Ellen:
Today, I'm very excited to welcome parenting and eSafety expert, Martine Oglethorpe to the podcast. Martine works with student and parents through schools and other organizations, to help them safely and smartly incorporate technology into their lives. She also works with teachers to explore how they can incorporate digital literacy into their classrooms, and Martine is a keynote speaker, credited by The Office of eSafety Commission of Australia, and she's also a writer, and a parent herself. Welcome, Martine.

Martine:
Thank you, thank you for having me.

Ellen:
You are very welcome, I'm excited that you're here, because I've got lots of cool stuff that I'd like to talk to you about in relation to eSafety, and the cyber world, and kids and parenting.

Martine:
Excellent.

Ellen:
As a mother, parent of primary school age kids myself, I think I battle with the challenges, and the anxieties surrounding screen time, and social media, and online relationships probably as much as anyone else. But, what I love about your approach and your message, is its positivity, you're not kind of doling out rules and restrictions around screen time or telling people to be fearful of what could happen. And I know there's a lot of that in the media, particularly I see it amongst parents online, and you have quite a different take on it, tell our listeners about your take on this world?

Martine:
Yeah, well I guess when we come from a place of fear, it's not very empowering or very helpful for parents because it doesn't allow us to really tackle the problem or tackle the challenges in a constructive or positive way, which is really what our kids need. So, I think we get very scared about the technology because it's often a realm that we don't really understand as parents, or we're coming from a very different angle than our children are. But I think we need to remember, fundamentally what it means to be a parent or child hasn't changed today, as parents we want to keep our kids safe when they're young, we want to protect them, and we certainly need to be doing that. But then we also want to give them the skills and the behaviors and the thinking to go out into the world and be productive, independent, confident members of society. And so to do that, I think we need to remember, we want to learn about this world because it is a different playground to the one that we grew up in. So, it's really important that we understand the playground so that we can A, protect them when we need to and keep them safe.

Martine:
But also so that we have a good understanding of the good and the bad so that we can then give them those skills, and the thinking and all of those behaviors that they're going to need when we're not going to be there to hold their hand. Because we can't base our parenting in this space on shutting things down, blocking, banning, doing that sort of protection. Because it's not going to serve our kids well, because we know that they're going to be out in the world and doing a lot of this stuff independently of us being able to look over their shoulder the whole time. So, we need to make sure that we come to them with this.

Ellen:
So, it's kind of an extension, I suppose, of just being a good parent generally, across the board.

Martine:
Absolutely, it's still just parenting, and that's why I don't say to parents, "These are the rules you need to have." I don't stipulate all those sorts of things, because I think as parents, we have our own values and things that are important to us, and we need to be making those decisions ourselves. But what I do help parents with is understanding what's out there for their children, so that they know that this is the way that they can interact, these are sorts of challenges that they face, these are the mistakes that they will probably make. So that then you can then go in and parent the way that you see fit, and incorporate that technology in a way that's going to work for your family. And I guess then, basing that on the communication that you have with your child and make sure that's the focus still.

Ellen:
Yeah, I think that's really interesting, I think particularly your point about being able to kind of work out what works for your family, I think that's one of the challenges I always see with any of the rigid rules or guidelines that are provided. The two hours of screen time maximum limit, and concerns that people have about what kids should and shouldn't watch, and every family is so different, every child is different. I have two sons, one really could spend a bit of time online, he loves watching his sports on YouTube, but other than that gets bored and wants to go outside. The other one is six, and he's in a world of Minecraft, doing what I think is kind of amazing, and the things he tells me that he learns and I kind of battle with that. Should they spend so much time, particularly someone so small, should he be doing that? And then I look at what he's doing, and I think, "Wow, this is kind of cool." And I parent them differently.

Ellen:
So, I guess you're saying, "Here's some guidelines." Or what you like to help educate parents with is, "Here's some guidelines for you to perhaps apply to your family."

Martine:
Yeah, definitely. And we can all have our own family rules like we do with everything. Some people aren't allowed to watch certain movies, or they're not allowed to have a lot of sugar, or they all have to go to church on Sunday, I mean, everybody has their family rules that are just what is important to them. And I think learning in this space is no different at all, what's important to you, but also what's going to work for your individual child. When we tend to have some blanket rules, we're forgetting that children deal with this space very differently, and for some children they can happily play Minecraft or happily engage in social media and have no ill-effects from it, in fact, they come away more positive. And there are other children that maybe it's not such a positive experience for them, so we need to be looking a lot more closely at the experiences our children are having with the technology and then decide on whether or not our boundaries are working or whether we need to make some changes that way.

