How is media impacting my child’s relationship with friends and family; is it hurting or helping? Why does my child talk about influencers like they have a real relationship? How can I best connect with my child in the face of constant technology use? With increasing reliance on digital platforms for interaction, how are relationships changing? Is this contributing to the growing concern about youth social anxiety?
From authentic connection to isolation, the #AskTheExperts webinar “(dis)Connected? Relationships in the Digital Age,” held on November 9, 2022 at 12pm ET via Zoom, featured a panel of psychologists and researchers delving into the science (and art) of relationship-building! This webinar included a discussion about the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships amongst children and parents, peers, siblings and dating partners, and tips to share with youth to promote strong personal connections in the context of near-ubiquitous use of smartphones and other technologies.
Karen Shackleford, PhDEditor; FacultyModerator
Brandon T. McDaniel, PhDSenior Research Scientist
Rebecca Tukachinsky Forster, PhDAssociate Professor of Communication
Chia-Chen Yang, PhDAssociate Professor of Educational Psychology
Megan Maas, PhDAssistant Professor of Human Development & Family Studies
[Kris Perry]: Welcome everyone to today’s Ask the Experts Webinar, (dis)Connected? Relationships in the Digital Age. I am your host, Kris Perry, Executive Director of Children’s Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. Humans are naturally social creatures, and the relationships that we have with one another provide us not only with connections and support, but also essential spaces for learning about ourselves and about others. This is especially true throughout childhood, first within the family unit and then increasingly with other adults and peers. Children learn how to communicate, behave, problem solve, express emotions and develop social skills through relationships. As children grow and enter adolescence, parents become increasingly important as teens explore their identity and place in the world around them, master increasingly complex and abstract skills, and begin to learn about intimacy. In an increasingly digital world, we can connect and form relationships with a far greater number of others, real or fictional, that hopefully broaden our horizons and understanding. None of these relationships are perfect, but through them children grow to better understand themselves, others, and all the essential dynamics in between. Relationships teach us in real time reciprocity, empathy and understanding. It takes a variety of relationships over many years for children to successfully move through the developmental stages. Simply put, you can’t develop without relationships. Though digital technologies can help expand our world and enhance relationships, it can also interfere with direct, in-person interaction or facilitate real harm through cyberbullying and digital abuse. As screens become increasingly pervasive in children’s lives, how are their relationships impacted? And how can we as adults help children to continue to create meaningful, positive and healthy relationships with individuals around them? Today, we are joined by an esteemed panel of experts who will discuss the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships amongst children and parents, peers, dating partners, and even fictional characters and celebrities, and the role that digital media plays in all of them. They advise on how to help children develop and benefit from healthy supportive relationships throughout their lives. Now, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to today’s moderator, Dr. Karen Shackleford. Karen Shackleford is a social psychologist who studies the role of pop culture media in identity and social life. She is a faculty member in the media psychology doctoral program at Fielding Graduate University and editor of the APA journal Psychology of Popular Media. She has also edited and authored several other publications, most recently Real Characters: The psychology of parasocial relationships with media characters. Dr. Shackleford received. The Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award from the APA Division on Media, Psychology and Technology in 2021. Welcome, Karen.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Thank you, Kris. I’m so happy to be here and welcome our panel and everyone who’s attending today. As Kris mentioned, I’m a social psychologist. I’m also the parent of two kids, one in college and one in high school now. And so the questions and the topics we’ll be discussing are important to me, both as a researcher and as a parent. Today, as you know, we’re talking about relationships in the digital age. Whatever your age is, you didn’t grow up with the same technology that we have today. I know in my case it’s vastly different. I often joke that we wrote notes to each other and handed them in class instead, and we didn’t have cell phones. So many things we didn’t have. So the things we’re talking about today include things like your child is constantly on their mobile device, they’re on their mobile device and they’re watching someone on YouTube. What’s the nature of their relationship? So relationships can be romantic relationships in their own life. It could be parasocial romantic relationships, having a crush on a celebrity, let’s say. It could be watching a show and being really interested in the characters and who they are, following a celebrity, could be texting their friends. It could be talking about how parents want to understand why their kids are so connected to their devices, how to get them off their devices, and how they’ll develop relationship skills. So many questions. I will be, as I say, along with you wanting to get the answers myself as a parent and looking forward to each of the panelists’ presentations. I’m going to start by introducing Dr. Brandon McDaniel. Dr. Brandon McDaniel is a senior research scientist at the Parkview Mirro Research Center for Research and Innovation, Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, Fort Wayne, and a nationally recognized expert on the impacts of technology use on parenting, children and families. Welcome, Brandon.
[Dr. Brandon McDaniel]: Thank you very much, Karen. All right. Well, I’m just so excited to be here with all of you today. The topic’s near and dear to my heart, being able to connect with one another, and really thinking about how do we connect when we’re all connected? You know, that’s the topic of today. And I’m going to flip it a little bit. And I know, I would guess everyone came here today to think about children and teens and what this means for them and how we should parent them or help them. But I am more focused on parents most of the time and thinking about what’s going on in that domain. So let’s think about parenting. So it’s pretty clear you’re here today because parenting is really complex now and it looks a bit like this slide. You know, it goes from early on, early infancy, very beginning that there are devices all around. It’s been integrated into all different parts of our lives. You can look and it’s like even then our children and teens as they’re forming relationships and out with friends or all this it’s integrated and all of that as well. So it’s just all over and it’s always a constant presence. So, and just for right now it’s like you look at this image and you could go, okay, is this parents or teens? You know, and and, you get where I’m heading here. If I pop it off, it’s like, oh, look, it was parents. And, you know, that’s kind of funny, but that’s where I’m heading here is like, we need to remember and think carefully about ourselves as well. I’m not trying to call anyone out really, but because we already have enough parenting guilt rolling around. But we need to understand that this is not just a child and a teen issue. If we think about adults, the average adult checks their phone so many times per day, 50 or more times per day. We use our phones a lot more than we think we do, and most of the time we spend 5 hours or more on our devices every day. That’s a significant amount of time and check our phone is like the first thing we do and we get up the first thing or the last thing we do at night. We get on it, take it to the bathroom with us. I mean, it’s just all of the time and that’s not even thinking about all of our TV use or tablet use or computer use and all that. So it’s an adult thing too. And with all of that, we have this growing attachment to our devices. So many adults express this feeling like they’re on their devices too much or feeling lost without their phone, you know, if you’ve ever forgotten it at some point or think you’ve lost it, and that sense of anxiety and and not knowing what to do with yourself, experiencing discomfort if you ever have to disconnect from the device or have or you’re forced to turn it off or something like that. And also just experiencing these various strong pulls cognitively and then habitually and behaviorally that, you know, this having trouble resisting this urge to check the device or or thinking about pretty regularly messages or other things that might be going on on your device or a fear of missing out on what’s going on in the broader, your broader system of friends and others, and even phantom vibrations where, you know, there was no notification or anything, but you felt like there was. So we’ve just, we’ve grown really attached to our devices. And so I want to bring up that, you know, all this attachment to our devices, the fact that they’re around us all the time, all of that we can have these various intrusions and interruptions that can take place in our face to face time, which we call technoference, which is this just technology and interference put together. And it’s also called phubbing, which is like a specific form of technoference that deals with phones, phones snubbing. And, so that can, that can happen. And now as that starts to happen, our children, teens, they notice that this is happening. And so just some quick stats here. We’ve got 28% of them feeling like their parents are addicted to their device. 