Dr. Devorah Heitner on the Pros & Cons of “Managing” Our Kids’ Screen Time
This weeks’ episode is a must-listen to if your child uses technology and screens of any sort and your spending energy managing your kids’ screen time. (So pretty much, everyone.) My guest this week is Dr. Devorah Heitner, an expert on young people’s relationship with digital media and technology. Devorah is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World and founder of Raising Digital Natives, and her mission is to cultivate a culture of empathy and social/emotional literacy. Devorah did a fascinating TEDx talk a few years back called The Challenges of Raising a Digital Native, which I highly recommend you check out.
Today Devorah and I talk about kids’ relationship with screens, everything from the specific challenges related to screens and technology for differently wired kids to how we as parents can start being effective mentors for our child when it comes to helping them develop healthy screen habits. I asked Devorah the big questions I hear all the time from parents, like how much time spent on screens is too much, does the type of activity ours kids are doing make a difference when setting limits, and much more. I hope you get a lot out of this interview.
About Dr. Devorah Heitner
An expert on young people’s relationship with digital media and technology, Dr. Devorah Heitner is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World and founder of Raising Digital Natives. Her mission is to cultivate a culture of empathy and social/emotional literacy.
Dr. Heitner’s work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, TIME magazine and Education Week. She has a Ph.D. in Media/Technology & Society from Northwestern University and has taught at DePaul and Northwestern. She is delighted to be raising her own digital native.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- Why it’s important that we focus on tech literacy in our kids rather than specific apps
- The most common challenges for differently wired kids when it comes to their relationship with technology and “managing” their screen time
- How we might use their skills and interest in tech to bridge into areas of strength
- The challenges stemming from schools’ increasing reliance on technology in a 1 to 1 capacity
- Whether or not there is true value in online or virtual social relationships
- Why our role as parents should be that of mentor when it comes to our child’s relationship with screens
- The difference between tech savvy and being wise about technology
- Why all screen media isn’t created equal—it’s important to discriminate between the way our kids use media
- How much “screen time” is too much?
- What are goals should be in helping our kids become wise technology consumers
- Strategies to start using to become a positive “screen” mentor for our children
Resources mentioned for managing kids’ screen time
- Raising Digital Natives (Devorah’s website)
- Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World by Dr. Devorah Heitner
Devorah Heitner 0:00
It’s really great for our kids to see us in the world and to know that we make mistakes too. And I responded too hastily to that email. And now I have a lot of cleanup to do in that relationship or that work situation. And I wish I had taken the time to think it through or even talk in person instead. So I think letting them know that we’ve been there, and also letting them know that it is genuinely challenging that we recognize that’s one of the great things about coaching is we’re not saying oh, this is so easy. Why don’t you get it? We’re saying yeah, this is really challenging, you know, baby steps.
Debbie Reber 0:36
Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie River, and today’s episode is a must listen to if your child uses technology and screens of any sort. So yeah, pretty much everyone. My guest this week is Devorah Heitner, an expert on young people’s relationship with digital media and technology. Devorah is the author of Screen Wise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World, and founder of raising Digital Natives. And her mission is to cultivate a culture of empathy and social emotional literacy. Devorah’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, and Education Week. And she also did a fascinating TEDx talk a few years back called The Challenges of Raising a Digital Native, which I highly recommend you check out. I will link to that TEDx talk in the show notes. Today. Devorah. And I talk about kids’ relationship with screens, everything from the specific challenges related to screens and technology for differently wired kids, to how we as parents can start being effective mentors for our child when it comes to helping them develop healthy scrim habits. I asked before the big questions I hear all the time from parents, like how much time is too much time on screens, does the type of activity our kids do on screen make a difference when it comes to setting limits, and much more, I hope you get a lot out of this interview. And by the way, in each episode, at some point, I refer to something called the show notes. And I realized that not everybody knows what I mean when I say this. So essentially, for every episode of the podcast, I create a post on the tilde parenting website for that episode. And on that page, you can listen to the episode itself, you can read a short description of the episode and read a brief biography of that week’s guest. And I also include a bulleted list of the key takeaways for each episode. And then I list out all the resources that came up during the conversation. You know, sometimes our guests share their favorite books or websites or other thought leaders on this subject. So I capture all of those. So if listeners want to dig deeper and explore those resources, they don’t have to go tracking them down, they can just link directly from that page. So if you ever want to access the show notes for a particular episode, there’s two ways to do this. One is to go to tilde parenting.com/podcast. And on that page, you’ll see a listing of every episode I’ve done to date, all 127 of them, and then you just click on the episode you’re interested in, and it will take you to the show notes page. The other way is to listen to my outro. At the conclusion of the interview each week, I will tell you what episode number it is and give you the direct URL. So for instance, this week is episode 127. So the direct link is tiltparenting.com/session127. So you get the point. Anyway, I just wanted to do a quick PSA on this because I wanted to make sure you were aware of this extra content that you can find online for every episode. And before I get to the conversation, if you get value out of this podcast, please consider supporting it by making a small monthly contribution to help me cover the costs of production. There is an easy way to do this through an online platform called Patreon. So I have a Patreon campaign for tilt parenting and this podcast and it’s funded by listeners like you and that helps me pay my editor Donna who takes the recorded interviews I do intros and outros like this, cleans them up, edits them, tags them for iTunes and uploads them onto my sound account. I also have someone doing transcriptions for the episode. And so that is helping me cover the costs of that. So outsourcing those jobs saves me hours of time each week and it allows me to focus on all the other pieces of keeping tilt going and supporting this community like the new tilt together groups, we’re starting to get going and other initiatives that I’m trying to work on developing. So if you want to support those efforts, you can go to patreon.com/tiltparenting and Patreon is spelled PATREON and you can also find a link on the Tilt Parenting website on any of the show notes pages, and it’s super easy to sign up. So thank you so much for considering. And now, here is my conversation with Devorah. Hi, Devorah, welcome to the podcast.
