Modern Family Matters

How to Encourage Digital Wellness for Your Children in a Split-Household

October 12, 2023 with Gwenyth Jackaway Season 1 Episode 113
Modern Family Matters
How to Encourage Digital Wellness for Your Children in a Split-Household
Show Notes Transcript

In this podcast episode, we sit down with Digital Wellness Coach and Mindfulness Educator, Gwenyth Jackaway, Ph.D., to discuss how technology has changed parenting tactics over the years, and key steps that parents can take today to model and teach healthy digital habits. In this interview, Gwenyth covers the following:

·        Ways that parenting changed with the advent of social media and the internet.

·        How does how media impact childhood and what are the effects of digital media on childhood development?

·        What are the problems with Screentime contracts?

·        Why it is necessary for coparents to have a unified stance on their kid’s screen time.

·        Non-judgmental conversations with coparent about your kid’s technology use and screen time

·        Socialization and group activities vs. isolation and individual activities

·        Traditional parental controls do not address the root of the problem. 

·        Why imposing blind time limits can trigger reactance and negative behavior when children are ordered around. 

If you would like to speak with one of our attorneys, please call our office at (503) 227-0200, or visit our website at

To learn more about Gwenyth can help you, you can visit her website:

Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice nor does it constitute a client-attorney relationship, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.

Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast devoted to exploring family law topics that matter most to you. Covering a wide range of legal, personal, and family law matters, with expert analysis from skilled attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcast provides answers, clarity, and guidance towards a better tomorrow for you and your family. Here's your host, Steve Altishin.

Steve Altishin  0:32  
Welcome, everyone. I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Client Partnerships at Pacific Cascade Legal, and I'm here today with Educational Consultant, Gwyneth Jackaway, to talk about encouraging digital wellness in our children. Hey Gwyneth, how are you doing today?

Gwyneth Jackaway  0:49  
I'm well, thank you. Thank you, Steve, for that kind introduction. And I'm happy to be here.

Steve Altishin  0:54  
Oh, good. I'm happy you're here, too. I love this topic. Before we start with it, can you sort of tell us a little bit about yourself, you know, and what kind of got you to be where you're doing your stuff now?

Gwyneth Jackaway  1:07  
Happy to. So I'm a digital Wellness Educator. And I'll we'll be talking more in the next half hour about what digital wellness is. My background is that I am an Academic by training. And I spent nearly 30 years as a college professor on the faculty of Fordham University in New York City, which is where I'm coming to you from LA. And my area of training is media history. So I was on the faculty of the Department of Communication and Media Studies. And what I'm most interested in is the impact of new media on the human experience. So communication is one of the things that we do a lot, although how well we do it is a whole other question. But we have language. And we have big four brains, which gives us the capacity to interact with each other in ways that it doesn't seem like the other animals and creatures on the planet half, although they clearly communicate, but they're probably not having conversations about digital wellness, for example, right? So we have this remarkable ability to communicate and allows us to coordinate and collaborate and cooperate and, you know, form alliances and do a lot of wonderful things. And when there's a new way to do it, like the arrival of zoom, or the arrival of social media, the arrival of the alphabet, the you know, the development of the telephone, the development of the television, those are the kinds of questions I'm interested in, how does the human experience change, when we have some new way to share and exchange ideas and meaning. So I looked at that historically, and now I'm very interested in the impact of the new media that we're all using today, and the impact on children and teens and families and students. And I left the college classroom to make a bigger difference in the real world outside of the university, because I started to feel that stuff I was teaching to 20 year olds, maybe had some value for other people as well.

Steve Altishin  3:18  
Like, I love it. So you know, what you're talking about reminds me of me as a kid and me as a parent, you know. It was the sort of you know, you're watching too much TV and it's rotting your brain, and it didn't rot my brain that bad I didn't think, and we said the same thing to our kids. But there's, it almost feels like this isn't just adults understanding youth culture anymore. I think it feels to me like almost a seismic shift in what people can see. Can we talk about just that changing culture of technology and video? 

