On the first episode of our podcast, host Krista Boan sits down with the co-founder of START, Tracy Foster. On this episode, they discuss the foundational ideas of START, and how they hope to encourage families to reexamine the ways that kids and parents interact with technology. They also talk about real-life examples of the challenges parents face when introducing technology and apps, and in particular, how to talk to your kids when they’ve overstepped a boundary.
This is just the beginning for our podcast, and a first taste of the ways we hope to equip families to participate in the digital world in ways that lead to flourishing.
Screen Sanity is Executive Produced by Krista Boan and START
It is produced and edited by Mike Cosper and Narrativo.
Krista Boan: [00:00:00] [00:00:00] Hey everyone, welcome to the Screen Sanity podcast. I’m your host Krista Boan, co-founder of START where we help families raise happy and healthy kids in a world that is increasingly digital. We’ve had hundreds of conversations with parents everywhere who share that the number one battleground in their homes is screen time. And while we’ve learned that there is no easy button when it comes to parenting today’s kids, there’s also an unbelievable movement of parents who are stepping into the area and fighting for their kids’ hearts. Each episode, our guests will help us dive into some of the tensions families are facing and walk us through some of the conversations you’ll want to have to prepare your kids for the road ahead. Welcome to Screen Sanity.
[00:00:47] All right, well welcome. We are so glad you’re here for the inaugural edition of Screen Sanity. I’m your host Krista Boan and I’m a middle school teacher and a mother of four kids ranging in age from eighth grade down through first grade. And honestly, just a mom who is struggling to find sanity in the midst of parenting kids in a world that is becoming increasingly digital. I’m also a co-founder of organization START. And if you don’t know what START is, I hope that by end of this program you’ll have a good sense of who we are and what our vision is and possibly how we could help you, um, as you parent kids, um, growing up in a world filled with screens. I know some of you listening today are here because you’ve experienced START trainings and our programs. And maybe others of you have listened, um, or followed along on, uh, maybe others of you have followed along on social media. But if you’re new here, I just want to say you are in good company.
[00:01:48] We are a nonprofit. We were founded in Kansas City but we’ve reached four million parents around the globe. And, and you know what? Our work is a rollercoaster ride. We have [00:02:00] been able to have the privilege of coming alongside hundreds and hundreds of parents and families who are just overwhelmed by the struggles they’re experiencing around screen time. And while we know that every generation has struggles, [laughs] we’ve definitely found that our generation of parents is not an exception. As a mom, I can share that the reality my family has faced as we’ve navigated screen time has oftentimes felt just totally overwhelming and crushing. Yet, because of START, I’ve gained so much courage to keep going because I’ve been able to listen and learn from other parents who are helping me know that I’m not alone. The people we’ve encountered in our work have courageously invited us to walk through the pain points, the losses, the fears, the shame, the breakdowns, but they’ve also shared the victories, the reconciliations, the healing and the growth. And they’ve inspired us to know that this whole topic is overwhelming, but the fight is worth it.
[00:03:04] We are so excited to launch this podcast, to have a space where we can share some of these amazing stories with you. Our hope is that, for those listeners who have younger kids, that this could be a place where you get a heads-up on the things that are ahead. And for those of you parents in the trenches, which we are right there with you, we hope that this can be a practical source of help and encouragement. And when I say we, I’m speaking of the team here at START which includes my dear friend and co-founder Tracy Foster who I am thrilled to have on the show with us today. Tracy’s background is in strategic consulting for some of the world’s leading organizations. And she’s especially passionate about helping organizations create meaningful social change. She is a mama. She has two brilliant, adventurous, amazing boys. And she serves as the executive director here at [00:04:00] START. Tracy, welcome to the program.
[00:04:02]Tracy Foster: [00:04:02] Thanks so much. I’m so excited to be here.
[00:04:05]Krista Boan: [00:04:05] Well, I’m excited to have you here because you and I and our co-found Brenda Walden have traveled quite the road together, founding, developing, and expanding START as an organization. So, if you’re willing, I thought maybe we could just kind of back up on that road a bit and maybe allow our listeners to travel the road together with us. Would you want to start by just walking us through the journey of how we got here. How did START come to be?
[00:04:33]Tracy Foster: [00:04:33] Yes, gladly. Well, someone shared recently, a man named Stephen Mackey recently said this quote that really stuck with me. He said, “It may be harder to be a parent than ever before because it’s harder to be a teenager than ever before.” And I think when we look back at the experiences that, that kids have, I mean so many of those things are timeless: not getting invited to a party or asked to the dance, not getting into the college that you want or not making a team or struggling with a certain school subject, asking a dumb question in class and getting made fun of. All of those things still happen today, and they happen to us. But they happen in a different context because the reality is of how these little hiccups or challenges, um, play out is just so different, the way that kids experience them and process them, based on how technology has just totally transformed our daily life and our personal interactions. In many ways, it can really help. And in many ways it creates some challenges.