Devorah Heitner 5:16
Debbie Reber 5:17
I am really happy to be having this conversation about something that is just such a relevant part of our world for all parents. But I know this is something that comes up a lot in Facebook groups that I’m in, and just parents really wanting more information and tools and just how to frame our thinking around screen time. And you kind of wrote the book on it. So I’m really excited to talk with you about this today.
Devorah Heitner 5:46
Debbie Reber 5:47
So your book, I just want to start with the title of your book, which is ScreenWise, which I just love that title. And I just would love to hear from you what ScreenWise means, you know, what is loaded into that term?
Devorah Heitner 6:02
Well, we want to think about wisdom in the sense of our lived experience. And a lot of parents discount their wisdom of lived experience when they go to try to mentor their digital natives, because they think, well, I didn’t grow up with Fortnite or Instagram or Snapchat. So therefore, what do I know? And they’re often discounting a lot of lived experience and a lot of good ideas that would be really helpful to their kids, they just need to get creative and think about that wisdom from a different venue. We all know what it’s like to be left out of something, we all know what it’s like to get distracted and blow a deadline or have to stay up later than we want to. So it’s really important that we acknowledge that we have wisdom from our lived experience, even though we didn’t grow up with a tiny supercomputer in our hands.
Debbie Reber 6:50
And, you know, I actually would like to even take a step back, I’m curious to know how you came to be even doing this work. And maybe in answering that you could tell us a little bit about your background and your expertise in all things screen.
Devorah Heitner 7:06
Sure. So I’m a media scholar, I have a PhD in Media Technology and Society, which believe it or not, is a real thing you can study. And my early work in graduate school was about Sesame Street and the anti-racist curriculum of Sesame Street. And then I ended up writing my dissertation and first book about a movement in 1970s television that was really about African American liberation struggles and television programs that came out of that. But I continued to be interested in children’s television and I taught classes at the university level, when in my first five or six years on the tenure track called Kids Media Culture and other classes like that, where I would go with my 20 year old college students out to places like American Girl, interview families and talk to them about purchasing decisions, we would interview third graders about their media ecology and their homes and who made the decisions and the rules about what they could and couldn’t watch. And what I found is my students who were then this is sort of the tail end of millennials. So I was teaching college until 2012. So my 20-year-old students were very concerned about what they heard third graders talking about. And so I thought that was really interesting. So we’re seeing this micro split of kids only maybe 10 to 12 years younger than they were with completely different access, because they had grown up with dial up. But these kids were starting to grow up with smartphones in the home, they were growing up with social media, they had much more access to a lot more content from things like YouTube. And seeing that discrepancy. At the same time that I became a parent myself, my son was born in 2009 really opened my eyes to a gaping hole that parents and everyone else was very confused about what this would all mean for young people, and especially the proliferation of things like smartphones, what does that actually mean for kids? So I started to research and speak on that topic, and I ended up leaving my university job to just do this full time.
Debbie Reber 8:58
Wow. And how long ago did you do your TED Talk? Which, by the way, listeners, I recommend checking it out. I thought it was fascinating. When did you do that?
Devorah Heitner 9:06
Thank you. That was about three or four years before the books. Definitely it was 2015.
Debbie Reber 9:11
Okay. And I can just imagine this is an area where things are constantly changing.
Devorah Heitner 9:17
Absolutely. I think the core message of that talk, which is empathy is the app and the focus on both how we as parents need to cultivate empathy for our kids experience of growing up more connected and more public, and how we in turn one to cultivate and support their empathy for their peers and for others in their digital interactions. I think that message is still very current. But yeah, even I’m sure some of the examples I would use now would be a little bit different. And that’s always true. I mean, I speak every day on this topic, practically. And it’s always a moving target. And that’s why I think we should focus more on the core experiences our kids have and the skills that they need to be successful rather than specific applications.
Debbie Reber 9:56
Right. Yeah, I know. It seems like when something new comes along Like a Snapchat or whatever, then that’s like the panic. And that’s what I really like about your approach. And I want to get into more in depth lead in terms of taking a step back and looking at giving our kids tools to interact with media in a way that is safe. And that they can, they can kind of own because we can’t be the ones standing over their shoulders all the time when they’re moving on in launching into life.
