Transcript | PPP080: Screen Time Strategies In A Global Pandemic with Martine Oglethorpe
Ellen: Hello! This IS the Potential Psychology Podcast. I am Ellen and we’re back with a brand new season of the show. It is so good to be back. We've had a longer than usual and very necessary break, but I can honestly say I have missed producing the show. I have missed our guests. I have missed the discussions and I've missed you and the fabulous conversations that this podcast allows me to have with you. So, thank you for being back here with me and joining me for season 9.
Now this season may look a little different from past seasons. We’ll still have the same great interviews with expert guests. We’ll still be exploring positive strategies for thriving through life. We'll still discuss positive psychology, mental health, performance, productivity, learning , and happiness with our experts - all the cool stuff we normally cover. But, given the changeable state of the world right now as we work our way through the COVID-19 global pandemic, I’m keeping things fluid and flexible. There may not be a new episode every week. Episodes may not always appear on a Wednesday. Some episodes may be a little shorter than usual and maybe they'll be a little longer and perhaps the structure will be different? I truly have no idea what may happen as things unfold. I do know that all of our conversations will focus on topics related to life right now this season and the challenges and maybe - surely - the opportunities that COVID-19 is bringing us. But aside from that, this season of the podcast, a little like life right now will be a new adventure as we wend our way through days that look quite different to the days that we were used to.
This is the fun part. This is me and the team taking hold of the opportunities in a world in a state of flux, to experiment, to get creative, to try new things. If nothing is normal, then let’s get a bit curious about what a new normal might look like. That is my sanity-sustaining motto for the moment in everything. Nothing is as it was so why not be curious about what it could be and what opportunities it might provide.
This new way of doing things is also allowing me a bit of flexibility, some downtime, and some reduced self-expectation because I like possibly you are juggling working from home, helping my kids with their schoolwork at home and everything else that's happening at home. It has been an exhausting six or seven weeks. I know that you're feeling this too. Just changes in the way that we do just about everything in life has consumed significant emotional and psychological energy, so more than a little self-care is necessary for me and for all of us.
In fact self-care - taking an active role in protecting our wellbeing and happiness particularly in times of stress - has become such a priority and passion for me since this whole global pandemic thing began that during the podcast break, I've had a lot of fun creating and producing the Potential Psychology Self Care Club.
The Self Care Club is an online membership-based program that I started to help the Potential Psychology community - and that means you and me - to stay as well as we can right now. In fact, my goal is to take it a step further and to help us all to thrive through 2020, even though it is by far the craziest year most of us have ever known. I figure that if we can develop the skills and the knowledge we need to remain resilient and to learn, grow, and thrive through 2020 there will be no stopping us after that.
The Self Care Club content includes weekly video lessons from me on a topic that I have researched (because I’m learning as we go along too). A weekly task or challenge (short and simple because I know no-one really has any spare time right now). A live Wednesday Wellbeing Check-in in the members-only Facebook group. These are proving to be a lot of fun with some great conversations, tips, and ideas, and mutual support being shared within those discussions and the community. Coming up we’ll also have some mini members-only podcast episodes, special expert interviews, and longer webinars with me. It’s a lot of fun, a really supportive group and a great opportunity to work on your wellbeing in really practical ways.
If you’re interested, you can find out more and join us in the Potential Psychology Self Care Club on the Potential Psychology web site - potential.com.au. Just look for self-care club in the navigation menu. It’s a simple, fun, practical and I have to say, a very inexpensive investment in your wellbeing.
Okay so now that we’re back with the show, who do we have with us today to kick off this new season? Well, it’s a new season but we have a returning guest! Martine Oglethorpe is a speaker, author, educator, and Trusted eSafety Provider with the Australian Office of the eSafety Commission. Martine was a guest on the podcast early in our second season - quite some time ago now and we spoke about parenting in the digital age. Today, I’m delighted to have her back here with me and we’re exploring parenting in the digital age when we’re living, working and learning from home - as many of us have been and some continue to be - and for many of us almost entirely through the use of digital technology. So, what does that mean for us? That’s what Martine and I are going to be discussing so let’s listen in.
With me today is Martine Oglethorpe. Martine is a speaker, a writer, the author of a brand new book, which we will talk about shortly, and she is an expert in digital safety, cyber safety, parenting, screen time, all of the things that come under the, I suppose, heading of things that a lot of parents worry about with regards to their children and their interaction with the digital world.
Other than her book, Martine and I are going to talk about living, working, and learning from home, a situation that we've all found ourselves thrust into somewhat unexpectedly. Thank you so much for joining me, Martine.
Martine: Thanks Ellen it’s fabulous to be here again.
Ellen: This is your second time as a guest on the show. It’s lovely to have you back. I just felt that this was the perfect time and perfect place, perhaps, to talk about some of these issues because whilst they've been of interest, I think probably from most parents, you know, have been interested in the digital world and how we help our kids to interact with the digital world safely, but practically, because that's the thing I love about your work is that it is taking a very practical approach. But obviously, at the moment, that's kind of shifted up a gear now because we've got kids who, for reasons that they have to be, many of them are spending a lot of time on their screens and interacting in the digital world.
So firstly, the question that everybody asks, “How much is too much screen time, and why is that perhaps not the right question to be asking?”
Martine: Yeah, I think it's a question that I was hoping for a long time would become redundant. But I think the situation we have been forced into now has really brought that to the fore that it's no longer looking at screen time as just one measure of ‘time’. I think we need to look at not putting it all into one basket because screen time has many, many different elements to it. And we're really finding that out now because we're realizing we're using our screens for learning and for education and for working more and we're using that obviously a lot more. But also, we are using our screens for entertainment and socialization and even our kids have changed the way they're using it at home now for their entertainment and socialization. And maybe younger kids are using it differently than they would have before. So we've certainly got to look at different ways to look at the term ‘screen time’, and we're looking now at, ‘What are healthy ways to use screens?’ rather than lumping it all into one banner and saying, well, ‘How much screen time?’
