Ep 270: Parenting Beyond Social Media

Andy Earle: You're listening to Talking to Teens, where we speak with leading experts from a variety of disciplines about the art and science of parenting teenagers. I'm your host, Andy Earle.

We're here today with CJ Casciata talking about parenting beyond social media. It's easy when we start talking about social media to feel really doom and gloom and as CJ says, like an old man saying, get off my lawn, but that's not really helpful or productive, especially in a world where social media is... kind of here to stay. So the question we need to be asking ourselves is how can we parent beyond social media?

How can we push our kids to have offline conversations to have real deep community with each other and with their friends in a world where there's so much pressure to do everything online. And how can we make our kids feel not like they have to create some imaginary character or life for themselves that they put on. Just that they're enough the way they are.

That's the topic of today's episode. CJ is a creative strategist. And a media producer. He's partnered with notable brands like MGM studios, Delta airlines, Sesame street, and Lulu lemon. He's also the creator of Ring Beller an award -winning media and technology project, helping kids learn urgent skills like creativity and kindness in schools around the world. He travels globally, speaking to creative professionals at venues like Creative Mornings, Tedx, and Story. His work has been featured by Forbes, Salon, CBS, MTV, TechCrunch, and many more. And he is the author of the book, The Forgotten Art of Being Ordinary: A Human Manifesto in the Age of the Metaverse.

CJ, thank you so much for coming on the show. Welcome to the Talking to Teens podcast.

CJ Casciotta: Hey, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Andy Earle: Really, really excited to talk today about your book, The Forgotten Art of Being Ordinary.

You really dive into social media and the changes that are happening in all of our lives as they become more and more digital. You call the book. A manifesto and I see what you mean after reading it. It's really it reads like a manifesto.

Talk to me a little about where this came from or what inspired you to write this?

CJ Casciotta: Yeah. I have kids at home and I found myself really way too attached to my phone, to social media when they were just starting to get older. I don't know if anybody can relate to me on that subject.

It was to the point where. I felt like I couldn't separate my virtual identity, my digital identity from my grounded, physical personhood. And I remember asking myself, would I still exist almost doing this weird kind of thought experiment that some of us do in the 21st century now, right?

Would I still exist if I just shut all that down and went through this whole sort of journey of trying to find my way back to the ordinary flesh and blood human being that I am apart from, the personal branding and the striving, and the digitizing and the filtering that all of us do on a day to day basis .

And I'm telling you, Andy, I've lived to tell the tale. And I think I'm actually better for it.

Andy Earle: You have some pretty interesting data in your book, especially at the beginning of the book, really just building this case about the dangers of a lot of these technologies and I'd love for you to walk me through some of that because it's really powerful. You brought in these quotes and whistleblowing report from actual ex employee of Facebook, different people who have been associated with Facebook, pulling back the curtain on the dangers of what they were developing.

And I think it's easy to hear this kind of stuff and think, oh this is overblown. It's not really that big a deal. It's just an app. What do you say to people who have that mentality?

CJ Casciotta: It's tough because, technology is not neutral. Anytime a technology is introduced, it's for a purpose, it's designed to actually change our thinking. Now, the challenge is we have to realize that's not necessarily always a bad thing or inherently a bad thing. So we're distracted right now. We're going is technology dangerous. Is it not is what Elon is doing with X dangerous? Is it not? Is Facebook dangerous? That's not necessarily the question. The question is: is this consequential in some way to me, to my family, to my community group?

And the answer is yes. So what kind of consequences does it have? It's a little bit of a nuance , but don't miss it because that's what I think we need to be training and inspiring in our kids, in our students, in anybody who's a leader of future leaders.

Andy Earle: It's pretty hard to argue that it's not consequential.

CJ Casciotta: And consequential is the word because maybe the consequence is good. In many cases, it is good. The danger is the lack of consideration, critical thinking around stuff. And that's where we graduate, 10 years down the line and are now addicted to these iPhones because we were like, "Oh, okay, sure. Just hand me one. Oh, this is neat. This is cool." 10 years later, it's stop the doom scrolling, get off of this thing. Because we didn't think long enough, hard enough, critically enough at these critical junctures. From when we were handed the piece of technology to this point in time now.

It's thinking about them more intentionally than we have been in general. That is the thing I think we have the opportunity to inspire in our kids. And the people that we lead.

Andy Earle: And so how do we get more intentional about thinking about those consequences?

