About this Episode
Are selfies really just a waste of time? Are some forms of digital media better than others when it comes to kids and teens? Do researchers know how much technology use is “too much” for youth? Like most parents, you’re probably concerned about the impact of digital media on your child’s learning, development, and well-being. On this episode, Dr. Amy and Teri are joined by Dr. Katie Davis, whose extensive research has led her to become one of the leading experts on the subject. Katie walks us through the good, the bad, and the ugly of everything from intentional design, identity development, and self-directed experiences. Find out what “digital stress” is, whether social media really causes mental health issues, and why “good enough” might be the best option when it comes to parenting through the digital age.
About Dr. Katie Davis
Dr. Katie Davis is Associate Professor at the University of Washington and Director of the UW Digital Youth Lab. For nearly 20 years, she has been researching the impact of digital technologies on young people’s learning, development, and well-being. She uses the insights from her research to design positive technology experiences for youth and their families and to provide practical guidance to parents, educators, policymakers, and technology designers. She has published more than 70 academic papers and is the author of three books, all exploring technology’s role in young people’s lives, including her new book, “Technology’s Child: Digital Media’s Role in the Ages and Stages of Growing Up.”
Connect with Dr. Katie Davis
Website: https://katiedavisresearch.com (book available)
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Read the transcript for this episode:
DR. AMY MOORE: Hi, smart moms and dads. We are so happy you’re here for another episode of The Brainy Moms podcast, brought to you by LearningRx brain training centers. I’m your host, DR. AMY MOORE, coming to you today from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I am joined by my lovely co-host, Teri Miller, also coming to you from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Teri and I are really excited to welcome our guest today, Dr. Katie Davis. Dr. Davis is an associate professor at the University of Washington and director of the UW Digital Youth Lab. For nearly 20 years, she’s been researching the impact of digital technologies on young people’s learning, development, and well-being. She uses the insights from her research to design positive technology experiences for youth and their families, and to provide practical guidance to parents, educators, policy makers, and technology designers. She’s published more than 70 academic papers and is the author of three books all exploring technology’s role in young people’s lives, including her new book, “Technology’s Child; Digital Media’s Role in the Ages and Stages of Growing Up.” Welcome, Katie.
KATIE DAVIS: Thank you so much. It’s great to be with you.
TERI MILLER: Well, your work has positioned you as a true expert on the impact of digital technologies and young people, and I just want you to tell our listeners how you got interested in this field and in researching and designing positive technology experiences for young people.
KATIE DAVIS: Sure. Yeah, I know, I know. I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now. It does not feel that long. But when I look back and see all the changes in technology since 2004, 2005, then it starts to make a bit more sense. But I started on this path actually as an elementary school teacher. So back in the early to mid-2000s, my first job was as a fourth-grade teacher. I had always wanted to be a teacher. I love kids. I love teaching. And when I was a teacher, I—and this was in the early 2000s, even back then, it was becoming increasingly clear that technology was just becoming such an integral part of kids’ lives, both in the classroom in my context of teaching them, but also outside of the classroom—I was just fascinated by the questions that this raised about. Well, so how’s this gonna change the process of teaching and learning and just how kids develop and navigate in today’s world and today’s very rapidly changing world? So I just had all these questions and so I decided to go back to graduate school and I studied at Harvard Graduate School of Education with a fantastic professor Howard Gardner, who’s most well-known for his theory of multiple intelligences. But he, at that time, this was 2005, he was becoming very interested and somewhat concerned about young people’s moral and ethical development in the context of network technology. So I started working on some research projects with him and really never looked back. You know, I’ve been researching this area, mostly focusing my own research on teens’ development and their identity development and their relationships, all in the context of their technology use. But in the book that I just published, “Technology’s Child,” I actually look at the full arc of child development from toddlers all the way up to college age. And part of my motivation for looking at that full arc is be because I myself am a parent now. And so six years ago I had my son Oliver. And I, of course, became very interested in early childhood and wanted to know, “Well, what’s the research on early childhood?” So a lot of my research is now starting to focus on younger kids in addition to teens and college-aged kids.
DR. AMY MOORE: All right. Yeah, that’s a fascinating background. I was a teacher before becoming a psychologist.
KATIE DAVIS: Oh, neat!
DR. AMY MOORE: And so very similar, you know, story as well. So talk to us a little bit about what counts as technology. And then what are the primary challenges that you see parents facing right now in terms of technology?
