How do we know when our screen time has crossed the line? From being stuck at home during COVID-19 to the incredible activism happening all over the world, it’s hard to stay away from our phones, tablets, computers, TVs… you name it. Technology is as enticing and mesmerizing as ever, so this week Nzinga explores how we can set boundaries and explains in great detail why it’s so hard to just stop scrolling.
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Here are some other resources Nzinga mentioned in the show:
[00:02] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Hey, everybody, this is Nzinga, and you’re listening to In Recovery. This week’s show is about technology. But I wanted to let you know that we taped it a few weeks ago, before we were in the midst of this civil rights movement in response to George Floyd’s killing. So you won’t hear any reference to that because it was taped before we started going through that. That said, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to talk about Juneteenth, which is coming up this week. So, quick history lesson for those who might not know. June 19th is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. And the name of the holiday is Juneteenth. So while we celebrate Independence Day on July 4th, which was 1776, it was not until June 19th in 1865, so almost a full 100 years later, that slaves were freed. Juneteenth has not been a national holiday, but I think on the heels of the largest civil rights, anti-police brutality, anti-racism movement in the history of the world, which we are in the middle of right now, I encourage all of you to celebrate Juneteenth. So, you know I’m all about resources. So go to www.Juneteenth.com and you can read about the history of Juneteenth, but you can also get discrete opportunities to celebrate. With that, let’s talk about technology.
[01:45] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Hey y’all, it’s Nzinga here and you are listening to In Recovery, a show about all things addiction. This week we’re going to talk about technology, our relationship to it, how that relationship has changed since Covid came around, and what to do when that relationship stops serving us. But before we get to your questions, I have to tell you that we are super excited that feedback is coming in about the show, so thank you so much for that. We are enjoying it so much that Claire and I were like, we need to take some time in each show to talk about feedback or questions that have come up from previous shows. So I introduced myself in the first episode as “language-militant,” and that seemed to really resonate with a lot of people. And so a couple of folks hit me back like, “OK, Dr. Language-Militant, here’s some feedback for you,” which I’m all for. So super shout-out to slow growth, who left a review for the podcast — and this is me unabashedly asking you guys, please go on and leave reviews for the podcast — Adam Woods, who hit me up on Twitter, and Debbie, who left us an email, all three of you gave me really great feedback. I opened up the show and I said, “Hey, guys.” And then probably through the show, because that’s kind of like my talking cadence. I was like, guys this, guys, guys this.
[03:08] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: And I love this feedback, which was “guys” is patriarchal, and doesn’t necessarily reflect, you know, all genders. And, you know, I am down for my LGBTQIA+ people. I consider myself a staunch ally. So I take this feedback to heart. The other feedback was that everybody who is pregnant does not identify as a woman. And I was like, you better put me in my place, Adam Woods, go ahead! You may have heard at the top of this episode I opened it, “hey, y’all,” as a special shout-out to Adam, thank you for giving me words that I could use that would be more inclusive. So keep that feedback coming in because I am all over it. I try to walk the walk as much as I talk the talk, and I need your help to do that. So that was amazing.
[03:54] Claire Jones: Yeah. We love this so much. So keep it coming, everyone. That’s what makes this show better. And it makes it a two-way street between and Nzinga and I and everyone that’s listening. Maybe more of a three-way street. So with that, shall we jump into technology?
[04:10] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Let’s jump in the technology.
[04:16] Claire Jones: OK, so from your professional standpoint, Nzinga, can you tell us a little bit about how technology addiction trends over the past couple of years and decades has changed, and what that does to our social behavior?
[04:30] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Yeah. So I actually went and did a little research because I wanted to make sure I got this right from like the beginning of time. So can you believe the first cell phone came out in 1973?
[04:44] Claire Jones: Is this about to be history lesson?
