Why Regulate Your Child's Electronics?

Full Transcript Below:

Stephanie: So today we’re going to talk about…

Sarah: Electronics and mood with our adolescents.

Stephanie: Yes, and this is a hot topic, we’re not going to talk about it with our adolescents but as it relates to our adolescents.

Sarah: I do think it is one of the most important interventions that we instruct our parents to do and it is also the most unpopular with our adolescents.

Stephanie: Yeah, I would agree. At times, it’s things like, you don’t know what’s causing the problem, and when there’s so many different factors causing the problem, whether that’s with depression or anxiety or both, or disruptive behavior. One of the first things I like to do is almost like an elimination diet for activities that we’ve seen over time, activities that contribute to problems, and electronic use is one of those.

Sarah: More often than not the adolescents we see have an exorbitant amount of electronic use at their disposal when they come in and see us. So that is usually our first go to when, you know, what could possibly be causing this problem.

Stephanie: Yeah, and with the elimination diet I like to take away electronics as a top contributor to flare ups. So what does that mean to take away electronics? Parents will often ask me, does this count, does that count? And, it depends on really your parent coach is going to help determine what to take away and what not to, I have different opinions, but really across the board we recommend smartphones being regulated, and regulated either with software, or old school kind of taking it up and replacing it with a flip phone or burner phone if necessary. If necessary right, because a lot of times we need to stay in touch with our kids as they’re moving around. But we want to replace anything that is a screen that is right up in your face. So that is a smartphone, a laptop, an iPad.

Sarah: And videogames.

Stephanie: Oh gosh I didn’t even think about videogames, so I don’t take away television, I don’t know if you do Sarah, but I don’t take away television.

Sarah: No not usually, but maybe late at night, but not usually one of the things that I automatically take away.

Stephanie: And, some of the research has suggested that the light that comes from these electronics can really do damage to the brain, it contributes to all kinds of problems, suicide included, so I just like take that off. But television is one of those things that I think puts enough space between the person and the screen to minimize the problem that comes from that blue light. And, also let’s face it, it’s very difficult to spend time with your family members sometimes, especially in the evening if you’re not watching a show together. And one other thing that does get a little bit sticky is that we stream so much TV nowadays, so watching TV on a laptop or an ipad is the same as what we’re saying is to be restricted versus watching on like a smart TV or watching on just regular cable.

Stephanie: Yeah, no your right. And the other thing is if you’re taking away electronics and TV is included that impacts the entire family, and so one kid has to go to a different room if everyone’s watching a movie together or if the television is on so we just don’t typically limit television. So the rationale for removing electronics is not that we’re trying to punish, and although it will feel like a punishment, and behaviorally its considered a punisher, the purpose is not just to make the kid miserable, it’s not to inflict some kind of emotional or psychological damage on them, and it’s not to take it away forever. It’s to give their brain some kid of rest, yeah like a vacation.

Sarah: A rest, and then also to see what realistically can be tolerated by them, as evidence by their behavior as evidence by their meltdowns at night, as evidenced by their emotional ability, grades things like that.

Stephanie: Yes its just like the elimination diet, when you say see if they can tolerate, you’re adding in a little bit back at a time. So when we take it away, we’re not taking it away forever and we are adding it back a little bit at a time. Just like an elimination diet where they’ll take away, you know, wheat products and milk products and maybe tomatoes or something and so they take these things away and then they add them back in one at a time on a limited basis and see what happens when we add this back. So we may start this kid at ground zero where they have no electronics, and when we gradually add it back they may have 30 minutes and then they have an hour, and then they have up to two hours. What Sarah, if a parent were to ask you what’s the top number that I can feel comfortable with telling my kid that they can keep in mind that they can have of electronics a day, I mean what’s the top number.

Sarah: I mean I think I know the answer that you would like me to say, and sometimes I think my answer is a little bit more lenient. I mean, from what I gather I’m thinking up to two hours a day.