33% wish their parents would spend less time on the device, even 51% feeling like their parents are distracted during conversations they are having with their parents. So it’s definitely happening and they’re definitely noticing. Okay, now that comes back to this point, though, like, is it bad? Is this really bad for connection? Well, that depends. And, you know, perhaps yes, perhaps no. It really depends on how it’s happening, how the device is being used, when it’s being used, how often it’s being used, how frequently are these kinds of interruptions and distractions happening and what were the expectations for these different interactions? All that. But I just want to give a couple of examples here, quick examples and really leave most of the time for our discussion today and probably other presenters as well that if we look at couple relationships, if one couple or if one person in that relationship during specific leisure time together gets on their device, even if only a little bit, we see that on a daily basis as those sorts of things happen, that there can be subsequent shifts or changes in the ways that they the way they feel about the time that they’re spending together, as well as the overall quality of and satisfaction they have with their relationship as a whole. So it can start to shift things depending upon how frequently it’s happening. We also know that if we look at, if we’ve done experiments or just done observations or all of these other types of research, we do see that face to face conversations change when technology is present and if there are these sorts of interruptions that take place, that the quality of that interaction is kind of degraded from what it would be if that wasn’t happening. And that people after those interactions feel less connected to the other individual than they would have if it hadn’t happened. And that also then connects to another point I want to make, that this sort of degradation or like lower quality that happens with that even happens when people have tried to explain what’s happening or why they’re getting on their device or give some sort of really good reasons for what they had to do. So again, I could go on and on, but I just want to say there’s a couple of examples that can influence things sometimes, but what do we do? So, how can we connect then, and how can we help our children and teens to be able to connect? The thing I want to focus on today primarily is that we need to be modeling the behaviors that we want to see in our children. We need to really listen to them when they’re talking to us. We need to give them that undivided attention, at least when we can. I know sometimes we’ve got work, we’ve got all these other things competing for our attention. So I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s super easy, but there are moments when we can disconnect, and some of those might be more than you think and look at them and make eye contact and show them how the eye contact is really important to you and and not have it where it’s like this mediated conversation where you’re staring at your device over here while they’re talking to you and going, uh huh, yeah, okay, yeah. Well, if you do, I mean, it’s a completely different feel and interaction of quality and it gives different signals and it teaches them something different about how technology should be valued during times of connection. Also showing them ways that you personally manage or put down or regulate some of your phone use and then being able to see how you work through that, and living up to your expectations. You have particular expectations about how and when they should use their device, then we need to be very careful as parents as well that we’re modeling those behaviors because the more that they see us do those things, the more likely they are to also do those things. And then it’s really important that we take a very intentional approach to trying to create some of these opportunities for connection. So some really easy things to implement can be like tech-free times or tech-free zones where you set a particular time of the day or maybe like a dinner time or other things where it is a tech-free time. Being able to share in their interests. So maybe you might look at the technology or the social media use or the video game or the specific TV show or something, and maybe it’s not the thing you would want to do in that moment, but if it’s something that’s very, very important to them. So being involved in the things that are important to them, you’re going to start to build connections with them and they’re going to see that you care about them. Having intentional family fun times without tech as well. So just trying to organize things that are around activities that you know that they would like and that you can build these times together. And so basically it’s like you’re helping them practice. You know, if they’re used to having these times that are without tech, with you and they’re used to having moments of engaging in meaningful conversation with you and so forth at like family dinners and all of that, then they’re more likely to want to or to have seen the value in some of those things and desire to do those things with their friends as well, and then helping them try to plan out ideas and stuff so that they feel a bit more prepared to know how to approach others if there’s a time when they want to have everybody take a break from technology or how they can share in technology use together that can help to build connections. So anyway, there’s just some initial ideas, but I’ll stop there. Thank you so much. And I’ll give time to the other presenters.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Thank you, Brandon. You know, I really appreciate you taking the time to explain that it’s not only, say, parents looking down at children and saying, you’re messing up and you’re using your phone, but it’s really all of us at the same time. We’re all having our mobile devices and other things going on. And so not only are parents trying to manage what their children are doing or to influence it, but we’re all in it together at the same time. A reflection I have on your talk is that I’ve been reading the work of Jack Schafer, who’s a psychologist who works for the FBI, and he was going over some very basic, fundamental human connection strategies. There are things like familiarity that we like people more when we see them more just in general. But one of them is eye contact. So an FBI agent or a psychologist, he was talking about the value of eye contact just in feeling safe with someone and feeling that they’re a friend. You know, liking them, wanting to interact with them more and with your talk, Brandon I’m thinking about my own teen. I have two teens. They’re two young people who are different from each other, but one of them, the child has the phone and they’re looking at the phone. And I as the parent come to them. And the question I have for you is, how do you have a conversation with your child, young child or teen, about why we should look into each other’s eyes or, you know, not have a phone present, even if it’s a good reason, as you say? I have family members with lots of good reasons. How do we even have that conversation about being actually face to face, eyeball to eyeball, sitting and talking with people?
[Dr. Brandon McDaniel]: Yeah, well, I think it depends a bit upon the child’s age, but the earlier you can start, the better. So if they’ve seen that you model these sorts of behaviors and tend to make eye contact when they’re talking to you, even if you had a device in your hand or all of that, they’ll be more likely to do those things in the future. But also just like from, so for example, in our family, we make it a point to say things like, hey, you know, when you’re talking to me, I put my devices down. Remember, I expect the same from you, and to just approach it from this point of that you’re wanting to connect and like I feel more connected to you, talking about all the positives as opposed to focusing really hard on the negative and getting really angry and all of that, you know, because you do some of the same behaviors. So you can talk about some of the same things that you struggle with and make it a bit more relatable, especially if they’re like a teen or older child like that. So I think you could all, so that’s that’s one thing. So you set up those habits in these discussions beforehand and communicating the value to you. But then also sometimes some demonstrations can go a long way. And I know like roleplay sounds to a teen it’d be like no way. But like, you know, some of these times when you do have family times, you could always do some little demonstrations of like, hey, how do you feel if you were talking to me and this is what I do? You know, and you show it like you’re like, hey, try to have a conversation with me and then like model, like, show the bad behavior and or like, hey, have this conversation with me about this thing you really care about and talk to me. And, like, now let me, like, stare at you and, like, give you eye contact and and engage with you and ask questions and like, how did you feel in each of these things and like get them to come to some of these realizations about that, that can be really powerful as well to see some of those changes.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: I do that as well. And I think it helps to have a sense of humor. Like uh huh, you’re telling me about your girlfriend? Mhm. Okay.
[Dr. Brandon McDaniel]: Yeah. You want to keep it as light as possible?
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Exactly. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. And now I want to introduce Dr. Chia-Chen Yang. Dr. Chia-Chen Yang is an associate professor of educational psychology at Oklahoma State University. Her research focuses on the psychosocial development of young people in the digital age. Specifically, she studies the use of communication technologies by adolescents and emerging adults, and the associations between the use of technology and young people’s identity development, social relationships and socio-emotional well-being. Welcome, Dr. Yang.
