If you select the 3rd podcast from Amber Daines in her site above you’re in for a real treat. In May 2017 I discovered how much fun it is to be interviewed by someone like Amber who generates a really interesting conversation by asking great questions. Those great questions lead to invaluable insights which this podcast is full of.
One thing I realised when listening back to the podcast was that sometimes I talk fast…well okay most of the time then. For other Australians this may be OK, but for those who speak ‘english’ in any form other than ‘Australian’ it may not always be easy to understand. If that’s you, or if you prefer reading than listening, here’s the transcript from the podcast – enjoy!
Podcast Interview with Amber Daines – 31 May 2017
Amber: Our guest today is Ruth Dearing – Peaceful Digital Parenting expert, number one international best selling author of How To Keep Your Children Safe Online…And Put An End To Internet Addiction – a topic which we all need to get to grips with as modern parents. Ruth is a public speaker, a black belt in karate and a mother of two. She’s really passionate about helping parents keep their children safe, healthy and balanced online, and she joins us today to discuss the notion of the Politics of Peaceful Digital Parenting. Welcome, Ruth!
Ruth: Hey Amber, thanks so much for having me.
Amber: Absolute pleasure. Well let’s dive in – what is Peaceful Digital Parenting? To me it sounds like an oxymoron!
Ruth: Haha, that’s a good question. So to break it down, Digital Parenting is just parenting in the digital age, so parenting in terms of how your children use technology. Peaceful Digital Parenting is helping your children use technology in a way that they can gain the benefits from it without suffering from the pitfalls. ‘Cos you find that the pitfalls of technology generally create a not-very-peaceful life, not-very-peaceful home.
Amber: Absolutely. Look my children are young, they’re only 4 and 8, but even so they know how to swipe on i-pads and you know, virtually buy things online. So I mean what’s the ‘norm’ for children these days in terms of screen time? I know years ago it was sort of like one hour a day would be enough, but realistically how is that even possible with I guess programming at school and everything being so digital? I mean do these standards need to still stay so strict?
Ruth: I think the standards are important. The standards and the norm are two very different things. So what’s recommended, I mean for kids under 2 years old the recommended amount is zero technology, but the recommendations is not what’s happening. There would be very very few kids that I would be aware of that actually stick to those minimums.
I think in most households the actual usage is far higher than it should be. But different children are different as well. Some children can handle more than others. I think that a lot of mums and parents do turn to technology quite quickly and our kids love using technology, so they will use it as much as they can. Often it’s up to us to draw the line on what’s ok and what’s not or how much – when enough is enough.
Amber: Yes. And I guess on that, is there standards that you’ve come up with? I mean do you generally say nothing for under 2’s, couple of hours for older children and high school, who knows? I mean do you have something that you think generally works, knowing that every child is different?
Ruth: Yeah, yeah. I mean generally it is nothing – I’m a very firm believer nothing for 2 years old or under. Above that, an hour a day up until probably the age of 4-5, from then on up to a couple of hours a day is OK. It really shouldn’t actually go over 2 hours a day, but I mean again, what’s recommended is certainly not what’s happening. On average, you know kids are spending 6hrs, 8hrs a day online.
Amber: Yeah, that’s a lot.
Ruth: It is a lot.
Amber: It’s like a full work day almost, it’s almost like what adults would do perhaps if they had a desk job.
Ruth: That’s it. And I mean it’s not just how much they’re there. It’s the times of day they’re there, and obviously what they’re doing on there. The times of day makes a difference too. As kids get older and become teenagers it’s more about putting time aside when they’re NOT online. So you know obvious times like dinner time, times where it’s just inappropriate, close to bedtime, certainly during the night. That becomes more important as kids get older.
Amber: So what about techno-tantrums? I’ve experienced them in my old household. I mean are there long term risks if we don’t place limits, and I guess known limits that the kids are aware of, when it comes to things like online gaming or even watching TV quite passively? What do you think is the solution there?
Ruth: Yeah, I think that…I don’t know about long term impacts. I had a child who became addicted to playing online games, he got quite into Pokemon in a big way.
Amber: Yes we all know about that one, we had to get that one off the phone pretty quickly I have to say!
