When does it stop being a party and start becoming a problem? Is there a way to steer clear of addiction? Every Wednesday, Mike McGowan, host of the podcast "Avoiding the Addiction Affliction," explores substance use disorders with expert guests. The podcast series is sponsored by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Original cover art created by
Kelly P. of Kenosha, Wisconsin
School Counselor with the Boyceville School District in Boyceville, Wisconsin
The average teenager spends more time in front of a device’s screen than sleeping. As technology becomes more prevalent, the development of life skills are being delayed or lost. Gretchen Pederson discusses what she sees happening to the youth she works with as a school counselor and why she sponsored an evening for her community to discuss the effects of screen time on teenagers. Gretchen is a School Counselor with the Boyceville School District in Boyceville, Wisconsin. The film she showed to her community, Screenagers Next Chapter, can be previewed at https://www.screenagersmovie.com/about-screenagers-next-chapter
[00:00:00] [Jaunty Music]
[00:00:12] Mike: Welcome everyone to Avoiding the Addiction Affliction a series brought to you by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan. Recently I had the privilege of participating in an evening addressing well, for lack of a better term screen addiction and screen addiction among our youth. Today I'm delighted to have as our guest, Gretchen Pederson. Gretchen is a school counselor with the Boyceville school district and Boyceville, Wisconsin. And was the organizer of that evening. Welcome Gretchen. Thanks for joining me.
[00:00:43] Gretchen: Thanks for having me.
[00:00:44] Mike: Well, I think the easiest way to start this out is just by telling us a little bit about what the event you sponsored and why you thought it was important.
[00:00:52] Gretchen: Sure. So we wrote a grant through the Mayo Clinic Foundation to actually bring some money in for this event. Having just, you know, various channels and things, kind of a fascination to technology I've gotten into. Um, I'd gotten into this blog called Tech Talk Tuesday. Um, and they're actually the, um, film creators of the program that we brought to our school.
[00:01:14] So we brought, um, a program called Screenagers Next Chapter, um, to our building, to. Bring some awareness to mental health, to the technology usage, to its impacts, um, that it's having on our teens. Um, and, and just, you know, pre pandemic, post pandemic. I have just been having a lot of conversation with parents and kids, um, and adults just about the increased use of technology and just kind of how its you know, rippling in so many areas of our kids' lives. So it was something that I thought, um, would be really beneficial, especially in our kind of rural community.
[00:01:54] Mike: Well, and you know, the movie, the Screenagers movie is a semi-documentary. Uh, the woman who did it as a physician, is that right?
[00:02:04] Gretchen: Yes. Yeah. I think she's like a family doctor, so right. She meets with kids and families kind of in all states, um, you know, of mental health and physical health and, you know, things like that. So, yeah. Yeah. She has some really good insights and, um, you know, she kind of takes it from a personal lens too, because throughout the documentary she's referring to one of her teen daughters or a teen daughter, who's experiencing some of these issues herself.
[00:02:30] Mike: Well, and that's where it ties into mental health. Right. I've I've, I've read. And I think the documentary also illustrated that. Teenagers spend more time in front of a screen per day than sleeping.
[00:02:43] Gretchen: Yes. Yes. It's interesting. Because ahead of this event, we pulled, um, stat sheets in different, you know, pieces of information to have ready for parents. And at the time, um, one of the statutes that I had came from 2019 and ahead of today, I wanted to just kind of have some and see if there are some more current numbers.
[00:03:03] And, um, from Common Sense Media, I was able to find their 2021 census data. And they've found that on average teens have, are spending about eight, little over eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen. They're spending more time in front of a screen, then they should be sleeping. You know we're still looking at between 8 and 10 hours for teens to be sleeping every night.
[00:03:29] And so it's just this huge amount of time spent in front of, or behind a screen. And that didn't include, I don't believe that number included, you know, technology requirements for homework. So it's just this huge number of, you know, huge, you know, massive time that kids are behind a screen, not engaging with people, not engaging with, you know, their families and things like that.
[00:03:53] Mike: Well, and that's part of what I, I see. And I've heard all year long in the schools I'm in is that for every minute you are in front of a screen is a minute you're not in front of a person.
[00:04:04] Gretchen: Right.
[00:04:05] Mike: I had a principal say to me a couple of weeks ago that they had two classes of kids in the high school. They had seniors and three classes of freshmen.
[00:04:13] Gretchen: Okay.
[00:04:14] Mike: And, and all year long, I've heard 10th graders are 8th graders, 8th graders are 6th graders, 6th graders are 4th graders. Okay. You're nodding your head. Are you seeing the same thing?
