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Episode summary:

In this episode, Susan and Delaney talk about how to approach technology in a way that fosters connection and conversation, rather than resistance and alienation. A fascinating discussion with easy to use ideas for reducing screen time struggles!


Delaney Ruston is a filmmaker, Stanford trained physician and international speaker who makes documentaries to foster social change. She is the creator of the award-winning films, Screenagers, about solutions for healthy screen time and Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, about improving the emotional wellbeing of today‚Äôs youth. Delaney has spoken at Google, The Aspen Institute, conferences, schools, and others, and her views are often in the press, such as Good Morning America, NPR, New York Times and many others. A Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Ruston has been faculty at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and at Stony Brook School of Medicine in New York and currently provides medical care to the underserved and homeless, which she has done for over a decade.    

delaneyruston.com

Things you'll learn from this episode:

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How to create a climate where kids want to talk about technology
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The importance of avoiding the Stab and Grab

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How to have healthy conversations about rules, limits, and healthy tech habits

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Episode Transcript


Speaker:
Hello, welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I'm your host, Susan Stifelman, the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. I'm also a marriage, family and child therapist, a teacher, a long time parent coach, and a mom. And I'm very glad that you're here. This podcast is just about helping you raise confident, caring children with more joy and with fewer power struggles before we get started, make sure that you're getting all of our updates by visiting Susanstiffelman.com. You can sign up for the newsletter. So you'll get lots of inspiration and we have some great programs for parents, including our recent hugely popular class, Reducing Behavioral Challenges with Tools From Neuroscience, with Dr. Mona Delahooke, which is still available and a class coming up with the wonderful authors of the Self-Driven Child, William Stixrud and Ned Johnson. So be sure to stay in touch today. My guest is Delaney Ruston, who is a documentary filmmaker and a primary care physician. And we're going to be talking about one of the topics I consider most important in the landscape of parenting today, screens. Have a listen to our conversation and then I'll come back for the wrap up.

Speaker:
Oh, okay. Hi Delaney. I am so, so, so glad you're here.

Speaker:
Thank you so much.

Speaker:
So let me just read your bio because I want to get into the meat of everything. There's a lot to talk about around an issue that is so important to me and dear to my heart, maybe at the top of my list, but here's who you are for the world to understand a little bit better, who who's going to be having the conversation. Delaney Ruston is a Stanford trained physician, author of parenting in the screen age, and long-time filmmaker, her films, Screenagers and Screenagers Next Chapter have brought together 5 million people in over 90 countries. Thus far, Delaney has been asked to speak on youth wellbeing and tech at places like Google, Pixar, and the World Health Organization, and is often in the news on PBS NewsHour, Good Morning America, and the New York Times. In addition, Delaney Rustin is a Fulbright scholar whose won several awards for her mental health advocacy and has been faculty at top medical universities, including the University of Washington. She spent years providing primary care to underserved adolescents and adults, and does so currently in Seattle and really is a champion for helping us become aware of the gifts and benefits of using screens and also how to navigate this uncharted water. So again, welcome. We're really happy that we get to have this conversation.

Speaker:
Oh, I am too Susan. Thank you.

Speaker:
So, you know, in putting together my questions it's where do I start? And I think let's start with mental health and everybody knows now, especially after COVID the excessive screen time use, but we also know that anxiety and depression have been rising. So how do we talk with our kids about establishing healthy habits and reducing emotional dependence on, on tech and just setting limits?

Speaker:
I think the first really important concept that we get to our kids is that screen time is two distinct different things. There is screen time as a tool and screen time as a treat. And, you know, as a tool, it's something like sending an email to grandma or learning how to do a new way of beading. It's really about producing. And when we talk about screen time as a treat, it's watching their YouTube videos, playing their video games, it's scrolling on their posts. It's really about consuming and with all treats you know, there's risks, even if you use it just a little bit and there are real needs for moderation. And I think just getting that, first of all, that that treat versus a tool is key. When we talk about screen time with our kids,

Speaker:
I love that because it's very simple and there's no judgment or negativity about it. These are just facts that it can be used in these two particular ways. Now let's sort of move into how we gently without, you know, raising the alarm and our kids thinking, oh, now here it comes. You're going to tell me I can't use it anymore. How do we broach this in a way that fosters receptivity and openness and more importantly cooperation when we want to start setting some limits?