Ellen:
Okay, and what are the kind of questions you get from, because you actually go out there and speak to parents both some in their workplaces, is that right? And also-

Martine:
Yes.

Ellen:
... high schools?

Martine:
Yeah. So I guess one of the things that they're worried about is how much time, that question, "So how much time should my six year old have? How much time should my eight-year-old? And how much time should my 12-year-old?" And I think we need to get smarter with our questioning, "Then how much time." Because we know that our kids are using the technology to engage in so many different ways as are we, as adults, and will continue to in the future. So I think we need to look at questions rather than simply just the amount of time, what are they doing with that time, and what are they doing with the screen? So, looking at questions like, are they merely consuming, are they hours on end just consuming content that may be positive for them, or not be, or it may be helpful and educational and relevant, or it may be untrue and fake and not helpful? So, looking at, what are they consuming, or are they doing lots of consuming and not of their creative or interactive stuff, which is what we know the benefits come from the technology when we're interacting with the technology and when we're creating with it.

Martine:
We can't compare a child that may be playing hours and hours of Candy Crush, even though that can be valid for short periods of time for relaxation, but a child doing that as opposed to a child creating a song on Garage Band, or making a movie. There's lots of different things that we're doing, and a child that might be looking at YouTube videos to help their brother make a paper plane and find the best way to do it, or are you watching hardcore pornography? I mean, they're completely different uses of their time, and of the technology, and the effects that it's having on them. So, it's important that we look at those questions and also, are they having a good time on the technology? We want to sometimes say they're on social media all the time, that's okay if it is uplifting them, if they are being inspired by other people, if they are making positive connections, and it is reinforcing those friendships that already exist. But if it's not, if it's messing with their self-esteem, if they're constantly comparing themselves to everyone, they're feeling excluded, if they're getting bullied, then they're not having a great time with the technology.

Martine:
So, we need to look at not just how much time, but what are our kids doing with technology, is it adding to their life or is it taking it away, and how can we then go and nurture those elements, that we want to give them more positive experiences.

Ellen:
And I guess that's why parents really do need to understand the technologies, need to be involved, I know in conversations that I've had, because I'm quite active on social media myself, and I'm engaged in the online area because that's part of what I do for my work. But I know a lot of parents who don't engage in any social media, they find it scary, and they find it then confronting. And I wonder if you're not involved, how much you can actually be keeping an eye out, I suppose, and really being critical in assessing what your children are doing and how they're doing it, and what impact it's having on them.

Martine:
Yeah absolutely, and this sort of stuff can happen when our children are really young when we're sitting them on our laps with an iPad and watching an episode of something, of Peppa Pig or whatever it is, or reading a story together. We can still get that very interactive element of reading a book together with them, just because it's on a screen doesn't mean we can't ask them questions about what's going to happen, what do they thinks going to happen, what character do they like? All those sorts of things, it starts with that interaction and then as they go on, obviously we're not going to be sitting them 24/7 while they're on their screens. But it does allow us to see the sorts of things that they're doing so that we can ask the right questions and get them to start thinking critically. When we see something on our own feeds or on their feeds that's questionable, we can ask those questions, "Do you think that person meant to say that?" Or, "Do you think that's the way they wanted to come across? Because with no tone of voice, we could take that the wrong way." And just getting them to think critically about what they're looking at and how do we know that this is true, how do we know that this is not fake?

Martine:
What's the language used in this article? Who's reading it? Why was it written? Who else is supporting it? What's their data to back it up? And we have to be able to ask those questions with them, because if we sit them down and try to lecture them on understanding and evaluating content, well A, they're probably going to stop listening to you pretty quickly, but if we're doing it in a way that we're reading something together, or we've read something, and we think, "What do you think of this? How would you interpret it?" It allows them to start thinking more critically, and being involved, we can then see what their challenges are going to be, and we also want to remain, I guess, a bit relevant to our kids. When I've had kids where things have gone wrong, or they've found themselves in trouble online, and I say to the child, "Why did you feel you couldn't go to mum or dad?" And the answer is always, "Because they wouldn't understand. They would tell me to shut it down, they would tell me to close the account, they would tell me, 'Why would you want to be engaging in that if this is how it ends up?' And they would say, 'In my day, we used to go outside, and we'd ride Billycarts and we'd talk to our friends face to face.'" And all those wonderful things that we used to do.

Martine:
But we also have to understand that it's not relevant for their world at the moment, they only know a world-

Ellen:
And it shuts the conversation down, doesn't it?

Martine:
Absolutely.

Ellen:
It doesn't open it up and give you an opportunity to have those parenting conversations.