[04:46] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: No. So rude. Can you let me concentrate? Anyway, so, yeah, the first cell phone came on in 1973. I would have totally gotten that wrong on a game show because I wouldn’t have guessed that the first one came out before I was born. Anyway, it did. In the first 40 years that the cell phone was out, so up until 2013, it went from zero people having a cell phone to about 50 percent of people having a cell phone. If you look at that data today, then 95 percent of people have a cell phone, and 77 percent of those cell phones are smartphones, meaning can go on the Internet and do all of the different things that we do on our phone. So you look at that, that’s just exponential, and tracking right along with that are technology addiction trends. Access has a lot to do with the addictions that we develop. And the more accessible something is, and very, very importantly, the more acceptable something is — so accessible, you can get to it, and acceptable, people aren’t going to judge you for it. Actually, the higher risk that more people partake in that behavior and then the higher percentages that you get an addiction to that behavior. And so the current literature says that addiction to technology is at about two percent prevalence. So we call prevalence — if you look at everybody, what percentage of people would meet criteria for technology addiction? So for every 100 people, there are about two people that would meet criteria for technology addiction.
[06:28] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: And I should say that is exponentially on the rise. Because 40 years ago, that would have been near zero. Before technology was kind of literally at our fingertips. But I should also say, “technology addiction” doesn’t have centrally agreed upon diagnostic criteria. So you hear each show that I talk about, the DSM-5, which is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, version 5, that psychiatrists and other mental health professionals use so that we’re speaking a common language when we give diagnoses. Internet and gaming addiction is in the part of the DSM-5 that says we know this exists, but at the time it was published, not enough literature, not enough research, not enough agreement over what the diagnostic criteria should be to actually lay out the diagnostic criteria. That said, in real life, those of us who are taking care of people are just using a similar set of criteria that we use for substance addiction. And we’ll get into that a little later with one of the other questions that’s coming. But if we look at the trends, I wanted to specifically point out about two percent prevalence, but that varies by geography. That varies by socioeconomic status. That varies by age. And so actually, when we look at the studies, the age group that is kind of at highest risk for having Internet addiction. Claire, you might guess. If I made you put a low age and a high age, what would you guess?
[08:04] Claire Jones: I would say young kids. So maybe. Eight, nine, 10, 11, 12?
[08:11] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: That is a valiant but wrong guess.
[08:17] Claire Jones: OK. Option B. I’m going to call a friend. Maybe middle teenagers, like 15-18?
[08:29] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Exactly. The literature base shows us that the highest-risk group is between 18 and 22 at about eight percent. But 11 to 13 are pulling a close behind them, around six percent. And these are kind of spotty studies that have been done, but with no sufficient power that we can kind of take that. I think, Claire, to your point about the little kids, pediatricians actually do a fantastic job of guiding parents about when to let technology come into kids’ lives and how. And so I think that is probably creating some buffer, along with younger kids have less time to themselves. They get up in the morning, they’re with parents. They go to school, they’re with teachers, or they homeschool and they’re in education. They come home like their time is pretty structured. And so I think that’s probably why we start to see around 11, that’s when parents are giving kids cell phones and tablets and stuff like that. So in short, you guys know you can always count on me for a super long answer. The technology addiction trend is exponential.
[12:16] Claire Jones: So we put a call-out for questions about technology and technology addiction, and the one that we got many times was in all caps, multiple question marks, summed up, “how do I stop? How do I stop looking at my phone? How do I stop scrolling? How do I stop?”
[12:35] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: I mean, and this is the hardest question, right? Like, it’s the same thing when you develop an addiction to anything. The defining feature is that the behavior is compulsive. You feel compelled to do it. Like, if we had to put addiction in a three-step cycle, the three-step cycle would be anticipation, or you might call that craving. The second step would be intoxication or that’s using, when you’re actually getting the dopamine signal. And then the third step would be withdrawal. So you’re not using and you start to get kind of negative feelings or anxiety or anticipation. And then that drives you into the craving, which drives you back into the use, and it becomes this circle.