KATIE DAVIS: Yeah, I mean, that’s such a good question. What is technology? You could, you could think of technology as a tool, like a hammer could be a technology or pair of scissors. But for the purpose of this book, what I’m really interested in is digital. So something that is digital, the ones and zeros rather than analog. Most of the technologies that I’m focused on are interactive. In some respect, though, not all of them, I address TV watching, which is minimal interactivity, I would say. And then a lot of them, especially when we get into the teen years, a lot of them are networked. And so when we think about social media platforms, the ability to communicate through technology, so those are the main dimensions of the technology that I’m focused on in this book.
DR. AMY MOORE: So we’re talking not only the vehicle through which we access technology, but the actual vehicle, I mean actual platform as well, right? So cell phone, tablet, laptop, but then social media, platforms, internet, all of that would be what I’m hearing you say?
KATIE DAVIS: All of it. Yeah. So I’m looking at the devices, the hardware, and especially, you know, how these devices are designed. So I come from, my background is as a developmental scientist, but for the last almost 11 years I’ve been working at an information school surrounded by computer scientists. And so a lot of my work focuses on the actual design of these technologies and, and really figuring out, well, how are these technologies being designed, both the hardware and the software, the applications that run on them, and how does that interact with children’s development? So yes, absolutely the full gamut of the hardware and the software that runs on it. Importantly, I, you know the title of the book, “Technology’s Child,” I don’t mention screens because not all of the technology that I address actually has a screen. So if you think about conversational agents, talking to Alexa, that’s not necessarily, I mean, you open your phone and do that, but you might have another form in which you’re interacting with conversational agents doesn’t necessarily need to have a screen. So not all the technologies I’m focused on are screen based.
DR. AMY MOORE: Right, because I can just yell to—we call her Skynet because if we say her name and she starts talking randomly to us, right? So I could just yell across the room and ask her to tell me anything. Right? Without a, without an interface, a screen interface.
KATIE DAVIS: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
DR. AMY MOORE: Fascinating. I would not have even thought of it that way.
TERI MILLER: I know, ‘cause you, we say so often I think even as parents, like we talk about “screen time.”
KATIE DAVIS: Exactly.
TERI MILLER: But that’s not all the technologies we’re limited to. That’s interesting.
KATIE DAVIS: Especially as we’re getting, you know, the whole realm of AI is just speeding up so much now. Talking about screens is probably gonna be a little bit anachronistic in a little while, I would say.
TERI MILLER: Yeah. I wanna dive, just kind of switch off of our outline here and just ask something that I’m personally curious about. I’ve always wondered about the difference, or I’ve been wondering more and more about the difference in the way our brains are working in the neural connections in our brain. For us, like 50 plus, I will say 40 plus age people as compared to young people. You know, teens, even 20-something where they’ve, these kids from the very beginning of learning, they’ve been having that technological aspect, so they’ve got that going on in their neural connections, that they’re not just saying the word cat, C-A-T spelling it, writing C-A-T, but they’re typing C-A-T and how that is, that’s different neural connections. Do you know of any research and like what’s the different ways that our brains look when we haven’t experienced that as compared to all the young people today.
KATIE DAVIS: Yeah. Well for, so for, I’m not a neuroscientist. I, instead of brains, I look at minds and how the brain is actually influencing what, how we think and the mind. But it’s absolutely true that there’s certainly research showing that as you engage with technology, you know, different parts of your brain are activated and that makes sense. Our brains are very plastic and depending on how we use them, they’re going to change to accommodate the particular activity that we are involved in. Whether or not that’s creating some long-lasting evolutionary changes, it’s just far too early to know that. Evolution happens in such a long timeframe. And so we just don’t know. There’s not any research that can show that at this point, but absolutely—local changes, it just, you know, it tends to follow the, whatever we do, our brains are going to adapt and be wired to accommodate those activities.
DR. AMY MOORE: So, talk to us a little bit about, the difference between, you know, passive use of technology and interaction with technology in terms of development. What should we be considering as, you know, parents, when we are setting boundaries and, you know, limits on technology.
