Resource for Parenting

Susan Borison and Stephanie Silverman, best friends and co-founders of Your Teen Media, are bringing their magazine to life. From interviews with the experts and authors to discussions of trending topics and personal stories, Your Teen with Sue and Steph is an essential guide to raising teens today.

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Why We Need to Parent Like Dolphins

Do you ever wonder what your teen would be doing if they weren't seemingly always on their phone? Through her groundbreaking digital literacy program Cyber Civics, Diana Graber, author of Raising Humans in a Digital World, is helping kids, teens, and adults across the country answer this very question and strike a thoughtful balance between their digital and "real" lives.

Get Diana's book by clicking the Amazon button!

Steph: This episode of Your Teen with Sue and Steph is brought to you by the Professional Book Nerds podcast. Check them out at professionalbooknerds.com or evergreenpodcasts.com. You’ll be glad you did.

Sue: Everybody welcome to another episode of Your Teen with Sue and Steph. I’m Sue Borison.

Sue: And I’m Stephanie Silverman.

Sue: and Steph We’re the co-founders and owners of Your Teen Media. The resource for parenting tweens and teens. [Laughter]

Sue: Oh this is such a good segway.

Steph: Okay.

Sue: Okay. So we just had this experience, which none of you will ever hear because it all gets edited out, where we got the giggles.

Steph: We?

Sue: All right, I got the giggles. No, you got the giggles too.

Steph: I did but I was giggling because I was watching you laugh.

Sue: Oh okay.

Steph: Yeah.

Sue: Well first of all there’s two things in life that are totally satisfying. One is swearing.

Steph: Oh yes.

Sue: Really like with that like, you hurt yourself or you’re mad or something like it’s just so satisfying. And the other is a really out of control giggle. I mean it’s the best.

Steph: Yeah.

Sue: So that happened and I was thinking back at a time when my husband and I, I don’t think we were married yet, we were living in New York City and we went to like the New York Philharmonic with another couple on like cheap tickets and we were the last row at the top. And we got it we got the giggles.

Steph: Oh my God.

Sue: And this is not a place where anybody is… There’s no…

Steph: It’s a giggle free zone.

Sue: It is a giggle free zone and a judgment full zone. And so we had to like crawl out literally crawl out of this place because we couldn’t stop. I mean it was unbelievable how that can like get in you and you just can’t stop.

Steph: I do love that laughter. My husband gets the giggles. He’ll be watching some crazy dumb show on TV and I will look over at him and he is hysterical, like needs to get out more hysterical. And we put it in our family chat I’ll take like a seven second video of him and it just it is so joyous and funny. I’ll walk into the room and I see him laughing and it was like watching you laugh just now.

Sue: Well I know that because you’ve shown me your husband laughing out of control. And I thought he was laughing at something you just did because the laughter was so responsive. But you’re like, “No he’s watching TV.” Which like that’s fascinating because he does need to get out more.

Steph: Todd this is the podcast telling you, you need to get out more.

Sue: We’re here kind of to talk about technology and teens. It’s such a current topic but it’s not really just a topic for teenagers. And I just had an experience… I would say had two experiences. So Saturday night we went out with friends and I left my phone at home. It was kind of like we were rushing and a little tense to get to punctual friends on time and not get the “You’re late again.” And so I knew I didn’t have it but I also didn’t run back in to get it and it was very liberating. I mean I really felt like I am only here and I’m only present and the way I felt during the whole dinner was that I was annoyed that everyone else was looking at their phone because all of a sudden now it was like I’m present and I feel a little left out. Like why are you looking at something on your phone? And then the next night we went out to dinner with other people and I brought my phone and I somehow couldn’t take the lesson from Saturday over to Sunday which is super weird.

Steph: No transference there.

Sue: No transference right. But today I’m fessing up and saying I’m really going to put my phone… I don’t have to leave it at home but I’m going to put it away like wherever away is I’m gonna put it away.

Steph: So this a great segway to Diana Graber who was one of our panelists for our recent workshop on teens and screens, which had a much longer name but that was essentially what it was about, and she just gave us such wonderful advice and you will be hearing more from her in the podcast in a few minutes. And I think you will love her as much as we loved her.

