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It’s hard enough for adults to navigate anxiety, lack of privacy, and social relationships in the digital era. How can we expect young people to do it?
On this episode of Beyond the Prescription, media expert Dr. Devorah Heitner presents practical strategies for parenting in an era of perpetual connectivity.
She offers a refreshing perspective in her bestselling new book, Growing Up In Public: Coming of Age in a Digital World. Instead of panicking about social media’s role in young people’s lives, she argues that parents should accept that it’s here to stay and focus on the benefits of technology. Instead of blaming social media’s role for the uptick in adolescent anxiety, she argues to uncover and address the root causes of young people’s distress.
She offers practical advice to help kids set boundaries, maintain digital hygiene, and learn how to make mistakes—even while everyone is watching.
Join Dr. McBride every other Monday for a new episode of Beyond the Prescription.
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The transcript of the show is here!
[00:00:00] Dr. Lucy McBride: Hello, and welcome to my office. I'm Dr. Lucy McBride, and this is Beyond the Prescription, the show where I talk with my guests like I do my patients, pulling the curtain back on what it means to be healthy, redefining health as more than the absence of disease. As a primary care doctor, I've realized that patients are more than their cholesterol and their weight.
[00:00:31] We are the integrated sum of complex parts. Our stories live in our bodies. I'm here to help people tell their story and for you to imagine and potentially get healthier from the inside out. You can subscribe to my free weekly newsletter. At lucymcbride.substack.com, and to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
[00:00:57] So let's get into it and go Beyond The Prescription. Today on the podcast, I'm speaking with Dr. Devorah Heitner, who is a bestselling author, speaker, and expert on raising kids in the digital world. In her various capacities, Dr. Heitner offers practical advice that's backed by science and research. She's providing tools that people can use to start conversations with their loved ones about how to use technology in our lives in a healthy way.
[00:01:25] Her most recent book, out in September, 2023 is titled Growing Up In Public: Coming of Age in a Digital World. It's an essential read for parents. In short, Dr. Heitner thinks we're worrying about the wrong things. We see the panic inducing headlines, yet social media can be an excellent way to help learn about our kids and help them learn about the world we live in today.
[00:01:48] Devorah, thank you so much for joining me today.
[00:01:51] Dr. Devorah Heitner: Thank you.
[00:01:53] LM: So, I talk about inputs with my patients every day. I talk about things that we put into our bodies and brains, like alcohol, caffeine, food, of course. And then I talk about screens, because screens are something we ingest. They're ubiquitous. And it's not just about how much screen time we consume, it's about our relationship, sort of like relationship with food or alcohol.
[00:02:17] What I love about your work is not only are you exploring people's relationships with screens, you're taking a somewhat counterintuitive stance that there's a lot of research out there to suggest that screens are destroying a generation of of youth. That it is the cause for the emotional and mental health despair.
[00:02:38] So, there's a lot of data to suggest that screens are the biggest evil for our kids, that they are the reason that kids are experiencing emotional and mental health problems, but you take a different viewpoint. You take the view that screens are indeed ubiquitous, but they also can be used as a tool. They can be used as a tool to help us shepherd kids through this complicated part of their lives. So talk to me about how you see screens as a boon, as a way to help parents understand their kids. And not just as something we need to be terrified of.
[00:03:20] DH: Yeah, I think we've been really pushed this idea that screens are the big bad that are really tanking kids’ mental health has been really pushed on us and we ignore a lot of other factors and also like, what are the screens bringing our kids? So as you said, it's not just about the quantity, the minutes.
[00:03:36] The minutes are important, too. We want to live in balance with screens and be able to do other things. But we also want to think about the quality of the experience. If your kid is a creator and is making things online, for example, or collaborating with other kids, or has started a business, or is composing music, or is writing a really interesting blog, or fan fiction, and getting a lot of creative juice and community out of that, it could be a really positive thing in your kid’s life.
[00:04:04] So we first want to look at: what is the quality of experience? What is your kid engaging with? Are they finding community there? Are they connecting with people in a positive way? Is it leading them to other interests? And sometimes, especially in the last few years, when so much of our novelty has come from YouTube or Netflix, and we maybe have forgotten about other kinds of novelty. As parents, we may want to look at our kids screen based interests as a clue. Like, oh, they're watching this kind of content on TikTok. What else might be interesting? My kids are very into strategy games on the computer, but we've also gotten into risk and some other deep strategy board games.
