EP23 Social Media Is Driving Our Digital AddictionCheckable Health
Welcome to part three of our digital series, where we have invited Dr. Nicholas Kardaras to discuss our society’s addiction to social media, particularly in young people, and how it has led to higher rates of psychological disorders and an overall dumbing down of society. Dr. Kardaras is an Ivy League-trained psychologist, entrepreneur, and author. He wrote Glow Kids, which is on the New York Times Bestsellers list, as well as his new book, Digital Madness.
After recognizing that our country is in a health crisis and how it’s due to social media, Dr. Kardaras has been on a mission to educate parents and the public on the psychological implications that unfettered tech use has on young people and what we as a society, can do to solve our digital madness issue.
We will be talking about what happens to young people on a neurological level and how that manifests physically. As well as a look into the deeper facets of the influence of following influencers online has on personality development and how young people view themselves in comparison, plus much more.
Tune in to get an expert’s view on social media addiction and what you can do today to get yourself and your young ones off the screen and into more meaningful social interactions.
Topics discussed in this episode:
- Why Dr. Kardaras chose such a heavy title for his book
- Non-pharmacological antidotes to depression
- What are social contagions?
- The rise in psychological disorders due to social media
- Why social media causes depression and other disorders
- A possible solution to all the digital madness
- How social media is creating black-and-white thinking and its implications
- Importance of in-person interaction for young people
- The echo-chamber of social media algorithms
- What can we do to counteract the toxic influence of social media
- How can parents promote their kids to turn off their devices
- The missing piece of creativity and curiosity
- Dumbing down of our society
- How much does an average YouTuber actually make?
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0:00:00.4 S1: This is a Checkable Health podcast where we create health content information for moms of school-age children so they can thrive in motherhood and in health. Hello, my name is Patty Post, and I’m your host. I'm a mother of 19 years, I've been married for 20 years, and I am founder and CEO of Checkable, a healthcare company that is developing the first at-home strep test with a line of supplements available on our website, checkablehealth.com. Thank you so much for joining me today. This is a third part of our digital series, and today we have Dr. Kardaras. Dr. Kardaras is an Ivy League-trained psychologist. He is an entrepreneur, he has started his own practices and has since exited them. He is also an author of “Glow Kids,” a bestselling, New York Times Bestseller List book about our kids and the digital addiction. And his latest book, which launches today, September 13th, is “Digital Madness.” He wrote “Digital Madness” because he has seen that our country is in a health crisis and it's due to social media, and that's exactly what we are going to talk about today. We're gonna talk about the symptoms of this digital madness, we're gonna talk about the scrolling and the entertainment and the information that we are taking in as parents, but more importantly, the information that our kids are taking in digitally and on social media and how it's affecting them, psychologically, and how it isn't just short-term damage, but this is long-term damage. We also talk about the ways that we can thrive, what are the ways that we can stay active, what are the things that are most important to us as humans that keep us connected and allow us to grow and be better.
0:02:05.7 S1: Dr. K gives us a lot of insight on his expertise as well, and what he has seen in the evolution of social media in the last 10 years, and for me, it was very eye-opening, and since the interview with Bark Technologies, I definitely have parented differently when it comes to digitally. Example that I like to use is no phones in the room after 9 o'clock. 9 o'clock, time to shut it down. You don't need to be on your phone until all hours of the night, and you can find better things to do. But also on a personal side, from recognizing the scroll that I have and the entertainment that when I post something and feeling that urge to check back, and the things that I have done to eliminate that, such as removing the social media app from my home screen and burying it back in a folder in one of the last screens of my phone has really helped me in the last couple of weeks. Remind you that we do have a couple of other episodes. We have the Bark Technologies episode before this, and then we have Dr. Price, who was talking about our sons and our daughters and the development of a teenager and how we can relate to them and better understand them.
0:03:31.6 S1: Thank you, Dr. Kardaras for joining me. It was an absolute pleasure, and I hope that you as audience, will really get to some entertainment value out of these stories, but more importantly, I hope that you're impacted as much as I was about Dr. Kardaras’ stories and his overall wisdom of how we can change this from a mental health crisis to something that we are dealing with and we know how to progress in as we move forward as parents. So with that, let's get into it with the episode with Dr. Nicholas Kardaras. Dr. Kardaras, thank you so much for joining me today on the Checkable Health podcast.
0:04:22.3 S2: Thank you for having me as a guest, it's my pleasure to be here.
0:04:25.3 S1: So, Dr. Kardaras, I actually found you by Googling and trying to find out how can I be a better parent, a better mom in this digital age, and I found you as an author of your first book, “Glow Kids,” and you are a clinical psychologist, you've been really everywhere, like Time and all of the major news networks. And looking at that, I really wanted you to come on and share with our audience about “Glow Kids,” but unbeknownst to me, you have a new book, “Digital Madness,” and so today, that's what we're here to talk about, is your new book, “Digital Madness,” and it is how social media is driving our digital addiction and our mental-health crisis. As I said before, it gives me a little bit of a pit in my stomach when I start talking about this, but...please, what does that mean? Why did you have this heavy, heavy title for this topic? I guess I'm asking a question that's pretty obvious, but please share with us?