Ruth: Yeah, these games are designed to be addictive and they tend to work quite well. I don’t think it’s a long term effect as such, I mean I think it’s something that can be managed. I think that if…I know with my children they – or my son particularly – was online way too much and it was definitely having effects on him. He was having massive tantrums when it was time to get him off the games, and even when he wasn’t playing the games he was running through scenarios in his head and he was just completely obsessed.
Amber: Wow. I mean that wouldn’t be unfamiliar I suppose but when you hear it like that, I mean it just sounds like it’s taking kids away from, I guess reality in a way.
Ruth: It is, and it has a lot of effects. My son was affected quite badly socially by it because he…we’d walk to school together and we’d turn up there and his friends would say hello to him and he just would ignore them. He wasn’t trying to ignore them, I honestly don’t think he was trying to be rude but he just didn’t hear them, like he just wasn’t there. He was so in his head and he was so playing these games in his mind, so he didn’t even have to be actually using a device.
Amber: Wow, that’s incredible. And I guess on that, I mean I know you say you’re not really aware of long term risks. I have read that, you know, a couple of studies have shown that there are, there is signs that generations of people online, and probably more the teenager age, you know that the frontal lobe is actually shrinking, and they don’t really have a lot of capacity for I guess concentration and, you know, that short term-ism I guess is the risk?
Ruth: Yeah, I think there are – actually I probably didn’t answer that very well – there are long term risks. But what I’m saying is that I think that they can be stopped. Like I think that if someone is on their devices too much, I think that if you stop them using their devices so much, then you can minimise those risks. If they continue on (using screens) that much then yeah, sorry, there would be long term risks for sure, definitely – physical, mental, emotional…
Amber: Yeah, and I guess the social which you touched on as well, which is a big one. So in your own experience, you have touched on perhaps the experience with your son about navigating parenting, or guiding parents in this digitally-obsessed world. I read something recently that parents are struggling to switch off their smartphones themselves at mealtimes, so we’re not modelling great behaviour, a lot of people. So, you know a lot of kids will say “Mum, Dad”, get your attention, eye contact, all the things we say we want from the kids, but the irony is they’re saying, well parents aren’t doing it. So I guess it’s gotta work both ways.
Ruth: Absolutely. And I think parents have so much more control than they realise, and so much more…I mean, kids mimic their parents. And we know that when kids are young, you know when you have a conversation and you think your kids aren’t listening, and then two days later they repeat, they parrot back word for word what you just said two days ago. So kids definitely copy their parents.
And kids want their parents to spend less time online. They want our attention and they need that, they crave that. And it is often the parents that are spending SO much time online and prioritising their phones over their own kids. That has a huge impact and of course kids are learning from that, so what do we expect? You know we kind of..a lot of parents are thinking “Do what I say and don’t do what I do” and that just doesn’t work, it’s just not working.
Amber: Absolutely, I definitely agree. I’m very big on no devices and mealtimes. I even know amongst adults, we’ve got a deal on with some friends that whoever pulls their phone out first if we’re out for a nice dinner has to pick up the whole tab, so we try and create those sorts of motivations. But I hear you on the mimicking experience. I guess it’s really all up to all of us to be consistent on that.
We’ll kind of go into some of the platforms. So the pull of social media is big. And in your experience what do you think the right age is to allow kids to go on Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram? Because those safety issues are completely challenging, it’s a first time for most of us to know how to navigate that when you don’t really know who your kids are talking to, what they’re talking about. Are there any guidelines when it comes to social media?
Ruth: Yeah absolutely. I think, I mean the minimal legal age is generally 13, sometimes older with different platforms, but generally it’s 13. Most kids really don’t care about that, and you know on some platforms the majority of users are underage, and they don’t think it’s a big deal.
The reason those minimum ages are there is because kids are not, they don’t have the emotional intelligence to keep themselves safe on social media. And I mean a lot of adults probably don’t either. But certainly kids just, you know they’re going to say silly things, they’re going to share things that they shouldn’t be sharing, things that are going to affect them. They’re going to stuff up – well they are some of them, stuffing up future career opportunities doing some really silly things. I mean you see posts, I’ve seen posts from 16-yr-olds sharing what drugs they’re going to sell at the party that night.
(N.B. – The other reason for minimum age requirements is to do with privacy, i.e. social media platforms are allowed to gather information about their users who are over 13, and if those under the age of 13 lie about their age their privacy is not protected).
