What is the “social brain”? (Hint: it’s the network of brain regions behind complex social interactions, recognizing others, and their mental states.) When and how does it develop across childhood, and what factors play into this development? How does modern screen use impact the social brain in early childhood, adolescence, and beyond?
Children and Screens’ #AskTheExperts webinar “The Social Brain on Screens” was held on Tuesday, April 11, 2023 at 12pm ET via Zoom. An interdisciplinary panel of neuroscientists, psychologists, and psychiatrists explored the functions of the social brain in childhood, what these interconnected neural networks require for healthy functioning, and what strategies parents might consider around infant and youth screen use in order to encourage healthy social development.
Moriah Thomason, PhDBarakett Associate Professor and Director of Pediatric Neuroimaging; Vice Chair for ResearchModerator
Eva Telzer, PhDCo-Director; Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience
Shimi Kang, MD, FRCPCPsychiatrist; Best-selling author of The Tech Solution; Clinical Associate Professor
Georgene Troseth, PhDProfessor of Psychology
[Kris Perry] Welcome everyone to today’s Ask the Experts webinar: The Social Brain on Screens. I am Kris Perry, your host, Executive Director of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. Have you ever wondered how or when a child learns to understand the perspectives or emotions of others around them, and how that relates to their own internal and external experiences? Or perhaps even more importantly, how does what you say or do around a child shape the way they see and interact with the world around them? What processes drive this learning, and what role does the brain play in all of this? These questions may sound complex, but they are at the very core of each child’s development as they learn more about themselves and the people around them every day. As technologies advance and grow, digital media is becoming more and more a part of these processes, and at increasingly earlier stages. Today, we’ve brought together a panel of child developmentalists, neuroscientists and psychiatrists to break down the “social brain” and answer your questions about how to promote healthy social development in a highly digital world. Now, I am thrilled to introduce you to today’s moderator, Dr. Moriah Thompson. Moriah is the Barakett Associate Professor and Vice Chair of Research in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York University, Grossman School of Medicine. She is also faculty in the Department of Population Health in the Neuroscience Institute. She formerly served as director of the Perinatal Neural Connectivity Unit within the Intramural Perinatal Perinatology Research branch of NICHD/NIH.
Her published research addresses principles of neural development beginning in utero. In 2019, she received the honor of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) from the Office of the President of the United States. She is also a member of Children and Screens’ National Scientific Advisory Board. Welcome, Moriah.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] Thank you, Kris. I am so excited to be here both with our panelists and with the audience because we are a community, all oriented around a lot of questions. The reason that this topic is close to my heart and to my mind- it comes from the perspective of evolution and human development, also from the perspective of being a mother, a neuroscientist, and also a perpetual optimist. As this is all happening around this, you know, we can all feel pulled in many directions as to how to, you know, can we make the most of this? Should we be running to the hills, screaming, perhaps utterly frustrated. I think we go in and out of feeling that way and perhaps that can illuminate some of that today, I’m hopeful. So I wanted to just start by stepping a little bit into the neuroscience of our evolving developing brain. The brain has an important job to do, and this is the center of the conversation for me, which is to help us to support the transition from dependance, from complete dependance, to independence. So if we think a little bit about it in a temporal sequence, from the time that we’re born, we’re born completely dependent on the social context, right? Our caretakers, our caretakers, are our social world. And that social world also includes other figures, for example, siblings that support the way that our brain becomes a processing unit and in fact, that social context means everything to the way that the networks of the brain are formed. So connections in the brain are going to be pruned across this time, and we know that that environment has a profound effect on that. And a very simple and easy example of this, is that children that are born to families that have older siblings, in fact show more rapid language development in those early years of life; because again, that social context is providing that brain with different information. That brain is born with those overabundant connections, and so those experiences are helping the brain to know “this is an important connection for me to hold on to, this is one that’s a little bit unnecessary.” We’re building brains that are efficient. They don’t need more connections than they actually need in order to process information. And then if we follow that child across development, and across those systems beginning to scale back into the childhood period, that child, over the course of that early development has learned things about social rules. So, for example, the early infant understands joint attention; which refers to the ability to reference where somebody else is looking and look to that reference point. You’ll see little infants do this around nine months of age. They also learn turn taking. So turn taking is a term that we use for conversational turns, where you take a pause and you look for a reaction from somebody else. These are really fundamental, but this is a really small baby. So I use these examples because it shows you that already that very young brain is learning how to operate within a social world. Now, childhood is really interesting because this is our first foray into long periods of learning in a social context that is outside of the home. We also begin to understand, consequences of our actions, we grapple with concepts like justice and fairness. We begin to understand empathy and altruism. We have a prefrontal cortex that is increasingly supporting goal directed behaviors. And all of this in the context of being able to understand how to be persistent on tasks, and how to understand the consequences. So then things, I think, get very interesting in adolescence. I’m the mother of two adolescents, and I’m thinking a lot about this. The job of the brain from an evolutionary perspective in adolescence, is to support furthering us along that pathway to independence, where we’re able to go into the world and navigate without so much dependance on that family unit. Very interesting things happen in the brain in terms of how we respond to social information. We actually transition from being more reactive or more responsive in terms of brain activation to others outside of the home, instead of our parents. This has been shown using neuroimaging. We also see that children in this time become more activated in areas that are important for reward processing when they’re exposed to others. So there are, there’s an underlying neurobiology, that is supporting those stages of development that say “you are now able to move outside of the home and be supported.” We are more rewarded by those signals and we’re less averse to potential risks. So these are topics that we’re going to discuss even more with our panelists today. But I just sort of wanted to wet the appetite and say that really this framing, of how that brain has a job to, do can really help to orient some of our discussion and as a community, we will consider the ways in which interactions with screens, may shape these processes.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason – Moderator] So I’m thrilled to hear from our esteemed guests today, who will share more on this topic from a variety of perspectives. And like I said, I’m hopeful that we can think about how ways conversations like this, are critical to achieving optimal outcomes for children. So the format will be that I will introduce our first speaker and afterwards we’ll have just a brief moment to talk with her and ask one question, and then we’ll move on to our other panelists.And then at the end, we’ll open it up for more questions and discussion. So I’m pleased to take this opportunity to introduce our first speaker Dr. Georgene Troseth. Dr. Troseth is a professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University, where she’s a member of the Department of Human Development within Peabody College. Her research is focused on very young children’s symbolic developments, from their understanding of pictures, video images, video chat, all as sources of information. She has constructed the Sesame Workshop, collaborating with Fred Rogers Productions and participated in national workshops regarding children’s media research policy. So as you can see, this is a very great place for us to start today, because she can help us to understand how children can interact with screens. And with that, Dr.Troseth, we look forward to hearing from you.Please begin for us.
