Digital Vigilance and Our Kids

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Posted in: Hot Topics, Multimedia, Podcast

Topics: Culture + Society, Digital Media, Healthy Living

We’ve reached a point in time where most of our kids have grown up with digital media as a way of life. Social media, instant viral news, e-learning, digital surveillance – it’s all here to stay. And it’s not all bad. But there are some legitimate concerns about how it’s impacting the mental health and safety of young people.

In this episode of Shrinking It Down, we revisit some of the most helpful conversations we’ve had about digital media’s impact on our kids and teens. From issues related to body image and gaming disorder, to ways we can help our young digital natives become more digitally vigilant, Gene, Khadijah, and other experts share practical advice for every caring adult.

To hear to any of the previous episodes in full or see the resources shared in their write ups, check out our media list, below.

Media List

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Episode Transcript


Khadijah Booth Watkins, MD, MPH; Gene Beresin, MD, MA; Holly Peek, MD, MPH; Steve Schlozman, MD; Michael Robb, PhD 


Khadijah  00:03 

Welcome back to Shrinking It Down. I am Khadijah Booth Watkins with the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Digital Media is on the minds of all of us today. And we are thinking about how to be more vigilant and more media literate. And so we have compiled some of our greatest hits, to help you think about what to look for, when you should be worried and what you can do. And we’ve also kind of included some things to help you to have some conversations with the young person. Again, we’re all worried about and thinking about how to be more vigilant and media literate. So we hope that our conversations help you to navigate this with your young people. 


Gene  00:39 

So in today’s show, we’re going to spend a little more time using our shrink brains to process these claims about mental health harm that Instagram is causing, or allegedly causing, and then talk to some guidance to help our young people navigate social and digital media in healthier and safer ways. And I might add, to help our parents and caregivers navigate digital media in healthier and safer ways and provide guidance for younger people. It shouldn’t be the job of our young people to have to protect themselves. But we’re all hostages to this new digital age. And we need to know how to harness it, and how to protect ourselves and protect our kids. So Khadijah, what do you think? 

Khadijah  01:40 

I think we should jump right in. And I’d like to start by talking about Instagram. And for those who are listening who haven’t seen the 60 Minutes interview with Francis Haugen, or read the initial Wall Street Journal article that leaked that showed the leak Facebook research, you can find those in our podcast descriptions. But it’s all really, really upsetting. And Facebook’s own studies have found that 13 and a half percent of teen girls say that Instagram makes their thoughts of suicide worse, and 17% of teen girls say that Instagram makes their eating disorders worse. And what Francis Haugen said in the 60 minute interview, is that Facebook’s own research says, as these young women began to consume the eating disorder content, they get more depressed, and it actually makes them use the app more. And then as you can imagine, it’s a vicious cycle. And so they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more. And that is so concerning and alarming, considering how much time teenagers spin on Instagram and other social media platforms. 

Gene  02:47 

That’s the downside of digital media. As as Jen Derenne and I wrote about, on the Clay Center site, digital media is dangerous for particularly for girls and body image is because it tends to inflate I think the ideals of what we see as beautiful, acceptable being in control valuable. And and particularly, unfortunately, in our society for women and girls, but also for boys in various other ways. Body image is really important for adolescents Image, Image Image, is pretty much everything. And I think when we’re talking about body image, we are running into issues that have to do with self esteem, and with feelings of control, and with how we’re accepted by others. And in some ways, it’s so superficial. Because what we really care about and if you ask any teenager they’ll say, Well, what I really care about is to people like me, am I a nice person, am I good to others, am I caring, and yet, the power of image, the power of being a celebrity, the power of being beautiful, is so compelling, that it’s hard to get away from it. 