Speaker:
Yeah, well, I'm the first Susan to say I was doing it all wrong from the get-go because it is so emotionally charged, right? When you see the, your kids sneaking screen time, or just not getting off of it. And this was now about almost 10 years ago and I would do this thing called stab and grab, and I'm not proud of it. I would stab my kids with my eyes and grab whatever device they had in their hand, B maybe judgy or mad, or really scare them like, oh, this is just awful. And I started to notice just all over society. We do this really a sense of, oh, mental health problems are all because of screen time, which is not true. Or schools often just having assemblies on cyber bullying without letting kids have a chance to talk about anything else, you know, their input.

Speaker:
And it's really been this scare tactic. And when, because it's so much of a judging and a scare tactic, our kids and adults, I mean, our kids and teens are really defensive. And so when I, you know, we're talking with kids and teens, when they say, oh, parents and adults, they just don't get it. Boy, I see why they were feeling that way. And so rather than a scare tactic, it's so much about having a share tactic instead with our kids sharing stories and science and spaces for really, really good and open conversations. And I always say the most important thing is really starting with the positives about the tech revolution and screen time to help bring their, their defensiveness and frustration and feeling like we don't understand them, bring it down. So really starting out with all the positives and boy have there been huge amount of positives that being in a tech revolution during this global pandemic has provided.

Speaker:
I love that that's where you go with it because it segues or overlaps perfectly with one of the basic tenants of my work, which is that we need to come alongside our kids rather than at them. And when something that our child or teen is doing concerns us, and we come at them with advice they haven't asked for, or suggestions or criticism, their system is wired to shut down and to close, you know, put up the, the gate and, you know, hit all the barriers. And then we just try harder and we get louder or more intense, or the threats start to ramp up.

Speaker:
Exactly. And you know what I have learned you know, gosh, I've been interviewing and doing school workshops and, and just in my own practice as a physician working and talking with so many kids and teens, and the thing is they love actually talking about screen time in their life. Like we actually don't often give spaces for that in our schools or other places, but they have a ton of opinions and they like to be able to talk about it. The problem of course at home is it's a loaded topic and there's a lot of emotions, a lot of fears we have as parents. And what I found is that I, even though I, I started to learn, okay, rather than a scare tactic, I need to have a shared tactic. My adrenaline would start to go up and I really needed to create a space a time and a place where I knew I could hold it in or write my feelings down until we got to that time and place where we would talk about issues about positives of screen time in our life.

Speaker:
And then also the concerns if we had any that week, because otherwise I was just getting reactive in the moment. And that's where this idea of tech talk Tuesdays was, was born. It's been almost six years that I've now written it as a blog, but it's really about what are different stories and science that we can share with our kids on some sort of regular basis. Because when we start to get the groove of it and our kids aren't like hyper defensive or like, well, rolling. It is the way that we have conversations and connection that Susan, I can't think of any other topic that we have so much to talk about back and forth with our kids, like, right, like school, they're learning different things. And we're like aware of like our work life is so different, but the tech revolution, there is a ton of topics that we all have to grapple with and opinions on. And that's really an amazing opportunity for connection and, you know, getting communication skills to our kids as we deal with challenging conversations that have to come up because of what we're dealing with around it.

Speaker:
I love that. And for those of you who don't know what Delaney is talking about, she has a newsletter and every Tuesday you get in your inbox, this fabulous kind of summary of some suggestions of topics you could talk with your kids about that are thought provoking. And non-judgemental, and just interesting, whether it's science-based or a suggestion for something that you can try as a family, it's called tech talk Tuesday, and that's available at screenagersmovie.com or Delaneyruston.com. Where should people go for that? Oh, either one is great.

Speaker:
And, you know, to that point, as a family therapist, I've said this many times parents will drop their kid off to me especially a teenager and say, you know, good luck. He doesn't want to talk, he won't open up, but you know, he's yours for the hour. And I can't get the kid to stop talking. And then the parent returns and the child is clammed up again. And so much of this has to do with how we approach conversations with our kids. So what you're talking about is picking this topic that is genuinely interesting to them and that they want our input. They just don't want our advice. They don't want to be judged or criticized. And so if we can approach it as a mutually shared interest, and it's sometimes a challenge because I don't know an adult who doesn't also struggle with setting limits for themselves, then we can create a climate that feels safe to our kids, where they can openly share what it's like for them to try and turn, get rid of Instagram for a few days or permanently. And now we're launching a kid into an adult life or sending them off to college or whatever it might be who actually has integrated some practical practices and tools, right.