0:05:34.0 S2: Well, you know, I think really part of the problem, societally, was that it wasn't that obvious. I think when I first wrote “Glow Kids,” five years ago, I was shocked how under-aware, not just our society or, I'm a parent also, by the way, so I'm in the fight as well. I have 15-year-old twin boys, and it was just shocking to me that people were not really tuned into the fact that we could get habituated or addicted, whatever word you want to use, to our shiny amazing devices that we've all fallen in love with. Let's face it, we're a tech-lubricated society, we've all had a tech love affair and we weren't quite noticing the impact, the clinical impact that was having on our kids, so when I wrote “Glow Kids,” I got a lot of push back from people in terms of like, this is really a disorder? Can people be tech addicted? And that battle has been won I believe in terms of it's been... that question's been asked and answered. Because now, it is an official diagnosis, and I think the clinical community in our society have accepted, yeah, it's a thing, tech addiction is a thing, some are affected more than others, but we're all affected by...
0:06:39.3 S2: Or in the years since “Glow Kids,” we have found out that we're not addicted by accident, so documentaries like the “Social Dilemma,” and even Shawn Parker, the first president of Facebook, they laid out their playbook, they said, Oh, we have used the most evolved and sophisticated behavior-modification designs, dopamine reward loops to get you hooked and addicted to our platforms because we're gonna monetize your experience. So our kids, and we have been the product. We've been monetized by big tech. So the first book “Glow Kids” was, Hey, look, I’m going to show you the clinical research and evidence about how we're addicted to these devices. And now the next book is what is this addiction leading to. So that we're habituated, what's the by-product of that habituation? And what we saw before Covid in 2019, before the pandemic, which really locked us all inside and made us all tech turbo-charged on our screens, we had the worst psychiatric metrics in history. We had the highest depression rates, the highest anxiety rates, the highest suicide rates, the highest overdose rates, the highest ADHD rates in recorded history since we were measuring psychiatric metrics. So when you look at the psych statistics, they were going higher and higher every year over the last 10 to 15 to 20 years, which seem to correlate with our immersion into technology, and the question that again, that I try to answer in “Digital Madness” is what about our tech love affair is making us more anxious, depressed, suicidal, maybe more vulnerable towards other addictions like substance addiction and overdoses, and ADHD and all these other issues.
0:08:24.1 S2: And so what we were finding was that... And by the way, in those last 10 to 15 years, we were definitely ramping up pharmaceutical medication, depression right now is the number one chronic debilitating illness, according to the World Health Organization, and yet we've increased our antidepressant medication by 300%, and yet depression rates are still spiking. So my hypothesis has been, we're living in a society that breeds depression, because the two things as a psychologist that I know that are the antidotes to depression that are non-pharmacological are physical movement. We're meant to be physically active, we need to exercise, 'cause that activates release of serotonin, all those good things. We’re meant to be physically active as we’re a hunter-gatherer species, and we're also meant to have community. To have close face-to-face relationships. Look at what the digital age has done to us, it has made us sedentary and isolated. So those two things, I think are a big part of the equation for why we're a more depressed society, but then as you looked at our psychiatric metrics, we started getting even more interesting and more complex than that. Then you started seeing that there were higher rates of personality disorders, like borderline personality disorder, you started seeing interesting psychiatric outbreaks like Tourette syndrome in young adolescent females that we've never really seen before. There was an epidemic of Tourettes that was happening.
0:09:54.8 S2: So we started seeing that social media was spreading virally, digitally, or however you want to call it. But in psychology, we have a term called social contagion, and social contagions are things that groups spread, Behaviors that are spread by groups. So like smoking is a social contagion, right? If you hang out with a group of smokers, you’re gonna eventually smoke. Suicide can be a social contagion and can be spread by groups. And there's a lot of research about that. So what we started seeing was that influencers, and there were a handful of influencers, I’ll give just one very specific example of what I'm talking about with TikTok Tourettes, which got a lot of publicity in Rolling Stone and the Wall Street Journal. We started seeing these thousands of teenage adolescent females that were showing signs of Tourette's disorder. They were starting to show signs of it in adolescence, and usually Tourette's disorder is three-to-one male to female, you don't really see it in females that much, and you definitely don't see it in adolescence, you see it in early childhood. So their pediatricians thought this was odd, why are these teenage girls all of a sudden having these jerky arm motions and they also have what's called coprolalia, coprolalia is the cursing Tourettes. And when they looked at these teenage girls, they found out that they were all following a handful of influencers who were TikTok influences with Tourette's syndrome, and they had two billion views. So now, what was really fascinating, what was really fascinating, one of these Tiktok Tourettes influencers was British, and so some of the girls started cursing and repeating the same word that she would say with a British accent, so this was like
0:11:40.3 S2: Now, they were mimicking, and I don't know if it was conscious, whether it was conscious or unconscious, I’ve analyzed some of these videos, they were beginning to now mimic back some of these psychiatric disorders in ways that were really unhealthy. And by the way, when I looked at the influencers, I don't think they had Tourette's disorder either. I think that they were performative, I think they were acting out because let's face it, what's the coin of the realm for social media? It's followers, it’s likes. So who gets the most likes? It’s the people who act the most over the top, the most histrionic. If you're gonna act over the top, you're gonna get more followers, the more followers you get, the more over the top you behave, and now the more… Because again, we're a social species that models one another, it's called social learning theory. So now we've created these digital behaviors that are spreading virally through social media. So this was happening, by the way, also for Dissociative Disorder, we used to call that Multiple Personality Disorder, if you go online and look up, there are influencers now who claim to have Dissociative Disorder, as I said what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder, and these are totally if I can be candid, they're not genuine.