[Dr. Georgene Troseth] So I have a caveat. First, that I’m not I’m not a neuroscientist. As a developmental psychologist, I studied children’s development and obviously neuroscience and the brain are underneath everything: all human observable behavior. So they’re underneath what I study, but I don’t study the brain. Fortunately, our other experts do. But what I can tell you about is, what are some of the aspects of early social development that we should be concerned about? So some of the social tasks of early childhood, and defining that as infants to preschool, the first would be emotion and behavior regulation. In other words, self-control, controlling one’s emotions and controlling one’s behavior. It’s a very important thing that needs to develop early, so you can be thinking as parents, or as people at work with children about what you do to help them develop emotion and behavior regulation. Another important aspect is understanding; identifying and understanding emotions, both your own emotions (when you’re happy, when you’re fearful, sad) and to be able to identify other people’s emotions is very important. Empathy is another early social skill, as well as turn taking, listening and sharing. So the social rules for how we communicate and how we get along with each other. So if you think about, visualize, where children would learn these things, it’s typically face to face interaction, right? Children learn these interactions with caring, others who model appropriate behavior. So show how to show love, who engage in back and forth sharing with that child as well as conversation and set limits on the child’s behavior. So that’s the context in which early social development occurs. So then what we need to think about is, how might screen exposure or screen engagement harm social development? And so the big issue here is what’s termed displacement: the idea that children need sufficient time with caring individuals who interact with them, who model social skills and help them regulate their emotions and their behavior. And so if, if a child is doing something else, they might not get the sufficient time to develop, to have those experiences, that will allow them to develop that. So you notice the idea there wouldn’t be, it’s not focusing on the idea that something like a screen might be toxic, like a pathogen, but rather the idea that if you’re doing that, you might not be doing the thing that you absolutely need for proper development. A specific case of that, Jenny Radesky, the pediatrician, found that frequent use of mobile devices for calming young children down, may displace their opportunities for learning emotion regulation strategies over time. Now, you know, there might be some situations where you do use a mobile device to calm a child down. One case would be when, they’re having a medical procedure that’s become a common thing. But you can think yourself about the ways that parents might use that because it’s just too much to deal with the child’s right? At restaurants or whatever. But the idea that Radesky is pointing out then, is that the child doesn’t have to struggle and develop their emotion regulation and their behavior regulation. So an interesting thing about displacement there. So both of those involve displacing experience needed for a brain and behavioral development rather than, you know, this idea that it’s a toxin, the screen is a toxin. Another con of early screen use or a detriment of that is that babies and toddlers don’t learn very well from screens. So I’ll tell you about one study that my colleagues and I did back in the days of a very famous DVD series whose name will not be mentioned. Parents were given a copy of the popular DVD that was supposed to teach words, or just a word list on a piece of paper. And then they got one month exposure, for the DVD they watched five times a week. So that was 20 times total across a month. For the parent list, we just said “use this list of words. Teach them in any way that seems normal to you, for your baby.” And then there was such a current control group that didn’t do anything special during the month, we just tested them at the beginning and the end. The result was that the children who viewed this very popular DVD series learned no more words than the control group did, just from, you know, normal language development. The highest learning was in the parent interaction group. And so, you know, learning for very young children, screens aren’t really great at it and so that’s something to keep in the back of your mind. However, there’s one interesting exception. Could screen use help social development in the case of video chat? So, you know, one thing that we know is that, you know, in the real world, caregiver sensitivity or responding warmly in sync with an infant promotes emotional socialization and emotion regulation. So it does the good things. And video chat allows that kind of sensitive responding, that back and forth. And so a big group of five of us, across five universities, are exploring parent infant, grandparent, video chat interactions. And what we’re finding is that families do engage in activities that build emotional connection. And so the things that they’re doing are things like turn taking, blowing kisses, smiling, Infants are babbling at their grandparents. Parents and grandparents are doing things like sharing books and toys across the screen, playing hide and go seek, etc. So having all kinds of interactions, like you would in the real world, So parents and grandparents are very clever. And we’re finding out that grandparents sensitivity to the baby, so responding right at the right moment with smiles and emotional expressions is influencing infants’ emotions. And so it is building the kinds of things that you could build face to face, with a supportive caregiver. So that’s one interesting positive, you know, has kind of come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, is studying video chat quite a bit. And also the social contingency or the responsiveness of video chat helps toddlers learn. So in many studies, a bunch of studies, compared to learning from a recorded video, two year olds, excuse me, learn better from a responsive person on video chat and there’s a list you can see right there of the kinds of things that they learn better. And especially they learn better if there’s a parent with them, just directing attention to the person on the screen and responding to the person on the screen. So if it’s a two-way interaction that the child is then involved with. Another thing, another way that might be considered a positive, is the idea of joint media engagement. So using the screen as something to engage with the child. One example, after using an e-book with a character who modeled open ended questions what’s called dialogic reading, for two weeks, parents and preschoolers had more conversations, deeper conversations, were more responsive to each other, they were more cooperative with each other, and they expressed more positive emotions. And so when, they did all that, excuse me, they did all those things when reading other ebooks, eBooks and other books, e-books and print books. And this was, they were higher, than if you just read the e-book without that character, who would give parents hints about the kinds of questions to ask and would remind them to turn book writing into a conversation. So that’s an idea also, that may be a positive that would come out of using well-designed screen media. Here’s another example that’s very familiar: Daniel Tiger was designed to promote socioemotional development, and in a couple of studies done by Erik Rasmussen, we were involved in one of them, toddlers and young preschoolers, exhibited more empathy and emotion recognition after watching the program for two weeks, particularly if parents discuss the show with the child. So brought it into their real world to talk about controlling emotions and understanding emotions.And preschoolers who played the Daniel Tiger app for a month, or played the app and watched the program then used Daniel’s emotion regulation strategies in the real world and had more emotion knowledge compared to a control group. So again, it depends on, what’s on that screen as to what effect it may have on emotional development. So kind of to conclude, one thought is that more nuance might be needed when thinking about screen time or screen use and social development. So some things that are takeaways, it matters if the screen use displaces needed experience. So if you’re on the screen, and you’re not engaging with the person that can help you develop your skills. The age of the child matters. Younger children, there’s less learning. So, you know, they’re not going to get as much out of it as when they’re older. Pardon me. And the content on the screen matters. If it’s something like Daniel Tiger, you may be actually actively promoting that learning. And it matters whether parents are involved in joint engagement, or active mediation, of their children’s screen use compared to children using it by themselves.
So, Jenny Radesky, excuse me, Lisa Guernsey in her book Screen Time and in other articles, has talked, that rather than setting screen time limits, you might think in terms of the three C’s of media use: what’s on the screen, the content, what’s the context? Is there a social engagement around it? Is it displacing something? Is the context the wrong time that the child should really struggle, at least sometimes with regulating their behavior and emotions? And your own child, how old are they? What’s their temperament? And is there a disability, or some reason that a screen might be particularly valuable for that child? So person, parents know their own child, so it’s hard to have these blanket rules. That’s it for me for the moment.
Dr. [Moriah Thomason- Moderator] Thank you so much, Dr. Troseth. I really appreciate that you’ve taken us through and kicked us off with some consideration of how screen methods can be helpful for development. I do want to ask one question, which is how do we think about those when we think about Neurodiverse children, could screen use help children with neurodevelopmental problems, say ADHD, language problems? Are there areas that you’re seeing in your work as major opportunities?