Amber: Unbelievable, wow. And they haven’t sort of, I guess had the experience to know what the consequences are yet of that.
Ruth: They just have absolutely no clue about the effects of what they’re actually doing. So 13 is the minimum age and that is there for a reason. In saying that, the problem is that so many kids that are younger want so badly to be on social media.
I mean put yourself in a child’s perspective. If you’re 10 years old and your friends are all on – I won’t say Facebook ‘cos they’re not using Facebook these days, but let’s say they’re all on Snapchat, and there’s a lot of stuff happening on Snapchat and your child REALLY wants to use it. And so they ask you, they say “Hey Mum, Hey Dad, you know I really wanna use Snapchat, all my friends are there” and you say “Look honey, I understand you want to be there but you’re just a bit too young, in a couple of years it won’t be a problem.” So your child goes “Oh ok, all right, fair enough.” But what they’re gonna do, if they really want to be there, they’re gonna just get on there behind your back.
Amber: Right. And how would they do that? Is it ‘cos they’ve got access to phones? Is that the thing?
Ruth: Yeah…it’s not hard at all. I mean kids are very very tech-savvy. Like you say from a young age they’re swiping screens before they’re talking, they’re pretty smart. There’s so many ways around it and there’s plenty of ways they can cover their tracks. You know they can even check in at school, they can use someone else’s device, they can create a user name and password and create an account and you’ll just have absolutely no idea they’re there. And I think the problem there is that if they’re on social media without you knowing, and in an awful lot of cases that is what’s happening, then they can’t come to you for help.
Amber: Yes of course, there’s a bit of…you know then they have to admit they were on there in the first place
Ruth: And then they think they’re going to get in trouble so they just don’t want to, they feel like they can’t get the help but they desperately need that help. So then they’re on there (alone). I think the thing is that when kids ask for access to social media, it’s really about finding out how much do they want it? Do they want it badly enough that effectively they’re just going to get on there anyway, in which case it may be worth giving them…setting the rules up-front, and certainly helping them. Kids need guidance, they can’t be on social media at a young age on their own.
Amber: No of course not, of course not. And I guess that comes down to access, and I think these days most people have more than one computer. So you might, you know traditionally you might have one computer that’s in the living area or in the study that all the family is using. But lots of kids have laptops for school now with internet access and I’ve seen, you know 8 or 9-yr-olds with phones at school. So it’s interesting, I think the access point might be something which we’re giving to them, but we’re not sort of educating them with it. And I suppose I’m looking for some ideas on, is it about parents, is it about teachers, is it about communities? How can we really keep up with what is really a fast-changing system?
Ruth: Yeah, I mean it’s about everyone. It’s a team effort certainly with parents, teachers, kids all working together. I think…I believe it comes down to communication and education. And certainly parents need to understand that there is a lot involved in keeping our kids safe and it is changing so fast, and there is a lot that they need to know. And I think, you know if you’re going to allow your kids to use these devices which they generally are, then giving them the tools they need to be safe is a part of that. It shouldn’t really be viewed as a separate thing. You know I mean people say that “I can’t afford…” or “I don’t have the money to pay for other stuff” but if you’ve got the money to pay for the devices then you have the money, you have the responsibility that goes with that to keep your kids safe and teach them how to use those devices.
Amber: I totally agree. And the do you think, in terms of a practical level, are there any – obviously there’s your book which is a great resource, but are there other sort of practical programs that maybe involve both the students or the kids and parents, so that it’s a conversation that can be started? Because I think sometimes it’s a tense conversation, kids see it as “You’re taking away my social life, or my freedom” so that often, if it comes from a parent, I think can shut down that conversation. And that’s where they might secretly go off and do things.
Ruth: Mmmm, there are some really great resources out there. I’ve actually created one myself because I think there was a gap…I read so many articles (on this topic) and at the end of the article they always say it’s really up to parents to keep their kids safe but they don’t tell parents how, and it’s not an easy thing to do.
So I’ve actually created a course based around that, I actually have a whole 10 week online training course and it guides parents step by step, it breaks it all down into bite-sized chunks that are very easy to understand, about all the aspects of how to keep kids safe online. So we cover things like privacy, monitoring what they’re doing and how to do that EFFECTIVELY – ‘cos we understand kids are so tech-savvy, if you try and spy on them behind their back they’ll just find a way around it effectively!