0:12:57.1 S1: Yeah, it's like made up...
0:12:58.9 S2: Well they're claiming that they have... Some of them are coming to over 100 identities and real authentic personality of dissociative disorders used to be a sexual trauma in childhood lead a person to create two or three or four alter identites. Remember from the classic movie Sybil or Three Faces of Eve, a person would create three or four identities to protect their true selves from the trauma of the sexual abuse. Typically, you didn't have 50, 60, 100 identities. Now, you have really popular influencers on social media that are having identities across the LGBTQI spectrum, they're 18-year-old black women, they’re 30-year-old white straight men, they're forty year olds, and it's called the host, the host has dozens of these identities now, and the performative part, the part that gets them millions of views and followers is when they do what’s called switching. So when they switch identities, and again, I've worked with genuine dissociative disorder and this ain’t the real thing. These are performative influencers, but what they're doing is now they have followers who are saying, Oh yeah, me too, I've got alters, I got that. So we've seen that with five or six or seven psychiatric disorders. An extension of that now, now if you're really provocative, is school shootings. School shootings are a social contagion.
0:14:20.1 S2: You have lost, empty, young, typically men who are feeling a sense of alienation, a sense of emptiness, a sense of no purpose, and now they see a road map to identity, a sense of purpose, a mission. They see that and this all started, by the way, with Columbine. Columbine was the first Internet-era shooting. Before Columbine, you had the Texas Tower shooting in 1966, where you had one 22-year-old—24-year-old ex-Marine who went up on the Texas Tower and shot 22 people. You had decades of no school shootings and then you had Columbine where Klebold and Harris, the two Columbine shooters, in 1999 or beginning of the internet era, and now you've had a series of Columbine-influenced, Columbine-shaped, Columbine-inspired school shooters and FBI has said this as well. So these are some of the more toxic ways that social media can sink its teeth into people and shape behavior, and of course, I haven't even talked about the eating disorder or the self-image that young girls typically have...their identity being shaped by increasing their eating disorders. We found out that Facebook and Instagram did internal research that showed eating disorders increased by 17% when young girls were on Instagram.
0:15:44.4 S2: Do you remember when we used to say about the fashion industry, that it used to drive anorexia and it was Vogue and it was Kate Moss. And it was the fashion industry that was driving our girls to have eating disorders, and I think to some degree that was true because our media can look as a shaping influence on our behavior. But think about what the fashion industry was back in the 80s and 90s, it was a static magazine sitting on your end table.
0:16:10.7 S1: It wasn't with you all the time. Now it’s 24/7. It's always in their face. And they're always comparing.
0:16:18.0 S2: Right, so that's called the comparison effect, now, the comparison effect is gonna make you, a, more depressed because you're never gonna be as good as these thousands of other people's external idealized selves; these influencers who have...Let’s face it, these influencers have talked about curating artificially luxurious lifestyles that nobody’s going to stack up to. Yeah, and so if you're more depressed, more my life is pretty crappy, I can't look like these Photoshop people, now I've gotta either Photoshop myself or physically alter myself, so that's a whole other contagion spreading about physical body-image issues. Of course, we have the gender-dysphoria epidemic, where a 1000% increase in gender dysphoria. Now, I'm a psychologist who's worked with genuine gender dysphoria, it's a thing, there are people that genuinely have this issue where they aren’t, don't identify to be in their own biological body. It's always been a thing. But it's been a thing that's been a very, very small percentage of the population. I think social media has made it a popular thing, has made it not just destigmatized, not just normalized, but now aspirational to be trans. So, and I’m not the first, Erica Anderson is a trans psychologist who said this has gone too far. She said that with quarantines that increased the dependance on social media through Covid, you have young kids who are now being much more shaped by their social media immersion.
0:17:46.3 S1: More than their families, even because they're spending more time on social media. And their families are like, Who is this kid, right?
0:17:53.5 S2: There was research decades ago that show that Mom and Dad, that unfortunately you and I stopped having the maximum influence on our kids when they reach about 10 or 12. That is pure group that begins to kind of shape them more at about 10 or 11. There's a large study about 30 years ago that looked at that, and so we want to think that, okay and I'm not saying that it's all bets are off after 12 or 13, but then it shifts from I want to be like mom to I want to be like that cool kid at about 10 or 12, and now the cool kids aren't like the kids in the classroom, the jocks or the cheerleaders, now it's the social media influencers that are the cool kids.