Martine:
And we're building up that wall between them and us, you know? Even though the technology sometimes we know can be a real bane of our existence because it's frustrating, and it does seem to tend to take control sometimes, we don't want to make it the bad guy as such, because when we do that we are setting up that us versus them kind of mentality, and we want to keep that open in that, "We can still have rules and boundaries around it, but these are why and these are the challenges that I see for you, this is why I think I need to have some of these boundaries around it." Or, "This is why we need to have this discussion about what's out there because it's not always appropriate for you." And they're often playing in playgrounds that weren't created for young people. So, we need to be there to help them with those conversations and make sure that they can come to us and they know that if they make mistakes, we are there. Because they will make mistakes, but we want them to be those little mistakes that they can learn from, and things that they can get over and are not going to be life-altering.

Martine:
Which-

Ellen:
Build that resilience.

Martine:
Absolutely, and we want to help them with that too.

Ellen:
Yeah, and that context, that why, I've actually had some conversations, both with clients and with others in the last week or so about the importance of providing that why if we want people to change their behavior. That saying, "Do this." Or, "Do that." Isn't enough, people don't, none of us do, our instant thought is, "Well, why shouldn't I?" And if you've gotten an even tiny bit of a rebellious streak, and most of our kids have got that because that's part of their need to push their boundaries, they'll kind of go, "Well, why? I'm going to do it anyway." Instead of us explaining, "This is what I do or don't want you to do and this is why I think it's a good idea." And unpacking that with them.

Martine:
Yeah, and I've had that experience, I had a dad once who was desperate to get his child off Minecraft because he just saw it as something that he didn't need to be doing all of the time, and I said, "Why do you need him to get off?" And he goes, "Because he's going to turn into a zombie, and he's going to this or this." And I said, "How about you have a game with him because I want you to understand what he loves about it, so that then you can make the boundaries around it coming from a place of knowledge and understanding rather than simply, 'It looks like it's got to be bad for you, so I'm going to shut it down.'" And when he did play that game, not only did he see that there was some amazing skill his son was getting and had already learned, it also gave them A, some bonding time, but it allowed his son to teach him some things as well. And that's great as well, that there's that toing and froing of knowledge as well.

Martine:
He could then go and put in place some boundaries by saying, "I know you love this, and I get why you love it, and you're going to be allowed to use it, but we're going to put some boundaries around it because there's lots of other things that you need to fit into your day and lots of other ways that you need to learn and interact and have fun. And this is great, and it's just one element of it though, and we need to fit other things in." So it's about framing it in a way that, "Yes I get that you like it, but we need to make boundaries for these other reasons." And we have to look at also, what we're replacing it too. I had another father who wanted to get his son off Minecraft, said to me, "I finally got him down, he's only allowed 20 minutes a day." And I said, "Well, what does he do when you get him off?" He said, "Oh, he does and watches telly." And I said, "You just have one screen for another." And I don't know what he was watching, but probably nothing that was giving him a lot of benefit either.

Martine:
So, we've got to look at all of those things as well, and if we understand what they're doing, and can take an interest in it as well, we're going to have a lot more success making some of those boundaries.

Ellen:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I love that you're encouraging critical thinking both for the kids themselves around what they're doing, how they're doing it, how they're interacting with other people, what other people might be thinking, feeling, all of that. But also critical thinking for parents, to realize that this stuff is far more nuanced, I suppose there's been a massive leap in technology and technological changes even in my lifetime when I was at university, where there wasn't any internet, that's how long ago it was. To today, where we're parenting and in an environment where these things are popping up, new technologies, new online platforms are popping up every day. I've got a nine-year-old, and he and his friends are all talking about the YouTube channels that they're going to start, so it's been a big change for a generation of parents to come across all of this. But starting to think critically about what's involved in it, and what kids could get from it.

Martine:
Yeah, and everything they're doing as well. And you were right when you said it's far more nuanced than other areas of our lives has been. For example, we can all say to kids, "Oh, you must be kind online, be kind and don't bully people." Well, that's obviously very true, and we certainly want that, but there's a whole lot of ways that we interact that are a lot more nuanced than that, and it's not just about not being, or being unkind, or bullying. It's about, "How do I respond when somebody makes a comment that I think is not bullying, but it's not nice, or it's questionable? What does it mean when I like someone else's post who has said something that may be excluding somebody else, how am I implicated in that? What does it mean when I'm involved in a group chat with my mates and I can tell that they're starting to talk about somebody, that that person wouldn't like if they were involved or knew that?" So there's all of those sort of gray areas, "What does it mean when I have a comment that I don't know how to interpret because there's no tone of voice, there's no facial expressions?"