So, I usually talk to parents about a couple of different questions we need to be asking in terms of, “What's the best way to quantify our screen time?” And the first question is, “What are they doing on the screens?’ And obviously, we couldn't say to a child today, “You can only have two hours of screen time” because very quickly that he’s done with a couple of lessons, and that's done. So, we have to look at not only what are they doing with downtime on their screens, but, “What are they consuming? What content are they consuming on their screens? What's the nature of what they're doing? Are they maybe creating something amazing, or are they just consuming content?” And so there can be very different ways of saying you've got screen time.
For example, you might, once your child's done their schoolwork and they’ve got a little bit of downtime and you say, ‘Yeah, here’s half an hour, go on YouTube’. Well, that half an hour can be spent in very, very different ways. A young child may be looking up, “How to fly a paper airplane” with their brother or “build a Billy Cart” or just look up something that they're interested in. That’s vastly different from a child spending half an hour watching violence or pornography or something that's not made for them at all. So very, very different uses of screen time. So, we've got to be careful about just saying, “Well, you know, they’ve got their half an hour of screen time today.”
Even when we're looking at game playing there are very, very different games they can be playing. So, what is that that they're doing on those games? Is it a game that is challenging them, that is helping them use their brain and think outside the square? And are they collaborating using teamwork? Are they doing all of those things? Or is it a game that’s maybe a little bit mindless and not really giving them much? Or is it a game that's not made for their age? It’s appropriate or the themes are not great, or the concepts are not great. So, it's really looking at, instead of just how much time should my child have - my first question is always, “What are they actually doing with that time?”
And obviously, now there's a whole range of things that they're doing with that time, and some of it's going to be the educational learning time but there's also going to be that entertainment and socialization time. And that again can be very different as well.
Ellen: Yeah, so it's more than just quantity. It's a little bit about quality, then?
Ellen: And a lot about the ‘what’ and ‘how’ they're using it. So, we're getting a bit more nuanced with it. And that's interesting I suppose because perhaps previously, we were inclined to just think about quantity because it was always something extra to school or extra to their extracurricular activities. But now, because it's everything in some ways, it's schoolwork but it's also social life for lots of kids. Even P.E. with Joe on YouTube – we’ve been putting that up on the TV screen - still technically screen time.
Martine: But good quality and stuff where they're also being active and doing other things as well. We really have to look at that and that leads to my second question we should be asking instead of just ‘how much’, which is ‘What is the effect that that screen time is having on them?’
So, I always ask parents to look at their individual children when it comes to what they're doing on the screens and keeping themselves safe and keeping themselves well. So, looking at what they're doing on the screens, ‘How is it affecting my child? or ‘How is this much time affecting that child?’ So, some children can play a game for a long time and not have any major repercussions from that. Then they can put it away, go on do something else, shoot some hoops, get back to schoolwork, whatever it is and there's no real effect. Whereas other kids can play a game for a short amount of time and find that they don't cope as well when they come off or they don't want to come off as much. So, we really have to look at the effect on the individual child or what’s happening. But also, even if they are being entertained, ‘What are they watching? What are those videos doing to them? Are they inspiring them and uplifting them and motivating them to do things?’ Or are they looking at their social media videos or memes or things and thinking, ‘I’m comparing myself to what everyone else is doing. I'm feeling excluded from this. I'm not doing as well as everybody else or I'm having all of my self-esteem zapped’. Maybe there's something that's really affecting their wellbeing so that screen time is not a good use of their time, regardless of how long they're doing it for. We really want to look at, ‘What effect is what they're doing having on them as well as just what they're doing?
Ellen: So, the screen really in these circumstances is irrelevant. It's just a tool giving them access to schoolwork, positive, helpful, creative content, unhelpful content and then that individual variation, kid by kid…
Ellen: …As to how they use it, how they respond. Okay, interesting.
Martine: That leads to the final question that I would say would be, ‘What are they then missing out on whilst they're using their screens?’ Obviously, at the moment things are a bit different so they're doing a lot of their schoolwork on the screens and that's what they need to be doing. But then later, they’re still going to want to have some entertainment, some downtime, some games, and some connection. We have to look at it as a day. What does a child need in their day to be well and healthy? And those are things like, obviously, we need to be active. We need to move our bodies. We all know that that that's really important. We need to get out and get some fresh air. We need to have time out in nature. We need to have time connecting with people in real life.
Right now it's pretty much our family and our siblings. But it might be a pet or taking a dog for a walk, or it might be…
There are all those sorts of things that we know that we still need. We need lots of sleep. We need good food. We need to be coming to the dinner table every day. We need to do all of those things. And sometimes we also need to just be able to chill out and daydream a bit or zone out without being constantly connected, without being constantly switched on. So, we have to look at the child's day and think, ‘Well obviously every day is going to be slightly different but on the whole, are they getting all of those needs met? Are they generally getting enough sleep, good food, getting active, getting some fresh air, having those connections? Is that happening most times and are they still able to fit in their schoolwork, fit in their chores, whatever else they need to do?’
If they're doing all of those things then the times that they’re on the screen is probably okay. It's when the screens take over from those sorts of things that we run into problems because if a child used to love going out and shooting hoops and then all of a sudden they’re just spending all of that extra time on a screen, they’re not getting that active time that they used to, then that's when we want to try and rein things in and look again at how they’re using the screen. We just want to look at, ‘Well what are the things that they're missing out on, what would they usually be doing?’ And that's a little bit tricky at the moment because obviously, our kids are getting more screen time now because, for instance, my kids would usually after school be out somewhere every night after school, be it football practice or basketball games or basketball practice. All of those things are gone so we know the screens are taking over from that in different ways but we also want to make sure that during the day they still get time to do all those other things that they're going to need to do.