[Dr. Georgene Troseth] I do think that, obviously parents with children who are neurodiverse, they’re already dealing with a lot. And so thinking about what are the aspects of screens? What is the content on a screen that engages that child’s interest in such a way that you maybe could engage around it? Like if there’s something they’re really interested in, that’s a great opportunity to have a conversation, to ask your child, “What do you love about it? What’s fun?” To use their vocabulary to talk about that, right? So kind of flipping it on its head, obviously, the content will matter if they are obsessed with something that’s really bad, that would be an issue. But if it’s something where they might get good content, if it’s something that bores you to tears, you know, like something about cars or something like this. If you can have a conversation with your child, it’s just like talking about a book. It’s just like talking about something else. The interactivity of screens, you know, I mean, that could be an issue. And I think parents have to keep their head on thinking about this idea that you can teach children to regulate their behavior, by putting limits on things yourself, by saying, “for my child, this is the time to step away from it.” Let them fuss and struggle a little bit. We’lll get them used to being able to disengage with that.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] I’m really inspired by your focus also on displacements, because even in your response right now, you’re talking about how do we make this additive rather than replacing something else. Using it for reinforcement learning, using it for more engagement. So I think that’s really exciting.
[Dr. Georgene Troseth] Parents are smart, right? They can figure it out, I don’t think they need an expert to say, “do it, you know, X minutes a day or do it X hours a day.” Although, you know, my colleagues may differ, and wanna to have, you know, a set suggestion for people. But if it has a bad effect, it’s too much. So it’s kind of like, how does this fit into your life? And there’s a way for many families to fit some use of screens into the lives of young children.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] And be considerate of how they do that. So thank you so much for that beginning for us today. We’re next really privileged to hear from Dr. Eva Telzer, who is an associate professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at UNC Chapel Hill. She’s an associate editor at Child Development and Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience, those are both important journals in the fields. And she’s the co-director of the Winston National Center on Technology Use Brain and Psychological Development. Her research examines how social and cultural processes shape the adolescent brain development, with a focus on both prosocial and risk taking behaviors, family and peer relationships and long term psychological well-being. Thank you so much for being here, Dr.Telzer. We look forward to hearing from you.
[Dr. Eva Telzer] Great. Thank you. So today, I’m going to talk about social media in the developing brain, particularly during the adolescent period. So we know that in the span of just a generation, social media has really dramatically changed the landscape of adolescent development, providing unprecedented opportunities for social interactions, really around the clock! Now, peer relationships have really changed over the past many decades so, for example, peer relationships in the fifties and sixties look like “this” and in the seventies, something like “this.” And now peer relationships are looking more like “this,” with their offline experiences often being used to create more online posts. Now there’s many unique features of online peer experiences that really differ from peers’ offline experiences. So for example, many online social media experiences are asynchronous, where these are not necessarily happening in real time. Posts are often permanent and public, so they can be viewed by many, many, many people. There’s also many other cues: For example, quantifiable cues. You can count how many likes, how many followers, how many comments you have, that make these types of peer relationships very different from what they may look like in person. Now, social media allows a media access to social information at any time it’s desired. It’s designed to hold users engagement and it maximizes social reward. So for example, “likes” and “followers” and positive comments. Now, nearly all adolescents are on social media. So for example, in the most recent reports, it was indicated that 78% of 13 to 17 year old adolescents report checking their devices at least hourly, with 46% checking almost constantly. And this has risen steeply in just the past ten years. Just a few years ago, in 2018, for example, only 24% of adolescents were reporting checking their devices almost constantly. So social media has really become a very ubiquitous form of peer interactions in teens’ lives. Now, this rise in social media use is happening at a critical developmental period when the brain is undergoing more development and reorganization, second only to that which we see during infancy. So the brain is very sensitive to its environment and it becomes especially sensitive to social reward and social punishments, which tend to be very common on social media platforms. Now most relevant to our discussion today is the development of what’s often referred to as the social brain. So there’s this “social brain network” that’s often referred to, and this supports social cognition. Now, social cognition is so essential to the survival and reproductive fitness of humans, that our brains include regions that are specialized for social processes. So. Blakemore, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore refers to this as the social brain network, and this includes areas that are involved in social processing and thinking about the mental states of others. And these brain regions continue to develop across adolescence before relatively stabilizing in the young adult years. And this protracted development in the social brain really demonstrates that areas of the brain that are involved in thinking about others and the mental states of others, social processes, are still maturing across the adolescent period. Now, developmental improvements in social cognition have many benefits and advantages. For example, understanding other people’s mental states and being able to understand what other people are thinking and feeling, sometimes referred to as theory of mind, is really essential for empathy and prosocial behaviors. But at the same time, heightened social cognition enhances adolescents’ concerns with what other people are thinking. So as soon as adolescents are able to understand that other people have distinct thoughts and perspectives that are unique from their own, they might become preoccupied with the notion that other people’s thoughts are focused on their own behaviors, or their appearance.
And this might cause greater feelings of self-consciousness: a greater attunement and concern over peers, concern about peer evaluation and peer acceptance. So I’m going to share a couple of results from some classic brain imaging studies that help us to understand the potential links between heightened social cognition in adolescence, as well as potential links to social media behaviors and downstream effects on their development. So this is a classic neuroimaging study by Lia Somerville, where they examined social processing: and when adolescents, or children all the way up through adulthood, this here is demonstrating age across childhood to adulthood. And we see that there are these peaks in adolescence in regards to medial prefrontal cortex activation. This is one of these brain regions of the social brain, there are peaks in brain activation as well as self-reported embarrassment when adolescents believe that they’re being observed by a peer. So adolescents, relative to children and adults, show greater MPFC activation and greater self-reported embarrassment. So just the mere idea that a peer is watching them, is enough to increase their feelings of embarrassment and recruit brain regions involved in self conscious processing. So just imagine what we might find if we examined more salient peer experiences online, like posting something self relevant and waiting for peer feedback, or getting rejected by peers online are other very meaningful social online experiences. So in another classic study, Lauren Sherman and colleagues examined what’s going on in the brain when adolescents are receiving likes. So when adolescents post pictures on social media, when they receive more likes on their posts, for example, relative to fewer likes, they show greater activation in regions of the brain implicated in social cognition. So this social brain network, as well as regions involving reward, learning, and motivation. So this suggests that receiving likes on social media is potentially very salient in terms of this social processing and potentially very rewarding to receive this positive feedback. And this may help explain that kind of pull, or draw, of social media for adolescents. Now, finally, social media use is not only kind of tuning how we process information online, particularly in adolescence, but social media use itself might be associated with how the brain is changing developmentally across adolescence. We know that social media platforms are delivering constant and unpredictable forms of social feedback, in the forms of likes and comments and notifications and messages. And this type of social feedback may tune the way that adolescents respond to social information across this developmental period. In a recent study, my graduate students, Mariana Maza and Chiara Fox found that adolescents around the age of 12 years old who were habitually checking their social media accounts showed differences in how their brains are developing over the next three years. So for youth who are habitually checking their social media, the brain is changing in a way that is becoming more and more and more sensitive to social feedback over time. So the social brain in adolescents is really wired to seek social acceptance, crave social rewards, such as likes and avoid social punishments, such as peer rejection. And so these social media experiences may have the potential to be exacerbating or enhancing an already sensitive brain, further tuning out adolescents to seek out more social rewards online. So quickly, I want to just point out a few things. Given that the social sensitivities of the developing brain are peaking in adolescence, what can parents do to support their developing children? So first of all, we know that less than 35% of parents are talking to their children and adolescents about their online experiences. Most parents experience this digital divide where they don’t quite understand what their teens are doing online. But we know that these conversations with adolescents can be very important. So rather than restricting adolescents, and having these like “time use” cutoffs, we know that more active monitoring promotes positive outcomes for adolescents. So engaging in conversations and helping adolescents develop critical thinking regarding their social media use, and having these discussions about the content of their social media rather than restricting the time that they’re spending online, can be very positive. Secondly, moderation and balance is very important. So helping adolescents direct their energy and time towards, for example, the type of content that they’re browsing, being more prosocial rather than looking and engaging in social comparison and envy; self expressing themselves in terms of more positive and accepting forms of affirmation rather than expressing themselves in terms of concern for others, and using social media to connect and engage in more close relationships, rather than disconnecting and isolating themselves from their peers. So I’ll quickly just wrap up and end, and direct you to look at our Teens and Tech website, where we have lots more resources as well as the open source handbook that has lots of additional information that you can look at.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] Thank you so much. Dr. Telzer. That was great and I’ll just take the opportunity to ask you: I really appreciate that you ended, sort of like with this, “Here are some things you can do.” One of the things that many of those in our audience were, are, concerned about and submitted as questions prior to today’s conversation had to do with, Can we “undo” what has already happened? You talked about wiring, you talked about good strategies. But there is some concern out there that maybe it’s a little bit too late or we haven’t done enough. So what are your thoughts on that?