KATIE DAVIS: Yeah. So as I said, I’m covering the full arc of child development in this book, and so it’s a lot of material and it’s sometimes hard to know, well, “What does a toddler have to do with a 12 year old or a 22 year old?” Is there any through line that we can say about, is there a way to approach parenting for all of these ages and stages of development? And so I offer a framework for parents and educators and really anyone with a stake in children’s development to think about, “Is this particular technology experience a good one or not for where my child is developmentally?” And it really comes down to asking yourself two questions. And the first question really addresses your, what you just said about, you know, active versus passive. The question is, “Is this experience self-directed?” And by self-directed, I mean, the experiences that put the child in the driver’s seat of their technology use. So, you know, when you’re interacting with an app. My son Oliver has several drawing apps on his tablet, and he’s very active and engaged when he’s interacting with them. He’s calling the shots, he’s opening them up, he sees a blank canvas and he decides what exactly he wants to draw. He is maintaining agency over that experience. And that’s a really important part of a developmentally supportive technology experience is to what degree do children maintain their agency and are they able to, you know, maintain control over their attention, or is the technology kind of leading them from one place to the next passively? And I’m not saying that all technology experiences that are more passive are bad. Oliver certainly watches his fair [share] of television, which can sometimes, that can be an actually a quite an active experience if we engage in a conversation around it. But often it’s just a time for us to cool out on the couch and not really do much and that’s absolutely fine. But if all of your technology experiences are that passive, I argue in the book that you’re missing a lot of actually pretty stimulating, developmentally supportive experiences that technologies can provide. So that is the first question to ask yourself: “Is this technology experience self-directed?” The second question, and this is a really important question for parents to consider, is, “Is it community supported?” And by that I mean, you know, to what extent does the child have supports around their technology experience, but also sometimes within the experience, especially when you talk about teens who are more independent and they’re on social media platforms. What kind of communities are they engaging in on those platforms? Is it supportive of them or is it more toxic? For littler kids, you know, it tends to be the support that comes surrounding using an app or playing a video game. You know, the parents who are choosing how long their children can spend playing something or on their tablet or you know, what kinds of content is okay. All of that is a form of community support. And so what exactly self-directed and community supported looks like for a three-year-old, of course, will be different from a 13 year old or an 18 year old. But you know, those two questions I think can provide. Sort of a north star for parents to help navigate and, and make sense of a very complicated, tricky landscape where the technologies are always changing. There’s always new research coming out. As a researcher myself, I find it hard to keep up. But I find that asking myself those two questions as a parent has really just helped me focus on what’s important for my son’s development.
TERI MILLER: I think it’s important too, like just as I’m listening to you, for us to consider that this is reality now for kids. And I think there’s a lot of perspective of, you know, “Oh, you know, screen time, whatever technology, you know, it’s bad. We don’t, we need to minimize it. We need to lessen it.” And yet the reality is, if this is where kids and young adults and the world is going, that we learn, communicate, you know, educate, everything interaction is now through technology. I think it’s a little bit stick in our heads in the sand to say, “Oh no, we’re not gonna do that. We’re just gonna go play in the woods all day.” Well, that’s great, but, and how do you function in the real world if your kids don’t, growing up, develop those neural connections that are gonna be important for them to navigate the world. Is that right?
KATIE DAVIS: Right. Yeah. Well, yeah. And it’s so interesting. I started writing this book right before the pandemic and I felt, you know, during that time and all the, you know, the years leading up to that it tended to be in society. These questions were around, “Well, is technology good or bad? How much screen time?” All of these types of questions that are just kind of binary and thinking about yes or no for technology. But then I think the pandemic completely changed that. And we found, “Oh, wait a minute; we need technology. It’s absolutely essential for us to be able to keep on with any semblance of normalcy, any learning our work, everything socialize.” It all went online and I think the pandemic helped us as a society really start to grapple with technology in a deeper way and ask more nuanced questions about, okay, well if technology is here to stay and, and we really do need it. What are better technology experiences and what are not-so-good technology experiences and what sort of technology experiences or relationship to technology should I be supporting for my child and not? And so there’s absolutely, I think, still important benefits to going out in the woods and playing and being off of a screen. But then there are absolutely times when, yeah, you’re using technology. It’s just sort of what’s there. It’s the tool that’s around, but how are you using it and how has this technology been designed? And unfortunately, a lot of technology’s out there for adults and kids, are not necessarily designed with our well-being or development. In mind. And so that’s a lot of what I focus on in my research is just identifying what are those designs that do support positive development and what are the designs that are just not helping us at all? And especially when it comes to teens, what’s kind of undermining their well-being and mental health.
DR. AMY MOORE: Yeah. You talk about dark patterns and design abuses. Talk to us about that, because I know a lot of parents will set limits on their teens. You know? Okay, you can have two hours in the evening on technology, and that’s as far as it goes, right? Like, so, “Hey, I’m doing my job as a parent by limiting my kids’ screen time. But there are things happening. Algorithms, intentional design choices. That are happening behind the scenes that I bet a lot of parents aren’t even aware of. Talk to us about that, those dangers, what we need to know.