[Dr. Chia-Chen Yang]: Thank you, Karen. Hi, everyone, I’m Chia-Chen Yang. It’s a great honor to be here today. My topic is digital media and adolescent friendships. Now, clearly this is a very broad topic, so there’s no way I can go over all media activities within 8 minutes. So I’ll share my main message first. Most digital media activities present both risks and opportunities. And so in the next few minutes, I’ll focus on one specific media behavior as an example, and then I’ll share tips on what teens and adults can do to make sure that teens take advantage of the opportunities while avoiding potential harms. So this is a growing phenomenon we have observed among young people, and adults worried that teens today spend so much time on the phone to the point where they no longer talk to other people, even when their friends are in the same space. We refer to this behavior as digital social multitasking, defined as multitasking on a digital device, such as your phone, during a social interaction. But just how much should we be worried about this behavior? Well, there are several factors we would consider. When teens and or their friends multitask on the phone during a social interaction, the most intuitive factor we would consider is probably the level of multitasking, and that also seems to be what adults are most concerned about. When teens pull up their phone during an interaction, we usually immediately assume that that’s a bad thing because it looks like they’re not paying attention and so eventually this is going to hurt their friendships. But it turns out data shows that level of multitasking isn’t a consistent predictor of social development or relationship quality. What matters more is teens’ own perception of the behavior. Now, understandably, they have negative perceptions. Teens do acknowledge that when they multitask during face to face interactions, the phone distracts them. And when their friends multitask, sometimes they feel disrespected, dismissed or ignored. So kind of like the technoference or phubbing mentioned by Brandon, but they also report positive perceptions. For example, if they feel like they’re multitasking, and their friends’ multitasking, enhanced their social experience. And not surprisingly, negative perceptions are related to poor friendship quality, whereas positive perceptions are related to good relationship quality. We also need to consider the context of multitasking. Consider these three scenarios. Scenario one: I’m sharing something that really bothers me with a friend. My friend keeps scrolling through the phone as if she doesn’t care and she’s not paying attention. Scenario two: I’m sharing something that bothers me with a friend. A friend is on the phone looking up information for me and trying to figure out a solution with me. Scenario three: I’m with a friend. We’re just hanging out. We’re not talking about anything serious. We’re both on the phone, but we keep sharing with each other what we’re seeing and doing on the phone. Now, in scenario one, it’s understandable that phone use and multitasking is hurtful, but in scenarios two and three, multitasking actually isn’t a problem. And the good news is that according to teens’ self-report, scenarios two and three are far more common than some scenario one. So even though this is what come up to our minds and worry as these might be closer to what multitasking looks like in adolescents’ peer interactions. So I just used multitasking as an example, showing how a given media behavior could be both a blessing and a curse, depending on a variety of factors. Now, because each individual is different, it becomes increasingly difficult to offer universal advice and tell people that this one activity is what you should or shouldn’t do. So instead of focusing on media behaviors, my suggestions will focus on two other things. The first one is self awareness, and the other one is communication. For self awareness, teens need to monitor the impacts of their digital media behaviors. They need to ask themselves, how has my phone use and multitasking impacted my relationship with my friends and maybe other people? What are some media activities that make me really happy and what are some things my friends do on the phone or through the phone that really bother me? After they have the self reflection and self awareness, they need to have conversations with their friends and peers about digital media use and come up with a plan. We know that teens are very sensitive to peer norms, including how to use communication technologies. What they’re less aware of is that they don’t have to be dictated by peer norms. As a member of the community, they play an active role in shaping that norm. Another thing they’re not as aware of is that they’re not the only one struggling to meet the very high peer expectations of technology use. For example, having to respond to a text message within literally several seconds. That’s challenging for most people, but teens don’t know, so they don’t feel like they can talk about it with their friends. So if we have teachers in the audience, it would be a good idea to schedule some class conversations several times throughout the semester, invite teens to talk about the things they appreciate about digital media, but also the things that really frustrate them and stress them out. And from there, they can create a new peer norm with their peers collectively and come up with a more reasonable expectation of technology use. For adults I have two don’ts and two do’s to share. So the don’ts are: don’t assume digital media use to be bad and there’s no need to be overly concerned because when we assume digital media to be bad and when we are overly concerned, it’s easy to focus the conversation on everything we don’t want our teens to do. But that gives teens the impression that we don’t appreciate the importance of digital media in their social lives, and that we’re just there to take away their autonomy. And then they don’t want to talk to us. To offer some reassurance, if your teens are doing most or all of these, they’re probably okay. First of all, if teens use digital media to solidify existing friendships, if they critically reflect upon the digital media content, for example, they know they see tons of perfect photos and videos on social media. Those photos and videos are selected and curated and edited, and they understand that a lot of the things they see on social media comes to them because of algorithm. So social media doesn’t reflect the full reality. If they have critical thinking and social media literacy, they should be less vulnerable to the negative impact of technology use. And finally, if media use does not interfere with important life routines, such as sleep, meals and school work, in that case, they’re probably fine. Here are the do’s: talk two teens about their digital media experiences. Ask questions like, how’s your day? What’s going on on social media? And importantly, ask them, how do you feel about it? How do you make sense of it? From there, we should get an idea of whether they’re taking advantage of the opportunities provided by digital media or whether there are things we should ask more about and even intervene. And finally, discuss a digital media plan with the teens. For example, we can say, well, in our family from 6 to 7 or 7 to 8, that’s our meal time. So everyone should put away their phone, and it’s just one hour, so it’s achievable. Now, ideally, these plans should be a result of the conversations between parents and teens, rather than parents telling the teens what to do. And once the plan is implemented, both teens and parents should follow the rules. So that’s all I have for now. And I look forward to our discussion.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Thank you so much, Dr. Yang. So a couple of things I noticed from your talk. One is that you touched on norms and people’s perception of norms. So in this case it’s with media use, maybe your mobile phone use. It reminds me of years ago of reading a study that said that teens and college students tend to think that other people all drink more than they do. Because there’s the idea, oh, everyone goes to college or what have you and they drink. We know what young people’s behavior is supposed to be, sort of as a norm, and we think maybe we’re different and we don’t want to admit that. So that might be true for some young people with media that they think other people are more into it than they are. The other thing I was reflecting on, similar to Brandon’s talk, the idea that we’re all different, that there are different types of media use and that we use media ourselves in different ways. So it’s not just one thing that just your teen is always on their phone and you’re not or something like that. But it strikes me that a teen or a young person would need social skills to understand what the other person that they’re hanging out with wants or likes from them. So we’ve probably all been in the situation where a friend is using their phone too much for us during a coffee or something that we’re having, another case maybe we’re that person who’s using the phone too much. And then like I say, there are different levels of desire to be on social media. So I would think that you have to look around you and think, what does this friend expect or want? What do I expect or want? And then and then regulate that from there. One question I have for you is, how do you, how would you start a conversation session with a young person about that, about how much they are using your phone, especially if you’re, say, the parent and you’re trying to figure out how much media time they should have or whether you should limit it. How would you talk to a young person about that?