Devorah Heitner 10:25
Yeah, and especially as parents of kids who are quirky or neurodiverse, we’re already thinking about self-regulation. And I think this is an area where in some ways we have a lot in common with parents of neurotypical kids were a sitting on them to get them to do what you want isn’t the thing that will keep them from playing Fortnite all night in college, right, they actually need to learn self-regulation, because there’s not going to be someone guiding them for effort. And so we may have a bigger lift, sometimes with some of our kids, teaching them how to self-regulate around these issues. But truly, all the parents I meet are finding that tech presents some challenges to their family or their kids.
Debbie Reber 11:02
So let’s talk about the challenges. I just think listeners are gonna relate to many of these. So I’m curious to know, what are the broad challenges, you just mentioned, self-regulation as being something that really all parents are concerned about? What kind of challenges do you see generally speaking, and then any that are really specific to parents raising differently wired kids?
Devorah Heitner 11:23
Sure. I mean, relationships can be a challenge for all of us. And for all kids growing up today, and for adults who manage a lot of our relationships, digitally just figuring out, you know, what are the differences in disclosure versus discretion in social media versus a face-to-face conversation? What is the expectation of frequency of contact in a digital relationship? You know, if someone texts me, what’s my obligation to text them back right away? Is it different with email? Is it different in different genres of social media, you know, is Snapchat different than Facebook, all of these things have a million unspoken rules. And I’ve written a little bit about the kind of rules that kids come up with in their own communities. If you have a kid who has a hard time figuring out the unspoken social rules in verbal communication, they may do better with digital communication, because there might be a way to be more explicit, or it may be just as challenging. So we know I think we all know kids who are not great at face-to-face communication, but maybe they’re really great at video games. How can we as parents use the video game maybe to help our kids build some face-to-face social skills? Whether it’s inviting friends over to play the game, and insisting that they also unplug for some of the time? Or are there other ways that we can use their interests and their skills to bridge into areas of strength?
Debbie Reber 12:38
Right. And let’s before we actually hit the record button, here, we were talking a little bit about school. And you know, I’m not only living abroad, so you know, a lot of our listeners are in the US and are immersed in the US school system. But I’m also homeschooling so talk to me about what is happening today that you’re seeing in schools, that’s presenting challenges as well, for parents with atypical kids.
Absolutely. So what I’m seeing is that many school districts and independent schools are moving toward one-to-one, some are deep, you know, pretty far down that road, five to 10 years of tablets in the classroom, or kids bringing things like Chromebooks or iPads, home with them, as well as using them all day at school. And there are many ways that that’s going to support a kid with executive function challenges, or a kid who has really slow and poor handwriting, for example, where they’re going to be able to maybe keyboard more effectively than they could take handwritten notes, or they’re going to be able to keep a digital calendar, or even take pictures of homework on the board. And maybe that’s something that was always getting lost when you’re dealing predominantly with paper. So that’s lovely. On the other hand, you have a distraction that’s with kids all day, and we’re seeing many neurotypical kids completely derailed by that distraction, especially when it’s not used effectively. Like if you have teachers who maybe were handed the iPad at the beginning of the year, this is like the worst-case scenario doesn’t always happen this way, it can be much better than this. But worst-case scenario, handed the iPad at the beginning of the year and said, we need to be one to one, here you go. And all your kids have it and you’re just supposed to teach with that. And many teachers in that situation are not prepared, maybe to use it effectively to teach students to collaborate or use it to have, you know, student driven learning and to sort of be the model that ed tech people would say is that the teacher is the lead learner, right? And that everyone’s exploring together? Well, if you’re coming from a completely top-down situation where you’re used to just running everything from the front of the room, and you’re gonna continue to run everything from the front of the room and say, give a lecture that’s not super engaging and expect the students to listen but you’ve also handed them iPads. Well, good luck, you know, because I don’t think many students are going to be listening and effectively learning from that and there are bigger questions there. Right is lecturing and effective way of teaching, you know, 21st century kids, is this the best way to go at all right? All these questions are good and worth asking. But the fact is, what we’re doing is just adding a new tool o a culture that is top-down learning teaching from the front of the room lecture drill and kill isn’t very effective giving kids a math app, that’s a game and they’re really excited about it is great. But what about the kid who gets super revved and competitive by the math app and then can’t focus on the next task or can’t stop playing or, you know, can’t handle the social interaction when it’s driven by competition, because that triggers something in them, right? There’s just a lot happening in schools that maybe some schools are less prepared for than others, I’ve seen schools be much more effective, take years to do really excellent professional development, give teachers a lot of power and autonomy about when they use tech and make sure that there’s a culture of students knowing to put it away when it’s not in use. And then it’s really put away on and off not just sitting on their desks being potentially distracting. That’s really ideal, where, you know, the tech is used to support a specific learning objective, or a specific mode of collaboration or engagement. And then when it’s not in use, it’s away. But that’s not always what we see, what we see sometimes is oh, here, everybody, we got a big grant. Here’s the Chromebooks go for it. And, you know, even if your kid doesn’t have ADHD, or isn’t on the spectrum, or doesn’t have any other neurological diagnosis, they may be completely distracted. But for kids, you know, with different kinds of LD’s, or, you know, neurological differences, who maybe are already struggling to keep it together during the school day and already looking for a way to tune out the noise or do something else, then that Chromebook or that iPad, or that laptop, could be very, very distracting, it could be a place to escape from school, not necessarily to enhance your engagement with what’s going on around you.