[Dr. Eva Telzer] Well, the adolescent brain is in a state of development. So on the one hand, while this could lead us to worry that there’s been damage done or it’s too late to intervene, the bright side is that the adolescent brain is in a state of flux and change and is very sensitive to its environment. And so it is the time to help direct adolescents to more positive online experiences or events, to help them engage in more real life social interactions. And that this time is when we can make those changes, and “undo” the potential things that might have started to occur in the context of negative online or technological experiences. And so, it is the perfect time for parents, teachers and others to intervene and help direct adolescents onto more kind of positive developmental trajectories.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] Yeah, I like thinking about it as the perfect time, because the brain is constantly changing, right? And so the opportunities that the brain wants at a different time in life are going to differ. So it’s not as if, as a parent, you kind of missed a window. The window is always changing, it’s a new window. And one early theme that I see emerging here in both of the presentations today are that parental engagement with the child, seems to be one of those things that can flip us from negative perceptions about screens and screen learning to more positive. So that’s something that would be interesting to continue to follow up. So thanks again. I am delighted to now introduce our third speaker. Today. We’re joined by Shimi Kang, who is an award winning Harvard educated medical doctor, researcher and bestselling author. Her latest book, The Tech Solution: Creating Healthy Habits for a Digital World, provides practical strategies to optimize the incredible benefits of technology while also mitigating the many drawbacks.She’s a practicing psychiatrist and an associate professor at the University of British Columbia. She’s also the founder of Future Ready Mind Camps, Counseling and coaching Programs and Cofounder of Sparkly Digital Platform, and the host of Mental Wealth on YouTube. So with that, Dr. Kang, thank you so much. Please feel free to take us away.
[Dr. Shimi Kang, MD, FRCPC] Thank you so much. What a fascinating discussion so far. And I’m really pleased to talk about some of the solutions to what we’ve heard so nicely described in terms of where we’re at. So I’m just going to launch right into it, and in my research and in my work around the world. And I think one of the main questions that we were getting “is how much time is okay for screens?”And it really isn’t about time so much as it’s about what’s happening on those screens. So I created a metaphor, and maybe you’ve heard it or you’ve thought of it yourself, but we’re in this moment where we can’t get away from screens. Screens are like air. They’re like food. They’re around us all the time. And really we can approach understanding healthy screen consumption, just like healthy food consumption. And so, yeah, so we’re going to get into this idea that just like food we consume, it impacts or how else, our happiness, our energy levels really. And the same is true with the tech we consume. So the image in front of you is a tech diet, just like there is toxic foods, things we want to avoid, like spoiled milk and aspartame, there’s certain tech we actually would be better off just avoiding. And I’m going to go through each of these specifically. Just like dessert or sugar, a little bit of junk food or snack food is okay. It won’t kill you, but over time it can be highly addictive. Nothing wrong with social media and gaming when used correctly, but if it’s used mindlessly like a bag of chips, you’re just consuming those calories, now it turns into something we want to limit and monitor, and we can consume what’s called “healthy tech.” So tech that leads to self-care, whether it’s checking your sleep or mindfulness exercises, positive, meaningful social connection. We know that oxytocin can be released. We heard about that study earlier with grandparents and young people connecting on Facetime and video conferencing, and tech that leads to any kind of creativity: so learning, online learning master class, really exploring all the incredible benefits that are there on tap.So that’s the essence of a tech diet. And let’s understand this, with a paradigm of “how do we parent or educate towards this?” And my first book was called The Dolphin Parents, and in there it was a metaphor of an authoritative, collaborative style of parenting or teaching or being adopted, let’s say, as for myself as a psychiatrist, and I’ll explain what I mean by this, and we all fluctuate. On Monday morning, I might be what’s called an Authoritarian Shark. I have three teenagers, I have 115 emails in my inbox, and I may be micromanaging, overdirecting, overprescribing, Authoritarian. We know that doesn’t build those lasting self-motivation skills, a sense of critical, independent problem solving. So we want to avoid being too sharky. However, let’s say on a Friday, I’m exhausted and stressed and I may become the Permissive Jellyfish; lacking rules, focus, expectations- really all over the place. My kids are playing video games, eating gummy bears, and I check out. Maybe on a Wednesday if I practice my self-care; I slept enough, I’m firm. You think of the body in the animal. It’s firm, yet flexible. So I’m firm in the sense that I want to guide my children towards healthy screens. I’m flexible because I have three different children, different ages, two have neurodiversity; their needs are different. My needs, the pandemic,required flexibility. So with this paradigm, we move, forward shoulder to shoulder together, guiding, not directing our children towards healthy screen consumption. And a way to do that, is some general firmness. And these again, will be in your notes. But we want to delay screen time. There’s really not, no evidence, that early screen use is helpful. As you heard, there is evidence and there’s this new term that I’m hearing in the clinical world called “virtual autism.” Meaning a disruption of those really important social skills, eye contact, empathy, because of the screens replacing those really important moments. We want to establish some basic skills in our young people: with time management, moving from task to task, emotional regulation, real life social skills. I say, don’t give your children a phone. Let them use yours, borrow yours. That way you have the password, you have the, just like we don’t hand them keys to a car: we teach them, and we can take those keys back if it’s dangerous. So, you want to have some essential healthy tech habits early, but just like a diet, it has to be more than one conversation, it has to be repetitive, and it happens over time. So let’s look at the ingredients of the tech diet, the sugar of the life diet, and our food is dopamine. Dopamine is that neural chemical of pleasure. It’s embedded in technology, it’s design. It’s called persuasive design: the purposeful manipulation of the brain’s dopamine to give us those little hints of pleasures, whether it’s when we see a like, whether it’s when we level up in a video game, whether we get that little ping on eBay, when we’re doing online shopping; all of that is design to enhance that dopamine release experience, that’s what makes tech highly addictive. And it is addictive: Internet addiction, Gaming disorder, Internet Use Disorder are medical diagnoses in the ICD-10, which is the European and Classification system, and they will be coming to North America by all predictions in my field. So the image in front of you for the sugar, is the car keys. And again: it’s the limits and monitoring, just like we limit and monitor sugar for in our children’s diet, we have to do the same with technology. And as time goes on, we can let that go a little bit. Again, just like we don’t hand children keys to a car, we give them lessons, we let them go on local roads first. So start with chats in terms of, you know, text messaging for carpool and homework. Those are the local roads. And if your children are able to do that successfully, then maybe they can go on the highway of social media. But then you monitor it, and you sit with them as you heard, and you can take back those keys if you need it, that’s the scaffolding required. So having the rules not being the jellyfish, but not being that shark, where you’re totally micromanaging: being that in between collaborative dolphin moving forward, but with those firmness and expectations. So here’s some house rules that you could try out, I have a few of these, but again, it’s the