[00:04:23] Gretchen: I would very much agree with that. We definitely have seen kind of this delay of, you know, age normed. Skills, abilities, functions, things like that. So, you know, I'm in a middle school kind of wing of our building. Um, and I have, you know, 14, 13 year old, 14 year old, eighth graders sprinting up and down the halls, like, you know, it's NASCAR. So I just, we're doing things that I don't feel are necessarily age appropriate.
[00:04:55] And yeah, I would agree that it seems like there's some delay to some of these, um, the, some of these things that we wouldn't expect out of kids of this age or those ages.
[00:05:04] Mike: Well, and it's interesting because I hear sometimes it being blamed on COVID, but I, you know, I'm in a lot of schools that didn't go virtual, um, that were, you know, maybe for two weeks they went virtual, but they were present in their school during COVID.
[00:05:20] So we've lost or we, yeah, we've lost something, haven't we?
[00:05:25] Gretchen: Right. I definitely agree in our school was, you know, obviously remote for the spring of COVID, but we were, we were back in the building. Um, the following year, we took some time off between Thanksgiving, uh, or we went virtual between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
[00:05:40] Um, you know, so too, we, we by and large have been in the building, but you know, the amount of kids who, you know, have a device or have access to a device, I mean, is the majority I would say. And, you know, being. Um, privy to some of these middle school conversations and having had conversations with different middle school parents.
[00:06:00] The push is it's unusual to not have a device in middle school and you're kind of the weirdo if you don't. And so I was in a meeting earlier this week where a family had said, you know, we didn't really want to get our child the device, but everybody else had one. And they were feeling the pressure to get one also.
[00:06:19] So, you know, we've got this normative idea that our middle schoolers are 12, 13, 14 year olds need to have access to technology. And if they don't, they're kind of the odd man out.
[00:06:31] Mike: Well, certainly, you know, you're not getting, we're not gonna take it away and certainly they do need technology, but, 8 hours a day?
[00:06:41] Gretchen: 8 hours a day. Is it it's insane. It's insane. Yup. Yup. Absolutely. And like you said earlier, I don't think that the pandemic has really played into that. I think it's, again, just this, you know, prevalence, the societal view that this is normal. This is okay. Everybody should do it. You know, and, and that then comes back to, we have parents who don't want to parent.
[00:07:03] We have parents who don't want to, you know, play an active role in their child's life. They would rather, their child just kind of sit in rot in their room, perhaps on a device then than interact with them. So, um, it has become kind of an interesting state of being, just kind of being at the school level and having some of these background conversations with families who are kind of looking for some parenting advice, but that's not, that's not my role. That's not our role. You know, we can only do so much between the bounds of our walls from 8 to 3:30, you know? And I feel like often parents are looking for a little help outside of that time. You know, this is one parents need to step up and kind of parent some of these devices and some of these choices that they've made for their kids.
[00:07:47] Mike: Do we know what all that time in front of a screen, not interacting with people is doing to the developing brain?
[00:07:54] Gretchen: It's harmful. I mean, it has been harming, you know, especially at eight and a half hours a day. I mean, our kids are losing this ability to multitask. They're losing this ability to emphasize they're losing this ability to, you know, focus on any one thing for any length of time. I had again seen a graphic that kind of showed that for every hour, you know, after a certain point. We're losing touch with almost reality too, because you know, we're kind of living in this world of fantasy perhaps, and, you know, we don't recognize some of the consequences of these actions.
[00:08:29] Mike: Yeah. Okay. I know I'm older. And, and so there's people probably going to be listening to this that actually get this, but it's confusing to me that there's people buying clothing, uh, with. To cloth their avatars with online. So it's not even real clothing.
[00:08:49] Gretchen: Right.
[00:08:49] Mike: They're just buying stuff for their online personality.
[00:08:54] Gretchen: Right, right, right, right. And you know, and again, the things that, you know, the time that we have kids on these devices doing things that really have no longevity, they're not learning anything new. They're just kind of attending to this fantastical scenario, solution, game, you know, whatever. And you know, there's no merit to it really, you know, there's no, there's no positive outcome.
[00:09:22] You know, they're, they're not making real money. They're not learning a skill or a trade. Some of these, you know, I get worried as we, you know, look forward to sending these kids out after graduation. And what, I don't know, what is eight hours, eight and a half hours of screen time have to show for a life skill.
