Ep. 81 – Dr. Kristy Goodwin – SCREENS! Tots To Teens
- Why using tech-time as a reward or the removal of tech-time as a punishment is problematic
- How to co-create a tech plan with your kids so they believe in its benefits and boundaries
- Counting the cost between digital boundaries and connection with our kids
Dr. Kristy Goodwin believes bombarding parents with warnings about pornography, social media, and screen addiction renders us ineffective. Techno-guilting turns us off and shuts us down. And, expecting parents to stay savvy with all the newest online options is unrealistic.
In this episode, Kristy introduces an easy-to-understand guide for creating a meaningful tech plan with our kids, and an explanation for why and how we help them buy into the plan.
Dr. Kristy GoodwinDr. Kristy Goodwin is a speaker, author, and media commentator focused on supporting professionals and parents with research-based strategies for sustainable and healthy tech-usage plans. In the last decades, technology has emerged as an integral part of our lives. Because we don’t yet know the long-term implications of its arrival, of course, we want to monitor its impact on our social, emotional, physical, and mental well-being.
Dr. Kristy believes there is no benefit to techno guilt. Digital realities are here to stay, to be understood, and to be navigated. Banning and avoiding technology is not a viable solution. In this conversation, Kristy introduces a helpful framework for creating a wise technology plan that applies to everyone - tots to teens - and one that can carry right on through to adulthood.
Ep. 81 – Dr. Kristy Goodwin – SCREENS! Tots To Teens
Rachel Cram – Alright! Well, good morning, Dr. Kristy.
Dr. Kristy Goodwin – Good morning. Great to be here.
RC – Oh, it is so great to have you here. I feel like this conversation has been in the waiting since the very start of family360 because you were recommended to us by so many of our guests. And they all said, “Oh, you got to get Dr. Kristy on.”
And so here we are three years later, because you know what, during the pandemic didn’t feel like it was a good time to dissect tech and screen dilemmas because tech was serving many of us as a lifeline. But now we’re reorienting so I come seeking your counsel.
KG – I think most parents recalibrated their screentime rules during lockdowns and remote learning. I know we certainly did. And I think that became a norm for a lot of people. But then many parents have been left with the digital hangover. So kids that have to develop some unhealthy digital dependencies, some unhealthy digital habits, parents are now saying, “I can’t revert back to how things were. It’s really hard to remove the device. They can’t put it down. It’s the first thing they wake up for. It’s the last thing they do before they fall asleep or they fall asleep with it.”
So, if you are grappling with these digital dilemmas, you’re not alone. This is an issue facing so many parents at this current point in time.
RC – Oh, I want to talk about all of that. I feel like I have lost control of my kids technologically through the pandemic so I really want to talk to you about that. But before we go there, I’d love to start with a question, just to let listeners know a little bit more about you. And I also want to acknowledging you’re doing this interview at 5AM your time to fit us into your day, which is so kind of you.
KG – So this is my prime time. You’ve got me at my best time of the day.
RC – Well you look. Fabulous. So
KG – Thank you.
RC – Well, here is the question then, Aristotle stated, “Give me a child at seven and I will show you the adult.”
And so I’m wondering, Kristy, is there a story or experience from your childhood that you see as informative of the person that you are today?
KG – So I grew up with two younger siblings and I was always playing teacher. I would go and get my mum’s high heels my big bangles and a bag that my grandma gave me for dress ups. And I would teach whoever was available. I would instruct Teddy bears, Cabbage Patch Kids, dolls, whoever I could find that was available for some tuition. They were my captive audience.
And so I had this internal pull to go and teach and did a study as a teacher. And then I found my sweet spot. So I was a teacher for 14 years before I became an academic. So yes, those formative years have paid dividends. And I still teach today, but teach in a slightly different way.
RC – I wanted to be a teacher so badly as well. But my big draw was I wanted the power of being able to choose what hand. When the hands went up, I wanted to be able to choose who I was going to bring forth to the front of the class. It was all about control for me. And I trained on my younger siblings as well. I always thought they loved it but looking back maybe not so much.
So you went on then to do your PhD, and is that in technological studies?
KG – It was. So whilst I was teaching I had minimal training in technology, but had this interactive whiteboard wheeled into the classroom and asked, “Could you do a demonstration lesson?” We were having a school tour.
So I spent nine and a half hours, I remember on the Saturday, preparing this interactive whiteboard lesson, and the lesson that I’d spent nine and a half hours took about 2 minutes. So, but I could see using the interactive whiteboard how engaged the students were and how it presented really abstract concepts in a different way. And that started to spark an interest. What was it about the online world that’s so captivating and alluring for these students?