0:18:35.7 S1: And they live in different parts of the country, come from a different socio-economic status where it’s completely unattainable
0:18:44.5 S2: So it's like anything else, it’s you're trying to adhere or to try to compare yourself to an idea that's not achievable, so you're always gonna feel less-thanism, and now if you feel empty and less-thanism, how do you fill that void? So now you have people that do things like cutting and drinking and drugging because they feel that. Another part that doesn't get talked about enough is every kid, not just every kid, every human being...I'm a Jungian psychologist, I also believe people profoundly need a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, and the digital age has kinda of vacuumed out meaning and purpose, everything has become so shallow and superficial and polarized and vacuous. Who are we at our core? The agent Greeks used to ask that question, Who am I? What am I? And here would be this moral development that was important and the ethical, the Greek study, the ancient Greek study, ethics and reason. And I believe that these are part of the solutions in this ocean of toxicity that we and our children are swimming in, we're not teaching in schools anymore; civics, ethics, things that I think can act as compasses or life preservers.
0:20:02.2 S2: Critical thinking, by the way, is the other piece that's a lost art because right now the big...all the news is how polarized we have become as a society left and right, and one of the things that's really fascinating that I write about in “Digital Madness” is social media as a medium is shaping of the landscape of the way we process information into polarization buckets. So what I mean by that, historically, if you used to read a book about something, you read something in its complexity that everything tended to not be black and white things, and it had gray areas and everything from politics to history to philosophy tended to have gradations of subtlety and nuance; but there's no nuance in social media because that doesn't rise above the noise. 'Cause as I said before, the loudest people on social media get all the attention. So social media has become almost like a living organism that absorbs our most intense emotional extremes and then spits them back to us in an amplified what's called an extremification loop and others have termed this coin an extremification loop. And so now if I'm a 15 or 16-year-old that's been raised on social media, everything is a 140-character Twitter, little sound bites, everything is now good or bad, red or blue.
0:21:25.4 S2: What we find is in personality disorders like borderline personality disorder, one of the main symptoms is black-and-white thinking, and we see the spike in BPD, so my hypothesis is, have we not begun to shape young people to only be able to see things in black and white, and be highly... The other symptoms of BPD, borderline personality disorder, is to be highly emotionally dysregulated, highly reactive, can be easily triggered, and look at our society today. So I'm saying that I think the societal diagnosis now is borderline personality disorder, fueled by polarizing social media and its algorithms of amplified polarity. It’s really toxic. You know there were theories back…Dr. Postman was a media theorist, an NYU professor back in the 80s that wrote a book “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” and he warned about the new digital medium. Marshall McLuhan warned about the digital medium, what is it gonna do to our society? And so what we're seeing is we’re the sickest that we've ever been mentally, as I said earlier, we're the most psychiatrically unwell, and we're the most polarized and reactive, and so this goes way beyond tech addiction, and that was kind of my thing. We won the debate that technology is addicting, but gosh, what is it doing to our society, to our brain or to our young and to us...
0:22:53.7 S2: To all of us. So that's what I try to highlight in the new book.
0:23:01.2 S1: Are you looking for ways to de-stress in your day-to-day and help you get into a relaxed state of mind? I know I do, which is why I love ashwagandha from Checkable Wellness. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. And adaptogens have been used for centuries in helping the body adapt and thrive, you can check out checkablehealth.com to get some for yourself today. So you can say aah with the help of ashwagandha. A few things that really stand out to me that you said was activity and community two things that... And then the other things of morals, ethics, reasons, in my family, we just moved to a new community about a year and a half ago, and we were really involved in our old church, and now moving... We are getting involved in our new church, but there's not as many teenagers in this church, and I've seen that that disconnection of community for my kids, for my boy specifically, was really hard on them. And so what we are really making a point of doing in our own home is having kids around the table, being able to build relationships to have an adult there as well with the other friends, because having...
0:24:24.3 S1: Even as adults, I move into a new neighborhood and like, Why don't any of you talk to each other? Don't you do like, come over. Sit on my deck. Let's talk about life. And if we're always just messaging on our phones and texting and not even picking up the phone to say hello or in person, it feels like we're just losing what is very... It's the zest of life.
0:24:50.2 S2: Yeah, I think you just hit the nail on the head. And my family has moved a lot recently, too, we’ve moved to a couple of different parts of the country with some of the work that I've done. I've opened up a couple of clinics and like I said, I've got teenage boys and my wife did exactly what you’ve done, she really leaned into getting some other peers over to the house and creating community because you're right, we're a profoundly social species, the old saying was the tribe survived. So it's in our psychological DNA to have a community, and if you don't have community, there's a void, an emptiness, there's an unwellness that happens, and a digital tribe is not the same as an in-person tribe. They did a really interesting study on eye contact and they have found that for an interaction of social interactions to have psychological and emotional resonance, you have to maintain eye contact with somebody at least 70% of that conversation. And what they found was that young people under 25 were only maintaining eye contact 30% of the time, even when they were face-to-face, because of text head and the digital has vacuumed out those social skills of eye contact, and eye contact is profoundly important.
