Kids & Technology: Top Expert Tips for Parents
All the topics parents worry about & need to know when raising kids in a digital world, covered by digital privacy expert Marc Groman and adolescent medicine physician Dr. David Reitman
by Steve Silvestro, MD @zendocsteve
You can also listen to this article as a podcast on your favorite podcast app or click on the player below:
As a pediatrician, I frequently see parents who marvel at how their 15-month-old can work an iPhone. Five years later, those same parents ask how to stop using screens as a crutch and worry that their child is spending too much time on a screen.
But lets face it—“those” parents are every single one of us.
Technology is unavoidable in today’s life—it’s advanced rapidly, and yet our ability to fully understand how to use it in a healthy way hasn’t caught up. The result is that there are very real, sometimes negative consequences for our kids & teens.
To give parents tips they can use to raise kids in today’s digital world in the safest, healthiest way, I sat down to talk with two of the top experts in the field: Marc Groman and Dr. David Reitman.
Marc Groman is the former Obama White House Senior Advisor for Privacy and continues to serve on the Privacy Advisory Panel of the National Security Agency, as well as multiple other boards in which he is actively engaged in the policy debate on federal privacy legislation in the United States.
Dr. David Reitman is a board certified sub-specialist in adolescent medicine, serving as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Medstar-Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC, and as the Medical Director of American University’s Student Health Center.
Together, they host Their Own Devices, a weekly podcast that tackles the diverse challenges MTV-generation parents face raising YouTube-generation kids.
We touched on just about every topic you can think of—from the effects growing up in a fully digital world can have on kids, to cyberbullying, sexting, kids’ online privacy, and how parents can help their kids navigate a digital life in a safe and healthy way.
You can listen to this interview as a podcast or read the transcript below—and please remember to hit the SHARE buttons above to get this helpful information out to your friends!
Dr. Steve: Welcome back, everybody, to the Child Repair Guide! My guests today are Marc Groman and David Reitman, who together host Their Own Devices, an outstanding podcast that aims to help parents navigate the challenges of raising kids in a digital world. You know, this is a topic that I get asked about a lot, almost every day, and deal with it every day in my own house with my family. So I’m really looking forward to talking with you guys tonight about this. So thank you so much for being here.
David Reitman: Thanks for having us.
Marc Groman: It is great to be here.
Dr. Steve: You know, so you guys really have the perfect combination of experiences between the two of you and the fact that you are living this raising a teen yourselves so you’re perfectly suited for diving into all the ups and downs and challenges of raising kids in a digital world.
Marc Groman: Funny, that’s not what our kid says.
David Reitman: Really.
Dr. Steve: I bet! Actually, just tonight I was putting my son down and I was going through the questions on my phone while he was reading because he likes to read on his own. And I said, “Yeah, know, I’m going through the questions about this thing we’re talking about tonight.” And he said: “What are you talking about?” I said, “Kids and screens and devices and tech.” And he was like, “Ugghh!” He was so irritated that we’re going to talking about this.
David Reitman: That’s exactly the response we get in our house.
Marc Groman: We’ve discovered that while we’re popular with lots of parents in the neighborhood, we’re not so popular with some kids in the neighborhood after the parents listen to the podcast and then cross examine their kids on their Finsta accounts and passwords and how they circumvented their parental controls.
Dr. Steve: So what led to Their Own devices? What’s the origin story here?
David Reitman: It’s actually kind of funny. We were asked to be on a panel about a year ago for at a local parent event on screens where they showed a movie and then, and then the panels, let’s have a discussion. And this was for an elementary school for fifth graders. And we actually were the only two who showed up for this panel. So it was basically just the two of us.
Marc Groman: Not in the audience–the only two presenters who showed up.
David Reitman: Yeah, there’s a bunch of kids in the audience and a bunch of parents and we started just answering questions about, you know, Marc was asked questions about the kind of stuff that he works with in terms of the privacy things. And I was asked a lot of questions about what kind of stuff I see in my practice around tech and social media and these issues. And that kind of started this. And then we actually recorded live a podcast with the IPP, the International Association of Privacy Professionals, which is Marc’s professional group. And then after that, one thing led to another and Marc, what happened after that? Actually you remember the next part better.
Marc Groman: I just was talking to a producer in New York and I mentioned the concept and that we’d done it before. They liked it. They thought there was an interesting niche and the rest is history. And, and, and frankly, if we had known exactly how much work it would be, I’m not sure we would have pursued it. But, it turns out we’re having fun and I’m learning a lot along the way. I think I’m a better dad now because the podcast, so we’ll keep going.
