Dr. Leigh Weisz 5:27
about? I mean, we’ve all seen it, right? You take it away, and the kids screams? What? What is going on in that moment? For them? It feels so out of control?
Ben Kessler 5:36
Yeah, I agree. It’s, I’ve seen it in my office here. I’ve seen it with my children’s friends. And I think I’ve experienced it in my own. And I think it’s, these tools mean, so many different things to us, it’s hard to exactly pinpoint it. But what it is giving us is instant gratification. It’s soothing our mind. And it’s helping us distract or avoid from certain situations or feelings that we’re not ready to be in touch with, or we’ve gotten used to not managing or dealing with. And so when that is taken, we’re confronted with the reality that we haven’t faced or we possibly don’t want to think about. And so we are going to use all that we can or affect our behavior, to let those around us know how upset we are. And when we’re children, we know that our parents are here to take care of us. And so we’re going to let them know through any way that we can. We’re not we’re dysregulated children are dysregulated. So it’s hard for them to sit down, say, Mom and Dad, when you take this away from me, I get so angry and upset. So it’s much more easier for them to grab something, throw it at the wall, tell them that they hate them. Use words that they’ve never heard them use before that they’re never even sure where they heard them. And to kind of go bananas. And I think we have to begin to make sense of that. And understand that this reaction is it’s more than just a toy. It’s something that means more to than what I when I start to talk to, oh, junior high, or I guess now it’s Middle School, still horses always junior high to me, and high school age students what they shares. Ben, this is the future. How could you talk about taking away my livelihood for me? And I know that it always gives me pause. Because we always want to take people seriously. And I do take them seriously. And I and I don’t want to jump to saying Oh, come on, give it a break. Because that’s so invalidating. And so I try to help them think that this technology, the future isn’t going away. But if we don’t have this is important work for today. And I’m sure we’ll talk more about it a healthy relationship to technology. It the device, or these tools won’t work the way that we want them to. And we won’t. And so while part of her mind is saying, well, I need to learn, I need to use technology, I need to keep using it, because this is what I’m going to do in my future. And I’m getting practice and experience, we also need to think about the limits. Because even if this is our future, we’re not working all the time. We’re not staying up till four in the morning playing. We’re not skipping school to use technology or devices. Right? So we really have to think what is our relationship? And what does it mean to us? Well,
Dr. Leigh Weisz 8:07
it is it is if you think of the phone or the iPad, for younger kids, it is like this entryway into a whole nother world. And I want to say it’s a fantasy world, but it’s not, you know, for these middle schoolers, like you sad or, you know, for sure high school by high school, I mean, their entire social life, you know, much of it is on the phone. So it is a little bit of a tricky dance to do, you know, for parents. But it definitely we’ve seen, you know, we’ve seen what happens when there’s no limits at all. And we see kids unravel, and we see kids, I know in my office, I’ve had kids say that they sleep in the bedroom with their phone, and they think that their parents don’t, or the parents don’t necessarily know, they say, but they say that friends will call or you know, they’ll have like a notification pop up at three in the morning, and they’ll actually wake up and check it. And if it’s something benign, they might just go back to sleep. But if it’s something more about a friend or something more upsetting, it could keep them up for the rest of the night. So it clearly disrupts sleep, mood, you know, all of this and there’s just no boundary even for sleeping,
Ben Kessler 9:16
for example. Such great points sleep. That’s right. When we think of children are all individuals we think of functioning. So when we think of children, young adults, we want to think of the settings that they live in their home life, their school life, their social life, extracurricular life. And when we are so focused on using these devices, our our behavior is impaired and we can’t engage in those settings the way that we want to, and we can’t have a healthy sleep schedule, and it affects our eating. And so there goes our sleep hygiene. And there goes possibly our our our hygiene itself because we may choose not to bathe right so that we can gain and so exactly those stinky kids, right? And so we want to find a way to help them understand what’s happening to their mind. And it’s so hard for them to do that, because they’re so fused to it. You’re right, I, when you brought that up, we’re sleeping with their phone waking up at three in the morning, we hear typically things that maybe adults think of Oh, that’s sweet, like something was Snapchat keeping a streak alive? Well, that’s nice. But to what end? And what limit? Are we willing to take it? And if we miss it, what does that feel like, internally? And how can we sit with that feeling and understand it? Without thinking that we’re going to lose friendships? The stakes have gotten too high?
Dr. Leigh Weisz 10:41
Right, right. So what I’m hearing is we need to pay really close attention to the boundary of technology in our homes and in our lives. And, you know, as parents, we need to work on teaching this from a fairly young age, given how prevalent the technology is, even for younger kids. So I guess, you know, what, what do you think the best advice is for parents to help their teens or children, even if you want to start younger? Have a healthy relationship with technology or with screens?