CJ Casciotta: The case I'm trying to make in the book is to re connect with actual reality. We've got virtual reality. We've got augmented reality. But reconnect with the miracle that it is to be an ordinary human being moving through the world. Realize that we are indeed multidimensional beings and reconnect with some of those other dimensions. Anytime a new piece of foreign technology is introduced to our multi sensory experience, we ought to consider how that impacts the perfectly fine, perfectly sustainable existence of an ordinary human being.

Andy Earle: You have some interesting research in here about the different areas of the brain that are activated. When we consume print, it activates the hippocampus responsible for long term memories. Reading is more imaginative. We're engaging in a different way with the content. Whereas when we consume media via a screen, we are using more of the brain's temporal lobe, which managers short term memory. Why does that matter?

CJ Casciotta: That's a lot of the work of Nicholas Carr, who wrote the really great book called The Shallows, which came out in like the early two thousands. And his work was really about Distilling down what happens when we introduce these new mediums when it comes to the way we think.

And to his point, with print, with the ritual of turning a page, of having everything else in the background, you're, you're activating the hippocampus, which is really more responsible for long term sort of contemplative thinking. And every time we introduce digital media into that where it's very fast, you can cross pollinate -- how many times do you listen to or read a blog and then you end up going down a rabbit hole to another blog-- all that's really good, but that's activating more of the front of your brain, which doesn't store stuff as long.

So that's why a lot of times "Oh man, I read, five articles today." And then by the day, you're like, "I don't remember what each of them said."

Andy Earle: What did I read?

CJ Casciotta: Yeah, exactly. That's not necessarily a bad thing because It's a really interesting, innovation that we're able to flex the front of our brain more than we did before all of this technology.

The thing that I want us all to be aware of is that whenever we choose to flex that muscle, it's not a total body workout. It's not a total brain workout. We tend to diminish that other contemplative long term thinking muscle. And so if we're aware of that, we can start to make decisions on a day to day basis of how we're going to engage.

Andy Earle: Some of the things you talk about are like instead of just jumping in and sharing or resharing something or commenting back in front of everybody to move to private conversations or take those things that maybe we come across that are interesting and then move that to a private conversation where we can engage with another person and really have a back and forth and think about the idea.

CJ Casciotta: Yeah, isn't that interesting that we over time have just defaulted to we have a beef with somebody it's, "let's take a public." The disadvantage of social media has become, this instinct to try and go viral and try to get in front of the biggest audience possible, where

I think some of the most effective communication is done one on one, it's done in private spaces, it's done in intimate spaces. And I think if we forget that, we do ourselves a disservice, we do our kids a disservice. And kids are watching us, and so to model the way we have conflict with people that we do know or don't know is something that I'm trying to be more aware of in my own life, my own parenting.

Andy Earle: It's so inviting or so easy to just click the frowny face button or click the like button or forward, "Can you believe what this person said?" And it just gets us into these loops without going deep and engaging the other person about it.

CJ Casciotta: Yeah, you could just go directly to them. You might actually reconcile with them and you may lose a reason to be angry with the world. And that is something I think each of us have to wrestle with on a day to day basis as ordinary humans living in a digital world. Do we actually want reconciliation? Do we want to move to a place where there's less outrage and there's more community? There's more hope.

Cause if I'm honest with myself, sometimes I just want to be mad. Cause I like that feeling and I like, pressing the dislike button or making the comment, or at least just feeling it in my heart. But then I got to think, "what is that contributing to our world, our society?"

Andy Earle: You go in depth into a story in the book about Jojo. Why do you spend so much time talking about this 16 year old girl?

CJ Casciotta: I didn't know this. young woman, from Adam until my kid came home and, just started raving about her. And nothing personal to her. I just the character that she has become very popular for is positioned to kids like my daughter as a real life person. When you and I were growing up there was a really strict line between character somebody plays on a screen and who they are in real life. And we just knew that. And then things like pro wrestling came along, followed by reality TV, and now social media. And so we're communicating to an entire generation that there doesn't need to be a difference between your online persona, this character that you play, and who you are on the ground in real life when the screens are off. And I think that's really dangerous. I'm trying to write a very hopeful book. I don't want to be a doom and gloom, Luddite kind of guy. There's a lot of people like that talking about technology in that way. I'm not trying to be like that. The one thing that I am extremely convicted about is that we need to separate truth from fiction, art from the real thing.

And if we don't do that, we should not be surprised when we see, 99 percent of the cultural issues that we're dealing with here in the year 2023.