BENEFITS & RISKS TO EXPOSING KIDS TO TECHNOLOGY
Dr. Steve: So, one of the things that I’m sure that we’ll learn about in this conversation is that the wide range of possible pitfalls and challenges that kids and parents face with all the tech that we have around us. But before we dive into what might be more of the negative side of all of this, what are some of the positives of technology in kids’ lives? Are there ways that all of this around them is benefiting them in some way?
Marc Groman: Absolutely. And I’m really glad that you’ve started the discussion exactly that way because what our podcast is actually about and the discussions we have is we’re trying to help parents actually help their children have a healthy, positive, beneficial and safe relationship with technology. And it’s not about saying no, it’s about helping our children find the great resources that are age appropriate, that spark creativity and allow them to communicate, engage with people in new ways while learning how to manage and navigate some of the challenges and potential negatives because there is a lot of good there and not just that there’s really no choice going forward. Technology is a part of our lives and we need to therefore teach our children how to use it responsibly and get all the benefits and, to the extent possible, avoid the pitfalls.
Dr. Steve: I’m glad you brought up this this sort of idea that we’ve got to expose them to this stuff because it is part of their world. I sometimes play devil’s advocate to that and say, well, the fact that a 12 month old can unlock an iPhone, swipe to the pictures, find a picture and open the apps that they want and you’re like 12 or 15 months old means to m that there’s not as much of a learning curve for these kids because they are exposed to it all the time.
Marc Groman: There may not be a learning curve in how to turn it on and go forward, but when it comes to evaluating risks and understanding long term consequences of their actions, or taking the time to say, understand privacy settings or security settings, if that interferes with like instant gratification may skip that step. And so I think they can learn it, but we need to help them do it safely.
David Reitman: The other part though is when you’re, when you’re looking at younger kids, and I think that we’ve touched upon this a couple times, in the past is that you’re right, kids can do this kind of stuff. You know, a four year old can operate an iPhone in ways that a 40 year old absolutely cannot. It’s a matter of also being there–just like when we used to tell parents about kids and TV being there to help to interpret what kids are seeing, what they’re doing. So even a four year old who flipping through the iPhone, the apps and seeing stuff, you know, not just giving them free reign to do that, but to be able to, you know, discuss with them, “what are you seeing,” you know, “how does it make you feel?” You know, what’s impacting, you know, when can I see what the impact is on the kids? You know, the electronics can be a great babysitter, but that’s not necessarily the best way for them to be used.
Dr. Steve: Right. Because recent headlines have talked about things on youtube and how people can go and alter videos where you know, you don’t even alter a video, you just have a video that starts off as something that might draw young kids’ attention and then turns into something else. And some of the uproar has been against Youtube. But like what you guys are saying is that it’s really on us as parents to be there and know what our kids are doing and watching and helping them figure out how to tease out what is good and what is bad.
Marc Groman: Well, let me just challenge that notion a little bit because this is my field and say that of course parents need to engage with your children and teach them safe, proper ways to navigate the digital world. But I also want to make it very clear to your listeners that there is a very big role here for technology companies in Silicon Valley and that we can’t let Silicon Valley off the hook or youtube or snapchat or Instagram because these platforms are built not actually to benefit our kids. They are built to drive shareholder value and increase profits. Which means that the platforms are intentionally designed to keep our kids eyes glued to a screen so that they can then collect more data and generate more ad revenue. That isn’t necessarily evil or nefarious. But that is a reality. And so while we may struggle and want our children to spend less time in front of screens, it is in the interest of Silicon Valley for our children to spend more time. And so I don’t want to put all the onus on mom and dad because we’re also up against, you know, very, very well designed intentionally design products that may not align with our interests.
HOW DO SCREENS & TECH AFFECT A CHILD’S DEVELOPMENT?
Dr. Steve: I’m actually glad you brought that up because I think that sort of segues into a conversation about what we might see this do to our kid–as well as to us. Right? Because like you’re saying, this is all built essentially to drive more attention and to hook not only kids but also adults. I think most of us adults kind of know that we’ve had plenty of times where you’re scrolling through something and 10, 15, 20 minutes have gone by and you snap back everyday real world. Whether it’s that something is “gamified” or just designed in a way to really appeal to the parts of their brains that are craving stimulus. And we know that in kids, the area of the brain that is in charge of seeking out new stimuli is active at an earlier age than the parts of the brain that help them really regulate and weed out those stimuli. Do we have any data or research on what living in a fully submersive digital world is doing to kids? Is there any real sort of identifiable difference between kids who are growing up now versus us and those who came before us?