And there was a real paucity of research on children and technology at the time, particularly educational technologies. So I thought, I’m going to fill that gap. And I went and did a PhD looking at the impact technology was having, particularly in children’s mathematics learning.
And then when I finished my PhD, it was around the time schools in Australia were rolling out what they called BYOD initiatives. So Bring Your Own Device. So children were being encouraged to bring iPads and laptops and other digital technologies. So schools were saying, “This is great, but we’ve got parents on our doorsteps saying if this is a device that they then bring home, I can’t manage it at home. I’ve got my son or daughter throwing techno tantrums. I can’t control what they watch. They’re spending more time than ever on it.” And then it’s grown from there.
RC -And it’s so complicated because now that it is in schools, you as a parent don’t really have the choice to hold your child off technology, and maybe we shouldn’t be doing that anyways, but it’s a huge shift in our control as parents and this is why we’ve come to you.
KG – It is and I say, as a mum to three sons myself, I find this hard to navigate because one of the reasons is the technology is constantly changing and evolving. So in the online world we have something that’s called the digital penetration rate. So the penetration rate describes how many years it takes the digital technology to penetrate to 50 million global users. So I don’t know if you remember, Rachel, the sound of dial-up-internet. Remember the duuddddddd? Well, that took 13 years until 50 million people had it. Facebook took four years until 50 million people had it. YouTube took two years. Angry Birds, do you remember when Angry Birds was a phenomenon? It took 35 days. Pokémon Go, do you remember when people were walking around with? That took two days.
RC – 50 million people in 2 days! Wow.
KG – So the technology is growing and changing at exponential rates, and parents find it incredibly hard to keep up. Just when they finally understand what Fortnite is along will come something else and supersede it. So what I say to parents is, it is hard to keep up, and there are some places and resources that I recommend people go to keep abreast of these changes, but what we have as parents that our children and our teenagers simply do not have is fully developed brain architecture. So we have to be the pilot, or with adolescents, the copilot of the digital plane and not the passenger.
We cannot abdicate our responsibility and hope our kids will find their way through this digital terrain because they do not have the skills, the life experiences, nor the brain architecture to navigate this. So we have to assume a really active role as parents.
RC – Which is very overwhelming. And it just makes me sweat because I feel like, “How do you keep up with this?” You’re just saying how fast things are moving.
When I was a child, my parents were very strict on half an hour a day of TV. That was it. And, it wasn’t until I was 14 that I got the freedom to have more because I started babysitting and so then when I had the kids in bed, I could watch more TV. And so that was my experience growing up.
Well, now there is no way that I could limit my 12 year old to half an hour of screen a day. It’s just not possible to do that. And figuring out how we’re going to keep up, it just feels like an impossible task.
So as a parenting expert yourself, do you mind me starting by asking in general, how have you found navigating technology with your three sons? Have you found it stressful? Even with your degree?
KG – Oh, absolutely. And I’m going to pick up on something. You use the word parenting expert. I often cringe when I hear those words. I think those two words are an oxymoron. Anyone who professes to be an expert at parenting is duping you. We’re all figuring this out on the fly. No one’s got this sorted. And to prove this point, I left my mobile phone unlocked one day while I went to the bathroom. And my son, who was four at the time, found my unlocked phone. He changed my Google ID from the name Kristy Goodwin to the name Stinky Bum Bum. I was completely oblivious to the fact that he had done this. I was sitting in a television studio and the producer said, “Kristy, I just need to airdrop some graphics to you, but I can’t find your name in the list of users.”
I unlocked my phone, my shock horror there it was. I had been replying to a journalist at a very prestigious newspaper here in Sydney earlier that morning, still unaware that this was happening and the emails were coming from Stinky Bum Bum as well. So I haven’t got this figured out. I’m learning on the fly. So I just wanted to put that caveat in to say, I’m not a parenting expert.
RC – Okay. I want to say two things. One, amazing your child knew how to spell Stinky Bum Bum at four. Kudos.
KG – He didn’t. Please do not be. He used voice commands.
RC – Okay. Even more. That at four they know how to do that. That is an awesome story. I know I’ve been on Zoom calls before where my kids have been on Zoom and have done it so like my my lips will come out like they’re black. Like all these things, I’m like, I have no idea how to get that off. So I just do the whole zoom call with a mustache or black lips, whatever the thing is that they put on.