[13:16] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: What is so difficult about technology, similar to other addictions that are just part of our everyday lives, is that there is almost no place in the world, definitely in the United States, that you can get away with 100 percent technology abstinence. Like technology is such an integral part of our lives. And so I don’t think the question can be, how do I stop, so much as how do I control it, or how do I manage my relationship with technology such that it’s not bringing me negative consequences? And so the first answer to this question, because I feel like this is a question we’re going to get in every episode. The first answer, and I always say this is the first step of AA for a reason, is recognizing that we have a problem. So one is like this is technology is actually bringing me negative consequences. Two, is to literally write down on the list or dictate or type it, whatever your learning style is, what are those negative consequences? And pull them out of your own head, but then also ask the people around you. Because a lot of times people can see negative consequences for us before we can see them for ourselves. Write down those negative consequences. And then what we’re trying to do is — this is what we call in addiction medicine, is trying to develop the “motivation” for behavioral change. And that’s developing the pros/cons list. So right next to the cons, which is negative consequences, you have to write out the list of pros.
[15:08] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: And so what you want to try to get to is how do I keep these pros, some of these pros are only going to come from Internet and technology, and so those are the ones I’m going to keep. How do I mitigate these cons? And so you make a plan around if the con is, for example, I posted my screen time. I think it was something preposterous, like on average, 11 hours a day. I was speechless. I couldn’t even come up with a word for what that was, because honestly, the word that I was gonna come up with was judgmental, like I was about to judge myself. So I choked on it because I didn’t want to do that on the podcast. Help me out, fill in a word there that represents that it’s an issue, but that also doesn’t judge me. Like, tell me what that word is so I can start using it. And so when I make my list of negative consequences from my technology use, the number one is that — and God bless Joel, my husband and my two kids, Zahir and Nasir, they didn’t even know they gave me this feedback. But just like offhand comments. “Mom’s always on her phone.” Or, “can you put the phone down for a second and listen to what I’m telling you?” Or, “you don’t really pay attention when we talk.” Like all of those things, they stab me deep in the heart. So when I put them on my list of negative consequences, that really generates for me, like, oh, I have to figure out a way to be different with this technology.
[16:46] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: And so then once you make your cons list and you make your pros list, and on your pros list, you figure out the ones that you’re going to keep. And on your pros list, you figure out the benefits that you can get for something other than technology. So one of those benefits might be connecting to people. You can get that benefit outside of technology. So you take those benefits that you can get outside of technology and you make a plan for how you’re going to get them outside of technology. Some very concrete suggestions that I use for myself — so that 11 hours is a real number and it is on the up and up with Coronavirus. Because I sit down in front of my computer all day for work. Actually, let me just back it up. My alarm goes off, and the first thing I do is check my email on my phone. I probably work for an hour before I even get out the bed on the phone. Because I can just reach it right there. And so one practical intervention for me is like, put my phone not at the bedside. Because then if I’m already out of the bed, then I’m not going to go out of my way to grab my phone to check my email. That’s one practical intervention. I do my email. I get up. I get in front of the computer. I stay on the computer all day for work. That is just a benefit that I can work from home that is not going to come off of my list. So I’m not even gonna count those hours against me.
[18:25] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Anyway, that’s the intersection of my biggest two issues, which are probably Internet at work. So work is a different conversation. But so I’m going to leave those on my list, but when I finish working, I do this right now, is leave my phone upstairs when I go downstairs to hang out with the family. Because it’s this fear of missing out. Like, what if somebody texts me? What if an email comes in that I need to see? What if something amazing happens on social media that I just had to say, “I’m going to protect this time, which is family time, and I’m going to leave my phone upstairs.” And when I started doing that, you might be appalled to know that eleven hours a day is an improvement for Dr. Nzinga Harrison, because I’m not even kidding, I was up at 14,15 and I sleep eight hours a day.
[19:20] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: So that basically meant almost 100 percent of my waking time was on technology. In summary, because, you know, your girl is long-winded. One, name it. Accept it. This technology is a problem. And actually we’ll point you to some resources at the bottom of the show. But there are scales that actually measure Internet addiction, I think I dropped a couple of them in the links on the show for you. If you even have this question for yourself, go take one of those scales and I’ll give you just like a sneak-peek into some of the questions that are on those scales. Like some of the questions are like, did you stay on longer than you intended? Did you want to be doing something else but you felt compelled to be online? Do you enjoy being online more than you enjoy being with people in person? Is being online affecting your ability to meet your other life roles? Like all of them sound very, very similar to our substance use disorder criteria. But anyway, click on one of those links. And if it’s like, yes, you may have a problem, then make your pros. Make your cons list. Do all of this without judging yourself. Get your loved ones to contribute to your pros list and your cons list. And then do an exercise on that pros list. And remember, the prose is like the benefits that technology is bringing you. Because we’re humans. You hear me say it every episode. We don’t do things that don’t bring us benefit.