Ben Kessler 11:17
Great question. I don’t think there’s one specific way. But when I’m talking with parents and children, I talk about introducing it. And I call this the long preamble, and I suppose I’m about to do this with you not only but it’s how parents can do it with their with their children. And we begin by talking about what is technology, let’s define it. Not like we’re going to sit down in class and lecture someone and fall asleep. We don’t need to do that. But we need to define what this is. And that’s why I think of technology is a tool that’s designed to help us achieve a specific goal. And there’s a time or a limit that’s connected to it. Adults use it with GPS apps, I know I needed to go wherever I’m going. But that app eventually is closed. If I’m listening to a podcast like this one, eventually it will end. If I’m looking at the weather, eventually I want to cycle through weeks and weeks and weeks, I’ll know what I need to know. And I’ll close it. So when I think relating to children, showing how you are an adult uses technology as a way to model or explain what it means and how and what that is. Now when we switch over to gaming, or YouTube, Twitch, any of these types of things want to help them understand that there’s the same, they just look different. And they look different. Because these companies are very good at what they do. The psychology behind the addiction, the word that we’re using today is very confusing. The public doesn’t know what it is. Because law, law and regulation is so far behind it. We’ve known this for for decades, and it’s going to continue to be this way. And so because we don’t know this, we explain to children, we still don’t know everything. But what we do know is that if we use too much of this tool, it will have negative effects. It won’t get us what we want it to get. They won’t help us achieve what we want to achieve, will have negative games will upset us will cause irritability will cause upset, and then we go back to the work relationship. What is my relationship tactic to technology? Well, it helps me achieve a goal and I have fun I talk with my friends. Okay, what? What about your relationships with the people in your life? Your family, your friends, your teachers, your neighbors, people in your community? Are those lacking or suffering? And sometimes the children we work with Leigh Right? They’ll say, Well, Ben, I don’t have actor friends. I don’t have friends in person. These are the people that I do connect with. And we have,
Dr. Leigh Weisz 13:43
it makes it all the more addicting. Right?
Ben Kessler 13:46
Yes. Because why do we want to let go of something where we feel confident and secure. Or if we’re gaming, where we feel a sense of mastery, and competence. And our self esteem is booming. So we have to really understand and validate that we have to take time to help to help children understand what that means to them. And then come to the heart reports. Well, that’s
Dr. Leigh Weisz 14:11
before you get to the heart of hearts. I wanted to add one one thing in here. Sometimes you’ll see the kids scrolling, whether it’s Instagram or I mean Tik Tok any of these things, YouTube, even YouTube kids. And it’s like, because it’s like Netflix, because you’ve liked this, right? You will like this, that thought the algorithms and you see that sort of the screen is now dictating kind of where they go. So I’ve had teenage girls, for example, in my office who are struggling with body image, and the might, you know, have typed in something about a diet or their legs being big and what exercises could they do to slim down their legs and before you know it, every single fad diet or every single thing about not eating pops onto their screen. So I often try to talk to them about like, I know this is appealing, right? Because it’s obviously partly what you’re typing in and you’re interested in. But who’s in control now? Is it you and you typing in what you want? Or is it actually something else like digging you deeper into this place? So I don’t know, I think in terms of limits, I start to say to kids and teens, try to remember, right? Are you driving this? Are you just kind of sifting along scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, and you don’t even know how you got to where you are? And to me, that’s a distinction to between like healthy and
Ben Kessler 15:28
unhealthy. Such a great point where that’s right. Some of the smartest people in the world are working on these algorithms. And they figured out how to how to get to us and how to get to children. And yeah, when I when I’m talking with children, I asked them, What are you watching? What are you into? Whatever it tells me to watch that they have given up their agency, right? It’s beyond consumerism, and marketing. This is about what some formula we don’t understand is telling them to do. And like you said, it isn’t. It often does not lead to healthy choices or healthy content. It’s something that these algorithms understand what that mind may seek and what will keep it watching. So it may start out as, hey, I feel insecure. How can I make more friends could turn into this is why you don’t have friends and why society is against you, especially in the age of disinformation. Right? And, and, and we won’t make this political. But within this age of disinformation, there’s lots of ways to pull on people’s heart and minds and send them into directions that they wouldn’t typically go into that result into a whole new type of presenting problem or series of symptoms or issues that we’re trying to help them understand. Right. Right.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 16:39
So in terms of healthy limits, again, kind of going back to parenting. What would you say? Is it a time limit? Is it a, you know, a contract that the child signs when they first get a phone? I mean, what what are some kind of practical tidbits you can give for parents?