adaptability piece. My oldest son is heading to university, so his wifi doesn’t shut off. You know, he has, you know, he has been able to have his own, but then he has to pay for it and also pay for his phone if he wants that independence. So, the toxic ingredient of the tech diet is stress. It’s cortisol, and really important, if I just feel if everyone can understand this slide, we really understand life. You know, we have essential two operating systems in general: We have the survival mode or “stress” mode. Not a lot happens there other than freeze, fight, flight. You’ve heard these words in nature. For humans, we freeze in our minds: it’s anxiety, procrastination, obsessive thinking. We’re thinking over and over again of something someone said or did. It’s a little blue circle on our computer. We fight, we get irritable, and we flight, in nature that’s the bird flying away. But we run away mentally. We escape, we distract ourselves, we check our phone, we eat sugar, we go shopping and really what we want, where we want to be is in this state of growth, or that parasympathetic nervous system. That’s where all the learning, repair, recovery of our mind, body and our social development happens. And we have to understand tech has a lot of hidden stresses and technology is where young people and adults are turning to, to cope with stress but they’re cycling through that reaction. And we know that stress is the number one house epidemic: I worked in the World Health Organization many years ago on that research. The solution here is coping skills. Teaching ourselves as adults and young people, coping skills early: social skills, emotional skills. And one of the hacks that we use in my Future Ready Minds program, we teach this to children as young as three, is anything you wouldn’t do if you’re being chased by a tiger, it’s going to move you from survival to growth. It’s going to move you from red to green. So if you’re being chased by a tiger, you wouldn’t play. You wouldn’t do a cartwheel, color, listen to your favorite songs, you wouldn’t have a meaningful conversation with another. And you certainly wouldn’t slow down. You wouldn’t take a nap, you wouldn’t meditate. The POD, your pod, it’s part of the dolphin metaphor tied in there. And these are three activities that move us from red to green, from sympathetic to parasympathetic, and helps us deal with the stresses of our 21st century world that are happening outside of tech, and certainly on tech. Now, there’s some hidden stresses in tech that I just want to talk about. One, is prolonged sitting: which we all may be doing. So feel free to stand up. I have a standing desk, which I’m going to use now. Let me get back to the stress side. The other is even just our posture: so this crouched-over posture, our nervous system doesn’t know why we’re crouched over, not looking at anybody like we’re in a cave. It asks us, is there a hurricane, Is there a predator? And we’ll fire that cortisol adrenaline just from posture along. So lots of hidden stressors and of course, all the obvious stressors of bullying, hate, FOMO (fear of missing out), comparing your life to others, highly stressful for young people- for all people. So what we want to do is that, and I’m going to use my standing desk here, is we want to use healthy tech. Tech that releases endorphins through self-care, oxytocin through positive social connection, and serotonin, which we get from learning, from play, from creativity. So let’s understand this more. Healthy tech endorphin, Look at the image in front of you, Nature. Change your screensavers to images of nature. Listen to sounds, like before bed. I’m a psychiatrist, I tell people, listen to waves, bird sounds, they’re biophilic, all kinds of ways we can use tech for self-care, breathing, mindfulness. You’ve heard about Sparky. Sparky’s a digital app that’s free for children under eight that teaches them breathing techniques, mindfulness techniques, play based problem solving. And we want to wire and fire tech early with the positive aspects, so young people are associating tech, not with the dopamine junk food of the latest meme, but with tech that is serving them for their benefit, for their health, for their connectivity. Music is a great way to use tech; I work with teenagers. I tell them all to create a playlist based on those three coping skills, a playlist that leads to downtime, relaxation, a playlist that helps them feel connected to each other, and a playlist that gives them kind of that hype they’re looking for before a game or positive music. So, there’s lots of ways we could use tech in a healthy way. One note about connection, I said Stress is a number one health epidemic, according to the World Health Organization. The next health epidemic is predicted to be loneliness. And there’s another paradox of our time and young people are at the highest risk. So again, going to what you heard earlier, using tech healthy and we know that the ingredient here is something called oxytocin. Oxytocin is an antidepressant, brain optimizer; helps us solve problems. And when we connect in a meaningful way online, like this seminar, like picking up the phone instead of texting or emailing someone, hearing their voice coming through that line, seeing our facial expressions. This is really important. So try this tech in a more meaningful connection way. We know that we can release oxytocin even through our devices, but it has to be that positive connection, that community building. And then the third aspect, the ingredient of healthy tech is serotonin. Serotonin people call it a happiness molecule. It’s actually more connected to confidence in many ways, mastery. I call it “play,” trying new and different things, becoming comfortable with mistakes and dealing with uncertainty. So, you know, there’s so much play; positive learning that can happen instead of watching a Tik Tok video, create something of your own that is really expressing your passions and creativity. Online Learning Master class again, building your own website, really finding what excites you. So that’s the third aspect of the “healthy tech.” So it’s self care, connection, creativity, there’s three differences here to remember. I mentioned Spark: This is a platform that embeds all three of these aspects. Sparky’s a Neuron and guides children, mindfulness based activities, connection based activities like gratitude and play based problem solving. These three aspects of healthy tech actually, I say, coincide with our “three brains,” meaning three centers of intelligence. You know, we humans don’t have just one brain, although we talk about the brain in our head, we have what’s called disseminated intelligence and when we understand social emotional cognitive learning, really these three aspects. These build these 21st century skills that help us not just survive all the changes in life, but really thrive in an uncertain, ever changing world. Now, if I heard one question, is it too late? It’s never too late. We humans have what’s called neuroplasticity. We have the ability to learn and change our habits and behavior at any time. I’m an addiction specialist, so I specialize in change. And this image in front of you is a model of change. I have it in the tech solution book, you can find it if you just Google “stages of change,” you’ll see. And so if you’re frustrated, probably what’s happening is you as a parent or a teacher, you’re in action. You’re ready to consume healthy tech. But the people you’re working with, the young people, let’s say, are in precontemplation. They love their social media, they love their video gaming. But there is a way we can move people through that, so we have to understand that often resistance difficulty is a mismatch in your stage and where the person you’re working with is. And we have the science and tools to help people move into action. So I just want to thank you for your time and I’m happy to answer questions. And you heard that I have a YouTube channel which has a lot of free videos that you can access. And there will be resources sent to you more on, how do we help young people get from this place? And I call it the fire of our time. Really it is. We’re at this moment in human history where a technology like fire isn’t human innovation. If we use it right, it will help us go further and farther than ever before, just like fire. If we don’t use it, we will get burnt and burn down the village. And we’re seeing that on individual and collective levels, And really it’s about how we’re consuming technology? What are we metabolizing it into? And that can help us make choices just like how they consume our food or life experiences.