[00:04:41] And part of that was like recognizing these multi layer, multi hour games, you know, with strategy and complexity are really interesting. What can we do as a family that might also be related to that? And then we also want to think about the ways kids are connecting with other humans and how this is supporting their friendships. So there's a lot that's going on socially here and we worry about the negative pieces, but we should also look at the positive ways our kids are finding affinity with other kids. Our kids are finding community and finding people who share the same interests.
[00:05:12] LM: I hear you loud and clear. I think headlines that scream: watch out parents. Your kids have a separate life that you don't know about and it's only nefarious and screens are doing harm and only harm are sensationalist and really put sort of fear in the driver's seat of our roles as parents.
[00:05:32] I do think there's a lot to be worried about. I mean, kids are looking at images that you and I never had access to as children. And I think that kids can certainly get lost in a screen addiction. Just like you can be addicted to marijuana or alcohol, you can get addicted to screens. You can develop a relationship with screens such that you're using it to “medicate social anxiety” or fear of failure or you can be bullied online.
[00:06:02] Of course, I think we all know about the harms. The way I practice medicine as a physician is that I try to be a realist. I recognize that alcohol is ubiquitous in our society. I'm not going to be able to take it away from everybody, nor should I. We have to reckon with these phenomena. We can't just mop up risk and make it zero.
[00:06:21] We have to reckon with the realities of our everyday life and screens are not going anywhere. Screens are, if anything, becoming more and more woven into the fabric of our society. So I think what's important as you're saying is to recognize that there are opportunities here. There are ways that we can use screens as a sort of window into our kids lives.
[00:06:46] And that policing them may do harm in and of itself. I mean, what do you make of this idea of restricting kids access to screens until they're 18? I think there's a new law in Utah, for example.
[00:07:00] DH: I think the Utah law is a particularly harmful example. Like I do think when school districts and other folks are trying to push back on the big companies and say, “hey, when we report bullying, we should get a response right away.” Or when we report that our kid started an account under age 13 when they're supposed to be 13 and you don't take it down or you're not doing anything to even pretend to try to age verify and any eight year old can start an Instagram account if they can do the math to change their birth date, then I think it's important to say, yeah, we do want to push back on these companies. So I'm excited to see some states and school districts pushing back on the big companies. Utah's saying, let's put this all on parents. Like parents don't have enough going on and parents should be in charge of their kids social media up to 18.
[00:07:44] I think that's a problem for a lot of reasons. One reason is that not every kid is lucky to have enlightened, wonderful parents. So, what if I'm a gay kid in Utah and my parents don't know and if they find out, I'm going to become unhoused? It's not safe for me to post on social media if my parents have access to my social media up to 18.
[00:08:04] I think 18 is particularly glaring in a state where kids can work at 16 and drive at 16. I think to say that driving and working a job are, are less responsible than posting on social media is a problem. I think when we look nationally at what's going on, where there are states saying we want kids to be able to work dangerous agriculture jobs with pesticides and work in meatpacking plants at 14, but they shouldn't be able to post on TikTok till they're 18.
[00:08:30] I think we're a little messed up as a society if we're saying that, because if we actually wanna protect kids, yes, I think none of us want our children to see pornography, for example. We don't want our children to see extreme violence, but the companies need to take down some of that content when it's getting reported.
[00:08:47] But putting that on parents and saying parents need to be checking their kids' messages and reading their kids' posts up to 18. I went to college when I was 16. I moved away from my house and went to college. I'm not saying that was necessarily the best thing in the world, but that's what I did.
[00:09:04] And to sort of say that, and many kids start college at 17 because that's when they finish high school. So to say that a college freshman in Utah, their mom should still be reading their direct messages is just a little extreme. And I think we really need to get out of that idea of big brother and think about we need to teach kids to swim, putting the electric fence around the pool is not helpful and kids entire focus will just be saying that they don't live in that state or that they're going to change their age in some way when they sign up and many parents will not be in a position to make that not happen. And again, it also assumes that every kid has a well meaning thoughtful parent on their side.
[00:09:39] So there are tremendous problems with that. What if a kid needs to use social media to report abuse in their home?
