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Breaks from school are prime time for screen time. But how much screen time is too much? And what can we do about it? Is screen time ever a good thing? 

In this episode of In It, Gretchen Vierstra and Rachel Bozek talk to Dr. Devorah Heitner. Devorah is the author of two books: Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World and Growing Up in Public: Coming of Age in a Digital World. She also speaks about screens at K-12 schools.

Listen to learn tips for managing screen time, and why this can be harder with kids who learn and think differently. Find out some benefits of screen time too.

Episode transcript

Gretchen: Hello and welcome to "In It," a podcast about the ins and outs…

Rachel: The ups and downs...

Gretchen: Of supporting kids who learn and think differently. I'm Gretchen Vierstra, a former classroom teacher and an editor here at Understood.

Rachel: And I'm Rachel Bozek, a writer and editor with a family who's definitely in it. Today we're talking about what happens to screen time in the summertime.

Gretchen: How much is too much?

Rachel: And how do we get our kids to put their freaking phone down?

Gretchen: Joining us for this conversation is Devorah Heitner. Devorah is the author of two books, "Screen Wise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World" and "Growing Up in Public: Coming of Age in a Digital world." She speaks widely at K-through-12 schools on all things screens.

Rachel: We are very glad she's going to help us with this summertime challenge and might I say, year-round challenge.

Gretchen: Yes. So, Devorah, welcome.

Devorah: Thanks for having me.

Rachel: To get us started, Gretchen and I want to just lay out the problem as we see it. So it's summer. School's out. And for most of us, there's going to be some stretches when our kids have way more unstructured time than they have during the school year. And that may mean that they start to spend even more time, if that's possible, on their devices, at which point parents may start to feel worried or guilty. And what exactly are parents worried about? Gretchen, help me out here.

Gretchen: Yeah, well, parents like myself and you were worried about, you know, things like our kids developing an addiction to their devices or their brains turning to mush. How is it negatively impacting their mental health? Or are they just going to sit around and, like, eat chips and be on their phone all summer? Other thoughts, Rachel?

Rachel: I feel like that's a good list to start with. But you know, also, are they going to feel bad when they see what other kids are doing this summer? If maybe they're not having such a fabulous vacation on some island or, you know, also, they're just not interacting with us during that time.

Gretchen: That's right.

Rachel: And sometimes that's, you know, what we're going for. But a lot of times that's not what we're going for. So Devorah, talk to us. Are we missing anything from that list? What do you think?

Devorah: I think a lot of parents are worried that it's going to be really dysregulating, or that kids will have negative social experiences or some content that isn't appropriate for kids or teenagers or is misinformation. And I think people are worried also maybe about sleep. And even though summer sleep schedules tend to be more loose and maybe we don't have to be up and out as early, I think none of us want our kids to turn, you know, completely nocturnal and be looking at screens all night. So, that might be another issue that comes up.

And then, you know, parents might worry about negative social interactions, bullying, feeling left out, all of those kinds of things and just having a little too much time to kind of maybe look at social media or look at YouTube or spend time on discord or gaming more than is in a good balance with other activities, like going outside or being with friends in person, etc.

Gretchen: Yeah, so as parents, what are we getting wrong when we worry about our kids and screen time? For example, like, I know that what comes to mind is just like the time. How much time? Like, are we getting things wrong when we're worrying about this?

Devorah: I would think about the time a little differently. A lot of us really do want to sort of measure the minutes or hours, but I would think more about the kind of qualitative experience like, especially if your kid is doing something creative or engaging that is bringing them joy, bringing them some learning, you know, bringing them some skills, like if they're learning how to cook or do something useful. I would put that in a different category, and I may want to set up some time in the summer to help kids translate what they're learning online.

Like, say your kid is looking at cooking videos, you know, can you remind them or go with them to the grocery store and help them set up to buy ingredients to actually cook?" Like, what can you do to help them translate some of these online interests that they might be pursuing? And even what can you learn about your child from their online interest? Like, "Oh, I never knew you were interested in teaching yourself Romanian, but I see you're doing that on Duolingo. Like, tell me more."