Ellen:
And these are struggles for adults too, aren't they?

Martine:
Absolutely.

Ellen:
I mean, these are the same thoughts [inaudible 00:16:33], I'm like, "Oh yes, I've been in that situation." And oh yes, I know that sometimes somebody posts something that is unfortunate. And then you click like and you go, "Well I don't like the content, I don't like that this has happened to you, but I kind of want to show a level of support." So yeah, it's complex.

Martine:
Yeah, and all of those areas are very complex, and as you say, complex for adults, so certainly complex for children who are often hanging out in a lot of these spaces that they're really not socially/emotionally/developmentally ready for as well, so there's all of those sorts of questions of readiness and the maturity and things like that, that they have to start learning a lot of those skills a lot earlier than you or I would have because it was pretty simple in the playground. You said something nasty, or you didn't and you kind of moved on, whereas-

Ellen:
And you got that facial expression, or you got the instant feedback.

Martine:
Yeah, you can read and things do get forgotten about a lot more quickly, whereas online, we know those things hang around a lot longer. So, the effects of when things go wrong, or we say the wrong thing, or somebody says the wrong thing about us, the effects are a lot more lasting because they do tend to hang around a lot longer. So, we sort of feel that more, it's the same thing when we hear about a party we weren't invited to, in our day we got a bit sad and we would have liked to have gone to the party but we weren't invited. Today, those kids have to sit there and scroll through their feed on a Saturday night and see everybody else that's at the party when they weren't there. So those sorts of resilience skills, we need to be instilling as well, because there's not a lot that we can do about that. That's part of our life at the moment, and again, some kids are firmly over that and they get, "Yup, this is part of our life, we have to deal with this, it's the way it is."

Martine:
Whereas other kids who are not so robust, and not so resilient take all those things a lot more to heart, and the effect is a lot more because A, they're reading it and seeing it over and over again, and also they know that lots of other people are seeing it as well, and we have to sort of be in tune to our own individual children as well and their needs.

Ellen:
Absolutely, and how do kids respond to this stuff, when you're talking in schools or in classrooms with kids, and what sort of age ranges would you talk about this?

Martine:
All right through, so I can start with the bottom of the primary school. So they're little preppers or foundations, and that's obviously just a lot more basic cyber safety. So it's just reinforcing some of the safety elements more for them is keeping them safe online. Then, going through primary school level, parents and teaching don't often like to admit it, but this is when they are getting involved in some social media. So particularly that middle primary, to upper primary I do a lot more of those online behaviors, how do we respond when somebody says something that we don't like, or we can't interpret? What are the sorts of questions we need to be asking of ourselves when we start talking to somebody? How do we know this person is who they say they are? All of those sorts of things, and at the primary school level, yeah they're pretty mailable, and they're pretty open to all of that sort of stuff, and that's why I think it's a great age to get them. Because it is before they've formed a lot of those habits and thinking and by the time they're in high school, they're off doing their own thing, they've often got their second Instagram account.

Martine:
We can't keep as much of an eye on them, so, therefore, we're not teaching them as well either. So that's why I think it's crucial that that particular middle-upper primary, that they start thinking about for those times when they're going to start interacting. Because as I said, they're often starting to do it, but they're not quite there yet, and this often comes about in an example I share with kids where a young girl was on Musical.ly and started talking to who she believes was Justin Bieber, he asked her for a nude photo, in return he would come and play at her school, she'd be really popular. And unfortunately she did send that photo, the second time he asked, that feeling was inside her that, "This isn't right." So thankfully she got help from mum and this particular guy was prosecuted. But when I bring this up as an example for children to think of, "How would you know he was who he says he was? How do we know anybody's who they say they are online?" And some kids, particularly when you're looking at celebrities, they have a fairly good understanding of some of the things they can do.

Martine:
They can see if that particular person is verified, they can see how many followers they have, if they've got millions it's probably the real deal if they've got 38, it's not going to be. So they can look at some of those critical thinking quite well, but then they also remind me every time that they're often not quite there developmentally either. Because they will say things like, "Well, I would ask Justin Bieber what the name of his first rap was because not many people know that." Or, "I read once what his first dog's name was." Or, "I knew the suburb he grew up in, these are stuff that most people don't know." And so it's realizing, "Yeah, you're just not there yet to ask some of those questions that you need to ask." So, that's why I think it's critical that parents are on board at this stage when they're starting to dabble in social media and online interactions because we need to help them with those questions and get them to ask, "How do we know this person is who they say they are? How do we know that this is going to be read the right way?"