[00:09:44] LM: So do you think that the headlines about the harms of social media on kids and adolescents mental health are overblown? Or what's sort of your take, in general, on that sort of frenzy,
[00:09:54] DH I think they are overblown because it's an easy thing to blame, but some of the problems that we're seeing in kids, we have to look at the pandemic. We have to look at school shootings. We also, when we see more kids reporting mental health issues, we have to look at access to mental health care as a plus.
[00:10:09] When I was growing up in the early 90s, and there was a smoking lounge in my high school, and many peers were using substances to self medicate. Very few kids would have self identified as depressed or anxious because they didn't necessarily have that language. I would argue that there are kids who are learning the language of mental health from places like TikTok or Discord and are using that language to describe the way they feel, but I don't know that those problems are new to this generation of adolescents. But I think we're seeing increased access to both language around mental health, and hopefully in many communities, actual mental health care. The thing I would worry about is I don't want kids to get their mental health support from TikTok and Discord. It's one thing to identify, like, maybe I have an issue, and learn about it, or have a YouTuber who talks about ADHD and say “oh, I think maybe I should get neuropsych testing.”
[00:10:56] What we don't want to do is self diagnose from YouTube or TikTok, and I'm sure you see that as a physician all the time. Like, that, Is concerning, but the fact that more kids are self identifying with mental health issues, I think is partly that we as a society have shifted to destigmatize that conversation and I actually think social media is part of that in a positive way for kids. But it sounds scary to adults to hear like this many kids say that they're depressed or anxious, but it's not that kids in the past were not depressed and anxious. I think they were self medicating in the smoking lounge at their high school.
[00:11:28] I think adults were turning a blind eye to drug use and other things and alcohol use. So I think we're in a really different place as a society where we're looking harder at adolescents. And there are many reasons adolescents are feeling anxiety. For example, if your kid is looking at their social feed or at the news and information about school shootings, that's distressing, but taking away Instagram doesn't take that distress away. They're going to get that news another way. Their phone may be, in fact, the source of where they're getting that stressful information, but that doesn't mean that if we just take away the phone, they're not going to be worried about it anymore.
[00:12:07] So I think it's really important that we look at, is this a vehicle for getting access to stressful information? When we see the apps themselves encouraging things that are stressful, like the apps themselves may be a problem when they encourage us to location share and we can see that our friends are out without us. And that is a problem that I blame more on social media, versus, you know, that's not just getting information. That's kind of random. That's like, hey, this app is really encouraged us to do this very human thing, which is to want to know where the people we care about are, which is very human. But it's kind of trading on that brain what we want to do.
[00:12:41] And it also trades on parental anxiety when parents put Life360 on their kids devices to track their kids all over town. But that may also not be great for our relationships. There may be ways where that undermines trust and undermines relationships. So I think there are times where what we in the tech world call affordances, but it's basically like what the apps let us do become a problem. And that's where I think we should be looking at do we want to change our own behavior or do we want to make some feel really empowered in relation to an app? Like, yeah, I want to use Snapchat, but I'm going to turn off Snap Maps. I don't want that feature. Or I'm going to turn off location sharing on another device, or I'm not going to use Life360 unless someone actually has disappeared and I haven't heard from them way past curfew.
[00:13:20] I'm not just going to use it to see if my kid might have relationships or errands to do that. I don't know about right now to kind of resist, in other words, the possibility of what apps let us do and make choices about how we're going to use tech that might be healthier for us mentally. So to come back to the headlines, I really don't think we should panic about the ways kids are using social, we need to also just look at our own kids. Like if you have a kid who's predominantly using discord to connect with their three best friends to play a game every day after school, then my worry is, are they getting their homework done? Are they getting enough sleep? But I'm not worried that social media is making them depressed because it's clearly functional for them.
[00:14:02] LM: Right? I think as parents, the screen landscape can make us feel very out of control. Kids in their adolescence are naturally kind of differentiating themselves from their parents and they are behind closed doors a lot of the day and we don't always know what they're looking at. But that's always been the case. And that's part of growing up. That's part of developing our identity is being around our peers. And sometimes that's online. So what do you say to a parent who has, for example, an adolescent who's kind of less accessible verbally, who's spending a lot of time on screens, who you may be worried that they're spending too much time on screens.
