think on their own and not in reaction to everyone else’s thoughts. And that’s a really, every great wisdom practice talks about the value of silence, the value of thinking for yourself, and the value of presence.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: And you know Tiffany, I love that, I think a lot of people are probably nodding their heads now more than ever, you know now that we’ve been through a year of pandemic this idea of mindfulness and self-reflection in whatever form it is.
[Tiffany Shalin]: Whatever it is.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Really being the value of those connections. What you also said just also brought me back to what Katie had been talking about shifting this from all just the negative to what’s the positive, what brings you joy whether it’s using technology or not using technology, what brings you joy doing it. I’m going to toss a question I got to Katie now that I just invoked your name. Katie, can you share how we can support teens’ use of media and social connecting while also setting healthy boundaries to the point of making it sort of a positive experience.
[Dr. Katie Davis]: Sure, yeah no, I mean, I think that Elizabeth and Tiffany and actually all of the panelists have been saying about the importance of you know, becoming involved yourself in what your kids are doing no matter what age. So my son is four years old and so we’re gonna be involved in apps like Peppa’s Paintbox and PAW Patrol games and things like that. It’s a little bit different, but still I find that it’s much easier for me when I don’t, it’s, this is not me playing with him all the time but if I do spend a little bit of time really understanding the games or whatever he’s doing then I get a better sense of the natural rhythm of that game or whatever application he’s using and what’s a natural stopping point. I also get a better sense of what he’s getting out of it and how he as an individual is interacting with that particular piece of technology and I think that’s really important also for parents to keep in mind is each child, yes they’re at a particular developmental stage, but they all have their own quirks and their own preferences and for some spending 30 minutes online is going to be very different for another child and so it’s just really important I think to tune in and as much to tune in when you’re actually participating alongside and again looking out for, you know when they’re a little bit older, are they really actively engaging or is it more of a passive experience. You really want to have something that’s more active, are they learning skills, are they going deeper into their interests. One thing that we found with our research on teams during the pandemic is that the teens who already had deep interests, video editing, music, and things like that, they were using technology in ways that really felt meaningful, whereas the teens who didn’t really have interests or their interests were cut off because of pandemic, they were kind of floundering and getting sucked into the YouTube vortex of just clicking on the next recommended video. And so that’s really challenging I think and actually I heard from them that they wanted some support in getting back on track and finding and connecting to meaningful technology experiences and times of technology as well.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: I’m going to press you a little bit further on this idea because again, you know we’ve got a lot of people focusing on, you know teens and tweens and things but moving back to that earlier age range and you touched on it in your answer but specific to what we’ve all been through, we’ve got a question and anyone else can speak to this as well who would like, but Katie the question says, I’m wondering if someone can speak about strategies for helping to support guide the four to seven year old age range, especially in context that these kids have been given iPads by the public schools this year. Right so that now you’ve got the schools.
[Dr. Katie Davis]: That’s tricky.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: I know! That’s why I’m tossing it out to you.
[Dr. Katie Davis]: Super tricky yeah, no I’m so, right now I’m in Berlin, Germany and I’m very grateful that my my son’s kita which is similar to daycare, they are absolutely no technology at all so you don’t have to worry about that but even you know, there are many, there have been many days where we haven’t been able to access daycare and you know it’s really I think similar to how you parent without technology, you, it’s the same sort of approach. You have to set clear limits and then enforce them consistently. I started off as an elementary school teacher and it’s the same thing, a wonderfully functioning calm classroom is one where the teacher has set up very clear limits from the beginning and you just, even when it’s not convenient or when you’re tired, you still enforce them consistently and I find myself as a parent when I, when I’m tired I say, okay go ahead, watch one more episode of PAW Patrol. I pay for it later because then I’m not, I’m not being consistent and as much as my son might enjoy watching one more episode of PAW Patrol and he seems like he enjoys more having clear guidance and knowing that there’s structure around him that I’m supposed to be providing.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Great and I see Tiffany, do you want to jump in and add to that?
[Tiffany Shlain]: Yeah I mean this is a saying i heard at the beginning of parenting but I think about it so much now that my daughters are almost 18 and 12 but you know you can say 3,000 things to them and they’re only going to do what they see you doing, like literally your behavior is what they’re really watching. And I had this slippery period you know, we used to have no screens in the bedroom before the pandemic and then of course their bedrooms became their classrooms and it got so slippery, and then my husband and I were like whoa okay all screens downstairs at nine. And my younger daughter, and I was kind of managing the situation my phone wasn’t going down because you know like, I’m trying to think like I’m managing the situation and my younger daughter was like well Mom, why do you have your phone still. And I’m like you’re absolutely right and the truth is I wasn’t sleeping as well. I was more stressed so then I now, you know we all put them down at nine and again it just reminded me, and then everything kind of went back to equilibrium before, I’m sure it’s going to get slippery again with some new development but I think it’s just such a reminder that they’re watching what you do more than you say, and that whatever you want your kids to do, you have to do yourself. So, I mean there’s so many kids I’ve talked to in my research on all my films you know they’ll say, my parents are on their phones all the time.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: You know, it’s funny because it’s somebody who’s done parenting and written parenting books for the last 20 years, I’ve honed in on that phrase as well which is do as I say not as I do isn’t really a good strategy in any aspect of parenting. Doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about technology or bedtime or you know what you eat.