Steph: So I want to take a second to tell you about another great show from Evergreen Podcasts. And if you know me at all you know that the only thing I love more than podcasts are books. So combining a book and a podcast is just dreamy. The Professional Book Nerds podcast is a weekly podcast featuring author interviews and book recommendations as well as book related topics. It includes everything from the world’s best selling authors, all the way to debut writers about to make a name for themselves. You can hear about how these storytellers craft their writing, what inspires them, and even whom they’d most like to grab dinner with, which actually might be my third favorite topic: food. Their episodes are Mondays and Thursdays and hosts Jill and Adam are sure to keep your to be read list full. They’re not just book nerds, they’re professional book nerds. Check them out at professionalbooknerds.com or evergreenpodcasts.com. You’ll be so glad you did.

Sue: Hi everybody I’m super excited to introduce Diana Graber. We just recently had her on a workshop and she was amazing. So we’re happy to have her back now on our podcast. Diana Graber is the author of Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology, and who doesn’t want that. She writes for us, is interviewed by and speaks often about technology’s impact upon human behavior. Her no nonsense approach comes from being an educator, a media producer, academic, and most of all, a mom. She developed and still teaches Cyber Civics: the popular middle school digital literacy program currently being taught in schools in 42 U.S. states and internationally. So Diane it’s so great to have you on.

Diana Graber: Thanks for having me.

Sue: Yeah so obviously you know that this topic is on everyone’s mind. It’s funny because we focus a lot in the media and in our conversations about the problem teenagers are having but it most definitely is a universal problem. We are struggling as parents but because we’re Your Teen we’re going to focus today on parenting our teenagers around the topic and hopefully we’ll all walk away with some tips that will help us in our own digital problems with usage. Can you just tell us a little bit about what you’re doing in the classroom right now?

Diana Graber: Sure and perfect because I work with teens and preteens. I teach a program called Cyber Civics, which we developed at a public charter school in Southern California about nine years ago, and it’s a middle school digital literacy program and it’s taught an hour a week throughout the entirety of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. And we cover the whole spectrum of digital literacy, starting with digital citizenship which is the safe and responsible use of tools. We cover information literacy which is doing research, and then finally media literacy which is using your critical thinking skills to analyze media messages. And really embedded in all of that we talk about screen time in about 10 different ways. So it’s an important underlying theme of the whole digital literacy curriculum.

Sue: And do you find that the kids are attentive when you’re talking to them?

Diana Graber: Well yeah and that’s the thing. Like I don’t talk at them, it’s all you know really discussion based scenarios that they hash out together. And that’s really important because it’s their world and I want to introduce these topics and I want them to consider them and talk about them and turn them upside down and debate them and come to their own conclusions about what kind of digital world they want to live in.

Sue: So I guess the real challenge is how do we educate our kids in the space that they know better than we do?

Diana Graber: Well you have to remember, you know, let me step back a bit. They know how to push the buttons really well. What they don’t have is our wisdom and that’s wisdom that we’ve gained by just being alive longer than they have. So we need to help them discover how to be kind, how to be empathetic, how to have deep understanding. Those are the things that come with age and wisdom and that’s the thing. Those are the things that we can share with our children.

Steph: So how do we do that? What are they capable of hearing you know how do we… Give us the the how to. Because that’s what every parent wants. Tell us how to do it.

Diana Graber: Well I wrote a whole book about it, I don’t know synopsize it in five minutes.

Steph: Can you just read that? Do you want to just do a live read right now?

Diana Graber: Do you have time? We might be here for a while. I’ll try to give you the synopsis. So basically I equate raising a digital human with building a house. You need to start with giving them a really strong foundation of social emotional skills, mostly learned off line, that they can then apply to the online world when they’re old enough and mature enough to have their own device. And then I talk about building a structure of knowledge and that’s really held up by four really important pillars. Number one: screen time, which we’re gonna talk about. Number two: reputation management. Number three: privacy. And number four: your relationships, which covers cyber bullying and sexting and all that. And then finally when your house is built it’s teaching your child how to engage in a wide community of hopefully other people that have had the same education. Because we want our kids to get to the point where they understand how to use technology in really productive positive ways. So that’s a really long winded way of saying this does not happen overnight. It’s a building process that starts from day one and goes all the way until your child is off in the world on their own.

Steph: Let’s look at these pillars. So in terms of when you think about your students, what are some of the exercises that you do? And you can pick any pillar you want but walk us through it so that we can help parents understand it.