[00:14:44] How do you even begin to sort of query whether or not you're doing a good enough job as a parent vis a vis this child and their screens? They don't want to talk about it and they don't want to share with you what they're doing online and you feel completely anxious. And then you look at the headlines and you think, Oh my God, I'm the worst person alive. What do you say to that parent?
[00:15:02] DH Well, it depends on the kid and what your specific worries are, but I do think you could have especially a younger kid who's newer on some apps, like walk you through some of the things they're doing. Like, “hey, can you show me some of the things you love?” You know, like my 14 year old will absolutely show me, you know, things that he thinks are funny from YouTube sometimes and like just getting a sense of like, oh, I can see you're diving into some political satire here.
[00:15:24] I see you're diving into some remixes of the culture and things that you're interested in and movies that you like over here and just getting a sense of like, what is the content? You can decide if the bedroom is a place for screens. Certainly with sleep, I would strongly recommend not having connected devices in bedrooms overnight, especially for younger adolescents who will really struggle to self regulate, or tweens, or younger kids.
[00:15:47] And the challenge is sometimes kids are getting phones so young that they're still little and compliant. You know, your 5th grader, if they get a phone, might be super compliant and put it away at night. But you gotta think ahead to that 8th or 9th grader in love and think about, do I want them texting their sweetie all night?
[00:15:59] Do I want them, you know, on social media late at night? And so it may be that the bedroom is a place where tech doesn't go or it doesn't go during sleep and overnight. And I think that's important to think about. So some of their tech use hopefully is around the house for younger kids. If they're gaming with friends, I would suggest not having headphones on all the time.
[00:16:17] It may be annoying. It was definitely annoying for me living in a small apartment through a lot of remote school in the pandemic. And my kid was gaming without headphones. It was extremely annoying, but I knew what the friends were talking about. And when some things came up on Roblox, where they ran into some content that was a little bit of a surprise, as in, like, naked blocky people having sex in Roblox.
[00:16:38] When I heard them start to talk about that, I was like, walking over to the computer, like, what's that? And so I think that's, that's a helpful way. It's a little bit less big brother-y than using your device to kind of spy on or get your kids data later, but just being in a place where you're adjacent, you can overhear some of the activity can help you know.
[00:16:57] As kids get older, their privacy is going to be more and more appropriate, but you can still check in with them when they're in the car. We have a no phones in car rides rule for under a certain amount of time. So, you know, my kid can't like put on a podcast and listen to it with his headphones for a five minute ride if I'm driving him somewhere.
[00:17:14] If we're going on a road trip to another city, podcast and listen together. And some of his time might be in the backseat. with music on or something. But shorter rides, we have to talk to each other. And some of that is like, he gets to pick the topic because he doesn't like to share about school, but he has to tell me about something, right?
[00:17:32] And it might be the video game he's playing, but we have to talk to each other. And family meals are important. Finding a time that actually works. And with busy teenagers who do a lot of activities, that might be late at night. And that's when your kid's ready to spill and you might be ready to fall over, but if your kid is ready to tell you about things, that's a good time to be listening.
[00:17:52] If there's a specific where you have, like, say you think your kid is. checking out pornography or something where you're like, this is a specific worry. I do not want you doing that. Then I would address it directly. A lot of us are uncomfortable there, but if you have evidence that your kid has looked at pornography, I would definitely talk to them directly about it and talk to them about why this isn't where you want them to learn about sex and consent and relationships.
[00:18:14] And we can do that in a non-shaming way. We can normalize and humanize that human beings have been preoccupied with the body and sexuality and art for a long time. This is not new. For an adolescent to be curious about sex and what that looks like and what people do is very typical and normal.
[00:18:30] But this isn't a useful way to get information and it can actually be misleading. It can offer misleading ways to get information about what partners might actually like. It's very misleading on the consent front. And so I think we, and we want to make sure they get alternative information. The older your kid is, the more I would want them to read… certainly younger kids should get have books about puberty and sexuality.
[00:18:52] Hopefully you live in a place where they can also get good sex ed in school, but we know that's not the case everywhere. So we know kids need to be able to talk to their pediatrician and other things. But we need to make sure that they have good information. And then for older kids, like reading a steamy love scene in a young adult or even an adult novel is preferable to me by a lot.