Ben Kessler 16:57
Yeah. Ideally, what we’re doing, what we’re thinking is that for video gaming, for video games, kids aren’t playing. The kids are only playing on the weekends, they’re not playing on the weekdays. Many people will say that’s unrealistic. And I often hear it from parents from parents, both parents who work say, Well, my kids older, they don’t need a babysitter. I came home, I watch TV, what’s the big deal? They’re just playing a video game. And I think to myself, well, I did the same, I get that. But then I think I was I have my friends over. And I wonder what the parents can they have friends over? No, no, no, that’s not the way things work anymore. So I think to them, so I try to wonder with them to wonder what their children? How can we find a limit there? How can we find a healthy balance? So if the weekends The goal is to have 245 minute windows to game? On the weekdays? Can we play for 30 minutes? Now, oftentimes, the children will say, well, that’s not enough time for a full game. And then my response is, can you practice, because if the point of this tool is to achieve a goal of completing the game, or defeating a boss or moving up a level or anything like that, we need to practice. So let’s practice a little each day, get that, that joy, and then let’s move away and move away from it. So I would say on the weekdays, the expectations would be we come home, we, we get organized, we have a snack, we relax, we do our homework, and then we’re allowed to game if at all. And then we’ll love to
Dr. Leigh Weisz 18:29
see if we have time, if at all the child’s on a sport or in a play. I mean, they probably won’t have time to game on the weekdays anyway,
Ben Kessler 18:36
that’s right, because then it goes back to relationships. And these relationships with people in real life are more important than screen time. Right? They must be because how are we going to grow up and live in the world how our children grow up and live in the world, if they are unsure how to relate and talk to people, right? And so they need this valuable experience. It’s important. So then when we get to the weekend, and they have downtime, I recommend 245 minutes at most, that’s usually enough time to play a full game. And if it’s not, that is disappointing, but oftentimes those types of games world building or creating can be saved. And what I’ll what I’ll, what I advise is to set a timer, just like someone would have in a in a kitchen, old school timer, not on a phone, not with Alexa, let’s not use more technology, set the timer, let it ding and when you hear that ding. At first, you’re startled, you’re upset, you’re annoyed, but then you get used to it, you know, Okay, it’s time to stop. I think it’s nice to have a five minute warning. I was gonna say
Dr. Leigh Weisz 19:39
you know that, you know, some kids have practiced and gotten better at, like ending their game, even if it’s a few minutes to take to end versus the kids who are just like, hysterical and truly addicted. And that takes practice getting getting more comfortable kind of getting getting away from the game or away from whatever the screen is that they’re using at that time.
Ben Kessler 19:58
Yeah, we’re talking about the polished result and product we’re not. Yeah, there’s no but I like to along the way,
Dr. Leigh Weisz 20:05
I like that there’s a time limit specifically, I suppose it could be a game limit, if it’s something that’s typically under a certain amount of minutes, you know, it might be easy to end after one game instead of starting a second one and then having to end. But that’s something you could discuss with it with a child or teen and give him some agency in that decision. But the theme being there’s still a time limit.
Ben Kessler 20:25
Yeah, there’s a limit. And so yeah, the 245 Minute Windows limit warnings. And then if the child is what’s where to put it doing well, but let’s make it a blanket term like that. They have the opportunity to earn more time in 15 minute increments, but no more than 15 or 30 minutes each window. Otherwise, it gets too long. And it gets confusing. What that what those what those reward could be based on his I don’t know, chores, life skills. Oftentimes, it’s homework completion, attendance of school, or activities that they were resisting or avoiding in the past. Right? These are things that
Dr. Leigh Weisz 21:03
we know there is it’s such a rewarding tool. And we want we want to have things that work to help us achieve other goals. But But I like that there’s again, a limit. It’s not like hours extra, it’s 15 minute increments, if
Ben Kessler 21:17
that’s helpful. If not, I think we wind up playing for for child plays for hours. Yeah. And then how do you stop anyone after four hours from doing something anyone’s going to be cranky? Angry? dysregulated. Think of how adults feel after they travel? It’s exhausting. Right gaming, you’re in a different world, your mind is taken somewhere else. It’s hard to reorganize it and reintegrate and connect with others. Wow. And what
Dr. Leigh Weisz 21:42
are I’m not as familiar with the gaming world, then what are some of the kind of more popular ones that that the teens are playing these days?
Ben Kessler 21:49
Dr. Leigh Weisz 21:51
and are they all die?