[20:52] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: If it was purely negative, you wouldn’t even have to ask the question, how do I quit? Because you would just naturally quit it. You would be like, this sucks. And it brings me no benefit. And so not doing it. So look at those benefits and say, which of these benefits I’m going to continue to get from technology? Which of these benefits am I going to get from something else? If you decide you’re gonna get it from something else, write down your plan. What else are you going to get it from? And get yourself an accountability partner. This is what I’m going to do. And maybe it’s like I’m gonna hang out with you. This is hard in coronavirus because hanging out is, of course, via technology right now. But we’re not going to put that on the negative list. We’re going to subtract that because that’s on our positive list. And then just make it less convenient for yourself. The times that you don’t want to be on your technology, and you should specifically define those for yourself, the time that you don’t want to be on your technology, like make it a hassle to get to your technology. Because if you sit it right next to you and that little alert goes ping! Guess what happens when the alert goes ping? Dopamine signal. Dopamine signal feeds forward to the prefrontal cortex and the prefrontal cortex starts this whole narrative for you. I know you heard that ping. I know you’re trying not to answer that ping. But what if it’s something really important? You could be missing out on something crucial right now. So you should just — I know we said we’re not going to look at the phone for two hours, but you should just look at it. That’s what the prefrontal cortex is going to do to you under the barrage of the dopamine signal that that ping develops. So just get it out. Get it out. If I say I’m not checking my phone from seven to nine because I’m hanging out with the family, I’m leaving the phone upstairs. Because otherwise, as soon as Hulu makes me watch a commercial, I’m picking up my phone.
[22:55] Claire Jones: You need an accountabl-a-buddy.
[22:56] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Accountabl-a-buddy! I want a T-shirt that says accountabl-a-buddy. I love it.
[23:08] Claire Jones: The one place where I will intentionally grab my phone, even if it’s not near me, like I will actually go get it, is if I’m going to the bathroom because I’m like, oh, I’m going to go sit down, so I’m going to check my phone. And then 20 minutes go by and I’m like, what? So now I’ve started to put other resources in the bathroom, like books, crossword puzzles. It’s actually not really true, but I plan on doing that at some point.
[23:33] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: So that’s a strong move, Claire. I used to sit on the toilet with my phone until my legs fell asleep. And then I, like, couldn’t get off the toilet! Like, ahh, pins and needles. That’s a problem. The other reason you don’t want your phone in the bathroom is because it’s nasty. So there are tons and tons and tons. Don’t look them up. Do not even look up the studies on what’s in your phone when you take it in the bathroom. Just take it from me. Leave the phone outside. I’m telling you don’t want to look. And I’m saying that ‘cause I know everybody’s like going to Google right now. It is gross, I’m telling you.
[24:13] Claire Jones: Boom. That’s a great reason in and of itself. Germs. So, there are some people who are able to work from home during this time. And for the group of people that can do that and also have kids at home, this is a question we got from Twitter. How can they manage and explain to their kids how to manage screen time when, as a parent, they’re also on their screens all the time? What’s some language that you can use with your kids to help them understand why you might be limiting screen time or how screens aren’t always super beneficial?
[24:49] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Yeah. No, it’s great. And so a really great resource for this is the American Academy of Pediatrics. So we’ll drop this link in the resources also/ They have guidelines for screen time for kiddos starting from the womb, which basically the recommendation is try not to have any alone screen time, less than 24 months. Screen time with you that is true quality time, there’s some latitude. But then I love this, their number one bullet point is make a technology plan that works for your family. So this is going to be different for every family. And so I think you just talk to your kids kind of like real talk with your kids. Like, listen, mommy doesn’t even want to be in front of the screen as much as she is, but I have to work for these eight hours, and that’s going to happen in front of the screen. I think you can draw a limitation between work screen time. And for kids, that’ll be educational screen time, or school-based screen time. So I think you can draw a distinction between school-based and work-based screen time and fun screen time. We know that there is a dose-response for the negative physical and mental consequences that come from technology use. So part of it just has to do with the blue light that emits from the screen is the most stressful wavelength on your optic nerves. It is the one that is most effective at interrupting sleep rhythm and circadian rhythm. It is the one that is most likely to lead to headaches and worsening of migraines.