Debbie Reber 16:41
Wow, I’m really feeling overwhelmed listening to this, because it seems like what do we do? You know, it seems like, we’re in this situation. Schools are in this situation. And, you know, professional development is such a big piece of this. And I feel like there’s already so much that teachers need support around just in terms of recognizing and supporting differently wired kids in the classroom. And now we have this, this added tool, which probably makes even that work that much harder, in many ways. So,
Right, I mean, it can support differentiation. And that’s what people will say, if you go in as a parent to your IEP meeting, or in Canada, your SEP and you know, every country has their lingo for how we talk about if you if you have a team at school, it’s working with your child to individuate their path or to support them with additional services, hopefully, you can then talk to them about the role of tech there, and what they’re gonna say as well. The tech is supporting differentiation, you know, which can also be gifted kids, right? So maybe your kid is getting harder math problems, and the kid sitting next to them, and that can be easier to do when it’s an app versus a worksheet. The flip side is your gifted kid may have hacked the whole system and may be busy writing their novel when everyone else is doing math. And maybe if you’re like me, you’re like, well, maybe that’s okay. So the time maybe I’m you know, but if they’re gonna get in trouble, if there’s gonna be a consequence, then maybe you don’t want your kids spending a day hacking the system, maybe you just want them to do the math problems. It just depends.
Debbie Reber 18:06
That’s so funny. Yeah, is hacking the system a good thing or a bad thing. And just so I’m clear, because this is new terminology for me is this one-to-one, that just means each child has their own device.
Devorah Heitner 18:19
Yes. And in many districts, that also means that comes home, which also can present a whole new set of parenting challenges for families where even if you have a device at home, maybe you have a culture around it, where kids have to ask permission to use it. When the school device comes home, some parents feel like, Oh, it’s a school device. So the school should make the rules. But in fact, parents still need to step up and mentor their kids around that many parents may need to take that device away at night. Just because the school sent home an iPad doesn’t mean your kid needs 24/7 access to it.
Oh, my gosh, this conversation could go in so many directions. And I feel this big responsibility to ask the right questions for my audience, because your expertise is so vast, and we could cover so many things. So I would love to just for a minute go back to social lives and kids who, who may do better with social relationships on screens than they do in real time. What do you know about that in terms of the value of those relationships? This isn’t a question I told you. I was going to ask, but I’m really curious, you know, do you see value in online relationships? Do you think that those kinds of connections can actually help our kids learn social emotional skills?
Devorah Heitner 19:30
I think that they can, but I do think they need a lot of mentorship from adults. And this is where it gets tricky. So if your child, for example, has a strong interest, say they’re really into Harry Potter, and they join some online Harry Potter communities, and this may be a really good social outlet for them. I would also encourage them to see if there are any kid appropriate face to face meetups that come with that community. And that’s I would never send my kid to a face-to-face meet up from someone they met on the internet without me right especially, I mean, my son is nine, so for sure, not in elementary school. But even as they get older, we need to teach kids that, yes, it’s okay to connect with people with shared interests online. And that can be a good thing. But we also have to have a level of skepticism and an important sense of like, How much power does that person have in your life, like, if my child was getting into a romantic relationship with someone they met online, even if it was like, maybe they did fall in love on a Harry Potter site. And there are people there today who fell in love in situations like this. And, you know, many of us have partners that we actually met on the internet. So I don’t want to demonize that. But I would be very cautious about someone getting really close to my kid, especially if my kid was very isolated in their day-to-day life, at school, maybe if they didn’t have a lot of friends in their own local community, I would just really want to be sure I knew what was going on. So that’s where I always talk about mentoring, over monitoring. But I would say with a kid with special needs, especially if you know, you use the term differently wired, but especially if they seem like they’re more vulnerable than a typical kid. Or if they’re more trusting, maybe if they have a history of maybe having a lot of trust with people, sometimes inappropriately, then I would say some monitoring might be appropriate. And that’s something I would disclose to them, I wouldn’t go into covertly monitoring kids. There are very few cases where I feel like covertly monitoring makes sense. But I think letting your child know, hey, I have access to your communication. And I’m not here to mess with, you know what you’re doing. And I’m not here to not let you make friends online. But it’s important that someone else is able to look at some of this in case there’s ever a situation that worries us. And that’s how I would frame it. And obviously, I would, I would nuance that discussion a little differently, depending on the age of the child, and how much how in depth those online relationships or if your kids just playing Minecraft, or Roblox with other kids, you know, on a public server, I would just go with a very basic safety talk. If they’re getting into more complex relationships, or they’re following someone on YouTube and commenting a lot on their channel, it’s getting more personal. That’s where I would, you know, really want to be clear that they’re staying safe in terms of their privacy and their and their hearts. You know, you don’t want your kid to lose that trust in the world because of someone trying to scam them or abuse them in some way.
