Kids These Days
Season 3: Episode 6
Parkland, Florida’s Cameron Kasky discusses how he uses social media as a platform for activism; tech journalist Alexandra Samuel talks about Lil Tay and and the the role parents can play as they help their children navigate the internet; and Common Sense Media’s Sierra Filucci gives us an exclusive look at data from a new study about technology’s impact on our youth.
Manoush Zomorodi is the co-host of ZigZag, a podcast about changing the course of capitalism, journalism, and women’s lives. She’s also the author of Bored an Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self.
Jeff Kasky is the President of Families vs. Assault Rifles, a political action committee founded by parents of Parkland, Florida Douglas High students working to restrict access to assault rifles.
For a detailed summary of Common Sense Media’s findings on technology and teens, check out this summary of their Social Media, Social Life study. Also check out this commentary from Common Sense about supporting research on tech’s impact on the health and well-being of kids.
There are a number of Firefox extensions that can help parents guide their children’s internet experiences, such as Parental Control: Family Friendly Filter, which blocks certain websites deemed inappropriate for kids. You can find this extension and more in our Parental Controls collection.
Finally, here’s a short film by Darren Pasemko and Mozilla’s Brett Gaylor demonstrating just how much technology has come into family life.
Speaker 1: I check my phone a lot.
Speaker 2: More than I can count.
Speaker 1: I check it usually when I wake up in the morning.
Speaker 3: Before school.
Speaker 2: During school.
Speaker 1: A couple of times each class.
Speaker 2: At lunch.
Speaker 3: After School.
Speaker 2: Walking home.
Speaker 5: While I’m doing homework.
Speaker 6: I’m watching people’s stories.
Speaker 2: Check Instagram
Speaker 6: Going through my feed.
Speaker 7: Watch videos.
Speaker 1: Playing a game.
Speaker 2: Liking pictures.
Speaker 7: I’m constantly checking my phone until I go to bed.
Veronica: You get it. The kids. They’re on the internet, like, all the time. And their parents aren’t Luddites, either. They’re part of the first generation to really live online themselves. But, as it all becomes normalized, as the internet becomes just the air that we breathe, it’s easy to forget how important it is for parents to help guide and support their kids’ online lives.
Kids are now growing up at an age of screens, constantly connected, and that is hugely different from how things were, even one generation ago. Today, we’re tracking the blur of social and technological changes that young people are dealing with. Along the way, we’ve got some practical advice for parents on how to not explode your relationship with your Instagram-ing, Snapchat-ing kids.
I’m Veronica Belmont, and this is IRL because online life is real life. Brought to you by Mozilla, the not-for-profit behind the Firefox browser. There’s a bunch of Firefox extensions that help parents guide their children’s internet experience. One you might like is the family-friendly filter called Parental Control. It helps keep things safe by blocking inappropriate websites. We’ll post a link to that extension and lots more in this episode’s show notes at irlpodcast.org.
95% of American teens have access to a smartphone now. And nearly half say they’re online almost constantly. It’s that shift to mobile, to a permanent state of being tethered to the internet that’s the real change. It redefines a young person’s relationship to their tech, and because mobile tech is, well, mobile, it frees the user form parental supervision. Which means it’s not just the relationship between young people and the internet that’s changing, it’s also the relationship between those young people and their parents. Later in the show we’ve got an exclusive first look at the results of a new study about kids and tech conducted by Common Sense Media. This is the first place you’re gonna hear this data, so stick around.
I’ve also got an awesome house guest with me today, Manoush Zomorodi. You might know her as the creator and host of Note to Self. She’s also launched a new podcast called Zig Zag, which is all about ways to inject more humanity into tech.
Manoush, welcome to IRL!
Manoush: Thanks for having me.
Veronica: Now, one of the reasons we wanted to have you on the show was your book, Bored and Brilliant, which ties really nicely into today’s discussion of teens and parents and, really, everyone’s relationship to their devices.
Manoush: Yeah, so Bored and Brilliant was really an exploration of the attention economy and what people can do when they understand the tech and design behind their devices, how they can make small changes to their daily lives to sort of rethink their relationship with their technology, to use it more purposefully, and you know not just to shut it off but to use it to its best intent so that we treat our technology as the tool it is meant to be, not as our task masters.
