The Impact of Technology On Children

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, your survival guide to our crazy-busy, ever-connected modern world hosted by Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expert. Dr. Hallowell talks with guests about the tremendous impact of technology on children and how even your use affects them.

Episode 5: Parenting: The Effect of Technology on Our Kids

Tucker Hallowell: I just respect my father so much. He makes me feel like I can take on the world, because my dad has been able to overcome so many things in his life and still put off this image to me that I can have this happy life.

DR. HALLOWELL: Hi, I’m Dr. Ned Hallowell, and I’ll bet you’ll never guess who that was. One of the things I love about doing this show is surprising you. That was my son, Tucker. Tucker is 20 years old now, and the youngest of our three children, and he’s our guest expert as we produce a show on the impact of technology on childhood. The tremendous impact of these electronic devices and the world of interruption, the world of distraction, the modern life that we all know, and how is it affecting childhood. We’ll hear from a psychologist about what the distractions mean for our children’s future, and we’ll have some parents and kids weigh in on the issues as well.

Which brings me to the first kid, if I can still call him a kid at the age of 20, my own son, Tucker. I thought we could start by talking about your childhood a little bit, Tuck.

Tucker: I’d love to have myself still be called a kid, because I would love to maintain that childhood. I’m not quite an adult yet.

DR. HALLOWELL: All right, you’re a kid. You’ll always be a kid, as far as I’m concerned.

Tucker: Exactly, exactly. If we’re talking about the internet and connectedness, and how that affected my childhood, I used the cell phone when I was, I think it was seventh grade when I got the cell phone, and it seemed like two years later, the whole internet connectedness thing exploded, and it was a whole new world. If you weren’t on your cell phone, if you weren’t connected in that world, then you weren’t connected socially. These devices did provide a special level of connectedness.

DR. HALLOWELL: In a good way.

Tucker: In a good way, yeah. I’m speaking in good terms right now. Although, I will get to the bad side.

DR. HALLOWELL: Basically it was good.

Tucker Hallowell: Basically it was good, yeah. I’m able to watch my little cousin in West Virginia, and I’m able to watch him grow, and that’s a beautiful thing. That’s something that people in past generations just didn’t have.

I had this great group of friends in high school. We called ourselves the Band of Brothers. It was a group of 15 guys. Closest bond I’ll ever have in my life, and now I’m off in college, they’re all off at college, everyone’s at their different spots, and still, we talk every day, because of the cell phone. We talk every single day. There’s an app called GroupMe, which is, you can make a group of however many people you want. Makes it so that when I come home and I see these guys, it’s like I saw them yesterday.

DR. HALLOWELL: Well see, the old people go harrumph and they say, “Oh, these kids, they don’t know how to talk. They’re just texting.” In fact, I’ll betcha, everybody over the age of 40 listening doesn’t have a group of 15 friends they connect with every day.

Impact of Technology on Children and Families

impact of technology on children

Tucker has kindly agreed to stick around today, and believe me, that’s a big concession as he’s always got his foot out the door. He’ll be giving us his thoughts as we go along, giving us the child perspective, although he’s hardly a child any longer. Speaking of which, we did ask some younger kids to tell us about their favorite apps and games.

Child 1: Another one of my favorite videos to watch on my iPad are Funny Cat Vines. I watch them over and over again. Since I have a cat, they remind me of him, and all the cats do funny and weird things. I even saw one cat dressed up as Superman.

Child 2: I like Minion Rush, because as you get things like the Minion shield or the rocket, or the freeze ray, you can just smash right straight into objects, and they just disappear, and you’re okay until you lose it.

DR. HALLOWELL: All right, let’s talk about the impact technology is having on our children. Dr. Susan Linn has written extensively about the effects of media on youth, and is the co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Susan: There is increasing amount of research suggesting that screen time is addictive, and certainly habit-forming. There’s evidence that children, more time very young children spend with screens, the harder time they have turning them off later in life, and I think that, just from looking at ourselves, and how much time we, as adults, spend with screens, and how hard it is to pull ourselves away, I think is an indication about really how powerful they are.

internet safety

DR. HALLOWELL: She kindly spoke to us about the importance of creating screen-free time and space for kids.

