Today I’m shipping my new book, Parenting in the Screen Age, a guide for calm conversations. If you have already ordered yours, expect it to arrive within the week.
Today I am sharing an excerpt from the book's introduction, and a peek at the Table of Contents.
Excerpted from the introduction…
Our tech revolution is incredible beyond words — the ability to get and share information is beyond anything I could ever have imagined — the ability to connect with others around the world is remarkable — the list goes on and on and on. I would not go back, but I do think things can be improved upon. I often think that the new stresses of parenting and the new challenges we face are high prices we pay for all the millions of “goodies” the revolution has brought us. I see these parenting challenges as opportunities — reading this book will help you change the “price” of technology into “pay off” by exploring ways to raise kids in the digital age who will be better communicators, more emotionally aware, and more mindful and compassionate than if we weren't encouraged to parent more intentionally in this world of screen supremacy.
It also goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, screen time is not “ruining a generation,” a phrase I have heard and repeatedly read across news outlets. Dooming a generation is unfair, untrue and downright mean. Our kids are wonderful and doing the best they can with the inner and outer resources they have at any given time.
This book is relevant during and post COVID-19.
When COVID-19 hit, we all became more grateful than ever for the upsides of our tech revolution. In a matter of weeks, screen time became our lifeline, allowing for ongoing learning, the ability to connect with others, entertainment, news, and much more. Tech often allowed for classrooms to go online and for work for us parents to continue.
At the same time, the challenges of screen time balance became even more pronounced. This book is all about how we, as parents, can feel as empowered as possible to help our kids maintain healthy screen time — whether during summer vacation, a busy school year, or stuck quarantined through a pandemic. The skills and strategies parents need around screen time endure. I wrote the vast majority of this book from the perspective of not being in a “shelter-in-place” situation, but suggestions woven throughout are useful if you are sheltering in place. The book is full of hundreds of ideas around how to approach tech-themed conversations with your child, and these themes are timeless.
Here is a peek at the Table of Contents to give you a better sense of the breadth of topics in the book.
Chapter One: Social Media
Chapter Two: Video Games
Chapter Three: Mental Health
Chapter Four: Sleep
Chapter Five: Essential Preparation for Screen-Related Conversations
Chapter Six: Contracts and Family Rules
Chapter Seven: Challenging Conversations
Chapter Eight: Screens in Schools and Homework
Chapter Nine: Fostering Human Bonds
Chapter Ten: Cultivating Creativity, Insight, and Focus
“How” to have effective conversations? Answer: communication science
Throughout the book, I share many evidence-based techniques that lead to productive, fruitful discussions that can help decrease friction and repair fractured relationships. It is all through using communication science.
Communication science is something I became interested in when I was a medical student, even though I wasn’t familiar with the term at the time. I was intrigued by the fact that some physicians use words and mannerisms to make patients and patients’ families feel at ease and cared for. I could visibly see this on patients’ faces. Then there were other physicians whose communication techniques would inevitably leave patients feeling worse.
My interest in interpersonal communication inspired me to do research in the science of it at UC San Francisco.
An ineffective communication approach: the “scare-tactic.”
When I started making Screenagers, I saw that the main way kids were learning about tech was via scare tactics. Think, for example, of the schools that teach kids about cyberbullying and sexting, and how some of them have police officers deliver the message, so it is clear that they should be really scared of the consequences.
Unfortunately, scare tactics have not proven to be very effective for long-term behavior change. Let me give you one example: Massive public health campaigns designed to combat smoking showed images of damaged lungs and provided testimonials from people diagnosed with lung cancer with the intention of scaring us out of using cigarettes.
It turns out that those campaigns had a surprisingly small impact on behavior decisions. What eventually turned the tide and cut smoking rates were two tactics: substantially raising the cost of cigarettes and placing firm limits on the places where people could smoke. Of course, continuing to educate people about the ill effects of tobacco is important. Still, if we had just focused on using scare tactics, we would not have made the significant progress we see today.
Scare tactics can work well for short-term behavior change, but it’s important to examine a better way to shape behavior, which I call “share tactics.”
But first, let's explore the science behind why scare tactics are not very effective when it comes to youth and screen time. The amygdala is the part of the brain that responds to fear and provides us with warnings that something scary is about to take place. Do you remember when you first watched a scary movie that played creepy music as the camera led you down an eerie hotel hallway? Even when you don’t, the amygdala does. That’s why you may get creeped out in empty hallways later on in life.
This is crucial. Learning from fear-inducing stimuli helps us avoid and escape danger. But what happens when your amygdala is shooting fear straight to your nerves, and nothing bad actually occurs? You stop responding. This is exactly what is happening with our kids when we keep telling them, “Too much YouTube is bad for your brain” or “Playing violent video games will make you violent.”If we constantly yell, “DANGER, DANGER!” and the warning is not in sync with our child’s experience, they will tune out our words.
I understand that it is very hard to exercise restraint when things seem scary since we feel like it is our job as parents to protect our youth. We worry about the risk of video games, social media, binge-watching, social cruelty, anxiety, grades, and the list goes on and on. So what do we do?
Ditching a “scare tactic” for a “share-tactic.”
When it comes to getting our kids to engage with us on tech issues, I have found it more effective to engage in what I call a “share-tactic” instead of a “scare tactic.” A share tactic stresses the importance of sharing science and stories in a non-black-and-white way. It is about considering many perspectives when looking at topics. Scare tactics take the opposite approach. They are very black-and-white and one-sided.
People, especially tweens and teens, are not big fans of being told what to do and what to think. Instead of talking at them in a doom and gloom way, could you include them in the conversation? Listen to their experiences and opinions about the dangers of social media, video games, and too much YouTube. Calm conversations involving statistics, real-life stories, and areas of relatability are what get people — including tweens and teens — to think and act preventatively.
Of course, these share tactics help us work together to define and follow the rules so that we can also have sacred, screen-free times in our lives.
Click here to order the book Parenting in the Screen Age: A Guide to Calm Conversations.
Click here if you are interested in hosting an ONLINE screening for your community.
Click here if you want to attend an ONLINE screening.
Subscribe to Dr. Ruston’s Screenagers Podcast.
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for more like this, DR. DELANEY RUSTON'S NEW BOOK, PARENTING IN THE SCREEN AGE, IS THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE FOR TODAY’S PARENTS. WITH INSIGHTS ON SCREEN TIME FROM RESEARCHERS, INPUT FROM KIDS & TEENS, THIS BOOK IS PACKED WITH SOLUTIONS FOR HOW TO START AND SUSTAIN PRODUCTIVE FAMILY TALKS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AND IT’S IMPACT ON OUR MENTAL WELLBEING.