Khadijah  04:16 

And if you’re someone who is not able to look at this information and think about whether this is something that fits you and your circumstances situation or whether this is healthy for you and your circumstances situation, it can be really dangerous. Some of these, these fad diets that are that are promoted on on Instagram and other social media sites that are not healthy and even beyond not healthy. They are also dangerous. And on online, everyone looks great and wonderful and they look you know, refreshed and they’re glowing and they’re glistening, but that’s not always the truth because it really is just what they want you to see. And I think I was talking to someone the other day. It’s kind of like you know, give me the secret to your your Thanksgiving gravy sauce. But if I give you all the ingredients and leave out my secret, you’re not going to be able to make my gravy sauce like so they’re giving you tidbits of what they want you to see, which is often a finished result. But they don’t give you the big picture of the whole picture. And some kids are too young to realize, like there’s some missing pieces here that this does not add up. And so they seek to achieve what they see online. 


Gene  05:30 

So one thing that that jumps to my mind is, is how you feel body image effect self esteem and and why should parents or caregivers care about this? So and what? What conversations can they have with them? Girls, as well as boys? To help them help them manage it? 

Holly Peek, MD, MPH  05:53 

Yeah, I mean, I think we’ve seen consistently that body image and self esteem, some, it can be hard to disentangle the two. Sometimes if one isn’t happy or satisfied with the way they look, or if they’re in the position, that they’re constantly making comparisons to other people, whether in their life, or in the media, which I’m sure we’ll talk about later. It can impact self esteem. And I think it starts at such a young age, kind of almost like passively learning, you know, what, what, what’s a good body and what’s a bad body and what’s acceptable in society and what’s not. And so I think the way that parents and caregivers talk to their children about it really kind of vary, developmentally, and, you know, I think young kids, younger kids, you know, instead of saying, like, Oh, you’re so pretty, you’re so beautiful, aren’t you cute? You know, we’re saying those uncomplimentary ways, but it is such a focus on on their body and their parents and how they’re looking, how about you’re so kind, you’re so smart, commenting and other things that that are complimentary of the child, we really see body image and negative body image more so coming into play in, you know, pre adolescence and into teenage years, so middle school into high school, particularly for girls, because often that kind of coincides with puberty and, and sometimes drastic and quick body changes that can happen during that time, that that draw attention to the changes in their bodies and comparisons with other people who may be developing in different ways at different times. And I think that, you know, the way that caregivers and parents can talk to their pre adolescents and teens, just kind of having an open mind about it, and curiosity. And you know, if they start making derogatory comments about their appearance, or wanting to change certain things about it, being curious about it, where it comes from, in a very non judgmental way. And then also in the home, kind of watching your own diet culture and self deprecating talk around your own body to I think, I think is huge, because kids pick up on everything. 

Khadijah  08:26 

So I think the the idea of going back to what you said about the comparison and how that plays on self esteem, and how important self esteem is it, it makes me think about exposure and what kids are exposed to. And so, you know, we’re going to get back to social media. But I want to talk a little bit about reality TV, and in full transparency. I’m not a super duper reality TV fan, but I do get best what I did on my vacation with my sister, because she is so they watch a lot of reality TV. And you wrote this amazing article for us about the effects of racket reality TV, on our young people. And so I’d like to hear a little bit about your thoughts about how reality TV impacts our youth. Because what I did take away from your your article is that a lot of times there’s not there’s blurred lines for young people when they watch reality TV between what’s reality and what’s not. And then what is also striking for me is often in some of these shows, you have these amazing people who have great accomplishments, and at the end of the day, what we focus on is their, their body, their drama there, you know, all of those things that aren’t really substantive and important. And so, can you talk a little bit about that? 