Veronica: Okay, so you’re basically perfect to be on this show, I just want you to know that.
Veronica: So thank you for that, for all of that background. But I’m also stoked that you’re here because among all of those incredible accomplishments, you’re a mom!
Manoush: I am.
Veronica: And that is definitely not a perspective that I can bring to the show today. So thank you for coming, and I’m definitely gonna count on you for some parenting reality checks along the way today. Sound good?
Manoush: Yeah, it does. I’ll tell you, I’m the worst at that job, being the mom, so I don’t have the answers with that one but I will try my best.
Veronica: I don’t think anyone has all the answers, so I think you’re in good company. So, one thing that I do know about parenting is that it can be pretty terrifying. You’re gonna worry a lot, and that is where our first story comes in. So Manoush, stick around because I definitely want your take on this idea that for the first completely digital native generation, parents have to constantly redraw that line between keeping kids safe and letting them engage with the big, crazy world, online and off.
There’s a prevailing kinda grumpy attitude out there about teens and tech. You maybe shake your head and mutter, “Kids these days.” But let me introduce you to Cameron. He’s seventeen years old.
Cameron: Social media was an average part of my life. I used social media relatively regularly as a way to keep in touch with people I don’t very often get to see.
Veronica: In a lot of ways, his online life used to be pretty typical. But that was before February 14th, 2018, when this happened.
TV Anchor 1: On the CBS evening news this Wednesday from Washington-
TV Anchor 2: It began as an ordinary school day, and it was almost over when gunfire erupted this afternoon.
TV Anchor 1: A gunman targeted a high school, took aim, and took lives.
TV Anchor 3: We could see the panic from a distance. Frightening, familiar.
Speaker 8: We got a male in a hoodie, possible AR-15 or AK-47.
Veronica: You heard news coverage there of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. When it was over, fourteen of Cameron Kasky’s fellow students had been killed. Some were as young as fourteen years old. Three staff members were killed, too.
TV Anchor 3: There was confusion, panic, parents desperately waiting to find out: had their child survived?
Veronica: Cameron’s life was changed forever. Suddenly, social media wasn’t just a way to waste time; it was a way to get his own perspective on this terrible event out to the world.
Cameron: I decided to use my social media to speak truth to power and engage others around the country by making sure they understood the gravity of the situation, how they can get involved, marching, getting people to register to vote. Social media is of course is an incredibly important tool in the battle against apathy, specifically voter apathy.
Veronica: Cameron’s dad, Jeff Kasky, saw his son take the kind of action that wasn’t even possible a generation ago.
Jeff: When Cameron came home that night, I knew that he got right to work. I wasn’t surprised. He didn’t consult me; it wasn’t parental activity. It was Cameron expressing himself. I think his first post was on Facebook.
Cameron: It was definitely on Facebook.
Jeff: Which I think was then…just trying to trace it back…was picked up by CNN.
Veronica: Cameron is part of a kind of activist frontier. The first group of young people to be as adept and sophisticated at connecting online as they are offline. And for Cameron and other survivors from Parkland, social media was rapidly becoming serious work.
Cameron: Since then as we’ve created structure amongst ourselves, we spoke about social media, we spoke about demographics, we learned it, we had people in our group who were specifically assigned to figuring out how we can get in touch with certain groups of people. But initially it was just, wind us up and watch us go.
Veronica: It all came pretty naturally to the group, and the world seemed, for once, ready to listen to a bunch of kids who had something important to say. Cameron has about half a million Twitter followers now. His father isn’t surprised.
Jeff: Cameron has always been the world’s child. Long before he was- had a public profile as a result of this. Anything he had to say was worthy of sharing. This is just the way he’s always been. This horrible activity and the event that happened hasn’t really changed the fact that Cameron has always had something very important to say.
Veronica: So hold on. What was that horrible activity Jeff mentioned beyond the shooting itself? You may have already guessed. After the shooting, Jeff saw his son get attacked online at a nationwide scale. Scroll through Cameron’s Instagram and you get a healthy dose of two kinds of comments. On one side, people are saying, “You’re the future of America.” And on the other, people are calling him a “crisis actor” or spewing strings of profanity.