Debbie Reber 22:16
Yeah, I mean, you talk about this idea of being tech savvy. And that’s something I think a lot of us are, we believe our kids are way more tech savvy than we are, then there’s also this wisdom that we as adults bring to the relationship that we don’t necessarily need to be tech savvy to be able to share that. Can you talk more about the distinction between those two things?
Devorah Heitner 22:38
Absolutely. So our lived experience helps us know, wow, if I go down this road, in this group tax, it’s going to lead to conflict and some difficult conversations. Or if I see a picture where I’m left out, I probably don’t want to call the person and yell at them. Because that’s not a good way for me to continue the friendship. So it’s important for us to bring in that knowledge of previous experiences and our knowledge of where this going to go. Whereas our kids may react much more impulsively, to experiences, whether it’s seeing a picture where they’re left out, or getting a text and feeling like they have to respond even if it’s in the middle of the night. So we can really counsel them to be patient to think through their response. And also to let them think through how to repair if something goes wrong, if something goes awry in a conversation with someone else.
Debbie Reber 23:31
And this is really where then that mentorship comes in. And I love that you use that word, you know, I think of us as parents often is. And I refer to this with myself and Asher, you know that a lot of what I do is coach him, you know, I see that as a big part of my role is to look for opportunities to help him strength in areas of lagging skills, and the executive functioning and all of those things. So can you talk more about how you see our role as parents is mentoring our kids?
Devorah Heitner 24:00
Absolutely. Some of it is just sharing our own experience. I mean, if I run into something on my own Twitter, or Facebook, in a world that is uncomfortable or difficult, I might have a solution. Or maybe I didn’t handle it well. So I can share that with my kid. Or hopefully I did handle it really well. And I could share that story. But just the ways we curate our experience day to day, the way we might see something that we don’t like or if it makes us uncomfortable, we can share that with our kids so that they know Oh, that’s a behavior that might make someone uncomfortable. It’s really great for our kids to see us in the world. And to know that we make mistakes too. And I responded too hastily to that email. And now I have a lot of cleanup to do in that relationship or that work situation and I wish I’d taken the time to think it through or even talk in person instead. So I think letting them know that we’ve been there and also letting them know that it is genuinely challenging that we recognize me. That’s one of the great things about coaching is we’re not saying oh this is so easy. Why don’t you get it? You’re saying, Yeah, this is really challenging and you know, baby steps.
Debbie Reber 25:03
So it sounds like just talking out loud about our experience modeling our own kind of navigating tricky online situations, or virtual relationships is important. But then I also just talk about modeling a little more, you know, there’s so many articles that I see being shared about, you know, what are our kids thinking, when we’re on our phones all the time, there was a video that went viral last year, I believe, trying to show the impact of a baby, you know, trying to get their parents attention when their parent was, you know, looking down at their phone the whole time. So, this is shifting gears a little bit. But what are your thoughts on that in terms of how we can best model responsible screen behavior to support our kids learning the same things?
Devorah Heitner 25:52
As the most connected person in my family, I can say that it’s really important for me to listen, and even put down I’m much more connected with my laptop than I am with my phone, even even 10 years into smartphone ownership, or however long it’s been, I’m still much more conversant with a laptop, and I will close it now when I talked to him and even put it away. Whereas years went by where I would just shut it to half-mast and kind of look over it. And I recognized finally, that that wasn’t good enough, and that he was just way too smart for that he knew I was kind of still dividing my attention in half. So for me closing, it is really good, good and clear. And also making it really an important rule. I mean, these are things that many families do, but not having devices at the table. And we’re in a small space. So sometimes the table is a workspace, but once it transforms into a meal space, we all put our devices away. And I think that’s really important. And then also just recognizing what are the habits of mind that we’re cultivating if every time we have a question about the world, we immediately Google the answer. You know, we’re not really letting curiosity or other kinds of research methods bubbled to the top. And we certainly all have search skills in the family to find the answer, maybe on Google, but there may be other reasons to be patient and wait to find out the answer. Or we also don’t want to undermine our own authority with our kid, right? If you want your kid to ask you the hard questions about God, or sex or death, or Santa Claus, or whatever it is, you might not want them Googling it. Right? And so being really clear with kids about what the big issues in life are, and how maybe they should come to you first and not Alexa or Google.
Debbie Reber 27:31
Oh, I love that. Well, let’s talk about, you know, guidelines. Now, again, jumping around, but you were talking about some of the habits, you’re trying to foster the rules that you have about no screens at the table, which I totally agree with. For so many differently wired kids, there is a strong draw to technology, many of them are doing really cool work, you know, they’re learning how to code or they’re, you know, that’s where their creativity comes out. And it can be tricky. I think a lot of parents find themselves weighing the value of screentime. And you know, if they’re using it for good, or to further their intellectual pursuits, is that different than just mindlessly watching YouTube? Or you know, someone playing Minecraft, or? I don’t know, I’m just curious, your thoughts on maybe this is a two-prong question, whether or not you think all of screen media is created equal, and how we as parents can think about setting guidelines that respect our kids interests and pursuits while also trying to find a balance there.