[00:05:32] And so we are, are, we are the first generation of parents who are raising digital natives. And I think all of us deeply desire to mentor, guide and support our kids in all areas of life. But technology has been really hard. It’s kind of this new type of digital divide, not between families who have tech and don’t, but in this context it’s more about a connective divide and an experiential divide, right? We didn’t grow up with this. [00:06:00] We have no lived experience. Um, our parents never trained us on this. And so I know that I have felt, and I think I speak for others, a lack of confidence-
[00:06:10]Krista Boan: [00:06:10] Yeah.
[00:06:10]Tracy Foster: [00:06:10] … that I can talk about this, a lack of competence about how to help my kids.
[00:06:15]Krista Boan: [00:06:15] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:06:15]Tracy Foster: [00:06:15] And, you know, I’ve never gone through it. My kids are smarter about tech than I am. I feel flustered that I don’t know all of the latest apps and trends. And so it can be really tempting to just step out of engaging in their life-
[00:06:29]Krista Boan: [00:06:29] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:06:29]Tracy Foster: [00:06:29] … because I don’t know what to do. Or at worst, sometimes with really good intentions, accidentally becoming an antagonist rather than being an ally. And, and that’s what we’re seeing nationwide where surveys report that technology is the number one battleground in homes across America. So, we are not alone. You know, as you mentioned, Krista, it started as three of us, a teacher, a therapist, and a business person in Kansas City just trying to navigate these challenges. And when we popped open that question, we learned that we weren’t alone-
[00:07:02]Krista Boan: [00:07:02] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:07:02]Tracy Foster: [00:07:02] … that so many other people were struggling-
[00:07:04]Krista Boan: [00:07:04] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:07:04]Tracy Foster: [00:07:04] … that there was no playbook, that this is a new frontier. There is no roadmap. And we, together, are, are hobbling our way through this and are the wisdom makers. And how can we learn and experiment knowing that we might not have everything, you know, rigorously proven that this is the exact way you should do it? But how can we start learning from each other and experimenting with some of those things? So, since we launched, um, about two years ago, in 2018, we really have transformed from just that local group of moms and parents and community leaders helping to find a way to create what we call digital health, which is maximizing the incredible benefits of screens- I would not give my screens up in a heartbeat- but minimizing some of those side effects. And it’s just kind of grown beyond what we ever could’ve imagined into more of a national and international convener. And what we hope to [00:08:00] do is to provide resources. We tal- talk about trainings, tools and tips for parents, schools, businesses, and other community organizations to help use tech with intention. So, that is our hope is to help these adults be able to serve as a mentor and guide to their kids in the digital world.
[00:08:17]Krista Boan: [00:08:17] I love it. And, you know, the world looks a little bit different here in the past year than it did s-, you know, last year at this time-
[00:08:26]Tracy Foster: [00:08:26] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:08:26]Krista Boan: [00:08:26] … when it comes to screen time. How are we noticing that the world is changing when it comes to our kids and screens? I think some of that answer is obvious. But any thoughts on that for us?
[00:08:37]Tracy Foster: [00:08:37] Yeah, I would say there are two big d- dimensions of that that come to my mind. The first is the COVID effect. I mean screens have been a lifeline. Without them, I don’t know how we would continue to work and learn and stay connected, right? This would be a different emotional experience if it happened before screens. And, at the same time, it’s just overwhelming, right? Zoom fatigue is now a common phrase. And it’s something that kids and adults are, are experience.
[00:09:05]Krista Boan: [00:09:05] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:09:05]Tracy Foster: [00:09:05] And, and in that, you know, we do know there are stats that the average kid, since COVID, is on YouTube 100 minutes per day and all sorts of different things like that. And you can, you could parse those out. But I think the bigger thing is that we and our kids are feeling some of these experiences and challenges together in the COVID effect-
[00:09:24]Krista Boan: [00:09:24] Mm-hmm [affirmative], yeah.
[00:09:24]Tracy Foster: [00:09:24] … and that that’s a really powerful context for conversation. The second dimension I would say that relates to our current days is just we have less bandwidth.
[00:09:33]Krista Boan: [00:09:33] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:09:34]Tracy Foster: [00:09:34] I can speak for myself that there are a lot of things that I, [laughs] would aspire to as a parent that I’m not living up to those standards, right?
[00:09:42]Krista Boan: [00:09:42] Right.
[00:09:42]Tracy Foster: [00:09:42] And some of them I can laugh off and say, “Well, no one’s coming in my house anyways, so no one can see what my dining room table looks like.” Who even needs a dining room table right now?
[00:09:49]Krista Boan: [00:09:49] Right.
[00:09:50]Tracy Foster: [00:09:50] But, um, but it’s just harder. We are so busy. And so I think it can be even harder to add another thing to our list to think about how we are [00:10:00] setting up digitally healthy habits in our home. And it can sometimes feel overwhelming. So, we hope to provide really just practical ideas for parents when they are feeling quaranscreened, as we call it, just attacked by screens, quarantined with screens, to think about just what that healthy, right next step is for those, for that family to get a little bit of breath of fresh air.
[00:10:24]Krista Boan: [00:10:24] Right. I love that. And, you know, one of the things about the name of our organization that’s wonderful is that it’s START. It’s not, it’s not this idea that we need to completely overhaul what we’re doing or that there’s some standard or perfection that we’re asking parents to hit or a magical number of screen time minutes that’s going to, you know, produce perfect children or anything like that.