[Dr. Chia-Chen Yang]: Yeah, that’s a great question. And that’s also one question I have for parents when it comes to me and say, how do I limit children’s screen time? My first question would be, why would you like to limit their screen time? I’d like to start by introducing the idea called parental mediation. So that means parents getting involved in children’s technology use and help them use it more wisely. And there are at least two types of strategies. One is restriction, so limiting screen time and the other is active or enabling mediation. So that means I’m talking to teens about what types of use is healthy, what can bring your rest when you encounter unpleasant information? How do you deal with it? And so on, so forth. And a lot of times our conversation focuses on restriction, but scholars actually advocate for a balance between two. And so my response to that would be, have you seen warning signs? If you have seen signs that you are concerned about, for example, they are emotionally disturbed, they’re not catching up with schoolwork, they’re not sleeping, their diet is changing and so on, so forth. If they’re not seeing the signs that maybe focus on active or enabling strategies, but if they’re seeing warning signs, talk to teens. Tell them, I really think you should reduce your use, because here are the negative signs I’m seeing. I think the conversation needs to start there and we need to make sure that teens also agree upon that. I don’t know how they’re going to respond, but if they don’t agree that there is a problem, they don’t think it’s interfering with their life routines. They’re not going to be motivated to reduce their use.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Wonderful, great advice. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your talk. And now I would like to invite Dr. Megan Maas to present. Dr. Maas is an assistant professor in human development and family studies at Michigan State University. Her award winning research, recognized by the American Psychological Association and funded by the National Institutes of Health, focuses on media impacts on adolescent sexual and mental health. As a former health educator turned academic, she has been training teachers, social workers and school counselors on pornography use among teens for the past ten years. Welcome, Dr. Maas.
[Dr. Megan Maas]: Thank you so much for that introduction. I’m so excited to be here and share our work with you all and some recommendations that we have. So when we think about how teens navigate their romantic relationships in the digital age, usually most of this work really relies on a sexual scripting framework, and so there are few models that really hone in on this well. My favorites are the 3AM Model and the Sexual Media Practice model. And so both of these really posit that there is a bidirectional or sort of cyclical process of both, you know, someone seeking media that really aligns with their worldview, but then also having that media sort of impact their worldview. And so it’s really a bidirectional process of both seeing and doing as an overgeneralization. But for the purposes of this talk, that’s what we’re grounded in here. So the scene really consists of a more passive engagement, where teens are really viewing content such as traditional media. You can think of this as TV, movies, but then they’re also viewing romantic relationships play out on newer media, like internet pornography, social media, YouTube. And then they are able to sort of practice these sexual scripts or engage in them actively by producing their own content on social media, texting, chatting, commenting, and even trading nude images between partners, and that type of thing. All sort of really informs not just their own norms of behavior around romantic relationships, but their peers as well, because they’re all sort of seeing relationships play out in online spaces. So one of the more earlier messages or sexual scripts that children receive about romantic relationships is what we’ve identified as the Virgin-Beast trope. You’re probably familiar with this too, it really is just this sort of stereotypical scenario where there is a more powerful, aggressive male partner and a more virginal or naive and submissive female partner. But unfortunately, in romantic fiction, it really sort of, this dynamic is really necessitated for romance to occur. It’s it’s pretty fairly heteronormative, but it also really sets a stage for some unhealthy romantic relationship dynamics to occur. But it’s masked as romance and drama. So for example, there’s a power and control imbalance in the relationship. There’s sort of like an unlikely match, a Romeo and Juliet and opposites attract kind of situation. A rich prince with a poor Cinderella. These make great stories, but they don’t necessarily make the best relationships. And in some ways, the male usually then will use his partner to control a female partner. We identified this in Beauty and the Beast, Twilight, and 50 Shades of Gray, but it’s in some other romantic fiction, but it’s usually disguised as like, wealth and social status. Stalking can be disguised as like this, just intense wanting or yearning for the partner or protecting the partner like we see in Twilight. But then sometimes things can escalate into threats of physical violence. So this could be where the more powerful partner is throwing things, breaking things, maybe hurting another person or hurting themselves. And it’s all kind of characterized as him just sort of caring too much about the partner. And so then as a result, the female partner tends to suffer anxiety, depression, but we see some of this suffering as just a typical kind of “love hurts” or this kind of taming of the beast, you’re conquering all kind of fairy tale perspective. And so this stuff works in stories, but in real life, these are not healthy character or romantic relationship dynamics. And then of course, we have Internet pornography. So the romantic fiction really shows a lot of the relationship without the sex, and then Internet pornography is really showing the sex without the relationship. And we aren’t, you know, teens aren’t necessarily seeing a full picture of what a healthy, connected romantic relationship could look like that either includes sexual interaction or not. I won’t go into detail, but content analyses show that unfortunately the porn that teens have access to that’s free readily available on tube sites shows rough sex like choking, slapping, forced gagging on a penis, for example. The sex is fast. There’s amateur sex that obviously looks more real. Camming, that looks more real. But what we’re seeing now is more incest. So siblings and cousins and it’s nothing that we want our teens to expect as normal. And there was a new study out that showed that parents are really underestimating the fact that their kids are seeing this level of content online and underestimating how they’re really learning about sex this way. And although there is a chicken or the egg issue here, there has been a couple studies that have shown that teens who use more pornography in adolescence are less sexually satisfied as emerging adults. And especially if teens or young people are endorsing sort of pornography scripts of rough sex or the sort of intense sex as more normative, then they’re more likely to try it in real life. I refer to this as like WWE kind of sex. Some people call it like Olympic level sex, but sex educator podcaster Dan Savage. So that can be one way you could describe it to teens to sort of reduce some of the realism. So what are they seeing? They’re really seeing traditional and new media that can oftentimes romanticize abuse, or at least romanticize excitement and sort of tumultuous barriers to get through. And then they’re also seeing sort of disconnected sex and pornography. There certainly is pornography out there that shows people who care about each other and are emotionally connected, but it’s not usually what teens are exposed to. And so they’re not seeing the communicating before, during and after a sexual encounter. I would like to say that there is some good news, though, so that’s sort of what they’re seeing, now we’re moving into what they’re doing. Teens, for the most part, are using technology to communicate with each other in really positive ways, and in fact really mundane ways, in ways that we would sort of think of as really boring and unnecessary. They’re playing out their whole lives together and really checking in with each other via text. And there’s also been research that shown that it’s much easier to talk about condoms, STIs, even sexual positions ahead of time via text message than it is in face to face conversation for teens, particularly for Latinx teens. But there are some warning signs here because even though the mundane texting, which is a lot, sometimes that can turn into incessant texting where there’s just too much texting going on, or a partner insisting that you have that you keep your location tracking on so they can track where you are. I’ve just recently in a focus group, they were talking about using the do not disturb function on an iPhone to sort of stonewall a romantic partner, which we know in the marriage literature is not good for romantic relationships, but that can be a technological barrier there to unhealthy communication. And thatsnotcool.com has these great, what they call Call Out Cards. And they are, they can also, a teen can go on there and take a little quiz to see if their relationship is healthy or not. So this also happens when they are using digital media to share nude images with each other. But I think it’s really important to note that this is a very gendered experience, where girls are more likely to send, boys are more likely to receive as well as disseminate to peers or post online. LGBTQ students are, kids are the least likely to disseminate, but most likely to have their nudes disseminated. And so this really makes sexting in schools an equity issue because girls are experiencing more reputational consequences than, say, if a boy’s image was shared, usually teens think about it as funny, whereas a girl can really have reputational harm that comes in the form of calling her a slut and that kind of thing. And then this culminates into what sort of the worst part is this image-based sexual abuse. And that’s where teens and young adults are using images, usually from an ex-romantic partner, to shame them or share them with others. This is called nonconsensual pornography. We did a study on a specific type called slutpages. And this is it talks about Nancy Jo Sales and talks about this in one of her books. But they’re basically like, it can be like Sluts of Oakridge High or Sluts of Kalamazoo, ex-pages, burn pages, and men are more likely to visit and post to these sites than women. And then athletic and fraternity members are the most likely to engage compared to other men who don’t participate in those more masculine-focused type activities. So they are negotiating healthy sex boundaries and texting, which can be good, but that can also transition into harm. They’re sending and receiving nudes can consensually between two people, the research shows that’s not necessarily harmful for teens. It’s when those images go beyond the relationship is when we see sort of the negativity occur and that’s how the image-based sexual abuse can can happen. So what can parents do? You can be curious. So ask your kid, what do you think of this when you’re watching a show together? What would you do if this happened to your friends? How’s your friend’s relationship? You can offer counter messages, like relationships are often really boring. Really healthy relationships are calming, they’re comforting, they’re caring. They’re not necessarily tumultuous and really exciting and full of a lot of drama. And like has been mentioned a lot before, limit the time that they are accessing their romantic partners online so that they can really connect with the family as well. I do professional development and our team does professional development for popular culture and pornography education for staff, parents and students. You can contact me if you’re interested in that, but there’s lots of other healthy relationships and media literacy programming, such as Shifting Boundaries, is a great healthy relationships program for middle school kids. I’d like to thank some of my graduate students that are either current or past that have really contributed to this work. And feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Thank you so much. There’s so much there that is thought provoking. I just have time for a quick question, so I’m going to ask you one that I think many people have. Are teen relationships, dating relationships different now because of the technology?