You know, like getting curious about what our kids are interested in and also looking at the quality as well as the quantity of screen time. Now, we still might want our kids to go outside, spend some time with friends in person, like do things that are not tech, but I would look really differently at like just mindless scrolling or looking at things that are problematic.

Obviously, like that's something I would want to step in and, and externally regulate, whereas I might let my kid do more self-regulating if I saw that it was a more positive pursuit and kind of see how that went.

Because for some of our kids, this can be their special interest, like it could be Minecraft or programming in Scratch, you know, or making videos, is your kids special interest. So, any special interest you would still keep them doing overnight, every night to the point where they're not sleeping. But you might be more flexible around a strong interest that seem to be feeding your child's sense of self or skill set for life, versus something that maybe was taking them away from things they needed to do.

Gretchen: My follow-up to that is, because I totally hear what you're saying, that there's quality, right, that we should be measuring. I think for parents, at least for me, what can be difficult is, like my kids, we have app limits right on their phones. And then when they reach a certain timing being they can't do it anymore and my child will come to me and say, yeah, yeah, but I was looking at a volleyball tutorial and I was fixed. I was working on this.

And so, it's hard right to say like, well, they've been on this thing and half of it may have been mindless scrolling, but now the last ten minutes, they're actually using it for something constructive. Like how in the world are parents supposed to, like, handle this?

Devorah: I think you have to pick your battles and fight to win. You know, maybe the battle is about sleep, and that becomes really important because in our kids' physical and mental health, you know, sleep is so crucial. And we know that sometimes people do hyperfocus. You know, neurodiverse kids and teenagers can really, and adults, can really hyperfocus. And sometimes at night like I have found night is a really great writing time for me, but I still have to cut myself off maybe at midnight or one if I want to be somewhat on par with my family.

Like I don't want to go, again, full nocturnal. So, maybe if your kid is older you can let them self-regulate around sleep, but you might want to unplug them at a certain point.

Or help them make decisions around health and sleeping and waking with an eye to "Hey, you're going to be back on a daytime schedule at school. Like, can we keep day and night a little bit delineated even over the summer? What does that look like? Or if we're going to go on a family vacation? You cannot sleep in a hotel room all day while we're out doing tourist stuff. Maybe you can skip the 7 a.m. thing, but you're going to come with us to the 10 a.m. thing," right?

So, like just having those kinds of conversations with kids and then deciding what you aren't going to fight about, maybe there's going to be weekend days in the summer where you're not really going to regulate the ways they use tech unless it, you know, maybe you don't mind about the mindless scrolling, for example.

You know, it's another thing if your kid is like, has a gambling addiction or a pornography issue, like, I think there are situations where any parent would want to step in and others where it's really a judgment call of like, OK, maybe this isn't the highest and best use of my kids time, but how did I spend summers when I was a tween or teen?

You know, was I on the phone with my friends? Was I just sitting around at the park doing nothing? Was I prank-calling people? You know, was I out saving the world? Unfortunately not. The world would be in better shape if me and my friends had saved it while we were in summer as teenagers, but we did it, right?

So, I think it's really important to say maybe you do want your kid to volunteer or do something in the community, but is that how they're going to spend all their time, or is there going to be some downtime? And I think our kids arrive at summer pretty exhausted.

It's fair to say that being a neurodiverse human in a school, you know, and unless you're very lucky and you go to a really a school that's really attuned to you, you're probably pretty fried when you get to spring, and you might need at least a few weeks to, you know, chillax.

I think the tricky thing is sometimes kids think, "Oh, Roblox is chillaxing me," and it's maybe not, you know? And so, you can help them see that also. And, but also understand and empathize with like, "I know you need a high-interest, low-demand activity right now, but I also see that when you forget to eat, your mood is really not great. So, let's talk about that.

Gretchen: Follow up to that for a sec, to the still the quality of the, what they're viewing versus quantity. So, with my example of my daughter, like mindlessly scrolling, but then actually diving into something useful, and then sometimes she'll say to me, "Well, the whole time it was useful, mom." And I'm like, "I don't know if that's true." I mean, how do we know what they're actually looking at? Like, we're not supposed to hover over them, right? And see what they're doing.