0:26:01.5 S2: You said face-to-face peer interaction is really important. We all need to belong to a tribe, we all want to feel a sense of community, and that's been sort of vacuumed out. I was asked to testify to some expert witness in a really horrible... I don’t want to bring down the mood here, but there was a really horrible capital murder that happened in Palm Beach County three years ago, and they just went to trial recently. I was an expert with this in this case because it was a YouTube defense. It was a young kid, it was a suburban kid in Palm Beach County who had been brainwashed, essentially, he was an outlaw, an outcast in his school, and he was...if you met him, he looked like a typical skateboarder, surfer 17-year-old, but he was a bit of an outcast 'cause for whatever reasons, he wasn't in with the in crowd. And so he was very susceptible to digital brainwashing, and so ideologically, he was interested in politics, and he went from being a left-wing progressive. So all he would do, by the way, would watch YouTube videos all the time. And the YouTube algorithm feeds you what it thinks you want...
0:27:04.5 S2: If you're watching kitty videos, you're gonna get a 1000. But with politics, it amplifies the political noise to allow it because it thinks the algorithm thinks that you're gonna lose interest if it doesn't increase the intensity. So he went from progressive liberal to then he watched a random, a random YouTube clip about the Holocaust, and because he watched that, the algorithm started sending him Holocaust-denying videos and then white-supremacy videos, and then pretty soon he went down the rabbit hole of being a white supremacist. But wait, the story doesn’t end there; he was a white supremacist for about six months when he was 16 or 17, but then he watched a documentary about Syria and the conflict with Assad, and all of a sudden now he started getting ISIS propaganda and the FBI showed some of these videos, [they] were so polished and high-production values and really made ISIS sound appealing for lost, picked-on, empty kid. ISIS seemed like a good team to join because they made themselves sound like they were about community and digging wells and sustainability and all this nonsense, 'cause it’s all BS and PR, but he eventually converted to Islam.
0:28:17.4 S2: And he became an ISIS ward, they started sending decapitation videos, because now they were essentially grooming him to be a terrorist. And so this white suburban Palm Beach County teenager committed one of the most horrific crimes. He tried to kill four people, essentially decapitated a 13-year-old boy. When I had to meet this kid, who was now 18 in prison, and I do a four-hour assessment. What I said to my wife, what really unnerved me was he didn't... And when I met him, by the way, it was two years after the crime, 'cause Covid delayed his trial and in the prison without any Internet, so he didn't have all of that social media influencing anymore, now he was just a kid sitting in maximum security for a couple of years. He was the sweetest, nicest kid, I mean... You never would have suspected. I wanted to meet Charles Manson. I couldn't, 'cause I saw the crime photos and it was nauseatingly shocking, how horrific this crime was. And so I expected to meet a sociopath, or a black-eyed empty soul, and what I met was a polite young man who welcomed me, sat me down, soft spoken.
0:29:28.4 S2: Everybody said that knew him as a kid that he would never hurt a fly. When I said this to my wife and I went back home after doing that evaluation on him, that really terrified me because if this kid could be so brainwashed to commit such a horrific crime, it could happen to anyone. We could have hired this kid to be a babysitter. He seemed so likable or trustworthy, and if I hadn't known about the crime, I wouldn't have believed it, as these are some of the extreme examples and now it goes... So he's in that realm of political brainwashing, the mass shooters, the kids that can kinda push the envelope to the extreme, but underneath that, there's all our kids, all the kids are getting influenced to some degree, their values are getting influenced, their behaviors are getting modified to some degree, maybe not to of course that toxic degree, but we have to understand that this is really powerful stuff and it's toxic stuff. Some of our kids are gonna be more able to tolerate it than others. What's gonna help that is a strong family support. The kid in Palm Beach County had a single mom, he didn't have a father in the home, his father had died when he was younger, and like you said earlier, physical activity and community. Healthy community and critical thinking, ethical discernment, civic training, compassion and empathy, leaning in to teaching our kids how to use their critical thinking, 'cause all we hear now is this disinformation, misinformation, there's so much content flooding our children, we have to teach them how to use their God-given abilities to critically think to discern fact and fiction, nonsense from reality.
0:31:06.6 S2: And how do you do that? Not by censoring, but by allowing or showing young people how to use their brains.
0:31:13.3 S1: What about how to walk away or turn it off because it is so addicting, do you have... That is a fascinating story, absolutely tragic, but fascinating that he was back to sort of the foundation of a person that he was with the social media removed and that influence removed from his life. So going to the bright side of your book and how to help us parents, how do we promote them to put it down, or for them to like, Let's turn off the knob now and I don't need it anymore. When you get that feeling like, I've been watching TV too long, I need to go and to turn off, read a book, I don't feel like they have that like we do.