[00:09:41] Mike: I don't know. You know, it's funny because during the Screenagers video, they put up a graphic that showed 2011. We see an incredible spike in mental health concerns among teenagers. And that coincides with the barrage onset of social media.
[00:10:00] Gretchen: Right. Right, right. And Screenagers was kind of quick to, to kind of talk about the potential for, you know, increased screen time, decreasing in sleep, you know, kind of, again, we've seen this like uptake in mental health concerns. And I think there was a, there was a physician or a psychologist or somebody who was going to quote it in Screenagers too that was saying, you know, kids who are sleep deprived, present as clinically anxious or clinically depressed they're, you know, They're lacking sleep in its simplest form.
[00:10:32] I mean, and, and, you know, we have kids again who are up constantly. I have been working with families, you know, over the course of the past few years who, you know, who have kids, who won't get out of bed in the morning, arrive at school late constantly. And it's because they're, they're totally, um, you know, buzzed from all of the electronic activity that they've been participating in.
[00:10:53] Haven't slept well. And now we're in a fighting match with mom trying to get out the door every day, you know, and again, they're kind of turning to the school to, you know, what, what can the school offer, what can the school do, and, you know, we need kids to have sleep. We need kids to sleep. They need to sleep well without a device in the room. I appreciate the Screenagers kind of putting together some thoughts on, you know, agreeing to turning off devices at a certain time or keeping devices in a public space. Um, you know, not having devices in our bedroom, but you know, I haven't seen any hard stats, but I'd be curious to see how many kids actually have even TVs and you know, other devices in their room, you know, not even just a cell phone that they're accessing.
[00:11:36] Mike: I had a guy, I had a kid once I was doing assembly and he couldn't wait to tell me this. He was a fourth grader and we were talking about all the different stuff you got in your room. And. He said that he had a TV, a DVD player, two play systems, his own cell phone, a working computer. And he said, uh, he and each had, I've even got a little mini refrigerator in my bedroom. If I had a toilet in there, I'd never have to leave.
[00:12:04] Gretchen: Right, you wouldn't, you wouldn't Mom brings your dinner up and you'd be all set to go.
[00:12:09] Mike: No, that's we call it jail. But, um, that feels like the same thing, you know, in the video. I think they referenced also kids who could be having a really good day and then they check their social media towards the end of the evening. Right.
[00:12:24] Gretchen: Right. And I think, and I, you know, and even as an adult, I mean, I can attest to that.
[00:12:29] You know, there are, you know, obviously pros and cons to technology, but you know, you have to be willing to commit to kind of picking and choosing and pruning what you want to see. Because if you don't, it can easily be overrun with negative, you know, harmful things. And I have that conversation with our middle schoolers when we do different guidance activities related to technology.
[00:12:52] Again, you kind of are the sole creator of what you see online. And if you're not seeing things that elicit, you know, heaviness or positivity or whatever, get rid of it, you know, I, we, we watched some Ted talks on technology and things. One of the, um, women that, uh, we've watched, his has kind of used this term, the highlight reel.
[00:13:15] Um, and she talks about how things that get posted to social media are, you know, the perfect reality, you know, your room looks great, it's picked up, you're decorated, you got the selfie just right. Um, you've got the angle of lighting, everything looks great. But what has, you know, the 500 pictures that you took prior to that looked like?
[00:13:32] Or what does, what does. The room look like that you can't see in these views, you know, it is kind of a false reality of what you see, you know, posted to online. Um, and I, you know, talk about how, you know, I kind of subscribe to that too. I don't tend to take pictures of my children when they're, you know, look like little homeless people running around with crazy hair and they're unwashed and, you know, whatever.
[00:13:55] Um, but I also know that, you know, these pictures, aren't always representative of what is really happening in the background. I talked to them about, you know, removing the content that they don't enjoy. Even if a friend has posted something, they don't have to interact with it. All of these things are kind of at their discretion, but I feel like. There's the sense of pressure that, you know, friend, you know, I always need to reply to my friend or always need to engage in a friend's post, even if it's not something that I agree with. Um, but that comes with being online, you know, and, and again, having to make that call of, am I a good friend?, but you know, agreeing to something that I don't necessarily agree with, um, or am I trying to be good to myself by not engaging with this negative post?
[00:14:39] And I think that's just the hard thing for these kids to kind of figure out, you know, on their own. And I think as adults and educators and, you know, family members, that's part of what we need to kind of help have them help have these conversations with them, um, about these areas. And, you know, recognizing that you don't have to engage with things and you can unlike or unfollow, you know, block, you know, you can do all these really great things to kind of maintain your own sanity and your own mental health.