KATIE DAVIS: Yeah, no, it’s so true. And in my research, when we have studied the relationship between teens well-being and their technology use, we have found there isn’t a relationship between the amount of time when you’re just counting hours and minutes. There’s no real relationship. What you really have to do is understand what they’re doing and how they’re reacting to what they’re doing. And so you might actually have two teens engaging in TikTok or Snapchat in very similar ways, but they’re reacting in very different ways. And so the effect on them might be different. But all teens have to navigate these dark patterns in design and actually all kids—starting from very small. But dark patterns and design abuses are basically features that developers program into their platform or whatever technology they’re selling to keep us engaged, to keep us on. So, when it comes to, yeah, I think the simplest idea of a dark pattern is the autoplay button or the autoplay function on Netflix or YouTube that just, you know, cues up the next TV show or video clip without us having to do anything. That’s a dark pattern that is specifically designed to just keep us watching and watching and watching. And the idea of binge watching is a relatively new term that is directly related to autoplay. When it comes to social media, you know, the idea that you can infinitely scroll your feed. In the very beginning of social media, you weren’t able to infinitely scroll. There was actually an end to your feed at some point. Now there’s never an end to your feed, and your feed is typically algorithmically curated to serve you up content that it knows, based on your prior behavior, that is gonna keep you glued to that screen, whether or not it makes you feel good or not. And often it doesn’t. You know, unfortunately it’s not the measured balance content that keeps us engaged, but it’s the more controversial or the, you know, just the content that gets our heart rate up that keeps us glued. And so all of those things, you know, can be thought of as dark patterns and, you know, going all the way to younger kids, dark patterns exist as well. They look different. So a child who’s playing on an app and they’re interacting with virtual characters, and the virtual character starts crying if they leave. You know, that’s a dark pattern that’s specifically there to keep the child engaged. So what it looks like will be different depending on the age and the platform. But yeah, they’re all there to keep us engaged and not necessarily, for looking out for our well-being.
TERI MILLER: So what can a parent do? What can, so this is all like kind of the, the backend, the big picture. This is what’s going on. So from a real practical perspective for our listeners, okay. So say I’ve got, I mean, I’ve got kids of all ages. I’ve got my, you know, 18, 17, 14, 13, 10 year old at home, and they are all trying to hold onto and access technology as much as they possibly can. That’s the reality that we live in, I think so often as parents that we don’t know. What do we do now? How do, how do I help my kids limit? How do I help them understand things? How do I walk this road without my kids hating me?
KATIE DAVIS: Right. I know, I know. It’s so hard. It’s, and it’s not something that you figure out one day and you’re good. It’s sort of, it’s something that you have to renegotiate I find every single day, and it’s exhausting. It really is. One thing I want to say right from the outset is that, you know, in my book, I address very much what can parents do, but I also say, okay, yes, it’s true. Parents have a lot that they can do to support. But I actually wish, it’s one of my big wishes, is that all of the onus wasn’t completely on parents to figure this out because it wasn’t parents who created these technologies. Well, some parents, but maybe before they became parents and realized what they had done. But you know, It shouldn’t be. We live in a very individualistic society where we place, you know, we create these societal-level challenges and then we expect the family to figure it out, or the individuals in the families. And so I really call on government and tech designers and researchers and nonprofits to step up. And a lot of them are starting to step up. So I just wanna preface my response with that, recognizing that there’s a tremendous amount that parents can do, but I also just wish it wasn’t all on parents all the time. I know. It’s exhausting. Well, and I also say that because there’s just so much pressure on parents today and there’s so much guilt and it’s just, yeah. And I find in both my research and just casual conversations with other parents, there’s just a lot of sense of, “I’m getting this wrong. I am just not doing the right thing.” And part of it is because research, unfortunately, can’t yet tell us the thing to do. It doesn’t, and part of that, and I doubt it ever will say, “This is the one thing you have to do.” And that’s because the technologies are different. The kids who interact with the technologies are different and the context in which they’re interacting are different. And so it’s very, very complex. That’s why I say keep in mind those two questions of, “Is this self-directed? Is it community supported?” Again, not all technology experiences are gonna be equally self-directed, but this is where this community support comes in and parents as like a really important part of community support come in and, depending on what stage their kids are at, sometimes, for younger kids, they’re more, parents are more in the role of gatekeeper and monitor of what can you have access to and for how long. Sometimes they engage alongside their children. So there’s a whole body of research on joint media engagement and the benefits of parents playing alongside their children with technologies. Now, as kids get older, that’s harder. You know, teens want their privacy, they want their autonomy, and this is where things get, I think, really tricky, especially if you have a teen who doesn’t particularly wanna open up to you. But I do think that starting with open, non-judgmental conversations is so important. And, you know, lots of