Jeff: We all figured out pretty quickly, all of us, who the trolls were, who the Russian bots were, and who the people who legitimately and honestly disagreed with the opinions were. We were happy to engage people who had a differing opinion from ours, but the people who were just there to cause trouble and to call names…it was a quick lesson.
Veronica: Cameron’s pretty lucky and pretty rare, being a young person who doesn’t feel affected by online haters. And that superpower lets him focus on what matters to him. It’s the possibility of real action, real change, that keeps Cameron working online. And the haters are beside the point.
Cameron: The trolls are very amusing. My father is very, very involved with the political action committee with which he’s working, and I’m very, very involved in activism, and both of those jobs are demanding enough to the point where we do not have enough time to care about what americanpatriotharambe55 has to say.
Veronica: Here’s what Cameron does care about: change. This is not wasting time online; this is internet as an agent of massive change. For starters, he’s working to get young people to actually turn out and vote in the American midterm elections by providing information on absentee ballots for college students, for example, through the website marchforourlives.com. Ironically, Cameron himself will still be too young to vote when the midterms roll around. He won’t be of age until a couple of weeks later. But he’s still a great example of the power young people have to affect political change.
Cameron: Young people have a lot to offer, and while you shouldn’t use what the young people of this country say as your bible for life, you certainly need to open your ears.
Jeff: And on that subject, how old were some of the early decision-makers of this country when they-
Cameron: Oh sure! James Monroe was eighteen at the same time that Lafayette I believe was eighteen. Hamilton was like twenty. The people who have created great change in this country, from the founding fathers to the people with the Civil Rights Movement and the protests on the war in Vietnam, all of them have been young. Young people can bring about great change.
Veronica: As for Cameron Kasky’s dad, Jeff, he’s got an inkling, I think, that all the social media activism and the strength his son has earned by engaging online has been a major education.
Jeff: Cameron has announced that he wants to make it honorable again to be a politician. And so far, in my observation of Cameron for seventeen years, when he wants something badly enough, it’s gonna happen, so I think that he and his friends, and when I say “him” I’m always talking about the whole March for Our Lives group, all twenty plus of them cause they’re all amazing. I believe that they’re going to create a situation wherein it’s honorable again to be a politician. And when that happens, then Cameron may decide at that point to jump in and try to affect the country from that perspective.
Veronica: Thing is, Cameron already has. Since his group’s activism began, more than fifty gun laws have been passed in more than twenty states. I think that’s something any dad could be proud of.
So, Manoush. I wanna bring you back in here. I know Cameron’s case is an extraordinary one but there are some universal truths there, right?
Manoush: You know, on the one hand, I don’t know that we can expect all teenagers or all parents to be quite so clear-minded about all of this. Cameron and his father obviously have a mission, and they are using the technology available to them very focused, laser focused, to get that message across. But for most people, for better and worse, that’s not necessarily what their life is like. Let’s hope none of us have to be thrust into that situation. But I do think on a more mundane day-to-day level, it’s not quite so clear cut, and that is the struggle that I hear when I speak to other parents and teenagers as well. Cameron has obviously taken a horrendous situation and has made his goals crystal clear and therefore anything that isn’t about life or death is superfluous to him, and I still hope there are teenagers out there who are dealing with more teenage, typically teenage problems.
Veronica: In Cameron’s case, parental supervision of online life is almost beside the point. This was a case where the online savvy of the young just carried the day. Cameron is a natural at using social media tools to better the world around him, but we know that not every kid has the same abilities. Not every child develops at the same rate, and not every child has access to adults modeling healthy behavior online and off. So, we’ve got a mini-story about the flip side of things. A story that left everybody wondering, “Where are the grown ups in this situation?”
Lil Tay: Lil Tay here ballin’ in LA. I dropped 200 rack on this car. I’ve been driving this around the Beverly Hills area. I’ve got no license-
Veronica: Those were the dulcet tones of Lil Tay. She built herself as the world’s youngest “flexer,” that’s the kind of internet celebrity that’s basically famous for bragging about their money and awesome lifestyle and-
Lil Tay: Everything here be designer: Gucci, Louis, Versace, and also, when I was six years old-
Veronica: Okay, we get it. She’s not lacking for self-confidence. And sure, the internet’s full of blowhards. What struck people here was that Lil Tay is a nine-year-old girl. She’s not even old enough to legally set up an Instagram account on her own. So, how did this all happen?