[00:10:48]Tracy Foster: [00:10:48] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:10:49]Krista Boan: [00:10:49] But really the idea behind START is just that incremental, tiny steps matter, and sometimes they’re actually the biggest steps that, that parents can take. And so in this season, we just feel really passionate about looking for the opportunity amidst this crisis, when we are more proximate to the issue of screen time than we’ve ever been before, to say, “What small muscle can I start growing, and how can we use that to keep doing reps?” Like you would go to the gym, right? And you would just lift that-
[00:11:28]Tracy Foster: [00:11:28] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:11:28]Krista Boan: [00:11:28] … that weight over and over and over again to be a strong, sturdy muscle, that guess what? They’re going to have for them the rest of their lives. And maybe they would’ve never gotten those reps if we hadn’t had them so close to us for a season-
[00:11:42]Tracy Foster: [00:11:42] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:11:42]Krista Boan: [00:11:42] … while we were all on screens. Well, hey, let’s dig in then. What… You talked about digital health. What are kind of some rules of thumb that START recommends when it comes to digital health?
[00:11:56]Tracy Foster: [00:11:56] Yes. So, we do asked that question a lot. What should I be [00:12:00] thinking about to think about the digital health of my family? And so while our official name is START which actually stands for Stand Together and Rethink Technology, what we’ve done is come up with our top five rules of thumb of the general categories. As you already mentioned, we don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach and that every family has to be doing, you know, every thing in their home in order to find the right balance. That’s not the way it is. Um, tech is like food where it’s a good thing. It’s something we’re going to use. And we just need to figure out what the right balance is for our family to make it so that we feel good and healthy when we eat and that we don’t just feel blah, which I think probably many of us can relate to if you just eat junk food all the time. So, um, we have five rules of thumb. They do align with the letters of our name. So, S-T-A-R-T. And I’ll go through them real quick.
[00:12:52] The first one is S, start with yourself. So, we don’t mean this as a bait and switch. But really it’s about the fact that we are role models for our kids. And our own tech use really informs a lot of, especially for younger kids, the values that they see and that they envision for tech use. And it really affects our relationships even with our older kids. It creates a great position of vulnerability and empathy, which is one of our biggest values is to be empathetic to your child’s situation, when we start with ourselves and share about how we’re struggling in the attention economy or the ways that we are building our own muscles to use our tech. And if we ask our kids, “Hey, what do you notice? How can I improve?” So, there are a lot of different dimensions and tips and tricks for starting with yourself. But we do think that that’s one of the, one of the first ways to step into this issue.
[00:13:44]Krista Boan: [00:13:44] Yeah, I love that. And so this whole idea of starting with ourself isn’t about trying harder or being b-, a better person for our kids, but it’s more of just this posture of curiosity.
[00:13:56]Tracy Foster: [00:13:56] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:13:56]Krista Boan: [00:13:56] So, if we are noticing that these habits that we have might not [00:14:00] be good modeling for our kids of ho-, the life that we want them to have, getting curious about what are some of those things that the tech companies are, what are some of the strategies that the tech companies are using to get my attention-
[00:14:12]Tracy Foster: [00:14:12] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:14:12]Krista Boan: [00:14:12] … and then getting curios about what are some counter-strategies that I could employ to try to make my life h-, my life happier and healthier. So, yeah, it’s really about getting familiar and getting curious about what kinds of strategies you can employ to live a healthier life so that your kids will model that after you and, and begin to put tech in its proper place. What about T, what does T stand for, Tracy?
[00:14:38]Tracy Foster: [00:14:38] T stands for tables and bedtimes which is about a broader concept of creating device-free zones. Especially now, so many of us are on our screens all the time. And it’s just so important, I think about it as just like our devices need to recharge, so do we. So, coming together as a family and setting some times and places where everyone gets off of their devices and is able to have their minds mono-task and spend time together and things like that. So, it can look different for each family but a couple places, if you’re looking to start, that we suggest would be tables and bedtimes. Tables means the dinner table. There’s, uh, unbelievable evidence about how powerful it is to have a meal together as a family. It’s not dependent upon it being an organic, gourmet, homemade meal, but it is dependent upon time and attention. So, the devices, of course, tend to steal our attention. So, screen-free meals are fantastic places to start. And the second one is around bedtimes. This means ideally getting devices out of kids’ bedrooms overnight. They get in there very innocently.
[00:15:43]Krista Boan: [00:15:43] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:15:43]Tracy Foster: [00:15:43] They’re an alarm clock or they play music. But the challenge is that about 80% of teens are checking their pho-, checking their devices when they’re supposed to be sleeping. And there’s a lot more that we could get into about why sleep is important and why late-night tech use is usually not [00:16:00] the best use of time. But if you can just get those devices out of kids’ rooms, we think it can be really powerful for your family.
[00:16:07]Krista Boan: [00:16:07] Yeah. Well, those are both things that I personally tend to enjoy and love, which is sleep [laughs]-
[00:16:13]Tracy Foster: [00:16:13] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. [inaudible 00:16:13].