parents will say, “Okay, well that’s all fine and well to say that, but my kid doesn’t want to talk.” So I, I do think of there might be a, a couple of strategies you can keep in mind and try out when you’re trying to broach these conversations. Because keep in mind what you’re trying to do with the conversations is to form a connection so that you can just know what it is your child is facing. Like what are the challenges? They’re slightly different across teens. What are the particular challenges they’re facing? First, you have to know that in order to be able to support them. And so one thing I would say for parents, based on my research, we’ve found that parents and teens are a lot more similar than they let on or that they’re even aware of when it comes to their own technology use. We did one study where we interviewed parents and teens separately and just got ’em talking about their relationship to their phones. And sometimes it was hard in the interview transcripts to tell them apart. They’re facing very similar challenges. Now, the specifics might be different for the teens, it might be complicated peer interactions. For parents it might be complicated work dynamics, but it’s all playing out through the phone and through email or text or social media platforms. So finding common ground I think can be very powerful. And then the second strategy is to find common ground, but then to recognize there are really important differences between me as an adult and my teen. And thinking about in particular what it is that teens are doing developmentally. And I actually think of what they’re doing developmentally as their job. That’s every bit as important as our job is to us. And so for teens, it’s their developmental job to figure out their identity and their friendships and who they are in relationship to the society and their families and all of that. And often as adults, I think we’re too quick to dismiss that work. And especially if it’s taking place on social media and we say, “Oh, they’re just taking selfies. You know, that’s just a waste of time.” But actually, you know, yes, that looks different from maybe what we did as teens, but it’s the same developmental process. We were exploring our identities and that was absolutely crucial. We did it in a different way, but still it’s important. And so I think if you approach your conversations with that sort of genuine non-judgmental, taking teens seriously, they will respond to that because I think a lot of teens that I talk to feel very judged about their technology use and so if parents are ever starting a conversation with them, they shut down immediately because they just feel that their parents are judging them. So I think yeah, those two strategies, finding common ground, but then recognizing that there are differences and that they’re developmentally based.
TERI MILLER: I love everything you just said, and I think it’s so important for our listeners to hear, and I think there are, you know, there’s parents that are just kind of like, “Eh whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen.” And then there’s parents that are like, you know, super, super strict and of course the, you know, the gamut in between. But I think the thing we’ve got to realize as parents is that we used to make play dates. Okay, so I have older kids and younger, so my older kids, I would make a play date for my son to go hang out with a friend to cultivate that friendship. I really wanted to help him cultivate that friendship when he was 10 and 11 and 12 years old, even seven, eight. Okay. Now what I see is my kiddos have a play date online. Yeah. And they coordinate themselves. You know, my daughter comes home and says, “So on Saturday at two, I’m gonna meet with my friend” and she’s talking about like apps and stuff. I don’t even know what it is, but she’s like playing Minecraft or you know, whatever. And it’s, they’re, it’s fun creative games. It is a play date.
KATIE DAVIS: Yeah, absolutely.
TERI MILLER: And that’s not, that’s not a technology hour and a half, and I have to change my mindset. That’s not a technology hour and a half. That is a play date hour and a half.
KATIE DAVIS: Absolutely. Yes. That’s so important. And that’s such a great example of how, you know, not all time with technology is the same. And so really trying to change how you view technology and what it is your child is getting out of it. Yeah. It’s so important to keep that in mind.
DR. AMY MOORE: That, and I think, let me just clarify. So that is considered social interaction and so whether or not you are hanging out with friends through a digital platform or hanging out with friends in your basement, are the, are the benefits of that social interaction similar?
KATIE DAVIS: They can be. They, they can be for sure. However, you know, ask. Kids, most kids will say that they still would prefer when it comes down to it to interact with their friends, at least sometime in a face-to-face context. But absolutely, the social benefits can be very similar. They can also be a little bit more complicated because it is a different form of interaction. And sometimes you have different or sometimes reduced social cues, especially if it’s through texting. But even video sometimes can flatten things out and kind of erase some of the nuance of a face-to-face conversation and, I would say to parents, don’t assume that your kids know how to handle that automatically. It can be tricky for them to figure out, because just think about it. They’re just learning how to interact socially and so they have to figure that out both offline and online, and it’s complicated. It’s really hard for them and they do need support even if you didn’t have to, you know, when you were growing up, you didn’t have those same social dynamics in an online context. You still have to, you know, what it is like, you know, social dynamics online are similar for adults. So you can at least draw on your own experience to support them. But it’s really important not to just assume that because they can technically use a technology that they actually know how to use it well, when it comes to the social dynamic side of things.