Holly Peek, MD, MPH  09:37 

Yeah. Well, I think the name reality TV is such a misnomer. And it kind of sets the stage for someone watching it and thinking they’re, like really glimpsing into someone’s real life. You know, and I think that’s where it gets blurred. I saw another I thought was a better word. For reality TV, it called it a docu soap. Because it’s kind of like a soap opera, a documentary like soap soap opera, like not really weird, but we’re calling it reality TV. So we’re assuming, or going into it, assuming that it’s real, when in reality, there are a lot of scripted things, and editors are picking and choosing the drama that we’re watching. And you’re so right, what is often focused on these things is not, you know, the day to day lives of you know, whether they have an accomplished career, or whether you know, the values within their family that are for good, it’s, you know, more often than not some sort of caddy drama. And that’s what we’re talking about at the end of the day. And that’s what keeps people watching, too. There is something just like a soap opera, people, people continually go back to it. I think that, you know, I think of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, for instance, and how vanity and focus on the vanity that every member of that family has on themselves, that really also bleeds into social media to and there have been studies, and it particularly with the Girl Scouts of America ad did did some research around reality TV, and really saw that, you know, those girls that watched more reality TV did place more of an emphasis on their appearance. Now this, you know, I, it’s hard to say, you know, correlation versus causation, like, what were people more focused on their appearance more drawn to reality TV, but it was just pretty consistent across the board, how those that watch reality TV do tend to have a more of a focus on their body image, vanity, and just interpret a lot of interpersonal drama that occurs that sometimes, particularly kids who are like younger and impressionable can imitate in their own lives as acceptable, when as adults, we watch it. And we’re like, well, that’s like completely off base of what happens in the workplace, or what happens in book club, you know? 

Khadijah  12:22 

<laugh> Outlandish.  

Holly Peek, MD, MPH  12:24 


Khadijah  12:27 

Are there any reality TV shows that you can think of that depict like ordinary regular people in a truly more reality? way like that they’re really focusing on the values and all the substance of the people. 

Holly Peek, MD, MPH  12:42 

Yeah, you know, what’s so interesting is I was kind of thinking about that earlier today. And nothing jumped out in my mind. And so I think that that says something, I also don’t watch as much reality TV as they used to, as well. So so it’s hard to say, I think that we try. But at the end of the day, TV is entertainment. And that’s what draws ratings and draws people coming back. It’s hard to think of something I you know, I’m thinking about representation in TV, like more scripted things, that I think we’re seeing more and more and even, even in like, Disney and Pixar cartoons and movies, starting to see more of representation of different sizes of bodies, which I think is a huge step, but I don’t think we’re seeing that as much in reality TV. 


Steve Schlozman, MD  13:44 

Okay, so so cards on the table.  

Gene  13:46 


Steve Schlozman, MD  13:46 

Have you played a video game? 

Gene  13:48 

I’ve played you know, I played Nintendo. I do. I do not play video games. I played Nintendo a few times with my kid. That’s  

Steve Schlozman, MD  13:55 

That’s a console. That’s not a game. 

Gene  13:57 

I know. 

Steve Schlozman, MD  13:57 

Like, what game 

Gene  13:58 

I’ve played Mario Kart. 

Steve Schlozman, MD  13:59 

You’ve played, Okay. Okay, so um, so 

Gene  14:02 

I mean, that’s it, and I lose terribly.  

Steve Schlozman, MD  14:04 

Yeah, yeah, I can’t work the damn console. 

Gene  14:05 

My son, my son loved playing. 

Steve Schlozman, MD  14:07 

Right, so the reason I bring this up I remember like, beating the poop out of my dad on Atari, which is like an ancient device now. But they’re not a video game player. Right? So that’s why I bring this up. I’m not against it. There’s a there’s a bit of irony from two kind of middle aged white guys talking about vacuous middle aged well, you’re very welcome. Thank you for accepting that I might be talking about an industry that actually doesn’t cater to us at all. 

Gene  14:32 


Steve Schlozman, MD  14:33 

Gambling might cater to us. Cocaine might cater to us, I hope it doesn’t, but it might. But video games actually, were not the target here. So it’s an interesting thing for us to be offering commentary in the absence of having experienced it and even being able to understand it. So what I’ve tried to do is actually, you know, you can go online, you can watch folks play games. Yeah, I’ve consulted on some video games. They’re really fun. The storytelling is amazing. And increasingly, games are getting away from just the action just the first person shooting or an adventurer actually making decisions that have real repercussions?  

Gene  15:06 


Steve Schlozman, MD  15:06 

That’s cool. 

Gene  15:07 

You know, as you always say, you know, we always need more research on this kind of stuff. Because this, this digital world we’re living in has very, very little and not very great research in most areas. 