But this is what I’m meaning. Like, we we can’t keep up. Like when our four year old can do Stinky Bum Bum through audio text. Like, I just figured out audio texting a couple of years ago, so it is so hard to keep up.
One of the things I’m aware of as a parent is on the big ticket items with my kids. So things like learning to ride a bike, learning to drive a car, I’ve got a plan in place. Like, I know if I’m going to teach them how to ride a bike, I’m going to start with one of those little strider bikes, which are so awesome, and then we’ll probably not even need training wheels because they’ve been on a strider bike, they’re going to learn to ride quickly. And you know, I know the process. Driver’s license, you know, you’ve got the learners first. You know how to introduce those big ticket items to them to keep them safe.
How do we introduce technology like that? Are there strider bike systems? Ways to logically progress in helping our kids steer their way into technology and screens so they don’t crash?
KG – In an ideal world, yes, I think we would have some incremental stages where we’ve introduced technology.
RC – This is not starting out well. You’re about to say no?
KG – Yeah, well, I’m buttering you up first. Before I hit you with the, “No,” I think it’s really challenging to do that. I have so many parents who say, “I wish I didn’t dunk my child in the digital stream as early as what I did, but I was fighting pressure. You know, when it’s on the station released at school that you need a tablet, it’s really hard to then say, “Okay, we’re totally screen free at home.”
Digital technologies have crept into every single crevice of our lives. This is why we see toddlers and infants going up to any sort of screen and tapping, swiping and pinching at it. Our world’s become saturated with screens.
So this is why I say digital amputation or digital abstinence are not realistic solutions. The reality is we have to learn how to live in a digital world. Am I saying that we give toddlers and young children touch screens and give them lots of technology? Absolutely not.
My advice to parents is to delay dunking them in that digital stream for as long as you can. In those really formative years when they’re preschoolers and toddlers as much joint media engagement, so co-viewing as possible.
RC – What do you mean by co-viewing?
KG – So, sitting on your smartphone, going through videos of the zoo trip that you went on. Sitting down, having a zoom call or a face time with grandparents who live overseas. So as much functional and joint media engagement as possible.
Now, as a mom to three, I know that’s not always feasible. Sometimes, the screen can be the digital pacifier, it can be the digital soother. But we have to be really cognizant about not always placating our kids with the screen because then we are bypassing really critical stages of emotional development, self-regulation skills when always given a screen to soothe those big emotions; boredom, frustration, anger, disappointment.
So, delaying it as long as possible, using as much with them, even showing an interest when they get older, ask them about the games that they’re playing or the apps that they’re using.
And I encourage families to come up with digital guardrails. So practices, rules, restrictions, agreements about not only how much time, screen time is important and I’m not for a moment suggesting we give kids unlimited amounts of time on the devices, but we should be having more nuanced conversations rather than just narrowly obsessing about how much time they’re spending online. And I believe these habits start from the minute you hand your toddler a smartphone. We need to be having these conversations and limits and discussions around how we’re using technology.
RC – And in your experience Kristy, with your research and years consulting parents and school boards and communities, how are you seeing these kinds of conversations around using technology going for most parents?
KG – To be honest, a lot of parents are abdicating their responsibility in this space because they’re saying, I don’t know what these tools are that they’re using. I don’t know what the apps are or the games that they’re playing.
RC – And it’s not because of lack of care. For me, it’s not because of lack of love or concern. It just feels impossible.
KG – It does. We’re trying to chase a moving target. You know, just when you finally do understand what the funny filters on TikTok are or what they’re doing online, along will come something else.
RC – It all changes.
KG – Yeah. So we’ve got to make it simple for parents. If we make this too scary or too convoluted, parents are going to tune out.
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RC – I have to sheepishly admit Kristy, I have tuned out to so many tech proposal plans for my kids because they feel too complicated. And, you’re right, the scare approach kind of overwhelms me to be honest. It leaves me feeling hopeless. So I get why parents can’t do it. But your work, I think I can do what your suggesting. So, can you start? Can you describe where we start with a tech plan?
KG – So, to be the pilot or the copilot of the plane, I say we’ve got to get three Bs, right?
RC – 3 Bs?
KG – Yeah.
RC – Ok. Give them to us. I’m taking notes.
KG – So the first B is we have to set boundaries not on our kids, but with their kids. We have to co construct these digital guardrails. We need to think about, yes, how much time is important, but it’s not the be all and end all. It’s not the most important question. What are they doing? Do you know the digital playgrounds they’re playing in? Where are they using devices?