Marc Groman: Well, I think that there are multiple parts to that question. And so, you know, certainly there are multiple surveys that explore children and, in particular, teens’ relationship with technology in terms of how many hours per day they are in front of screens and what that displaces in terms of other activities–or more importantly, face to face relationships and face to face communication. And so we know that social media use is up and face to face communication is down. And then we also know that what is significantly different about this generation of digital natives is that they are always “on.” The element for me that is most troubling about social media and the way that kids are engaging online is that it really is 24/7. They can’t live without their phones and their social media, and the teenagers that we have discussed this with will tell you that they are checking their devices and their apps multiple times an hour from the moment they wake up. It’s the first thing they look at to the moment they go to sleep. And sometimes in the middle of the night they’re looking to see notifications and what occurred. It is that always “on,” that constantly being connected to the Internet that I think sort of amplifies or creates new challenges for these kids and new kinds of pressure.
David Reitman: What I have seen in terms of how’s this affecting teens…I don’t want to even want to say affecting…I think there’s a certain reality that the digital world and social media, it’s not just a separate part of kids’ lives. It actually is integrated within their real world. They don’t see a difference between their online life and their real life. So I think one of the greatest examples that we heard recently, we were interviewing a bunch of teenagers and they were saying that if they go to a party and they are not taking pictures and posting them on Instagram or Snapchat, people will think there’s something wrong. Like was it a bad party? Why they even bother going? It’s such a part of the culture that they need to be doing this kind of thing. Now to get back to your question, you know, what data is there about how this is affecting kids…There’s not a lot of data that, because this is stuff that’s really hard to study. But there’s not a lot of data that really definitively shows, okay, if the kids are looking at this, it means that they are going to do this. Or, you know, looking at this much Instagram is going to create this degree of anxiety. So a lot of this stuff that is coming out now is still more of the anecdotal qualitative research than anything that we can actually put a number on and say, yes, this this percentage of teenagers are going to have anxiety or depression because they are accessing social media. The data just is not there as of yet.
Marc Groman: Although there is data, I think that indicates that teens and children who have certain other diagnoses or conditions are more prone to have sort of negative impacts. And it’s probably not surprising and I shouldn’t be lecturing the pediatricians here. So a kid who’s already has ADHD or some other, you know, I’ll leave it to you to say, it may be more likely to have negative impacts or influences from technology such as problematic interactive media use or something along those lines.
David Reitman: Yes. So it kind of makes sense. You know, the kids who are, who have got significant ADHD or depression or anxiety are going to probably be developing, or are more prone to develop problematic interactive media use, which is another way of using the term “addiction” to technology. Um, but there, you know, once again, chicken versus egg, it’s kinda hard to parse that out.
Dr. Steve: Yeah. Now you mentioned–and again, I like that we’re each playing devil’s advocate every now and then–you each mentioned this idea that kids are always “on” now. Is that bad? How much of our thoughts of it being bad is us just, you know, as old fogies and saying we didn’t grow up this way and our way was better, and how much really is that they’re really missing out on something or it’s negatively affecting them?
Marc Groman: Well, what I would say to that is the first point is that the issue isn’t necessarily time and so it’s not about screen time. It is about how our children are using their devices and social media. So it’s: What are they doing online? It’s also: When are they doing it? It’s context and all of those things are highly relevant. And so if somebody is online and using their tablet to read novels, that is very different than a 13 year old youtube bingeing for hours to watch youtube or is do stupid things on videos or watch somebody play Fortnite for nine hours. And so, it’s important to sort of distinguish between different kinds of activities online–and doing your homework online or research online, again, is going to be very different than other kinds of activities. That said, I do think there are things that we have seen that should cause us concern. So for example, yes, bullying has existed as long as there have been kids, but there is something very different about cyberbullying. We know that kids and adults will behave differently and will post things online that they would never say face to face. That looking at a screen instead of a human being’s face or eyes gives people this sort of willingness to be more outrageous, mean, or offensive than they otherwise might be, which leads to all kinds of negative consequences and drama and problems online because of that. The other thing is that it is constant. And so we can think about bullying or you know, peer pressure in school. Look, when I left school at three o’clock, if there were people I problems with, I was done with them at three o’clock. But that is no longer the case. That peer pressure, that anxiety, that social issue–that will stay with you and it will reach you in your bedroom and your home at times when you would ordinarily be safe and comfortable. And so there are dynamics at play that are different. And similarly, the kinds of anxiety and pressure that comes from having your online profile that teenagers are investing enormous amounts of time curating and marketing and having their online brand–some of that can have some unhealthy consequences when you are benchmarking yourself against the world 24/7. And so I do think there are issues that we need to grapple with and be aware of, just as there are great benefits that we want our children to leverage and harness.