Amber: Absolutely, I agree. I mean that’s fantastic. I guess it’s about actually taking more control as well I think, sometimes as parents. You know a lot of modern parents are clearly pressured and time-poor, and there’s always an argument I’ve heard from parents as a sort of excuse that well, you know all their future careers are gonna be on tech. You know why wait? So I think, it sounds like we need to step back a little bit? So in your mind is it about less screen time? Or just being more engaged on how they use it?
Ruth: Definitely you have to become more involved in what they’re doing, and have a lot more understanding of what’s happening. I know in my experience with my son and Pokemon, when he was into Pokemon in a huge way, everything he talked about was Pokemon. And for those listening who know what Pokemon is it’s actually quite complex. There’s a lot of different characters…
Amber: Oh it’s like a different language I know, I struggle to keep up with it all.
Ruth: Crazy different language. And while my son was speaking what I call “Pokemon language” and I was speaking in “English language” we weren’t talking the same language. And so what was happening was, I at that point in time really wasn’t interested, I couldn’t care less about Pokemon, and that was pretty obvious to my son. So he interpreted that as, well I don’t care about this thing that is the most important thing in his world. So that kind of came across as then, well I don’t really care about what he’s doing and I don’t, am not really that fussed about him, is the way he was interpreting it.
Amber: OK that’s interesting. So that’s not how, yeah we’re seeing it as well that’s not that important to me, but they’re taking this much more personally.
Ruth: Hmmm…and so one of the HUGE breakthroughs that I had was learning well hang on, if it’s quite clear to him that I don’t care about his world or what’s going on for him, then why should he care about anything that I have to say?
So one of the huge things that I had was I have to actually get involved. And I’m gonna have to grit my teeth and force myself to understand, well what is this Pokemon? What is this language and what exactly is he doing? And you know there are some positives out of it, there’s some certainly not-positives out of it! But you know I had to understand what’s he doing and actually take an interest. And it’s only through doing that that you can start really breaking down these barriers, these language barriers, and actually helping our kids through what they’re doing. And it’s very hard to keep them safe online if we don’t have a clue what they’re doing there.
Amber: I totally agree, we also have to keep up-to-date. And I guess as kids get older, one of the things that seems to be a bit of an epidemic at the moment is with teenagers the online bullying on the rise. So once upon a time I remember, you know some 25 years ago I’d come home from school and the bullying would end at the door. So even if someone had said something or been a certain way to you, you’d go home and you’d be safe. So we’re not there now, we’re basically…it’s carrying on. It’s going on like you say on the devices. People have them in their bedrooms, we don’t really always know what they’re doing. What can I guess the schools, the kids and the parents do to try and combat this?
Ruth: It’s not…I don’t think that bullying is really…well it is a teen thing, but it’s not just a teen thing. It actually starts much younger. I did a talk at a school a little while ago, it was a primary school, so the oldest kids were in year six, or 12 years old. And I asked them to put up their hands who had a mobile phone? And I was stunned that I reckon 90-95% put up their hands. And then I said, leave your hand up if you’re using social media, and I didn’t see any hands go down. And then I said, leave your hand up if you’ve seen some sort of cyber bullying, and again I didn’t see any hands go down.
So this is starting really really young and it’s a cultural thing. I think, you know behind a screen people, kids are not getting that empathy thing, this is a real culture thing. They’re not understanding that there’s someone on the other side of this. And that person might be reading messages and you know, going home and just bawling their eyes out. And then that person might be getting really depressed. Maybe they’re, you know wanting to hurt themselves or do these horrible things, and they just don’t understand the impact of what they’re doing.
One other principal I spoke to recently came up with a fantastic idea and she said she got hold of one of the people that was bullying, was saying nasty things to someone else, and she forced that person, she forced the child to go up to the other child and actually say face-to-face what they’d said online, what they’d written. And that child couldn’t do it. They just broke down and burst into tears and they just couldn’t do it.
Amber: Right, so it’s not dissimilar to I guess, you know we’ve all been in workplaces where perhaps someone writes, you know a slightly tardy or offensive email, but they didn’t bring it up with you in a meeting. Or you know it’s that kind of idea that online is a different world for some people.