Speaker:
A hundred percent. You know, I think, I always say, you know, getting, I want to make sure we also talk about limits specifics and how, how we do that. Boy, does it change by the age of the kid? Does it change by, you know, so many different factors? So it's really this ongoing art of that you always talk about, of course, working with, with kids in around these issues. But I always say rules with reasons, like what are the reasons that we have limits around screen time so that we can say those rules with our kids, so they understand it. So when they get frustrated, they do start to internalize the importance of it. And then also to ourselves when we're getting pushback or we're feeling that and warranted shame that we're the only parents with this particular rule.

Speaker:
So let me give an example of a rule with reason. One of the biggest rules I've had with my kids as they've grown up is screens out of the bedroom during sleep. And I would tell them many reasons around the importance of sleep, and that would be a whole podcast episode, but just for their, I'll give an example of science that I would share with them, the fact that the brain it's, it's an amazing discovery that we have, what's called a glymphatic system in our brain, by which the toxins that have accumulated during the day are found to be basically dealt with and cleared out with in the brain only during sleep time at night. And it's, you know, and what's interesting is that researchers have found that even when you take a nap during the day, that system is not activated. And so I want my kids to know, like, you know what, this is one of the reasons that it's so important that we all sleep with devices out of our bedroom, because there's lots of data about what happens when the devices in the bedroom to decrease the quantity and quality of sleep.

Speaker:
And I say to my kids, you know, I really need to parent, one of the reasons I'm doing this also is I need to parent with integrity. Like if I'm not following along with what I see as scientifically really beneficial for your help, how can I look back and hope that you will feel good about the choices we made as a family? And that I can, that you will parent with integrity when, and if you have children and I say, but you know what, I also, one of with this rule, I also want you to know that part of the reason we have rules is also to have conversations about cooperation and compromise. So I value your input. And so the reason we have rules in which you guys get input is that's really important. And so, you know, what time should devices be put away at night and believe me, sometimes they did not want to engage.

Speaker:
And it's a complete myth that our kids are going to go, oh yes, let's have a nice conversation about this. And I agree, mom, this sounds great. What time can I hand my phone to you? In fact, in Screenagers, you see me that I had to learn, you know, because Tessa would not at all engage in conversations at first, it took a while and I really had to start talking positively much more so that she felt understood about her, you know, why she wanted it and different issues about it. And once she started to feel really understood, then she started to compromise and we could work things out. But the key is that when we have these reasons behind our rules, kids really do start to internalize the root, the reasons that we have. Cause we're really having good reasons when we come up with these things like, you know, devices away at the mealtime.

Speaker:
Cause we love our, that limited time we have for really focused conversations and for building an, our relationship. Like who's going to argue about that. Right? And I just want to add a funny really a true story when COVID hit and chase had to move back from college for a little bit. He was in the stain in a downstairs room and he came upstairs and he said, it had been about two days later. And he said, mom, we have to get a new alarm clock. And I said, why hun? And he said, well, the one downstairs is broken and I've had to keep my phone in the room for the alarm. And I don't like it. I know it's a true story. And they, and they really do start to get healthier habits as we, as we have these some limitations in our home, working with our kids and talking about the reasons behind them.

Speaker:
Wow. And the thing that's going on simultaneously, this undercurrent is that we're teaching them how to have respectful discussions. And I can't count the number of kids who've come into my office to say in one form or another, I wish my parents would set limits. Like they wouldn't say this to them. They had to me that they saw their parents as sort of weak or wishy-washy in a way that they were sort of you know, walking on eggshells all the time. Now, of course they were enjoying the fruits of that, you know, on the one level. But they were getting certain opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise, if their parents had been more comfortable setting limits, but many, many kids have told me that they wanted their kids to do it, their parents to set limits, but they didn't want it done in this authoritarian way.

Speaker:
Yes, you're describing is dialogue. It's respectful dialogue, it's communication. It's okay. Here's this thing that we don't exactly see eye to eye on. How can we find a way to meet in the middle in a way that feels respectful to both of us. So simultaneously in addition to setting reasonable and realistic and healthy habits and limits around screen use, you're also teaching this process of how do you take a topic that's kind of a hot charged topic and navigate with another person around it so that you come out of that conversation, both neither one feeling steamrolled, both feeling having been heard and you know, something that they can both work with.