[00:16:13]Krista Boan: [00:16:13] … and a good conversation over a meal. So, it’s really about calling them into these things that are, that are better than-
[00:16:20]Tracy Foster: [00:16:20] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:16:20]Krista Boan: [00:16:20] … just a life of distraction and, uh-
[00:16:23]Tracy Foster: [00:16:23] And it really, it really can vary for your family.
[00:16:26]Krista Boan: [00:16:26] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:16:26]Tracy Foster: [00:16:26] I mean one random one for me, our family, it’s at professional sporting events.
[00:16:30]Krista Boan: [00:16:30] Yeah.
[00:16:31]Tracy Foster: [00:16:31] I have one kiddo who just loves going to sporting games. And so it is an absolute agreement that at those games… W-, uh, I do get to take a picture. But neither one of us are pulling out devices. We’re focused on that game and spending that quality time together.
[00:16:47]Krista Boan: [00:16:47] Yeah, I love that, keeping it, yeah, it’s good. So, how about A, what does A stand for?
[00:16:53]Tracy Foster: [00:16:53] A stands for accountability which is a word that can create some visceral reactions. But it’s about trying to help protect your kid in this online world. When you go into a car, everyone puts on seat belts, not because we don’t trust that the driver’s going to do a good job but just because it helps protect us when there might be an accident. And we believe that that’s really important with technology as well, that you can install different types of filters and monitoring systems to just help make it so that if they accidentally type in whitehouse.com or do a Google search for Dick’s Sporting Goods, they don’t fall into content that they really, um, are not going to benefit from seeing. Also, if they’re being tempted to go pursue that content, it will help them not be able to get such a quick hit of that urge. There is some really heavy stuff that our kids are getting into that I won’t get into right now but we can share more about o- on our website. And, um, so we like to try to help make it so that those accidents are less likely to happen.
[00:17:53] The second part of accountability is also making clear that while you do try to help them wear a seat belt through these, you know, [00:18:00] apps and other services that can help minimize what’s coming into your device, it is equally important to help make sure that they know that you are safe harbor, that you are there for them, that you will be, that you will be fair, that you are in their corner, and that they can come and talk to you. A recent survey by dosomething.org shared that 25% of kids will see something that makes them feel overwhelmed that they want feedback on or help navigating, but they don’t go to their parent or other adult because they’re afraid that their parents will overreact. So, it’s really important for us to try to step into this as a relationship and as an ally rather than an antagonist.
[00:18:41]Krista Boan: [00:18:41] Yeah, I love that. And, and I love just that proactivity too. Because, um, I know for me, y- you mentioned earlier like we’re all at bandwidth. It is so hard to get ahead of this stuff-
[00:18:53]Tracy Foster: [00:18:53] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:18:54]Krista Boan: [00:18:54] … and to put those filters in place and to have those proactive conversations and to make sure that your kids know that they’re safe har-, that you are safe harbor. But it’s totally worth it. I, I, I’m just reflecting about a couple of weekends ago when we got my son a new laptop for his robotics team. And it had no filters on it. And I was like, “Okay, I’m going to set aside my 30 minutes to get those things installed so that I’ll be able to sleep better at night.” And you know what? That 30 minutes turned into like six hours because, you know, it wasn’t the right type of device that matched with this type of filter that matched with the schools type of filter that… You know, and it was like this uncovering. So, there’s a reason why a lot of us parents have kind of put it off. It’s because it is totally overwhelming.
[00:19:40]Tracy Foster: [00:19:40] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:19:40]Krista Boan: [00:19:40] But I just want to share that once I got through that, I could take a deep breath. And it is totally worth it to know that everything is in place so that, when those accidents do happen, that we are ready to go and that he knows that he can come to me. Yeah, what about R?
[00:20:00]Tracy Foster: [00:20:00] [00:20:00] R for us stands for ride, practice, drive. And what we mean by that is that you use a drivers-ed approach to technology. So, when you look at almost every area that you parent your kids, kids get some experience and then they can demonstrate competence before they move on to bigger things. We heard an anecdote recently about you don’t give your toddler Sharpies, you give them washable crayons so that, if they make mistakes, it’s not serious. We love to apply that to the metaphor of driving. So, I, I can’t imagine that any of you listening had this situation happen on your 16th birthday, your parents just go up to you having never sat in car before and say, “Here are keys to a car. Happy birthday, Krista. Go out, have fun. It’s intuitive, you’ll figure out how to drive the car. And just be safe and be home by 10:00.” Right? That doesn’t happen because a car is an incredibly powerful vehicle that helps us get places and do things we otherwise would never be able to do. We don’t want to get rid of cars, but we are all trained in a very intentional process of how to drive a car. And we believe that that same approach can, can work with technology.
[00:21:04] So, with a car, you start by riding in the back seat. And I, I remember my kids, when they were younger, asking so many questions. How many speeds are there on the wipers? You know, why is, does the turn signal make a beeping noise? All sorts of different things. Um, I distinctly remember when they learned the relative value of numbers, and they would point to the speed limit sign and say, “Gosh, something must be wrong with your car because that sign says 35 but your car is saying 42 and that’s a bigger number.” Right? And so you get to explain. [laughs] Whether you want to or not, you have to explain. And you teach values and you teach them some of the skills in the way that you handle it.