0:31:58.0 S2: Yeah. So impulse control, to moderate, is a developmental neurological function that happens in our 20s that fully matures in their 20s or early 20s. That's why typically teenagers take the biggest risks. That's why they do all sorts of wacky things at 14 that you wouldn’t do at 44. I wear a bicycle helmet now when I ride my bike and I didn't do that when I was 14. You're fearless, right? So we're able to consequentially think because that part of our brain that does what's called if/then thinking, if I do this, then that will happen, it doesn't fully form until 22, 23. So teenagers are risk takers by neurology default, by neurological default. One main thing that I talk about is to delay, delay, delay, delay the giving of the digital... Because digital devices are baked in to be habit forming. And so a kid's not able to delay gratification, who's five or 15, the older they get they’re beginning to be able to do it better. So that's why a kid who was given a tablet or a Chromebook at age 13 is better than the three-year-old to be able to delay gratification. So basically, what my message has always been is the more you can delay in giving your kids these hyper-arousing dependency-forming devices, the more you can allow them to develop their own identities and personalities first, then expose them to technology, the better they'll be able to manage it, balance it, have some impulse control over it, but if you drop that tablet into the crib, that kid is gonna be primed for impulsivity, they're gonna be shaped in a very toxic way, very early on, and all the research shows, by the way, the increased rates of ADHD and higher rates of all sorts of disorders that earlier
0:33:46.0 S2: You give children technology. So we have to be really... we can't be, I hate to say it because it's really easy to use the digital babysitter, but we have to lean into parenting. And it's so easy to drop that tablet because we know it quiets the kids, but it's like a short-term fix that creates a longer-term problem. So if I delay giving my kid a smartphone or a device in the meantime, I encourage him to play sports and do music and stay connected to any kind of organization like a religious organization, church, or the Boy Scouts, or the Girl Scouts or whatever it may be, it gives them support structures that are foundations that they can hang their identity on and they can fortify them. Otherwise we have a lot of kids right now who just have no sense of core identity, no sense of core values, and they're drifting, and so they're absorbing all this online. Online is shaping them much more disproportionately because they didn’t develop it at a younger age internally through the families or their communities.
0:34:48.9 S1: That makes sense. They’re like a lost soul.
0:34:53.8 S2: Never say never, but it's a lot more challenging when someone's gone down that highway to reverse course, and some things with neurological development are... Some things 'cause of neuroplasticity can be rewired and some things can't. There are certain developmental windows, like language is a developmental window. If a child doesn't learn language at that key stage of development, they're never gonna learn language. They may learn basic language, but never metaphoric speech, they found some feral kids that were raised in the wild. It's the same thing with attention, if you don't develop your ability to pay attention, to delay gratification at a key stage of your development, you're always gonna be impulsive, you're gonna be wired for impulsivity; the research shows this pretty clearly. We don't really wanna raise highly impulsive kids into impulsive adults because impulsivity correlates into drug addiction, a lot of production, a lot of other bad behavioral outcomes that we don't really wanna bake into our kids.
0:35:50.8 S1: Yeah, then you need your fix to get that dopamine hit. Right. So with everything that you're saying, I said we were doing the series with Dr. Price, and then with Bark Technologies and just from the audience, it would be great to listen to, I think specifically Bark Technologies, that's a technology that you can put to your phone and be aware of what your child is doing and also be alerted of things like if it's bullying or they're using algorithms in a good way to identify if things are happening to your child, that shouldn't be... So I look at it as a protection, digital protection, so just a little plug for that, but from everything that you're saying, it comes to the babysitter is not the phone and parenent. Nothing will substitute the love of a parent, the watchful eye of a parent, the guidance, and that's what our children need. And your books, your book is available September 13th, and we will give away a copy of your book to an audience member, so when that releases, are you doing a digital book as well, or an audiobook as well, or physical copy?
0:37:08.1 S2: Yeah, there's ebook and there's as an audio book that there's not my voice, a trained actor, it’s strange, you know, your book read by another person's voice, an audio book, and there is a ebook as well, and it's available on the Amazon, 'cause you've gotta dance with the devil we’ve technology sometimes. And that’s something... I'm not a Luddite, anti-technology. I am opposed to age-inappropriate technology because I think we all became so drunk with our technology love affair that we didn't really fully think through the consequences of giving our two-year-old a tablet. I joke around that I'm waiting for them to have an in-utero tablet at some point. You know what they did, you know what big tech did, it made us insecure as parents, that if we didn't give our kids technology at younger and younger ages that they were gonna be behind. That was the narrative, right? You're gonna be a bad parent if you don't give your kid a tablet, how are they gonna succeed in the technological world? And what's so ironic is Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google were Montessori students. Jeff Bezos, Amazon was a Montessori student, no technology ‘til they were 13 to 14, raised with the most traditional childhoods and their brains were allowed to develop to be creative and outside-the-box thinkers, if somebody would have dropped a tablet into Sergey Brin’s crib, he wouldn't become the Stanford innovative graduate student that developed the Google algorithm.
0:38:39.4 S2: He had the creativity and the intellectual firepower to get there. But meanwhile, we’re dulling our kids by giving them digital candy. That's a big thing and half of these YouTube videos are so brain-numbing and my kids are watching dropping a watermelon from a bridge a thousand times. And I get it, we watched Gilligan’s Island when we're growing up, we weren't always watching Nova. You need a little bit of mush once in a while, but that's the thing, with YouTube and the modern stuff, it’s just constant to watch it over and over and over again. There was only so much Gilligan’s Island. You couldn’t watch it over and over and over again.