Devorah: Right. Well, you can check in though, or walk by. You can have them play games without their headphones. Some of the times you can have some sense of how the interactions are going or who they might be playing with, or if they're younger, maybe what games and content they're accessing.

And you can also have a conversation, or you can ask your kid to show you some of their top YouTube channels or, you know, top games. And you can say, "Look, I know you're pretty invested in this. In order for me to feel comfortable with you spending this kind of time on it, I need to have some idea what you're doing. I don't need to have a play-by-play. I don't need to be here every minute.

But can you show me some of the channels? Or can you show me the game you really like on Roblox? Or show me how Discord works so that I can understand?" And then the good thing is, you're also having a conversation with your child about Discord or Minecraft or whatever it is.

Gretchen: Yeah. OK.

Rachel: Yeah. And I know there are, there are some settings I know on the iPhone where you can kind of put in the age that the child can only access apps that are for up to a certain age, so they can't get, you know, 18 and up apps or you know, whatever it may be.

Devorah: I mean, I think the tricky thing, of course, is that it's pretty easy to get around that stuff. So, you have to kind of trust but verify, trust but be in the conversation. You can't totally rely on those things to work. I mean, the younger your kids are, maybe. But you know, there's YouTube videos about how to get around all this stuff. So, I think it's important to understand that you can use these limits and they are helpful and they can be helpful as a reminder.

I mean, I know how to get around screen time on my iPhone, but I still set it for myself and it's like a reminder to turn it off at a certain hour. I absolutely have the password and can, you know, but when my phone goes gray at 10:30 at night, it's a good reminder, like, Ooh, maybe I should go to bed," right?

Rachel: Right.

Devorah: So, I think we have to look at it more as a speed bump than like a fully effective guardrail. For most of our kids, especially if they're tech-savvy. But that said, having the conversation with them about "This is my expectation of you."

And there really is stuff out there that's not just not for kids, but really not good for any humans. Really violent, really scary, really will change your experience of yourself. Like, yeah, you know, like could be even really traumatic to see." And it's important to try to not scare kids so much that they won't tell us if they've seen something like that, but also, make clear, like, what the stakes are and that we all need to kind of protect our own mental health and also protect ourselves from misinformation.

Rachel: Can you talk to us a little bit about, specifically when we're talking about kids with learning and thinking differences, some of the positive aspects of screen time and what are some kind of like constructive or helpful things that they, that maybe their families can direct them to, to avoid just the mindless scrolling, which is so easy for any of us to fall into? But I feel like especially kids in that category.

Devorah: I mean, we really want to lean into helping our kids be creators and not just consumers of tech and media. That doesn't mean every kid is going to, you know, have a channel or have public presence. But, you know, even if your kid is like making mods to their game like that is a more interactive and creative way, and you are learning some sort of programming skills when you make a mod to a game, for example.

Or if you're a moderator on a Discord, you know, or you have a role, it's like being a ref at a soccer game. I mean, you're learning how to help people get along. You're learning how to help people navigate disputes.

And those are really important skills. A lot of kids who process differently also sometimes struggle IRL, in real life, you know, face-to-face social interactions, and maybe that's sort of slow down or textified version of that on Discord or on another app or even on a group text can be nice, because they can have a minute to think about what they want to say.

I think it is important not to let kids take too much refuge in that space and never practice in-person social skills, but I think we have to look at, you know, sometimes people see their kids online a lot and say, "Oh, my kid is doing this instead of socializing." And I have to ask when we say, this is replacing, is it replacing like, would your kid have been at every party and been the center of whatever middle school and high school life and the star of the play and a social butterfly and sitting with lots of people at lunch, like, maybe.

And if tech replaced that and your kid was supposed to be this, like, extroverted kid with a million friends and that didn't happen, like I would be concerned too. But what if your kid would have been totally isolated? But now they're on a Discord and they have all these friends on Discord? Yes, we want to help them leverage that into some in-person friendships as well, but we should also be like, "Yay! The kid has friends."