When I was nine, the Lil Tays of the world wanted to be movie stars, maybe. But today that hunger for fame feels more immediate. A child might figure their phone can get them there if they can just get which photo filter makes them look the part. Before and after the Insta-famous stream began, though, it’s always parents who play a role in shaping expectations and values.
As Lil Tay’s audience exploded, the media doled out a stream of opinion pieces asking, “Where are the parents?” A lot of those pieces could be boiled down to a kind of moral panic. But, Alexandra Samuel had a subtler take. Alexandra writes a lot about family tech, she’s a regular contributor to publications like the Wall Street Journal and the Verge, and she saw something else going on here.
Alexandra: I mean, I really see the kind of Lil Tay backlash as the intersection of three phenomena that I observe again and again. One is just, we love to criticize parents in our culture. It’s hard to go a week without a new story about “Oh my gosh, this parent let her kid go to the park by herself,” or “Oh my gosh, this parent followed her kid to the park!” Right? Like we love criticizing other people’s parenting. So that’s phenomenon number one.
Phenomenon number two is: we love freaking out about the internet. There is, again, every week, “Oh look, something terrible happened on the internet.” So I think both of those are real ingredients in why there’s a backlash. But you can’t discount the third, which is racism. I mean, there’s a million stupid white kids doing stupid things on the internet, and I do not think it’s a coincidence that the backlash here is against a family of color where there is also, I think, some reflection of discomfort with perceived wealth in the Asian community.
Veronica: In fact, Lil Tay lives in Vancouver, Canada, where backlash against wealthy Asian immigrants has a very long history.
Alexandra: There’s all of the kindling there in the form of how much we love to criticize parents and how much we love to criticize people online, and then you add to that, racist resentment, and bam, you have the phenomenon of the Lil Tay backlash.
Veronica: As Alexandra pointed out, people love to criticize. Online and off. But when she approaches these stories, she makes a point of withholding judgment. Here’s the goal:
Alexandra: Look at a Lil Tay video and not think that her mother is the devil incarnate. I have a choice to make. I can either put the story around this that is about a mother who’s incredibly exploitative and terrible, or I can put a story around this that at least allows me to consider the possibility that somebody’s making choices I may not make but that doesn’t make them a terrible person. And I just think this phenomenon of rushing to judgment is so both human and counter-productive. That we need to disengage and we need to resist it.
Veronica: A little later in the show, we’ll get to some practical parenting advice with someone from Common Sense Media, which I think will shed some light on these choices. But Alexandra has some advice of her own here as well.
Alexandra: The thing that always concerns me when stories break, like the Lil Tay story, is that for some people, the takeaway from that story is, “See, this is why kids shouldn’t be online.” But if you know if you’re really serious about preparing your kids to live in a digital world, you need to offer them the tools to navigate that world, and if the only tool we have to equip our kids for the challenges of the internet is the off switch? We’re not gonna do a very good job of preparing them to live in a world where so much of their lives are lived online.
Veronica: Things may be improving for Lil Tay. After the uproar surrounding her controversial posts, her social accounts have gone quiet and a docuseries was announced recently all about Lil Tay’s personal redemption.
Okay Manoush. I need your brain back in here. So, Lil Tay now seems to be getting rebranded as an apologetic kid who wants a second chance. But I wonder how much autonomy she’s had in all this. Do you feel like Lil Tay’s being exploited by the adults in her life?
Manoush: Oh gosh, I don’t claim to know what the adults in her life had in mind. Maybe they were making a play, maybe she was imitating something they saw, maybe…I refuse to think that I would possibly know what they were hoping to achieve. Maybe they just thought it was funny. Who knows. So…but I do agree with your researcher in saying that it’s not the off switch that is the way to go about with all these things. My whole tack, and it’s what I wrote a book about, was this idea of trying to not say, “Technology bad!” But explain, “Technology why?” How it’s been designed to get us to behave in certain ways, which you know Lil Tay, you know, kids like the likes! Grown ups like the likes. Everyone wants the likes, so what does that mean? How has tech been designed, what are the business models behind that?