0:39:20.2 S1: And then you had to go outside and play, or go to bed. Right. And I feel like they're not curious anymore about how things are made, or why did that happen? Or what can I learn from that? It's more of that impulse, I wanna watch, I wanna be entertained all the time, and you can get a lot of enjoyment out of learning and out of researching and exploring, but I think that that is what I find the most void of my kid's life is that they don't have that.
0:39:52.9 S2: Now, you hit the nail on the head, so few people appreciate that creativity piece that you just mentioned, or that curiosity and creativity piece. That was one of the first things I noticed when I started working with young people and started noticing this tech effect 15 years ago; they were not interesting and not interested, so there was a lack of curiosity. I'll do a confession. When I went to high school, and I went to the Bronx High School of Science in New York, which was kind of a nerd school, and we would cut school to go to the Museum of Natural History. Years later, it's like What? And I was with the cool crew, and we couldn't wait to go see it. The Museum of Natural History New York was this amazing place, but we were curious about it. And because I'm a philosophy student as well, Plato had said all philosophy beings wonder, looking up at the night sky and trying to figure it all out. And that's what I've noticed, our kids are now addicted to entertainment rather than curiosity, and that's what Neil Postman wrote about back in 1985, in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” that the visual medium is switching our brains from a reading that requires a dialectical thinking and the curiosity to now, he called it digital soma, that it was gonna be like “Brave New World,” like a sedating drug that was just kind of like in so many of our kids who were just watching mindless YouTube videos are just getting...
0:41:17.8 S2: Like you said, it’s just entertainment numbing, not like, Oh, this is interesting. How does this work and how you can be politically interested, be... I've worked with teenagers and I was doing school district work and half of them didn't know who the president was, and half of them didn’t know anything, quite honestly. It was almost like one of these Jay Leno talking to the pedestrians or Jimmy Fallon. It was shocking to see how uninformed the average 15 or 16-year-old was. I was like, Oh my God, you really don't know who the president is, or really know...
0:41:54.7 S1: How to write a letter. Do you know how to put an address on a letter or write a check, or sort of these basic... That is the most basic thing ever... You don't know how to do that? Or I heard someone say, actually, this is a very funny one. When you look at the weather and you see that it's a 20% chance of rain, they thought it was that 20% of the city would get rain. How would that even be possible? Don't you think for one second when you think that you're like, Well, no, that's not possible, because why would just like…there's not that thinking there is... I think there's too much of that. We try not to have that with our kids, but... I hope it will get better.
0:42:45.7 S2: It's amazing, like I said, never underestimate. There was one study, it was also... My wife was an elementary school teacher for years, and she talked about each grade that she taught was getting kind of dumbed down and less curious, all the things you just talked about, but the one study she showed me was the one...it was a preschool study with blocks and how there were preschool students who didn't know what to do with blocks, they couldn't stack them. But playing with blocks used to be kind of like a human right of passage. And the sad part was the ones that you see, where you see some of the kids that are six or 12 months, the infants who are swiping or shown a picture and you try to swipe it because they’ve been exposed to tablets. So these kids didn't know how to stack blocks, but they were, it's called phantom swiping, they think, well, let me change my reality by just doing this hand gesture because I've learned on a touchscreen that if I swipe something, I can change my reality. So it's disheartening, but the good news is I am seeing a grassroots awareness from a lot of parents now who are waking up to that.
0:43:56.3 S2: I can't just give unfettered screen time to my kids from the time they're born to, I've gotta be more cautious, so creating tech-cautious parenting is critical. And then now into a lot of more parents who are... 'cause again, five years ago, most people would have tuned into this idea, they were just under-aware that this can be a problem, and they just thought this were smaller television sets, and most of us grew up on television, and I think people were just not appreciating that these were not just television sets that were smaller, more portable, and the reason why they're more impactful in our development is because they're interacting with immersive, and so interactive with immersive screens are much more impactful. When you were growing up, or I was growing up, watching television, the TV was... You were a passive viewer from a phenomenon that was happening 10 or 15 feet away from you. You weren’t in it and being in it makes it much more powerful and much more psychodynamically impactful. So these are the things that people weren't appreciative of, I think until now, they're thinking, oh my God, what's happened to this generation?
0:45:04.7 S1: Yeah, yeah, it is scary. Your title and the subtitle of “the mental health crisis that social media is creating,” you're absolutely right. The number of things that you touched on as you were going from one thing to the next, I was thinking, is there anything else in the world that has been this dramatic and has really... It's a critical, critical crisis in society.