Gwyneth Jackaway  4:07  
Happy to. So first, I want to echo back to you and mirror I have the same experience. My mom told me to stop watching so much TV. And actually that made me really curious about what was so wrong with it, which is why I went on to get a PhD in communications. So that was my revenge. And then I was too busy reading books about television, which is one of the but um, you know, it's good that you brought that up, because there's certain things that are predictable. And these are patterns that repeat. So you can trace that back all the way to at least the 19th century when the paperback novel became available. And people were worrying about kids reading too much. I know that may sound funny to us now, but you know, what does it look like you're sitting alone, you're not interacting with anyone else. You're not outside exercising, you're not working On the farm, you just sitting and you're going away into some other land, you know this the story. And so there were adults that were worrying about books back then. So some of this is, you know, old people grumbling about kids today, right, because human beings, even though we're fascinated by novelty, we're also resistant to change. And it's this interesting combination, we want a little bit of novelty, but not too much and not too fast, the change shouldn't come too fast. And we've been all living through a time of incredibly rapid technological change. So it makes sense that there's some generational pushback. However, you're absolutely right. This is fundamentally different for a couple of basic reasons. So in order for me to answer that, I need to talk a little bit about neuroscience, and tech design, and also our economy, because all of those things weave together. So let's start with the tech design. So let's think about social media, I'll put well, and we can lump gaming in there to electronic gaming, because it's connected. So the folks in Silicon Valley, utilize something that's known as persuasive design. So there are technological features that are built into the equipment or to the platform or the software or what whoever else, however, you're interfacing with it, that are intentionally designed to hold you, which is called engagement, right? Promoting engagement. And to keep you coming back over and over and over again. Now, when you and I was growing up, and we were hearing, don't watch too much TV, there were people who worried that TV was addictive, but TV wasn't saying, Hi, Steve, based on your previous viewing patterns, we would like to recommend that you watch this thing, right, because they didn't didn't have any way to gather your specific information unless you happen to be in a Nielsen family. And even then that was synonymous. So the content that we were watching, and it's still somewhat true today, although it's a little less true now with streaming, where they do keep track of what you watch. So it wasn't personalized, and when something is personalized, and it says Hi, we know exactly the new thing that you're gonna like, based on all your previous activity, it's it's much more compelling, right. And that's the algorithm A lot of people, you know, we hear that word thrown around, what is it, it's a fancy word for a little mini computer program that keeps track of what you've been doing, and feeds you more of the same. And then predicts based on what you were doing, what you're going to like next. So that and then things like the like button, or the share or retweet or all these kinds of things, but especially if someone likes your picture, or loves your picture, that feels good, right? We all want to be liked, we all want to be loved and social media, particularly the social media platforms, there's a reason they're called social, right, they appeal to our natural desire to be included and appreciated and liked and loved. And so that feels good, right concert. And it also doesn't feel good if somebody doesn't like your picture. So you might take it down and put another one up, right. And all of these things keep you coming back for more. And that's in their interest the platforms because the longer you're on the platform, the more data they can gather about you. And this now feeds into and then in gaming, you get another you get a power up or another life or you get more magic weapons are, you know, you get rewarded for playing the game. And of course, you know, in real life, no one's walking around giving us little gold stars all the time. You know, if you're past kindergarten, so you know, that feels nice. And that's also designed to keep you playing the game longer. And that's part of why the games can feel addictive.

Steve Altishin  9:17  
But that sounds like, and you talked about this neuroscience, I mean, it's they're changing our brains, and you know, my brain can change. That's fine. But I mean, it's got to be interesting, or or, or, I don't know, disturbing of how it's changing a little kid's brain. I mean, from the very earliest moment.

