Digital Health for Families

A recent study by Common Sense Media surveyed the attitudes, concerns, and behaviors of parents’ media use. Many parents express concern about their children’s use of media, in how it affects their sleep, effects of social media, too much time online, etc. Parents, it turns out, spend a fair bit of time on their own devices, averaging 9+ hours a day! Most (82%) of those hours are spent on personal screen time such as watching TV, video games, browsing online, or on social media networks; the rest filled in with screen time at work. Despite the high screen time themselves, 78% of parents believe they are setting a good example to their children of balancing technology. The good news is that parents are engaged, aware of the benefits and pitfalls of technology, and striving to set a good example. The bad news is there seems to be a disconnect between perception and reality.

If you are spending more than a quarter of your day plugged into a device, how can you expect your children to limit their screen time to 30 minutes a time? If dad can answer work emails at the dinner table, why do children get in trouble for responding to a text message? Children and teenagers can sniff out hypocrisy in a second.  True change for your kids’ relationship with technology will need to come as an entire family shift - parents included. In our connected world, it can be a hard change for everyone!

The first step in pursuing balance in your relationship with technology is to have an honest assessment. Two great options are to take the Digital Wellness Quiz and to track your media usage throughout the day with this Media Tracker Log. Do these assessments for each member of the family.

With an a more accurate understanding of the role of technology, families can craft contracts around digital use. These contracts and agreements will need to grow with the child and with advances in technology. A 5 year old and a 18 year old will have different expectations in each of their contracts.

The book The Digital Invasion has great information on the effects of technology as well as some example contracts for children of different ages. Effective contracts may include age appropriate agreements around privacy, online safety, downloading apps, time, shopping, pornography, cyber bullying, and social media.

In addition to creating family contracts around digital use, it can be helpful to create family rhythms to take a break from devices. Many teenagers suffer sleep deprivation because they are up late on their phones, their sleep interrupted by notifications and texts. Perhaps all family members turn their phones into the parents after 9pm or leave their phones in the living room. Dinner or family time may have an explicit no devices time. All members can leave their phones face down on the table or out of sight; the first person to reach for it must do an extra chore or make a treat for the family. Many families benefit from a full, regular 24 hour fast from devices. This technology sabbath creates opportunities to get outside, connect face to face, play games, rest, or foster other hobbies.  

If you find you are struggling with your own technology use or managing the use of your family, feel free to reach out for help. A balanced life of digital and face to face connection is possible!

Plugged in Parents Study
The Digital Invasion by Dr. Hart & Dr. Hart Frejd
Digital Wellness Quiz
Media Tracker Log

Girls & Sex

I recently read Peggy Orenstein’s book Girls & Sex then attended a workshop she hosted for Bay Area parents about the changing landscape of adolescent female sexuality. (Side note: This is exactly the type of hot pink, bold front cover books that therapists read on airplanes and in coffee shops that turn heads.) Professionally and personally, I have spent a lot of time with young women navigating the pressures, challenges, expectations, and relationships of the high school and college years.

With young girls I know personally, I see the type of selfies & photos that are posted online, and that photos that show more skin tend to get more likes & more comments. The same behavior is modeled from celebrities and marketed as some freedom of sexual expression. Peggy argues that this self-objectification does not reclaim power for females, it merely trades the appearance of sexiness for money, fame, or approval. It continues the idea that worth is received from the outside in, rather than than inside out. The sexual economy of the digital age is changing faster than we can catch up in conversations at home. What we see online is a symptom of a greater problem, the divorce between looking sexy versus experiencing sexuality.

Girls & Sex is a must read for parents of both girls & boys who live at home. Peggy reveals the ineffectiveness of our current sex education, both at home and in schools. Our system has woefully failed our young women in awareness of their own bodies, empowering them to voice their needs and desires, and preparing them for pleasure in relationships rather than focusing only on avoiding pain & risks. Without information, kids are turning to pornography as a sex education of sorts.

Peggy tackles the big issues like the effects of pornography, lacking definition of virginity, slut and prude shaming, the exponential rise in casual oral sex (female to male), young women becoming spectators rather than present to sexual experience, sexting, the problem of sexual assault, and the notion of hook-up culture. Peggy argues for intimate justice, the idea of reciprocal, mutually satisfying, joy filled, respectful and responsible sexual experiences.

In order to empower our young women for joy, equality, and agency in their sexuality, conversations must start at home -- and the earlier the better. Girls & Sex was at times an overwhelming read, but an essential pulse on the current landscape of female sexuality. Pick up your own copy today & discuss it with other parents and your own children.

For a teaser of some of Peggy’s work, read “Parents need to talk to their daughters about the joys of sex, not just the dangers”, an article posted in the Washington Post.