Devorah Heitner 28:38
Absolutely. screentime is, in some ways, an obsolete term. I mean, I think we all still are using it. But I would love to get people beyond it. Because it doesn’t, it’s not really descriptive. If I use Google, the Google lady tells me how to get somewhere and then I use the Mark Bittman app to cook my dinner. You know, have I used up all my screen time? And now I can’t watch Netflix. I mean, is that even a useful way to think about how I use technology to get me through the day? Right? So I really like Howard Gardner’s term app enabled versus app dependence. And I think we all want to raise kids who sometimes are enabled by apps. And you know, whether it’s my kid making a Lego animation are another kid using speech to text, or, you know, kids who are coding and creating things, and absolutely active and creative use is different than passive use. They’re both good, right? When we’re passively reading a book, in some sense, that’s passive use of technology, right? We’re just taking it in, we want our kids to read, but we also want them to create and write and film and code and, and to take the interest that they’re supporting on YouTube like Minecraft and cooking into real life. Whereas, you know, where maybe they then actually play the game or mentor their kids about how to play the game or maybe if your kid is obsessed with cooking shows that they’re actually going to learn to cook something. I mean, we want our kids also to be able to navigate in the world and ultimately survive on their own right and so all of these things have to be taken into account. Now. You What that looks like in a family with, you know, one or more kids is complicated because I think a lot of people, you know, I speak at schools all the time, and everyone’s like, how many minutes or you know what age for this or, I mean, people really want these concrete guidelines. And we have to look at how it supports our kid. I mean, for my family, we live in Chicago, which has pretty horrendous weather in the winter. And so we absolutely have more screen time as a family in the winter, in the summer my kid asked for a second show to go outside. If it’s, you know, super freezing cold, I might say, well do something different with a screen or do something different in the house, like maybe make some videos, or maybe you want to do an interactive game, but maybe you can’t watch another show if you’ve watched a show or two, right? So we’re trying to change it up. So I think that responding to the individual situation, responding to what’s needed, reminding, my kid is very brain aware, and very interested in how his brain works. And so I’ve remained, I can remind him, hey, remember, when you don’t get exercise, you don’t sleep as well. Or, you know, when you watch a couple of shows, it really detracts from your mood, remember, and so, logic doesn’t always work. And I’m not suggesting that parenting is a kind of democratic situation where my kid makes the perfect decision, because I’ve reminded him about how his brain works. But if you have a kid who’s interested in that and wants to be at their optimal functioning, you can certainly try that strategy. A lot of kids also need a little downtime from really intense interactions, especially video games. So if you think about it, if you were driving a race car or performing brain surgery, and then you immediately had to be at a dinner party, without even so much as a commute home, you might have a hard time switching gears. And that’s a bit what it’s like to ask your child to come to dinner from playing an intense video game. And so talking to kids about building in that transition time, whether it’s breath, work, a few jumps on a trampoline, jog around the block, most kids will need some transition time to move from certain kinds of intense tech engagements into dinner and with a family where you’re going to expect them to interact and make eye contact and other things.
Debbie Reber 32:00
Oh, that’s good. And of course, you know, I want to ask you, how much is too much. This comes up all the time, I was just doing a virtual book club group for my book Differently Wired and we got down this road to talking about screen times. And that’s the question everyone wants to know, do we need limits? Or is it okay, you know, some parents don’t have limits? I’m just curious, your professional opinion on that question.
Devorah Heitner 32:26
Some kids, for sure, well, all kids probably need some limits, some kids need a lot more active role in, you know, by us in placing those limits. And whether you use some external thing, you know, some people use, you know, apps or products, you know, circle or other things to like, actually shut their kids down at a certain time or shut off the family WiFi at a certain time, I would say using tech to control tech has limits as a strategy. But it’s certainly one way to do it. And it can de personalize it. And also, I speak as a parent of one. And I always want to have some humility. If I had seven, I might go for that tech solution. You know, if I had like, a couple of sets of twins in my house, or kids with more hacking ability, my kids like a moderate level hacker, but he’s like a really intense hacker, like, that’s not his thing. Like, my kid is not spending hours trying to figure out our passwords, there are kids who will, if I had that kid, I might have a more sophisticated system, my system right now is that we have the password for everything. And in order to use it, he has to ask us to use it, we put in the password, and then we’re in. We have quite a lot of control that way. That’s a very basic way of having control. It’s not his device, it’s my device, if I don’t put the password in, it’s a useless device where. So that’s a very simple thing to do. But again, you know, everybody’s situation varies. But I would say if you’re using tech to Control Tech, I would also make sure you’re still having the conversations. Because the thing is, even if you’re using a filter, or using tack, to enforce your rules, that it’s not giving you the information you want about your child’s mood, about their sleep, about the quality of the interactions they’re having, when you know, a lot of parents will say, Oh, should I let my child have this app? Well, if your child doesn’t have friends, then who are they on Snapchat with? I mean, that’s really the question, right? So I would really look at what are the relationships that are going to be growing or enforced or reinforced in this space. If your child’s gonna play Minecraft, it’s very different to set them up to play with their cousins than to let them play on a public server with just anyone. And you know, your seventh grader could be fine playing on a public server. But again, look at your child. Is this a kid who’s made good decisions in the past about disclosure versus discretion? Is this a kid who might be kind of vulnerable? Is this a kid who’s gonna pick up language and not know how to not use it? In that case, you may not want them playing on a public server because they are going to learn some words if they haven’t learned them already. They’re gonna learn and play games with kids on servers, right?