Stephanie: Yeah I mean that’s the general recommendation but my kids definitely spend more than two hours a day on their electronics, but my kids aren’t coming in for treatment for depression and anxiety. So, when I’m talking to a parent that has a kid with a chronic issue, a chronic mood issue, I’m going to say pretty steadily for a while they’re going to need to stay at two hours, but eventually, hopefully, you won’t have to put an arbitrary limit and they’re going to be able to use their wise mind on it.

Sarah: Because eventually I mean we are going to want these adolescents to be making positive choices for themselves and be regulating their own electronic use as they get ready for college and have some more independence. And you know, continuing to monitor this throughout their high school career is just not feasible for the long term.

Stephanie: Right, agreed. So in terms of the actual logistics of how to regulate electronics. This can be a real sticking point for parents, and the software that we recommend across the board is what’s called Our pact – o-u-r p-a-c-t, and I really like it, I use it myself with my teenagers. I think it is something that every kid under 18 really needs to have installed on their phone and there’s a variety of options on it so that you can regulate specific apps, you can see apps, all of the apps that your kid has on their phone, and so any of those apps that hide other apps, if you know what I mean. They have these secret little apps that will hide apps they’re not supposed to have, it will still show all the apps on your kids phone and you can restrict the apps that they have and leave the ones that you want them to be able to have. You can even set a time limit.

Sarah: Question for you Stephanie, I know that you are really steeped in Our Pact, by first hand knowledge. The kids say nowadays they slide into a DM.

Stephanie: They slide into a DM. I just found out what that meant recently.

Sarah: On Instagram. And so, a lot of times parents are pretty easily able to see a text message exchange ad things like that. But in this app are you able to see get into the specifics of the applications that they’re using?

Stephanie: No this is sort of a black and white, it’s an either or. And to your point Sarah I’m going to ask why do you have this particular? What is it Instagram or snapchat or whatever? Why would you, if I cannot count on that you have the regulation skills, why would you have this particular app?

Sarah: Well that’s a good question. Well I mean I feel like even the kids that have earned this privilege back still need some random checks and supervision to make sure that they’re utilizing their apps appropriately.

Stephanie: Yes I agree, and there are other, there’s other software that you can go in and regulate and look at, in theory everything that they’ve done.

Sarah: And I mean at the basic, bare bones of this suggestion we do require that parents have passwords and logins to all these social media apps and we encourage them to regularly get on.

Stephanie: Excellent point, say that one more time because I really do think the listeners need to hear this explicitly.

Sarah: You know this one, it is sometimes it is hard to tell parents because it is incredibly cumbersome to be continuously checking and making sure that your child has not changed their passwords, that they don’t have finstas or what they call fake Instagram accounts and things like that. You like how I’m down with the lingo?

Stephanie: I do, I like that.

Sarah: So it is really important that parents can at any moment say, “hey give me your phone, I need to login and check”.

Stephanie: Wait Sarah, give me who’s phone? Give me who’s phone?

Sarah: Oooh, as my dad used to say, the phone I so graciously let you borrow.

Stephanie: Yes, yes. So don’t forget that if this is your kid and you’re paying the bills, and they’re under 18, you know. This is your phone so you know no need to feel like you’re cracking into their diary. It’s just like if you were at work, and you were using your computer at work and doing your personal things on the computer at work it is subject to search.

Sarah: You know I actually had one of my adolescents ask me recently, “If I go ahead and buy my own iPhone will that keep my parents from looking at it?”

Stephanie: I mean they’re thinking aren’t they.

Sarah: You know, I give her credit, she’s saving up money, she’s going to trade in her phone. I said I don’t know for sure so I would double check with them. However, as parents I feel like they’re going to say they have a right to search any of your belongings at any time.