[26:28] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: And so even though I’m separating work screen time and play screen time, the whole denominator does add up when you start thinking about the physical consequences of it. And so one of the ways you can try to talk to your kids about it is like it’s so important to me to limit my screen time that I’m actually, because I have to do this amount from work, going to limit some of my play screen time to try not to exceed that threshold. And so the other thing the American Academy of Pediatrics says, which I really, really love, is be a role model. So, you know, like this funny thing was like, do as I say, not as I do. And the kids always do as we do. And so you actually want to like if you are trying to get your screen time under control, measure it. Apple will measure it for you. There’s this great app called Moment, which actually allows you to put stops on per app, measures your screen time, gives you your average, sends you an alert that says, you only want to be on here for two hours and you’re at an hour and 45 minutes. Be very out loud about that with your kids. Like, listen, I’m trying to get my screen time under control. I understand it’s hard. This is what I’m doing. Let’s do this together. These are the times that we’re going to use technology. These are the times we’re not going to use technology. Everybody’s going to put their device on the centralized charger downstairs when we go upstairs for bed so that we’re not at 3 a.m. on our screens.
[28:07] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: We put a little phone and tablet cubby outside the bathroom. Just do it together because they know that technology is like an inextricable part of our lives. And so that’s teaching a bigger coping skill and a bigger life skill, which is like putting healthy boundaries around our behaviors, but also not appearing perfect to the kids. Like, yeah, I’m working on this, too. And did you see my screen time was 11 hours today? Like, if you see me with my phone in my hand downstairs, just politely be like “mom, that’s who we’re going to leave your phone upstairs.” So engage the whole family. Don’t feel like you have to hide it. Understand this is coronavirus, we can’t get out the way that we used to. So screen time might be higher. Call it what it is like. You know what, guys? I know we wouldn’t usually be on our screens this much. We also wouldn’t usually be in the house this much. So we’re gonna give ourselves a little latitude. But know as soon as we get to go out of the house, we’re going to go out the house and we’ve got to leave the screens in the glove compartment.
[29:18] Claire Jones: Yeah, my mom used to do this thing when we were growing up where she would leave the house to go to the grocery store, or really any time as she was leaving the house. You know, my parents, they were the only ones I had cell phones at the time, and she’d just leave it in the glove compartment. And so essentially, she’d only have her cell phone in the car and then in the car again on the way home. And so any time we had to call her, she’d just never pick up because it was only when she was driving and she wasn’t going to talk on the phone while she was driving. So it sort of defeats the purpose. But now it’s like, man, you really knew what you were doing.
[32:21] Claire Jones: OK, so let’s talk about social media for a second. How can you tell when you cross the line between “this is so cool and inspiring. I’m getting some good information or this is a hilarious meme.” And then you cross a line of like, my life is literal trash compared to everyone else that I’m seeing out here. How do we know when we cross that line?
[32:42] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Yeah, man, this is really hard on people. So social media is a very, very interesting conundrum because we’re living in a time where we are the most connected. But then you look at our adolescents and young adults, and depression and anxiety are at all-time high, and feelings of disconnectedness are at all-time high. And social media is independently associated with increased risk for suicide. So it’s tricky. I think our emotions give us a lot of clues. And unfortunately — and I’m talking about the United States experience, I know we have listeners from all over the world. So I would love to hear from you guys if this is kind of the same — from early on, we’re taught to suppress our emotions. And so we’re taught it so early and so repetitively that it becomes a habit such that we don’t even necessarily recognize those emotions. And so the answer to how do I know when we cross that line is really when your social media use starts to be associated with negative anticipation. So remember that three-step process that I described for addiction, which it was anticipation, craving, intoxication or engaging in the behavior, and then withdrawal. So some negative consequence from not doing the behavior, which then drives back to craving and then whips around in a circle. Social media has the same. So if your social media use has gone from. “Oh, you know what? Let me check out what people are up to,” which is positive anticipation, to “ugh. Let me get myself together. I’m going to go on social media and who knows what negativity I might see.”