Ben Kessler 21:52
Like all one of them? Yeah. So I think I think it goes across the spectrum. I think there’s that we’ll call the shooter games. The first person shooter. Yes, yeah, I agree. And I think we have sports. And then I think of world building. And I think we think of platforms now. So there’s consoles, X, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, that type of stuff. And then I think a PC when we have PC gaming, that’s usually a little more we tend to find that to be a little more addicting in a different way. Because that’s what I call world creating. Now I’m sure there’s there’s people who are shaking their head right now going oh facepalm like how could he describe it that way? But those that’s when we’re thinking of Minecraft and or we’re thinking of Roblox now that’s not world building. But within Roblox, there’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of games that are more being built every day. And there are
Dr. Leigh Weisz 22:44
some, those seem better than others, right? Some seem a little bit more benign and innocent, like cute little animals and others seem a little more concerning is appear as
Ben Kessler 22:55
sometimes they are like Pong or Tetris. And sometimes they look like that. And then all of a sudden, there’s blood or gorge, I’ve been from these things. And so it’s, it’s, it feels good. It’s stimulating. It’s scary. It gets the adrenaline jumping and coursing through your body. And that makes you want to keep playing. I was I had a zoom session with a sixth grader yesterday. And he was playing a game while we were talking. And we did a shared screen over zoom. So I got to see what he’s doing. And he got to the final boss, and it shows how far long you got each stage. And he was getting right to the end right at the end. And it kept killing them. And I had to let him know, they’re doing it on purpose. So you keep playing. He wanted to pick up his remote and throw it at the TV and scream. And to his credit he didn’t. And he understood what the game was doing. But he did not want to stop playing until he beat that boss. And he
Dr. Leigh Weisz 23:50
said like, in the moment from his therapist, that’s fascinating. It doesn’t really matter. It’s still it’s still addictive in the same way. Yes, I need to justify it. The next one, I’m gonna get a million. You know,
Ben Kessler 24:02
bad. I’m just gonna play for another minute that I can keep justifying this. It’s not a big deal. Look, my parents are telling me to stop. They’re working. This is how I keep myself entertained. What’s the big deal? Why do you care more than me? And when he refocuses the attention on me. When children refocus their attention and their parents. People get defensive. And we think, Wait, I’m not trying to harm someone not trying to inflict pain. But that’s what a corrective experience can be for a child. And so it’s hard for everyone.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 24:29
Right? Oh, it’s very hard to parent in the world of technology, except when you’re on an airplane and then I wonder how the heck our parents and grandparents did it without the wonder like, oh my gosh, but other than that airplane, it’s it really complicates matters. It’s tricky, and, and each family has such drastically different rules also. So that’s tricky to have to let go of that when your child goes to someone else’s house and what are they exposed to there and what if, what if another child brings the device into your house. And, you know, it’s tricky.
Ben Kessler 25:03
They are very tricky. And I think typically we try to go with the flow and correct it later and get back to that family’s cultural way of being. But it is hard. These are road bumps. And we can almost think of those as relapses, right? Because it’s brought back into the mind, it loves the person, and they have to go to their meeting of sorts, and think about how to address it, and come to terms with what happened and get back on a path for health.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 25:31
Hopefully, that makes that makes sense. Can you tell us a time that you had success, you know, with a family you worked with, or an individual you worked with, you know, in terms of help helping that child or helping that team create healthy limits with screens? Because again, this sounds great, but I’d love a specific story.
Ben Kessler 25:50
Yeah, sure. I was hoping you would ask, okay. I’m very fond of this, of this child and the family. So it’s, it’s very nice to talk about them. And I say that I’m fond of them. So that you can tell how much I care. And I think that that matters when we do this type of work. Because there’s so much vulnerability and intimacy that is shared. And that type of relationship and connection is formed. So I started to work with this I so it’s a nine year old. And I consider it a success story. Because most recently, he’s reporting that his life satisfaction is improved, his relationships has improved. And his functioning across all settings and of His life has improved. So what does that really mean? Okay, so about a year and a half ago, his parents came in reported themes of defiance argument, arguing, and really directing a lot of anger and frustration at at his parents. They talked about how they’ve tried so many things to improve his self esteem as confidence helped them make and maintain more friendships, help feel good about who he is, help him. Try new activities. He resisted. He liked gaming. And it makes sense, it’s easy, he felt good. And it wasn’t such a big deal, because he was still spending time with friends. around the holidays last year, they decided to reward them with a PlayStation five, they thought it would be fun. And they thought, hey, the neighborhood kids will come over just like when we were kids, though, we’ll come over Nintendo Sega whatever people will want to play. However, what they didn’t know was that now with online gaming, it really people don’t come over to play they play online had to had they play strangers. And so what happened was, will this at the time he was eight years old, he became what we’ll call addicted. And so substance addictions, people report that their set their life satisfaction decreases with gaming, that isn’t always the case. But for the purposes of our conversation today, the addiction and addiction because he was staying up late at night to play, he told his parents who’s going to bed and then sticking out it at that, at that time to play. He was trying to think of reasons to skip school to play. And when he did get a chance to play, he was getting so irritable, so angry. So already a child who is defined and angry and upset and trying to find his way in life coming out of the pandemic. It had increased to the point where his parents were alarmed, he began to throw things he began to begin, he engaged in some physical violence, his younger siblings at the time of four and a two year old, and they were beginning to display some physical aggression, all because they’re watching him throw these tantrums after he was done playing because he couldn’t be at a certain game, or because it was time stop playing. So the parents talked to me. And we began to help the child understand what was happening inside their mind, and why. And we want it we want it to take time, wants to spend enough time there and provide that psychoeducation so that he has some buy in, there’s no matter what
Dr. Leigh Weisz 29:01
takes the blame away from him. It’s like this, right? Your brain is doing this to you and to our family. And we don’t like it, and we want to help you with it. But it doesn’t feel like you are
Ben Kessler 29:11
the problem. That’s rightly we didn’t want him to think that he’s bad or broken. Those are the typical responses that children think, right? Oh, I’m bad or broken, or there’s something wrong with me. No, no, no, no, no. There’s people who are working in a building that’s the size of a castle right now, coming up with a formula with an algorithm to make sure that you never stop playing this and that. As soon as you beat this game, there’s another game you want to play. So this isn’t it’s about you, but it’s also not about you. You’re you’re part of what’s happening to so many people around you. And that did help. It didn’t make him less irritable, but it allowed him to step away and look at it from an overview and understand that he wasn’t that he didn’t need to internalize it and take himself down and take himself out and a
Dr. Leigh Weisz 30:00
wash over it. And and that he’s not alone, like you said that it knows that this is happening to oh my gosh, so many kids, so many grown ups, you know, it’s not just you, and we want to help you with this at the same time.