The other thing that I talk about in the book is actually trying to understand what happens in your brain when you are not engaging with the internet, and how that’s actually a beautiful thing, too, something we think of as being terrible. Boredom, which can be alleviated by using our technology all the time, is actually a gorgeous amazing thing that happens in your brain, so my hope is that people can, instead of focusing on the negative, let’s look at the why’s and let’s look at the other stuff that’s good that’s going on, too.
But I will say that as a parent, oh my god, it’s like one more thing. You’re expected to volunteer at school and teach your kids how the internet works and explore your psychology when you get likes and don’t forget that Jimmy likes the crusts cut off his…you know what I mean? Never fricken ending. So it’s hard. It is hard. And I think we need to acknowledge that when a researcher makes it sound like, “Well, this is just what you gotta do.” It’s not easy. We need to put that out there. And it’s not gonna be easy, but you know every time that you try, it’s worth it.
Veronica: I’m kind of feeling a serious need to just remember what typical kids and typical parents are dealing with. So I think it’s time to get our exclusive first look at that study from Common Sense Media. Please stick around, Manoush. I definitely want your take on this as well.
Common Sense Media is a nonprofit dedicated to helping kids thrive in the world of media and technology. It’s an absolutely great resource for parents; I’ve been recommending it for years to people. Tons of information to help navigate the endless stream of movies and TV shows and games and apps for kids.
To understand how teens are managing in the age of social media and mobile devices, Common Sense conducted two massive surveys, first in 2012 and then again in 2018, to really start mapping those changes. And now, you’re about to get an exclusive sneak peek at some of the key findings from that study right here on IRL. Walking us through the findings is Sierra Filucci, the executive editor of parenting content at Common Sense Media, and also the parent of two teenagers herself. Hi, Sierra!
Veronica: I’m just looking at some of the numbers you unearthed, and these changes are really worth sharing.
Sierra: Let’s do it.
Veronica: So, from 2012 to 2018, you tracked the number of teens that used social media multiple times a day. And that number doubled in just those past six years. Then, you’ve also pointed out this massive drop in the importance of Facebook, which to me is super interesting. Only 15% of kids are using Facebook as their primary place to connect. And that really shows how much you’ve got to stay on top of what platforms actually matter to them. But beyond those dramatic number shifts, I wanna ask about how it’s all affecting their hearts and their minds. How are these kids doing emotionally and socially in this online environment?
Sierra: Well, I think they’re actually doing pretty okay. Social media is no more likely to make young people feel depressed, less confident, less popular, or worse about themselves in 2018 than it was in 2012, according to our brand new research.
Veronica: Well that’s good news to start. But isn’t there still a worry that all this screen time and connecting through texts and social media is diminishing those important, real-life, face-to-face social skills? Is that a valid concern?
Sierra: We definitely know from this research that teens’ preference for face-to-face communication has declined substantially since 2012, so they used to - about half of teens used to prefer face-to-face communication to all other communication. Now, it’s down to about 32%, which is second to texting. But I think if we think of our own lives, we know that texting has become a much more comfortable way of communicating. I never wanna talk on the phone, personally.
Veronica: Nope, nope!
Sierra: So, I think that that just kind of reflects a larger cultural shift towards digital communication, frankly.
Veronica: So, in that context, the shift feels fairly benign. But in the news, it often feels like this generation of kids must be on a slippery slope towards anxiety and depression. Is that the case?
Sierra: We do know that there is more depression and anxiety being reported by teens. At least in this study, teens are not attributing that to social media use or to digital technology use. We also know that kids are engaged in a lot less risky behavior than they were years ago. So you know…
Veronica: What do you mean? Do you mean like drugs and drinking, that kind of thing?
Sierra: Exactly, exactly. So, less teen sex, less teen alcohol use, less teen drug use.
Veronica: What about the addiction piece? Are kids regulating their own use of smartphones and social media accounts, or is it just kind of running rampant? Are parents having a part in that, too?
Sierra: Oh, absolutely. I mean according to this research, many more kids say they feel addicted to their phones than addicted to social media, so take that for what it is worth. About 47% of kids say they feel addicted to their actual devices versus 24% addicted to social media.
Veronica: How do you handle this kind of thing as a parent yourself? Do you put limits on the amount of technology that your kids have access to?