[00:15:10] Mike: Those are really great points. And of course, you're an adult, right? And let's say you're mature. Let's assume, let's assume that.
[00:15:17] Gretchen: [laugh] Most days.
[00:15:19] Mike: So you know this and you can detach. Like you could look at a Facebook post of somebody in your community, posting the great vacation pictures and know intuitively that they didn't take pictures of the argument at the airport. Right?
[00:15:34] Gretchen: Right, right.
[00:15:35] Mike: If you're 12, 13 and 14, you're comparing yourself all the time. And I think what you're talking about is they don't get that brain development-wise and your job, and you just laid it out. Our jobs as adults is to teach them those skills to help them discriminate.
[00:15:53] Gretchen: Right.
[00:15:53] Mike: And discern what it is they want to watch.
[00:15:55] Gretchen: Right, right, right. They don't know that, you know, their mom and dad or the family of the person that they see on this great tropical vacation has, you know, worked nonstop for the past two years to save up for this vacation. They don't go on a vacation, every, you know, right. You don't, we, we kind of need to remind ourselves that [inaudible]. We can't compare, because that is what social media does. It just creates kind of these platforms of comparison. And that's where our, our teams really fall short in being able to kind of discriminate between what is true and what is not. And, you know, again, by falling prey to some of these things, it's, it can be really impactful for them, you know, to be kind of constantly living in this life.
[00:16:36] Mike: It's the, and it's, you know, it's, if it's our job as adults, It's not just the kids. I mean, you kind of alluded to it before. You know, I, I spend a lot of time walking in and out of school buildings and parent pickup used to be a time where parents would get out of their trucks and chat with one another or you'd hear people laughing.
[00:16:57] Gretchen: Right.
[00:16:58] Mike: I can't remember the last time I heard that, there every, every adult, but you know where I'm going, every adult is in their cars, scrolling through I don't know what they don't even look up.
[00:17:10] Gretchen: Yup. Yup, yup.
[00:17:12] Mike: Adults too. Right?
[00:17:13] Gretchen: Right, right. Absolutely. I think I, I, I find that to be very true, you know, you go to a restaurant and you're waiting for your food and, you know, I often see two people who are like sitting at it, like sharing a meal together, and they're both on their phone, you know? It's like, why even go out then? You know why? Yes, I get it. And it's interesting because ahead of the, is the Screenagers community showing. I showed, kind of a student version to our eighth graders. And I was looking for some of their feedback on, you know, what did they, what did they take away from the video or what are some of the things and one of the questions that I ask them all was what is something that you wished the adults around you knew or understood about technology?
[00:17:57] Um, and a lot of them, you know, a lot of them don't believe technology to be an issue. A lot of them believe technology is a positive for them. It allows them to have conversations that they might not, not might not have face-to-face, it allows them to kind of keep in contact with people that they don't, you know, they may not be at school, might not be in school with anymore, a distant cousin or whomever.
[00:18:19] Um, but it was interesting that a lot of them felt their parents are kind of hypocritical of their technology use, like, I, I'm more, I'm more often than not had commentary that read. You know, "My parent tells me to put my phone away" and yet they turn around and they're on their device into bedtime, after bedtime, whatever, you know, after they've told me to put it away.
[00:18:43] Um, or again, in these situations where, you know, you're out at a social gathering, but everyone's scrolling on their phones. Our kids know this, they see this, they're not dumb. You know, they recognize it. I'm, I'm aware of it. I have a three-year-old and a five-year-old and I feel very in tune to when, when is my time with them? Are they around me? You know, I get it. We need to take social media breaks from time to time, you know, sometimes jumping into, you know, technology or Facebook or whatever is kind of our little decompression from the day. But again, when it becomes this like, "Hey, mom and dad, please get off of your phone. Can you look at me, mom, mom, mom, mom", you know, or you're again, you're out at a family meal, kind of the sacred time, you know, as parents and as adults, we need to be kind of cognizant of our time and kind of working on modeling some of the behaviors that we want our kids to positively participate in.
[00:19:36] Mike: You know, and in every way that we describe addiction, you know, using despite. Uh, adverse consequences, um, using, even though we say we're not going to. Planning our day around it, sacrificing other events so that we can use whatever we're using, the technology fits all of those criteria and, and you're right. The hypocritical nature of it. Kids mentioned that to me all of the time, and they're watching Gretchen, you know, when, when I, I used to tell people whether you go to a wedding. Uh, stop in the middle of the wedding and ask your eight year old. How much, how much you've had to drink. And they'll know, kids count, if an eight year old counts, how many glasses of wine mommy had or, or how many beers dad had, then they're certainly are going to speak up to the hypocrisy of this. So I don't think this is easy to quit, but how do we model these behaviors? What do you want, what do you want to say to parents and kids about modeling the behaviors and taking care of themselves?