[Dr. Megan Maas]: Yeah. So I didn’t get a chance to really go into seeing the relationships play out on social media, but it’s essentially like they are creating, just like we are showing off the highlight reels of our lives on social media, teens are showing off their relationship, which is really like, trying to get feedback, like, do you think my relationship looks good? You know, like, does this look good? So really trying to get them to focus on more of understanding and asking themselves, what does this relationship feel like? What does this relationship do for me? Versus focusing on how cute it looks on social media or how you can have your own specific highlight reel on your Instagram account because you have a boyfriend now. So I think, yeah, it’s just another way that we are focusing more on our lives and how they look and appeal to others versus how they’re actually working for us.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: That’s great. I empathize with young people out there. We didn’t have to make some of these decisions when we were young in romantic relationships. Our last speaker today is Dr. Rebecca Tukachinsky Forster. Dr. Forster is an associate professor in the School of Communication at Chapman University. Her research examines psychological involvement with media, particularly how individuals relate to and are ultimately impacted by celebrities and fictional characters. She is the author of the book Parasocial Romantic Relationships: Falling in Love with Media Figures and editor of the Oxford Handbook of Parasocial Experiences, scheduled to come out in 2023. Rebecca Tukachinsky Forster, welcome.
[Dr. Rebecca Tukachinsky Forster]: Thank you. I’m very excited to be here and to share with you some thoughts on a different aspect of how relationships can play out in the context of media. So I will start with a quick definition of the idea of parasocial relationships. This is the idea that media consumers of all ages, children and adults alike, can form a sense of, have a feeling that they know the media personality, they form meaningful attachment to the media figures. It’s not necessarily something that happens while they’re watching as much as offline, just having this lingering connection with the media personality. And those experiences can be very meaningful. They can fulfill emotional needs, give a sense of belongingness, connectedness, affiliation, affirmation and attachment. They can help regulate moods and emotions, and they play a role in children developing their own identity. Another important aspect of it is that it promotes learning from the media. So research shows, for example, that there is so much learning the children can do when they watch, for example, a novel cartoon character. But if they interact with that cartoon character, if they form a meaningful relationship, even if imaginary with that character, for example, playing with toys or stickers that feature the character or watching more content of the character that is not necessarily educational. When they see the character in an educational context, they will learn much more from that character. So parents can try to encourage those relationships in order to maximize the benefits of educational content. So all of this merchandise is not just money waste, it can be used for good. But on the flip side, you want to be mindful of undesirable influences. So if the character represents values or behaviors that the parents do not endorse, then you want to be mindful of those parts of the relationship. Another thing is that in educational content, oftentimes the characters are talking to the viewer. So if you’re viewing with the child, it’s a good idea to pause this video and encourage the child to respond to the character, because this is those parasocial interactions that facilitate a lot of learning from those educational shows. As children grow, we see more parasocial romantic relationships, which is something that I’ve been studying a lot, which includes both emotional aspects of the relationship, so seeing the media personality as once ideal romantic partner, as well as physical attraction, excuse me, physical attraction to that character. It’s something very pervasive, my research shows that anywhere between two out of three or four out of five Americans in any age category reported that they had at least one and often more than one experience of a parasocial romantic relationship. And for the most part, those would be celebrities like singers and actors, but also fictional characters. They start early, the earliest ones can be recorded at the age of six or seven, on average, age of eight or nine. But the most important, meaningful, impactful ones happen in early adolescence around the age of 13 and a half, and last for about two years. They start about the time when teens report having sexual fantasies, the onset of having those interests in sexuality. But they don’t think those experiences persist even once children start engaging in actual dating relationships. So we can see that those behaviors, the behaviors associated with romantic relationships is mostly about fantasy, imagining oneself being with that media figure, what it would be like to be in a relationship with them, maybe writing fanfiction that is romantic in nature. Specifically, there is a specific genre of fanfiction that is about oneself being in a romantic relationship with a character, becoming part of a fangroup. And we’re sometimes on some of those websites, teens write stories for each other. So I interviewed a lot of teens who do not have that, or at least claim not to have the imagination or the capacity to write those things, so they solicit other teens, connect with other teens who would write it for them. And so this is an opportunity to forge social connections and connect with other fans, and seek exposure to those media personalities in other forms of media, maybe follow them on social media, attend events that they frequent, etc. In terms of outcomes, like other types of personal relationships are very important for emotional regulation. It can be this happy place for the teen to go, and it’s, as I mentioned before, it’s an opportunity to connect with other same-minded fans. I’ve interviewed young adults and teens who told me how, for example, moving to a new place or starting a new school, having this fandom is an opportunity to connect and click other fans of that same celebrity, for example. And at the same time, while specifically for prosocial romantic relationships, this is an opportunity to experience romance and sexuality in a very safe way. So kind of building on what Dr. Maas was saying before me about how we are constructing romantic scripts and sexual scripts, we can practice them through these imaginary relationships with media, not just by watching them, but also by experiencing them, trying them on like pretend play, like little children playing like family or doctor office. It’s the same thing but like on the next level. And this is a good experience, especially for girls that mature earlier and have those sexual needs and urges, but we don’t want them to act on them yet. So this is a safe way to do that. However, we need to be mindful of the possibility that because this is all imaginary, you might end up developing some unrealistic expectations of, that reality will not be consistent with that eventually. So that’s something to watch for. And while overall parasocial relationships are healthy and promotes well-being, they can also be hurtful at times. So consider situations when a celebrity dies or even becomes romantically engaged with someone else other than the fan, that can be sometimes a painful experience that promotes jealousy. So to summarize, I would say parasocial relationships are very common. Even though they are imaginary, they are very real for those who engage with them and they have real consequences for the psychological well-being of those who engage in them. So I would suggest nurture the parasocial relationships that can benefit your child and respect your child’s parasocial relationships. So if the child is in love, it is real love. If they are grieving, this is real grief. Don’t try to belittle it. And overall, they’re healthy and good. But you do want to watch for inappropriate confusion between reality and fiction. So depending on the child’s age, a four year old, it’s okay for them to think that Daniel Tiger actually talks to them. But a 15 year old should know that this is fantasy. This is not how real life is going to play out. And while overall parasocial relationships is an opportunity to connect with other people, you want to watch out for those rare situations when maybe it actually displaces those activities and displaces other relationships. Thank you.