[Moriah Thomason- Moderator] Thank you. Dr. Kang. That concept of a healthy tech diet, is very welcoming in terms of appreciating that there are things that we can be doing with tech to really improve our lives. And I think one of the questions that was submitted ahead of this meeting, had to do with “how do we help kids to recognize the programs and the content that will be beneficial in terms of their development? As a group we are very motivated right now. I’ll speak for everybody. We are informed. We’re thinking about how we can do this better? How do we translate some of that motivation and some of that information into the way that our children navigate when we aren’t chaperoning.
[Dr. Shimi Kang, MD, FRCPC] Yeah, and really this is where I fall back on the metaphor of food. So it’s really tough because sugar tastes great, and young children don’t have that frontal lobe developed in terms of impulse control, and they just, it tastes good, they want it. But we start really young and we say, okay, a little bit of dessert is okay. You can have one cookie, not two. So we really just have to use the same paradigm, something familiar, because parents are so overwhelmed. They don’t know where to start, if both parents are able to have the conversation around sugar and food and healthy food, just appply that same concept to tech. When I ask my teenage boys, and I ask them, “tell me about your tech diet.” They were playing Fortnite, for example, and I said, “What is Fortnite? Is it junk, healthy, toxic? Explain it to me because I’ve never played it.” And they came back and said, you know, it’s a bit like nachos. You know, Fortnite has guacamole because we’re laughing and joking and we’re connecting and bonding. But it’s highly addictive, like the chips part, because we crave it and we know we want to have more, even though it’s time left to leave. So I think explaining the diet, something familiar, we know we have to do it repetitively. It’s not a one time thing. Embed the language, just like we would with something else that we are familiar with, which is sugar and healthy eating.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] I really like that idea of embedded language, and that the diet analogy can also work for the children, so that’s an exciting thing. And so what we could do is I could ask all of our panelists to go ahead and turn their cameras back on, and we will kick off a discussion. And I think where we’ll begin is with some of the questions that have been submitted live during the conversation, because these are sort of immediate things that were questions that were raised during your talks. And then we can transition to some of the really exceptional questions that were submitted ahead of time by the audience. So in order to sort of, start that off, there were some questions that were directed specifically to some of you. So I’m going to start with Dr.Telzer. There was a question about, on the last slide you mentioned concern for others, as a negative outcome to be avoided. Could you elaborate a bit more on this, if I understood as empathy? I think of it as naturally positive, but you probably meant it in a different way.
[Dr. Eva Telzer] Yeah, thanks for that clarification question, I didn’t as you alluded to, I did not intend for it to be in regards to empathy or prosocial behavior, but more like social comparison and being overly concerned with what others might think of you; being more affirming and positive about oneself rather than relying on others for your perspectives about who you are and what your value is.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason-Moderator] Yeah, sort of that dependent consideration. Right, is more of the context here? Thank you for that clarification. I have a question now that really be appropriate for any of our panelists, which is that many parents feel that children who have trouble making friends in the real world may have a special superpower to socialize online, especially even in gaming. Can any of you, would any of you, like to speak to the pros and cons of relying on online communities?
[Dr. Eva Telzer]I have one positive outlook on having friendships online. There’s some research that shows that kids or teenagers, adolescents who have online only friends, so these are friends that they don’t know in the real world or in person, but only know online, adolescents who are, have self-injurious or suicidal ideation, and have online only friends are actually showing improvements in well-being over time.So it can be highly protective for at-risk adolescents who might not have friendships that they see in person.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] Yeah, I’ve thought about that a lot and I wonder if any of the other panelists have a comment. I’ve thought of it myself as a parent, because those relationships have less of the structural permanence that in-person relationships have, and I wonder if they’re going to extrapolate in that learning about social processes, that things are less permanent, right? Or the consequences, that they can leave the community online easily, but they can’t just move out of their neighborhoods, so. Did you want to ask to add to that, Dr. Kang?
[Dr. Shimi Kang, MD, FRCPC] Yeah, I would definitely agree with Eva in that there’s a benefit, and even in my own patients, one benefit I’ve seen is young people who are thinking of, who are transgender, are thinking of transitioning. They actually may take on an identity online, the other gender and see how it feels, you know, the name, the entire identity. However, I’d be really cautious about that because I think in general, teenagers are online too much socially and when we look at even some of the research, when the iPhone hit saturation, we saw dating go down. So you know, so dating, you talked about evolution in your opening remarks Moriah, you know, this is a primal human drive. And we’ve never seen something to override it to that degree. And in Japan, they’re having real problems with their birth rates, for a number of reasons but part of it is having difficulty getting young people out of their homes, meeting each other, connecting in person, to the point that there is a new term called “hikikomori,” which translates to being extreme, like being a homebody, and people have to break in to try to get there. And this is mainly, again, genders is not binary, but young men. So they can be positive, but in a dopamine driven world, where you can order your food and stay online and be sedentary; I think that, you know, it’s a real word of caution, but for some young people for sure, it can have those benefits.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] So in a next question, I want to transition to Dr. Troseth, that we have some questions from parents of younger children, asking from the perspective of “how do my habits, with my engagement with technology, for example, on my phone in front of my children in this case that are four and one, is this damaging? Do you have suggestions or tricks knowing that we need to communicate with each other to use these devices in this world?”
What are some things that I should be doing that might help the kids, should I be avoiding even interfacing with these technologies?” What are your thoughts in this area?
[Dr. Georgene Troseth] Man, that’s a wonderful question. One thing we actually know from several different people’s research is that, because interacting with your children requires you to pay attention to them, and that so much comes from that interaction, when parents are distracted by their phones or by like it started out just background television, when people have the television on all the time, that that actually lowers many different important things: including conversation, interaction, children’s focus on their play, so they get all distracted, continually looking back at the television, even though it’s, you know, like an adult game show. So yeah, that all will be a consequence of using our tech. And yet reality is, you know, we work, we have to answer the phone. We use our tech. So as far as recognizing that it’s a trade off, and that we don’t want to displace things that are needed for children.And yet not being black or white and saying, “Oh, no tech at all.” That would be unrealistic, I think. But recognizing the need for children and I would think you would be able to tell by the children’s behavior, whether they’re getting sufficient time with you: whether they’re developing like people around, you know, the other children, that they’re not out of step with the other children, assuming that they are, you know, neurotypical, normal developing, typical that they’re, you know, on par with the others.