[34:31] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: That’s your first clue that social media is turning into trash for you. The second clue is maybe you’re like, “oh, yeah, let me check out what people are up to.” And then you go on social media and things that you would usually feel positive about. Like, say, someone is having trouble getting pregnant. And so usually they would see somebody announcing their pregnancy and they would feel happy for them. But now it seems like everything they see on social media is people announcing pregnancy, and that’s causing them pain and sadness, but still compulsively, you’re going back to social media? You’re on that loop. You’re on that loop. And then the other way to know you crossed that line is when you’re doing other things in your life and you’re thinking about social media. Like, what am I missing? I should be posting. That’s that third phase, which is like withdrawal, and withdrawal comes with negative emotions and anticipation and anxiety and like a little bit like crossing into the area of fear or depression. And then you go to social media to resolve those uncomfortable emotions. But then when you get to social media, it gives you more negative emotions. This is when you know you’re in that circle and it’s crossing the line.
[35:52] Claire Jones: Yeah, that makes sense. What about — I’m just thinking about a lot of people who use social media as a source of information or news or things like that. I took a break from Instagram because it was making me feel sad, like it just made me feel like I was not doing enough in my life. And I reactivated it during coronavirus because honestly, my roommate was just sending me a bunch of memes and they were so funny that I was like, OK, I have to get back on this. But then I was like, man, this is actually a really big source of information for me. And I think that’s true for a lot of young people. And so, you know, we get our news from Instagram or Twitter, but if that’s also something that’s negatively affecting us, or we find ourselves in this loop of activating, inactivating, etc., this is sort of an embarrassing question, but it’s a real question. What are some other resources where we can find news in the realms of the things that we care about?
[36:48] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: No, I think that’s a great question. I don’t want you to be embarrassed by that. And the answer doesn’t even have to be off of Instagram or off of Twitter. So let’s be clear: all of these tech platforms — Google, Apple, Android, Instagram, Facebook, blah, blah, blah — literally employ behavioral psychologists to make sure that we cannot stay away. I mean, like they are experts in the neuroscience and the neuropsychology of behavior. And so they are creating an experience that makes us come back. What is great about these apps is that that experience can be curated. And so you can curate your content in a way that takes the negative impact off of you. But you also can dose it. So even though they build it in a way to make us compulsively use it — like they love to see my screen time at 11 hours, they’re like, oh, we got her at 11, let’s get it at 20! We don’t even want her to go to sleep. It’s literally somebody’s job to make sure I stay up all night looking at memes on Facebook.
[38:01] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: But we have to put that dosing in for ourselves. So I would say don’t feel like you have to get completely off if you do feel like you have to get completely off. That is fine. Like, literally your life will be OK if you’re going to do that in breaks. That is also fine. Like, you don’t have to make a forever life commitment, like, I’m never getting on Instagram again. You can take breaks from Instagram. Word of caution: when you get back on, you usually escalate to prior use patterns very quickly. So just write it down for yourself what you want your use pattern to be. But you can get your news. You can get your news just curated. So instead of following everybody who’s talking about Coronavirus, follow a trusted couple of people. Instead of following everybody — like, say you’re into celebrity news. Instead of following all the celebrity news, just follow a couple of trusted outlets. Trusted meaning like you like what they give you, and it gives you entertainment and it brings you joy and it makes you laugh. Like, just follow a couple. If there are a couple of people you know in your real life that you aspire to be more like, but when you see them, overwhelmingly it feels like all of your friends are “doing more,” don’t follow all of those friends. Just follow a couple.
[39:30] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: And then also, this is extremely important, I hope it doesn’t come off with me sounding like a hater, but also follow some people that are aspiring to be more like you. Get in a group of people who have similar struggles that you have so that you guys can support each other and intentionally make that part of your Internet and technology time. So that you’re feeding all of the beasts, and undermining the negativity. So you can curate your experience. I know they pay people to make us feel like you have to do it this way, but all of those platforms, you can curate.