When are they using them? Times of the day are really critical. We know a concerning number of children and adolescents are not meeting their sleep requirements. One of the chief reasons is because of the blue light of screens impacts the production of melatonin, which not only delays the onset of sleep, but it also shrinks their deep and REM sleep stages. With whom? Do you know who they’re interacting with? The older they get, the harder that becomes.
RC – Oh, absolutely.
KG – So I think the first B around those boundaries and I mentioned it in passing, we have to co construct those. Giving your son or daughter an iPad agreement or a phone contract, will not work. If they’ve had no buy in, if they have not constructed this agreement, it will fall on deaf ears.
Now, I remind parents boundaries are a little bit like vegetables. Your kids will not want them, but they need them. Your son or daughter will never come to you and say, Mum, Dad, how about some really firm screen time limits? It’s never going to happen. Just like they never going to come to you and say, “I love an extra serving of broccoli and side of carrots tonight,” but they need these things.
So I think we have to set those boundaries as much as we can in collaboration. The setting of boundaries, as we all know, is the easy part. Enforcing them is the hard part.
RC – Absolutely yeah. I think, a natural way that parents can tend to want to enforce boundaries around technology. And I would love to have your input on this, is by using the removal of technology as a punishment and the offering of technology as a reward, because I feel like that’s such a common thing that you hear parents saying. And I say it myself, too. “Well, if you do this, you’re going to lose screen time. Or if you do this, then you’re going to get some screen time. And I’m wondering what you think about that?
KG – It’s a very common practice. I live by Maya Angelou’s beautiful saying, “When you know better, you do better.” I don’t like to ever ‘should’ on parents. I think we get ‘should’ upon all the time. But I’m going to strongly discourage parents from using technology as a reward or a punishment.
Now, we could have a conversation about rewards and punishments on their own. Research tells us that, yes, rewards and punishments do work, but they work more for the parent than the child. They work more in the short term than long term. So when my child misbehaves, I punish them and I have made them learn a lesson.
I don’t know about you, Rachel. When I grew up, I’d get sent to my bedroom. Not once, ever when I was in my bedroom being punished for whatever my misdemeanor was. did I ever sit and reflect and think next time I’m exasperated, I’m going to take three deep breaths. I’m not going to lash out and say unkind things to my mum.”
Not once. I never did that. Punishments, they don’t work for the child.
So when it comes to technology as a reward, and I’m the first to admit I sometimes use technology as the reward, it’s not saying never, ever do it. You know, when grandma rings and says, “I’m just going to pop over,” and the house looks like a bomb site, I will dangle that digital carrot, “Quick boys, tidy up. When Grandma goes, we can use some devices.”
Like that, I think, from time to time. But if technology is constantly used as a reward, I think two things happen. The first thing is we put technology on a pedestal. They already love it. Why would we offer them more and more of it? We don’t want to be using it as an enticement.
The second part of using it as a reward is it develops a transactional relationship with our child. They will so quickly realize what’s in it for me. They will push you into a no-win corner. “I will unpack the dishwasher if I can play on the PlayStation. I will..,” insert what your request is with their digital demand. And so it doesn’t work in the long term.
Now the flip side is I understand many parents use technology as a punishment. Many parents think it’s the only commodity of value in their child’s life. It comes back to when we punish, we want to hit them where it hurts, metaphorically speaking. That pain point. What’s really going to resonate for them?
And so I often share a story of a young girl who was 12, and she started to receive WhatsApp messages from a boy who was in the grade above. She was sitting in her bedroom. It was late at night and as the night was progressing, the conversation shifted and this boy started demanding that this girl send him nude photographs.
She said, “Leave me alone. That’s inappropriate.”
And he badgered this girl until he sent three photoshopped images of another person’s naked body with her head on it, saying, “If you don’t send me the real deal, I’m going to share this.” And listed off a whole lot of group chats that they were both part of and some social media platforms.
Now, at night, we know the prefrontal cortex, the thinking, the CEO of the brain, it switches off. This is why we have more arguments with our kids and our partners at night. And instead at night, part of the brain that fires up, is called the amygdala, it’s the emotional hub of the brain. This is why we know most cyberbullying, most online predatory behavior, takes place at night, prefrontal cortex off, and amygdala, firing.
Now, this girl, she is angry, she’s embarrassed, she’s scared. And as the night progresses, she thinks, “I don’t know what to do.”