Ben Kessler 30:12
And at this time his his parents did research, they provided him with articles with videos of experts talking about this. So like your sanely, to really explain, we’re not making this up. It’s not just you, this is a phenomenon that’s happening around the world. Wow. And especially in this country. So let’s think about it together. And that that got enough buy in, so that when they told him that they were taken away his Playstation five, an iPad for a month, he understood why. And that’s what I recommend at least 30. Not Not, not at least three days, 30 days, not less, but 30 days a month. And that’s enough time for the athlete to come out, to deal with it, to experience what it’s like to have it taken away, to begin to kind of go through that withdrawal. And then there’s time to begin to engage in healthy activities, to spend time with friends and family, to this for this child to get more into basketball. And what he and now connecting to the theme of defiance, you wanted to spend more time with this father, he needed this. And part of the PlayStation five was, hey, we’re parents, both parents are high achievers, really lovely, wonderful people who are very, who are doing good work and wanted to keep doing good work and have good childcare. And at times, they need their kids to you know, to entertain themselves with. And so we can all relate. Sure, sure all parents can Yes. And so this father understood, hey, my son wants to spend more time with me. And when the PlayStation five was taken away, they had that time. And they were able to go to basketball games together, they’re able to play basketball outside in the middle of winter, this kid wanted to go out and shoot hoops. The other day was telling me it was hailing outside, I couldn’t feel my fingers. But I was spending time with my dad and was fun. So whereas it’s true, because you pretty much
Dr. Leigh Weisz 32:07
compete with the screens, right? Again, the way that they’re set up, you know, you could be going to Disney World, it wouldn’t matter if the choice is a screen or real life interaction. So it seems like when that is taken out of the picture for a time, the in this case, the nine year old was really able to see what they could actually experience in real life what they were missing.
Ben Kessler 32:28
That’s right, he spent time with his grandparents. He’s like Ben, they’re so old and ridiculous and silly, but they’re fun. And it’s nice to talk with them and hear about what life is really like and, and feel seen and experienced. And then that gave him a little more self esteem to spend more time with his friends. And he was someone who tends to like to hang out with the older kids, you know, we like dares, and now he’s spending time with kids his age, and he’s really enjoying that. And now when he games, he says I don’t want to play for more than 45 minutes because it gets too much I want to do something else. And he’s able to regulate
Dr. Leigh Weisz 33:02
how much of it of the time this takes up in his life in a different way. Whereas before it was the parents fighting probably and saying you have to get off of it, and so forth.
Ben Kessler 33:12
Not not always no, most of the time. Yeah, there are. And there are timers and warnings, but he’s also inviting friends over. So the initial goal is occurring, because he wants those relationships in person. And now his friends are experiencing those same relationships and those same positive experiences. And so it’s clicking for them, and in that friend group, and then their community. So it’s a really important experience. Now, the younger siblings are also seen, hey, there’s other ways to have fun, right? It’s gonna now battling Exactly. And now they’re able to address the symptoms of behavior defines your ability in a different way, because they removed one of the variables or the triggers. So you’re able to really fine tune it and address it in a different way.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 33:53
So in this case, right, the family came to you. And there were some clear concerns. And so it makes sense to me that you took this approach of let’s take this whole, you know, technology piece out of the life for 30 days, and he’s young enough that you could do that. I guess I’m wondering, would you only do that extreme kind of 3030 day no electronics? In in a case like that, where it starts with real clear concerns? Or would you do you know, how people talk about, like, technology fast? I forget the other term people use? Would you do that for for all kids from time to time? What What would you say about that?
Ben Kessler 34:32
I think there’s not one size fits all. And I think we want to think of each person as an individual and what this relationship what the relationship to technology is how they’re function in all areas of their life. And at the same time, I think technology fasts or breaks, that’s healthy, that’s nice, just like anything in life moderation. That’s good. But I think if we’re looking for a corrective experience, we do it once and we do it right And that means that once we decide and we identify, we make a plan, we implement it, and we stick to it. Because if not, if we start and we stop, we’re sending mixed messages to the child or to the team, and what are they learning except from the parent, I can’t do it as a parent. So you, I can’t really expect you to do it. And then that becomes in therapy or in their life, the focus is no longer on technology, it’s on the relationship. Right? Let’s keep it on technology. Not on the parent child relationship, or who’s in charge who makes the rules and who follows it.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 35:35
So you’re saying the whole family goes on this 30 day? Diet? Yeah. So fast. Yeah.