0:45:31.5 S2: Social media has swallowed up society, right, because the Kardashians are more influential on your daughter than you are, unfortunately. It's just incredible, and I write in “Digital Madness,” we always had influencers right, influencers used to be our athletes and our movie stars, and Michael Jordan, “I wanna be like Mike” was a whole Nike ad campaign, but it wasn't quite as we said before, the 24/7, ubiquity of modern and the influencers today who are now... So they did a whole study about a year and a half ago, where they asked high school students what their vocational aspirations were, and now the number-one thing is to be a YouTuber. and so they did the same study with excuse my, it was either China or Japan, but their number one choice in high school kids was to be an astronaut. Which used to be a popular choice for our kids. Astronauts for our kids is far down at the bottom, I forgot the number it was, but it was a YouTuber, influencer, that's what's shaping our kids today, that's what they're aspiring towards. Remember 10 years ago, they used to criticize people who wanted it...I just want to be famous. Now it’s like, I wanna be famous as a YouTuber? At least if you wanted to be famous as an actor, you had to be an actor.
0:46:54.3 S2: You had to get some training.
0:46:58.7 S1: Right? Exactly like go to school and you had to practice a whole bunch and work your way up to the top right. Now it's like you get one viral video and there you go, you have a whole audience that's there for you, and unfortunately they make... The average influencer makes about $12,000 a year, and the average YouTuber.
0:47:22.8 S2: But they all look at MrBeast and they look at he’s making $20 million a year, and it's like, Okay, so that's the LeBron James, so you know not everyone's gonna be... But that's the thing that is like... So one thing I saw with one of my twins was how many followers somebody had started shaping his value system. So I watch old movies and we'll watch stuff on YouTube, we’ll watch like “Singing in the Rain” or “Citizen Kane” or something and the first thing my kid asks is “how many views does it have?” And I was like, Look, if it's “Citizen Kane,” I don't care if it has one or 100 million, you don't base the value, but he can't separate the two. So if it has 10 million views, it's good but if it has 100 views, it's terrible. And I'm trying to like, no, no that shouldn't be the gauge of quality, that's the gauge of conformity or how popularity doesn't equal quality. And that was so... That one crept up on me, I hadn't realized until he kept asking, like we would put a movie on and he kept wanting to click back to see the number of views that I had and I was like., who cares, we’re about to watch this movie and he was like, No, no, I need to know.
0:48:34.3 S2: And he could tell, and I said, So if I only had five followers, so then it can't be good? If it only had five followers, it can’t be good.
0:48:43.3 S1: When we watch movies, we'll watch, I don't know, wholesome movies, or we'll pick a Christian film and I can see their... How they act differently, even towards each other, or how they think about things differently within the next 24, 48 hours, and then they go back to normal, but we try to have those influences that are like, Okay, you won't find this anywhere else. We're gonna go somewhere random and watch this movie and sort of funny story. We were watching this movie and we're like, Wait, that's our street. They actually filmed this movie right down the street from us, and they didn't... We remember because it was there right in front of where their daycare was at this lady's house and... Yeah, so it was meant to be that we were supposed to be watching this show and it was about being nice to your neighbors and your siblings, and afterwards they actually were nice to each other for a little while, same thing with that digital... I can't remember, you referenced a movie earlier and we made the kids watch it with us... “The Social Dilemma.” Yeah, so glad they were like, Oh wow, that think they know all this about me?
0:49:59.6 S2: I will say, kids that I work with tend to react when you challenge them that you're being manipulated 'cause no teenager likes to be told what to do and they wanna be autonomous. When you start saying, Yeah, you're being played, you're being, almost kinda push that button, especially on the males, sometimes when I work with 17, 18, 19-year-olds, and I kind of push that male to like You're being played and manipulated. They’re like I don't wanna be played and then it's... Well, then don't, then don't... Then re-own your life again, become the protagonist in your own life rather than living vicariously through a video game or through some social media avatar. But it's interesting that you said that the effect has a short shelf life when you watch something positive or wholesome, that's true in general. I know people looked at that after 9/11. I was a New Yorker, post 9/11, New Yorkers got nice for six months to a year and then it faded. And I think unless you continuously reinforce it, and I'm gonna start with my kids and with clients that I work with, it's not gonna be a one-time thing where you showed them something and all of a sudden, Oh yeah, this will be a permanent lifestyle change, you got...
0:51:08.3 S2: To think you’re reinforcing. I think what you're doing is great, and I think the lesson is, it has to be kind of... It's like going to the gym, you don’t just go to the gym once, you have to kinda maintain whatever you're trying to do, so I think this is kind of similar. Rinse and repeat.
0:51:25.2 S1: Rinse and repeat, exactly. Thank you so much for joining me today. I will post your links, share the book and spread it, I will buy a copy, and I'm just so grateful for you to share your decades of expertise with our audience, and you clearly know what you're doing, so I hope you write another book after this as we continue to shape our culture.
0:51:51.0 S2: We thank you, thank you so much for the work that you're doing and for really shining a light on this issue as well, and I'm grateful to have been asked on your show. Thank you.
0:52:01.1 S1: You're welcome. Everyone, please give us five stars on Dr. Kardaras’ episode. And by the book, “Digital Madness.” Thank you so much for tuning in to today's episode. We hope you got a lot out of it. If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe to our podcast so you can stay up-to-date with our latest episodes, also, you can find us on social media by searching Checkable Health. We look forward to seeing you again soon.
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