Now she should have called and gone and told her parents what was happening. But she didn’t. Why didn’t she? And why do the majority of young people not report cyberbullying or predatory behavior?
RC – Can I guess what you’re going to say?
KG – Go for it.
RC – I think she doesn’t want to get her phone taken away from her.
KG – Bingo. Digital amputation. They’re petrified that you will confiscate the device, that you’ll punish them by taking away the technology. And so this young girl didn’t know what to do. She certainly didn’t want to tell her parents. Her amygdala had really kicked up a gear. She took a photograph of just her breasts, and sent it to him without her head in the photo.
In the space of half an hour, this boy and this girl’s life turned upside down. He disseminated that photo as he had threatened on a range of group chats. Her friend saw it. A whole plethora of people saw it. She eventually confided in her parents. It was reported to the police. This boy was charged with the distribution of child pornography because in some states there are criminal offenses associated with sharing nude and partially nude photos.
And so I think this speaks to the point, yes, we do need to have those boundaries, but removing technology is not going to be a long-term solution.
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RC – Ok, I’m thinking/hoping you can share some helpful long-term solutions, as we go onto your next 2 Bs, after boundaries, but before you do that I’ll just recap because I was writing it down as you went. For your first B, boundaries, a co-agreement might include; What are they viewing (you said, what are their digital playgrounds).
Where are they using their devices? (in the kitchen? Family room? bedroom??) When are they using their devices? (Is there an off time at night? Before school?)
With whom are they online?
And Kristy, I still feel compelled to ask you about screen time, like how long, how much, but let’s keep going to your next B because I think that you will address that.
KG – Yes. So that’s the first B boundaries. Now to answer your question around screen time, it’s my second B and that is around basic needs. We have to make sure that our tech time isn’t eroding, isn’t interfering with our most basic psychological and physical needs. So I get people to imagine that a day in their life or their child’s life is an empty glass jar. And I’m borrowing an analogy. Stephen Covey, who’s a productivity expert, used to talk about in life, we have to put our most important rocks in the jar first. And once we fill the jar with our rocks, be that, you know, our faith, our work, family, whatever our most important rocks are, around the outside of those rocks, we could fill it with sand or water or less important priorities. But those rocks have gone in the jar first.
So I use that analogy and say, in that empty glass jar we have to put in our kids most basic physical and psychological needs. So I believe we’ve got seven basic needs as humans. We need relationships. That’s our most important need. We need to sleep, we need to play, we need to be physically active, we need language, we need good quality nutrition and we need executive function skills. Those are the prefrontal cortex skills like delayed gratification.
RC – These are the big rocks, these 7 needs?
KG – Yes. Each of those needs has to go in the jar. Now, depending on the age of your child, they need roughly 8 to 11 hours of sleep, depending on their age. So your sleep is going to be quite a large rock that you put in your glass jar. Now, most guidelines around physical movement are about an hour a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. So put in your sleep and I’m going to say you’ve got an 11 hours sleep just to make my maths easy and put in an hour of physical movement. 50% of the jar has been taken up by those two needs and we’ve still got the other five needs to pop in.
Now, I know kids are not neat little entities and you can divide their day up into neat little silos. You know, they’re often playing and being physically active and using language and building relationships. But this is a really concrete reminder about are those basic needs being met? Because we know that at the moment, globally, we start with an empty jar and instead of our basic needs going in the jar, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. Screen time is filling that jar, and some of those basic needs are falling out.
We’ve got children entering formal school with delayed fine motor and gross motor skills because they’re not hanging off trees, rolling, rocking, tumbling, often because they’ve been dumped in the digital stream too early.
We’ve got children and adolescents who are not getting enough sleep. And this has huge impacts on their physical health, mental well-being, and learning. Kids that aren’t getting the ping pong serve and return interaction. We’re seeing this from infancy; young children who are being fed either by bottle or breast with a caregiver who’s holding a phone. So making sure that those just really rudimentary human needs are being met.
RC – It’s basically like a mental checklist of priorities for well-being.
KG – It is.
RC – I know in Canada, we as a country are apparently scoring a D- on things like active play, are we outside enough are? And I’m sure those are huge areas of lack for a lot of kids, and adults.
KG – I’m conducting a student digital wellbeing assessment here in Australia, and we’ve had close to 40,000 students respond. Overwhelmingly the students are not meeting their guidelines for sunlight exposure.