Ellen: It's sort of the opportunity cost, I suppose, of screen time is the things that they might otherwise be doing. I'm guessing that there's individual variation in that as well although I really like that bigger picture approach of looking at the whole day, the whole child, you know, we could say, ‘Are they getting these other things ticked off?’ And if they are, then maybe they’re use of screens is not as problematic. And I suppose too it's gonna be different for different age groups, isn't it?
Marine: Yeah, absolutely. Different age groups, different kids. I've got a teenager, so he has to be on the screen all day for his schoolwork. Whereas my little ones I'm trying to limit that to the morning to do schoolwork and then the afternoon we try and get some active time but then they're still going to want to do the fun stuff with the screens. They don’t want it just to be about the homework or the schoolwork. They're wanting to play their games and they're wanting to chat with their friends, particularly now. So yeah, there are certainly different ways that they're using it. I can even look at my own kids and one child is far more likely to possibly become problematic than another child and it's just their personality. Sometimes I might have to make slightly different rules for him and different boundaries just to make sure that he remains in control of that use as well.
Ellen: And you're saying this as the mother of five boys?
Martine: Of five boys, yes. And five boys who do use the technology very differently and have grown up with it with very different ages. My eldest just turned 20 yesterday, which is kind of freaky and my youngest is eight so they're worlds are vastly different in terms of what they grew up with. When I had my 20-year-old, I don't even know if I owned a mobile phone. I probably did but it certainly didn't have a camera on it whereas when the eight-year-old was born, there were all sorts of stuff going around. So they’ve grown up with these very different two. Their rules have had to change as well.
Ellen: And Martine, you deliver a lot of presentations and workshops to schools, ordinarily face to face, now presumably online as we’re all doing everything online and speak to a lot of teachers and students and parents and I'm interested from a parent's perspective, are there parents who don't ask these questions? Or perhaps it hasn't occurred to them to think, ‘Oh, how is my child using their time? What impact is it having on them as an individual?’ Do we get very stuck in what the rules say the amount should be?
Martine: Yeah, definitely. I think we also get stuck in this ‘technology is a little bit of the bad guy’, so we feel two things. We feel either guilt at how much screen time we think our children are using. So, there's a tendency for people to bemoan it or even sometimes cover up what their children are using. It's like, I know when I was going with my younger children it was like plastic toys were bad. You only gave your child good wooden quality toys. So, it's just those normal parenting things that have always been around. But I feel like with technology it does get a bit of a bad rap because it is lumped into this one basket and because we've seen headlines where we've got kids who have become gamers, who have stayed up all night in their bedroom playing PlayStation. We've seen all the headlines on all of the current affairs programs where we've got children who haven't gone to school for two years because they're obsessed and addicted to their video games. Sometimes then it's been something we've looked at like, ‘Well my child is not going to be that child’, and odds are they're not. It's a very, very small percentage of children that end up there. And as I always say to parents there are usually some warning signs before we get to those stages too so we do want to be on the lookout for some of those red flags.
But yeah, a lot of parents don't really look very deeply at what their kids are doing and I think it's like we hear all the time. ‘Kids today have always got their head on a screen. They’ve always got their head in a phone. They don't know how to communicate. They don’t know how to talk’. But when I talk to young kids and students, they'll often say to me, ‘Oh, you know how you said that we shouldn't be on our phones all the time and we need a break and we shouldn't bring it to the dinner table…’ and I'll always have a young child come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you know, when you said that, that's actually my mom. She's never got her face out of her phone. Or, ‘You know, it's my dad that always has his phone at the dinner table’. So, I think we're very quick as an older generation to judge and to say that these young children have all got their heads in their phones but these are devices that we actually handed to them and in many cases didn't do a lot of the teaching, I don't think, that needs to go with that. We've just sort of tried to control it time-wise, but then realize that that's really, really hard and that sometimes it's easy just to give in so we give in and we don't want to have the tantrum, so we, you know…
I think it's an area that parents still really do struggle with and I think many parents struggle with their own use as well and being mindful of how they’re using it. So, yeah, I do think that it's something that hasn't been looked at well enough in terms of what our children are doing. What effect is it having on them and what ways could they maybe be encouraging them to use it in really positive ways?
Let's look when our kids are starting out. If you decide to give your child an Instagram account, rather than just handing it to them, why don't we look up some really good accounts they could follow? What are their interests? What are the things that are going to uplift them and inspire them rather than just be constantly comparing themselves to all these people that they may not ever be like or relate to?
It's about trying to really look a little a bit closer at what they're doing and how they're behaving online as well and what they're doing because you can see a lot of stuff where young kids [are] online and you can tell the parents must never have had a look or had any idea of how their child's behaving online. So, I think it's really important that when they're starting out early, we do try and teach them some of those little nuances of interacting online that can be really important.
Ellen: I'm assuming, then, in order to do that effectively, we as parents, have a responsibility to understand the technology and perhaps have a dabble in it ourselves. I must admit right now I'm starting to really feel like I need to investigate TikTok a bit further…
Ellen: …Just because it’s everywhere all of a sudden. And although I know my elder son who's 11 he does have an account, and he's posted the occasional thing, but he's not the kid who's really interested in being in front of the camera, I don’t think, but it's not a platform that I've used. I consider myself reasonably savvy when it comes to social media because I use it for my work and I'm starting to think, ‘Oh, maybe I should just have a dabble in it just so that I know it well enough to know who's there. How are they using it? What are the risks?’ but also, as you say, ‘What are the opportunities?’