Speaker:
Yeah. It's Susan, I couldn't agree with you more talking again with just hundreds of thousands in different venues with kids and teens, how many of them say I need help around managing screen time and how many say I am actually helped happy that my parents do help with this. I remember so often Tessa, as a tween and teen, when she did have access to social media and whatnot, she would say, mom, can you take it from me? And I'm just going to tell my friends I got in trouble and I don't have it for awhile. Now. Now, obviously we also had clear times when she was not on it. I mean, so much of this work is that they do need breaks and they do need our help in getting those breaks. And as parents, as we do see it as the fact that our kids can handle having rules, life has limits and rules.

Speaker:
And that is key that we let them know. And key, like you're saying, it's just so much about seeing this as an opportunity for challenging and important conversations. I mean, when ultimately it took a while, but you know, I was inspired writing the tech Tuesdays to put that into a book. And for me, this, this relatively new book was so much about what the title is, not just parenting in the screen age, but the subtitle is a guide for calm conversations because, you know, that's where the, how we see the silver lining of the often fight, you know, there before COVID 30% of families and surveys were found to be fighting every day about screen time issues. So that's a lot of people who are also fighting not on every day, but often. And my, you know, after I did my residency, I was inspired to do research on communication.

Speaker:
The science of communication, because as a medical student is when it really hit me, like the difference between some doctors who would go into a room and have a conversation with a patient or a family. And wow, it was like so much magic happened with the way that they communicated. And then another provider would go into a room and it would be like the sky just fell and crashed and burned because of the way they worked communicating. And so I was like, okay, there's a real science to this. And so I stayed on at UCF in the department of bioethics and communication to do primary research about what types of communication skills were more apt to be successful in, in challenging conversations. And it's through that lens that I've been doing this work for the past 10 years around screens, mental health and parenting and our young people.

Speaker:
And I want to underscore the book parenting and the screen age. And these are some of the chapter or the sub chapter of the topics that you're covering appreciate you appreciating positive aspects of social media. When is the right age to give a phone, recognizing the positives of video games, different parent approaches concerning violent video games, and then jumping into the mental health area, helping youth understand depression, anxiety, sleep. You're talking about having these conversations with our kids before key key, what they can't wait to hear more about or read more about. The, I hate that I wasted the day away, the science of creating new screen-time habits, contracts, and rules, challenging conversation, homework, fostering human bonds. I mean, you're really seem to have covered everything.

Speaker:
Well, thank you. And it's really about, I mean, for me, the best part of the book is it, as it has stories and science, and then it has these specific different questions that can be really great, a way to get into conversations with young people. So I think that is where the heart of all of this work comes from. And I just love that both of us are so have so much direct experience that kids want to talk about these topics. And, you know, I'm, I've said to schools, you know, why don't you and I have yet to see if any, have actually done it, but why don't you have a whole week of just celebrating the tech revolutions, all the positives. And then after that, so kids really feel understood then from there, it's like, okay, you know what, that's the whole point.

Speaker:
It is so amazing that it can pull us all the time. It's so easy to get watching another YouTube watching Netflix scrolling, and yet what does it push out of our lives? And can we, as a school, have a challenge for have all the teachers talk about they're going to go and have devices out of their bedroom one night and see how well they do. I mean, there's so many creative things schools could be doing as well as creating spaces by which young people are getting to talk about these things and become more tech savvy. And yet we so often just do an assembly on cyber bullying and saying, Hey, by the way, all of you guys are doing this and this is bad and you're wrong. And, and our kids just roll their eyes and it worse than that, it creates more of a defensiveness and a wedge than it does creating permission to have these important discussions.

Speaker:
Wow, wouldn't that be amazing? And you know, I'm hoping that these small little drip, drip, drip will eventually become a river. When one of the things before we wrap up to that, I always like parents to do is think about what they're doing as they raise their child. So it's so easy to get caught in that. I'm trying to get her homework done. I'm trying to get her, babe. I'm trying to get them to school. But the ultimate activity that we're up to as we raise our children, is that we're also raising adults and, you know, blink a few times, I often say, and you have a kid towering over you. Who's a grownup and what we're doing today and the kind of conversations that we're having and the respectful rules and limits that we're setting. And the ways that we're helping them develop healthy habits around technology is a service to our kids, to the hopefully comfortable in their own skin, able to have healthy relationship adult that we're hoping to raise in the absence of that, whether it's at school or at home, if we're just looking the other way, because it's easier in a sense we're kind of sabotaging the thing that we claim is most important, which is that we want our kids to grow up, to be happy, well, adjusted grownups, it takes work.

