For better or worse, today’s digital devices are a gateway to another world. Unfortunately, this world is filled with deceptive people who know the technology well enough to manipulate others into bad situations. So what can parents do to keep their kids safe? In the third episode of a series with Dr. Lisa Strohman, she and the Amens discuss useful strategies to monitor their children’s activities and empower them to understand their virtual playgrounds.
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're here with Dr. Lisa Strohman, a clinical psychologist, author of the book Unplug, founder and director of Digital Citizen Academy, that you can learn more about a DCAkids.org. And I'm just fascinated by your work, and how a young psychologist gets connected to the FBI. You're studying these people who do really evil things, and trying to understand them. But really the trauma that they can unleash on the world, especially to the most vulnerable of our population. What are the dangers, Lisa? If you step back over your career over the last 20 years, what are the things that keep you up at night, that worry you about what's happening in our society?
Dr Lisa Strohman: Well, there's a lot. I don't sleep much because of the work that I do. But I will say that probably the biggest issue I see is that I think that we don't recognize, as the adults in the room, that when our children are attached to devices, that on a given day, that is a gateway into this other world. And so on a given day, you'll have 4.3 million people online that are accessing the same content, the same places. They're traversing those fields that your children are playing in. And even just in the United States, we have about 1.2 million predators online every day that are seeking out pretty girls, vulnerable children, boys that might be angst, all of these things that we're looking at.
Dr Lisa Strohman: And so I used to talk about stranger danger when I very, very first started, and now I talk about tricky people. It's the tricky people that know the technology better than we do, that can find, say on Snapchat, they can go onto the SnapMap. And a stalking case here where a stranger showed up outside of a 12 year old's bedroom window. And they called the police, they caught the peeper, they brought him in, they pulled all of his devices, and then the police, literally, which was just the team that I work with had to go and knock on 16 other parent's doors and say, just want you to know that this guy has an interest in your child, that you have no idea that he was peeping to their windows. And I think that that terrifies me.
Tana Amen: [crosstalk 00:03:20]. I would have invited him in, if he was found outside that window.
Dr Lisa Strohman: Tana, if you feel [crosstalk 00:03:28].
Tana Amen: Good for him anyways.
Dr Lisa Strohman: Yeah. So that's the part that I think that keeps me up at night is understanding that. You know, look, I'm not going to take my 12 year old and drop her off at the gates of a stadium with 80,000 fans and strangers and say I'll be back in four hours. Why, as parents do we think it's okay to send them online with over 4 million people at a given time and think that something bad isn't going to happen.
Dr Lisa Strohman: And to me the only way to approach that is empower the children to understand the rules and understand the playgrounds that they're going into, and the people that are there. And it's a balance between developmentally understanding is it a first grader that I'm going to talk about, you know, being helpful, inspiring and kind online? Or is it going to be, you know, a middle schooler where I'm going to say, look, there's bad people in the world and you need to think about whether or not at 12, you're that interesting. Because you're not going to have another 12 year old talk to you for three hours, because you're not that interesting. And so, you know, how do you do that with kindness and with fun?
Tana Amen: Good point. That's really interesting. Yeah. Our daughter, our 16 year old thinks that we have affectively instilled, as you like to say, an anxiety disorder in her, because she's terrified of everything.
Dr Daniel Amen: I know. Being a child of a psychologist that deals with pedophiles and predators ...
Tana Amen: Well, and a mother who has experienced enough stuff in the world, I'm brutally honest just about what could happen.
Dr Daniel Amen: So what can parents do? What should parents do to protect their kids?
Dr Lisa Strohman: There's a lot that they can do. I think the number one thing that I talk to parents about is be present, and don't love them so much that you miss it. I think that we all love our kids so much and we want to trust that they're good, and that they're smart and that they're making the best decisions that they can obviously with developing brains, but don't miss those signs, those key signs.
Dr Lisa Strohman: And the tricky part is, you know, during puberty, during those years that I always tell parents, I'm like, you know, buckle up, it's going to be messy, it's going to be a bumpy ride and they probably aren't going to like you for a little while. But stay present. Pay attention to what they're doing. So that's the first thing that I tell them is the most important.
Dr Lisa Strohman: And then the second one is do something online where you're monitoring and paying attention to what they are. There's tons of good programs out there. There's [inaudible 00:05:55], which is something that we talked about a little bit. There's Circle with Disney that you can do in the home. We partnered with Family Time on our program.
Dr Lisa Strohman: So there's apps out there and there's programs and units that you can have in your home that you can actually pay attention. And what I say is treat your kids like Vegas, their technology use and say to them like, I'm going to check in just the way that your friends are checking in, and just because I think that you don't always know all the signs that maybe the adults do.
Tana Amen: So, a couple of questions. I want to touch on two things. You said look for the signs. So I'd love for you to just recap that for our listeners. And these apps. Obviously I'm assuming that you have this conversation with your kids, your kids know that you're on these apps.