David Reitman: One of the things that I have…that has struck me over the course of the last few months in terms of when we interview teenagers in the studio is that I always will ask them: “Do you like the way things are in terms of the sense of constantly being on or feeling like you have to be portraying yourself some in a certain way online and all those things?” And almost every teenager has said to us they wish they could change it, but they can’t. And that it’s not gonna change unless every teenager was to do at the same time, which is unrealistic because once again, I think it’s so part of the culture now that if they feel like if they’re going to do, if they were to drop out of social media, they would just be missing half of their social interactions. And, you know, for a teenager that’s just, that is socially unacceptable for them. So it’s these anecdotal discussions that we’re having, we’re just kinda hearing over and over again. They wish it wasn’t this way. So I don’t think it’s necessarily us old fogies here, you know, saying this stuff. I think that what we’re hearing from the kids is that this is giving them stress and giving them issues that they wish they didn’t have to deal with.
WHEN SHOULD KIDS GET A PHONE?
Marc Groman: I think one of the things that we have parents have done wrong, and again, there was no playbook here, but I think we’ve made a mistake in how we have presented technology to our children. This notion that “Happy 10th birthday, here’s your iPhone x or iPhone 10″…we have viewed it as a toy or a right. And in fact, this is a computer, this is a sophisticated computer. And then you can ease them in. It’s not an on or off. And so you can present the child with their first iPhone but not give them administrative rights to download apps and you can remove the browser and you can shut off location. And as they mature you can slowly introduce these features as opposed to “here’s your phone. I’m not sure how I know how you work it. So have at it.” It’s that kind of thing that I think has led to some really negative outcomes for individual kids and also for us as a community.'I think we've made a mistake in how we have presented technology to our children. It is a tool, not a toy. And it is something that you should be giving a child when they have a need for it and when they are old enough and mature enough to handle it.' - Marc Groman on The Child Repair Guide PodcastClick To Tweet
Dr. Steve: I think some parents don’t know that you can do all those things. So I will link to good steps on how you can lock everything down with at least an iPhone–that’s all I have, I don’t know about android and other things. But you know, you really can lock everything down. And we were very hesitant to give my 11 year old a phone, but we did because she takes a bus and the bus has forgotten her or has not shown up many times and she had no way to really get in touch with us. So give her one of her old iPhones and she has access to call and text only the people that we’ve put into her contact list. She cannot do anything else except for be located on find my friends. And I recently allowed her to open up the camera because she likes to take pictures, but again, she can’t send any pictures to anybody who’s not in her contact list and she can’t edit the contact list without my iPhone getting a ding. So I’ve been very impressed with how some devices really have stepped up the game and letting parents lock things down.
Marc Groman: Well, what’s interesting about that is that even the iPhone, originally, it was not built that way. And Apple, to their credit of course, but they were responding to anger from parents about the devices. And so this Screen Time option, which is on the iPhone, is something that was rolled out last year. And similarly for Android, Family Link also is relatively new, in response to parents saying there is a problem with your technology and your devices and you need to find a solution. And so parents speaking up and recognizing issues led to some of these really positive changes.
WHAT SHOULD PARENTS WORRY ABOUT MORE THAN THEY DO?
Dr. Steve: What issues do you really see parents worry about the most, because you’ve covered quite a range of topics on the podcast. And I’d actually like to ask a second question with that–what do parents worry about most and what do you think they should be worrying about most? Are they the same or are they, you know, is there a whole separate list we should be focusing on?