Steve Schlozman, MD  15:19 


Gene  15:19 

So so we do need, I think, to really put our whole spectrum of digital media, whether it’s gaming or texting, or, you know, Instagram or Snapchat, whatever it is…

Steve Schlozman, MD  15:31 

Okay, okay, so let’s cut to the chase, then. We, we could talk all day about theory. But we’re clinicians, we have a trade, right? Like parents come to us, they don’t want to know like, the philosophical underpinnings for how you define addiction.  

Gene  15:42 

They want to know what to do. 

Steve Schlozman, MD  15:43 

What do do.  

Gene  15:43 

And they want to know when to worry.  

Steve Schlozman, MD  15:45 

Right, right. So parent comes to you, let’s say and says, look, the new Red Dead Redemption, cool Western game, the new one right, Red Dead Redemption 2, took a while for it to come out, just just came out. My kid has been playing that for the last 12 hours. That’s all they did this weekend was played this game for the last 12 hours. And that’s what they can’t wait to do it right, tomorrow. Is this okay? 

Gene  16:06 

And you know the answer to that. And it’s kind of like, it’s kind of like the problem with all of these diagnoses. It depends on how it affects your life and how it affects your kid. So let’s say this kid is an honor roll student is the captain of the football team is is is has community service, spends time with the family other than those 12 hours. But so what’s so wrong? So what I would say to the parent is to know how much of this is going to be a problem. It doesn’t matter whether the kid meets a diagnostic criteria or not, it matters. How helpful is it for his development? How old first of all, I want to know the age of this kid, I want to know if he still maintains friends, 

Steve Schlozman, MD  16:51 

14 years old, male, multiple friends, B student, plays one sport, but has recently decided that he’s not going to do his usual spring sport, because he would rather stay in and play video games because he sees that people can go pro with this. 

Gene  17:10 

I would say, you know, it’s a matter of watch and wait. I mean, how much does he give up? If he’s giving up a sport? Well, you don’t have to play three sports? Is it giving up friends? Is he giving up academics? Is he giving up prospects of going to college?  

Steve Schlozman, MD  17:25 

So what we’re saying is, why make this something different than we already know how to make these assessments, when there’s nothing unique about a video game, it’s the same assessment we would make for anybody’s doing too much of anything, have a kid stays in their room all day and reads as a means of sort of not engaging with the world. Even if they’re reading Dostoyevsky, we might say, You know what, we got to get this kid out of his room got a problem, we got a problem. Yeah. So. So I think that’s the point that you and I agree on on this. It’s whether or not we decide to call this dependency. And there’s certainly brain studies that show that it looks awfully similar to things like gambling addiction, or substance abuse, addiction for that, for that matter. It lights up certain parts of the brain that really kind of give you a charge. But there are plenty of things that light up that part of designing that we’re cool with reading stories like that part of the brain movies light up that part of the brain, we’re not prepared to say just because the part of the brain that feels good lights up, that means there’s something wrong, if anything that would be a particular 

Gene  18:16 

So if a kid sat down once a week and read Dostoyevsky all day long and said, This is my reading day, and built that into his schedule and built it into his life and then maybe wrote an essay about it in English class, you know, no, I don’t think parents would, would think that that’s such a big problem. Because it’s not the number of hours. It’s the frequency. It’s the it’s the it’s the it’s the duration. It’s how it affects everyone’s kids. 

Steve  18:41 

There’s also a latency effect or not latency age effect, but there’s a latent effect. If you play like Grand Theft Auto, for example, after you play, you’re likely to drive guys, especially a little bit more recklessly for about a half an hour to an hour after you play. And that’s been replicated multiple times. So one of the things we could talk about is sort of game hygiene. Like after you play a video game.  

Gene  19:03 

Take a break.  

Steve Schlozman, MD  19:03 

Yeah, no, seriously, I think we actually have to come up with these things.  

Gene  19:07 

Back in the old days, we came out of the Three Stooges movie to show my age, people would kind of like, act like   

Steve Schlozman, MD  19:13 

Poke each other in the eyes…. 