Gretchen: Yeah, that's an awesome way to look at it.

Devorah: And if the friends come over, which you might want to encourage your kid to do, you might also want to say like, "Hey, why don't you allow like two hours to play Minecraft together and maybe like an hour to go outside, you know, or an hour to play a board game?" Like a board game is a really nice bridge for kids who love video games because it's still a game, it's still got rules, but it's a different set of interactions and a different set of experiences.

Gretchen: Yeah. Transition to a board game.

Rachel: Before my next question, can you just for parents who might not know what a mod is, can you just tell us real quick what a mod is?

Devorah: Sure. So, there's different ways of playing games and say you have a certain level in Minecraft or a certain expanse. You could modify that and have your very own modified version. And some kids have even created and sold modified versions of games, right? So, there's a whole like sort of intellectual property. And to be honest, I'm not an expert gamer enough to like, know some of the details about this, but I've known a lot of kids who really have learned a lot by kind of going into the back end of their game and making changes.

And it's a community, just like if anybody here, like, who's listening has built a wiki or participated and, you know, sharing information there, it's, you know, games that are on a public server can be these kinds of communities of people making sometimes changes.

Rachel: That's cool. Thank you. So, you've written about the difference between monitoring and mentoring when it comes to our kids and screen time. Can you walk us through that?

Devorah: Absolutely. So, ideally we're teaching our kids to self-regulate. And that may be a really long road. Like we inherently we're talking about, you know, a group of kids who may have some extra challenges with self-regulating.

The good news is, unlike, I think, in a family where you've never had to think about self-regulation, you might already have language from, like your kid's therapist or their speech-language person or their OT that might be about, you know, like, "Well, how cool is my bucket, you know, right now?" Or "Red, yellow, green?" or, you know, some other.

So, you may already have more language actually, and tools than maybe other parents. So, that's an advantage. And just leaning into teaching kids how to self-regulate around tech, noticing how you feel in your body when you're using, you know, different apps when you're playing games, like, "Do you get really mad to the point where you want to, like, throw the controller? Maybe this isn't the right game for you to be playing right now. Maybe you need to take a little sensory break and do some push-ups or drink some water," right?

So, what are the sort of options that you have when things are difficult? And same thing with social interactions. When we want to teach kids, you know, how do we teach kids to manage impulsivity, which, you know, you could really nuke your sixt- grade life on the sixth-grade group text if you respond really impulsively too many times to the group texting all sixth graders. Well, sometimes.

But, you know, I think it's fair to say too, that if you have a kid who takes — well, this is not just mentorship over monitoring, but I'm just going to say this because I think this is an important thing to share — if you have a kid who takes meds. And they're interacting online and predominantly they're doing it in the evening when the meds have worn off and it's not going well, even though sometimes we want our kids to interact online after they've done homework, we may want to think about doing it when the meds are in place.

Because, especially if there are new user, so you're going to like throw your sixth or seventh or eighth grader into that new group tech situation or even a fifth grader or into Minecraft or whatever. We may not want their first foray if they have, if they're in a situation where meds really help them socially, we may want their first online social situations to also be when the meds are working at full strength, not when they're wearing off or off completely. But that's not really mentoring over monitoring. That's just like a hot tip for me.

Mentoring is like thinking about that yourself, but that would be something even to say to a high schooler who's going to be more under their own steam and making their own decisions to say, "Hey, of course you're going to sometimes text when your meds have worn off. Like that's not a realistic expectation for life. But if you're in a really difficult situation, say you have to send a really hard email to a teacher about a situation, maybe try to do it when you're feeling more regulated. That might be when your meds are in place. That might be when you can remember to eat like you don't want to do it when you're not in your kind of best frame."

Gretchen: Well, that's a great tip. So, do you have any other tips or hard and fast rules that you recommend to families that they put in place around screens?

Devorah: I mean, do you think sleep is a hill to die on. As much as you can control that which is, you know, harder and harder to do as they get older. But most kids have a hard time, neurotypical or neurodiverse, have a hard time self-regulating around connected devices in their bedrooms overnight in relation to sleep. And so, this is something that I think all families probably want to be looking at.