Martine: Yeah, absolutely. That's really important but it's also important for parents to not get too caught up in understanding all of the sites and all of the ways that they're using it and all of the apps that are out there, because it really is difficult to keep up and it's just not really a lot of people's interest, either. But I do think it's important if your child is starting to want to hang out on TikTok, yes, you can have a quick scroll through it or just have a quick look at what are some things that parents should know about this so you can have the right conversations.
Now, look at the end of the day, most of our social networks, we want them just to be behaving wherever they find themselves online, regardless of whether it's TikTok or Instagram or regardless of how the platform works, there are just fundamental principles that we want them to follow, which is respecting themselves and respecting other people. And in a nutshell, if they're doing those things, they're going to be able to enjoy themselves wherever they go online and hopefully do the right thing.
I still think that it's important that, particularly when kids are young, that parents go in if they’re starting out on an app and, yes, look at the settings, look at how we can make this as safe and positive an experience as possible because a lot of those settings aren't set up by default. We can go in and we can turn off nasty comments and things like that, and we can turn off who our child can be contacted by, we don't want them to be contacted by strangers. I certainly think when our children are young and our kids are starting out on some of these apps, we do want to be proactive in looking at well, ‘Where are they playing? Who can contact them? Who can they contact and what are the sorts of things that can be shared on that platform?’ And then as they get older, hopefully, we’re starting to build that trust that ‘Wherever you go, I'm not gonna be able to follow you everywhere and probably not going to want to’. So, make sure that you're teaching them those good behaviors and being respectful. Sometimes that could be tricky when some of the adults in children's lives are not doing that so well themselves. We don't have to spend very long looking online to find many adults who are very disrespectful both to themselves and to others so we certainly want to make sure we're trying to be the best role model we can be as well.
Ellen: And I'm thinking too, as you were saying that because you can't follow them to school, we just have to raise them and whether it's a face to face interaction or online interaction, we just have to instil in them the best values we can. The kind of behavior that we’d like to see and that we think is important for our family and hope that that translates to school and online and everywhere else they go.
Martine: Yeah, and at the end of the day, most kids who are good kids, are good kids online and offline. Now that's not to say that good kids don't get into trouble and things don't go wrong, but I think what's more important then, is that we're maintaining that connection with our child. That's why I always think that the most important thing through all of this is to let our children know that they can come to us if they make mistakes. You probably will make some mistakes online. We've all made mistakes, and our children will, too.
I always say to parents, ‘That's why we don't want to set it up as ‘Technology is the bad guy and we're just trying to block it and ban and shut it down and control it’. It's something that is so very intricately woven into all of our lives right now, particularly, so I want parents to think well, ‘This is a tool that we just need to work with, and so how can I let my child know that I may not have to love it all. I may not have to love all of the places that they hang out in and all of the things that they watch but I want them to know that if they find themselves in a situation that is scary for them or threatening or they think they have just done the wrong thing, they don't know how to respond to this person or they might have responded in a wrong way, we want them to think well hopefully they can come to us or somebody that they can trust so that we can say, ‘Well, we can probably make this better’. And we want them to learn from those mistakes so they're not the catastrophic, life-threatening ones that can happen online, that they’re just ones that we can keep on top of and keep them learning from.
Ellen: And I do remember when you're saying that about not wanting to make it the ‘bad guy’ so that kids feel they can come to us. I did read some research around the very idea that if we try to control kids’ technology usage too much, they are less likely to come to us because they fear then that we will take the phone away or take the Internet access away. And if that is the fear for them, it's like, ‘Well, I can't tell Mom because if I told her she’d ban me from using my phone or ban me from Instagram’, and that actually blocks the behaviour that we want. It blocks them from coming to us and sharing what their concerns are and allowing us to help.
Martine: Yeah, absolutely. That's something that we're always talking to parents about. I don't think we should be using technology as a punishment tool. I don't think that works. And for those reasons, they will be much less likely to come to us fearing that we’ll shut everything down. I have had that conversation with young people when they have got in trouble and I said, ‘Why did you feel you couldn't come to mom or Dad? There must have been a moment when you realized this was getting out of hand’. And their response is always, ‘Well they wouldn't understand. They would tell me to shut it down.’ And I know in my day we used to go out and ride Billy carts and we’d talk to our friends face to face and all those sorts of things, and it's very true. But I think we want to make sure that we remain somewhat relevant to our kids.
Again, we don't have to know every single ins and out of the technology, but we want to remain somewhat relevant and that just means taking an interest in what they're doing online. It doesn't mean that we follow them, doesn't mean we comment on everything they do, but it might just mean taking an interest, checking in with them and maybe just also sharing some really positive stuff that you might find or that you think they might like or getting them to share some positive stuff as well so that they realize that they can come to you regardless of what's going on online.
Ellen: My boys and I love finding the funny things on the Internet and then checking with each other. When you see something pop up on your Facebook or our Instagram - well, not Facebook for them. They don’t do Facebook. But wherever it might be I’d go, ‘Oh, look at this, this is hysterical’, and share it that way, whether it's a silly cat video or whatever it might be.
Martine: Yeah, and I think this time has been great for that. I think we've seen some of the funniest memes going around that we have. It’s somehow brought out a lot of creativity in people sitting at home.
Ellen: It has, hasn’t it?
Martine: It's been great watching people makeup videos and making all those funny memes to share because at the end of the day laughter is pretty good medicine. I think these are the fun things that we can also share with our kids as well. We have seen the families doing their TikToks and their dances together and again, it's just a fun way of both incorporating a little bit of your own tech life together and having a bit of fun as well, and I think that can be a really positive thing.
Ellen: Yeah, absolutely. Lots of positives out of that. Even just that breaking down of a bit of generational barriers, perhaps, or breaking down some of the concerns about or the fear around technology use aside from just what we know is good about feeling positive and having a laugh and all of those positive emotions.