Susan: I mean, one of the things that’s really troubling about the touchscreen is how much bang you get for your swipe. You can make all sorts of amazing things happen without even really trying. Persistence is really important in any kind of success, and what we’re having is kids who are learning that they can get really big effects without exerting any effort at all.

Tucker: If you go back to the persistence thing, I completely agree. Kids nowadays can, rather than learning things, they can just take out their iPhones and search on Google. It’s no longer the unknown. Everything is out there for anyone to see, so that’s another aspect of the lack of persistence that kids could have nowadays because of this extreme technology use.

It’s Not Just Screens, Now We Have “Smart Toys”

Susan: Right, and one thing that’s also important to remember when we think about the new digital technologies, we have to go beyond screens, because now what we have are smart toys. Mattel put out this Hello Barbie that records children’s interactions, beams them up into the cloud, modifies the interactions so that the doll is, “conversing” with the child, and that has a whole new level of concern about the impact of technology on children including privacy, and corporations eavesdropping on the most intimate of a child’s activities, which is their creative play.

DR. HALLOWELL: As you say, it is the latest addiction. There are now inpatient treatment facilities. There’s no doubt that the spell they can cast over a human brain is extraordinary.

Susan: Right, and especially for very young children, whose brains are growing and developing, and as you know, the more experiences of a particular kind children have, the stronger those brain connections can become, and also the things that children don’t do also affect their brain development, and so the more that children are engaged with screens, the concern is that the more they’ll be compelled to use them.

DR. HALLOWELL: Limits are so important, but it’s not always easy. Kids can really make it tough to say no, and indeed, that’s one of the big challenges these days for parents, particularly good parents, is learning how to say no. I often say the biggest mistake good parents make is they do too much. I should say we do too much for our kids, and don’t allow them to develop the resources of doing it on their own.

MOMS Clubs

How do you handle the pressure? How do you handle the pressure that raising kids today creates? We went to a local outing of the MOMS Club, and asked some active moms to weigh in on parenting in this age of distraction and multiple screens.

parental controls

Female Speaker 6: Will is seven, and he likes to go on YouTube, and there are definitely things that I think are okay for him to see, but once you’re on there, it can kind of go into other things, so I do have the parental controls on. I wish they had more settings for ages, because he’s seven, and what’s okay for a 10-year-old may not be as okay.

Female Speaker 7: It’s hard because you want to give them space, and obviously you use the time that they are distracted with the internet to do things on your own, but it’s definitely, constantly needing to check in at least.

Female Speaker 6: Sometimes the ads that pop up, especially during games…

Female Speaker 8: Some of them are so violent.

Female Speaker 9: It’s like, War Zone.

Female Speaker 6: There was one we were watching recently, and I’m like, okay, so they’re soldiers, but they’re women, and it’s completely pixelated across the chest, so I’m like, so these are what, topless soldiers if you have the actual real game?

Female Speaker 7: And it costs money to block the popups, and I just, I’m not going to …

Female Speaker 6: I did that finally on one game that he was playing. I was like, you know what, for $3, I’m just going to, okay, they got my money.

DR. HALLOWELL: If ever there is a group of experts, there’s a group of experts. MOMS Club is such a great forum. Today’s world, we’re connected electronically, but as I often point out, more and more we’re disconnected interpersonally. MOMS Club is just a perfect way to meet other moms, and they have chapters of MOMS Clubs all over the United States. It’s a tremendous resource.

Balance Technology Use

Being a parent is often a balancing act. That’s especially true with modern technology. You want to use your iPad, but you want to set a good example for your kids, too. You want to comment on that, Tucker?

Tucker: When parents use technology, I think it’s a good thing. Parents need to use technology, especially because it’s a very helpful thing in, like the business world, but at the same time, you don’t want to be talking to your kids while you’re talking on the iPad at the same time because that’s what sets the bad example.

DR. HALLOWELL: Or if, when you were growing up, if I were working on the internet or something like that, you could feel overlooked.