Ruth: It’s very cowardly and people are MUCH meaner, people say much nastier things. I mean to say, you see all these messages with kids saying to other people and to other kids you know, the world would be a better place without you, and why don’t you just go kill yourself. I mean I don’t think you’d walk up to someone and say that.
Amber: Wow, well hopefully you wouldn’t. I really feel like it is a dark world and like you say, you’ve gone into schools and seen the reality of how young these kids are who are experiencing it. So any sort of, maybe two or three tips for parents who might be experiencing this with their children?
Ruth: For bullying? Yeah, you’ve gotta know that it’s happening. And a large part of the problem is that a lot of kids don’t tell their parents that it’s happening. And the reason they don’t tell their parents is because they don’t think their parents will deal with it properly or in a good way. They think their parents will make it worse. Largely they think their parents will take away the technology, they’ll take away the phone or wherever it is that the child is being bullied.
Amber: Well that would be one solution I guess, but do you not advocate for that?
Ruth: Um – no I actually don’t. I think that kids are going to be using technology and it’s not about taking it away from them. It’s about teaching them to be resilient there. And I think that the answer for parents, they need to be approachable. Most kids don’t feel like they can approach their parents if they’re in trouble.
So I think the number one thing for parents is to make it very very clear that IF their child is in trouble, if they see any bullying or if they’re the victim of cyber bullying, then they can come to that parent and they won’t get in trouble for it. And their device WON’T be removed because they tell their parent about it. And that is going to make their child far more likely to come to them for help. And that’s step one, I mean you can’t help someone if you don’t know they’re in trouble.
Amber: Absolutely, no I think that’s great practical advice. With your background, how did you get into this field? I mean obviously you’ve found a bit of a niche, but what’s your experience prior to perhaps becoming an advocate for keeping children safe online?
Ruth: It started with my son’s addiction. Because we actually went through a horrible experience, it got really really bad. We got to the point where I was walking to school with him one day and I just wanted to chat, have a conversation, and I couldn’t even talk to him anymore. So I started, I tried to start conversations and he just completely ignored me and made these sound effects and he was having this Pokemon battle in his head. And this one day I just completely cracked it, and I just absolutely started yelling and screaming and just lost the plot with my son as you do. And then I just burst into tears, and it was just one of those moments where I just pretty much hit rock bottom. And I think so often as human beings we have to hit that point before we actually take action and do something about it.
So at that point I realised I just wasn’t willing to keep going as I was, I mean my son was six years old at that time.
Amber: Wow, and that’s young you know and that’s little, and you feel, you know they’re still in some ways so vulnerable, and you have big responsibilities. So from that, how did you actually know how to write the book and put the program together?
Ruth: Yeah, well so he needed help, so I researched a LOT. I googled a lot of information, I put actually a lot of that research into the book, and it occurred to me, I’m a very strong believer I think things happen for a reason. So in my instance I thought well the reason this happened, and we went through this whole addiction thing, was so that I could find a way through it, which I did. I mean now my kids do play online, they are online but they are in a position where they’re in perfect balance. They play a little bit and they enjoy the benefits, they don’t suffer from the pitfalls, and so that’s something that I can now share with people.
But it occurred to me that internet addiction is only one of the pitfalls. I mean you’ve got so many others – with cyberbullying, and with monitoring what they’re doing. Sexting is huge and all this stuff that’s happening, predators…So I actually then researched all the information I could find from experts all over the place. And there are fantastic people online. It’s a minefield online when you look for help.
Amber: It’s almost ironic – you’re going online to find out how to deal with the world online!
Ruth: Yeah exactly, you use technology to help. But I mean one of the things that I’d done too is, I’d got my son through his internet addiction without using technology. We don’t use any apps to limit his time or anything like that, and it’s all…I’m a very firm believer it’s mentoring, it’s all about communication rather than doing the whole ‘big brother’ thing.
So I learnt a lot through the experience and I thought, well I can share what I’ve learnt, and then I can find out what, I can sort through all the stuff that’s online – there’s a lot of repetition, a lot of stuff that’s not overly useful and it takes hours and hours and hours, but I spent that time and thought well I’m going to get the best I can from all the best people that there are. There are experts on social media, and there are experts on privacy, and there are experts on monitoring and all that sort of stuff.