Gwyneth Jackaway  9:43  
Right. All right. So you're right. There are special concerns about the developing brain. So let's first is talking about the neuroscience of, I'm going to call it technological habituation; addiction It is a loaded word and feeling addicted to technology is not the same as being addicted to heroin, okay? It's just literally not the same. And maybe we need another word. But there's certainly a feeling of being attached or being compelled. Or Gee, I really want to check my platform or play that game again, like, you know, that feeling of desire to go back. So what's going on there? A few pieces of neuroscience. So the brain produces various kinds of chemicals that help the different parts of the neurons communicate with each other, and one of those is dopamine. And then there's others serotonin, and oxytocin. And all three of these feel good and different kinds of ways. So when you hold a little baby, or you see a puppy, that's, oh, that's the kind of oxytocin feeling that you associate that with a love, love feeling. Serotonin is more like a burst of pleasure and happiness. And dopamine is really what helps us get things done. It's that feeling of searching and hunting. And so like when you're shopping online, or you're looking for those airplane tickets, or you're playing a game, dopamine helped our ancestors, you know, hunt for food and hunt for mates, and find safety and shelter. We need dopamine, dopamine is very important chemical, and we wouldn't get much done without it. And when you're in good flow of dopamine, it feels good. And then when you get the reward, you have the big dose of serotonin or oxytocin like yeah, you know, they liked my picture. Hooray. So in a way, we're, we're what we're getting addicted to is our own brain chemicals, which is an interesting thing to think about. Okay, so now, when you talk about the developing brain, what children and teenagers lack is a fully developed prefrontal cortex. So I mentioned the prefrontal cortex earlier. And it in addition to being connected with language, it's also about self control, and self discipline, and limit and structure and wisdom and maturity. So and you probably know that the car insurance companies figured this out a long time ago that young drivers have the most accidents. Why? Because their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. So you, at least in the US, you can't rent a car until you're 25, or you pay extra, if you want to rent it. So giving these technologies to small children, or let's say, a elementary school child or a teenager, we give it to them, we the adults hand in the technology, and then we say put that thing down. And you know, they get all involved in it, they like it, they love it, they're having fun, and then we kind of shamed them for using it too much. So that's already a kind of complicated parent child dynamic. And, you know, the real enemy, if there's an enemy is Wall Street, and Silicon Valley, and Madison Avenue, because those three forces, at least in the US, are what drives what is known as the attention economy. So there's 24 hours, there's only 24 hours in a day, and there's so many people who are trying to get our attention. So our attention is one of the most precious commodities in the marketplace. And everyone's yelling for our attention. And they're also yelling for our children's attention, and our teenagers attention. And even though kids and teens don't have a lot of their own disposable income, they influence parental spending significantly. And so Grabbing and holding the attention of young humans will eventually pay off in dividends as those young humans grow up to be consumers or, you know, whine and nag for their parents to buy things. So, and I can talk on more, but let me pause and let you ask me more questions.

Steve Altishin  14:11  
As you keep talking, it feels more and more like, you know, the force, it's, it's this huge force on people directing them. And you know, it may not be Darth Vader, but I mean, a force, andI think here's why we kind of talked about the beginning. It is important for adults to step in, for parents to step in and to at least try to talk with their kids about this kind of stuff. You know, and we're divorce lawyers, and we, you know, we see that divorced parents but other parents as well, I mean, they don't always agree. And you know, the old trope of well you just got to be on the same page, that's what you got to do, you got to be on the same page. And well as divorce lawyer, we realize that doesn't happen a lot as co-parents go on especially. But in a lot of cases they manage that, they manage the fact that they don't necessarily have to agree. So what are parents, you know, whether they're still like in the home, or there are different homes, what are parents able or should they be thinking of doing?

Gwyneth Jackaway  15:43  
Well, let me answer that in two parts. So first, I'm going to answer it in terms of all parents, regardless of their marital status, and I'm a single mom, and same true for single parents whose you know, if the other parent is not at all in the story. So I think there are things for any, and I'll expand this beyond parents because there are grandparents and babysitters. And there's all kinds of adults involved with, you know, as they say, it takes a village, right. So there's a lot of adults involved with raising or shepherding or teaching young humans. So one of the first things that I say to adults who asked me about what can adults do, and I know this is not the easiest feedback, but I think it's the place to start is take a look at your own media habits. Because if all your kids see when they look at you have the time is, you know you're facing for the people on the podcast, I just looked down at my phone, I just held up my phone and look down if if your kids have to compete with your iPad, or your computer screen or your phone for your attention. First of all, there is some research found that young children feel annoyed and frustrated with the mom, mom than dad and like, you're looking at your phone, you're like just a second, just a second. And it doesn't really matter if you're working as opposed to texting your friend or, you know, being on social media, the child doesn't know what you're doing, they just know that this device is in between you and them. So, you know, kids are watching young people are watching and adults have normalized this behavior. Like, you know, I'm in New York City, I walking down the street, I see everyone with their face down. I've seen people riding bicycles looking at phones, of course, I'm on public transportation, every one is facedown. So kids are seeing this as apparently this is normal behavior. So and of course, that means doing some introspection about our own media use. All right, so that's one place to begin. Another thing that I would say is prioritize some non screentime as a family. So whether it's at the dinner table, or if that's too hard, maybe the house has got too much chaos. And not everybody all eats together at the same time. But maybe one meal a week, whether it's, you know, on a weekend or some special night where there's no devices, and there's no television, and there's no newspapers, and you're actually just being co present. And you talk about it, and you say, Yes, we have these devices in our life, and they bring a lot of good things. But it's also important for us to look at each other and say, how are you and what's going on and, you know, actually be connected. And there's a lot of studies that show that makes a huge difference just in terms of helping to lay the groundwork so that if your kids really need you, and there's a problem, there's some foundation of conversation. And in addition to mealtime, you know, do some things together as a family where people are not on their phones, go for a walk, play a board game, you know, whatever it is, spend time with your pets do something where no one is on their screens, so that they can start to see that you can have fun together with other people without an electronic device. So I think part of teaching digital wellness to young people, it's not just about coming up with time limits and being punitive and having a lot of rules. It's showing them that there's a lot of other things that you can do that are fun and engaging and that you make that a priority. I also highly recommend simply talking about the role of screens in our lives and saying, you know, I'm talking about balance. So do you think about an average child's day and it does Do you sleep changes depending on their age, but let's say a school aged child, they're going to be in school for at least six hours or maybe eight. And then hopefully they're sleeping at least that much. And then for the older children, there's homework, and maybe there's after school activities and sports and what's left, and you, you know, you can sit and say to them, okay, these are the hours that are left. If you're not engaging in screen time for all those other things, how much is left? And then what else might we be doing with our time? So I think it's really important not to demonize the technology, because when you demonize something that makes it taboo and certain personality types, like, as soon as you say, Don't open that cabinet, you know, they're gonna want to open the cabinet. So if you say screens bad. I mean, that's what my mom didn't want me to watch TV. So I got really curious about what's the big deal, right. Um, and then you can get into some more specific rules, like, no screens in the bedroom. That can be hard to if that's too hard to enforce, especially as the kids get older than definitely the phone should come out of the bedroom on at least half an hour to an hour before they're gonna start going to sleep. Because you need to let the brain settle down. If they're sleeping with their device near their pillow. As far too many adults do, there's a high likelihood that they'll either be awakened by texts, or they'll sit up at night and be scrolling when they shouldn't be.