In Australia the recommendations for a 90 minutes a day of sunlight and it can be 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there. Sunlight is so critical for a whole range of health reasons, but one of them is that we know that it and significantly reduces the rates of nearsightedness. This is why we’re seeing an increase in children, teens and adults with myopia. Many of us are quick to point the finger at screens, but it’s what screens are displacing. We need natural sunlight, and we’re not quite sure what the mechanism is. One plausible theory is that when we’re outside, we look at things in the distance. We use that dilated gaze that we are biologically designed to have as humans. We are not designed to have a narrow gaze. When we narrow our gaze on our screens, be that a phone, our tablet or a laptop, it triggers a stress response. Biologically, as humans, when we narrow our gaze, there is a potential threat. So we drop our peripheral vision and we laser in on whatever it is, and we’re spending hours a day in this state.
RC – That is so interesting as a reason for stress and anxiety because you can feel that in your eyes and in your head and in your neck and in your back too.
KG – Totally. So those basic needs are certainly being displaced. And this, I think, again gives really concrete, powerful analogies for families to co-construct those digital guardrails. And then I say to parents, if your child says, “Yes, those basic needs have more or less gone in the jar today,” then they can have screen time and we can stop having all these moral panic about screens derailing their development because their basic needs have gone in the jar first.
RC – I find the rock and jar analogy really compelling and I think collaboration in the long run is our only hope.
KG – It is.
RC – you know, that we work with our child. Like with food, for example, when our kids are young, we can be pretty strict on what they’re eating. My kids up to around 12, will come out and say, “Mom, can I have a cookie?” Or, you know, can I do this? Well, when they’re 18, I feel like if they come out and say, “Mom, can I have a cookie?” I feel like I have really over-parented this child. They should have the freedom to do that. But before 12, you have much more control. “This is what you need to have to be healthy. And then I wonder if, like food, they need their own freedom with technology? That at some point you need to trust the teaching that you did with them when they were a child to carry them through those teen years, because I feel like how do you monitor them when they’re 14, 15 years old? You can be saying, “Don’t be in your bedroom with your phone. You need to get enough sleep.”
I just don’t think you can control it. But I know with my my kids, like they went through their teen years, they ate horribly. I was so strict with them on how they ate, then they ate horribly in their teen years. And my older kids are in their twenties now and they are like vegetarians. They are so strict with their food. And it all came back. How I raised them all came back. Do you think there’s a similarity with technology?
KG – I do. And I often say to parents, get in early while they’re still young, while you do exert some influence over their decisions, really try to develop these healthy habits in the formative years because I have so many parents of teenagers who come to me and say, “Kristy, the horse has bolted. I can’t go back and retrospectively fit limits on my 16 year olds screen use. I wish I’d got in early.”
So I think goes back to an earlier point when you hand your smartphone to a toddler, this is when we start having these conversations and limits and trying to build these habits in place.
I also want to touch on something, is that your connection with your child is the most important bedrock of your relationship. So when they’re 16, if you are having constant arguments about taking devices out of bedrooms, if you are constantly arguing about screens, it is really hard to repair. And it’s not again, saying we bowed down to their requests. Sometimes we do have to have those limits. But if we are going to constantly argue about digital issues, then we’re going to annihilate their relationship. And then it is really hard to repair that ruptured relationship.
RC – Yeah, in the long run, it’s not worth it to lose that attachment with your child. It’s just not worth it. It’s that idea of, you might win the battle but you lose the war.
KG – I think you’re right. My mom always says to me, pick your battles, Kristy, you know, with your kids, pick your battles. And while developing brains lack the skill to regulate their choices as they getting older we would hope that kids can start to self-regulate and make better choices. But we have to do the groundwork. You can’t just assume that your child will learn these digital skills and competencies through osmosis.
Musical Interlude #3
Thanks for listening to family360 and our conversation with Dr. Kristy Goodwin. There is more to come.
Our next episode is the first of our 4th season of family360, phew, can’t believe that! And, like the first episode of this season, I will be the guest! Roy will be interviewing me on the topic of Helping Your Child Develop their EQ, otherwise known as Emotional Quotient. EQ is defined as the ability to identify and express emotions in a positive way that relieves stress, communicates needs effectively, empathizes with others, overcomes challenges, and defuses conflict. There are so many ways to nurture our child’s ongoing emotional growth and development and, I’m really looking forward to talking about this integral part of well-being. Join us!
And now, back to our conversation with Kristy as she describes the third and final B of her comprehensive tech plan.
RC – Okay, we’re two Bs deep into your guidelines for co-creating a tech plan with our kids. The first B was Boundaries, the second B was Basic Needs. What’s the last one? B number 3?