And also thinking about what we model. Like if our kids are little and they're climbing in bed with us in the morning, are they climbing over chargers to get to the parents, right? And that's telling them like, "Oh, what we do is we all sleep in a nest of tech." And that might not be what we want to model.

Rachel: So, one more rule you've also mentioned no phones at family meals. So, like, how strongly do you feel about that?

Devorah: I think most of the time it's a good way to go. Lunch is a time during the school day where I would love to see kids put their phones away. I think it's hard to make that happen, but unit, you want kids to be using that time to interact face-to-face, and it's such a limited time in the day, really, when they're encouraged to interact. And there's so little of that in school. So, I think that's something schools could think about. How can they encourage that? I mean, maybe it's taking the phones away, but maybe just getting kids to even think about it, you know, and certainly your kid can be the leader in their friend group, but it's hard to be there all by yourself sort of waving that flag.

Gretchen: Oh, it sure is.

Rachel: Oh, totally. And I think different schools have like different school levels, even within a district, have different rules, like the middle school might say like "No phones are out during the day at all." But then at the high school, it's a little bit of a free-for-all. And it kind of depends on the teacher.

Devorah: And again, for an introverted person it could be a refuge and it could be, you know, maybe you don't know anyone in your lunch period, or maybe you socialize for 20 minutes and then you check your phone for ten minutes. I mean, I think it really is important for us to not just judge, but to observe and be curious.

There are times where I look at stuff and I'm like, "Oh, this dismays me" or "This makes me worried." Or I think about my experience in college where we would just shut down the cafeteria like they'd be kicking us out of dinner because we're sitting there talking and they're trying to, like, close the dining hall. And I'm like, is that still happening now, or are people just checking their phones and leaving?

Gretchen: Ugh, that is a sad thought.

Devorah: It is! Isn't it? But at the same time, again, I think about the introverted kid who would have been at the cafeteria, you know, with a book and like, is it...

Gretchen: Yeah, I know.

Devorah: You know, is it OK that they're reading the news? Like, I think so. I hope they also get to talk to somebody in high school. I hope they meet somebody who they want to talk about the news with, you know?

But yeah, I just think it's important to not always put a very specific frame on, like what socializing should look like and to be open to socializing, looking at a couple of different ways and also not foreclosing options by not teaching our kids the skill. I mean, that's the other thing is we don't want our kids to be unable to make choices around that.

Gretchen: Yeah. So, what do you think about using screen time as a reward or a consequence to get kids to do what we need them to do, or what we want them to do?

Devorah: I mean, like all rewards and consequences, I think in the short term it can be effective and in the long term, but kind of leads down a road that I think a lot of people have found doesn't work for them. I mean, I'm not a child development expert. I really am more focused on kind of media and tech in particular. But I think especially because tech is so ubiquitous in kids' school lives and other things, it also gets really tricky.

I do think if you're into the sort of long-term rewards and again, this is just not part of my own parenting really at all. But I do know people who've been like, "OK, like we're really working on this big skill. And like now you can buy like with your Steam points, like a new game or something." And I think in that way I've seen it work for some families. But I think if we're like every day, like "Five more minutes, this," you know, I just think that gets really tricky and also really hard to keep track of.

Rachel: Also exhausting.

Devorah: Yeah. It's exhausting. It makes the tech this prize when it's really a ubiquitous tool that we use in our lives. You know, when I'm using my phone to like, navigate for directions to find the airport in a new city, that's not like a prize that I earned for like being really great today. So, I feel like it's very confusing with kids like then I take my phone out and I'm like navigating on it, but like, what did I do to earn my phone time? You know, like, I don't know.

Rachel: Yes, that has actually come up in my house in recent days where I'm like, "OK, I think that's been enough on the phone." And it was like, "Oh, well, let's see how much time you spent on your phone. You have those weekly reports." And I was like, "Well, I pay for all the phones."