Martine:
And all those sorts of things, and we need to be there. So, primary school, they're great and because it's an area that they're starting to dabble in, they want to learn more about it, they want to-

Ellen:
It's relatively new.

Martine:
Yeah, they want to understand it. I guess, by the time you're looking at upper, upper-secondary, they're all over it, they know all this stuff, there's not much you can teach them, but there is still certainly elements of it that they need help with. And you can see sometimes, the eyes light up at certain moments, and it's those moments that you know, "Yeah, you've been in this situation." And it's giving them the tools of how to handle certain situations, and I'll say, many of them look act very cool and there's a lot of bravado going on, you can see behind the eyes, there's a little flicker, "Oh yeah, that's what happened to me once." Or, "That's what I saw happen, this is how maybe I could handle it better." So it's just trying to also open that up to say, "You know, I know that you're there, and you're using this stuff every day, but you're going to encounter situations that you may need help with as well, or you may want to think about how you respond in future different so that it's a better outcome for you."

Ellen:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), and just as you were saying that I was thinking if you're trying to connect or make that connection with teens who are already too cool for school, and they know it all, et cetera, et cetera. And perhaps even for me, just thinking, "This is stuff that I struggle with making the kids realize that it's new for adults too, they struggle with the new answers of these kinds of complex interactions that we have even face to face, let alone online." So they're not alone in that.

Martine:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's just making them aware of that too, that this is an area that everybody struggles with, and most people look like they're doing okay online, sometimes they're not. So it's getting them to think about those sorts of things as well, that it's often we're only seeing one part of somebody's experience or their life, and we need to get them to look beyond that as well.

Ellen:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), one of the things that obviously there's been a lot of press across the world, but particularly in Australia in relation to cyber bullying, and the link to some tragic suicides that have been documented, even in recent months here. I mean, we've talked about the complexity of human behavior generally, let alone human behavior that is then created in an online forum where we don't get some of the feedback that we get when we're seeing people face-to-face. What's your advice I suppose, or your tips for parents who are really concerned, because I know there's a lot of parents who are really concerned?

Martine:
Yeah, well I guess number one is, be active and involved as much as you can in what they're doing, now that doesn't mean we're going to go and read all of their messages and all their chats. Certainly, when they're young and starting out, you can do that, I think because as I said, that's when they're learning. But as they get older, I guess it's alerting yourself to some of those red flags that we would look for in normal bullying circumstance, are they becoming a bit more reclusive, are they not coming to the dinner table and eating and being themselves, are they not still engaging in friends the way that they used to or extracurricular activities? All of those things we want to sort of keep on top of, but again, it's just keeping those lines of communication open and I guess not threatening to shut down the technology all of those sorts of things. Because we don't want them to not come to us with those sorts of concerns because they're afraid of shutting it down and feeling even more isolated, or more excluded, or feeling that they're going to be bullied even more.

Martine:
So, we want to sort of make sure that yeah, doing what we can to keep those lines of communication open, making sure that they're not going to get in trouble if they're having challenges online. Because we don't want that to be a reason why they go and experience a lot of this stuff themselves, I talk to kids about, "Who's that one person that you can go to, preferably an adult, but if it's a child or you happen to be a child that someone would come to, what do you do then? What are the sorts of steps that you could do?" So, in all of my classes that I talk to the kids, I make them sit for a minute and think of that one person that they can go to, who they think is not going to get in trouble from them. And what are the steps that they think might be taken from then, to make them realize that there are steps that we can take? Certainly, we can recognize the difference between what's just mean and nasty and drama as opposed to what is bullying is important too.

Martine:
Because we have laws against bullying, and we want them to know that there are things that can be done, and there's a process that can happen, and we have the eSafety Commission now that makes it very clear and easy on how you can report somebody for bullying. And certainly going to your social networks is the first port of call, we report and we can block, always checking your settings for any of those places where that might be happening, go to your settings, you can report, you can block people. If they're still coming for you, if nothing's being done about that from the social network point of view, then we can go to places like the eSafety Commission, and get those looks at. Because they do have the power now to look at those things, so it's important that they know that there is somewhere for them to go, and that they're not alone, and that things can happen to change the experience that they're having. So, really important I guess, just to keep those lines of communication open with our kids, that something can be done, it's certainly not something that they need to put up with or should put up with either.

Ellen:
Yeah. I mean, I know for me as a psychologist, I talk about workplace bullying in workplaces, but how is bullying, I suppose, defined versus just bad behavior, or being mean?

Martine:
Yeah, and I think there is a lot of meanness that happens online, certainly with adults as well. You have to- [crosstalk 00:27:20].