Ben Kessler 35:41
Yeah, Leigh, you’re catching on. I tried to disguise as much as I can. But yeah, I think it’s for the whole family system. And I think it gets harder as the children get older. So I’ve had family say, Ben, yeah, I have a nine year old. But what about my middle schooler? What about my high school students? What are we supposed to do? What can they ask for apps are different devices that they can use to turn off one person’s internet or one person’s device. And I know my own reaction, since I think people can tell through this, what I how I think of technology as a tool. I don’t embrace that type, that type of thinking. I say, if it’s for one, it’s for all in the whole family, not so that people are suffering, so that people will learn and grow together. And so if you have a high school aged student who needs the internet, and needs to be able to do homework at night, and you can’t stop your child from using the device, and you have to turn off the internet, and your high school age student needs to go to the library after school, they need to tell their school, their teacher what’s happening, and they need to come up with other accommodations. And that’s for 30 days, it’s not forever, right? Not forever, it’s for this amount of time for four weeks, if something more is needed after that, then we want to talk to our professional and find out how to fine tune or tailor this to this specific individual and that family system.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 36:53
It’s interesting, I have had families where kids have had, again, certainly, I don’t know if I could say addiction fully, but where they have those behaviors, right, reminiscent of addiction where they kind of are craving the next the next hit that sort of thing. And when they go to camp, right, with no screens overnight camp that is, and they come back, and they’re not even asking for it. So interesting to me. And like several families have reported that, that, you know, the kids sort of didn’t miss it, even though they would have absolutely predicted that they would have been, you know, dying for that iPad, the moment they got off the bus they didn’t. So I just find that fascinating. It’s kind of like one of those built in fasts.
Ben Kessler 37:38
Yeah, Leigh, that’s such a great point for so many reasons. I often hear those kids at camp also say, Yeah, we had a movie night and it was so weird to watch a movie. Why were we doing that? And it felt like a special treat. It was so special. Meanwhile, when they’re at home, like oh, yeah, I went to a movie, whatever, I don’t care. That’s so boring. So when we remove it a little, we’re that tool, that device is brought back into our mind in a healthy way. And we can experience it for the way that it’s really was initially designed and created, not how it’s been tailored for consumerism. Yeah, those children when it comes when they come back, that’s a good time to get it started. If we’re if we’re going to implement this change in this corrective action, do it after summer. But yeah, that’s an example to share with the child when they’re not so sure to get by it. Hey, do you remember summer camp? What was life like? Oh, I was around people that I liked. And they like being that felt good. And I had things to do. Well, summer camp at a special place. But we could do something like that here. Right? Let’s talk and let’s brainstorm together. So it really is a lot of creativity late, right? Summer Camp is creative. It’s freedom. That’s what we want to embrace here. Right?
Dr. Leigh Weisz 38:47
So if you were to explain, and it sounds like you did to this to this, kiddo, who’s nine and or two siblings this 30 day, you know, I don’t know if we call it an experiment or,
Ben Kessler 39:00
Dr. Leigh Weisz 39:02
Yeah. What What words would you use to explain why you said you kind of their parents had showed videos and explained the effects on the brain? Can you kind of roleplay a little what you would say, if you were presenting it in a session? Like, this is what we’re gonna do family because again, I can only imagine the reactions.
Ben Kessler 39:18
Yeah. So I, I use the word relationship. It’s a broken record, because I really want them to hear that word over and over and to think what it means. And then I take them through the steps, but I really try to help them think, how do you think of their life now? And what do you how do you think it could be different? So it’s a little bit of that solution focused therapy magical wand. If we’re gonna wave a magical wand over technology, what do we think could change and how could life improve? And so they begin to imagine and begin to think what it’s going to be. And then I think what we do is we take a piece of paper, I have giant posts that I like to use, and we write our schedule, so that we can see it, we can view it and it becomes concrete. and predictable, and we know what to expect the best that we can. And that way we can cope ahead. And then as we’re coping ahead, we begin to think do I have? Do I have those strategies to cope and manage this type of distress, just the family system. And that creates conversation. And I think that’s as detailed as we can get with the sleeve. Because all the conversations are different, right. But that’s what we need to have these devices take away time to have these meaningful conversations, these intentional conversations,
Dr. Leigh Weisz 40:29
it is about time suck.
Ben Kessler 40:32
Yes, so we want to talk and we want to sit down, we want to explain why we’re doing it, how it’s going to work, what it’s going to feel like how we’re going to all tolerate it together, how parents are still there to care for their children, and attend to their needs and help them and also what I’m doing, and there’s times really supporting parents to understand the effect that’s going to come their way that anger that outbursts, and how to help parents not take it personally, and how to help them not give in, to not give into the tantrum not given to the threats. And when they hear their children say the most awful things they thought they could ever hear them, say or couldn’t even imagine them saying, to hear it, not to punish them for it, to hold them accountable for it. But not to not to overdo it with a consequence, and continue with this with this goal. Because that all that behavior has meaning and that meaning is Stop, stop, stop, or else. And we don’t give in to emotional terrorism. Like, yeah,
Dr. Leigh Weisz 41:35
no, it’s true. It’s It’s like they will do anything to get it back in that moment, including, you know, from the sweetest to the meanest, right? Or anything goes just again, just like someone who really needs that next, that next pet, it’s the same, it’s the same concept.