Dr Lisa Strohman: Yes. I would.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well and I just want to speak to this point. You know, my kids might not like it. And what I've learned is when you supervise children, they don't like it. But they actually hate it more if you don't supervise them because that means you don't care. So it's so critical to be their frontal lobes until theirs develop, and your job is not to be their friend.
Tana Amen: Right. It's to be their parent.
Dr Daniel Amen: Friendship comes, great. But it's to supervise them and to keep them safe and developing in a safe way. It's like, you know, my child said, well, I really want to play football. The answer is no. And it's like, well, but I really want to. And it's like, well, if you really wanted to do cocaine, the answer is still no, because I know it's a brain damaging sport. But a digital addiction is damaging as well, and it can damage this very important part of your brain called the nucleus accumbens that helps you feel joy, that helps you feel pleasure, and also damage your frontal lobes. So you're going to be more vulnerable to addiction of cocaine and heroin and alcohol and cigarettes if you don't take care of often a child's first addiction, which is a digital addiction.
Tana Amen: Yeah. One thing that you said that's really interesting. So we have a pretty good teenager. She was really a hellion as a kid. But she's 16, so she's starting to push on things. And so as you've said, buckled up for one thing recently and I was like, oh, here we go. I just knew it was going to be, you know, just a nightmare. And that was one of those moments where your mom, you're not a friend. And it was like, this is how it's going to be. You're not coming home at one o'clock. This is going to be your curfew. This is how it's going to go.
Tana Amen: And I was just ready. And first, she did the whole, I think a lot of kids do this, but why, I don't understand. She's like, I'm not doing anything bad. And I said, it's okay if you don't understand. You don't need to understand. My job is to keep you safe because I love you. And shockingly, she backed down.
Tana Amen: So I think a lot of parents are ready for their kids to just flip out. And some kids will. But she actually came and she goes, okay, I do understand. I understand. I love you. I don't want to worry you. And I think that if you keep it up, for a lot of kids, they actually do understand. They just want to see how far they can go. But they do like having some boundaries around them. They feel safer, and they don't want to look like the nerd or the bad guy with their friends. It's better if the parent is the bad guy. And I'm okay with that. I'm okay with being the bad guy.
Dr Daniel Amen: You are.
Tana Amen: Yeah, I'm fine.
Dr Lisa Strohman: Well and it's not necessarily being the bad guy. I think it's an excellent point that you bring up that the boundaries that they need, they don't know yet. And so it is your job to parent. And I don't know how many different talk shows I've been on, and I get an applaud from the audience and just making that statement. And I think, no, that's not an applaudable. Everybody should be doing that. We should just be parents and we should understand that it's not my job to make you happy. And make your job is to be a kid, and to understand that I'm in control.
Tana Amen: I will applaud that, yes.
Dr Lisa Strohman: Thank you.
Tana Amen: Because people think it's their job to make their kids happy.
Dr Daniel Amen: And it is not.
Dr Lisa Strohman: Right. It really isn't. And the digital space with these technology, and these devices is ... You know, my daughter is in seventh grade now and she doesn't have any devices. And I said to her, I said, here's the parameters. Of course, she has grown up with me, so I have a huge jar of money for therapy.
Tana Amen: Exactly. That's what I always say. I'll pay for your therapy.
Dr Lisa Strohman: But my reality is I've given her the truth since she was little about here's the reality, here's the issues, here's the system. And I've got two kids, 15 months apart. My son, he pushes the boundaries. He definitely will come in, and he's like, I want to play this game because my friends are all on this game. And so, one of the games he wanted to play was Roadblocks. And my daughter's like, you realize that that's going to put your brain into mush. Like he's ridiculous for even wanting it.
Dr Lisa Strohman: And I said, well let's have a conversation. Let's sit down, let me talk to you about a few of the cases. And he literally covers his ears and he's like, please don't tell me that there's bad people on these. And I was like, well, as a matter of fact, let's talk about ...
Dr Lisa Strohman: But it's giving them a part of some of the why, and some of the line, right? All of the line, some of the why. And I think that what's changed with me is my daughter walks around again, a little bit too terrified, but she'll say, these devices basically track us everywhere we're going, you're dropping me off at a school that you trust. I know that I can go and use the phone in the office at any time. I think it's ridiculous that I need to have that.
Dr Lisa Strohman: So I think that that's important for parents to recognize. If you're paying for private school or you're doing tutoring, you're doing only these things, you know where your kids are. Why do you need to have personal attachment to them at eight, nine, ten? To me it's a bit silly. I get when they're 16, they're starting to travel the world and they're starting to drive. And you know when they get older, there's lot of other things that they need to understand. How do I use this as a tool? And that's one of the biggest signs I will tell, you're asking me about, is if your child is being used by technology and your child is not using technology, that is a huge sign.
Dr Daniel Amen: Wow, that's really powerful.
Tana Amen: Oh I like that. That's really important.
Dr Daniel Amen: All right. When we come back, we're going to talk about more practical tips. And we should also talk a little bit about adult digital addictions because they're everywhere. Stay with us.
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