[00:21:41] Then, kids move into a learners permit stage. I remember where I was. I was in the parking lot of a local high school. And all I wanted to do that first day, I was so nervous, is I drove about 10 yards forward and then I stopped. I was like, “I nailed it. I’m not doing anything else.” But with, with driving, right, [00:22:00] you put them in a safe place where, if they have an accident, it shouldn’t be as serious. And we think that the same is true with technology, that it’s idea to give them a gradual introduction to technology not a zero to 60 where all of a sudden, uh, whatever young age, they have an entire smartphone with no limits, where they can explore the whole world. Let’s start small, help them, teach them, grow the skills for those levels, and then expand their opportunity and responsibility.
[00:22:27] And then, of course, the final stage is after you make it through a learners permit stage, where you’re getting more and more, you know, freedom and responsibility, is you become a driver. And even when you’re driving, you still, you know, your parents will hop in the car for a ride or you’ll ask them about something that happened or you’ll tell them about something that happened when you driving. And so we hope that your parents can continue to be mentors and guides even after you’re driving on your own. Same holds true for technology. We want to raise kids who are going to be self-regulated users of technology. We will not, we should not always be tracking their geolocation and their messages and things like that. We want to prepare them to be independent. But there will still be ways where, if we’ve created a solid foundation and relationship around this, they will continue to come to us even as independent smartphone users and say, “Hey, what do you think about this?” Or, “I saw this and this made me feel uncomfortable.” And we can still coach and encourage along the way.
[00:23:23]Krista Boan: [00:23:23] Yeah, and it occurs to me that just like, just like it is when you’re learning to drive a car, really the most challenging this about being a parent is really that learners permit phase where-
[00:23:32]Tracy Foster: [00:23:32] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:23:33]Krista Boan: [00:23:33] … where they’re practicing and you’re trying to show up. And you don’t even know all the skills that they’ll need in the digital world. And just when you identify one, they change.
[00:23:41]Tracy Foster: [00:23:41] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:23:41]Krista Boan: [00:23:41] And so it’s really, really hard to keep coaching your kids in the digital world because it just feels like a shifting target.
[00:23:47]Tracy Foster: [00:23:47] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:23:48]Krista Boan: [00:23:48] And yet that is kind of our hope for, for this space and this podcast, that that could be a place where we lean in. Because we know that, as much as the ride, practice, drive approach sounds clean and [00:24:00] familiar to us, that sometimes things happen. Like a grandparent gives your, your kid an iPad way before you ever were ready to jump into that learners permit seat. Or your teen downloads Instagram way before you’re ready to jump into that coaching role. And so we’re really excited to be able to jump in deeper to some of the situations where it’s just muddy. It’s just not an easy button. There is not magic wand. But really that’s the most critical thing we can do as parents is keep showing up. Let’s talk about T.
[00:24:32]Tracy Foster: [00:24:32] Mm-hmm [affirmative]. T for us stands for time well spent. So, we know, and you can see this beautifully portrayed in the recent docudrama The Social Dilemma, we know that apps are designed to, uh, draw in our time and attention. And if we’re not careful, if we don’t stand for something else, we’ll far for anything. So, unless we’re intentional about thinking for us what is time well spent for us individually and as a family, it’s natural to just kind of let our time sink away into these apps. As you mentioned earlier, we don’t want to just call our kids away from something like it’s a slap on the wrist and this bad thing. We want to call them into something better. So, the more that you as a family can think about and talk about what time well spent looks like for you, the better. And we think about it in two categories. We think about it both offline, you know, what are the things that you want to be doing when you’re not on screens. But we also think about it online. There are a lot of different things that you can do to have your time that is on the screens be things that will build you up more, help you accomplish the goals that you have in life, and help you and your kids connect with each other even in the digital world.
[00:25:41]Krista Boan: [00:25:41] Yeah, and it’s been a fascinating journey having these conversations with parents all over the world really who this is one of the number one things that they’re a little bit surprised by is that they haven’t stopped and thought about what do I think is a good use of my time. And so it’s been a privilege to kind of [00:26:00] reignite some ideas around what could be, what could be good, time well spent for your family, especially at the end of this pandemic. I guess midway through this pandemic. I don’t know where we are in the pandemic but I’ve heard people say that, you know, 2020 is such an ironic, uh, year for this, this pandemic year because in some ways this year has brought perfect vision. And so if you haven’t had the chance to stop and think about what it is that you want your family to stand for, what means most to you, what your values and your goals are, what you would consider is time well spent, right now might be the perfect time to just kind of clarify where are we headed as a family, where do I want my kids to end up.
[00:26:42] Tracy, I love… I’m going to circle back to the ride, practice, drive because we talked a little bit about how that is kind of a strategy you can use to think about introducing new devices. And, of course, you don’t want to give your kid a device with access to more than they need. So, starting with simple devices like a smartwatch or a walkie talkie before you give them kind of a, a dumb phone or a light phone or a first phone, like a Gabb Wireless phone, um, before you finally give them like a fully-loaded smartphone that’s… You know, you start with it stripped down to its basic features. And then you can add one feature at a time. So, we talked about the ride, practice, drive strategy as a device introduction strategy. But, you know, it can also apply to apps.