Steve Altishin  21:43  
Yeah, that's exactly right. You know, it's funny, I'm the biggest 'Get off my lawn', kind of reaction about kids, but tons of my friends, you know, 60s 70s, they've gotten devices in the last few years after thinking they never would. And now they're the biggest users.

Gwyneth Jackaway  22:09  
Right? Because it's not just children, it's everybody. Because we all have the same, we all have the same neurotransmitters, and we're all driven by very similar basic instincts, right? We want to be connected, we want to be liked, we want to be loved. Plus, for adults, there's all kinds of news content that pulls us in or other kinds of narrative fiction. Now, I wanted to get back to your question about divided households, though. So the reality is, is that wherever when, when we children will learn fairly quickly, once they start going to places outside of the family household that there are different rules in different places, we don't act the same in public that, you know, you don't walk around naked outside, and most places, there are things you can do on buses, or trains and things that you can, there are things that you can do at school and things that you can't. So it's not a huge leap to then start to get them used to the idea that when you're in this household, these are the rules when you're in this household, these are the rules. Of course, it would be ideal if the CO parents could agree on some digital wellness rules or practices or norms for both households. But given that the union has ended, and they've already decided that they can't agree on enough things to stay married, or stay, you know, in one home, it seems like a tall order to say well, you have to be on the same page. However, you know, there may be some non negotiables. So if one parent has strong feelings about certain kinds of video games, or how to talk to their kids about pornography, because you should, which many parents don't, kids are gonna see it, they're gonna find it, it's really easy to get way easier than when you were young. And you know, young humans are curious about bodies, and it's not wrong of them to be interested. But it's useful to give them a heads up about whatever you want to say about it. And, you know, I could go on and some detail about that. But it's possible that one parent or both will have strong feelings about certain media content. So if you feel very strongly that you don't want your child consuming certain kinds of content that the other household and maybe that's a conversation worth having. But, you know, if dad or mom lets their be, you know, fallen at the table and the other parent doesn't. I don't think you can micromanage how the other household works. And so then you say, well, it's different at that house, but in our house, this is how we do it. 

Steve Altishin  24:57  
Yeah, yeah. And we're talking about technology. And I want to get to a project that you're involved with, and kind of interesting, an app, a technical piece of technology. And you know, it's kind of I think, like, you know, fighting fire with fire kind of a thing. And like you said, don't demonize that it's not all bad. But you are associated with this thing called carrots and cake. And talking about it, it's fascinating. And so this is one way it sounds like to sort of, well, I was gonna say, to have your cake and eat it too. But to kind of blend something they're completely used to, into something that's actually really good for them.