Sierra: I think that my approach, and the approach that I recommend for other parents, is to stay involved in your teen’s life as much as possible. To approach social media with curiosity rather than contempt. A lot of parents I think don’t understand what’s happening on social media, don’t understand what their teens are doing on their devices, and so they have this really sort of antagonistic relationship. They’re like, “Get off your phone!” You know? It’s like, “Get off my lawn!” And so, I think that that’s really a mistake, and that’s something that can actually cause a weakening of the relationship between parent and teen, which is the last thing you want as the parent of a teenager.
But I guess also I say, understand the platforms that they’re using, even if you’re not going to become an active Snapchat-er, download it on your phone. Understand the basics of how it works so that when your kid is asking you questions, telling you about what they did that day on Snapchat-
Veronica: I got a streak, like an eighteen day streak with Bobby!
Sierra: Exactly! So you don’t sound like a complete idiot when you’re responding to that because teens react very poorly to your misunderstanding of what they’re doing. I think also understand what the red flags are both in their behavior and on the platforms, right? So there are some platforms that kind of breed a more toxic environment, anonymous apps, things like that. Things that are specifically saying, tell me something about myself but I’m not going to tell you who I am. I mean, that’s just breeding ground for mean behavior, for cyber bullying, for all that kind of stuff. So I think it’s important for parents to understand what apps their kids are using, and also I think just that they have a variety of interest. So as a parent, I think you can really help encourage that, right? So it is about setting limits, not letting your kid just hang out in their room on Netflix or Instagram or whatever for hours and hours at a time, but saying, okay, now it’s time for a bike ride or setting up lessons, music lessons, sports lessons, whatever they are so that they have a real balance and variety in their day.
Veronica: So now that we’ve calmed our nerves a bit, when should we be paying special attention? How do we identify kids who may be at risk of mental health issues or cyber bullying, and to that, what kind of supervision or restrictions might actually help those kids?
Sierra: Yeah, well I think that one piece of data that is interesting in this study is that social media has a heightened role in the lives of more vulnerable teens, both positive and negative. So, vulnerable teens report that social media is much more important to them than those who are less vulnerable. But they also report that they have more negative experiences. So we know that among teens generally about one in ten report being cyber bullied or having some sort of serious cyber bullying incident, but with the vulnerable teens, that number is much, much higher. About a third of vulnerable teens report being cyber bullied.
So that is definitely an area of concern, but I think as parents, we probably know if our teens are more vulnerable and therefore need some special attention, and I think the things that we talked about earlier are important. Keeping an eye on their behavior, keeping an eye on any changes in their behavior, any sharp declines in their school performance, having trouble sleeping, kind of hiding anything you know, using their phone in a different way than they used to, maybe there’s tons and tons of notifications coming through that seem really different than what was happening before. And I think just trying to have an overall sense of your kid’s well-being. Just like parents might ask, “How was your day at school?” or “Did you get enough sleep?” or “How are you feeling?” You might also wanna ask, “What’s going on in the world of social media?”
Veronica: How has the study affected the way that you view your own kids’ social media use? Have you changed anything about the way you parent as a result?
Veronica: She’s like, “I already got this on lockdown.”
Sierra: I mean, really the study reflects you know my kids’ lives, and it’s not really surprising to me that they’re using a lot more social media than teens were in the past. I think one interesting factor that we found in the study was that teens acknowledge that devices and social media can get in the way of face-to-face relationships and that they both have trouble putting their own devices down and they’re also annoyed with their friends who can’t put their devices down when they’re having face-to-face relationships. So, you know in many ways, they’re just like us! It’s annoying when somebody won’t put their phone-
Veronica: Teens: they’re just like us.
Sierra: Exactly, exactly. But one thing I wanted to get to was parents’ role in device addiction, if we want to call it that, which is parents are actually using devices just as much as teens are, and so, I think role modeling is a really important factor here. If we want our teens to have more face-to-face conversations and be on their phones less, then we need to model that behavior ourselves.
Veronica: That makes sense. So if parents could take away one thing from this study, what message do you hope really gets through?
Sierra: I hope that parents understand that teens are having positive experiences on social media. That it’s not as scary as we’ve heard, and that the kids might be all right.