Martine, one of the things that you do that I love is you create little guides for parents, in particular around different apps and technologies as they arise. I know I turned to you recently because one of the questions I had when my kids were suddenly no longer at school and therefore no longer socializing with their friends, for my younger one in particular - who like you, I have an eight-year-old - how does he hang out with his friends? What's a safe way to hang out with his friends right now? And for a couple of different avenues there but have you got ideas for parents who might be struggling with that? Because all of a sudden, we are in a place where we want our kids to maintain their friendships and have connections but if we're fearful of the screens or fearful of the technology, how do we facilitate that?
Martine: Yeah, well, obviously, as you said, it is really important that our kids are getting that social connection at the moment because we know how important connection is and relationships are. So, for our children, they are missing out on a lot of that at the moment and so I think it is crucial that we help support them in trying to find ways to do that safely. I have used a number of ways myself. One of the newest ones we've got out is the Messenger Kids app, which is bought out by Facebook so there were some early concerns. It has actually been around since 2017 in America and other places, but it's just being released here, which is a good thing for us because I think they’ve ironed out a lot of the kinks and the concerns and some of the safety concerns.
One of those concerns also was that it's made for children from six years old, so are we getting them into social media too early? Well, possibly we might have said that before, but I think at this time we're realizing, well a six-year-old has mates and they are wanting to connect with them and this is one of the few options at the moment. So even if you want to use this stuff now, you don't have to continue it when they're back at school if that's not something you're altogether comfortable with, but I think that's a really good option. It does mean that you, as a parent, have to have a Facebook account. Your child does not have a Facebook account. You just set up their Messenger Kids account attached to yours. You actually see every conversation they have, everything they send. You approve every one of the friends, so it's very, very much a parent monitored one. So it's not one that your 13 or 14-year-old is probably going to be wanting, but it’s certainly for starting out those younger kids because the parent is very, very much in control of that one and it can be done, therefore, safely because you are very much monitoring it.
There are other ones as well that are not obviously made for kids, but we can if we're paying close attention, allowing our kids to do it relatively safely. Things like Houseparty and those. Now they're not apps made for primary school kids or younger kids but you can set them up in a way that you just set up the room yourself - the ‘party’ - and you can actually lock that party once you've set it up so nobody else can enter. And if you have that child fairly close, and again, you don't have to sit there listening to everything, but have them within earshot just to make sure that that is still what's going on, that they haven't unlocked it and someone else has come in. It’s just having that close by for those young kids I think is good. Similarly, we’ve done them with Zoom where I've had a Zoom conference with my friends, but we've let the younger kids go on first so all our kids are friends. And again, we are all in earshot. We've set it up, we've then locked it down and we can hear and see and be looking over their shoulder and seeing what's going on.
I think we can certainly do that well, as long as we’re paying some attention. We don't need them to be locked up in their room and doing it on their own, obviously, so I think the little kids, yeah, we can certainly facilitate that for them. And things like your iMessage and those sorts of things where you can still video chat can be pretty safe because you have to have those people as your contacts. So certainly having them close by.
And then I think it's also a good chance for us to maybe teach them some skills, probably earlier than we thought we would be. But it's just things like listening out for some comments and maybe if we hear a comment that doesn't sound very nice or we’re not sure if they’re joking or not, they’re the conversations we can have with our kids later as well, saying, ‘Well when such and such did that, how did that make you feel?’ Or ‘Do you think they meant to say that?’ Just those sorts of things we can listen out [for] and just start to get them really thinking about talking online and how it can be different from the conversations we have in real life and also be very wary of our surroundings. Have a few rules around chatting online. We have to with our family say, ‘I'm going online now’. We don't want people walking past half-naked or screaming down the hallway so it's a good chance for them to start to realize that there are things that happen online that are very open and very transparent. Therefore, we want to think about the conversations we're having, the setting that we’re in, all of those sorts of things will be skills that they will need later on as well, so it can be a good chance for us to start getting some of those skills in.
Ellen: I have to say we have allowed our eight year old to use Houseparty. He has two mates who are his closest mates from school and the three of them get together and they can play games while they're in there and I can hear them playing. And the thing about being in earshot is I’ve found that you could be in the backyard while he's in the house playing these games with his friends. You can hear every word of that conversation. [laughter]
Martine: Yeah, but I do like that. I like the fact that they're just hanging out, playing games because you could look at that and say, they've been on the screens for half an hour but that's good quality time for them because other than that again, what would they be doing? Well, maybe not much else so that's possibly the best use of their time. They’re connecting, they’re unwinding from maybe concentrating on their schoolwork in the morning or all day or whatever. And this is a good time for them to just chill out and have a laugh because right now, their mental wellbeing is really, really important. So, if we could facilitate that any way we can, then it's a good thing.
Ellen: Yeah, that context is important, too isn't it? Just thinking about, ‘Where are we at? What are the options? What is good? What is useful? What has the potential to have [do] harm? And certainly, my son and his friends seem to be having a whale of a time playing this with each other. They’ve got some game where they have to organize the supply chain for pizza delivery. They have to allocate tasks to each other, and it's actually quite interesting what they’re doing. Somebody has to be the manager and there’s negotiation and who's going to play what part. And they realized if they've got everyone just being the consumer and nobody creating the pizza - I have no idea what this game is, I just hear it - then that doesn't work. So it's interesting and you're absolutely right because it has prompted me to have the old conversation, both about things that I've heard him say, where I've said, ‘Well, do you think that your friend thought that was what you meant?’ or ‘Could that have been misinterpreted?’ But also about ‘what game are you playing? What does it have?’ And he's more than happy to tell me all about the ins and outs of all of it.
Martine: Yeah, they do. They love to be able to have something over you as well. To know how something works that you don't so that's okay too.