Tucker: Yeah, exactly. Either you’re using your technology, you’re doing that, and then you’re doing something with your kids. You’re not, you don’t try and…

DR. HALLOWELL: Combine.

Tucker: Type on the computer while you’re trying to entertain your kid, because then it just seems like you don’t care.

DR. HALLOWELL: Kids definitely want their time with Mom and Dad. Believe me. The most important thing you can do for a child is spend time with that child. They know when you’re paying more attention to your screens than to them, duh, and they don’t like it, double duh.

Child 3: When my mom has her phone, she’s like a maniac with it.

Child 4: If we’re watching TV, and using her phone, my Mom always feels sad when she does it.

Child 5: This is what I say to her: “Mom, put your phone down.”

DR. HALLOWELL: Okay Mom, come on, time to put your phone down.

Next we’ll talk online safety, the current trends and potential dangers that are out there, and don’t worry, they’re not nearly as bad as sometimes they’re made out to be, but they are real. We’ll be back in a moment.

Dr. Hallowell Recommends Resources for People with Attention Deficit Disorder

DR. HALLOWELL: There’s a new show called 33voices, and actually consists of two shows. The Edge Dialogues is a daily interview series featuring conversations with influential thinkers, senior executives, luminaries, who are reshaping the way we think, work and live, and this is hosted by Moe Abdou. Then the second part of it, the second show, is called Beyond the Headlines. It’s a video interview hosted by Moe’s daughter, Jenna Abdou, and goes, as you might suspect, behind the scenes with founders to explore the hard realities of starting and growing a company, and it isn’t easy. They’re launching a premium service called Collective, which will combine masterclasses and peer mentorship. This is by invitation only, private community of business builders interested in deeper learning and connections. Check it out. Go to 33voices.com.

When Limits Are Necessary

We’re back. Tucker and I were just talking about the dangers kids face online, and how we handled technology in our house when they were growing up. You want to comment on that, Tucker?

Tucker: We were not allowed to have cell phones until we were 13 years old, all of us, and personally, I thought it was a good rule. However, if I were to grow up in this day and age, I’m not sure I’d feel the same way. I might think maybe 11 years old.

DR. HALLOWELL: How about the internet?

Tucker: For a long time, Mom always set the rules for video games: no M-rated or T-rated video games. Mom would always regulate my video game use, which I thought was fine, because it made me more of an active person, but I think they’ve created technologies nowadays, especially within video games, that are beneficial to people’s cognitive thinking, and maybe it does cause for a lack of physical activity, but I think humans are naturally drawn to physical activity no matter what.

DR. HALLOWELL: Well, most are, but for you guys growing up, it was never really an issue because you were all so active, but I know some families, it’s a huge deal where they just can’t get their kids out of the basement, and they’re down there with video games, internet. They won’t go out and play sports. How would you advise those parents?

Tucker: I would say, in that situation, if your kid is not able to separate themselves from the screen, then that is when limits do need to come in to play.

DR. HALLOWELL: And it’s hard.

Tucker: It is hard.

DR. HALLOWELL: Some kids, I’ve worked with families where the kids, it literally comes to blows over this, because they can become so attached to their electronics. That’s why the habits you establish early on make such a difference.

Kid-Friendly Search Engine

If your kids are younger, your focus might be more about what your kids are seeing online rather than posting. Google has recently created a new kid-friendly search engine that can help with this. It’s at kiddle.co. Okay, Tucker, let’s try this together. You go to kiddle.co on your phone and search the word “cutting,” C-U-T-T-I-N-G.

Tucker: Okay.

DR. HALLOWELL: While you do that, I’ll do the same on Google.

Tucker: Okay, so mine, the first thing that came up was The Cutting Edge movie review of Ice Princess, and then interestingly enough, the second thing is “Flexible Approach to Cutting Carbon Pollution.” I see pictures of, cartoon pictures of people cutting down trees, or people cutting pieces of paper with scissors.

DR. HALLOWELL: What I see is cutting, noun, the action of someone or something that cuts.

Tucker: No, go to images.

DR. HALLOWELL: Oh, go to images? Oh, wait a minute.