Andy Earle: Yeah, there's so much talk about fake news and we got to know what's true and what's not true on social media, but it goes back to this separation starting to happen with reality TV and you talk about wrestlers taking this persona that they're playing and they started to realize, "Hey, We got to do this all the time, when we're in interviews and when we're just walking on the street, because our fans, they expect us to be in character. And so , I have to have this beef with this other person and play this larger than life character all the time, because I might come across fans." And then reality TV where it feels like, we're watching real people, but it's really such a contrived situation that the producers have created and made up.

CJ Casciotta: It's fun when a pro wrestler in the nineties does that. It's dangerous when the people who are supposed to be making the laws and running our government do that on a day to day basis. And somewhere between pro wrestling and Donald Trump we lost sight of that. And I think honestly, Joe, people like Jojo sit right in between there.

I am not blaming her at all. I'm blaming the system and our asleep at the wheel mentality when it comes to media technology for creating an atmosphere where a reality star could be the leader of the free world.

Andy Earle: It's blurring the line between real life and acting in this really weird way.

CJ Casciotta: I think my passion in the book about that, that character or that persona came from wrestling with the idea that my daughter would grow up thinking that if she started becoming, interested in YouTube and social media that her life had to look like, or measure up to the success of this other person who's purposely not telling her, "Hey, I'm acting here. I've got a machine behind me making this thing happen."

And I'm not okay with that.

Andy Earle: Yeah, totally. It's setting this like impossible standard to live up to. And then everyone else tries to. Put on their own best version of that to try to live up to that standard. And then we're all trying to live up to everybody else's fake version of their life.

CJ Casciotta: I think we need to be aware that our teenagers are the first generation to wrestle with that. And we need to have grace on ourselves as parents because we're the first generation of parents having to deal with this. I was talking to a buddy about fortnight the other day and again I'm not here to say fortnight's bad, or you should get off fortnight, but what's going on psychologically when you are embodying another character while it's your voice talking to your friends. That's a strange, foreign thing that nobody's really had to wrestle with before. And you might say, "Oh it's just a game." Yeah. But those lines are blurred. And we shouldn't be surprised again when, fights break out in school because of Fortnite, which happen all the time.

Lots of grace to our generation of parents who are the first parents to deal with this. The burden's kind of on us though. You didn't ask for this, but it's here, and this is one of our mantles. Every generation is a mantle to take on, right?

Luckily, we're not signing up to go and fight the Nazis in World War II. But we are tasked with ushering in how this next generation becomes whole and healthy adults using all of this media technology that is just constantly presenting itself as real life to them.

Andy Earle: Oh, I love that. That's a great way to think about it too. We're having a pity party about why we have to deal with all this.

CJ Casciotta: This is our mantle.

Andy Earle: You mentioned being on Instagram. Is that the best place to follow you or to check out what you're doing or what maybe you're you're thinking about or...

CJ Casciotta: The best place to follow stuff I'm doing is Substack. So if you go to bycj. substack. com, that's the best place. I have a newsletter. I love what Substack's doing, by the way. They're not paying me to say this. I'm just -- after doing all this research and writing this book about what social media platforms are doing wrong, I feel like they're doing a lot of things, right.

I hope they stay that way. They're not algorithm led. They're very community based. And so I write a weekly newsletter called The Fuse Letter: Sparks of Courage for Creative Leaders. And you can go to there: by cj. substack. com.

Andy Earle: We're here today with CJ Casciata talking about how to parent beyond social media, and we're not done yet. Here's a look at what's coming up in the second half of the show.

CJ Casciotta: I think that's the hardest thing. I hear that from parents all the time. It's "you don't understand if I say no to having a phone, then I'm saying no to my kid's social life."

I can tell you, it's been the biggest life hack I've ever experienced in my adult life.

We need better whys. "Because I said so" does not work in the 21st century digital economy.

I was like, okay, I did the research. I was like no, we make these changes and we do this stuff that we collectively sort of bargain with our leaders and our communities. To create the future that we actually want to live in. It's possible.

Andy Earle: Want to hear the full interview? Sign up for a subscription today. It's completely affordable and your membership helps support the work we do here at talking to teens. The best part is you can now subscribe directly through Apple Podcasts.

Thanks for listening. And we'll see you next time.

Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
CJ Casciotta
CJ Casciotta
CJ Casciotta is an author, speaker, & founder of Reculture, an award-winning media studio making shows that grow the future.
Ep 270: Parenting Beyond Social Media
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