Ellen: Yes, that's absolutely true. So, we've talked a bit about the younger kids and some of the things that we should be asking them and asking ourselves. What about when we're getting into… Because I have a pre-teen, an 11-year-old, and he shares a lot of stuff, but he's also at that age where he wants to go and look at his own stuff on his own. And you as a mother of teenagers as well would be aware that teens don't necessarily want to be as actively involved or sharing everything with you in the same way that younger kids might. What are the questions that we should be teaching them to ask about their screen usage or their online interactions?
Martine: Well, I think there are lots of different things. When we’re looking at when they’re interacting when we're looking at communicating and connecting with people online, we're wanting them to start thinking about who are the people they're connecting with, and how are they affecting them. Who is on their social media feed and what is the role that they play in their lives? And how much do they allow what's going on online to affect what's going on in their real life? Again, is it a positive experience that they're having? The connections they're having with their friends, are they having a laugh, uplifting them, having good connection? Or are they feeling a bit excluded? Or are they being harassed or bullied? Very, very different experiences for a young person so we're wanting them to really take ownership of who they're interacting with, how those people are affecting them, what sort of interactions they're having. And also, what's on their feeds, who they’re scrolling through, what's the content that they're consuming? We really want to start getting more critical with what we're consuming online because there's so much content out there. There is so much stuff that is uploaded every day. There are videos, memes, articles, dares. There are all sorts of things that are put in front of children or teens and tweens and we're expecting them to make some decisions about those things and whether or not they're good and healthy for them, or whether it's stuff that they should be rejecting. And that's really tricky for a young person because when it's put in front of you or somebody sends you something, [do] we look at it? [Do] we consume it? What do we do with that? That's why I try and talk to younger people about really getting critical with what you consume. So, asking yourself the sorts of questions like, ‘Is this good for me? Do I think it was made for someone my age? or ‘is it appropriate?’ I also want to look at, ‘What's the purpose of this content? Why was it created? Why did this author write this piece? Why did this person create this video?’ so that we can start to decide, ‘Well, how do I know if it's true? How do I know if it's relevant? How do I know if it's fake news?
This is a really good opportunity parents have at this time if they are helping their young person with, maybe some study or some research, or even just looking anything up at home that you're interested in. I would say if you are looking at the holiday to go on, but I'm not sure. It will be might be a little while before we’re going on holiday.
Ellen: Not the right example right now is it? [laughter]
Martine: No, but maybe your next camping trip you want to plan somewhere. Anytime we're looking at things online, it's a good opportunity for us to help our kids question what comes up. So, if an article comes up, let's look at who wrote it. Why did they write it? What's the language that's used in this? Are they trying to sell me something? Is it an information piece or is it someone's opinion? And if it's someone's opinion, why do we think they've got that opinion and who's opposing that opinion? What data or research have they got to back that up? All of those sorts of questions are going to become really important because, as we know a lot of us, even as adults, we believe things without looking too deeply sometimes when they're on the Internet. We get scammed into things or we just curate our feeds in a way that we’re just seeing a lot of the same content over and over because we generally go to sites that we already believe in or we already feel that way. And so, we're not often really testing some of our belief systems, and maybe we're not seeing the full picture a lot of the time.
So I think this is a really good opportunity for us as parents to get our kids to think really critically about what they're consuming, who they're following, what sorts of stuff are coming into their feed and how they respond to that and how they could maybe look a little bit deeper. And as I say, because we're home with our kids now and we are maybe helping them research something, that could be a good chance for us to say, ‘Hey, why do you think that person wrote that?’ or ‘What is it about this article that leads me to think that it's maybe true or maybe it’s just an opinion? and looking at all those sorts of things because they're the skills we're all gonna made from here on in.
Ellen: Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking is that they're really the sorts of questions we should be asking ourselves as adults as well, isn't it? When we're researching or reading something you know, ‘Let’s be critical about this. Is this a good source? Is this credible? Is it legit?’
I was helping my younger son with some of his research for an assignment he has to do, and this is grade three, this is not complex stuff, but it did prompt us. It gave us the opportunity because I was helping him with it, to say, ‘Well, what would be a good source of this information?’ People could write all sorts of nonsense and nobody controls what goes out and what doesn't. What would be a good [source]? ‘This information comes from the Australian Museum’, well, that sounds like it's probably going to be a reasonable source of information rather than this, which seems to be somebody else’s school project. Could we rely on that information? So yeah, absolutely we could all be a bit more critical perhaps of what we're reading and seeing on the Internet too. [laughter]
Martine, you have just released your first book.
Martine: Yes, I have!
Ellen: Which I have my electronic copy, I don't have my physical copy of it yet.
Martine: It’s coming. [laughter]
Ellen: Can you tell us a little bit about it to start with and then I'll ask you some specific questions?
Martine: Yeah, it's called The Modern Parent: Raising a Great Kid in the Digital World, and it's a combination of all of my work thus far, working with students, teachers, parents, and obviously my own experience of raising five children in the digital world. I wanted it to be something that is not necessarily just about how to set up safely, devices. All of that stuff is all on my website.
It's relying on some of our fundamental parenting principles and how we can adapt them to the world that we’re in today. It's certainly got all sorts of things on social media and self-esteem and cyberbullying and predators, but it very much comes from the point of connecting with your child around these things. So, at the end of each chapter, I have questions which I asked parents to ponder themselves, which may make them think about their mindset and think, ‘Maybe I've been thinking about this in one way, and maybe there's another way I could think about this that could change the way I talk about it to my child’. Then I also have, at the end of every chapter, discussion questions to have with your children. They're just there to prompt, to think, ‘Well, these are the kinds of things that we want to both be thinking of - both ourselves as parents and our kids when it comes to all of these challenges. It's hopefully going to be very evergreen. It's something that's not going to date. It's very much about how can we just continue to be the very best parent that we can and give our kids all of the opportunity that we know is there in the digital world, but just relying on our good values and good parenting principles that are just in a different world at the moment than the ones that we grew up in.