Ellen:
It's human, sadly yeah.

Martine:
And so there's a lot of that, I guess, meanness and drama that gets created. So it might be just somebody not involving you in a group chat, or it might be somebody making a comment about something that you've worn, and it might be a one-off comment. So, it's mean and nasty, but it's not something that's ongoing, it's not something that there's a real power play. We usually say there's three things in bullying, there's a power play, somebody has more power over another person, there is behavior that is ongoing, and that it doesn't stop when we ask it to stop, so an example, if I say, "Please stop." And it doesn't stop. Or if I blocked you, and you create another account and come at me from another account. If you come at me on different platforms when I've shut down a certain platform because I want to get away from you, if you come at me from somewhere else, that's bullying because it's that repeated and ongoing contact. And if it's done with the intent to cause me hurt or embarrassment, if I'm sharing a video of you that I know is going to embarrass or hurt you, and I'm doing it, then that is bullying as well.

Martine:
So it's probably having those three elements, and I guess at the end of the day also, some of those behaviors, some people can handle a lot more than others as well. So it's also working out, "What do I need to be resilient about and hopefully run off my back, but what is it that this is not something that I need to just be resilient about, this is something that needs to stop because it's not fair and it's not something that I can or should put up with."

Ellen:
Yeah, and I guess the flip side of that resiliency is teaching kids empathy as well, teaching them that just because something doesn't necessarily seem mean or particularly aggressive to them, doesn't mean that everybody is the same, that everybody has the same capacity to deal with comments or thoughts. We all have different levels of resilience, and again, that's something I teach adults in workplaces, so trying to teach kids that, this is [crosstalk 00:29:19].

Martine:
Yeah, and I guess all of those things, what we call these soft skills, empathy, all those sorts of things, they are starting to get looked at a lot more in schools, which is great and obviously needs to happen even more. But because these are the skills that they're going to need going forward because this is a world that they're going to inhabit right throughout, and so we want them to start learning those skills and that empathy and all of those sorts of things while they're young, so that they take it with them. And that those habits become behaviors that then just become what they do, and the earlier we can start with that, the better because then we don't have to do it so much when we're adults in a workplace.

Ellen:
Yeah, and it hopefully reduces a lot of that bullying type behavior. I do really get the sense, and I don't know what your take on this is, but I do get the sense that there's kind of a cohort of kids at the moment who have grown up with the very early days, a lot of these technologies, where there wasn't a whole lot of understanding, and that perhaps these kids now are in their late teens or maybe early 20s, maybe they're even older than that, and that the younger kids now are getting better education in school. They're talking about eSafety, we're talking about topics like empathy and respect, and the importance of values and these sorts of things that certainly didn't get discussed in schools in my time. And it's these middle kids, these kids that are perhaps struggling the most, or maybe I'm just being overly optimistic.

Martine:
Yeah, no, I agree it happened very quickly, suddenly we had this technology, and we had the internet, and then these devices started coming throughout schools, and we handed out devices with BYOD programs, and not a lot of thought, certainly not like it happens today, there are programs that are so much more thought out and we have so many more things in place to try and protect our kids, but also to give them skills as well. And the parents themselves, they weren't given the same sorts of instruction that we're giving today because it happened very quickly and we didn't know what the result was going to be. We still don't know a lot of the effects obviously, but we have a lot more knowledge, and a lot more research now to know the sorts of ways that we can deal with these things. And there's quite a lot of parents where their kids have already gone through, yeah they probably struggled a lot more. I think kids today are probably in the best position to get this stuff right, our kids coming to our primary schools now are getting some great instruction on how to deal with this place, and how to develop those skills that they're going to need going forward.

Martine:
And I see a lot of them doing some amazing things with the technology, in wonderful, positive ways, and a lot more positive than a lot of the adults are using it. And they're interacting in ways that are a lot more positive than a lot of adults are doing. So I think, and yeah again, maybe a little bit optimistic, but certainly from what I'm seeing in schools as well, that kids, they want to get all the good stuff out of the technology. They want to experience all that great stuff, and us helping them with that is certainly helping them have those good experiences, and if you're having a good experience with something, if you're focusing on the great stuff that you can do, if you're being a leader with the technology and using it in ways that is inspiring, or creating, or doing whatever it is that you're going that's positive, you don't have as much time to get involved in some of those negative elements. And some of those other elements of it don't play such a big role, because you're not so focused on comparing yourself to what everyone else is doing, or feeling excluded, or are looking the right way you should be looking, and all those sorts of things.

Martine:
If you're focused on doing some great stuff with it, then that's what your focus is, and that's where we need to lead our kids as well.