DR. AMY MOORE: Yeah. So speaking of social dynamics, have you dug in, or has your research covered some of the social media bullying that we have seen an the increase in depression and anxiety that some of those interactions can cause. Talk a little bit about that.
KATIE DAVIS: Yeah. Well, you know, it’s interesting. I think that my research has certainly addressed this and a lot of researchers in the last 10 years have been focusing on this relationship between social media and teen mental health. And I think we have got into a place where we can say there’s a pretty strong research base that shows that there’s something going on. When you look in the aggregate, there tends to be, you tend to see a small but negative relationship between teen social media use and their mental health, meaning that the more they’re using social media, the lower their mental health is. But that’s just looking at the aggregate of teens all lumped together. And that’s not actually particularly helpful because when you dig in deeper, and a lot of my research tries to do this, looking at individual teens, you find that there’s so much variation. So for a lot of teens, they’re absolutely fine. Their mental health, you know, maybe there are some stresses related to their social media use, but generally speaking, their mental health is fine. There’s some teens who it’s really exacerbating, often amplifying existing mental health challenges. And that’s really what I think the research is pointing to right now, is that social media seems to be acting as an amplifier to existing mental health challenges. It can certainly precipitate and instigate mental health challenges, but typically there’s, you know, typically there’s not one source of a mental health challenge. It’s many, there are many reasons and there are many contextual factors. And so social media absolutely plays into that. And if you think about it, it’s going back to the design and these features. It’s so public, it’s so persistent. It’s around all the time. There are metrics that measure how popular you are and what you look like, and it just is so in your face that it can really amplify any insecurity that a teen might have, whether that’s body insecurities or academic or sports. You know, all teens have different things that they’re struggling with and, but they can all be extremely magnified on in the context of social media.
TERI MILLER: I think the thing too, to remember is that, with social media interaction now and the way that kids are communicating through technology, it’s as if—like I put it back to, you know, when I was a kid or us as parents to think about—it’s as if we were in a social environment all day long, 24 hours a day. And we think about, like, if you think about the rise in social anxiety, I mean, I’ve not read the research, but I just, you know, as a parent, I think this makes sense. That there’s such an increase in social anxiety in our, in our young people because they are having to deal with this 24 hours a day. And so if they’re like, “Nope, I’m gonna unplug.” Well, then suddenly it’s F.O.M.O. [Fear Of Missing Out], you know they’re missing out. And there’s all this interaction going on they weren’t a part of. And so even if they try to unplug, they’re not really unplugged. That social thing is happening constantly.
KATIE DAVIS: Constantly. Yeah. So you know it, so there’s a lot of concern around cyber bullying and rightfully so, but I would say that even more teens actually experience, not necessarily cyber bullying, but just the ongoing stress of digital life. And there’s actually, the term for it is digital stress, and there’s all these dimensions to it, but things like FOMO or becoming very anxious about what sort of reaction you’re getting when you post something. Or even just the stress of being available to your friends all the time, especially if your friends are struggling with their own mental health challenges, which so many teens are right now, especially during and after the pandemic. And all of that, as you said, it just, there’s never a downtime. Even if you unplug or your phone dies or you get it taken away, you know it’s still going on and that itself can be a source of stress.
DR. AMY MOORE: Yeah, absolutely. And moms, if you haven’t heard the term FOMO, that stands for Fear Of Missing Out. And that’s nothing new. I can remember my best friend in high school, and I’m gonna date myself here because that was in the ‘80s, had the most severe FOMO. And so like, no, we have to go to that party and we have to go to that party. And if we miss that party, then how are we gonna know what happened on Friday, right? And so that is nothing new. It is just now being translated into that online.
KATIE DAVIS: Yeah. Now we have a cute name for it, but it’s always been there. And, and also it’s always, it’s always been there, but not necessarily so visible, so you might find out weeks later that you missed a party or, you know, but now you find out instantly that you missed a party because it’s going on right now as you’re looking and scrolling through the feed on your phone.
TERI MILLER: And you sometimes it’s not missing a party in person. You’re missing the party that’s happening online, in a sense, the conversation or the responses that are happening to a post.
DR. AMY MOORE: Good or bad.