[00:20:39] Gretchen: I think as an educator, I want to play a part in the role that our kids become positive members of society, this society that you know, or the community that they live in.
[00:20:50] Um, but. As what you know, with what do, what do I want them to leave school having learned, what do I want them to be able to contribute to society? And I think families need to kind of consider that too. What do they want their adult children to kind of pass on, or kind of leave maybe as a legacy for their, you know, of the family or for the family.
[00:21:13] Um, and they think, you know, kind of coming back as a whole family unit to decide what, what is important to us, is you know, service work important to us, is getting an education and kind of bettering, you know, yourself and those around you, you know, is it important to spend time as a family, through family meals?
[00:21:29] You know, what, what is it that as a family you want, you know, Your kids to partake in and then maybe pass on down the line. Um, and I think, you know, so, you know, modeling these things, setting boundaries, creating limits, um, you know, again, having kind of these expectations that, you know, even mom and dad at whatever nine o'clock, we'll be turning off their device, it stays here and we're not accessing it anymore.
[00:21:53] And again, kind of showing them. You know, these expectations are doable and they apply to everybody, you know? So, um, I, I think our kids again are just little sponges, even, even our teenagers. You know, we, I think we often talk about like the little toddler running around, you know, says the swear word that dad just said and slipped up on or whatever.
[00:22:13] And our teens do that too. You know, they're taking in exactly what we're saying and pumping out to them. So I think if as adults we can kind of model the thing. You know, we, um, prioritize and that we kind of put, you know, above all else, you know, they'll see that too. And I, you know, I'm saddened by the fact that our 12, 13, 14 year olds need to have phones because they think that that's the cool and the right thing to do. Um, when I think like engaging in face-to-face conversation should really be kind of a priority and having some of those social skills and some of those soft skills. So as we turn them loose into society, you know, they can successfully, you know, enter and flourish and do well.
[00:22:55] Mike: I think that's outstanding. And I think it doesn't start with the kids.
[00:23:01] Gretchen: Right.
[00:23:02] Mike: It starts with us, starts with everybody who's listening. Like what decisions are we making?
[00:23:06] Gretchen: Right, right? Yep. Yep. Absolutely. Absolutely. I, I was, um, uh, made aware of a program or a campaign called wait till eighth. So it's a wait till eighth grade, um, to get us or to get a device in general, our eighth graders and younger don't need cell phones.
[00:23:24] They don't need access or unfettered access to the internet. You know, a simple device for our students who maybe are participating in after-school activities. You know, to maybe call somebody to come and get them, or a practice has been canceled and they're coming home or whatever. Um, but again, to kind of normalize the fact that our kids don't need unstructured, you know, adult access to technology prior to that age range.
[00:23:47] Um, and again, kind of working through the conversations that. That technology brings into your house, you know, how do you, how do you respond to, you know, mean or hurtful things, or how do you, you know, get involved when you're noticing things that don't make you feel good? Um, you know, and again, modeling that as from the family structure, from, from the adult perspective. Going out to eat with your significant other family member and engaging in conversation. You know, what a novel idea. I just, yes, I agree. I think from, from the adult societal perspective, you know, we need to start some of those changes. Um, so our kids can kind of follow suit for sure.
[00:24:25] Mike: Yeah, that sounds great. You know, I, I know, I know this isn't the last time we're going to have this conversation because if before we understood, we didn't have rules for things like alcohol and tobacco and other drugs, they would be out of control too.
[00:24:39] This stuff came on us before we thought it through. So we're going to continue to have discussions about this.
[00:24:46] Gretchen: Absolutely.
[00:24:47] Mike: Gretchen, thanks for allowing me to be part of the event. Thanks for joining me on the podcast. This is great.
[00:24:51] Gretchen: Of course. Thanks for having me again. Absolutely.
[00:24:55] Mike: And for the listeners, please listen in next time. When we talk about other issues regarding substance use. Until then, please stay safe and stay engaged.
[00:25:05] [END AUDIO]
The Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition’s mission is to support networking, encourage education, explore gaps, and realize solutions to improve treatment and reduce alcohol and other drug abuse in our community with a primary focus on families.