Diana Graber: Well let’s just talk about screen time because like you said at the beginning of this that seems to be the parental concern number one today, not only their children’s screen time, but their on screen time. So we do the obvious. You know we have the kids assess their digital diets but I have them do it in terms of everything else in their life and build graphs and add their time up together as a unit and divide it between number of kids in the class so they can get a physical look at how they spend their time. So for example I had one kid when he looked at his graph his bar that represented the time he spent gaming was about ten times taller than the bar next to it which was time spent outdoors. And he’s cute, he came up to me said, “Mrs. Graber, do you think I spend too much time playing online games?” And I just laugh because it was like he was a little shocked at what he saw on his piece of paper.

Steph: They’re often surprised when they see their graph?

Diana Graber: Often surprised, like shocked even.

Steph: Wow.

Diana Graber: And then you know the second part to that— Actually there’s a first part and a third part that I didn’t tell you about. Essential to that is that the activity that follows, and that’s their homework is to have a screen vacation and they don’t like that very much because I tell them they have to try to go 24 hours without digital media which most kids complained bitterly about and say it’s impossible when I tell them they have to do it but then largely they’ll come back and they’ll go “Wow that was so fun. Like I have never had 24 hours without media. I did all these things.” So that’s a surprise. And then what I didn’t mention is before kids do it I have them make a bucket list, and this is a lot of fun. They have to try to think of one hundred things they’d do if they didn’t have a phone. Like you know, “Okay I’d learn how to ride a unicycle.” You know it’s it’s kind of like this dream list, it’s a bucket list of things you wish you could do. And so I tell the kids when you get really bored during that 24 hours, go to your bucket list and try a couple of those things. Again that sounds simplistic but what we want to do is reintroduce real life to these kids many of whom have not experienced it for a really long time because they’re so drawn to their devices and we have to remember that our digital devices have a lot of mechanisms built into them to capture and hold our attention. And many kids are really powerless and so we have to really teach them about them and also give them alternatives.

Steph: So when you do the 24 hour detox do most of the kids come back saying they did the 24 hours or did they cave after you know like four hours or something?

Diana Graber: I would say I get about 50/50, and this is after I have like 99 percent telling me, “It’s impossible.” The part of it that makes me sad is— So within Cyber Civics we have these send home parent letters that have activities that families do together to reinforce what they’re learning in the classroom. So obviously the activity that goes along with that lesson is for parents to also go 24 hours without using digital media. And the students always warned me that that’s a really bad idea. And they’re right because nine times out of 10, actually 10 times out of 10, usually the parents do not get through the 24 hours and kids obviously notice that. And that makes me really sad because if kids are thinking and getting the impression that we’re incapable of separating from our phones, what hope is there for their generation? You know that’s what we’re modeling and I think in a lot of cases that’s the problem.

Steph: Well you said something that I think is so interesting. That the parents were having a harder time and the kids noticed this, right? And said, “Oh you know my mom’s not going to do that, my dad’s not going to do that.” So I love the idea of the kid being the teacher. So that’s a beautiful image and I guess you know along with that then, how do parents educate on this topic that clearly the kids know better and maybe they’re even more insightful at times than we are. But how do we do that in an authentic way?

Diana Graber: Well I mean there’s a lot of ways, I mean especially when you’re talking about teenagers. This is just a discussion. The other thing I do, and I do this with preteens at the very beginning of Cyber Civics, is I have them interview a parent to find out what life was like before the cell phone was invented.

Sue: Can we even remember?

Diana Graber: Well yeah exactly. That’s the question. You know a lot of families have never had that discussion and that’s an important one because it’s a really big part of our lives. And so I think it’s nice to tell kids how we survived without it and what we did. What were the alternatives and the pluses and minuses that it brings into our life. So it’s just having these really heartful discussions and talking about how we want to live our lives, and you know what’s important and what’s not important. And I think that’s just essential to raising teens today.

Steph: Yeah I think that’s true. I guess I am thinking about parenting kids and you know trying to teach these lessons. How much of it do you think is modeling?

