Episode 189 | How To Raise Tech Healthy Humans | Daniel Sih
Tackling the biggest challenge of modern parenthood
After more than 7 years of podcasting, this might be the most important episode Team Guru has ever produced.
Raising tech healthy humans is the biggest challenge parents face today.
Technology is an unavoidable part of life. It’s difficult to raise kids who experience humanity in its fullness – because the online world has a gravitational pull. It’s like being caught in a riptide.
“The pull of culture is to draw us into being constantly online – particularly our kids. If we don’t do anything our kids will be sucked out to sea.”
Our challenge is to raise humans who have a love of life – a life that includes the tech world – but goes beyond the tech world. It’s hard for parents to find that balance. That’s the grand challenge.
We’re raising adults, not children. This concept is not meant to neglect the magic of childhood, but to keep in mind the end game – to raise adults.
Downstairs brain v Upstairs brain
Downstairs brain is the lizard brain, the amygdala. This is where our ‘fight, fright or freeze’ responses come from. This is the part of our brain we use to react and respond – like touching a hot stove we pull our hand away quickly.
Upstairs brain includes the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain plays an important role in cognitive functions like creativity, deep thought, morality, attention, impulse inhibition, empathy etc.
It takes time for a human to develop their upstairs brain. It develops based on the repetitive experiences we have. This is why young children have temper tantrums – their lizard brain is in full swing while their upstairs brain is still under development.
The problem with technology, particularly interactive screens, is that it is specifically designed to ramp up stimulation in the downstairs brain – functions that make us fearful and excited – the lizard part of our brain.
Ideally we’d keep tech away from our kids until they fully develop their upstairs brain. But that’s an impractical goal – it’s not the world they live in and they would miss out on the helpful parts of technology.
So how do we manage brain development and access to tech?
“Let’s grade up as they grow up”
National guidelines of screen time in Australia:
0-2 years old – no screen
This is where the brain is absolutely plastic. Every experience children at this age have will shape their prefrontal cortex. Kids who are over-exposed to screen during this period will statistically end up with lower literacy and numeracy skills. It also affect their ability to develop empathy.
3-5 years old – 1 hour per day
But not any screen time – appropriate content. Ideally it would be co-watching with parents.
6+ years – 2 hours per day
Of helpful content with a balance of outdoor activity, exercise, reading and face to face community time.
These are good guidelines to aim for. Take the approach, ‘let’s not miss this by too far.’
“It’s not just about screen time. It’s about giving our kids broad, rich and diverse experiences and recognising that too much screen time, too young, is really counterproductive.”
‘There is no risk to not giving your child a screen.’
Lean Back & Lean Forward Tech
This relates to the downstairs, upstairs brain.
The medium matters.
Lean back tech is the stuff we’ve traditionally had. Like tv. We access it passively.
Lean forward tech is where we’re swiping on a screen, engaging and changing the events. We are active participants. Ipads, smartphone, games etc. Even educational games fit into this category.
Lean forward tech is designed to ramp up the downstairs brain. It’s like giving your kids an amphetamine hit and when they come off the device the hit dies, we get back behaviour and they want more screen time.
When thinking about what type of screen time to give our kids, Daniel advises Lean Back technology – passive technology. It’s almost counter intuitive because with lean forward tech at least they’re ‘actively engaged’. But lean back tech doesn’t ramp up the downstairs brain.
STARTER framework is smart and powerful
S – Start with self
T – Take it slowly
A – Age appropriate set up
R – Regular talk
T – Tech-health rhythms
E – Encourage adventures
R – Rely on others
When should I give my child a phone?
This is the #1 question Daniel is asked when he speaks.
He says that there are three common reasons parents have for giving their child a phone at a young age.
- We want to keep them safe – catch the bus, go to sport etc and I need them to be safe
- They are nagging, the social pressure is tough and I don’t want them to be the last in their social circle
- Our kids need tech because they live in a tech world – we want to get them started
Daniel thinks these three top reasons are myths. He addresses them in detail in his book.
For the SAFETY reason, Daniel praises parents for wanting to keep their kids safe. But the problem he sees is that evidence does not back up why we are doing it. Crime statistics paint a picture of an increasingly safe world.
The unsettling irony is that by putting them online we are opening our kids to a whole collection of real and present dangers that do not exist to the same extent in the real world – grooming, exposure to pornography etc.
And even more tragically, bullying through social media is rife within our society – especially among young people. The #1 cause of death for young people in Australia is suicide – often with a link to online bullying.
“We give our kids phones to make them safe, but it actually makes them more unsafe.”
If you want to be in touch with your kids – to keep them safe – then Daniel suggests giving them a ‘dumb phone’. A phone from which you can make-receive calls and texts – but that cannot access the internet.
Life – an important reference point
Daniel is driven by the importance of slowing down the adoption of tech for kids. He says that it’s important they have a powerful, enjoyable, rich understanding of what life is like without tech – so they have a reference point for those times when tech does become too prominent.
That’s one of the advantages of being a Gen-Xer. We have taken up use of tech right across our lives, but we also have strong memories of what life was like without it. There’s no reason kids of today can’t have that very important understanding. Slowing down the use of tech in early life and replacing it with rich and active experiences is an important gift parents can give their kids.
“Develop the brain first and then add tech”
The most confronting bit
Kids learn their tech habits from us. If we are lost in our phone, addicted to our iPad or similar, they will see it as normal. Our kids copy our behaviour.
Daniel says that we need to put a mirror to ourselves – because we are in the riptide of culture as well.
As important as tech is to the work we do, it is very easy for us to over use it.
And our kids see that.
Nuggets of gold:
- Be kind on yourself because parenting is hard
- Create a vision of a life unplugged – a beautiful life together
Checkout the Parents’ Toolkit Daniel designed to help you.
Connect with Daniel:
Daniel is an award-winning author, productivity expert, and (soon to be) TEDx speaker, with 15 years experience working in senior leadership and strategic consulting roles across Australia and the UK.
His first book, “Spacemaker” won the Australian Business Book Award in 2021 for Personal Development, and has been shortlisted for myriad awards. His newest book, “Raising Tech-Healthy Humans” is a best-selling parenting book to help parents reset their children’s tech-habits and give them a great start to life.
Connect with David:
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