Gene  19:15 

Yeah, they wouldn’t hit each other over the head with a frying pan, but they would do stupid things, you know, or after, you know, an Austin Powers movie, or after whatever kind of movie. There’s a certain kind of imitative behavior that occurs after, you know, kids will watch a film or a cartoon, what’s a jackass is all about exactly. And you want to basically say, that’s what they say don’t do this. 

Steve Schlozman, MD  19:36 

So I agree with you. So let’s, since we have to wrap up, we’re not we’re not sure that this meets the criteria for an addiction, but we’re not sure that it doesn’t either. And we’re probably in agreement with the who and the APA 

Gene  19:47 

Right it needs to be studied. 


Gene  19:53 

What a way to help kids process media in an emotionally healthy way is to make sure they’re not just passive viewers. But engaged and aware of what they’re doing. And that today we have a super expert, where our special guest to help us think more about this is Dr. Michael Robb, Senior Director of Research for Common Sense Media. He’s been involved in research and educational outreach on issues involving media and kids for over 20 years. So welcome, Michael. 

Khadijah  20:23 

So with your long history of research, and guiding parents and teachers, on how they can help kids navigate the different kinds of media, can you talk a little bit about media literacy? And tell us more about what it is? 

Michael Robb, PhD  20:34 

Absolutely. So the word literacy usually describes the ability to read and write. And reading literacy and media literacy have a lot in common, right. So when you start with reading, you start with recognizing letters, and then you identify words and understanding what words mean, then leaders become writers. And then with more experience, readers and writers develop really strong literacy skills. Now, media literacy is the ability to identify different kinds of media, and understand the messages that they’re sending. So kids take a huge amount of information from a wide array of sources. And far beyond just traditional media, like much more than just TV or radio or any of that stuff. Because you know, you have text messages, you have memes, your viral videos, all kinds of stuff. But media all shares one thing, which is that somebody created it. And it was created for a reason, right. And understanding that reason, is the basis for media literacy. So somebody who’s media literacy is really just someone who is learning how to kind of read media. And I think it’s really important. Now, since you know, the digital age has made it really easy for anybody to create media, you know, we don’t always know who created something, we don’t always know why they made something. And we definitely don’t know, always whether something is credible. So that makes media literacy, you know, tricky to learn and teach. But it’s something that’s definitely essential. 

Gene  21:56 

So one of the things that parents have asked me, What do I think about a certain video game or a certain app or a certain movie? And I say, Well, you know, you really should go to Common Sense Media, because they have reviews, and articles. And, you know, it turns out that most of these parents have not sat down and played a video game with their kids, or go into the apps that the kids use, or they just don’t have a clue. So I say, you know, you can find out a lot. So who writes in your reviews are terrific. But who writes these reviews in such a balanced and nuanced way? So that so that a lot of different opinions about media can be presented to me? So how do you guys put that together? 

Michael Robb, PhD  22:44 

Yeah, thank you for the nice compliment. You know, we have a great editorial team, that rates a ton of different kinds of media. And it’s all based on a developmental rubric that we have developed, right, and that rubric that we use, is based on the best research we have on how media affects kids in different ways at different ages. Right, we don’t treat our kids as if there’s some kind of monolith. So we may media based on both age appropriateness. You know, for some digital media, we also rate based on kind of what kinds of learning potential it might have. But we also know that every family and every kid is different. But all families need information to make great media choices. And so we break down the ratings into lots of different kinds of areas. So, you know, educational value, how much violence is in a piece of media, sexual content, language, positive things, like, you know, is there a positive messaging in a piece of media or positive role modeling, good representations, there’s really no one size fits all solution for every family. So you know, people can take what we have and just kind of adjust for themselves. And, you know, we also have parent reviews, and can reviews. And you can see that people sometimes disagree with us, and that’s okay. 

Gene  23:59 

So, let’s look at kids. So, parents are always asking, you know, whether a child or a teen is able to critically think about the media that they’re watching, whether it’s the news or Instagram TikTok. So how can a parent or teacher help to build the skills and certain developmental ages to critically think about what they’re watching? And say, No, this is, this is not cool, or, or Oh, no, this is really pretty good. Or I want to get off of this. So because we want our kids to actually be able to eventually critically think about, you know, the material that they’re getting. 