Ben Kessler 41:51
Same thing as substance, illicit substances, even legal ones. Right? Right. It’s that same idea, that same fixation, that same way that will justify and come up with reasons why and manipulate and take advantage of those who we care about, even though we’re not trying to harm them. It’s what this addiction is telling us to do. Right?
Dr. Leigh Weisz 42:09
What are other questions, common questions that you get from parents and sessions about good rules with technology? I know, I get a lot of questions about phone contracts, or even iPad contracts when when a child is getting a device for the first time so that even though I know it could change as the child gets older, there’s some ground rules. What are what are things you get commonly asked about?
Ben Kessler 42:35
Yeah. Um, should I allow my child to have social media? Hmm. Should they? When are they allowed to text their friends? And when or they’re not allowed to? Where should the phone live? Right. And so I think, where should the phone live? Well, when it’s not when the child’s not using it, I think it should be with the parent. And I think when it’s being charged, it should be in the parents room at night. So like we’ve talked about earlier, the child’s not sleeping with it and and creating their life around it. Other type of questions with social media, how, how do I know when my child is old enough? Am I answers? How should I know? How do any of us know? And my response isn’t meant to be snarky, but is? What’s the harm in waiting? What are they missing out on? And they’ll say, Well, Ben, their friends are connecting this way or that way. And what I wonder is, what about a group chat? That’s still technology. But that’s something that we can control and monitor and limit in different ways, for sure.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 43:37
While the whole wait until eighth? You know, I remember reading about this and thinking, Oh, this is incredible. You know, what a great, brilliant idea. And you just need this critical mass of parents who agree. And then these kids absolutely aren’t asking for phones or what they’re not missing out, because their friends don’t have them either. Right? And I think around here on the North Shore, the average, you know, time that the kids get Thrones is much earlier than eighth grade. And so it really does make it tricky. Because you don’t want your child to be the last one and truly be left out of all these, you know, chats and plans and things like that. So I think it’s a tricky balance to your point, and there isn’t a uniform right or wrong answer. But it is interesting in certain communities. It does seem like they get the phones much later. And you know, as a parent, I’m kind of jealous like, Oh, that’d be lovely to not even have to entertain the what age thing because they’re waiting too late. So eighth, it is right. But I was just curious if you notice sort of a trend around here that I’m noticing with the younger kids and I’m not saying to just give in right away and be the first either but it is a little bit of a balancing act.
Ben Kessler 44:47
I agree. And I think if a parent can hold out not to demonstrate I’m in control or I have power and you don’t want to see if the child can withstand it and see if they can develop other types of relationships or other ways. Communicating with their friends. I think that’s beneficial. And I think the kids that do that, since they haven’t had this device yet, maybe they they’ve jealousy or some envy, but they’re okay. Because they don’t know what they’re missing out on and it’s healthy. So I agree. Yeah, eighth grade I, I’m thinking it happens, in my experience more than fourth grade, sometimes in third grade, when parents are are busy, and they’re both working, and they want to make sure that their child can communicate with them. And typically, it’s the anxious child. Well, I have separation anxiety, one of my parents is, I just want to know that they’re coming to pick me up. And I think we can all understand that and maybe even relate to that. And we have to think of another way for that need to be met without buying a computer that fits in their backpack or their or the pocket.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 45:45
Right? Well, and actually, I’ve had a couple of of kiddos who are fairly young with separation anxiety in the practice. And they, the goal was for them to have successful sleepover experiences, because it was a goal of theirs, especially with the girls, it seems like one of the kind of things that girls do, right at a certain age is a fun social kind of thing is having a sleepover and two of these girls who I’d worked with both on the younger side, so like, maybe one was third grade one was in fifth grade. And both sad oh, yeah, I’ve had plenty of of successful sleepovers, really, because I was sort of surprised to hear that. And they said, Yeah, but I have my iPad with me at all times. So I can, I can call, they could FaceTime from the iPad from the other house at any point. And I could tell my mom to pick me up. And so they didn’t really have successful sleepovers in the past and my, you know, opinion, it was that they they physically went, but they were connected the whole time. And many times, they actually did get picked up early, and the parent in charge didn’t even know this was all happening. And other times they might have made it physically through the night, but they were talking the whole time on the iPad until they fell asleep. So I said, you know, let’s challenge ourselves to do you know, even if it’s like an under nighter, but without any strings attached without that pad, without calling, if you need something the other parent is in charge. That’s, you know, whose home it is? Talk to them. And so those were really challenging steps for these two individuals to take. And they both were successful in time. But it was not easy. And I think that’s a big difference too. Are you really separating and having a sleepover? Or are you physically going somewhere, but you’re connected? So it’s interesting,
Ben Kessler 47:34
is very interestingly, right? Because if technology is a tool, like we’ve talked about, what was that tool accomplishing? There? It was creating a disguised or invisible connection, right? That was creating more dependence. And they thought they were accomplishing, like you said, a goal or having this fun experience. But it was It wasn’t what they thought. And so they’re left feeling disappointed or frustrated and angry at themselves. And so parents want to support their kids. And these tools create convenience. And we think in the moment, it’s okay, but it’s a band aid to not deal with the upset or the worry, deal with the upset and the worry, parents help the child understand it, and build along the way. So yeah,
Dr. Leigh Weisz 48:15
for those parents, you’re saying got the younger kids phones, because they were anxious, you know, advice for parents who are thinking about it and have younger kids? It sounds like you’re saying, you know, hold out?