Veronica: I love that. Sierra, thank you so much for spending the time here talking about this study. Sierra Filucci is the executive editor of parenting content and distribution at Common Sense Media. We’ve got a link to their study, Social Media, Social Life, along with tips from Mozilla and Common Sense Media to help parents help their kids navigate their experiences online. It’s all in our show notes at irlpodcast.org.
Okay, Manoush. What do you think? Are the kids all right?
Manoush: Yeah, the kids are gonna be alright. Are the parents gonna be alright? I mean, I would love to see the study one asking the parents because when I talk to teenagers, I so often hear, “Well, tell my mom to put her phone away, too.” I think for a lot of us Gen X-ers, millennials, we have some of that, whatever you wanna use, whatever word you wanna use, addictive behavior as well! So to me, it’s not just about getting the kids to be thoughtful about their social media and tech use but to get the parents to take a look at their own habits.
Veronica: I had an interesting experience while Sierra and I were recording this interview. We talked about it a little bit in the context of the interview but also afterwards about how both of us really hate speaking on the phone and calling people on the phone and the sound engineer, who is a father and a grandfather, really took us to task about that and said that, you know, specifically Sierra who’s a mother as well, was setting a bad example for her kids by not having that kind of conversation with people in real time versus just wanting to text them all the time. And that kind of touches on what you said earlier about parents setting an example. Do you feel like even something like texting versus talking on the phone as a parent sets a weird precedent?
Manoush: Yeah, I mean, I have to say that is one thing, I mean, look. I’m a journalist, a broadcast journalist at that. I love conversation because I think what I worry about and what I hear from teachers is that they’re having to teach skills that they’ve never had to teach in classes before, including eye contact, listening, patience, down time. So you know, you can get really good at texting someone back and forth pretty fast, but that doesn’t mean you know how to read social signals, what somebody’s facial expression is signaling to you or what they’re not saying. You don’t learn to read between the lines cause there is no in between the lines.
Veronica: Well maybe we just need to be better at texting. I’m trying to like protect my own texting abilities now. Like, no! Don’t make me talk!
Manoush: You’re in denial I think, actually, Veronica. No, look, I mean, I’m with you. For the day-to-day, I’m with you. I am such an impatient person. Please text me before you call. I don’t have the time. But I appreciate it for the wonderful things it…look. We’re having this wonderful conversation right now, right?
Veronica: We are. And it is wonderful. Thank you, Manoush. Thank you so much. This has been awesome, thank you so much for your insights. We really appreciate it!
Manoush: Oh, it was my pleasure. Love your show.
Veronica: I’m loving your show, too! In fact, for all you podcast fans out there, we’ve got links to Manoush Zomorodi’s new podcast, Zig Zag, and her book, Bored and Brilliant, in the show notes at irlpodcast.org. Make sure to check ‘em out.
Things that weird out adults are non-issues for the young. Nine hours of daily screen time isn’t unusual for a teenager. And a large percentage of toddlers have their own tablets. Add that mammoth change to the fact that we know human brains are beautifully adaptable to whatever environment they grow up in, and you’ve got a recipe for a whole generation with online minds. Pretty soon, nobody will remember life before the internet at all.
But even massive change like that doesn’t change who we are as people. It doesn’t change the fact that grown ups still need to model healthy behavior. These days, that just means healthy media diets in addition to eating your broccoli.
The trick is that, in an online world, digital abstinence won’t ever be the answer. I figure this is the trick, the grown ups who don’t freak out about how new everything are the ones more likely to pass on a little old-fashioned wisdom. They’re the ones who’ll find ways to help their kids grow up without shaking fingers and tutting about kids these days. And it’s their kids who might even feel empowered to use the internet for good like we saw Cameron Kasky doing at the top of the show.
IRL is an original podcast from Mozilla, the organization behind the Firefox browser. Next time on IRL, it’s our season finale: what to expect when you’re electing. Just in time for the U.S. mid-terms, we’re doing a deep dive into all the ways online actors are meddling, tweaking, and obstructing as citizens all over the world race to catch up. We’ve got some amazing guests lined up, including New York Times writer Scott Shane, who just won a Pulitzer for his reporting on Russia’s influence on the 2016 election. Definitely wanna hear his take on how the midterms are gonna go. Meantime, I’m Veronica Belmont, and I’ll see you online until we catch up again, IRL.