[00:19:12] I mean, there's a lot of books I would want my kid or be comfortable with my kid reading as opposed to seeing pornography. And I think that's really important to make sure that kids do have access to information. And we need to know that it's not just boys looking at porn. Girls will look at it too. A lot of kids are accessing porn for, for sex ed purposes, or that's what they think it is.
[00:19:30] LM: Yeah. And one of the other specific worries I think that comes up for parents of girls in particular, not that boys are immune to this, is the focus on bodies and thinness and diet culture and comparison culture. And I think it's really hard to avoid those, the constant barrage of images of… and now that we have AI where these faces can all of a sudden look perfect and you can see your real face compared to what your face might look like if you had plastic surgery and you were on the red carpet in Hollywood. I mean, that is a pervasive phenomenon and it's concerning as a mother of a daughter and sons, this constant sort of focus on appearance. But again, as I think you're saying, lwe cannot take screens out of their hands.
[00:20:19] We cannot make risk zero. We can do what we can as parents to help our kids kind of have a relationship with screens. So, I was counseling a patient last week who's a mother of a teenage girl who's struggling with her eating. So she's got some binge eating and some restricting behaviors and she's on screens all the time and Focusing on her appearance and the girls, her friends are in bikinis and she's not included in all the events where the girls are wearing bikinis and it's just, you know, it's torture as a mother to watch her daughter kind of go through this and you think to yourself, Gosh, I could just get rid of the screens and everything would be okay.
[00:20:57] Let's acknowledge that wouldn't be the case. And let's acknowledge that's not realistic. So my advice to her was to have a conversation with her daughter that's led with curiosity and empathy. So instead of saying, you really need to get off your screens, that's bad for you, ask the question: “honey, I wonder what it feels like when you're sitting at home and feeling uncomfortable about maybe your body or your social life and you see your friends looking perfect because they've got this curated image of themselves and you're not there. What, I wonder what that feels like.” I mean, and you might offer even an example of what you might feel like. Like it might make me feel awful. You know, when I was a kid and I knew my, my friends were hanging out together and living this so called perfect life, it, it hurt. I wonder what that feels like to you. So curiosity is always a good way to lead a conversation. And then also with empathy and say I just feel bad for you guys that this is such a hard thing to have to navigate. You can't avoid looking at these images.
[00:21:54] You can't avoid comparing yourself to other people. And then sort of open the conversation like that instead of going at it as you really need to get off screens. You need to not look at these images. You need to just stay away from that friend group or stay away from that social media feed. These are their friends.
[00:22:07] These are their lives. But I think it's very hard to know how to have those conversations as parents. And I think the world we live in as parents consuming social media seems to suggest that there's the right way to talk to our kids and the wrong way to talk to our kids. That we have to read the right parenting book.
[00:22:25] We have to follow the right expert on Instagram. We have to listen to the right podcast and that our kids are so fragile and so vulnerable that if we say the wrong thing by just two phrases, then we're doing all this harm when I think that for parents is scary and we need to understand that just by showing up as parents, and just by being empathetic and curious about who our kids are, and showing them that we love them no matter what, that is good enough. Sure, there are parents who are doing harm. Sure, there are parents who need help. I need all the help I can get with parenting, but I also have learned to trust my instincts and intuition, and I need to listen to my kids and meet them where they are.
[00:23:06] There's no parenting book that is going to tell me how to parent child one versus two versus three. So this is a long winded way of asking you, are you saying that parents need to be able to read the room with their kid, they need to be able to understand the person they are talking to, and have a relationship at baseline with their child that involves discussing who they are, what their interests are, and understand that screens are going to be an inevitable part of it.
[00:23:34] DH: I think that empathy and curiosity as you say, is huge and just slowing down, like really saying, what do you notice when you look at Instagram and letting your kid talk. Ideally not even leading with like exclusion or your own feelings, but you can go there and in a conversation, but I would let them what it's like for them and see what insights you can get from there.
[00:23:59] And certainly with body image, as the example you used it can be an exacerbating factor. Like it probably didn't originate with screens, the eating challenges you're talking about, but that doesn't mean that screens couldn't exacerbate. And if a kid is in treatment for an ED, for a substance, for anxiety, for another mental health issue, 100% with that therapist, I would be working on a screen plan with that therapist.