Gwyneth Jackaway  25:43  
Great. Thanks for asking me about that. So yes, the name carat. So I'm an educational consultant for a company named keratin cake, which is also the name of their app. And I helped with parent education, which is what we're doing right now. So the name so and you're right, it's an app. And part of why I was happy to join the carrot cake team is they're not anti technology, they're very focused on balance, and helping busy parents who may very genuinely need need to hand the pad to their child while they're on a zoom call for work. Or if you're on an airplane, or you're in a restaurant, or you're in a store, and you know that that will help calm your child and keep them focused while you're doing this other thing. Carrots and cake can help. So the name is linked to that good old fashioned parental advice that you know, the parents advice parents give to kids, eat your vegetables before you get your dessert or do your homework before you play. So the idea is that the carrots part of the carrots and cake would be learning apps. So the N carrots and cake was also created to help promote learning apps, there are plenty of learning apps out there available through you know, wherever you get your downloads that promote learning, some of them are free. Some of them are, you know, a modest price for things like Duolingo, or Sesame Street if they're for younger kids. And then there's there's plenty of learning apps for older kids as well, Khan Academy, and you set it up so that first of all carrots and cake blocks access to the internet. So that's very useful, especially for smaller kids or kids that you don't want them wandering around, it would be like them one, you know, setting them loose in Times Square, you don't really want to let your child loose on the internet when they're very small without some monitoring. So you can set up carrots and cake so that the young person can only access the things you've already downloaded onto the app. And then you set how much time they're gonna have to do some carrots. So maybe they have to do 10 minutes of carrots and K or 10 minutes, or Duolingo or Khan Academy or whatever you've chosen. And then however many minutes and then they can get some cake time. And that and here's where they can have an agency and these are the things that they like to do online, whether it's watch a favorite video or play a video game, or, you know, they may have some apps that they enjoy themselves, and then it shuts off. And then their their time is done. And so the earlier you start with them, the better because a small child understand, you know, things are, it's just you know, you can we're a very little child, you can say oh, well, it needs to take a nap now, you know, but you can explain to older children that this is how much time you get and things and you know, TV shows and movies and books come to an end. It's only online where we have this endless scroll, the bottomless bowl, like a bowl of popcorn that you never stop eating. And that's part of why it feels so habituating because I mean, have you ever gotten to the end of the Instagram scroll? You know, you and I can remember when the TV broadcast day ended, you remember and there was a test pattern, and it went off. And there was no more TV for a few hours. And we don't have that environment anymore. So I think it's important for kids to learn that you get this much time with your device, and then it's over and you have to do something else. And that will get them ready for making healthy choices on their own. And this is a technology that kind of steps in and takes over the technology police role because I think a lot of times parents and kids get into power struggles. And really you're struggling as I mentioned with these big companies, you're not really fighting with your child, they can't they don't have the cognitive capacity to just put it down on their own. And that's why it's useful to use technology to to help in this way.

Steve Altishin  29:48  
So I love that, because you hit that right on the head in that, you know, you're not fighting the kids. I mean, you're fighting Silicon Valley and you're fighting all of those big companies and that's, you know, you need some help. And I really liked that idea. It's reminds me, of course, of do your homework, then you can go watch a show.

Gwyneth Jackaway  30:12  
Right? And that, you know, that promotes delayed gratification. And there's a lot of studies that show that one of the most, the best predictors of successful life is the ability to engage in delayed gratification. You know, you'll eventually get where you're going. But right now, it's hard and keep going.

Steve Altishin  30:34  
Yeah, it's like a healthier version of some of the other apps that are out there. It just, it just feels like it's balanced. And there's always good things when you get balanced.

Gwyneth Jackaway  30:48  
Yes, that's, that's the emphasis. And so before we run out of time, your listeners can, if they're interested, they can have a 60 day free trial. There's, so they should go to keratin, you know, one word carrots and written out a nd carrots and And there will be some instructions to download. And they can use the code matters to go with modern family matters. And they'll be once they download. There's some simple instructions for how to set it up. And then you're all ready to go. And the app is set up for kids from ages three to 10. So that's the that's the primary focus.

Steve Altishin  31:33  
Well, I love it. I love it. And we just blew through our 30 minutes and we could do another 30 but then, you know, someone else would get mad at me. Right? We won't do that. But thank you for being here today. This was really, really a pleasure. Oh my gosh, it was so good. And everyone else. Thank you for joining us today. Thank you for, you know, listening to us. And as always stay safe, stay happy and be well.

This has been Modern Family Matters, a legal podcast focusing on providing real answers and direction for individuals and families. Our podcast is sponsored by Pacific Cascade Legal, serving families in Oregon and Washington. If you are in need of legal counsel or have additional questions about a family law matter important to you, please visit our websites at or You can also call our headquarters at (503) 227-0200 to schedule a case evaluation with one of our seasoned attorneys. Modern Family Matters, advocating for your better tomorrow and offering legal solutions important to the modern family.