Stephanie: That’s exactly right, and you put it to her mighty gently because I would have told an adolescent that I was training, you know there is no way that a parent coach is going to okay that. It doesn’t matter if they say things like I bought it with my own money. They don’t have their own money not really not now, it’s yours. And, so especially, especially when we’re talking about problems like suicide risk. We got to be able to get our priorities straight, and privacy is a privilege, as I always say. Privacy is a privilege when you are an adolescent, when you are my kid and I’m worried about you, and it’s a reasonable worry. It’s not a worry where I’m just getting in your business and living through you and getting involved in some sort of your drama, that’s not what we’re doing here. And, we have seen parents do that, we have seen parents take that too far of getting into their kids electronics and getting involved in their personal social drama, this is about safety. And, it’s about safety, and not just safety like are you at risk to yourself, but are others at risk to you. I mean, we definitely have had the case that adolescents were reaching out to grown people, you know these were kids, not adolescents like 17, adolescents like 13, reaching out to grown adults and giving them information that would allow them to be found, and that’s dangerous. So, we want to be able to get our priorities straight and remember that privacy is a privilege.

Sarah: Absolutely, and I mean I think online bullying is a hot topic nowadays, and parents are unaware of what their kid could be quietly suffering through. Is another reason to keep on eye on communication and things like that.

Stephanie: Right, so back to no electronics use in general. So one way is use the software to regulate, another way is to make sure they don’t have applications on their phone that they do not have the maturity level to handle. And one of the things I talk about at length is that I don’t like when parents or anyone would use the word trust when it comes to a kid. Because we don’t use the word trust when it comes to our pets, and we have Rory the cat here beside us and we would not use the word trust when it came to whether or not we would leave the can of tuna fish out with Rory. We don’t say, I don’t trust Rory to control himself, because that would be silly we know Rory does not have the capacity to control himself when there’s a can of tuna fish open and within his reach.

Sarah: Right.

Stephanie: Or fudge apparently for that matter, so it is our job, it’s your job Sarah as his owner to make sure he does not have the temptations that would get him into trouble.

Sarah: Right, it’s almost like setting him up to fail.

Stephanie: It is, so if we allow them access to things that they don’t have the maturity level to handle, then we’re doing the same thing, we’re setting them up to fail. And so saying, can I trust you to have this app on your phone, is really not fair for a lot of kids, and while they may not like it, that’s not our job, really as parents to be liked. Our job is to help keep them safe and to raise them to be functioning and well emotionally adjusted adults. So, if we’re not using software, and I would say if we are using software, even then, you’re going to want your kid to turn their phones in at night. And when I say turn their phones in, what do I not mean.

Sarah: You don’t mean, put it next to your bed, plugged in so you can listen to music and have your alarm on your cellphone, it doesn’t even mean put it right outside your bedroom. It means put it where mom and dad or caretaker is going to know if you take it in the middle of the night.

Stephanie: Yes, and so my kid, I have them during summer they turn their phones in at nine o’clock, they literally walk into my room, and plug it up. I am literally in the bed – I go to bed early – and they plug it into the wall and I see it physically. Now, right now I’ve got twins and one of my children is more emotionally mature than the other and has more of a capacity to regulate their phone use, and so I treat those children differently, even though they’re twins. And so, my daughter now this year, we’re working on, she’s taking her phone into her room at night and she plugs it in. And so, we’re starting to expand out that boundary level and letting her experiment with, well when I have this am I going to make the decisions to put it away, am I going to be able to use wise mind. Now I know on the surface that may not seem fair to my son, what is not fair to my son is to send that phone in with him to his room because he will not be able to stop be using the phone when it’s time to go to sleep.

Sarah: And Stephanie we tell our parents all the time, you do not have to parent two children the same.

Stephanie: You don’t have to be fair?

Sarah: You don’t have to do anything.

Stephanie: Oh my goodness, I thought that when kids were born that they smacked you with the book of rules and one of those rules is, you have to be fair.

Sarah: I think that is the common misconception, if I do say so myself. It is individualized, just like treatment is individualized person to person, parenting should be individualized as well.