[00:27:33] We just heard recently from a mama who she says, “You know, when it comes to screen time, and especially social media, I’ve been really intentional. I haven’t allowed my eighth-grade daughter to have social media accounts. But, of course, during the pandemic she had more access to screens than normal. One night she stepped out of the room and her phone lit up. And when I picked it up, I noticed an Instagram icon. When I asked about the Instagram account, [00:28:00] it became clear that she had been logging on whenever I was not around but then deleting the app on her phone so I wouldn’t find out. When she came back in the room, I confronted her about it and we began to process this, this decision of hers. And she almost had a panic attack saying, ‘What have I done? I’m so wrong. I am so ashamed.’ What’s my conversation with her now that she’s opened up this new world that I wasn’t ready for, and I don’t know how to take it back completely, but I also don’t want her to feel shame for, for something that’s a normal part of a teenagers right now.” Tracy, how would you respond to that? What would that conversation look like?
[00:28:40]Tracy Foster: [00:28:40] Yeah, I would say three things. Um, first, uh, obviously she’s already had the initial, um, notification of this happening, that initial shock. But for anyone who hasn’t yet gone through that and is about to, I’ll, I’ll back up just for, you know, tips for her even in that initial moment. My first thought is when you have that situation, be it that you kid has downloaded Instagram or whatever it might be, it’s really helpful to take a moment to cool off, to not respond to it immediately if you don’t have to respond to it immediately, to take your emotions and process them and think rather than exploding.
[00:29:15]Krista Boan: [00:29:15] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:29:16]Tracy Foster: [00:29:16] We talked earlier about just how important it is for, um, your kids to know that you’re safe harbor.
[00:29:21]Krista Boan: [00:29:21] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:29:21]Tracy Foster: [00:29:21] And we love, a organization called Access that talks about this, I am not shocked face-
[00:29:25]Krista Boan: [00:29:25] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:29:25]Tracy Foster: [00:29:25] … where you can say, “Hey, I want to talk about this. And I want to talk about it in a calm way,” but you aren’t freaking out. Because I think that is just one of many things that can lead to the shame and can lead to hiding, right?
[00:29:38]Krista Boan: [00:29:38] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:29:38]Tracy Foster: [00:29:38] Um, so that’s the first thing I would say is start with a calm demeanor even though, of course, you feel so hurt and violated and scared and all of those different things.
[00:29:47]Krista Boan: [00:29:47] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:29:48]Tracy Foster: [00:29:48] The second thing I would say is to take a balanced perspective, starting with their perspective. So, I mentioned earlier dosomething.org survey, it showed that more than half of kids don’t want to [00:30:00] talk with adults about technology because they don’t think adults understand why they use it-
[00:30:04]Krista Boan: [00:30:04] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:30:04]Tracy Foster: [00:30:04] … that we don’t understand the, the intrigue and all of that.
[00:30:08]Krista Boan: [00:30:08] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:30:08]Tracy Foster: [00:30:08] So, looking at Instagram, you know what? 75% of teens use Instagram. So, from her perspective, it probably seems fine. It probably seems like everyone is using it, right? Obviously that’s hyperbole but it feels that way.
[00:30:22]Krista Boan: [00:30:22] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:30:23]Tracy Foster: [00:30:23] It, up until maybe recently, maybe Tik Tok has overtaken it, but it has been Gen Z’s most popular app.
[00:30:28]Krista Boan: [00:30:28] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:30:28]Tracy Foster: [00:30:28] And, and so understanding that context that she’s in and also understanding, hey, Instagram, why it’s appealing. You know what? Kids love personal expression and creativity. So, there’s a lot of understanding and empathy of taking their perspective about why they want it. But you also need to have that balanced perspective. It shouldn’t just be about gushingly understanding, you know, what your kid wants but understanding from the parent perspective that, at the same time, that it’s Gen Z’s most popular app, studies have also shown that Instagram is the worst app for mental health, probably because of all of those, you know, overly pristine images that make you feel comparison and inferiority and negative self-image and all of those types of things. So, you really are in a predicament, right?
[00:31:13]Krista Boan: [00:31:13] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:31:13]Tracy Foster: [00:31:13] And so I think honoring both sides of that and understanding that and bringing that into the conversation when you go back and say, “Hey”… So, I think what you want to do then, when you go back into the conversation… So, there have been two steps of preparing for the conversation before you even go into it. But then, when you get into it, I think you’d want to share, “Hey, I can understand why you think Instagram is really neat. And I want to share with you the concerns that I have.” And maybe ask them questions like what makes you interested in it? What, you know, what have you seen? Who would you want to follow on Instagram? What would you hope to achieve with Instagram? And, “Hey, these are some of the things that I feel nervous about related to Instagram. I think it’s really important to have this type of conversation and be open to it because one thing, in this [00:32:00] situation, is it’s starting to become an overly lucrative, like forbidden fruit. And that can start to be something where you don’t want your child just feeling this intrigue of the forbidden fruit without talking with you about it. So, this is a great time to have that conversation.