Ben Kessler 48:28
Let them yeah,
Dr. Leigh Weisz 48:30
let them know, you’re out. If there’s another adult, presumably in charge of them at all times. They’re not wandering the streets alone in third grade. You know,
Ben Kessler 48:37
they can wait. And if necessary, if they really can’t get them a flip phone, right old fashioned, old old fashioned flip phone where it’s just are you on your way? And the parent replies, Yes. And then they turn off your phone. Right? That’s it?
Dr. Leigh Weisz 48:53
Right, for sure. No, that makes that make sense. So we’ve been talking a lot about what we should do as parents, and we, I mean, I appreciate very much your advice. So I guess one final question I have for you is what should we not do as parents? What pitfalls Have you seen?
Ben Kessler 49:12
Oh, such a great question. I think what we’ve talked about today is a healthy corrective experience, what we don’t want to do is an overcorrection. And that would be unhealthy. So when I talk to parents about this, I like to compare it or to a parallel to, to when we introduce driving when parents are reduced driving or talk about sex with their children. So in both instances, we want to teach about safety, danger risk. And we want to do it in a way where they’re not scared or feel ashamed to do it. So there’s a healthy balance and that’s when limits come into play. So that’s why some parents will say ban 30 days we’ll do it 60 No, don’t do that. That’s punitive. And they’re what they’re learning is I did something bad I’m bad or broken. Another overcorrection could be well, okay, I’ll introduce it. But they’re not allowed to ever have social media. Well, that means that they’re probably going to come up with a secret way to come up with it or a fake name. And so we’re creating an obstacle that didn’t exist before.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 50:14
Right? And ever is a long time. Forever. What
Ben Kessler 50:16
does that even mean? Right?
Dr. Leigh Weisz 50:19
Ben Kessler 50:20
yeah, that’s an extension of the parents anxiety and worry of is this really going to work? If we bring it back? What if it doesn’t, and so we have to give it a chance. And that’s, I appreciate that use the word experiment, because that’s what this is. So the goal is one time, if it if it doesn’t work after one time, we don’t overcorrect it, we go back and we fine tune it and we adjust. Maybe it doesn’t need to be taken away. But there’s more limits put on it. Right? Well, there’s no support system,
Dr. Leigh Weisz 50:47
right? Because they’re showing you they’re not ready yet to have, you know, the full access whatever that looks like.
Ben Kessler 50:52
Right? That’s right. Same as if they would say, Okay, now that they have it back, they can use an unlimited amount of time, right? Because they’ve learned their lesson and it will be fine. No, we continue to maintain, we continue to monitor. And we continue to make sure that by the time they launch from home, that they have a healthy relationship with these devices, that they know how to use them, and that they don’t feel the need to punish themselves if it goes too far.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 51:21
Right. Now, this this really reminds me of when people talk about diet, because I had I had the nutritionist, Laura field on. And she was talking about how you can’t tell kids never to have dessert, or ice cream or sweets, you know, that’s not realistic. And it’s okay to enjoy them, but again, in moderation. And so it seems like technology is no different that as parents, we have to really be careful about both what we’re modeling, like, are we attached to technology ourselves, you know, 24 hours a day, are we able to put down our device and really engage in a meal together or an activity. And again, that we can’t be on it either as much as we might like to? Because it’s part of the world we live in. And it’s part of how kids can act and learn and all kinds of things. But again, just sort of figuring out what that healthy medium is that healthy amount.
Ben Kessler 52:12
That’s rightly an example that popped in my head was a popular birthday party to have for children as the video game truck comes by or something like that. Should the child not be allowed to go to the birthday party or go to the sleepover? No, but we just plan ahead. They don’t have to tell their friends what their limits are. It’s not that it’s a secret. They just don’t have to over explain. And then when they come home, they resume the plan. And they make sense of it. And it’s hard. They have a chance to talk about it. Right. Yeah.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 52:38
No, that makes sense. Well, thank you so much, Ben, for everything. This has been really helpful. And I hope everyone will you know, check out more episodes of our podcast, go to copingpartners.com and click on podcast and articles and thank you again, then.
Ben Kessler 52:56
It’s been my pleasure. Thank you, Leigh. Thank you.
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