So kind of that feedback of looking at how your child is developing, I, I don’t have little children anymore. I didn’t have to deal with some of these things.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] I want to expand this question to our other speakers because I think this question could be reframed for different age ranges, and so I want to do that in just a second. But I’m glad that you bring up an important point about, “what do we mean by normal development?” We’re having a conversation here which is very heavy, which is oriented around, “I might be doing something wrong, like how can I do better? Right?” But in reality, our children are developing very well and there’s a lot of room for optimism and the kind of change that would cause you to want to refer a child to care would be something much larger, I think, than what we’re talking about here. And I, I sort of want to offer that assurance, especially to parents, that in research we have often publish papers that show important associations between different variables,but that doesn’t mean your child, because they have that factor, is going to necessarily have that outcome. And that’s not always emphasized in our research studies. So it is very important to take that last point to heart, which is that if you’re not recognizing secondary concerns, that there’s a chance that you’re just doing the best that you can to understand the information that you have and that your child’s in a very good space to begin with.So thank you for bringing that point up. Doctors Kang or Telzer, would either of you want to talk maybe about this same question about us in our relationship with technology as it pertains to our child at different ages? Did either of you want to add to that?
[Dr. Shimi Kang, MD, FRCPC] Sure, I’ll talk quickly about teenagers, since I happen to have three, right now in my home. You know the teenage brain is really interesting. It’s driven to take risks, peer admiration, novelty seeking, all of these things, are part of the teenage brain. And so what’s happening and I’ll just give you an example because people ask me like “my kid was doing really well and now they’re like, addicted and what’s going on?” And really what it is, is they’re satisfying some of those things online. So, you know, when you look at, let’s say, a TikTok challenge or something, there’s some risk-taking in there. Maybe you’re doing something silly, you’re gaining your admiration, you’re trying something new, novelty. And part of the solution to that is, again, having a rich real life experience,extracurriculars, sports, taking drama, improv, having that those real life… That’s why teenagers love rollercoasters and scary movies. So really recognizing is that balance and that the teenage years are risk years. And this goes up to around the age of 25, and as an addiction specialist, this is where the seeds, addiction is a disease of adolescence. It starts then. And so whether it’s the sugar in the diet, or the alcohol, or the drugs or the gambling, or the social media or whatever it might be, the perfectionism, these are the really critical years and where you want to really be there shoulder to shoulder, and in their online world as well as their offline world.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] So another question that seems to come up, and I think that this has a lot to do with what we’ve heard about, what are the possible things that we can do to help? So, Dr. Kang, you put up a slide where you talked about family, plugging in, and the kitchen. And I think probably there are a lot of us scrambling for a pen and paper, so that we could get ideas from you.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] At least one question from the audience is where to find out more about Kanga? But there may be other things that, are general advice that you would give to folks in their households? Again, to any of the presenters today, just sort of general practices that you think may be good guidelines. And I’ll just add one thing, which is we did have one comment. “Perhaps fasting is good. It works with food.” So, anywhere you want to go with that.
[Dr. Shimi Kang, MD, FRCPC] Yeah I mean that just, you know, one of the items was a digital off. You know, and a lot of people talk about Sundays, and a lot of cultures may have like a Saturday Sabbath or, you know, Sunday is a day of rest or what have you. So embedding it with the tradition that may already be part of your life, can be nice that’s the habits stacking concept. Family dinners, You know, one of the most robust findings in human development, when children eat dinner together, and looking and seeing each other, not only do we see better mental health, we see better academic performance as well. So there’s a lot of daily habits that we can use to have a bit of that detox or fasting. So I think that what works best within this system that you’re in, and then don’t forget the sleep, right? Because most children right now, at least some of the studies are showing, are chronically sleep deprived, in screens and late night use of screens and its impact on melatonin and a variety of things, is a key part of that. And we work so hard as parents to do good with our kids. But if they’re not sleeping, that is the beginning of a cascade, of several many, many other things that could go on.
[Dr. Eva Telzer] I’ll just, I guess not add, but agree with the emphasis on sleep. So in terms of like strong scientific evidence for anything that we can do to impact adolescents when it comes to social media and technology, a lot of it is correlational and hard to draw causal inferences, to, but when it comes to sleep, there is experimental evidence showing that late night technology use impairs children and adolescents’ sleep. A lack of consistent and good sleep is associated with slower and different developmental trajectories in brain development, academic performance, car crashes, academic failures and you name it, sleep impacts every aspect of development. And because technology use and social media use, especially at night, is related to sleep, we can make some pretty strong conclusions there, about those links. And so when I’m asked for the one piece of advice to give to parents, it’s “no tech use after eight or nine pm.” Cut it off completely, because it impacts the biological rhythm of sleep, the stress associated with that need to be connected at night, prevents them from sleeping, receiving messages or waiting for likes or comments delays sleep. So all of these aspects of tech use at night, is just really disruptive for adolescent’s development and children’s development.
[Dr. Georgene Troseth] Yes, it would start early, because that’s going to be the case even for little guys. And obviously the bed time would be different. But that blue light, the blue light from screens does keep the brain awake. It changes that. So yeah, very important.
[Dr. Shimi Kang, MD, FRCPC] And we’re seeing some links with the blue light, with the blue light, melatonin and diabetes and heart disease. We’re not quite sure how it all fits in, but I think there’s a lot more to it than we fully understand. Not just the lights keeping us awake, but a fundamental possible disruption of our circadian and homeostasis.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] That’s really profound. It’s nice to have that information because some of the questions I think that are on a lot of minds is sort of “if I have to choose my battles, where do I choose them?” Or “If I have to change my own behaviors, which we know is hard to do, what is it that I need to change?” So I think it’s helpful because we’ve kind of hit on that there are certain times of day that it might be good to invest more time, and sleep is an important aspect of measuring how are we doing. A sort of very cutting edge question, has come in to the questions, which has to do with ChatGPT. So this is something that I want to just define to make sure that all of the audience is aware, there is new technology available where artificial intelligence can produce very rapid and lengthy responses to questions. [It] can produce essays with just a simple call for “please write an essay” or “please write me a short story on a dog that sat in someone’s lap.” This is a sort of web interface where you can put a command in and you can get a response. You can actually interface with this artificial intelligence. And there are a number of questions, across all fields, as to how professionals will engage with it? How it will affect education? But for us, in today’s conversation, the question that we received was, “I’m curious about where you see future research headed, with exposure of artificial intelligence children such as ChatGPT? So I might pass this to… Dr. Kang would you like to address this first?
[Dr. Shimi Kang, MD, FRCPC] Yeah, I’ll talk a bit about, I mean, the 21st century, where we’re deep into the need for what I call “future ready skills,” like in the sense of what’s happening in the world, there’s three major trends: One is burnout and stress. The second, is disconnection- loneliness, I mentioned. The third is anxiety. And anxiety is when you really look at the flipside of anxiety, it’s creativity. That’s why I talked about play. When we’re able to play ,and learn new and different things, be comfortable with uncertainty, not be perfectionists, because play and perfectionism are opposites. Now we can build those 21st century skills, creativity, critical thinking in a world of automation and outsourcing that are going to be key. So AI is like fire, right? If we use it well, we’ll go further and farther than ever before. If we don’t, we’ll get burned and burn down the Village. I worry about the creativity not just from tech in AI, but even in the overvaluation in the school system, and in our sports, we’re seeing this kind of trickle through. And the rise of perfectionism: studies show, again, gender not binary, but seeing it more in girls and women.So I think the key is, how do we use these tools and technology? And are we using them to enhance our creativity or to reduce it? Creativity has been studied through the, one of the studies is the Torrance Test of creativity, where we ask young people, What are all the things you can use a toothbrush for? Let’s say, an imaginary toothbrush. Over time, in general, we’re seeing a narrowing of the richness and diverse responses. So whether it’s in tech or in real life, we really want to promote trial and error of learning, being messy, making mistakes, and getting away from, that overstructure. So we’ll see. I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] Dr. Telzer, did you want to add? What do you think?