David Reitman: So I can say that what I hear parents worrying about the most, and the question I get from parents is, you know, ‘Is my child addicted to his phone?’ You know, in quotes being “addicted.” ‘Is my child “addicted” to his PS4? We can’t get them off it if he doesn’t have his phone. He has a meltdown.’ I think that this term “addiction” is probably way over used and too strong. And I think that that is what I’m hearing the most from parents that the kids, you know, once again, it’s just, it’s such a part of their lives that the parents don’t see the fact that this is, this is such a major way of communication the way that we did when, you know, in terms of having telephones and that type of thing when, when we were growing up. I think a parent, the parents, just that parents just worry about that because they’re spending so much time looking at a screen. That’s probably the biggest one. Marc, what do you think is the thing that they should be worrying about?
Marc Groman: Well, I think that what I hear, of course I’m coming at it from a very different perspective, what I hear about from parents as a concern, and I’m going to just generalize and then we can always get more granular, is just the notion that their child is going to make a…I’ll just say make a mistake online that will then follow them for the rest of their lives, um, or have a significant impact even today that just wasn’t contemplated. And so whether it is posting an image or an offensive meme or sexting and distributing photographs of themselves partially nude that can then get re-circulated. I think parents are really concerned that, you know, teenagers are programmed to take risks and ignore rules and start discovering boundaries. And I did that as a teen, but I didn’t do it at a time when everybody at the party had a phone with a video camera and a camera and other sensors. And so they are taking risks and operating in this digital environment where they are essentially always under surveillance or may post a photograph or a meme and it gets circulated in ways they didn’t expect. Once it’s on the Internet, it is essentially they are forever. And it can have all kinds of ramifications, whether it’s being expelled from school right now or being suspended, whether it is having your college admissions rescinded or impacting your career or athletic scholarship, right up to we know high school students who had been arrested because they engaged in some…I’ll call “teen type unlawful behavior”…and then as you know, posted pictures on their Finsta account or an Instagram, which then were circulated and then the police showed up. And there is no disputing what you did when you took a selfie of yourself trespassing somewhere. And so it’s, it’s parents are concerned that their kids are not appreciating that risk and that it will have consequences, um, that they simply can’t measure and understand.
Dr. Steve: Yeah. You know, I used to half-jokingly say that in 20 years there’s not gonna be anybody left who’s going to be able to run for president because we’re gonna have all this baggage that is just way out there. Of course. Now…
Marc Groman: The good news is the standard is so low now…
Dr. Steve: Yes! I was going to say, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore! The rules that I tell kids, and you know, the listeners may have heard this because I had this as a short episode, are basically that you never want to put anything out there that you don’t want your parents to see, you wouldn’t want your grandparents to see, and you don’t want your grandkids to see. And then the kind thing is do is to never ask somebody else to share something or put something out there that they wouldn’t want their parents, grandparents or grandkids to see. And I think ideally everybody kind of knows the difference. It’s just whether we act on that or not.
Marc Groman: Well, but we also tell our children that you can’t drink if you’re under 21 and that drugs are illegal and not safe. And we know that our high school students are doing all of those things. And so we can say this all we want. We have to appreciate that this won’t, you know, they’re not gonna always do it. And the other thing about that is that it’s also understanding that your circle of friends today won’t be or circle of friends tomorrow. And so even if you’re in a private group, because the fact is most of the stories that we read about in the news occurred because someone posted something in a small closed private group and then somebody in the group, another student took a screenshot and then forward it on. That is not something that a lot of kids appreciate until it happens to them and they learn a very hard lesson.
HOW TO TEACH ONLINE PRIVACY & SAFETY
Dr. Steve: So how do we, how do we teach kids about being safe in terms of privacy? Because like you just said, they may not really listen to us. And so, is it having somebody else say it? You know, I know that a lot of my job as a pediatrician is basically telling kids that their parents are right. And the parents always hope that they’ll listen by having me say it instead of them. How do we get the message across?
David Reitman: It should be noted just for your listeners that our son would rather not have Instagram or snapchat than have to read to these policy privacy policies. So in some ways it actually worked in our advantage too. So yeah.
Dr. Steve: Now what are your thoughts about the data collection that these companies do when it comes to your kids and teens? I mean, to pull the curtain back to anybody listening…If you run a Facebook ad, and I’ve run some, I can pull up an audience of exactly what income I want to target, what zip code you live in, how old your kids are, whether you are an early adopter of technology, a late adopter, what TV shows you like, anything you’ve ever commented on on Facebook… I or anybody else who runs a Facebook ad can target that because Facebook has saved all of that data that you’ve put out there. What sort of obligations do we have as parents in thinking about this when our kids are on Instagram or Facebook or snapchat or elsewhere?