TERI MILLER: Exactly. Yeah. My 14-year-old daughter, I mean, it just breaks my heart how she deals with it. And when I’m like, “No, we are gonna dock your phone.” It goes into the docking station, you know, and I, I have it gotten later, and later and later, you know, so I mean, okay, 10 p.m. it’s docked because for her it is like physically painful when I said 8 p.m. No way. Her friends are still interacting, they’re still making plans about the next day, 9 p.m. That’s still, it’s not late enough and that is just heartbreaking. But I’m, I’ve gotta be aware that that is real life to her.
KATIE DAVIS: Very much. Absolutely. And that raises such an important point that, you know, it’s not all in your hands as a parent as much as you want it to be, but there are so many other factors that you have to consider, like what your child’s friends are doing and what their parents are doing and what the school, you know, some of my friends, they may want to resist getting their child a phone, but actually it’s needed for school, you know, just to do a particular lesson. And so it’s really, there’s so many factors, especially when you can do so much on one particular device. And then, you know, one thing I would say about, we’ve been talking a lot about social media, but there’s also the more private channels that, what you were just saying makes me think of, you know, of the more group-chat type of things on Instant Messenger or Snapchat or Instagram. And those, even though they’re a little bit more private among friend groups, they can also be extremely fraught, especially I would say for younger teens where, you know, if you think about that time, there’s a lot of changing of allegiances from day to day and who’s in the click and who’s out. You know, in group chats, someone can be booted out of a group chat because they’re not in that day. It can cause a lot of stress for teens. And so again, it comes back to needing to maintain those lines of communication to even know that this is going on ‘cause it’s not necessarily visible.
DR. AMY MOORE: Yeah. And you talk about the importance of not trying to find a one-size-fits-all approach, right? That you have to know your child. You have to know the specific technology. You have to know like the, you know, the microculture that they’re functioning in. Like what time are your friends going to bed because they’re still two hours’ worth of talking going on, right? Like, these are so important. It makes it overwhelming as a parent, right? It’s challenge–makes it absolutely challenging to us because we have to have all these moving pieces when we try to set boundaries and limits, right?But like I’ve heard you say for the last 40 minutes that those nuances are critical.
KATIE DAVIS: Absolutely. And that that is so true. You just cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach as much as it would be so much easier. I would love it if we could take a one-size-fits-all approach, but people are too complicated for that and the technology is certainly too complicated. And then all the dynamics when you think about the interaction between the technology and how it’s been designed and then the individual kids who are using it, it just becomes extremely challenging. And so that’s why you need to go back to, “Okay, how much agency does my child have in this particular technology experience? Is there anything I can do to support them and make them feel like they’re more in control?” So things in social media, they’re strategies that parents can help teens adopt things like, “Well, you know, if there are particular accounts that you’re following that just make you feel regularly, like you’re “less than,” unfollow those. You know, change, curate your feed so that you’re encountering more positive content. You know, a lot—what really hardens me is to see so many peer groups now—friends are starting to create their own norms and they’re saying, “You know what? We’re just gonna make a pact that when we’re together, we’re not gonna take out our phones” or “We’re gonna stop our group chat at a certain time.” Or where some friends are turning to flip phones and “We’re just gonna use flip phones.” So that’s not particularly common, but it is pretty, it’s pretty neat to see teens themselves recognizing the stress and coming up with workarounds and strategies. But parents can absolutely help and use that opportunity to adjust their relationship to technology. So for me, the, my absolute weak point is having my phone by my bed at night and checking it throughout the night whenever I wake up. And so as Oliver gets older, I fully intend, maybe not just yet, but you know, we can make a patch where we both put our phones in a different room and have them charge outside of our rooms. And, you know, you can work on it together.
TERI MILLER: Of course then as he’s getting older and he is driving, then you keep the phone by the bed cause you’re like, “You know, text me when you’re on the way home” and then two o’clock in the morning, “Did he text me? Is he home?”
KATIE DAVIS: Absolutely.
DR. AMY MOORE: Right. And there’s some, I mean, that’s not gonna work for everyone, right?
KATIE DAVIS: No, absolutely not.
DR. AMY MOORE: You know, as a counselor, I keep my phone next to my bed in case I have a mental health emergency.
KATIE DAVIS: Of course.
DR. AMY MOORE: Yeah. But again, that just illustrates there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
TERI MILLER: Right.
KATIE DAVIS: Yeah.
DR. AMY MOORE: So we need to take a break and let Teri read a word from our sponsor. When we come back, I wanna talk to you about this idea of parents embracing a “good enough” principle of digital parenting.
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DR. AMY MOORE: We’re talking to Dr. Katie Davis today about technology and kids, particularly with teens. So Katie, talk to us about this idea of adopting this “good enough” mentality for digital parenting.
