Ep 277: Understanding Our Kids' Online World

Michael Rich, author of The Mediatrician’s Guide, joins us to explain why we must move beyond fear of “screen time” to have more nuanced conversations with teens about finding balance, meaning and ethics in their digital lives.

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Full Show Notes

Teens today have never known a world without smartphones, social media, and round-the-clock internet access. As digital devices become more and more ingrained into every aspect of their lives, it's only natural for parents to worry about the impact all this technology might have.
We often hear panicked stories about social media causing depression or video game addiction destroying kids' attention spans. It makes us want to snatch the screens out of teens' hands completely! But is going cold turkey really the best approach?

To help parents navigate the digital age, we're talking to Dr. Michael Rich, an expert on kids and media. Dr. Rich is an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and the founder and director of the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital.

He's also the author of a new book called The Mediatrician’s Guide: A Joyful Approach to Raising Healthy, Smart, Kind Kids in a Screen Saturated World. As both a pediatrician and a former filmmaker, Dr. Rich has a unique perspective on why we should move past fear-based thinking when it comes to kids and technology.

Rethinking "Screen Time"

Trying to simply limit screen time is an outdated way of thinking, says Dr. Rich. Screens are so embedded into every part of life that trying to quantify daily use is irrelevant. Instead of counting minutes spent staring at a device, Dr. Rich encourages intentionality. This means being mindful, balanced and present in how we interact with technology.

Dr. Rich coins these practices the “killer B’s.” Being mindful means understanding how device use displaces other activities, while being balanced means taking regular screen breaks. Most importantly, being present while using devices prevents us from missing out on real world connections. Trying to upgrade from texting to calling to in-person interactions is key.

Looking Below Problematic Behaviors

It’s easy to blame devices themselves for issues like addiction or bullying. However, Dr. Rich explains that problematic digital behaviors are usually symptoms of underlying issues like ADHD, anxiety, depression or autism spectrum disorders. Taking away teens’ access without addressing root causes may make problems worse.

Dr. Rich notes that teens often see their devices as tools that help them cope with or avoid difficulties in their lives. Complete removal can heighten their distress. Instead, identifying and properly treating adolescents’ mental health is key to curbing unhealthy digital habits.

Fostering Digital Wellness

Rather than seeing devices as inherently bad, Dr. Rich focuses on how we can use them for good. Social platforms and interactive games actually have huge potential for building community, creativity and emotional skills.

However, teens need guidance on using digital spaces ethically. Dr. Rich encourages parents to model intentional digital wellness and have open conversations about pitfalls like compare/despair thinking or internet rabbit holes. Promoting self-awareness and balance helps teens build healthy lifelong technology habits.

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Dr. Michael Rich
Dr. Michael Rich
Director, Digital Wellness Lab; Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders (CIMAID) @ Boston Children's Hospital. Listen to Ask The Mediatrician here!
Ep 277: Understanding Our Kids' Online World
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