Marc Groman: So look, this is my field and this is what I work on, and it is a pretty complicated issue. We don’t have a federal privacy law in the United States. We’re almost the only western nation in the world that doesn’t have a comprehensive privacy law that governs this. And so in many respects, there actually are no laws in our country that governs that kind of data collection by Facebook or Google or snapchat or Instagram. And so they can, and they do, collect data. And by the way, it’s not just when you’re on the platform, many people don’t appreciate that. Facebook has millions of widgets across the web, and so even when you’re not on your Facebook page, they are actually tracking and collecting data about you as you traverse other websites to profile and process and create inferences. And we don’t really have laws that govern that at this time. And so it’s important to teach our children about data collection, about this sort of alleged bargain where you are receiving this kind of free service, but you’re paying with your data and then you’re looking at advertisements, which is how they generate revenue. We do have a law in the United States that addresses the collection of data from children who are under 13. But that law is actually incredibly narrow and it applies to a small subset of websites and apps that are actually directed to children. And so lots of people are surprised when they learn that YouTube, for example, does not have to comply with this law because it is not directed at kids necessarily. So again, there is a big gap in the law and there is a tremendous amount of data collection taking place on our devices, across our devices, linking our devices, actually linking our offline behavior with our online conduct. And all of that generates very, very detailed, rich profiles that then predicts what we want, what our interests will be, what we’re likely to purchase and when–and teens in particular will be highly susceptible to that and we should teach them about those issues–the data collection, how the data is used and how they should understand that their online experience, their online journey is actually being manipulated.
Dr. Steve: It’s a big conversation and it’s definitely something that I think a lot of adults are still trying to grapple with, too.
Marc Groman: You know, a really interesting way to illustrate this for a younger kid that I’ve done is if you just like, you know, I don’t know if you have Netflix or similar things where you have different accounts for different people in the household. And then the Netflix algorithm will make recommendations for different people based on what you’ve looked at in the past. And so it’s pretty fun–you could look at my profile and what is being recommended for me versus our son’s profile and the recommendations for him, and you’ll see how different it is and how the algorithm analyzes your interests, your likes. And so that was a really good way for us to show our son a very simple example of how data is collected and analyzed to predict our preferences.
Dr. Steve: So Marc, I know that you have to step out. Thank you so much for taking the time to, to talk tonight.
Marc Groman: Absolute pleasure. Would love to come back anytime and we can do a deep dive on any of these tech privacy and cybersecurity issues. I live it, I breathe it. I generally love it–except for when it’s in my house with my kid!
HOW MUCH PRIVACY SHOULD PARENTS GIVE TEENS ONLINE?
Dr. Steve: Absolutely. Thanks so much. So David, you know, I was wondering, since you deal with teens and young adults in your day to day life, how do you feel about us treating them as such? It’s hard when it’s our own kid, but when it comes to an online life, how much privacy do we as parents owe them? Should we always be tracking where they are and checking their texts and whatnot? You know, the dad in me says “yes,” but I wonder should we be giving them some of their own space?
David Reitman: Well, that is a really great question because I don’t think that it’s a yes or no type of thing. And I think that, you know, being someone who works with adolescents all day, every day, you know, I can pretty securely say that a 12 year old, and Steve, I think you’d agree with me, a 12 year old, is developmentally very, very different from a 16 year old or from an 18 or 19 year old. So, you know, when it comes to how much privacy we give our, our teenagers in part has to do with where are they developmentally and, as you know as a pediatric developmentalist, you know, we do have to think along those lines. We do know that the frontal lobe is just not developed at all in a 12 year old and probably doesn’t really develop until our kids are well into their 20s but, you know, balancing the fact that they’re going to not make good decisions, see consequences throughout their adolescence… And, and that doesn’t mean they have to kind of learn on their own. At what point do we sit here and say, okay, we’re going to let them fly by themselves? So what I would typically will tell parents is that, you know, for your younger kids, your younger adolescents, 12, 13, privacy is something that they get to earn little by little. But for the most part I’m actually a pretty big advocate of keeping close tabs on what our kids are doing online and being able to have the right as parents who generally are paying for the cell phone bills and that type of thing, to be able to sit here and say, at any given moment I would like to see what’s on your chatting page on your Instagram feed, that kind of thing. As kids start getting older and demonstrating that they’re more mature and they can handle more responsibility and privacy, pulling back a little bit on that. I think that that privacy when it comes to their digital life, because there’s so many consequences, it has, you know, it has to be earned. Just like any responsibility in adolescents, you know, it has to be learned. You don’t just give a kid trust, they have to earn that trust. And privacy goes along with that. So the more that you can rely on your kid to be truthful, honest and apparently able to handle the responsibilities of having an online life, you know, the more privacy that you’re able to give them. However, if and when that trust is broken, that also gets to be reeled back a little bit. So I think I look at this as a trust issue. Something that is not linear but sometimes can have ups and downs. And once again it is our job as parents to be able to keep our kids safe, and forgoing any kind of supervision in that way, especially when our kids are younger, we’re not keeping them safe. And I think that that’s a big piece of what we’ve talked about a lot on the show.