KATIE DAVIS: Yeah, so I introduced this concept of the “good enough” digital parent in the book and it actually comes from the mid-20th century pediatrician by the name of Donald Winnicott, he wrote a lot about the “good enough” mother. And so I updated it for 21st century context, including fathers and all parents in it. So the “good enough” parent—and then translated it to a digital context—but essentially Winnicott’s point in talking about the good enough parent was that, you know, if we’re there for our children all the time, 100% of the time, to get them out of tricky situations or to give them the next activity when they’re bored with the thing that they’re doing right now, or just if they’re tricky social dynamics and to help them navigate it all and take care of it all, we’re actually doing our children a disservice because we’re not allowing them the space to develop their own resilience and their own ability to regulate their behaviors and emotions to be able to get themselves on board if they’re finding themselves being bored. So the whole idea is that “good enough” is actually what you’re aiming for. It’s great. You wanna be there, of course, as much as you can, but give your children some space to try things out and to fail and then with them adjust as needed. And so when you translate that idea to the context of digital technologies, it’s the same sort of thing. So good enough digital parents are trying their best to steer their children towards self-directed, community-supported technology experiences, recognizing that there’s no one right way to do this. The research just doesn’t show us any one right way to do this. So they’re bound to make some mistakes and that’s absolutely okay as long as they are engaged, involved, and curious, and ready to change course if they see that their child is maybe not doing so well with this particular experience. That’s actually the best that you can possibly be doing. And failure along the way is to be expected, and it can be a source of learning for both parents and children. And then importantly, and the other piece of this is that good enough digital parents give themselves a break when it comes to their own technology use. So we are at the mercy of these devices and these platforms just as much as kids are. We are bound to make slip-ups when we find ourselves looking at our phones or checking our email when we’re playing with our kids, or you know, just supposed to be doing something with the family. And we often find that we’re feeling a lot of guilt when that happens. So what I’m arguing in the book is for parents to give themselves a bit of a break, and when you find yourself making those inevitable slip-ups to try and use them and turn them into a teachable moment and where you can actually, say, “You know what? I have just been distracted. Let me turn my attention back to you and let’s get back where to where we were.” If you have slightly older kids, you can actually engage them in a conversation about dark patterns and you know how the tech companies are working and why it is that you’re, that it’s not necessarily a personal failing of yours as a parent, but actually you’re just like every other person when it comes to the challenges of these technologies, and it can actually open up some really great conversations. So that’s what I urge parents to do is just embrace the concept of a good enough digital parent and really with the confidence that good enough is great. It is what you’re aiming for.
TERI MILLER: Tell us about the book you’re talking about. Where do our readers grab that book so they can learn about how to just be a good enough digital parent. I don’t have to be perfect.
KATIE DAVIS: Yeah. Well, hopefully ‘Technology’s Child’ is available at your local bookstore. If not, of course you can get it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or pretty much any online bookstore. You can get it in digital form or hard cover. You could also, you know, if you want to go to my website, KatieDavisResearch.com, I’ve made it very easy for you to find your way to buying the book. And also you can sign up for my newsletter, which is a weekly newsletter that shares ideas and tips about concepts from the book.
TERI MILLER: Okay. So good. Katie, K-A-T-I-E.
KATIE DAVIS: That’s right. Katie Davis. Yep.
TERI MILLER: Uh, oh. Amy, we’ve lost your audio.
DR. AMY MOORE: That’s because I was muted. Okay. Here we go. I didn’t want everyone to hear me slurping my Starbucks that my kids brought while we were recording.
KATIE DAVIS: So, oh, that’s so nice.
DR. AMY MOORE: Yeah. So we’re outta time. We need to wrap up and let Katie go. But thank you so much Dr. Katie Davis for joining us today. Sharing your wisdom and insights from your research. I know that our listeners are gonna have amazing takeaways and food for thought, right? Especially understanding that there is not one right answer that we do need to just really think about our individual kids and their technology medium and all of that. So again, Dr. Davis’s website is KatieDavisResearch.com. We will put a link to how you can purchase her book. We’ll put a link to her website, as well as her LinkedIn and Twitter account handles all in the show notes. So thank you so much for listening today. If you liked our show, please follow us on Instagram and Facebook at The Brainy Moms. Do it right now before you forget. If you liked our show, we would love it if you would leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts so that we can reach more parents like you. If you would rather watch us, we are on YouTube and that’s all the smart stuff that we have for you today. We hope you feel a little bit brainier than you did an hour ago. Join us next time on The Brainy Moms.