Tucker: See?

DR. HALLOWELL: Ah, the images I see are of scars on arms where people have cut themselves, and they’re pretty gruesome.

Tucker: It’s interesting that there’s a complete contrast between the Kiddle and the Google, and you could explain about the Google one.

DR. HALLOWELL: The Google one is upsetting to look at, and I wouldn’t want to see someone who had no context to just sort of happen upon that. It would be very upsetting.

Tucker: Any kid who searched cutting finds that.

DR. HALLOWELL: Yeah, and discovered that, it would be very scary because they don’t have any context that I have to put it into.

What is Popular Right Now for Kids Online

Popular Social Media

What’s the latest thing kids are into online? We asked Scott Driscoll, an internet safety expert, this very question.

Scott: A lot of new programs come out every single day. It also depends on which age we’re talking about, but the most popular ones out there for usage, I see three really leading the way with tweens and teens, and that’s Snapchat, Kik, and Instagram. Those three, when I go to talk to student groups, seem to be leading the way when it comes to usage.

Kik is a free messaging program where you can message with your friends, and it offers a lot of different features to it where you can bring in YouTube videos as part of your message, and pictures, and it’s free. There’s a lot of fun to it, where I can see where the kids get drawn into it, but there’s also some safety concerns that go along with that about what things are used. Inside of Kik they have what they call built in cards or programs built within the Kik program where it’s not just chatting. It can be meeting strangers, it can be dating sites, all built within that one program.

DR. HALLOWELL: We also asked him if parents should be on the lookout for any specific trend or danger.

Scott: If young people are taking pictures that they think are private in a program like Snapchat, they have this thought that they all disappear after ten seconds, and once the picture disappears it’s gone forever, and unfortunately, that’s not always true, because people can take screenshots with add-on programs. The problem with programs like that is young people drop their guard and they don’t focus on safety. Impulsivity can kick in, and, oh I’m going to send this to someone I trust, and he or she will never share it with anyone else, and we’re just seeing that being a big problem.

Something like Kik, where strangers can start to communicate with our young kids, they can do a grooming process. They can try to build up a kid’s self-esteem so that child feels that they’re talking to a friend, not a stranger, and when that happens, nothing good comes out of that, especially if it’s an adult talking to our children.

DR. HALLOWELL: Scott has seen this firsthand. During his time working for the FBI, he went undercover on the internet.

Scott: When I was a 13-year-old girl online, I saw what kids were going through, and I was a dad, so I would see some of the most horrific things on the screens when I was working, and I would see the most horrific comments on what they wanted to do to kids, and how they were taking kids’ innocence, and that motivated me. I just, I’ve got this information, so if I can help anybody, it just motivates me.

Warning Signs Your Kid May Be in Trouble Online

DR. HALLOWELL: What should parents look for that might signify some trouble for their kids online?

Scott: One of the warning signs for something just not going right is let’s say you have that child, like a lot of teenagers are, where their phone or device is always in front of them, and they’re always using it. The best way sometimes we can communicate is if we text them, we know we’re going to get an answer back.

If all of a sudden, that device is not an important part, if a cell phone ring goes off and your kid gets jumpy, your kid gets a little nervous reaction just because another phone ringing, and they’re not using that technology as much as they really were passionate about, that is one of the first warning signs that something just might not be right. Whether it’s someone’s talking mean to them, or friends are, sometimes we use the word bullying or just being mean, but those little warning signs and changed behavior like that I think is something parents really have to be tuned into to see, because that might be a real big warning sign that something’s going wrong, and they just know how or when to talk to you about it.

DR. HALLOWELL: We’ll come back to Scott in a second, but first, let me share some alarming statistics with you. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, 65% of sex offenders use a victim’s social networking site to get information about the victim’s home and school, and 26% use that same site to gain info about the victim’s whereabouts at a specific time. Here are the places where solicitations of youth occur: 40% with instant messaging, 37% in chat rooms, and 21% other, like gaming devices. One more scary statistic for you: 13% of second and third graders use the internet to talk to people they didn’t even know.

How to Keep Your Kids Safe Online

What can parents do to keep their families safe?