Diana Graber: You know just from listening to— I’m going to set the research aside because you can find research that will tell you just about anything you want to believe, right? So this topic like it’s good, it’s bad, it’s somewhere in between. I’m going to tell you what I hear directly from kids and they’re really bummed, especially the younger ones, especially the 12 and 13 year olds. They feel very sad like when they’re playing soccer or doing a ballet recital and they look up and they see a parent looking down at a phone. I hear that a lot, like they they feel like they come second, you know, and especially when we do this digital detox it’s like it’s hilarious to them because they really honestly think their parents are incapable of putting down their phones. And I relate to them because it’s super hard for me too and I actually I hesitated when you asked if I do it because I hate doing it and I feel like a hypocrite if I don’t when I assign it to the kids and I often will assign it on a weekend when I think I can get away with like maybe actually getting through 24 hours without my phone. So I understand how hard it is for everybody today. If screen time is what bothers parents so much, then we have to you know, it starts with number one. We have to look at ourselves and decide what we want to do about it.

Sue: If you were to put screen time, which clearly rises to the top in every conversation, put that aside for a second and look at the other three pillars, what’s the next one that bubbles up?

Diana Graber: Well I think for kids it’s probably reputation and because it’s so complex for our children today. Everything they do or put online or anything anyone else puts about them and tags them in, and for many of them, that’s the first impression they’re going to give to the world. So that’s a heavy burden for a young person to really think about and understand. And the part that really is complex is it’s like OK you’re a kid you’re 12, 13, you’re in the moment, you’re posting things. It’s hard enough to reflect and say, “Hm, let’s be careful about what I put about myself online.” Well in addition to that they have to be careful about what their friends could have posted about them and who they choose to be their friends. I mean that’s a lot of management for a kid. Digital reputation is a super important topic to discuss with your kids and to make sure they fully understand.

Sue: Yeah. So that I mean I think that goes both ways also because we’re also learning that, you know, we love the phrase, “We’re building the bridge as we walk across it.” I’ve done this, I know other people do it, where they cross over and share something publicly on the Internet that their kid didn’t want them to.

Diana Graber: Oh yeah.

Sue: So do you hear that from the kids?

Diana Graber: Oh yeah. That is a big big topic like when the whole digital reputation thing really dawns upon them, they’re like, “Oh my God.” You know my mom’s been posting about me since I was little, and a lot of times they will say, “Mrs. Graber, will you talk to my mom about that?” No no no that’s your job. You know?

Sue: Yeah. So it’s just so complex.

Diana Graber: Yeah.

Sue: I want to move into a different question which, the way I kind of picture the story of parents talking about technology, is what we’re all hoping for is the quick fix. I always think about going to the pediatrician when my kids were little and how I was praying for it to be like an ear infection or strep throat so they could get antibiotics and instead being told it was the flu. And I just had to ride it out. So I think that the equivalent of that story is everyone’s waiting for the monitoring device that’s the fix. Like tell me what I should do. Tell me what I should use. What apps should I use? Is there a place for that in this story?

Diana Graber: There are so many topics that are important that relate to understanding how to use our devices safely and wisely that you can’t just wave a magic wand, tell your kid to be careful about cyberbullying and say you know go for it. That’s completely ineffective. It takes a lifetime of conversation and preparation to be a really great digital citizen.

Sue: So it takes a lifetime of preparation. Is there also… are you encouraging kids to put timing things on their devices? Is there a world where both those things work together?

Diana Graber: Well I think the monitoring stuff is great for the younger kid because especially it’s like training wheels, helping them to learn how to use their devices well. But I think as a child gets older, especially as a teenager, they’re going to rebel against those things and they certainly find ways to get around that. It’s much more effective to give them an education in the things that are happening with their phones and their devices that are either capturing their attention, collecting their personal information and feeding them customized stream of ads or whatever. Like all of that knowledge will go a lot farther than putting some sort of parental control on the device.

Steph: You know I think there’s a lot of parents, especially we hand them the phones right and a lot of times we don’t think about the consequences and everything that comes along with the phone and now it’s a couple of years later and I’m sure there are many parents listening thinking, “Oh my God how do I rein it back in. It’s gotten so out of control.” So what can that look like? Give a few nuggets if you can.

Diana Graber: Well reigning it back in is tough. So a lot of this work is preemptive and I think that if you can be super proactive ahead of time and having especially some sort of agreement with your child when they do get a device, that’s super powerful and it’s super easy to do. I mean on Cyber Wise we offer a parental agreement that’s free to download and use and amend to whatever works best for your family. But I think getting a phone is a privilege and it’s a responsibility. So to sit down with your child and to really have some rules like, this is the time you put it down at night, this is the hours you’re allowed to use it. You have to be this age to join social media accounts. That’s super powerful. The other thing I offer in my book is a checklist for families to see if your child is ready for a phone. And it offers some just real simple questions that a parent can ask themselves. Go through and see if your child has this basic knowledge before you hand him a powerful device.