Ellen:
Yeah, and that's a wonderful point, because I know for me as a psychologist, particularly as a positive psychologist, a lot of what we know that contributes to well being and mental health are things like having positive emotion, which they're getting if they're having fun. Being engaged in our tasks, so having that kind of real level of mental engagement where you're stimulated, and you're excited, and you're learning, and it can contribute to that. Relationships, I think I do see, and whilst it's the negative things like the bullying that gets a lot of press, and a lot of discussion, my son, nine-year-old who has a second cousin, my cousins son who lives in Edinburgh and they sort of made a bit of a connection at Christmas time when they were here together. And they realized that they're able to contact each other, and actually talk to each other through their devices in a way that never could or would have happened. So, they can build relationships, which extend beyond their immediate circle, and we know that's really good for mental health and well being.

Martine:
Absolutely, and even there are some kids that are isolated, whether it's socially, geographically, all those sorts of things, or it might just be that they have some quirky thing that they're interested in that somebody else across the globe is interested in. And those connections can be really, really valuable for those kids, and we do sometimes dismiss a lot of those benefits because we hear so much in the media about the negative interactions, and yes there's predators out there, and yes there's bullying out there. But there's also some ways people are making great connections, certainly, as adults, we know some of the great connections that we've made from the online world for our own work, but also friendships that have developed and we have to remember that that's going to happen for our kids as well. So, again, teaching them how to make good relationships, and yeah you can have your boundaries around your friendships online and all those sorts of things, but we are seeing research now that's shown that there is some real positives to those connections that can be made online as well.

Ellen:
Yeah, absolutely. So, Martine, how did you get interested in this particular field, because you have a background in education, and a master's in counseling, and you are also the mother to five boys, is that right?

Martine:
Yes, five boys, yes.

Ellen:
How did you get involved in this area?

Martine:
Well, I guess I always had an interest in education, I was a secondary teacher, then I went back and did my master's in counseling because I guess I always felt that I loved helping people, I loved understanding how people worked, and I loved understanding behaviors. And then, I guess having five children of my own, I wanted to understand them as well, but then I started doing some youth counseling, that was sort of an area that I was I was interested in. But I also found what I really wanted to do often when I was talking to young people, was to talk to the parents, and the particular place I was at, at the time, didn't really allow that. There was a lot of confidentiality things, and it was, "No, you just serve the child, it's not a family situation." And I just felt that I had so much that I could offer parents in terms of, because of listening to their children, and what I thought that their children needed. And a lot of it did seem to be about this gap with what parents understood about the world their children were growing up in, and obviously a lot of that was round technology, and how it was used in the home.

Martine:
So I started doing a lot of research in the area, I started my blog, so I started writing. Some of it was just general parenting, but I found I just kept going towards this technology stuff, and it was an area that fascinated me and that I also knew I needed to learn about, having five children of my own. That it was going to be something that was going to play a big role in our family, and I wanted to make sure that I had the best understanding of it. So I did a lot of research and then realized that I could offer a lot to families because of that knowledge of what they were doing, and what it was capable of. But also of the challenges that our kids are going to face, so I guess I just wanted to get out there and work with the parents. And then also work with the kids as well, to let them know that "Yeah, we as adults can get it too, and we're here to help you because we know that you've got the tech stuff down pat, you can upload and download and do all that sort of stuff."

Martine:
But it's some of those behavioral things that they need help with, so I wanted to get in and help them, and then also with teachers as well. Because the technology is fast becoming very much of their lives, and of their teaching, and they've got so much that they need to be on top of, and all over. So, I sort of felt that that was an area that I could help them with as well in understanding the technology, and how it affects the children in their classroom, how what goes on after hours can be brought into the classroom, and how they can manage those sorts of things as well.

Ellen:
Yeah, and I assume try and reduce some of the perhaps, fear, around it, particularly for the parents and the teachers I guess as well.

Martine:
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. There's some teachers that are great in the space and they've been brought up with it, and they're wanting to incorporate it in the best way possible. But then we also have those teachers who are coming from a lot of that more fear based as well, or it's something that they've done without of for a long time, so they don't really see the need for it to be incorporated as well. So, it's trying to help them move a little bit as well and try and avoid some of that anxiety about it.

Ellen:
And how do you implement some of this stuff in your own home, with your own family?