Michael Robb, PhD  24:37 

Absolutely. And I think the first thing to keep in mind here is that this isn’t like some on off switch. They just trigger and kids are able to do it. I mean, this is something that develops over a lifetime of experience. And we often call it a we call it media literacy. It’s a habit of mind, right? It’s something you practice until it becomes more intuitive, more natural and You know, when you want to build this up, there are some key questions that you can ask or you can help your kids ask when teaching middle media literacy, like who created this? Right? Was it a company? Was it an individual? And if so, who is that individual? Right? Maybe it’s a comedian, maybe it’s an artist, a politician? Or maybe it’s like anonymous, and why do you think it’s anonymous? Right? So who created this is number one? Another question to get in the habit of asking is, why did they make this right wasn’t just to inform you of something that happened in the world, right? For like a news story? You know, is this something that was made to change your mind or your behavior? Like, like an opinion essay, maybe just to make you laugh? Because you saw, you know, this funny meme? Or often, you know, my line of work, because I’m dealing with kids on YouTube, Is it something that’s meant to get you to buy something? Right? Is it an ad? Another question to get in the habit of is like, Who is this message for? Right? Is this for kids? Is it for grownups? Do you think maybe they’re trying to like reach girls or boys? And why do you think that? And then there’s a whole other set of questions about like, you know, what techniques are they being used to, to make something seem credible or believable? You know, what details do you think they might be leaving out? And why? how messages are making you feel whether others might feel the same way they were watching this same message, there’s, there’s there’s a whole load of stuff that you don’t have to prep for your kid with all of these questions every time. But maybe one or two of these just to kind of get them into the habit of thinking about like, oh, yeah, somebody didn’t make this and like, what did they want me to get out of this. And as kids become more aware of, and exposed to news and current events, you can apply the steps to radio, TV, but also, you know, online information, you know, social media posts and things like that. 

Gene  26:48 

So these are conversations that parents and kids should be having, from early on all the way through teenage teenagers to young adults. If I get you, right, what about the value of looking at apps and media? Or games together? 

Michael Robb, PhD  27:06 

Oh, absolutely. And actually, that’s one of the kind of main recommendations we make about, you know, how do I support a healthy media environment. So to the extent that parents can either co-view, or co-play, you know, apps or games with their kids, a, it’ll give them an appreciation for what their kids are into. But it also serves as a bonding time, like, you know, let’s use technology to bond and build relationships. One of the things that we know about child development is just how important relationships are to healthy development. We also know that kids like media, they respond to media, like we should be doing what we can to make sure that that media time is not just a source of conflict, as it often is in a lot of families, but also a time for for bonding and warmth, and conversation. It’s not always easy or possible to, you know, watch everything with your kids or placed up with your kids. And if you can’t do that, you know, try to find times in places where you can ask. So like, the dinner table is a great place to sit down. And a that’s a great time for you to put away device. But also, if you want to have a conversation about like, oh, what were you watching? Tell me about like an episode that you were that you were watching. Kids are often very excited to talk about media. If you ask them, What do you do today at school, they may give you a blank stare, and, you know, a mumble of an answer that goes nowhere. But they’re very animated, talking about, like, the media that they like, and so that’s a really good springboard, you know, for using technology for bonding. 


Gene  28:44 

Well, what parents asked me all the time, should I be looking at their cell phones, their texts, through emails, you know, without their knowing it? And I say absolutely not. 

Steve Schlozman, MD  28:54 

Why? I agree with you. But why? Why do you say it.  

Gene  28:56 

Well, I say number one, because because they need to trust you. And they need to know that you trust them. And you’re not going to do that by going behind their back and and violating their privacy and their autonomy. This is mostly for, you know, like for, you know, late school aged teenagers and young adults. Okay, so if what you want to do what if you really want to build trust, if you really want to have open discussions, if you really want to have conversations about drugs, sex, rock and roll or whatever it is, or about self harm or about feeling terrible about things, then you don’t you’re defeating yourself by invading because we’re invading their privacy because you’re going to drive them away. And they’re not going to trust you to actually talk about things in an open way.  