[Dr. Eva Telzer] Yeah I think, I mean, chatGPT is just one of many ways that artificial intelligence and algorithms are impacting the material that youth are exposed to. This is probably the, the newest on the list of many things that are just under researched and it’s like an uncharted territory for us. I think it’s so important to understand how these algorithms, just not even thinking about the ChatGPT, but on Instagram, or Snapchat, or all of these different platforms, the mirror material that youth are exposed to is impacted by the way that they’re using and interacting with these devices. And I think we need to team up with computer scientists, and other experts, to and make these companies accountable for sharing that information and the way that those algorithms work so that we can really understand how they’re impacting youth development. Because we can see what teens are posting, we can ask teens their feelings, but we cannot at the current moment, get under the hood and understand how artificial intelligence is working and feeding into the material that our adolescents are being exposed to.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] Yeah, I mean, the ChatGPT is one form of potentially, we would, anthropomorphize that algorithm and think that it has some agency. But in reality, we had Siri before we had, that we had Alexa. You know? We have these different sort of entities that we’re referring to as agents, but they’re but we know that they’re not. So we at least have some context. Dr. Troseth, I wanted to turn back to you. You had presented this really wonderful slide of a grandmother interacting with her adorable grandchild. And it brought to mind that, this community that we’ve created with technology has really brought us across geographical barriers. Right? So I’m adding a story to your slide, which is that this grandparent maybe didn’t live close to this, child. But you can imagine an alternative, which is that the grandparent can be proximal to the child, but this is yet another way to interact with the child. And I was just wondering if you would elaborate for us, on if I could control for the geographical difference, (meaning I took that away) what are the things that you and your colleagues are thinking about in terms of where the screen chat falls short? If we could absolutely, at no other cost, have the grandparent in the room?
[Dr. Georgene Troseth] So, one, somebody mentioned joint attention, in fact, that might have been part of your introduction. So one of the things that’s very early in social development, is babies being able to pick up on social cues like where the person is looking, and the idea that, when we look at something and that the older person is talking about it, even if I don’t know what the words mean yet, that we are sharing attention on the same object. It’s called intersubjectivity. It’s a technical term. This is a very early part of what people described as Theory of mind, understanding other people’s thoughts, other people’s emotions. Right? And screens are kind of messy in that way, because for one thing, the camera, like I’m trying to look at the camera so that I look like I’m making eye contact with you guys, but I’m probably not right? It’s not perfect in that way, at least with current technology. Also, there’s buffering and there can be disconnections. And so that, the responsiveness goes away when that happens, right? So there’s just technical things that make it not as good. Also, what little children have to do, and this is actually what I study, is that anything that’s on a screen is not reality. It is a representation of reality. And children don’t come into the world understanding that. They don’t get it right. And so actually having…
[Moriah Thomason- Moderator] Meta Theory of Mind.
[Dr. Georgene Troseth] Yeah! They have to learn that the pictures on a screen, connect in some way with the real world right? And so, I may see “this person” on the screen as a baby, but one of our questions that we’re trying to to study, with our longitudinal study during the pandemic is, when I see grandma in face to face for the first time, do I get it that that’s her, right? And have I developed emotional connection with her? So someday we may be able to answer that question. So, yeah, there’s all these little bits and pieces. One thing cool though, we found out, is that parents are very creative, parents and grandparents are very creative, about like the the disconnections. They turn it into peekaboo. Grandma went away. Oh now she’s back! Where did Grandma go? Now she’s back! And so they do all kinds of interesting creative things to actually teach their children how technology works, even when we’re talking about babies and really little children. So parents are very, very clever. But yeah, it’s being separated geographically, it’s being separated because your dad is working in the mines in Australia or whatever. They’re out on the oil platform. They’re incarcerated, for foster parents, it’s all over the place, how important…
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] Helping? And we have to learn how to use it. Yeah, and you’ve given me a perfect segway because the thing I wanted to ask of you for, and you’ve given us an answer already, is to give us sort of a very brief, final takeaway recommendation. And so I’ve heard already, use this in creative ways, Dr. Troseth Thank you. Dr. Kang, Could I put you on the spot next to sort of give us about a 30 second takeaway of what you think is important?
[Dr. Shimi Kang, MD, FRCPC] Yeah, I think, you know, the conversation of ChatGPT and there’s going to be something else, and in two months it’s going to be…. we are in a rapidly changing world. So my final message really is: parental intuition. It’s very different than that fear instinct. When we are scared, we either freeze, we want to control, we fight or we flight. We get overwhelmed, and we’re like, “everyone’s using screens and I can’t do anything about it.” We become the jellyfish or the shark. So, you know, self-care, yourself as parents, this is a, it is a another paradox, that despite all our knowledge and conveniences in society, we are the most stressed and this is the most stressed generation we’ve seen with rising rates of mental health and chronic disease challenges. So parental self care, your routine, regular sleep, exercise, positive social connection. When you’re struggling, you’re not sure, go inward. Ask yourself, does this feel right? Okay, you know, my kid is on 5 hours of video game, does this feel right? Are they learning and connecting and having a rich life, or are they leaving looking exhausted and stressed and angry? These answers, I think, will be simpler. And although we love Ask The Experts, you know, a lot of what I do as a psychiatrist is just back to the basics. So I really understand your role, your intuition. Be present, even if you have no idea what the topic is, use your intuition in terms of what you feel is the right thing to do for your child.
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] That’s really helpful. Dr. Telzer, do you have a final takeaway for our audience, desperately wanting to know?
[Dr. Eva Telzer] I feel like I need to end on a powerful note and don’t have something powerful to say. So I leave can leave it with Doctor…
[Dr. Georgene Troseth] Brain is resilient, right?
[Dr. Moriah Thomason- Moderator] Yeah, you’ve given us. You’ve given us much more much more to think about. So absolutely great and including optimism about that brain, that’s ready to rewire. So with that, I’ll pass it back over to Kris.
[Kris Perry] Thank you so much, Moriah, Georgene, Eva and Shimi for taking the time to participate in this panel and help us all better understand the social brain, and its development. Thank you also to our Zoom audience for listening, submitting your questions. To learn more about this, and other topics related to child development and digital media: check out our Website at Children’s Screens.com. Follow us on these platforms, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. We hope you will join us again for our next webinar on Thursday, April 27th, “Engaged for Change: Youth, Digital Spaces and Social Movements.” This webinar will explore youth’s experience with leadership, community and movement building and civic engagement through online spaces. We hope you will join us to hear from another outstanding panel of experts. Thank you.