Sue: That is so far before our audience. I mean what age do you think kids are getting phones at an average now?

Diana Graber: I think the last I read was something around 9 or 10.

Steph: It’s 10.5 I just read.

Sue: Yeah our audience, we’re already screwed.

Steph: Yeah the horse has left the barn.

Diana Graber: Well if the horse has left the barn it’s not too late because even teenagers still need their parents to be involved in their lives. Certainly they’ve experienced or witnessed cyberbullying or may possibly even be sexting. They’ve seen people you know be snarky online, they’ve seen ads that they have questions about, or you know news that maybe sounds unbelievable. Those are great conversation starters. So you know teenage-hood is not too late to have conversations with your kids and ask them like a real simple thing to do is nearly every kid is using Snapchat. Nearly every parent I talked to has no idea how Snapchat works. So ask them to show it to you, you know? That doesn’t mean that they’re going to send you their Snapchat story every night. But at least you’ve shown some curiosity about their world and maybe you understand it a little bit better and I think that really opens doors especially with your teenagers or older kids.

Sue: So when we did our workshop you gave that same recommendation and we got an e-mail the next day from a woman who said she sat down with her son and asked him to explain Snapchat with her and that they had this very wonderful interaction like she was so blown away by the possibility of sitting and having her kid respond in like the teacher way as Stephanie mentioned before.

Diana Graber: Oh, awesome. I mean that makes me so happy because it’s so simple, you know? And it’s just us showing our curiosity for their world like it’s a brand new world for us and have them tell us what it is and it’s really interesting how kids use it too. They have such interesting ways of communicating with one another and oftentimes we misinterpret that communication and so to have them explain that to us. It’s almost like we’re being anthropologists.

Steph: Yeah. And I love that word curiosity and I can’t remember who said it to us, Sue might because my half brain plus Sue’s half brain usually make a full brain. So one of us can pull this out. Somebody said to us when you come at them with a genuine curiosity, not expecting that you’re not leading them down somewhere you’re expecting the answer, or you ask them like underhandedly like, you really are curious. And I think kids sense that, that when you ask it that way, and I can remember who said that to us, but I thought that was a brilliant line like really coming at it that way.

Diana Graber: Well I think I might have shared that with you. And again I’m as bad as you guys because I can’t remember where I heard this. It’s a great analogy though. But for parents especially of teenagers to be like a dolphin.

Sue: and Steph Oh yeah!

Steph: We forgot to ask you that, that’s on our list of questions.

Diana Graber: I apologize to anyone who’s listening to this saying, “Oh she plagiarized that.” Because I know I got that from someone and I don’t know where honestly but I thought, “What a great way to be.” Like a dolphin is playful, curious, but firm and flexible. Isn’t that a great way to be.

Sue: and Steph Yeah.

Diana Graber: Whether we’re talking about devices or just parenting in general.

Steph: Say one more time because that’ll be a great thing to end on.

Diana Graber: Yeah a dolphin is curious and playful, but firm and flexible.

Steph: Okay parents get in the water.

Diana Graber: Yeah. There you go. You got to get in the water and swim with the kids. Right?

Sue: Right. So Diana Graber thanks so much.

Diana Graber: Oh you’re so welcome.

Sue: And everyone should buy your book and go to your Web site. Your book is Raising Humans in a Digital World, and your Web site is…

Diana Graber: Well I was going to throw in there along with the book on the Web site which is www.raisinghumansinadigitalworld.com. There’s a free discussion guide, and I really encourage parents to download that because it has great topics that they can discuss together that will answer a lot of the questions that we just discussed here today.

Sue: Beautiful. Thank you so much.

Steph: Thanks so much Diana.

Diana Graber: Thanks for having me.

Steph: Thanks for joining us for the Your Teen podcast. If you have any topics that you want us to talk about, let us know on our Facebook page or email editor@yourteenmag.com.

Sue: Your Teen with Sue and Steph is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to executive producer Michael DeAloia plus producer Hannah Leach and audio engineer Eric Koltnow.

Steph: You can find more from us at yourteenmag.com, at evergreenpodcasts.com or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Sue: And don’t forget if you like today’s podcast. Please leave us an iTunes review. Help other parents find our podcast.

Steph: We’ll see you next time.

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