Devorah: Right. I'm not saying it has to be minute for a minute the same. But I do think all of us adults need to be really looking at our own tech times. It always seems necessary, and so many of us work from home and have a very messy boundary between work and family life. But as much as possible, we should ideally be modeling some unplugged time with our kids and spending that time doing other things, including modeling that it's OK to be bored. It's OK to take a minute between activities and not check your phone.

You can even go to the park, you know, and leave your phone at home. And I think for a lot of us, it feels like that's nuts. But you could do that because in fact, if you live in a relatively dense area, like I live near Chicago, that there'll be someone out there to call 911 if we really need it.

Gretchen: Right. Yeah. I want to ask a question less about screen time and more about what to do with the some of the online content that our kids might see. And since you're an expert on that, too, I want to ask this.

So, recently, my daughter saw something very disturbing on TikTok. And like, her TikTok feed is mostly the things she's interested in. And I know those are very benign things like slime or like, volleyball videos. But she saw something which was related to a school shooting, and it was very graphic, according to her, and she told us about it and she was very distraught and had trouble sleeping. And I just had a lot of impact on her for the rest of the weekend.

And in my case, like, I'm so grateful that she told us about this thing and wanted to, you know, have us help her. But at the same time, I don't actually know what she saw. I don't know what was in it. So, I couldn't like, I couldn't dismiss it. I couldn't say, "Oh, it's all fake news."

Devorah: I don't want to go looking for it with her, because that'll tell the algorithm you're interested in content on that.

Gretchen: Exactly! So, I mean, so what was I, I don't know if you have any tips on what parents can do if this happens to them. I didn't really know what to do.

Devorah: I mean, I think saying, "I'm so glad you told me and I'm so glad we're talking about this." Like not being sort of punitive because kids are sometimes scared, like, "Oh, I'm going to never get TikTok time or YouTube time because I saw this thing."

Gretchen: According to her, it was just it happened so fast that she couldn't stop it. That was the other thing because my first question was like, "Well, why didn't you stop it?"

Devorah: It is really fast, so it's not her fault. So, I think letting her know "It's not your fault. Thank you for letting me know. And just like if you need to talk about it," I mean, there are kids who, depending on what they've seen or what they've been looking at, you know, especially if kids find things and then look for more things because they are sort of fascinated, even if they're repulsed or upset, may need to talk to a therapist or may need to talk to a mental health professional or a counselor at school to help them process what they've seen.

They may want a new rule. They might welcome a rule that says, "You can only look at TikTok in the living room for a while. Like, you know, you're not going to go up in your bedroom and look at it."

You know, you could say, like, "Do you want to take TikTok off your phone for a week and just take a break from TikTok?" And again, this wouldn't be like about, and this is why I think if you've made it a reward and punishment in the past, then that gets really tricky because you couldn't do anything wrong, right? And we're not saying that, but you are kind of saying, hey, like this app has some pretty good things on it. It has some really fun slime videos and dance videos and some other stuff.

Gretchen: Yeah, yeah. In my daughter's case again, I'm really thankful that she told us about it. But I imagine there's lots of kids that get exposed to really disturbing things, and they don't tell their parents. So, do you have any suggestions for how to talk about that potentially happening with your kid, or to know that they might be potentially seeing some damaging content?

Devorah: I think you have to assume that they have. I think you have to assume that by middle school they may have seen something pornographic. I think before then they probably seen something violent. And to really talk about that, when I go into third- and fourth-grade classrooms, I'll ask kids, "Raise your hand if you've seen something that you know wasn't for kids," and they all raise their hand.

Gretchen: OK. So, just assume and make so that we should be talking about it from the get-go.

Devorah: Absolutely. And then talk about too like what to do like, what to do if your friend sends you a meme, what to do if your friend sends you a picture of a nude classmate. Like, I mean, I wrote a lot about sending nudes and sexting and growing up in public, and this is an issue for, again, all kids, whether or not they, you know, identify as neuro-spicy or, you know, differences in thinking, right?

Like, but all kids are in a world where someone could show them something like that. Even if you have a kid who would never do it, you know, you feel like they're shy, they're modest, they would never send a nude. They still might have someone else send them a nude or ask them for one, right? Or someone could Airdrop the whole cafeteria a nude.