SEXTING: BOYS & GIRLS VIEW IT *VERY* DIFFERENTLY
Dr. Steve: You know, like you mentioned earlier, the conversations around the fact that things can live forever and the people who might be your friends now may not be in the future. You know what I mean? I think the question I just asked, I thought of in part, because I recently read an article about how one view is that sexting is essentially just how relationships go now in teens and young adults–which sounds bonkers maybe to some of us–but this, this author was essentially saying that the parents may need to back off of sort of, you know, putting your foot down so hard on that or being aghast when it happens. But my worry as both a pediatrician and a parent would be that, you know, this person that you’re dating right now when you’re 16 or 17 is not necessarily the person you’re gonna be with forever. And who knows how things end with that person. And that’s a digital thing that you just put out there.
David Reitman: So we did a couple of episodes, the three of us, [that were] on sexting. One where we interviewed boys, one where we interviewed girls, and one when we had an expert in the field talk about this. And a couple of things that we learned both in preparing for the show as well as what we learned on the show is that sexting is easier for kids to do because once again, they’re behind a screen in their room. It’s easier for kids to send a sext to another kid than it is to ask them out on a date–much easier. It’s much less threatening. That’s one piece of this. Another thing that I think that when I talk to parents about sexting, and I have at least two or three times a year, a parent coming in and saying, oh my God, I cannot believe what I found on my son’s phone, you have to remember that middle adolescence, exploration of sexuality, all that kind of stuff is a normal developmental milestone. And that even though, you know, we as parents can look at this and say, “Oh my God, you know, how awful this is”…you know, I’ve had parents come in and say, “Is my kid a pervert?” You know, I’ve gotten all kinds of questions about this. It’s actually, when you think about it, it’s kind of normal. I mean, it’s just from the standpoint of we give these kids these phones and they’ve got cameras on the phones and they’re able to share all kinds of stuff. And this is an extension of exploring sexuality. I hate to say, but it kind of makes sense that a teenager who is not going to have a well developed frontal lobe and is not going to see consequences very well, and you give them an opportunity for them to explore their sexuality in a way that they think is safer than actually having to meet someone in person. It makes sense that they’re gonna be doing this. To your other comment about what happens when someone, when the boyfriend and girlfriend, you know, for example, break up. That’s a really great point. When we interviewed girls on this topic, one of the things that was universal was I asked them that question and I said, well, what happens if the girl breaks up with their boyfriend? And they all say, well, we would hope that the boyfriend would never share the pictures with anyone. And when I’ve spoken to male patients of mine and said, tell me hypothetically if this happened, what do you think happens with your friends? And the guys are said to me, ‘Oh, of course we share all these pictures of our ex-girlfriends with each other.’ So there is definitely a disconnect there. These kids just aren’t seeing with regard to the consequences. And it’s fascinating. It’s adolescence, plain and simple. But what you bring up is a concern, it’s very legit because the girls and the guys, at least the small focus groups that we did, saw this very, very differently. I encourage everybody to listen to our three episodes in sexting cause they’re pretty amazing if I may say so myself. The funny thing was that when we were recording these episodes, Marc was literally falling out of his chair when he was hearing the kids talk about stuff and it was up to me to kind of put this into a little bit of a more developmental context that he could kind of handle. But this is really hard stuff for parents. This is probably the hardest topic that I have in my clinical practice as well as that we talk about within this context of the show.When we interviewed girls on ...they all say, 'Well, we hope that the boyfriend would never share our pictures.' When I've spoken to guys, they all say, 'Of course we share all the pictures of our ex-girlfriends with each other.' -Dr. David ReitmanClick To Tweet
HOW CAN PARENTS STAY ONE STEP AHEAD?