[00:32:15] And I think that I would say, “Hey, let’s talk about two things. Let’s think about an appr-, a potential approach along two dimensions.” And the two dimensions would be safety and then starting to do it together at first, the ride, practice, drive. So, first, I think it would be fair to say, “Okay. Hey, I know that there are risks. We’re going to help figure out what a safe, uh, what a seat belt looks for you for this.” And it probably is, for Instagram it would be things like making sure you have it set as a private account, that you turn off the location, that you get something like Bark as a filter to help monitor that you disable unsolicited DMs. Because a lot of the things that cause problems can happen through those avenues. So, let’s, let’s prevent some of those things. Okay, great. And explain her, “Hey, I, I do have these fears. Here are some ways that we can help reduce those fears,” and explain why you’re doing those things so that it doesn’t seem like it’s just punitive or you don’t trust me. This is something that will help me give you more opportunity by having this baseline.
[00:33:13] And then the second thing is this ride, practice, drive mentality to say, “Hey, we’re going to do it together at first. Maybe, at first, the app is only on my phone and we look through it together. And we start by picking five people,” either real-life friends or influencers that they’re wanting to follow, “and we look at it every night and we talk about it together and we say, ‘Man, that post by this person, is tha-, do you really think that’s their real life?
[00:33:38]Krista Boan: [00:33:38] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:33:39]Tracy Foster: [00:33:39] She looks so… Wow, she’s baking bread every day on top of her [inaudible 00:33:43]?
[00:33:43]Krista Boan: [00:33:43] [laughs]
[00:33:44]Tracy Foster: [00:33:44] And look at the amazing like braids she… I mean is that real? Do you think that really represents how she’s feeling?'”
[00:33:49]Krista Boan: [00:33:49] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:33:49]Tracy Foster: [00:33:49] Just to start to get into some of that conversation. Other stories we’ve heard, other approaches have been things like get your dog an Instagram account.
[00:33:56]Krista Boan: [00:33:56] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:33:56]Tracy Foster: [00:33:56] And do that with a few other families. And start setting up the pictures. [00:34:00] And you start to get into these conversations where you, you are, you spend an hour trying to get your puppy to pose in the perfect position with the right lighting, and the teenager gets irritated-
[00:34:11]Krista Boan: [00:34:11] [laughs]
[00:34:11]Tracy Foster: [00:34:11] … and starts to express, “I am so annoyed at Chip for not nailing this picture.” Right? And it’s a silly, silly, silly example, but it starts to tee up some of the conversations like, “Hey, maybe we should just enjoy the moment and we don’t need this perfect picture of Chip.”
[00:34:26]Krista Boan: [00:34:26] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:34:26]Tracy Foster: [00:34:26] So, I think t- coming up with different stages. So, maybe it starts on your phone, w-, just those few accounts. You look at everything together. Maybe then the accounts grow. You look at it together less. Then, eventually, it goes onto their phone still, still somewhat limited. Um, so just kind of thinking about how to, how to make it happen incrementally. And then the other thing I would say that isn’t part of that conversation, but just I would esteem that mama to get-
[00:34:49]Krista Boan: [00:34:49] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:34:49]Tracy Foster: [00:34:49] … Instagram herself.
[00:34:50]Krista Boan: [00:34:50] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:34:50]Tracy Foster: [00:34:50] I mean Instagram is an app that a lot of parents do use. But when your kid has a new app that they’re passionate about, I think it is so cool not only to get it as a way of communicating with them-
[00:35:01]Krista Boan: [00:35:01] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:35:02]Tracy Foster: [00:35:02] And by the way, you should ask them. If you start following them on Instagram, you should say, “Hey honey, how do you want me to interact with you on Instagram?
[00:35:10]Krista Boan: [00:35:10] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:35:10]Tracy Foster: [00:35:10] Do you want me to like every-, is it okay for me to like every picture? Do you want me to gush, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so sweet. I love you so much. Have a great day.’?” Right? There might be some, “Hey, let’s talk about ground rules of interacting on the-
[00:35:21]Krista Boan: [00:35:21] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:35:21]Tracy Foster: [00:35:21] … on the app.” But in addition to getting the app to interact with them and appreciate and acknowledge what they’re sharing, I think it is equally important to get the app and try to use it and enjoy it yourself. So, get it and pick five influencers who you want to follow and five of your best friends, friends who you want to Instagram with because then you start to have this built shared experience so that you can share at dinner. You can pop open… I know I talked earlier about device-free dinner, so maybe this is after dinner. But after dinner you can pop open your phone and say, “Hey. Gosh, Michelle posted this picture today. And I’ve got to tell you, h- daughter, [00:36:00] I’ve got to tell you honey, this picture, I felt weird things when I saw this.”
[00:36:05]Krista Boan: [00:36:05] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:36:05]Tracy Foster: [00:36:05] And just talk. When you lead by example, our teens are so much more likely to open up because it feels safe.