[00:24:25] Especially with a teenager, it's helpful to have someone that's not a parent coming up with, like, if you are going to change the screen plan and your kid is in treatment for an ED or coming home from the hospital even or something. Those are kids who are going to need some support. And sometimes it's apps we don't think of, like Pinterest is actually filled with diet content that is quite toxic.
[00:24:44] If I had a kid with an ED. I would be thinking about, like, how can we encourage them to maybe avoid Pinterest? This may not be a good place for them. If I had a kid who's really into redecorating her bedroom, or a kid who's really into crafting, Pinterest could be fine. So it's not about the app. It's about what experiences and connections and content your kid will seek out within that app. Because I could say the same thing about discord, you know, discord could be totally positive for a kid Who's using it to connect with other anime fans? It could be very negative if kids are doing like how to on an eating disorder or something or self harm. So I don't want to scare people but there are places on the internet and and communities and sub communities that aren't going to be a positive place to be if you're struggling in those ways and asking kids to reflect on their experience, asking kids to consider taking a break.
[00:25:35] Cutting a kid off completely from an app is a pretty big step, but even taking it off your most frequently used device without closing your account can be helpful. And for some kids doing that, even for a few days, just to take that app off your most frequently used device for a weekend and spend a weekend where in order to see that app, you would have to go to your computer and log in.
[00:25:55] I have that suggestion for a lot of kids who are stressing about their grades and actually over checking their grading app. I'll say actually take your grading app off your phone. If you're checking your grading app multiple times during the school day and getting distracted in one class because you saw a test score come in from another class, that's too much. And so some kids are compulsively checking those apps. So I do think in those cases, again, it's not like we never want to see the grading app again. You may need to check it at some point, but like if you have to go to your desktop or your janky school laptop that you don't use that much and check it there, but it's not on your phone, which for 99% of teens is going to be the most frequently used device...
[00:26:32] That's really helpful. So creating those friction moments to make it less automatic and less habitual to go to the places that maybe are kind of death by a thousand paper cuts—maybe it's not like, you know, your phone is hitting you over the head and giving you a substance use disorder and eating disorder, but it's not helping either.
[00:26:51] Maybe that's where change your access. And the more kids feel empowered about that and the more… I talked to several kids who were intentionally following size positive models, people who made them feel good about their bodies. So going in the other direction, using the algorithm intentionally. So for Growing Up In Public, I did talk to some kids who felt like it wasn't great for them.
[00:27:11] And they started using those apps more just for messaging and not posting pictures as much and kind of feeling like they had to post. And again, the people who are curating first, you know, either size positivity or following athletes that they felt like were more body positive and not giving them kind of kicking off or catalyzing feelings that were more negative was so important. But that's a lot of sophistication. Even adults often don't recognize this content is adjacent to this content. But for any kids, I would say fitness content is always going to be adjacent to diet content and diet content is not safe for children. I think it's toxic for all of us, but definitely for kids, you know, if you're looking at your eating or anything with fitness, like talk to your physician. Do not get that from TikTok because it's all very dangerous on there.
[00:27:57] LM: Absolutely. And there's a sort of moralization of human behavior that happens that's just hard not to internalize. I love what you said about suggesting these breaks from screens. I mean, I find it hard as an adult to do that myself, right? When I'm standing in line at the grocery store and it's taking too long, I'm tapping my toe, you know, I'm kind of like scrolling through Instagram to pass the time and it becomes this habitual thing you just go to your phone when you have time to kill and there's a downside there. And so what I sometimes will ask my patients, I will ask myself this too, is what does it feel like internally, and how do you feel sort of mentally and physically when you take a break from, say, Twitter or Instagram for a weekend?
[00:28:38] When you take it off your phone, you don't delete your account, but you take the app off your phone, do you feel less tense in your jaw, less tense in your back? Do you sleep better? Do you find yourself drinking less alcohol because you're less kind of outraged or kind of overstimulated? Do you find yourself gravitating to the book that you put down six months ago? So I think it's not just about restricting the apps. It's about noticing how you feel mentally, physically, how are your behaviors different? If you could give up some apps that you frequently use or gravitate to for a week, what does that feel like?
[00:29:13] So I think what we're talking about really is control. Are we in control of the screens and our utilization, or are they controlling us? It's the same thing I talk about with alcohol.