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Thank you, wonderful. Dr. Tukachinksy Forster and I do research into the same general area. So as you might imagine, I have many things I could say, I’ll have to limit myself, but I’m struck by how all of the presentations really covered norms. So when we’re trying to decide what’s appropriate behavior, whether it be looking at our mobile device during a conversation or whether it be having a crush on a celebrity, we look around and see what other people do. And I mean, we could go back to, I’m thinking of Beatles fans in the sixties, girls and women who screamed and passed out back then. And I had an interviewer once say to me, a woman in her early twenties, that she was in love with Harry Styles and she wondered if that made her, you know, if it was a problem, if it was like a mental illness or something. And one thing I will point out that I think this is so self explanatory, but then again, maybe we don’t remember, you know, people who are in the limelight, celebrities, actors, they are chosen in part, especially in the US, I think, for their looks. So they have what we call in evolutionary psych, very high mate value. And so why wouldn’t this woman be in love with Harry Styles? I mean, he’s very talented, very beautiful and all that. So I think we can’t underestimate that, that when people are really selected for their mate value, in a way it’s not surprising that that people develop feelings for them. So, Rebecca, you mentioned this a little bit. I want to follow up. So how does a parent know when it’s a healthy relationship? You know, their child is buying the T-shirts, going to the concert, what have you, versus that, you know, I think one of the fears that’s been expressed on the questions that have been posed are when is this unhealthy? How can I tell if it’s healthy or unhealthy?
[Dr. Rebecca Tukachinsky Forster]: This is a good question. And I think that the answer kind of echoes the things that every single speaker on the panel mentioned beforehand, and that’s communicating with your child and trying to get an idea of how, what does it mean for them? How do they feel about what’s going on? And it’s not about the amount, the research that I’ve seen, it shows that it’s not the amount, the sheer amount of time that’s spent on it, it’s whether it becomes having those addictive characteristics, when it starts displacing other behaviors, when it starts hurting the child themselves. So as long as it’s not coming at the expense of something else, as long as it’s not something that is kind of under control, if you wanted to control it, then that’s fine. It becomes a problem when all, or it could be a sign of something else going on if the child is not engaging with peers or does not want to have a real relationship because they’re content in the fictional relationships as a substitution. So those are the places where you want to start saying like, why does that happen? Or if the child is, so again, a lot of adolescents will call themselves obsessive, but that means, oh, I just want to read a lot about a celebrity, which is different from, I want to go and stalk the celebrity. I want to go and break into their home. So that would be, not a healthy, but a very, very rare thing. So I think the communicating and understanding the place of that experience in the child’s life is the key.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Yeah, it seems like there’s a lot of things that come together there that sometimes because of the way the brain is wired, teens can be very dramatic. I can remember my best friend as a teenager in the eighties saying she would love Michael Jackson forever. I wasn’t worried about her health or whether she would or not. But I do have colleagues who are clinicians who live in L.A., who know people who do stalk, you know, and show up at people’s houses. So I find in general, maybe you find this as well, Rebecca, that people fear a little bit, maybe more than is merited, they think, uh oh, this is a warning sign. Whereas I think the norm, the common thing is, it is a normal relationship.
[Dr. Rebecca Tukachinsky Forster]: Absolutely. There is like, those extreme examples. They usually, they are very salient when they come to the media attention and they are part of some of the cultural tropes that we have about it. But it’s not a common phenomenon. And there is no need to, like, it’s not pathological to have those experiences. There are some people who have certain problems that can manifest in those behaviors. So it’s usually not the fandom that is the problem. It’s something else that needs to be looked into. But it’s one of the symptoms of that other underlying issue could be those stalking behaviors, for example.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Yeah. And just briefly, I’ve done some research on fandom and well-being, and well-being is actually higher in fans, so it’s a social activity. People like to talk about whatever their fandom is.
[Dr. Rebecca Tukachinsky Forster]: Exactly.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: So we can move on to opening up to the group question and answer. And I’m going to go for some questions in the chat. So there have been some requests from people who work as school nurses, teachers, counselors, about advice that they could, that you guys could offer them about how to foster healthy relationships for the students that they’re working with. Anyone can respond.
[Dr. Megan Maas]: Are we talking romantic relationships?
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Um, any.
[Dr. Megan Maas]: Okay. Yeah. I mean, ideally, we would have sort of what’s more of the Nordic model of sex education, which is kind of like education that starts from kindergarten on. And those early years are really about boundaries and healthy friendships. And then you can apply those principles to romantic relationships and sexual relationships as you get older. I would say that for middle school there’s this, the Shifting Boundaries program is an evidence-based, you know, intervention for healthy relationships and preventing teen dating violence in middle school. That’s what I recommend.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: That’s a great resource. Thank you.
[Dr. Chia-chen Yang]: I can chime in here. As I mentioned during my presentation, I think teachers and school personnel can play a really important role in helping teens to start those conversations about what they like about their digital technologies, but importantly, what stresses them out and what bothers them because, as we can imagine, these are difficult conversations for teens to initiate by themselves. So if it’s a group activity that’s hosted by a teacher, it might be easier, and if needed, we can even do it anonymously, kind of like how we do sex education. Ask the questions or share the thoughts you have that you don’t necessarily feel comfortable sharing, but here’s the base that we can hear from everyone else, and I think that’s a really important starting point to recreate that peer norms and expectations.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Yeah, great advice. I think we often can be stereotypical and think all adults think media are bad, all kids think media are wonderful. But in my experience, when you get kids talking about it, they can start to say, what are the things that make me uncomfortable? What are the things that I like? What are the issues that I see? So another question we have is how to intervene or counter the norm perceptions and promote healthier boundaries. And like I mentioned, I heard a lot of content, which I think is great about, you know, just the fact that we look around us and we try to figure out what the norm is, what do people expect of us in lots of ways, including in our relationships. If you were a teenager right now, you’d be thinking, what do people expect me to do? And then they’re talking about countering those. Do I have to? So a difficult question I think we could all ask ourselves. If we traveled back in time and we were a teen right now, would you send your romantic partner nude pictures? Like I said, we just wrote each other notes. We’d have to draw stick figures. I’m just being silly. But so, you know, I empathize, how would one make these, you know, decisions? If you are trying to help teens, whether as a teacher or as a parent or anyone else, so, how do you make this decision? Are you going to engage in this behavior? Are you going to decide that even though it’s the norm, you’re not going to do it? Any advice on those issues?