Debbie Reber 34:43
So you talked about you know that your son is one of the things you’re doing is helping him remember or recognize that oh, you know, I don’t sleep as well when I don’t get as much exercise or you know, just and that he’s interested in that and Asher’s similar in that way. I think that speaks to kind of what our bigger goals are for our kids in terms of the relationship, we want to help them develop the healthy relationship we want them to develop with regards to phones and computers and screens in general. So just taking a big zoom out, what are we working towards here? What should our goals as parents be for our kids to successfully launch and have a healthy relationship with technology?
Devorah Heitner 35:26
That is a great question. What we want is for kids to be able to pull back and look at, you know, well, I had a week where I spent a lot of time playing video games, and it kind of wrecked my sleep. But well, it was really fun that one time on the weekend, where, you know, I did play, you know, a lot with my friends, Mike got really good. And so maybe I need to mostly plan the weekends. Like maybe school nights aren’t so great for video games for me, or, you know, to make those kinds of conclusions. And, you know, you see kids who are 10, and they’re ready to make those great decisions. And then you meet young people who are 17. And they’re really not making a decision. So it’s gonna vary over the course of somebody’s life. But I wish that I knew as much as my son’s very keyed into the relationship between exercise and his mood in a way that it took me to my late 30s to get to. So I think I’d like to think we helped him but honestly, he’s just living in a world where there’s more exercise literacy. And that’s great. And so if we can get there with screens, if I can say, Well, my brain feels really fragmented, because instead of turning off the Wi Fi during part of my workday, so I could just write I spent the entire day being interrupted by email, and I never turned it off. I’m going to see if I feel as fragmented tomorrow, if I take two hours after lunch, when I don’t have any calls on my calendar, and just right with my email and social notifications turned off and see if I get more done, see if I feel more focused. And having those conversations again, in front of our kids, letting them know that sometimes we have to take apps off our phone, because they’re a distraction, talking with them about, you know, all the research about distraction, it’s really helpful because they can get there. Now, again, that doesn’t mean that they’re never gonna stay up all night, doing something we wish they went in. And so it’s also about whether you have a kid who can then learn from natural consequences, because sometimes kids will do that once or twice and be kind of racked and say, okay, that really wasn’t great, other kids, it keeps happening. And it really could be hard on their mental health or their grades. And we might have to take sterner measures and say, Okay, I’m going to just take this device at night, this isn’t working.
Debbie Reber 37:20
So for parents listening, I feel like, you know, this is a hard question to answer. But even just a couple of strategies, like or maybe kind of your top tip for parents, you know, I love what you just said, it seems like it’s really just understanding and really getting to know who your child is how they relate to technology, and being very individualized, like there’s no one size fits all solution, but you have kind of one strategy or word of advice for parents who are maybe feeling overwhelmed. Maybe they feel like their kids have developed habits that they wish they could put the brakes on. And maybe they feel like that’s not possible, like how do they begin to develop this more positive mentorship role to support their child?
Devorah Heitner 38:08
Well, I would say try to play with a play at least a little. If your kid is really into something, have them teach it to you, not that you ever want to get in there to like one up your kid. I mean, let them be better at Minecraft or fortnight than you please you know, right, you have other things to do shortly, but know enough about it to understand what it is if you’re curious if you even want to let your kid dive into something like a lot of parents aren’t sure about fortnight. And that’s a valid question, right? It’s a shooter game, you know, it’s not for my nine-year-old, right? It might be for your 15-year-old, it just really depends. But you want to look at diving into some information about it. But as much as possible, stay curious about what your kids are into, and think about what they’re getting out of it. Why would your kid love Instagram, maybe it’s all about the filters. If your six-year-old asked her Instagram, it’s probably not because that’s where her friends are, or because she wants to communicate with her friends, she probably saw pictures with a cool filter, well, maybe you could let her play with Photoshop, or one of the sort of cheap alternatives to Photoshop, right? Maybe she just wants to, you know, mess around with images. So the more we know about what our kids are into, the more we can actually find age-appropriate ways to support those interests. And staying curious is a really good idea, observing the way our kids do talk to their friends about these things, making sure that our kids aren’t feeling too much pressure to just have an app or a specific piece of technology, a specific kind of phone just because that’s what the peers have. So that I mean, you’re homeschooling but certainly in school, like having visible technology is a big thing, like walking around with a certain phone in many communities is a big deal. So it’s very similar to having a certain kind of sneaker or jeans in that way, but it’s a much more functional piece of equipment. Right? So we want to be really cautious about what you know, getting your kid a phone is very different from getting them a pair of jeans. It opens up a lot more possibilities for them. So I feel like I’m not. I want to come back to what you initially said. Just stay curious. And also don’t be in a rush. If your kid asks you for a piece of tech or an app, you don’t have to say yes or no right away, you can say, Let me think about it and do your own research, talk to other parents who have kids who are your kids age or older, and see what their experience is, you know, if if you’re contemplating a certain new step, you can ask parents of kids, you know, and say, Well, I’m thinking of doing this what what’s come up for you guys, what should I look out for? Do you regret it? So we have to make sure our kids don’t expect that automatic greenlight right away. And I think I’ll think about it and giving them a little time to research it is really helpful.