[Tiffany Shlain]: Drinking or whatever I mean everything, yeah.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Yeah, exactly. So you know, I do want to point out that obviously all of these experts have lots of interesting resources and things and you can look them up, I also do want to point out that a lot of thought has gone into this, I mean we’ve got groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics who has guidelines set aside by age for media use the World Health Organization, so it’s a good thing for parents to know that those resources are there because a lot of times I find in this sort of information overload digital age we’re knowing where to look is really helpful. Okay, I’ve got another question. I’m keeping my eye on time because I want to let everybody get final thoughts in here. Look, I didn’t mute myself this time, so that’s good. Question let’s see maybe for Adam and Elizabeth as everybody starts to pull together their final thoughts so that we can get them all in. Where do schools fit in with all of this, again picking up on that same theme of, we’ve got this balance of technology is really exploding with the pandemic and schools, where do they fit in with all this and I see Adam unmuted already so iIm going to go with Adam and Elizabeth you can follow.
[Dr. Adam Pletter]: You know I would say it’s a good question, I’m not sure you know, where do schools fit in, it’s a big puzzle and schools are giving our kids as someone said earlier four years, four years old iPads. So again it’s not just our decision as parents, it’s complicated enough for us managing our home but you bring the school to the home during a pandemic or even, I probably would have said something similar even like last year or two years ago, and you know because again depending on the school, school is a very general term now. Sorry, there are garbage trucks outside, but the, that the bottom line is that it gets even more complicated, so where the school fits in? You have to take in that information and again adjust your balance, again balance not being you know, a goal that, okay now we’re going to get balanced but we’re adjusting, we’re taking in this new information, and we’re finding a way to chronically, constantly adjust and adapt and I think Elizabeth said this earlier but that we’re resilient and we’re teaching our kids both to regulate but also to to develop grit and be able to push through quite a bit of hardship that we all have been living through. So it’s not, so my summary is school complicates it tremendously and it’s still your decision as parents and I would give feedback to the school and I would try to understand what are the policies, do they have any parental control software, is there anything that’s already built in especially when the school is the one dictating what our children are being exposed to.
[Dr. Elizabeth Milodov]: So really what I would just like to say is that we need to have a holistic approach right, we need everybody doing this, everybody has to pitch in and parent as a digital parenting community with the schools. Schools have to have their acceptable use policies, that’s with me with my legal hat on, we have to inform the parents how to use the devices that they’re sending home with the kids, and I know that it’s a horrible layer to add on internet safety tips and digital citizenship when you just want to teach a history class but I think if we’re going to send home those tablets then we have to also send home the instructions of how to use them. I get parents all the time who say, we’re not quite sure if the webcam should be on, if the mic should be on, those things, those rules should be laid out. Just as we’re teaching our children. we hand them a pen and we say, what do you say? It’s the same thing when we turn on a webcam and we go into a Zoom, we come in with it muted, etc. So there’s a certain amount of netiquette that needs to be shared but I’m not going to put the blame on anybody because I know the pandemic has put us all into this situation, but again I would just stress you know, don’t panic, parent. Get together, talk with each other, talk with the teachers and figure this out because we really only have one chance at this social experiment of the digital pioneers as Adam said and we’ve got to, you know, get the wagons going.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: You know Elizabeth, I’m gonna share a quick thought or question and then I’m going to toss it to each of you to give some final thoughts, and I want to leave enough time that you don’t get like 10 seconds for a final thought. But I’m going to say you know, I’ve given a couple TED talks and i’m not very much of the belief that asking questions and engaging people is much more interesting than just making a statement, and so I started my first ted talk off with a question and it was what if, despite the best of intentions, despite all our business savvy data-driven technology informed know-how and all that the information ages put right at our fingertips, we are nevertheless raising our children to succeed in a world that no longer exists? And I think all of you have really sort of brought that home in terms of all these ways of this isn’t just technology, this is the world our kids will live in and it’s our job to help connect them and help prepare them to succeed in that world which, to Adam’s, you know first point which is it’s not the world we grew up in, like none of us grew up in that world to the same extent our children are. So with that as sort of a lead into final thoughts why don’t we go, we’ll start with Adam and then we’ll go, I’m going to give you the order so you can know and then I can remind you but we’ll go with Adam and then Pam and then, oh I’m sorry we’re gonna do Adam, Elizabeth, Pam, Katie, and Tiffany. So Adam, you’re up for closing thoughts.
[Dr. Adam Pletter]: I feel like we’re in the Brady Bunch!
[Dr. Laura Jana]: I know!