[Dr. Megan Maas]: I would say that, so one of the, so I get called into schools to do trainings in response to like, sexting scandals, right. And because it’s a norm and usually because the person who sends the nude is doing it out with motivations of trust and intimacy, they could be naive, right? We could as adults, we could say, how could you do this? This could end up on the internet. But usually those motivations are, you know, they’re healthy motivations, they’re all characteristics that we would want adult relationships and marriages to have with trust and intimacy kind of a thing. But the disseminating the nudes to your friends after you break up or before or even during the relationship that’s really harmful. And those are associated with motivations of malice and what we would call antisocial behavioral issues. So I tend to encourage, at least in the school context, to really crack down on the dissemination of nudes and not necessarily focusing on the original sender because that norm is so strong.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: That makes sense, it brings up the issue of trust building, like you said. So if, I think we can all understand that if you’re in a relationship and it means a lot to you, then you trust the person and you can’t imagine that the person would ever do something to harm you. Just like if we weren’t talking about media, and we were having a conversation about that, sometimes the person that you were closest to, you break up and then they’re angry, they’re going to lash out at you. And it’s, so how do you, does anyone have insights about when that trust is broken then how do you talk to a young person about, should I not trust anyone now? Is everyone, you know, how do we navigate that in the digital space? You know, it could be also about, sometimes people have negative experiences on social media where someone says something that hurts their feelings or things like that.
[Dr. Megan Maas]: Yeah. Or friends commenting on things or not including them on posts about a slumber party that they were at or something, so.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: So how do you, how do you put that in perspective, I guess. Any advice on that, recovering from sort of the, I can see that one of the difficult things is now it’s out there forever. You know, you know, it’s part of the public record unless it’s one of those that disappear. Any advice for dealing with when you feel like you’ve been publicly shamed or hurt or insulted or left out, how do you move forward from there, helping your child that you’re working with, or your own child with that?
[Dr. Brandon McDaniel]: Oh, I can chime in for a second. I’d like to take it a step backwards, though and just to say that as parents, you know, we can have a really large influence on our children and how they feel about themselves, you know, their self esteem, their sense of worth, all of that. So I think, you know, some of what we’re talking about or kind of skipping over is this foundation has been set up for the child and the team and the value that they place on themselves. And so being able to communicate over time, through the love and the warmth and just the messages that the parent gives to the child over time, as well as some of what we’ve talked about today in terms of the ways technology is used or not used or the kinds of things that we communicate about what we value in our relationships and how we value them and the things that they bring to the world, I think is a really important place that we should have started already or been doing all along, because it will make that foundation and you know, that foundation is not strong, that they’re going to crumble under a lot of the weight of these different things that are going on. So I’ll leave it to others to answer the like, well, what do we do now? But I think you can do a lot as a parent in simply being there to support them and to set up that foundation, like that strong foundation that they can always come back to.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Wonderful. Yeah. I think it can also go to resilience that if anything happens to you, any blow to your self-esteem or any setback, what’s your, like you say, Brandon, what’s your foundation? What can you trust will always be there, like your family, that your family will love you no matter what, your friends, your good friends will love you no matter what. Which is good parenting at any time, whether it’s happened on social media or not. For me, I’m wondering too, if there’s an aspect to teen development where you sort of see things as huge, you lose perspective. And so then you could really roll into some anxiety about how big this all is. And so there may be some just normal strategies that you might use not on media like, are you really going to be talking about this in a year or you know, has it happened to anyone else that you know and how did they survive, with things like that. Just breaking that hugeness of it, like, there can be a, I think an anxiety provoking part of media use is that, oh, it’s going to haunt you forever. People will say, oh, now you’ve posted something that it’s a mistake. You know, there’s no way to take that back. There’s no way to recover. But of course, that happens to everyone. So there are, you know, ways to recover. How about, there was a question that I thought was really good that was posed. What if, in whatever instance, the child is not wanting to give you information? What if you’re probing, asking and you’re not getting a response? Any advice in that situation?
[Dr. Megan Maas]: I think you have to meet teens where they are, you know, this kind of blends into the last question. There’s two cognitive features of adolescence. The personal fable is this idea that, you know, the rules of the world don’t apply to me. So this is like, your breakup is the worst breakup of all time. Your friendship is, you know, problems are the worst of all time. And then the imaginary audience thinking that everyone’s really hyper focused on you is sort of real now with social media, there is an audience there. So I think meeting them where they are and comforting them and spending time with them, watching movies, eating ice cream together or going out for food together and just, you know, really trying to, you know, just acknowledge that they’re big feelings. And it’s okay to have big feelings. It’s okay to do hard things because I’m going to be there for you as it happens kind of thing. So same thing, I don’t think you can probe for more information with a teen or a younger kid. I think you really have to sort of just show that over a lot of different micro interactions that when they do share things with you, you’re not going to overreact and lecture. So if they know that they can share with you without getting that lecture, then they’ll probably end up disclosing more, especially when it’s really important.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: I want to follow up because I think that’s so interesting about the fact that I agree there. There is an actual audience there, but I know it helps me as an adult to say, like, oh, what are people thinking? They’re not thinking about me at all is the true answer. They’re thinking about themselves or whatever is happening. So do you think that that is still valid for, to soothe the mind of a younger person that yes, literally, there’s an audience on your Facebook page or your Instagram or wherever it is
[Dr. Megan Maas]: I think as long as it’s a balance, I mean, you can certainly ask them like, well, do you care about so-and-so’s social media profile, are you checking their profile all the time or comparing yourself or, yeah, are you thinking of, you know, somebody’s pimples or, you know, their stain on their shirt or something to kind of get them to think outside themselves. But I don’t know that you can really reason them out of discomfort. I think it’s more difficult.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Yeah, that’s a good point.
[Dr. Chia-Chen Yang]: And I’d like to chime in on what if teens just refuse to share information. I think I totally agree with Megan. In that case, show that you care that if they encounter issues, they know that they can rely on you. I would also mention that usually when teens refuse to share information, it’s because they assume we wouldn’t understand. Or if they tell us something, we’re going to take away their phone or take away their autonomy. So I think in that case what we can start doing is in addition to letting them know that we’ll always be there for them, start sharing what we know about digital media, both the risks and opportunities. I think it’s important to let teens know that we actually do understand and appreciate the importance of technologies in their social lives. So our conversations should not just focus on all the negatives. That’s going to give them the wrong impression that we don’t get it. Now at the same time, of course, still talk about the risks and maybe things you can do if you really encounter problems online. Now we get that this misconception that teens never listen to adults and that’s not true. They’re listening. They’re not necessarily responding, but they are listening and they filter out the information they don’t want to get. But they, for the ones that they appreciate, they’ll still remember at least part of it.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: I’m definitely guilty of that. My son kind of yells at me, Mom, I listen to you all the time. I think he’s not hearing.