[00:29:23] DH: I always say that to kids. Yeah, I always say that to…
[00:29:25] LM: It's the same thing I talk about with alcohol, you know, sugar, like, are we deciding how to use it? Or is it deciding for us? And when it is deciding for us when there's a Twitchiness in our brain that gravitates to the phone when you're standing in line at the grocery store or you're lying in bed and you can't fall asleep and you pick up your phone just to kill more time, that may be a sign that is controlling you. And so that's a moment to decide, let's pull back, not because we can't come back into our lives at some point, but let's recalibrate that relationship. Let's put us in the driver's seat of this relationship because it's such a slippery slope, even for grownups.
[00:29:59] DH: Yeah, what I say to kids is you want to be running your devices, not letting them run you. And that's, I absolutely feel that way. And that could be my inbox some days. It's like, wait, I need to set my priorities and not let my inbox set my priorities, right? I need to not just be reacting. I need to be planning and prioritizing and doing things in a way that makes sense like most of us check email too often too frequently throughout the day. So it's really important to talk with kids about that. And when I talk with kids about running our devices and not letting them run us I talk a lot about distraction and even what are the intentional things I do as an adult and as a writer like when I go Speak at schools or is like she wrote books like I'm like, oh, yeah like that's so easy because most kids find writing hard and guess what?
[00:30:38] I do too. I have to give myself rewards for every 500 or 1000 words I write. Like, it's not easy. And if I have to do an edit, which is even a next level challenge, often I will print it out and do it offline because of distraction, because I would much rather check the news or I mean, check the weather or scroll Facebook and see somebody's cute baby, whatever, then do that edit. And so I talked to kids about what do I do to set myself up for success? And when we as parents see our kids going down that rabbit hole, I mean, A) we have to look at how did we spend our time as teenagers? Did we always spend our time in the highest and best way? We did not.
[00:31:14] Like you probably spent some time sleeping very late. You probably spent some time, you know, like I spent time like playing songs on the radio for my friends over the phone. Wasn't like the highest and best use of, you know, our time. Like I wish I had been more like Greta Thunberg. We'd be in a much better place now if my generation had been environmental activists instead of playing songs for each other on the phone.
[00:31:35] But that kind of downtime and like watching a TikTok video with friends isn't necessarily bad for kids. They need some of that. But if you feel like it's a huge rabbit hole for a kid, your kid, and they're losing time that they need on other things like sleep or homework or, you know, any physical activity, chores around the house, Then we can talk to them about how can you choose your time? Especially when you have something with no ending cues, like a TikTok or an Instagram. How can you decide I'm going to do my hardest subject homework first. And then maybe I am going to scroll Instagram for a few minutes. And then I'm going to do another subject.
[00:32:09] And then maybe I will look at TikTok, but I'm going to set a timer on myself. Because there's no end to it. And the algorithm is really good. They're going to give you something you like. Like if they know what you like, they know what you like. They've got your number.
[00:32:21] LM: Yeah, I think at the end of the day, it's incredibly overwhelming, as you know, incredibly stressful for parents to think that we can put our arms around this behemoth of social media. And we really can't. And so I think what you're saying, Devorah, is to know our kids, to have those open lines of communication, to lead with empathy and curiosity for who they are, how they spend their time, what social media means to them, and then to recognize the good of social media, the good, the practice it can offer kids, setting boundaries and setting limits, and where to spend their time. It sounds like you also think that we can kind of tap into their interests.
[00:33:02] If you notice your kid on, you know, baking shows, then hey, maybe it's time to take a cooking class together. I mean, that would be sort of... The dream is that your teenager would want to take a cooking class with you, but I think we can use it as a road.
[00:33:14] DH: Even they could just make dinner. I mean, honestly, like if you're, if your kid is watching cooking shows, like have them make dinner. I want to eat those cupcakes. I want to, you know, eat that homemade pasta and truly like your kid will be the most popular kid on the floor of their dorm if they can make a good meal or even just some nice cookies.
[00:33:30] And so, and, and even if they're watching like how to make slime, like I want to see some slime. Like I don't want endless how to content filtering into a kid's brains without them putting it out. And the other thing we really want them to remember is there's other human beings on the other end. So when they are connecting with kids, those people have feelings too. If you're going to make a snarky comment on somebody's YouTube, that's a real person. And not only is it to that person, but you're also dealing with the people who will read it. So if you can't say something nice, it's not a good thing.