Gretchen: Ugh. That would be such an awful thing to happen to you.

Rachel: So, lately, there's been some debate as to whether it's screens or something else that is causing or contributing to the kids' mental health crisis. Do you have any thoughts on this conversation or debate?

Devorah: I think there are a lot of reasons that kids may not be feeling great. I also think that there's significant evidence that we're asking kids more about their mental health, and that is resulting in more kids self-identifying as struggling with their mental health. And I think the fact that we're asking and we're curious is good. I think the fact that we can't always then support kids who come forward or say on surveys that they're struggling is a problem.

So, we're like, we're asking. That's great. I'd like to see services for all those kids and available in every school and in every community at, you know, sliding scale, etc. And just very accessible. And we don't see that. So, that's challenging.

And I think we see a world where, you know, whether our kids identify as LGBTQ+, whether our kids identify as girls or women or people with uteruses, whether our kids identify as a religious minority, as a member of any kind of oppressed community, they're going to potentially feel targeted. And we're seeing increases in hate crimes and other things.

So, when we say, like, not all kids feel safe at school and that all kids are having a great experience, not all kids are sort of, you know, doing well. We have to really look at what is the impact of the pandemic, what is the impact of climate in our culture and schools, and also climate climate, like kids are worried about that too.

But I was talking about more like school climate and sort of social climate in our world. And all of those things are affecting our kids and the way they see themselves, the way they see their future opportunities, whether they feel safe or not.

And that's a very important set of considerations. I don't think you're going to take a kid who's doing OK, who has nice friends, who feels safe at school, who has close relationship with his or her parents, give that kid Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok and all of a sudden they're depressed and anxious. That is not how it works.

Can it exacerbate sometimes some things that are already going on? If a kid is struggling socially, if a kid is already feeling depressed, if a kid is already struggling with body image, can social media sometimes act as an intensifier to those things?

There's some pretty good evidence that yes, it can, but is adding social media, or adding Minecraft or adding Roblox to a kid who's doing pretty well and solid and, you know, has strong foundation and strong support and self and sense of self-efficacy and suddenly they get on Roblox and everything, you know, goes to hell? That's not what we're seeing. There's not evidence that just adding screens is like the secret thing that's making kids feel bad, and that these other things don't matter. Screens might be where you hear about a school shooting though.

Rachel: Yeah.

Devorah: And that's where it might be really traumatic. But I mean, is TikTok traumatic or is it traumatic to live in a world that has school shootings? Like, I think we have to really ask ourselves that question.

Rachel: Yeah.

Gretchen: Yeah. Well, this has been a great conversation.

Rachel: Yes.

Devorah: Thank you.

Rachel: Like, I could talk to you for five more hours.

Gretchen: Yeah I know.

Devorah: I really appreciate that. Well, I love what you do at and I love the podcast, so I'm really honored to be part of the conversation.

Rachel: Thank you.

Gretchen: We're so thankful that you joined us.

Rachel: Thanks so much for listening today. If you have any thoughts about the episode, we'd love to hear from you. You can email us at

Gretchen: And check out the show notes for this episode where we have more resources and links to anything we mentioned.

Rachel: This show is brought to you by Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people with learning and thinking differences like ADHD and dyslexia. Learn more at

Gretchen: It is produced and edited by Julie Subrin, with additional production support from Cody Nelson and Ilana Millner. Justin D. Wright mixes this show and Mike Ericco wrote our theme music. Briana Berry is our production director. Neil Drumming is our editorial director.

Rachel: From, our executive directors are Laura Key, Scott Cocchiere, and Seth Melnick. Thanks for listening.

Gretchen: And thanks for always being "in it" with us.


  • Gretchen Vierstra, MA

    is the managing editor at Understood and co-host of the “In It” podcast. She’s a former educator with experience teaching and designing programs in schools, organizations, and online learning spaces.

    • Rachel Bozek

      is co-host of the “In It” podcast and the parent of two kids with ADHD. She has a background in writing and editing content for kids and parents. 

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