Debbie Reber 40:40
Yeah, I found out when I’ve used that, or my husband is a gamer. And then I always say I need your dad to explore this, and we need to discuss it. And I’d say, half the time, he ends up losing interest in moving on anyway, before we even get back to him. So I like taking the time and not rushing into something.
Devorah Heitner 40:59
Exactly. I think that’s a good strategy for all of those reasons. And then, you know, if your kids still asking week upon week, well, then maybe this is something that they’re really interested in. And that again, doesn’t mean you have to say yes, but it’s certainly an interesting sign. Just like, you know, if your kid wanted to take up a certain martial art or, you know, was really interested in, you know, something kind of esoteric, and you were about to spend a lot of money to help them pursue that, or you know, a lot of time, it’d be worth kind of seeing, are they still interested in two weeks? Right? That’s a fine strategy for many things with parenting
Debbie Reber 41:30
For many things in life. Yeah.
Devorah Heitner 41:32
Yeah. I mean, I asked myself that to, you know, am I still, when I, when I thought about writing ScreenWise, I was like, Well, let me see if I still want to do this in a month, let me just write a bunch of things. And then months went by, and I was writing more and more. And I thought, Yes, I do want to do this. But it’s worth checking that before you commit to a big project as an adult, it’s, it’s so true.
Debbie Reber 41:49
It’s so true. Well, you mentioned ScreenWise, so can you tell us where people can reach you and learn more about your work and about your book?
Devorah Heitner 41:57
Absolutely. So Screenwise is available anywhere, you can buy books, and it’s come out in a couple of other languages as well. So in the US, all the online retailers and bookstores should have it, and same thing, you know, elsewhere. And your library too. And my website is raisingdigitalnatives.com. And that’s where I blog and where you can also sign up for my list. And I send about once a month a new post out to people with new information. So I’ve been writing a lot this summer about YouTube, and advising people on what to do if their kid wants to start a channel, how to manage the YouTube things kids watch. And those are the kinds of things I like to share with parents or big ideas about friendship and kids in the digital age. And it’s also a place where people sometimes send me questions that then lead to things that I write, which I really appreciate. So I’m always grateful if someone sends me a question that maybe sends me down the road of writing a new article or adding something to my talks.
Debbie Reber 42:53
Oh, that’s great. Well, super interesting. Again, there’s so many things we could talk about. But I appreciate all the wisdom that you shared today. And I encourage listeners to definitely check out divorce website and her book screen wise, which I read and really enjoyed. And thank you again for stopping by today. I really appreciate it.
Devorah Heitner 43:15
Thank you. I love what you’re doing with Differently Wired and with the podcast. And I think there’s just so much that’s exciting and fun. So I guess that’s the other thing I want to leave parents with is you could have a lot of fun making a YouTube cooking channel with your kid or you know, coding with your kids. So don’t discount the fun factor.
Debbie Reber 43:32
Yes, thank you. Thank you for that. You bet been listening to the Tilt Parenting podcast for the show notes for this episode, visit tiltparenting.com/session127. Because the audience for this podcast has grown substantially in the past few months, I wanted to share with you one of the free resources I offer on tilde parenting, in case you’re new to tilt or you haven’t had a chance to poke around on the website. So far, nearly 1500 parents have participated in the Differently Wired Seven Day Challenge. This is a virtual challenge whereby every day for seven days, you’ll get a short one-to-three-minute video delivered to your inbox featuring a practical shift you can make in your world to help you have a more positive and optimistic experience in parenting your kiddo. You’ll also be invited to join a private Facebook group with other parents who have participated or currently are participating in the challenge. And I’ve heard from parents that the challenge has made an immediate difference in their day to day life which is fantastic because that is exactly why I created it. So I would love for you to join in and it won’t add more to your plate. I promise rather it’s going to give you some food for thought as you go about your daily life. So to get started, just sign up at tiltparenting.com/sevenday and a quick reminder if you haven’t had a chance to check out my new book Differently Wired and you want to see If that’s for you, don’t forget, you can download the first chapter and table of contents at tiltparenting.com/book. And if you have read it and liked what you read, I would be grateful if you would consider leaving a review on Amazon. And if you have an account on Goodreads go ahead and leave one there too. Those reviews mean more visibility for the book and I want to make sure that people who would benefit from its message can easily find it. Lastly, I couldn’t enter a podcast without my weekly reminder to leave a rating or a review or both for this show on Apple podcast. Thank you for considering doing that. That really helps our podcast stay highly visible in a world of 1000s and 1000s of podcasts and more popping on every day. So thanks so much. And thanks again for listening. For more information on Tilt Parenting, visit www.tiltparenting.com
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