Ellen: Yeah, and I suppose that is the big thing. I was thinking before when you were talking about where that fear factor comes from when it comes to technology, and I guess it is that the world has changed significantly throughout one generation. And that will become less and less the case as even, probably people in there, maybe early twenties, having children now, that gap won't be as big as those of us who are a little bit older and raising kids who have grown up in this vastly different world. I guess that's part of the fear so [it’s] wonderful that you've been able to put, like you say, good parenting practices into place and translate those into the digital landscape that we're operating in or those of us in particular for whom that gap is a little bigger. And I love those use of questions and discussion points as well, just to give people ideas because that's it isn't it? Leave them enough to work with.
Martine: Yeah, and I think that came about when I give talks to parent groups. What always comes out of them is people will contact me later and say, ‘I thought I was going to be so scared. I thought was going to walk away from here just so scared and overwhelmed and fearful’, because maybe in the past they've been to talks or maybe they have listened to what's out in the media and so they get this feeling that, ‘I'm gonna get there and I'm going to see all of the bad stuff that's out there, and I'm gonna see how easy it is for a predator to get my child. And certainly, there is that but I think what's much more important, and a way that we can manage all of those things in ways that are far more effective, is to really empower parents to think, ‘Well, hey, you’ve got this. There's stuff you can do. There are chats you can have with your kids. There's a little bit of research you might want to do and there's a lot of connection that you can do. So, I wanted the book to be an extension of that. I want you to walk away feeling empowered [like] ‘I can do this. This is not so scary.’ I do mention that in the book that being scared as a parent is really nothing new. Generations have always had something, that they thought was going to throw us all under a moral bus. There was Elvis Presley, and then there were comics, and there were all sorts of things. Even television was a big deal when I was young so there's always something that parents are grappling with.
I think when it comes to the world is that it happened very quickly and it's because it's also so exposed. It's so mirrored and magnified and more visible, as Danah Boyd says so everything that we do can be made better, or it could be made worse, and it’s certainly much more visible. I guess that's where a lot of that fear comes from, and it's public and permanent and all those words we hear. From my perspective, I wanted parents to know that they’ll be okay. They will be able to raise a great kid today still, regardless of all of those things that we hear about going on, and that's just again, concentrating on some of those basic parenting principles and focusing on that connection with your child as well.
Ellen: That's what I love about all of your work and your message and that’s why I've so enjoyed having you on the podcast not once, but now twice. It’s because of that positive flavour, because even as a psychologist who's done a lot of the reading, done a lot of the research, consider myself reasonably savvy when it comes to these sorts of things, I have been to some of those talks on cyber safety and have walked away going, ‘Oh my God, that's terrifying’, because there's so much focus on, as you said earlier, what is going to really be a very small percentage of the population in terms of their experience. We can't deny that these things happen, but terrible things happen in every domain and every facet of life. There is always going to be risk and we know as psychologists that the negativity bias in our brain will just automatically help attract us to those threats and magnify it. We attach more emotion to it. We feel it more acutely than any of the positive. So as soon as that's what's presented to us, that creates incredible fear. But as you say, it's not helpful because, ‘A’ - it's far less likely to happen, than a very ordinary experience, but ‘B’ - it paralyzes us and makes us unable to deal with something that is absolutely just the world that our kids are operating in. It's not a separate thing. This is their world.
Martine: That's right, and it prevents us from doing that teaching that we need to be doing. Not saying we need to sit down and give our kids cyber safety lessons but it's the teaching that comes out through the conversations and the challenging of our own mindset, because we can embrace it a little bit more because we know this is the world. It's the only world our children have ever known. It's no good us coming at it from a perspective of ‘I don't want to know about it. It's all too hard. It’s moving too fast. It's too scary. I want to try and shut it down as long as I can. Maybe if I just control as much as I can then my child will be okay’, and we know that that's not true. It's never been true for parenting before, and it's certainly not going to be true now. We need those skills. We need that connection. We also need them to build up a bit of that resilience to experience those things that may well go wrong online but they're also going to need some resilience and some skills for that too.
Ellen: It’s just real life, isn't it?
Martine: It is.
Ellen: So that's the book, and I will add links to it in the show notes for this episode, and we'll promote it on social media as well for anybody who would like to get their hands on a copy of it. It is wonderful. I've had a good read through myself already, and I can highly recommend it. Martine, I had just one other little question, [I don’t know if it'll start 00:49:37]. It will start as a little question and we'll see where it goes, and that is around living, working, and learning at home. We're all thrust in although I'm conscious that at this time, you and I are in Victoria and there's been no news yet about kids going back to school face to face, regular school but I know that is starting to happen in other parts of Australia, at least. And of course, we’ve got listeners from around the world. Everybody's circumstance right now is slightly different but for many of us, even if that's easing, we've been thrust into a situation where we are entire families, living, learning, and working at home. Do you have any particular tips for doing that well?
Martine: Yeah, at the end of the day, this is new for all of us, so I think a lot of what I have seen thus far has been quite a lot of overwhelm from a lot of parents and understandably so. There are lots of pressures for families to work from home, do their own work, manage their children's work. Maybe possibly they've got financial stress because one of them or their partner has lost their work. There are lots of pressures on families right now. So, number one is to always look at running your own race at this time because it's very easy for us to compare to what everybody else is doing. It’s very easy for us to say, ‘Well Karen on Facebook, she's doing amazing things. She's still baking things with her kids and getting up and doing her exercise and having her green smoothies and doing all this stuff. Why can't I do that?’ Or somebody else is managing to still run their company and do all of these things. ‘Why can I only just manage to get through my kid's work?’