Speaker:
And sometimes it takes difficult conversations, but they're not impossible conversations and we can have them. And I love that you're providing so much practical support and so many kind of starter questions and, and conversation beginning, you know, topics that we can engage with our kids sit down on that path. So thank you.

Speaker:
Yeah. I mean, I, I think as we, as we started off today, just talking about you, you mentioned COVID and mental health stuff, you know, in making this most recent film Screenagers, next chapter, it was so much about how do we have conversations about emotional challenges and make sure kids understand that we don't think all emotional challenges are related to social media and screen time, because that's the message. So often kids are getting and they get defensive about that because they often go to, you know, social media might be contacting their best friend or looking up something that actually was helpful or, or what so many young girls do is follow Youtubers that do feel like they have, they feel a real sense of connection. And they, they really flock to those that feel most authentic to them that are really talking about kind of things that they're going through.

Speaker:
So I think that what I'm hopeful for as we hopefully have more spaces and work in our schools, in our homes around the issues of COVID and the emotional challenges that are related to that, as well as just this very complicated time of tweens and teens and mental health challenges is that we get skills to our kids. And the film shows stories around kids and myself, parents, and other parents getting skills. And I think that having conversations about this is key and would, you know, some point sometime we can, we can talk even more about all of that.

Yeah. And I want to pick your brain too on all of your great thoughts of all of this too, Susan. That would be wonderful.

Speaker:
I can't wait. I mean, there are a lot of people talking about screens, but I think you're really at the front of the pack in a lot of the things that you're doing and really making it very practical for parents. So yes, let's continue the conversation. In the meantime, I always like to wrap up the podcast with one practical thing that parents can practice or do, what would that be? What's one thing that you would encourage parents to just try this coming week that might move the needle a little bit toward having these important, respectful, caring, conversations around healthy habits, setting limits, whatever you think might be a good starter.

Speaker:
I think starting having your family have conversations about the positives of tech in everyone's life is just a great, great fun thing to do. They, the kids often will think that there's some shoes going to drop, like, okay, are we going to get to the, but, but that said, don't do that at all. Just now start out. I'm my the fact that I can look up anything like what to do with leftover coffee. You guys, I can't believe that I found 10 things right away. Like I I'm loving watching trailers on movies. What are you guys loving? I just think that's a sure fire way to start to create better connection with our kids around the tech revolution.

Speaker:
I have this huge grin on my face because it's, yes, it's like come alongside, be with them, stay in connection with them. Thank you. Thank you. So please tell people some of the many ways they can learn more about what you're doing

Speaker:
Well, the best way is really to go to Screenagers movie.com, where you can get information on seeing the films, the book, the podcast, the tech talk Tuesdays blog. You can just sign up right there. So all of it's really there screenagersmovie.com. You mentioned Delaneyruston.com. So that's another place that people can find me. All right.

Speaker:
Okay. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And to all of you listening, take these ideas to heart. Nobody has to change anything radically today. It's just a little, as I said, drip, drip, drip, learning more education knowledge is really power. So thanks, Delaney.

Speaker:
Thank you so much, Susan.

Speaker:
I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. I'm so inspired by Delaney, her work, her dedication, her optimism, and her willingness to be honest about the challenges of navigating screens with our kids. So hopefully you learn some things that you can use in your day-to-day parenting life and perhaps share with parents in your orbit, in your community. If you're enjoying these episodes, I would be so grateful if you would leave a rating or a review or tell a friend are all three, because it really does help us get the word out about some of these practices that can make such a fundamental, profound difference in the lives of families all over the world. You can hit the subscribe button. So you'll be notified as soon as a new episode is released, and then remember to stay in touch so you can get regular doses of parenting without power struggles, inspiration, just visit Susanstiffelman.com and sign up for the free newsletter. We offer lots of free support, inspiration along with notifications about upcoming classes and programs. All right, then that's it for today. Everybody remember no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy, stay safe, stay well. And I'll see you next time.

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