Martine:
Certainly looking at my individual children, and I have a 17, nearly 18 year old, down to a six-year-old. So, obviously, there are certain rules and boundaries that are different for each child depending on developmentally where they are. But also, what their needs are, some can pick it up and put it down and it's not a worry, others might get a little bit more engrossed in it, so I might have to look at putting different boundaries on them because I feel it, again for example, seems to getting out of hand. I might say, "Okay, you can fall back a little bit, or make sure that you're managing the other areas in your life as well." So, certainly looking at the individuals, but I also do, I guess, have some family rules that are just important to me, and important to us as a family. And one of those is no technology ever comes to the dinner table, and we like to think that that would be standard practice in a lot of homes, but I know from my work out there that it's not.

Martine:
And I think it's crucial, that's one of the rules I do like to stipulate, is that kids need that for A, the connection to family, but it also provides a really safe place for them as well where, if they are having struggles in interactions they're having online, it gives them a break. It also makes them set some boundaries around their friendships and things like that, that they don't have to be accountable all the time to that group chat or answering that message. We want them to start putting some boundaries around that, we also want them to get into some good habits of eating a meal without having to check our phones and we want that to be something that they take with them. And all of these things, when they happen from a young age, it just becomes what it is, so our kids just know now, it's just that devices don't come to the table, it's just what it is.

Martine:
And all families have different rules around different things that are just what your family does, so that's probably one of the main rules that I would stipulate. Other things, different ages, whether or not they can have their devices in their room at night, the younger ones don't, the older ones, they're doing homework, those rules change. So, it's sort of just monitoring where each child is at and what their needs are at the time as well, and the needs of the family.

Ellen:
Yeah, yeah, and establishing family norms I suppose, that's what it is, isn't it? Having those conversations about what it is that we value as a family, that even little kids can participate in and then how we kind of enact that and if it is things like, and I know I remember listening to, it was one of the psychiatrists from I think the eating disorders unit at West Meade Hospital. Years, and years ago, saying that, "Family dinner ..." Or sorry, it didn't even have to be dinners, it was like, "The best protective factor for all sorts of," it was eating disorders but he said, "Other problematic behaviors that kids might engage in over time, that eating five family meals together a week was one of the best things that you could do for your kids and for your family as they grow up, having the opportunity to talk and to share." And really when you think about it, five is not that many over the course of a week when you count breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

Martine:
That's right, and the research, as you would know, there's lots of research out there that back that up, and I know from my own kids too, when they first walk in the door, I ask them how their day, I might get a bit of a grunt and they're not ready to share. And they need that downtime to process I guess, or just to relax, or just not have mum in their ear wanting to find out all the finer details of their day. But I know when we come together as a family, and again, it's not every night because I might be working one night, and I have things on. But if we aim for at least three family dinners, and a few breakfasts together, it's those times that things come out. That's when the stories come out, one child says something, and it triggers something from another, and before we know it, we're trying-

Ellen:
You've got a conversation.

Martine:
We've got a conversation, and we've got to try and stop everyone from talking at once. But those things don't happen if it's just when they walk in the door and we want to try and have it that way. So, it's really important for that as well.

Ellen:
Absolutely. Martine, where can people find you if they're interested in learning more, I know you've got a blog that you write, and you write for other publications as well?

Martine:
Yeah, I mean, you can find me all over the internet. I have a blog at themodernparent.net, I'm also on Facebook at themodernparent, Twitter. So you can contact me on all those places, and I write regularly, or as regularly as I can on my blog, and for some other publications, I'm going to do some work with Michael Grose from Parenting Ideas, so you can find me there, or you can book me. As I said, I'm accredited by the eSafety Commission of Australia, so I'm accredited to talk to schools, be is parents, teachers, students, but also I do some corporate stuff as well, some lunch and learn and things like that, for the corporations to get their parents some help as well.

Ellen:
So schools and organizations can contact you through your website?

Martine:
Yes, yup.

Ellen:
Beautiful. Well, I will put all those details and all of your social links in the show notes, but I really want to say thank you. Look, I have really enjoyed our conversation, as I said right at the beginning, one of the things that I have loved since I first met you and followed all of your activities, is this understanding of the complexities of human behavior around the use of social media. But also this positive approach, it ties in really nicely with everything that I love and believe about positive psychology, that we need to kind of build things up in a positive way, and engage in the conversations in order to embrace the change that happens. That shutting things down and that fear just tends to kind of close off the conversations. Which I don't think is going to be good for parents, for adults, for kids, and for families.

Martine:
That's very true, keeping the conversation open is what we need to do, and we have to have some of that understanding to be able to do that.

Ellen:
Yeah, so thank you very much for your time, I really appreciate it, and as I said, I'll put all your contact details in the show notes, and anyone who's listening who want to learn more from Martine, and all of her wonderful work that she does, can find her on the internet.

Martine:
Thank you, thanks for have me, loved it.