Scott: You’ve got to check through the devices. You’ve got to look through whatever they’re using to see that the apps and programs are there, and I am so for open communication and dialogue with our kids about technology. My company, we’ve developed a contract for families, so okay, these are the apps we approve, these are the apps that you can’t use, and as a family discuss the pros and cons, and if you violate something we talked about, this is the consequence of your actions.

I also want to give the kids power, too, that they have to understand it’s not just parents being, we’re not overprotective. We’re being protective, because sometimes our children, they know “Stranger Danger.” If they see someone in the supermarket try to grab their hand and say, “You need to leave the store with me,” they’re going to scream “Stranger Danger,” run and yell, but when they have their device in front of them, they don’t make that connection that they could be communicating with a stranger or sharing too much information. Parents need to monitor and watch what they’re doing as often as possible.

DR. HALLOWELL: Many thanks to Scott Driscoll of Internet Safety Concepts.

All of these technology issues can be an enormous distraction to parents, and there’s no real right or wrong way to handle them. You have to do what works for you and your family. Just so you know you’re not alone, parents, we want to share some lighthearted tweets we found under #parentfail. We’ve all been there.

Tucker: Basically, I’m going to read these tweets, and you are going to respond to them. The first one is…

DR. HALLOWELL: I have to tell you, doing this with my son, Tucker, just makes me want to laugh. (Laughs) What I would respond to Tucker with is laughter.

Tucker: First one is @thomaslbenfield: “My son: ‘Daddy, do you want me to come play Dinosaurs in the front room?’ Me: ‘Okay.’ My son: ‘Come on, you, me and your phone.’ #parentfail”

DR. HALLOWELL: Well, that just shows the child can’t imagine Daddy without his phone, and you want to watch out for that because the child might come to think of your iPhone as an appendage that he has to compete with, or at least tolerate the presence of no matter where Daddy might happen to go.

Tucker: @sbade1: “Two-year-old wakes up this morning, runs excitedly and hollers, ‘I’m coming iPad, I’m coming!’ #parentfail”

DR. HALLOWELL: I don’t know if that’s a Parent Fail or not. He has a very close relationship with his iPad. I think what you have to look into is what kind of relationship is it? If the iPad has become a friend of his, and if he’s using it in creative ways, honestly, I don’t think that’s so bad. If, on the other hand, it’s sort of his Binky, and he’s not being very creative with it, then it’s a Parent Fail.

Tucker: @SamMooney4: “Thank you, Netflix, for keeping me up till 2:30 AM watching #CriminalMinds. Going on a 4-day binger. Hope my kids are okay. #parentfail”

DR. HALLOWELL: I think this is actually a very common phenomenon, and people go on these binges watching ten episodes of House of Cards and while it’s great to have that capability, it can really take you out of your family or your group, whatever kind of group it may happen to be, and watch out. Bingeing on electronics can be as dangerous and destructive as bingeing on food or substances.

This has been a real treat for me, Tucker, to have you on this show. I just, I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to me, and it’s really wonderful to have you join us as an expert, and I hope you’ll do it again sometime.

Tucker: Thank you very much, Father, and I hope to do it again sometime as well.

Closing Statements

DR. HALLOWELL: I want to thank everyone who was on the show today, especially my son, Tucker. This was a really special day for me, and the first time I’ve done anything like this with any of my kids since my son, Jack, went on Oprah with me when he was six, I think. This was a big deal for me, and I hope you all found Tucker to be charming and wonderful.

Be sure to download the mini episode we released this week. It’s a conversation I had with a single mom who’s struggling with issues around her seven-year-old’s use of devices, and having downtime. I think many of you will be able to relate to it.

Remember, please, to subscribe to Distraction on iTunes, and to leave us a review. It helps the show, and it helps us to keep going. Distraction is produced by Collisions, the Podcast Division of CRN International. Collisions, Podcasts for Curious People.

Well, that’s it for us today. We thought we’d close the show with some happy sounds of kids at play without any devices. Until next time.

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, “The Effect of Technology on Our Kids.” Distraction is available on iTunes.

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