Steve Schlozman, MD  29:44 

What if you tell them that you will be looking at their information, their social media, their texts, whatever? From time to time.  

Gene  29:53 

Then I think what what they’ll do is they’ll either you know, say some nasty things to you and it’ll, it’ll harm the relationship. But I think what they’ll also do is they’ll figure out a way to have a separate account with a separate password that you don’t know about. And they’ll find a devious way to get around you. 

Steve Schlozman, MD  30:12 

So how is that any different? Again, we’re just doing this dialectic thing here. How’s that any different from when I was growing up? You’re growing up? And you said, I’m going out? And your parents say, Where are you going to say, I’m going over to Billy’s house, but really, you’re going to a big party down the street where there was a lot of booze being served. And, and you weren’t going to tell him that? 

Gene  30:28 

Of course, none of us ever did that?  

Steve Schlozman, MD  30:29 

Never. Course we did. 

Gene  30:31 

Of course we did.  

Steve Schlozman, MD  30:32 

Yeah. So and kids do too. So how is this diff? I think it is different? 

Gene  30:36 

I think it’s different too. 

Steve Schlozman, MD  30:37 

Can we kind of crystallize in what way it’s different? 

Gene  30:41 

Well, for one thing, 

Steve Schlozman, MD  30:42 

Is it a matter of degree? 

Gene  30:45 

Well, it’s a, I think it’s a matter of a number of things. One is these these things that are happening in schools and at home? If they’re not, if the questions are not asked, Are you feeling okay? Are you doing okay? Are you you know, you know, thinking of hurting somebody, or yourself, you don’t have those discussions? That’s a missing part. And so asking, Where are you going? The kid might lie about it, but the kid can lie about it digitally, too. Okay. So that’s one thing. But the second thing I think is, is that it’s our parents, typically, in those days did not get in the car and follow us. without our knowing about it. It could. We know, we know, right? But now they can do all of this surveillance without one’s knowing about it. And that creates an atmosphere of fear of anxiety, of concern of distrust of, you know, a big brother watching. 

Steve Schlozman, MD  31:44 

Yeah, no, it does have a big brother kind of feeling to it. 

Gene  31:46 

It has an Orwellian kind of feel to it. That that is not healthy. 

Steve Schlozman, MD  31:52 

Uh do you ever watch Black Mirror? No, it’s so good. So good. So you should watch it. It’s so there eat it’s an anthology for folks, a lot of folks have seen it. But for people who haven’t, it’s an anthology, which means you don’t have to watch it in order. Each one is a separate episode. And it takes current technology, just maybe a step or two further than where it is in a way that’s highly believable. And there was one episode in the second season, maybe. Jodie Foster actually directed, or wrote, or maybe both. But the point of it is, you can have something installed in your child’s eyes from the day they’re born. And then you can go on your iPad, or an iPad, look, see? See exactly what they’re saying. Wow. So at any time, you can check up on where they are, which is actually what a lot of parents would like to know, like, have you seen Johnny, I wonder where Johnny is really a football practice? Or is he not? So this person does this technology in this particular episode allows the mom to do this. And not only that, anything that is unnerving to the child, the mom can kind of erase so that the child can no longer see it. It’s becomes blurry. 

Gene  33:01 

So what is more building of distrust, and dishonesty, and paranoia. For good reason, then technology used in that way? 