So I’m going to gather it all together and present it in a way to parents that will save them time, that will give them all the information they need in the least possible time and make it really really easy for them to find out what they need to know to keep their kids safe.
So that’s I think where the book has come from, a lot of research. A mixture of personal experience and my own stories but a lot of research online. And my course also, from the same research.
Amber: Yes, terrific ways to get our head around what we need to do as carers and parents. Do you have any mentors or inspirational figures that sort of helped you over your, I guess recent experience, or you know prior to that? You know we’re always the sum of everything that’s happened to us and I guess we always look to others to guide us. Do you have any people or I guess figures that kind of have spoken to you?
Ruth: There’s some people…there’s a guy called Josh Ochs in terms of social media. He’s an American guy, his company is SafeSmartSocial. He’s brilliant when it comes to social media, he’s a really really good guy, completely switched on, he reviews lots of apps and things that are going on, he’s a really really good person, I look up to him a lot.
Ruth: There’s a few others, there’s Devorah Heitner. She’s quite into…she’s also in the States, she’s quite into this whole concept of mentoring over monitoring.
Amber: That’s interesting, I like that idea, that sounds like something where you’re almost working more in partnership with your children, rather than like you say kind of being the big brother that comes in and takes it all away and, you know closes down the conversation I suppose.
Ruth: I think that’s…you’ve hit on a huge key there because it is partnership. We get into this ‘us and them’ mentality with our kids, and I know I was…we do it a lot with monitoring software. It’s a typical thing where we go us and them: well I’m going to put this on there so you can’t see this, and then the child goes well I’m going to get around that, because it’s probably generally not that hard to do. And so then mum and dad go, well I’m gonna find some other way, and we sort of start fighting with our kids. And we don’t realise we’re on the same side, you know we’ve got the same goal. We want our kids to be safe, our kids probably want to be safe and happy, so why are we fighting each other? We need to be…it’s a partnership. It’s a partnership between parents and kids and teachers. All working together of course we can get a better result than not.
Amber: That’s some very positive advice there. To wrap up, it’d be great just to close off by sharing I guess kind of a final take out or manifesto about just some steps and practical tips for carers and parents listening today, or even the kids that might be with them, about what are the politics of Peaceful Digital Parenting really all about?
Ruth: Ooh that’s a big question!
Amber: I guess just some top, you know three or four things that they can be doing today to get this as a partnership, to get this where it needs to be so that you know kids are safe and kids are happy and families are happy too?
Ruth: I think definitely communicating, definitely having quality time. I think a lot of parents, we just, we are really busy and we don’t spend enough quality time with our kids. When you start spending one-on-one quality time with them then you start hearing about things that are going on, and I think that’s a key. I mean I certainly prioritise that. And if you can just, you know it doesn’t even have to be that long. There might be 10, 15 minutes where you just chat to your child and you’re one-on-one with them, and you give them 100% undivided attention. Because normally our kids are talking and we’re sort of like, yeah blah blah blah and we’re cooking dinner or we’re doing the washing or we’re doing something else at the same time. But when you actually fully listen to your child you’d be amazed at how much you find out.
And just from that, just from listening you can learn a lot about what’s going on. You can start raising these conversations. You know you can have…dinner time’s a great time to raise conversations. Often we’ll say, ok we’re at the dinner table, there are certainly no phones around. And we’ll say, ok let’s talk about a good thing, a bad thing and a funny thing that happened in your day today.
Amber: Yeah, so just having conversations I guess, the conversations even about things other than technology help.
Ruth: Exactly. It’s just opening up the lines of communication as much as humanly possible and having these conversations regularly. I think too parents probaby…we stop short a bit, like a lot of parents, you know we say to our kids for example you know don’t talk to strangers online. And then we think well our kids are responsible and I’ve told them not to talk to strangers online so they won’t. And I think we don’t understand well that’s not quite going far enough.
I mean from your child’s perspective, they might say well this person isn’t a stranger because I’ve spoken to them a few times online now, so now I know who they are.
Amber: Yes, yep exactly, there’s a piece of education there as well. They’re still kids aren’t they? At the end of the day.
Ruth: A lot of education, a lot of communication, I think definitely they’re the two key words to keep kids safe, without a doubt.
Amber: Well thank you so much Ruth, that’s been an amazing half hour journey into what Peaceful Digital Parenting can be.