Stephanie: Yeah exactly, so you want to have your kid turn the phone in, now I said nine o’clock, I have definitely when they were younger have them turn it in earlier. What do you recommend?

Sarah: You know I think nine o’clock is kind of like if things are going well, nine o’clock is a good time during the school year, on the weekends I usually say the phone gets turned in when they come home from curfew, because I think that just obviously makes sense.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Sarah: They need to have the phone if they’re our driving, with some friends, get into some trouble. You know I have had a situation where an adolescent gets emotionally dysregulated in the evening, be that calling their therapist for coaching or wanting a heart to heart with mom late at night, and so I cut it back to 7 PM to see if that would stop.

Stephanie: And it did, I remember.

Sarah: It did, so after a couple of weeks I said well okay lets extend it to 7:30, and so we were able to eventually work our way back to nine but it took a course of I would say probably two months to get there.

Stephanie: Yeah, and I would say again this is not to punish the kid, this is all about seeing what works and experimenting around. And, at the end of the day all of us are exhausted, and adolescents are no different. And emotion, for kids or adults that have emotion dysregulation as their core feature then at the end of the day they’re burnt out. And then for whatever reason all kinds of drama gets started in the evening, and so these friends are texting or they’re looking on Instagram and they’re seeing pictures of people together that they didn’t need to be together and they get ramped up. You know even just looking at advertisements or people they don’t know and they they’re comparing themselves to them and they’re saying, you know, my life isn’t as great as there’s or my body isn’t as great as there’s and it gets them agitated. And that’s right before bed, so to just take that away as fuel to the fire, if we just take away that fuel, then we see a lot of the problem behavior settle out.

Sarah: And there was one thing you mentioned several weeks ago that I though was really interesting, just the reinforcement from the speed of technology, and how everything is just a click away and the instant gratification. Can you expand upon that because I thought that was not something that I had really thought of before but it is, it’s kind of a vicious cycle.

Stephanie: Yeah, when we’re online now, I mean we’re so spoiled that we are able to click and get what we want really quickly. And in fact when we don’t click and get what we want really quickly we get agitated, and I remember dial up. I mean, we used to be patient enough to sit and wait through up, and that was a good sound, I can remember there’s an association with it being a good sound, but then later on it became associated with being something negative because it wasn’t fast. And we get belligerent when we don’t get what we want when we click, and the longer you’re on, you know the longer your on and you’re getting your way, when it gets interrupted, you’re out of sorts. And so, we get that immediate gratification over and over, and then for a kid who’s brain is developing and they’re getting this reinforcement over, fast, gratifying, over and over, it’s really kind of hard to get any kind of gratification from slower things. You know, like simply sitting in a chair and reading a book, or watching the sunrise, or putting lotion on, or you know, it’s we’re not getting that really fast hit of gratification really quickly, and the brain just speeds up so much and then there’s this halt of close it down. And, it’s like a big downer so to speak.

Sarah: Yeah

Stephanie: Okay, so there’s a big argument about this electronics thing, it’s the biggest one. The parents will say, but they have to use it for school, and I have to admit, that I have not found the most you know carte blanche, across the board method for responding to this but I can tell you that there’s a few way that parents have managed it, and you may have some examples too.

Sarah: Absolutely.

Stephanie: The one way is, sometimes there is a parent that will be home in the afternoon/evening, who can be in the same room as a kid and maybe observe the screen. Not be right up in their business, but have the screen facing them if they’re in the kitchen cooking or whatever. Have the screen facing them so they can see, are they actually doing work or not. The other is to make sure the alerts, the notifications are turned off. You can put regulation on the laptop so that they can’t access social media on their laptop, but there’s no substitute for the old walk by.

Sarah: Yeah, I mean if mom and dad are cooking dinner and the kid is sitting at the kitchen table, it’s going to be kind of hard to get on social media or get off track for long at least. Another thing that I hear parents say is, well they’re up to ten, eleven o’clock doing homework. My question is, well when are they starting their homework, you know, I do believe that they if they start homework as soon as they get home and they’re working until nine or ten then there’s a bigger issue there.