[00:36:13]Krista Boan: [00:36:13] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:36:13]Tracy Foster: [00:36:13] Um, so the more that you can do that by learning your own experiences and narrating and sharing what your struggling with, it really puts them in a position to be likely to share way more than they otherwise would. So, that was a lot of thoughts about that for that mom. But I’m with you, it is hard and I really respect the fact that you are being so intentional about how to step into the ring with your kiddo.
[00:36:37]Krista Boan: [00:36:37] Awesome. Well, Tracy, that gave us so much to think about for this week. And it is just a good reminder that almost everything that’s worth doing is, is hard. And that includes raising kids, um, in the digital world. All right, so we are going to move into our final section where I am just going to ask you some rapid-fire questions and you just give me your best answers. Are you ready?
[00:37:02]Tracy Foster: [00:37:02] Sure, yeah.
[00:37:04]Krista Boan: [00:37:04] All right. Tracy, your favorite app?
[00:37:06]Tracy Foster: [00:37:06] My favorite app as of today… I mean there’s so many that I love but it’s Target.
[00:37:10]Krista Boan: [00:37:10] [laughs]
[00:37:10]Tracy Foster: [00:37:10] How amazing is it that I can pick up an item that I bought a year ago and is in the back of my pantry and is now empty, I scan the barcode and, you know, later this afternoon, after picking up my kids, I can drive by and someone will deliver it to my car.
[00:37:23]Krista Boan: [00:37:23] I love it.
[00:37:23]Tracy Foster: [00:37:23] That is technology supporting my values.
[00:37:25]Krista Boan: [00:37:25] Amen. I love it. So, your favorite trick you use to keep your tech in check?
[00:37:31]Tracy Foster: [00:37:31] It is probably my smartwatch. Um, I really find that my phone can just take me into a rabbit hole. I pick it up to do one thing and then all of a sudden I haven’t done that one thing, I’ve done 15,000 other things that weren’t actually my priority at the time. So, I love putting my phone away. Actually, it’s like a joke. My kids are like, “You never know where your phone is.”
[00:37:51]Krista Boan: [00:37:51] [laughs]
[00:37:51]Tracy Foster: [00:37:51] And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s right ’cause I’m not connected to it.” And my watch makes sure that I get all those important phone calls or texts, the reason why I would carry my phone on me, [00:38:00] but I don’t have all the temptations.
[00:38:01]Krista Boan: [00:38:01] Yeah, I love that. I love my smartwatch too. I got that tip from you. It’s a good one.
[00:38:05]Tracy Foster: [00:38:05] [laughs]
[00:38:06]Krista Boan: [00:38:06] [laughs]
[00:38:06]Tracy Foster: [00:38:06] Yay, I’m so glad.
[00:38:08]Krista Boan: [00:38:08] All right, number three. The internet breaks down for 24 hours, what are you going to do to unplug?
[00:38:14]Tracy Foster: [00:38:14] Well, if I have the ability, I will take a nap. [laughs]
[00:38:17]Krista Boan: [00:38:17] [laughs]
[00:38:17]Tracy Foster: [00:38:17] We talked earlier about sleep. I mean, gosh, that would be awesome.
[00:38:20]Krista Boan: [00:38:20] Oh, yes.
[00:38:20]Tracy Foster: [00:38:20] But I think one of the fun activities, this wouldn’t take a full 24 hours, but is our family’s getting really into puzzles-
[00:38:27]Krista Boan: [00:38:27] Right.
[00:38:27]Tracy Foster: [00:38:27] … old-school puzzles. This is not something I’d ever really done much of. But we found that it’s just really fun to have sitting around. And it actually is almost like a tractor beam. Our kids will be walking through the, the kitchen and not even intending to stop and talk, and they see the puzzle and they just can’t stop. It’s just, it’s its own addictive force like tech.
[00:38:46]Krista Boan: [00:38:46] That’s so, so fun.
[00:38:47]Tracy Foster: [00:38:47] So, we would, [laughs] so we would probably be putting together a puzzle.
[00:38:51]Krista Boan: [00:38:51] I love it. That’s so fun. Tracy, it’s been awesome to have you here. Girl, we just recorded our first podcast. Woo-hoo.
[00:38:57]Tracy Foster: [00:38:57] Yay. Thank you for being here with us.
[00:39:01]Krista Boan: [00:39:01] Yes, we’re so excited and we’re looking forward to more coming up, coming your way. We have some exciting sessions coming up featuring guests who are going to go deep with us about things like talking to our kids about the relationship between tech and anxiety or what it’s like to be a principal leading a school community towards, um, a better way of using screens, or how it feels to be a teenager who’s growing up in a tech-wise family. Spoiler alert, it’s better than you think. If you enjoyed today’s episode, it would be fantastic if you could subscribe to the Screen Sanity podcast on your chosen podcast stream and leave us a review of what you enjoyed. And if you’re interested in learning more about START, our parenting programs, or you want to share resources with your school community, you can. Visit our website at www.westartnow.org. [00:40:00] or follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more information and to learn about upcoming events. Until next time, hang in there. We are not too far gone. The world is still a big, big world. And screens, well, they’re pretty darn small. Keep looking up.