Dr. Steve: You know, I feel like fighting the presence of technology in our kids’ lives is a lot like a parent in the fifties, you know, shaking their fist at Elvis on the TV swinging his hips. I mean, I’ve had conversations with people about how their arms are up in the air saying, you know, we’ve got to limit kids time and they’re missing out on life. But at the same time, this is just the tide, it’s just a flow of where things are headed, there’s gonna be more and more tech around us all the time unless something big changes. And there’s already enough stress and anxiety in parenting, it can feel really overwhelming if we get too swamped by all this. What’s your best advice for parents to try and navigate this digital life with kids without feeling like they’re fighting a lost cause?
David Reitman: I would remind parents that this is a variation on a theme. We’ve been dealing with these issues as parents for hundreds of years. And this is the way that like you said, if it wasn’t Elvis swinging, his hips, it was the Beatles and drugs and, or it was just–I remember my parents and the first computers that came up and they’re saying: “Why why are you spending so much time on this machine?” This is not a new issue in many respects. In some respects it is because of the risks involved, but I think that parents have always had to deal with this kind of change. It’s different than what we’re used to. That said, what is the best way for them to navigate it? I think that–and I don’t want to say if you can’t beat them, join them–but I think that parents need to be educated and they really need to know what their kids are doing. I think that in the context of the podcasts that we’ve recorded, we’ve educated parents on stuff that we never knew about it and most parents didn’t know about and really got parents to start talking to their kids about–“Well I know you’re on Instagram. What is this ‘finsta’ thing?” And all of a sudden having these discussions about what a fake Instagram page is and why the kids have it. If the parents aren’t aware of what’s going on, they won’t understand it in a developmental context. They won’t be able to guide their kids through this in a healthy way. They can’t just push back and say, “this is all bad” because we know the tech is not all bad. They have to be able to discuss this with their kids. And in order to do that, they have to really kind of understand what it is that their kids are doing online.
Dr. Steve: One way that I suggest doing it is just go through the App Store and look and see what the most popular like 30 apps are right now.
David Reitman: Absolutely. Yeah.
Dr. Steve: Especially the ones that are social. I mean just today–and I’m way behind the curve apparently cause it has over a million reviews. But I bet 90% of parents listening who has never heard of this–Tik Tok. I just downloaded it and it has a million and a half reviews, which means that if you’ve got a kid between 14 and 20 and they probably have this. One of gajillions of apps and social apps that are out there that many of us parents have no clue even exist.
David Reitman: And six months later it’ll be history. And that’s, and that’s the frustrating thing is that, is trying to try to stay on top of it. It changes so fast. I think even in the context of like looking at Instagram or Facebook, you know, think about when Facebook first came out, it was just to, you know, share pictures and posts on, and then it turned into something where you could do direct messaging and you can watch videos and then you could play games and all of a sudden there’s so many things that Facebook does. Instagram is the same way. There’s so much functionality that’s changed. So what parents [can do is] they can download Instagram onto their phone and say, “okay, I understand Instagram now” and I can guarantee you six to 12 months later, it’s a whole different platform. There’s just so much that changes and you have to keep up with it. Unfortunately, it’s, it’s on us as parents to keep up with this stuff.
Dr. Steve: Well, and that’s why thank goodness you and Marc are around! I know you guys have covered a lot of what we talked about today in a lot more depth as well as many more topics. But in addition to listening to Their Own Devices on their favorite podcast app, how can parents learn more about you guys and find, find you online?
David Reitman: Well, we are about to launch a website and it will be theirowndevicespodcast.com, and so we’ll have lots of stuff, biographical information on both of us. We will have ways for people to get in touch with us. People can actually email us if they’ve got questions, at firstname.lastname@example.org. And once we have that website up, I’m going to be really excited because we’re going to be able to post resources for parents, that type of thing. So I think it’s gonna be a great resource for parents in terms of raising kids in this digital age.
Dr. Steve: Yeah, that’s phenomenal. One last question that I ask everybody who comes on the show, and I’m always curious to hear what folks say. If you can give parents three pieces of advice for raising happy, healthy, confident kids, what would you say?
David Reitman: Oh, good question. First of all, give them some space to learn and explore the world at the same time. That’s number one. Number two, be there for when they fall in this exploration. And number three, no matter how frustrated you get with your kids and how much you want to sometimes strangle your teenagers, just remember and let them know that you are always there for them and that you are always going to love them no matter what they do.
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