[40:06] Claire Jones: Yeah, that’s really helpful. Are there other questions that you see frequently that people ask you about technology or technology addiction?
[40:14] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: The most common question that I get about technology addiction is one, is it real? So I think we just spent the whole show, the answer to that definitely is yes. Like, I for sure know people who have had severe technology addiction, both in video gaming, also online porn. That’s kind of an intersectional addiction. Online gambling is an intersectional addiction, but literally to the point of like losing their families. So don’t let anyone tell you Internet addiction is not real. And if you’re concerned about it, please drop into one of the quizzes that we put in the show resources. And even if it tells you no, you heard me say this before, even if you do all the questions and it says you don’t have a problem, don’t be like, “whew. Scot-free. Hallelujah.” You went to that quiz for a reason. And so don’t wait until you have a heart attack to change your eating habits. Don’t wait until you meet the criteria to address your own concerns.
[41:16] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: A second question that I very commonly get we touched on earlier, which is about screen time with kids. So, yes, there are legitimately negative outcomes associated with excessive screen times with children. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics has guidelines around it. What I want to make an emphasis on is that alone screen time has a more negative impact than together screen time. So you can use screen time to create quality time with your child. What you want to be really, really aware of is the alone screen time that they have. So definitely like, look out there. I use an app called Bark because I have two teenage boys. So Bark helps me peer into the Internet activity of my kids. Be super upfront with your kids, so when we gave them phones — and we didn’t give our kids phones until they turned 13 — but when we gave them phones — they had iPads before that because grandparents and Christmas. So when they got those, I was like, OK — oh, I should drop a resource to this really great technology contract that my best friend gave me. I was like, “here’s our technology contract. We signed this. And also, please know and understand. I own that device and I own everything that happens on that device. And I am telling you right now that periodically I’m going to peer into your device, and I’m going to bring back to you some constructive feedback about what I see.” And so we set that pattern very, very early on. I used to have — I can’t even remember the name of it now — but an app that usually literally created a mirror of their devices.
[43:05] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: And I could see a mirror of every single thing that was going on. And I would pull it periodically and then I would bring them in. I’ll say, hey, I took a look at your Internet usage today. I just wanted to let you know I didn’t see any red flags. Looks like your use is very responsible. You are spending an appropriate amount of time. Keep up the good work. Next time. Hey, I was looking at your Internet use, here’s what I saw that concerned me. Talk to me about what’s going on here. This is why it concerned me. I will be checking sooner than I usually would just to make sure that this isn’t turning into something that we need to keep our eyes on. Empowering them with what’s safe and what’s not. I’ll tell you a quick story about my niece. A couple of weeks ago, she sent me a TikTok. So TikTok is all the new rage. I’m trying to get cool enough to get on TikTok. I’m not there yet. Any support is welcome. So she sends me a TikTok, and it was concerning. She just would have turned seven. And so it was like some suggestive dancing. She has no idea because she sent it to me, right? She sent it to me and she’s like, ZZ. How do you like my TikTok? And my eyeballs were like, “ooooh, goodness.” So I thought to myself, how am I going to address this? Because I want to keep her sending ZZ TikToks. I text my sister, and I was like she just sent me this TikTok. It’s concerning me. I wanted you to know I’m going to address it with her because she sent it to me. And so I replied, “wow, I love that you send me your TikToks.” And then she was like, “did you like it?” And I was like, “I actually didn’t like it. It worried me.” And she said, “why would it worry you?” And I said, “you’re such a cute little girl, and there are some grown people on TikTok that are not there for good reasons, and they’re looking for cute little girls to take advantage of.” And she said, “what!?” And I said, “yes. So I don’t want you to put any TikTok out that focuses on your private parts” — it was her bum, to tell the whole story — “because that might actually create an unsafe situation for you. And she texted me back, “OK. I’m just deleting this app right now.” And I was like, “no, you don’t have to delete the app. I’m just talking to you about how to be aware and how to safely use the app.” And so I’m happy to report she didn’t delete the app and she said, “OK, ZZ. I understand. I love you and thank you for telling me.”