Stephanie: Yeah, and we’ve had that issue before, I mean I’ve had to get somethings adjusted in our household but if they’re starting at three or four o’clock and they’re putting their brains to it and really focusing or working. If they’ve got the amount of homework that goes up to eleven o’clock, you need to have a parent teacher conference, you need to have an assessment, maybe even an individualized education plan, there maybe some learning disabilities going on. But if you know that’s not the case for your kid, then you know its most likely there are these notifications and interruptions leaking out of their chair and going and doing something else.

Sarah: Or not starting on time.

Stephanie: Not starting on time.

Sarah: And that’s when I tell the parents, it’s a nice natural consequence, well the computers getting shut down at nine, if you don’t get your homework done then I guess you’re not turning it in.

Stephanie: That’s right. And you know that’s one of the hardest things for parents to do, to say, that’s enough and have an unfinished assignment. For whatever reason we feel more responsibility sometimes for these assignments than our kids even do sometimes and we’re just like well it’s my fault then if I’m shutting it down. No it’s not, let me be the first to tell you if you not heard, it is not your fault that your kid does not get their homework assignments done and they have had ample time to do it. The only way, the only way that we learn as kids I think, I mean back then they didn’t care whether you completed or not you just got the grade, there’s a little bit more support now than there used to be. But the only way that we would know, this is not a good idea, is the consequences, it’s well you didn’t get it done and you know your bedtime is at nine o’clock or whatever and you had to walk into class and you got a bad grade or you got points off and then that motivates you for the next time. But it’s the consequences that do the work, natural consequences.

Sarah: Absolutely, we love our natural consequences.

Stephanie: Yes we do. So then, one way is to put a limit on the amount of time. Another, is , you know, if you need to go so far, there are a few parents that need to go so far as to ask for special accommodations at school so that a kid does not have to use their laptop.

Sarah: Yeah because it’s interesting, I mean on the one hand it’s good that most textbooks now are e-books, you know save kids backs. But one the other it can be really cumbersome to have all e-books and no text.

Stephanie: And I think it just bleeds your brain. All that screen time just bleeds your brain. So as much as you can keep your kids off of the electronics and on to the actual physical paper if possible. And don’t forget that there is such a thing as an alarm clock that is independent of a phone, there is such a thing as music that is independent of an iPhone. And, you know, you have some of those old flash drive things, what were those called.

Sarah: An iPod.

Stephanie: Yes, an iPod will work, radio, they have such a thing as a clock radio which my son was obsessed with for a while.

Sarah: I mean even like good old CD player.

Stephanie: An old CD player, yeah so you know be creative but be diligent at the same time. This is a lot of work.

Sarah: And don’t let your kids use this as an excuse and rope you in that they need a phone, because we have found ways around that.

Stephanie: And they definitely tell us in adolescent therapy that they’re scamming on their parents that way. But you know this is a lot work, but this is, when the kids are little, a lot of work is giving them, you know, feeding them, clothing them, and you know teaching them potty training. It doesn’t change, it just is different work, so when they’re adolescents the task is we have to be just as diligent, maybe even more. I mean my son even found a way to go through, even though I had shut off several of his apps, but he was able to use a GPS app to access online stuff.

Sarah: Like the news and stuff right.

Stephanie: Whatever it was he was doing what he wasn’t supposed to do, so they get really creative, but the point is to try and do the best you can with what you’ve got and don’t just give up.

Sarah: I think, you know, one thing that we are all guilty of, as much as adolescents is being addicted to our electronics, so I think leading by example ad having electronic free time in your home, at meals, when you’re with family, when you’re on vacation.

Stephanie: Oh my goodness, that’s such a great Segway into our next podcast, when we’re going to be talking about what you need to do to spend time with family that doesn’t have to do with electronics.