So, I think we really, firstly have to cut ourselves some slack and look at what is my individual situation on what's realistic for us to achieve in any given day. And there's going to be a bit of trial and error there because I know that the first day I tried to do it with my kids, I thought, ‘I’ll set the little ones up on either side of me. I'll put my computer in the middle and I'll work away while they're there, just to answer any of the odd questions. That very quickly went out the window within [like] 32 seconds I realized I'm not going to write a single word here. So, I had to rejig my whole mind frame around, ‘How am I going to make this work? How can I work, do all of this stuff and also run a household? I just had to make some changes and decide this is what's gonna work for us. It's literally 2 and a half to 3 hours of schoolwork a day with a break or two in the middle and then I'm going to spend some time doing my own work. That is going to mean that my kids are possibly playing their game longer than I would usually allow but at the moment, this is what's working for our family and while I can still make sure, as I said at the start, that they're getting other things that they need. We’re still getting him out for a walk and kicking the footy and shooting some hoops. So as long as I can fit all of those things in as well, I have to just understand that these are different times.
I need to look at what's going to work for us because if I'm stressed if I'm screaming and nagging and crying, my kids are not going to learn anything. So, I think we really need to look at our own situation and cut ourselves a bit of slack at this time. Yes, our kids might be using the screens more than we would probably like and more than they will when they go back, but there's a pretty good chance that when things go back to normal - I know, for example, my kids, they can't wait to get back to their mates and to footy training and to playing basketball and even to hanging out with their mates at school. So, I know that those things will take over and I think we just got to keep a lot of that in mind.
Ellen: Yeah, I think that's perfect advice. I know certainly for me, I went into the assisting my children with school very optimistically, I think I'd put it. [laughter] I had a schedule and ‘We're going to do this and there won't be any screens until after 2:30’ - I told them I was giving them an early mark because school is usually 3:30. ‘After 2:30 if you finished your schoolwork, then there's this ABC TV stuff you can watch and there are all these activities you can do’. I quickly discovered that you're absolutely right. It was just like I'm not getting any work done. You're losing your minds. I'm losing my mind. Let's just [get 00:53:46]. And now we're four weeks in it’s, ‘Let's see how quickly we can get everything done with as few tears as possible from everybody, me included. And then it's whatever you want to do, let Mommy get on with her work.’ [laughter]
Martine: Yes, and I think that's important that we recognize that working from home, the kids that haven't done this before, it's not been working environment. And I know I've spoken to you Ellen before about my kids’ lack of concentration at times and it's not a kid I've ever been told, ‘Your child doesn't concentrate at school.’ Never have I ever been told that. So I know after speaking to a lot of other people, that for some kids, it's just not the environment that they’re used to working in and so things are going on, and it's not where they are naturally able to focus. And, yes, it gets better but I think it's important that, particularly for those younger kids, as long as they're doing a couple of things, we know that that they'll all start to catch up again as things go back so let's not put too much pressure on ourselves.
Ellen: I think that's a wonderful reminder. It certainly helped me [with] my children. I ended up having to separate them. I had this schoolroom set up which is actually the room I’m in at the moment. I’ve kicked them out so they could work side by side. I was calling it my grade 3/6 composite [laughter] but I didn't get anything done because they spent the whole time poking and prodding and hitting and then carrying on and then distracting each other with other stuff and it was not conducive. So now one of them has to sit with me while the other one is in this room and they're getting a little bit more done.
Ellen: Absolutely. It's not ideal for me trying to get my work done, but I've just come to realize that I can't do it while they're doing that. So, flexibility and adaptability, yeah, really good advice.
Thank you so much, Martine, for all of your words of wisdom. It's always lovely speaking to you, and I really hope that what you've suggested and recommended and some of the tips and strategies and ideas and questions to ask and questions to prompt as a family and prompt your kids with, around what they’re consuming, what they're creating. We didn't even talk that much about creating but there's the opportunity to create a lot of content at the moment too and is that good, useful, positive creation; creation is usually a positive thing. Your book and your tips on living, learning, and working from home, they've all been extraordinarily helpful to me I know, and I’m quite sure they'll be very helpful to our audience as well so I really appreciate your time.
Martine: Thank you. Thanks for having me again.
Ellen: Thank you for sharing that interview with Martine Oglethorpe with me. Martine's book The Modern Parent: Raising A Great Kid in the Digital World is available in hard copy and PDF via her website, which is themodernparent.net and it's available for Kindle, so in electronic form on Amazon. We've included the links in the show notes for this episode at potential.com.au/podcast as well as some more information about Martine and how to contact her, where to find her on social media, and our previous interview with Martine about parenting in the digital age. In the show notes, you'll also find a link to the Potential Psychology Self Care Club if you're keen to join the team and invest in your wellbeing and happiness in 2020.
I want to finish off today with a big thank you to a lovely listener in Ireland who took the time to leave a review on Apple Podcasts. C. [Tennis 00:57:09] said, ‘I've recently discovered this podcast and love it. Your pace, curiosity, practical approach to applying positive psychology an hour every day fits really well with me. I'm learning a lot from you and your guests as I move through the podcasts and I'm enjoying every one. Thanks.’
Well, thank you. I'm sorry, I don't know your first name, and that feels kind of rude, but I'm so glad you're enjoying the show and I do appreciate you taking the time to say hi and to leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Every review helps others to find the podcast and together it helps us to spread the word about our guests, about positive psychology, and how to live a thriving happy life. Thank you so much for that.
Okay. So, as I said right at the beginning of today's show, this season is going to be a little fluid and flexible. I do have some guests lined up for our next interviews that I have a few more in mind. If you'd like to keep informed as to when those new interviews will land, why not join the Potential Psychology Podcast Facebook group? There is a link to that in the show notes as well, or just search Potential Psychology Podcast in the Facebook search bar.
Until next time. So glad to be back. So glad that you're here, back with me. Keep thriving even in this crazy, topsy turvy world and I'm looking forward to chatting to you again soon.