[45:59] Claire Jones: Wow, that’s perfect.
[46:01] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: And then I sent the screen shots to my sister and I was like, I feel like this went well. But if you’ll just wrap around to her as her mom to see how she feels about it. My sister wrapped back around her and she was like she appreciated ZZ wanting her to stay safe. And now she knows not to put that kind of video on.
[46:19] Claire Jones: Yeah, that’s perfect, because I think that also hits a little bit on the whole approach. Right. Like, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing. Those are not the only two options. It’s like there’s a middle ground where you can make technology work for you in a way that is positive, but you can also mitigate it so that you’re not always getting these negative consequences.
[46:43] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Exactly. Or also. Right. Like, I could have seen that TikTok and I could have texted my sister. “You need to take her tablet. This is unacceptable.”
[46:51] Claire Jones: Right. And it’s like that does not address the actual issue. The issue isn’t technology. I think that’s something that I’ve had to learn, you know, because I’m like, well, I’ll just take a break from this. But at the same time, it’s also so useful. And so there’s so many ways, especially during coronavirus, where it feels really, really beneficial to be able to connect to my family who’s far away, or to friends who are far away, or also to friends who are close by. And so to find a middle ground that works for you is such a good way to still be able to use it realistically and not feel those negative consequences.
[47:32] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: Exactly. The question about the kids — and this is usually the underlying motivation for anybody who’s asking a question about a kid. The question is, how do I keep this child safe? That’s really the underlying motivation. And so it’s not what do I need to get him in trouble for? And part of that is teaching them the skills to keep themselves safe.
[48:00] Claire Jones: OK. So this is a rapid fire question from me. What app, outside of screen time for work, what is the app that you spend the most time on?
[48:13] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: OK. It’s probably Uber Eats. They should pay me. They should pay me for that. Let me see. Besides, Uber Eats, I would definitely say Facebook. And so here’s what’s funny. I was off of Facebook for like the last three months before In Recovery started. And then so I got back on social to pub the show. And immediately I was like, oh, my God, right back to previous Facebooking. I just love it so much. People that I would have no idea what’s going on in their lives, I can see their kids grow up, I can get good ideas from them about how to not have to cook dinner everyday by myself. Like, I know every question comes back to food and I’m actually eating as we’re taping. So I hope you guys don’t hear me smacking on the mic. But, yeah, I would definitely save Facebook. And besides that, the second one is this app called Lasting, which is this app that I love.
[49:18] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: So it’s actually couples therapy in an app. Yeah. And it has like all of these lessons that you go through that like help you with communication, blah, blah, blah. But the reason I use it the most now is because I set for it literally to send me all these alerts. And so it’ll be like alert: did you ask your partner how you can help them today? Alert: be sure you’re being sensitive to your partner’s emotional environment today, like it’s just like beautiful, really great stuff, just like make sure I’m being a good wife to Joel. So that’s like my favorite app because I’m like, oh, yeah, ooh, I’m killing it on that one. Oh, OK. I got some work to do on that one. So I love it.
[50:10] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: So as we bring today’s show to a close, I wanted to end on a super positive note. Here’s an amazingly nice voicemail from a listener, Anna. Thank you so much. And keep the feedback coming and talk to you next week.
[50:32] Anna: Hello. My name is Anna. I just listened to the first episode of In Recovery and I really liked it. I really appreciate Dr. Harrison. I like her compassionate way of speaking. I like the respectful way she explained things. I like the way she was strict about language, and sort of educating us that way. So, yeah, I look forward to listening to more podcast episodes and sending you all the best for safety and peace. OK, bye.
[51:11] Dr. Nzinga Harrison: In Recovery is a Lemonada Media original. The show is produced by Claire Jones and edited by Ivan Kuraev. Music is by Dan Molad. Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs are our executive producers. Rate and review us and say nice things. And follow us @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms, or find me on Twitter @naharrisonmd. If you’ve learned from us, share the show with your others. Let’s help destigmatize addiction together.