[00:34:00] You don't want to put that out there. And if someone is really bringing about your ire and your rage, and there are people on YouTube that bring, and Twitter and other places, that bring out my rage and my frustration, but my frustration is best channeled finding people I agree with and doing something to solve the problem.
[00:34:14] If somebody's being a racist or misogynist mouthpiece on YouTube, responding to their YouTube with a comment criticizing them isn't going to fix it. They're not going to say, “Oh, well, Devorah in Chicago thinks I should change my ways. I'm having a mea culpa moment. Here I go. I'm going to go down a new road.”
[00:34:31] Instead I want to do, think about like, what can I do in my own community to fight racism? What can I do in my own community to build an accepting school district for LGBT plus students? What can I do in my community to fight misogyny? And make safe spaces for women and girls? So I think it's really important to focus on what we can do to make the world better when we see things that enrage us and not get into like an outrage cycle online. And I think unfortunately that is another thing that the algorithm is really good at is like churning us up in that way. And that's something we want to resist.
[00:35:03] LM: That's right. And being in control of our own emotions. Recognizing that it wants us to be afraid and outraged. Fear and outrage is how they, how the social media algorithms work. So if we can say, look, I'm of course entitled to be afraid. I'm of course entitled to be outraged, but I'm going to calibrate that to my understanding of the facts and not calibrate it to what the social media algorithms are serving up.
[00:35:28] Now that's a tall order for kids. It's a tall order for adults, but I really like what you're saying again, just to frame it is that we as parents need to understand that there's good, there's value in social media. We have to feel that way because it's not going away, but it's true. There is good. There is value.
[00:35:47] In fact, during the pandemic, I was grateful in many ways for social media, for my kids to be able to connect with their peers and classmates, despite being out of school. So let's end with this question. What do you think a healthy relationship with social media looks like? What is the sort of definition of healthy social media habits?
[00:36:06] DH A healthy social media relationship is one where you're using it if you want to, because you want to, and you're getting pleasure and distraction and entertainment from it. You're getting maybe ideas and inspiration from it as well. And you can have a sense of humor about it. You know, everybody's posting about living their best life, because nobody wants to see you unloading the dishwasher.
[00:36:28] But the reality is most people's lives are a lot more about cleaning the cat box and unloading the dishwasher and running around and getting things done or if you're a kid like doing your homework or whatever and that very little of your time is on top of the mountain with the sunset or at the party.
[00:36:43] And so it's good to remember that it's a performance and to just have that sense of humor about it. I mean, I try, even though, of course, like my publisher wants me to be famous and get likes as well. Like I have that pressure as an author and a speaker, but I also have to have a sense of humor about it and say like, okay, this time, I'm not going to do the reel and chase the numbers, or this time I'm going to do it, but I'm going to try not to keep checking my phone to see how many likes I got, because I know that's the app getting me where I'm the most human, where I want to be seen and regarded. And that's where we all are.
[00:37:12] So if we can let our kids know that we have empathy for them, and that we see them, and make sure that they have things that they're doing outside of social media that bring them real self esteem, which is being helpful at home and in the community. to balance out that sense of chasing that algorithm or the numbers or the followers or the likes, I think that's a healthy relationship with social media. So use it for what it's good for.
[00:37:34] LM: I love it. I love it.
[00:37:35] DH: And be able to take some space.
[00:37:38] LM: And as we've talked about earlier, acknowledging that it is. An input, just like food, water, screens are now, you know, sort of part of our sort of nutrition, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but we have to metabolize it and we have to be aware of how it affects our bodies and minds.
[00:37:56] DH When it makes you feel bad, definitely put it away. That's I mean, That's definitely time. When it makes you feel bad, that's the time. If you're watching other people do stuff without you and it's making you feel terrible, put it away.
[00:38:05] LM: So Devorah, thank you so much for joining me today. It's been a pleasure and I've learned a lot.
[00:38:09] DH: Thank you so much. It was great talking with you.
[00:38:16] LM: Thank you all for listening to Beyond the Prescription. Please don't forget to subscribe, like, download, and share the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you catch your podcasts. I'd be thrilled if you like this episode to rate and review it. And if you have a comment or question, please drop us a line at email@example.com. The views expressed on this show are entirely my own and do not constitute medical advice for individuals that should be obtained from your personal physician.