KG – The last one, I think is probably the hardest one to achieve in this digital world, and that is boredom. Our kids need to be uncomfortable from time to time. They need to be idle with their thoughts. I have never in all of my years come up with a great idea in an Excel spreadsheet or in my inbox. My great ideas come to me in the shower, going for a swim, going for a run, being on airplane without wi-fi; when we enter the default mode network, we used to call it daydreaming. Today our kids fill every pocket of white space with a screen. I’m bored, I pick up my phone. I’m bored, I play a game. And so I think we have to get our kids to be okay with being idle with their thoughts. Boredom is vital for creativity and ideation, but also for young people, being bored is absolutely imperative for your sense of identity.
RC – What do you learn about yourself through boredom?
KG – Well, what interests me, what terrifies me, what scares me? How do you know that if you are constantly consuming content and other people’s ideas. We are biologically wired to imitate and copy. So if we are constantly consuming images of people with unrealistic body images with very filtered, curated lives that they share online, we compare and despair in terms of our reality to the curated content that we see online. This is really dangerous territory for mental well-being.
RC – Yeah. Okay. Can I pose a few challenges to you around getting kids bored? Trying to create space for that? Because, as you undoubtable know, its not easy to create space for that. So, I think of something like after school time. They’ve been sitting on a screen for much of the day and they of course need some down time. Okay, so one thing that’s a challenge is having playdates. So after school, if you’re not a house where you’re allowed to use the screen, kids don’t want to come to your house. And so then your child starts to say, “Well, I want to go to their house,” because, you know, when they go, that means they’re going to be on the screen.
So a first question is, this sounds so micro-managy, but what do you think of parents saying, “Would you be okay with our kids not being on screen when they’re over at your house? Do you understand the complications of this? Are you experienceing this with your kids?
KG – Oh, I do absolutely experience it. We had a sleepover recently here at our house and a couple of the boys brought phones and we were very clear they need to be turned off and put here at this time. And I let the other parents know. I said, “If you need to contact them, come through me because I’m going to get them to turn their phone off.”
Now, I had the worst of the worst stories. So I have a different view on this to a lot of other parents. But they were really responsive. I just said, “Look, I don’t want anything to happen on my watch.”
And they understood with the work that I do.
RC – I would love you. I would love a parent to say that when my child goes over to their house. Yeah.
KG – Yeah. I often think what’s the lesser evil? Would I want kids to come to my house, use a phone, and for them to watch a video of a suicide attempt taking place? Absolutely not. Would I want an awful cyberbullying incident to take place on my watch? Absolutely not. So sometimes I would rather my son say to me, “It’s so unfair, or it’s so embarrassing. We’re the only one that does this.”
Then to the flip side of having an irate parent saying, “This happened while they were at your house.”
I think communicating why. “I’m not doing this to take away your fun. I’m doing this because I don’t want X, Y, or Z to happen.”
I heard Maggie Dent, who I know you’ve had on your show before, say, “We have to think about what can we do to make our house or our playdates so exciting that they don’t even want to pick up their phone. Like, What could you set up so that they get that lived experience?”
RC – What would be an example of that? Like are you talking about things like taking the kids to lazer tag, or trampoline parks, or batting cages?
KG – No.
RC – Yeah, because that’s a lot of money and it also feels very inconsistent with the “boredom message.
KG – It is.
RC – So, what do you mean then?
KG – So, we’ve got a backyard where the kids love playing football, so we will often load them with snacks and send them out to the backyard and they love it and they don’t look for the devices. So I think we have to now be much more intentional because in years gone by it was just send them outside and they’d figure out what to do.
They’ve become so accustomed to always being on the device that I think that we have to intentionally crowd out the devices with other pleasurable experiences and activities for them.
So, it is hard. I think it is really important though, that you communicate your family digital guardrails with others,but it is really hard.
RC – Well, it’s a new age. This is a parallel I think? I was hearing that in the United States with guns, before a child goes over to a school friends home, parents are starting to call ahead to ask, “Do you have a gun at your house? And is it well-locked up? And do you keep the ammunition in a separate place?”
And I kind of think this is similar. We might just have to call one another and ask, “Will the children have free access to screens? And “What are your rules around that? Because kids can’t unsee what they see. They can’t un-experience what they’ve experienced. It’s too late once it’s happened. But it is hard, it’s a very awkward question.