[Dr. Adam Pletter]: I guess that would make you Alice, I’m not sure. Anyway, we are the first generation of cyborgs, that’s what I’m going to close with. Odd as that sounds, we all are, as adults, we rely on our technology to help us function especially during the pandemic it’s been a lifesaver almost, probably literally I am allowed to work, we’re able to reach all of you, technology is amazing. And it comes with it tremendous concerns and impact as we’ve been discussing which is why everyone is here today. So, in terms of the parenting approach what I recommend to live in this cyborg world because our kids know no different, they grew up in this, is to be very clear that the access that you as the parent are handing your child at whatever young age because it will be a young age, that it’s based on what they’re able to demonstrate and each child with their strengths and weaknesses and vulnerabilities will then show you what they’re able able to handle and where again symptoms come through, being overstimulated, being, having a difficult time settling down, being aggressive, again and then base the next level of access on what they’re able to demonstrate and show, not just what they say. And if you, if you set it up in that way, that the plan should be that they are moving towards their development getting more and more access as they’re able to handle it and it’s feeling relatively more comfortable. It’s not going to feel comfortable because parenting is a very difficult set of tasks.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Right, well thank you Adam. Okay Elizabeth, are you ready?
[Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov]: Thank you, yes I am, I always look so succinct when I go after Adam. So I’m just going to say you’re not alone, digital parents, you are not alone. So I mean we’re all here. There are resources, look us up, find Tiffany’s book, join our digital parenting community, find Adam’s group on Fortnite, I mean there are, we’re here, you’re not alone.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Great, thank you for that. Alright did I say next Pam, did I say you and then Katie I think.
[Dr. Pam Wisniewski]: Sure, I can go ahead and go give, so my closing thoughts are really, this needs to be an ongoing dialogue with our children. We need to not wait until something bad happens. So for instance one of the things that we do with our daughter is we do two highs and a low every day, and yesterday she told us, you know my best friend told me that her mom said that I wasn’t being a very good friend. And that’s something that wouldn’t have come up if I hadn’t have asked and we hadn’t normalized having those types of conversations every day. And I think as parents that’s one of the things that we need to be aware of is, we need to be asking the questions every day and showing that we’re there to listen for the small stuff because if we aren’t willing to talk about the small stuff they’re not willing to come to us about the big stuff. So parental control applications or not, keep talking to your kids.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Great, thank you Pam. Alright, Katie.
[Dr. Katie Davis]: Yeah, I second what Pam says about talking with your kids, using technology with your kids, but also as a parent reflecting on your own technology use and whether it’s bringing you meaning because as some of the panelists said, apps and this comes up a lot in my research, teens particularly hate when their parents say one thing and do the exact opposite with their technology. So reflect on how you’re using technology and then for both of you, your child and you, seek out meaningful technology experiences that really align with your goals and values.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: And I think Tiffany that leads in so well to you if you want to give your final thoughts before we wrap up here.
[Tiffany Shlain]: Yeah, first of all this has been so wonderful, I’m so glad to meet all of you and we’re like crusaders of this conversation and it is, in my family every six months we have this meeting which I can’t say my kids look forward to but it’s a tech, chore, sugar meeting and literally every six months it kind of changes a little but we just return and evolve it because their situation changes. But I think in the positive psychology framework and when we’re talking about like on our days without tech every week we all laugh more, the kids will say they love us like they’ll blurt it out, I just find the mood is just so much better and I point it out, oh my god i laugh so much more on tech Shabbats, or I have my most creative ideas on tech Shabbats,like we’re showing them the why to make them even want it and even with rest I know our older daughter used to stay up really late and I handed her this neuroscience paper on your brain and sleep and grades and that motivated her. It’s like, every child’s different and it’s going to be a motivated and different thing but showing the positive benefits of taking breaks and going offline is really important.
[Dr. Laura Jana]: Great, thank you so much Tiffany and you’re making me remember a quote from a good friend of mine, I always say the original mediatrician for those of us who are pediatricians but do a lot of media. But Dr. Michael Rich for those of you who know him but, the technology is like the air we breathe, right, like it’s not going anywhere, this isn’t like solve a problem and be done with it or all or nothing, right. The point is we have to keep the air from getting polluted right, one thing, but also looking for the positive aspects and how do we integrate it into our lives and our parenting lives. So all of you I think have given some really good insights but also really practical tangible advice. So thank all of you for participating and again I’m honored to have gotten to meet all of you and get to moderate. And with that I see Pam, the other Pam coming back on here so as the founder and president of Children and Screens Pam, thank you for bringing us all together here and I’m going to toss it back to you to wrap things up right on time so that I’ve done my job even though I forgot to unmute a couple times.
[Dr. Pamela Hurst]: Amazing, thank you Laura, Tiffany, Elizabeth, Katie, Adam, and Pam for a wonderful crash course in digital parenting. Thanks to all of you, our Zoom participants for joining today as well. To continue learning about this topic, be sure to visit our website at www.childrenscreens.com and read our tips for parents and other resources, including scientific findings. Our conversation addressing children’s well-being in digital media continues in two weeks when we address the digital divide during COVID-19. On Wednesday, March 24th we will post a video of today’s webinar on our YouTube channel which we encourage you to subscribe to and share with your parents, fellow parents, teachers, clinicians, researchers, and friends. For more information on children’s screens please and additionally, please follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin on the accounts shown on your screen. When you leave the workshop you’ll see a link to a short survey, please click on the link and let us know what you thought of the webinar. Thanks again and everyone stay safe and well.