Steve Schlozman, MD  33:15 

That’s so the reason Black Mirror is such a potent shows because it takes these days a little bit to the extreme, but then allows us to ask these questions. Parenting. And we know this, because we’re parents, it’s always been about this very wobbly tightrope that you walk, where you give your kids enough freedom to grow up, but not so much that they can get into trouble. And you’re gonna blow it some of the time and just hope you don’t blow it in a big way. As the technology comes on, and promises you the possibility of never blowing it in a big way, it becomes awfully enticing for parents and for schools to buy into it, because who doesn’t want to protect their kids. But what we forget is that that level of protection actually becomes harm. I think that’s really important. I’d love for there to be a real effort into studying how effective it is for you to monitor your child’s social media. i We don’t have that data, I’ve looked really hard for that data, it really doesn’t exist right now. We will I’m sure it will just start to exist iteratively because people have tried to collect it over time. But in the short run like before that happens. I think what we tell our parents and the kids, it’s that golden mean, right? Like the technologies their kids have always found a way of getting away with things they’ll figure out a way to get past the technology to doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense to monitored with the monitor too much, you might actually risk losing their trust. And at a certain point, you have to balance the importance of their trust with the importance of just you know, letting them take some risks and hoping for the best and knowing that you’ll be there to help them if need be, which is not all that comforting, but it’s still more comfortable than having your child thing. Every move is being looked at We don’t like police states we don’t want to create one for kids.  


Gene  35:07 

It leads me. Yeah, go ahead. Sorry. 

Khadijah  35:10 

Are you gonna tell the parents to delete all the apps and put restrictions on the phones? 

Gene  35:14 

No. I think I think part of the, Absolutely not. I mean, we’ve learned, like I said, we’ve learned that censorship prohibition is never works, it backfires. What would be helpful would be to help adults as well as kids learn how to harness digital media for better rather than for worse, and that means, frankly, because of the power, and the pervasiveness and the, the extent, and the depth of this media, we really, do you need media literacy, curricula, from K through college and beyond? How do you learn social etiquette on the media? How do you kind of avoid cyber bullying? Or, or sexting? How do you avoid putting other people down? How do you get into civil conversations using social media? It’s such an integral part of our lives, I think it should be part of our social emotional learning curricula. 

Khadijah  36:29 

You know, and I think that it’s really important for us as parents to have that awareness and understanding of what their kids are doing and what motivates them. And so asking, again, What apps do you use? You know, why do you use them? Show me how they work? You know, even inquiring for them? Like, you know, what do you like about these apps are what do you like about social media? And do you ever encounter anything that makes you feel bad in any way, anything that really just particularly like, gets under your skin in any particular way, would be really helpful and really understanding, you know, obviously, first what they’re doing, and why they’re doing and what motivates them. You know, what drives them to use it, and then try to supplement because I agree with you censoring and taking away is not going to help but but alternatives to social media. You know, like you said, sitting at the dinner table, we have a no phone policy at the dinner table. At any table, which I’m still I still have to fight every time you sit at the table like is that is that your phone because I will take it. But you know, we have we have you know, phone time, we go out and we’re out, you know, doing something active outside together, like we put the phones away, and, and we just try to be mindful in the moment and enjoying the activity or each other at but those things are important, and they have to be deliberate. And again, just like you said earlier, if you don’t put your phone down, we can’t expect them to put their phones down. 

Gene  37:56 

Anyway, thanks, everybody, for listening. We hope that that this was a helpful conversation. It’s certainly not over. It’s just the beginning of new era that we’re all in. And we hope that our conversation will help you have yours. I’m Gene Beresin. 

Khadijah  38:15 

And I’m Khadijah Booth Watkins.  



Music by Gene Beresin

Episode produced by Sara Rattigan

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Gene Beresin

Gene Beresin, Executive Director

Gene Beresin, MD, MA is executive director of The MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, and a staff child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is also...

To learn more about Gene, or to contact him directly, please see Our Team.

Khadijah Booth Watkins

Khadijah Booth Watkins, Associate Director

Khadijah Booth Watkins, MD, MPH, is associate director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and the Associate Director of the Child and...

To learn more about Khadijah, or to contact her directly, please see Our Team.

Steven Schlozman, MD

Steven Schlozman, MD

Steven Schlozman, MD, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS), course director of the psychopathology class for the MIT-HMS Program in Health, Sciences and Technology, and former co-director of the Clay Center for Youn...

To read full bio click here.

Holly Peek, MD, MPH

Holly Peek, MD, MPH

Holly Peek, MD, MPH, received her medical degree from Tulane University School of Medicine. She also received a dual Masters of Public Health degree at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, with a concentration in global co...

To read full bio click here.