[Dr. Brandon McDaniel]: And I’d love to add on really quickly that in those conversations, we need to make sure that we’re not focusing only on them. We need to, the more that you can show yourself like the vulnerable side of yourself in this and the experience, make it real for how you’re going through a lot of these similar sorts of things can be really helpful for you to talk about, well, you know, when I’m using social media, here are the ways that I get pulled in and I get pulled down this rabbit hole over here. Or I’m trying to use it in this way, which actually is really good, but a lot of times I’ll find I’ve lost 30 minutes. I didn’t even realize that I had scrolled through that many videos and like being able to show that you’re not just focused on trying to limit their autonomy, but that this is like a, it’s an entire world experience that everyone is going through. And you’re going through this together.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: That reminds me too of just, give yourself some credit, because I think as parents, or teachers, we think about all the, maybe things we could have done better or, things we’re frustrated about. But just like what you just said, Brandon, I do those things where I tell them, ah, Mom stayed up too late playing a video game. That was a bad choice, you know, now I’m tired or whatever it is. But as we’ve said before here, we are all in this. Whether we were young and doing it or whether we’re doing it as parents or educators or others now. We’re all in this world in which, you know, there’s sexting and there’s all these things going on. And so where it’s appropriate to just say, this is not a conversation of the adult talking down to the child, that I’ve never made any of these mistakes or don’t make them or don’t have these decisions to make myself. And it’s not, there’s not always clear cut and dried answers and people are, different things can work with different kids, for instance. So we were talking about some of the positive sides of media. We have a question here. Are there specific features of technology/social media that are particularly harmful or particularly beneficial to relationships? Let’s do the beneficial side first, if you don’t mind.
[Dr. Brandon McDaniel]: I’d love to talk a little bit about that. So if we think about messaging and posting like, a lot of that, I mean, we can definitely talk about the ways that it could be negative and it can influence things. But a lot of times if they’re using it in ways, that’s something that they’re able to connect with their peers and others, you know, where they’re really communicating and using it as a way to connect. That can often have a lot of positive effects on the relationship and build the relationship and build trust and intimacy and all sorts of things. So those sorts of communication features are really useful for relationships and we should acknowledge that.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Anyone else would like to chime in about beneficial, or we can do harmful as well. Beneficial or harmful features like specific features of different kinds of media.
[Dr. Megan Maas]: I think the asynchronicity of communication, computer mediated communication can help because you can take a beat before you decide to respond or figure out how to respond. Sometimes that can make you look a little bit more savvy and it can improve flirting and things like that, but it can also make you think a little bit more about how you might want to pose a question that you might be too afraid to ask in person or too nervous to even ask over the phone so that asynchronicity helps, I think with a little bit more thoughtful communication.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Very good.
[Dr. Brandon McDaniel]: I’d love to add some more on there, Karen. So I mean, but at the same time we have to be careful and teach our children and teens or have them maybe, you can already through some of the ways we’ve talked about have them recognize some of the ways that’s not as great as face to face communication at times because of the missing behavioral cues and body cues and all these other things that sometimes are missing and like how easy it is to misinterpret a message that was sent when that’s not what you meant at all. And they’ve all had those experiences, I’m sure. And you build on those. And so it’s like it is a mixed bag, but it definitely is a way that they can, yeah, you can send a better crafted message over time. It can help to ease some of that anxiety as well in approaching difficult issues. It’s just sometimes the difficult issues would have been better approached in person, even though it was easier to avoid the anxiety.
[Dr. Megan Maas]: Yes. Thank you for that clarification, too, because I think it’s so important to encourage all of us really to not disentangle conflict via text or computer media. If you do have an emotional, you know, if there’s an argument or there’s something that you really need, a serious conversation should not take place over text. There’s so many more benefits of having those conversations face to face. Those are important to have face to face for sure.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: I’m going to in a moment ask each panelist if they have a final takeaway, or wrap up. But I will kind of comment one more time on this last question, which is just keep in mind that there are benefits and drawbacks to each way that you might be communicating. Some things are great to send on a text, and some things really would benefit from having a sit down face to face conversation. And I’ll also give one takeaway before I turn it over to the panel. One takeaway is just that we’re all in this together. We’re experiencing these rapid changes in technology. We have our own mobile devices and our own computers and issues with that in our life. And maybe a bit of humility from all of us and a bit of confession that we sometimes don’t do it the way that we would want, and we don’t have all the answers, but we love or care for the person in question, and we were there to support them. So with that, I will open it up. You can just go. I won’t call on you by name, but just let you volunteer if you have, for the panelists, a take away or a wrap up statement, you like to say.
[Dr. Rebecca Tukachinksy Forster]: I’ll just chime in quickly that for sure technology introduced a lot of different ways in which we communicate and it’s easy to focus on that. But I also want to remind us all that at the bottom line, it is still about the same types of human relationships and communication and a lot of things that we know about relationships and how they form and what’s important in them still apply to those mediated contexts as well. So it’s like, to reduce the levels of our anxiety that come with that and remind us that it’s still at the base, at the core, a lot of the same principles still apply.
[Dr. Chia-Chen Yang]: And for me, I think one thing I heard across the panelists today is that the sheer amount of time of digital media use is not a predictor of most relationship qualities or even socio-emotional well-being. It’s always how people use it, why they’re using it, what context you’re using it. And I know people have the concern that if teens use digital media too much, it’s going to hinder their social development or friendship social skills. As of now, there is no consistent evidence warranting this concern. And so I guess my take home message is, yes, parents do need to educate their teens how to use digital technologies, but we don’t need to be overly concerned when they text their friends about their happiness, their sadness, when they try to resolve conflict, when they read the pictures. In the past, we say read between the lines. Now they read between the pictures and films. They try to figure out what peer dynamics are communicated through those videos, photos and comments under that, they are developing the social skills and competencies needed in the digital age.
[Dr. Megan Maas]: I would just close with saying that romantic relationships are normative in adolescence, even though they make us uncomfortable. We might not want our kids to have those experiences or we’re not, we might not be ready to think about them having those experiences. But it is important for them to learn how to communicate and navigate romantic relationships so that they can have successful, longer-term relationships when they’re older. And technology is just a part of that now. And yeah, so it’s normal.
[Dr. Brandon McDaniel]: And I’ll add on, yeah. Technology and the way it’s integrated into all aspects of our lives is, is so completely normal now for, even for adults. So again, going back to the idea of the modeling of the behaviors that you would like your children and teens to engage in and having regular conversations as well as like micro-interactions, as Megan put it, about all of these different features and your successes and failures and making it something that is normal, treating it as something that is very normal. I think I also want to say that helping teens and children to think about who it is they want to become and the kinds of skills and other things they want to develop as you can get them to focus on those things for themselves then that will also help you in your teaching moments or your conversations about helping them to recognize how they’re reaching or not reaching some of those, even with their technology use in the ways that they’re utilizing that, you can have them reflect and see whether they’re reaching their goals and potential and things that they really want out of life.
[Dr. Karen Shackleford]: Thank you so much, panel. And I’ll turn it back over to Kris now.
[Kris Perry]: Thank you, Karen, Brandon, Chia-Chen, Megan, and Rebecca for sharing your. expertise and some really great advice that we can all use to promote healthy relationships in children’s lives. I also want to thank our Zoom audience for joining us today. To learn more about this and other topics related to child development and digital media, check out our website at childrenandscreens.com. Follow us on these platforms. And subscribe to our YouTube channel where you can find all 53 of our previous webinars. Please join us again on Thursday, December 1st at 1230 Eastern time for our final Ask the Experts webinar of the year, Beyond Borders: Global Perspectives on Digital Media and Children. Tune in to hear our international panel of experts discuss the latest trends in youth media habits, research policies and parenting perspectives from around the world. We hope to see you there.