KG – It is. And a mom was telling me recently she had a 14 year old daughter and she was having a sleepover. So this mum sent a text message to all the other girl’s parents several days in advance and said, “On the sleepover, I will be asking all phones to be put in a basket at this time. Please communicate this to your daughter in advance and let me know if this presents a problem. This is the number that you can contact me on after the whatever the curfew was. Her daughter was mortified and couldn’t believe she did it. The girls turned up. There were a couple that were very reluctant to hand over their digital appendages. They ended up having the most fantastic night. And she said to me they were so surprised. So I think it’s again, we have to take hard steps for them to have that lived experience of better outcomes.
RC – Yeah. Friends of mine are summer camp directors and they were telling me a really sad…well actually they were telling me two really sad comments. One was that so many kids are now not wanting to go to camp in the summer because they don’t want to leave their phones behind. They don’t want the limited access that camp requires to devices. And then they were saying that parents in order to get their kids to go to camp will give them decoy devices to hand into the camp counselors and then they’ll hide another device in the child’s pillow or something, so that the child will go to camp and so that the parent can then connect with them, while they’re at camp, directly. And I was amazed. And I’m sure you’ve heard about this and I’m sure you have an opinion.
KG – I do. And I think you’ve touched on something really, really important. I met a friend on the weekend, somebody who works in palliative care and she has done for 30 years. And have you read the book The Top five Regrets of the Dying?
RC – No, that sounds amazing.
KG – Great book by Bronnie Ware. She was a palliative care nurse who noticed trends in the regrets of the dying. And this palliative care nurse that I met said, “I think there’s a sixth regret creeping in. And it’s people who are saying, ‘I wished I’d spent less time on my phone, I wished I’d spent less time on a screen.’”
I think we’re at the beginning stages of people regretting just how much time we have dedicated to our digital devices. So I think we need to stop and pause and think about our digital habits as adults as well. I think we have to really walk the talk in this space. And it’s hard, especially with remote work, a lot of us carry our lives on our phones.
A study was done with women a couple of years ago and they asked women a legitimate question. They said, “Would you rather give up sex or would you rather give up your mobile phone for a week?”
And you know what 85% of the women said? They said, “I could not imagine not having my mobile phone for a week.”
So they happily sacrificed their screens.
RC – I’d like to hear men ask that question, too.
KG – I was about to say, I think we get very different data with a male.
RC – Oh, be interesting. Well, Kristy, before we close, I’d love to spend a few moments looking more at the positive, because tech is obviously not all bad. You have your degree in it and we’re using it right now to talk to each other across the world – Australia to Canada. So there’s so much that is good about tech and it is here to stay.
I wonder if this works for you is the last question. I’ll ask it to you and then you can see if this if this resonates. We are in such an early evolutionary stage when it comes to technology. And I’m wondering if you can share some of your optimism for where technology could lead us with our children in the future. Where could we go that would be exciting and enlarging?
KG – We are going to see huge advances, I think in particularly virtual reality and artificial intelligence. And I think if we tap into the positive potentials that they offer, we’re going to see really rich human connection, if we use technology to enable us to connect with other people?
The other exciting opportunity I see, particularly for children and adolescents, is in the educational space. How can we teach very abstract, complicated concepts with virtual reality, with augmented reality? I think that is where we engage kids. The kids are spending, you know, 8 hours playing Fortnite. What is it about gaming that gets them interested? How could we replicate that? You know, we’d love our kids spending 8 hours on physics rather than Fortnite. So how can we tap into that interest to deliver engaging meaningful learning but in a rich digital context, I think they’re the real ripe opportunities, connection and new ways of learning.
RC – Wonderful. Oh, Kristy, this had been such an encouraging conversation. I’m glad I could just share with you my stress around this topic. And I think this is a really challenging conversation for a lot of parents, me included and I appreciate your practical and realistic insights at 5AM in the morning. And I hope you’re not going to be tired for the rest of your day now?
KG – No, That was a really rich conversation. Thank you. I enjoyed it.
RC – Thank you so much, Kristy.
leaves in the trees
an old man sitting
on a bench
and thinks of his youth
sitting on a bench
looking into his iPhone
simulates the falling
red yellowing leaves
Raising Your Child in a Digital World: What You Need to Know! Paperback
by Dr. Kristy Goodwin
This book outlines the ways in which technology can help a child in their natural development in regards to physical, mental and social relating skills. It investigates current research on new technology, busts a lot of myths and helps parents successfully guide their kids to balance "screen time with green time" so kids don't become obsessed with computer games.