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Remember Why You're Here Episode 10

Episode 10 Transcript

Now Screening: Navigating Parenting in the Digital Age ft. Julianna Lorenzen

Episode Transcript


I'm not worried about the kid. I'm worried about who's coming looking for the kid. It doesn't have to be against the games. It's you against the bad stuff out there. 

Welcome to Remember Why You're Here, a podcast created by the Center for Innovation and Resources where we host conversations with experts in the field about what started their journey to do work around abuse and healing. CIR is a small nonprofit with big goals. We organize events aimed to fulfill our vision that all professionals who serve children, families, and communities who have the knowledge, skills, and training to act in a holistic and culturally responsive manner. To see more of what we do visit 

Juliana Lorenzen is Co-founder and Executive Director of Healthy Screen Habits, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to its mission to educate and empower families to create healthy habits for screen use and to maintain technology as a tool, never a replacement for human connection. 

Through her volunteer work at Healthy Screen Habits, she strives to increase awareness, provide tools and promote change for greater mental, emotional, interpersonal, and physical well-being. She is a mother of four kids ranging from sixth grade to college age providing her with a unique cross-section view of kids today and all that is facing them in our increasingly digital world. 


Hi, Juliana. Welcome to another episode of Remember Why You're Here. How are you today? 

I'm great. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to come and spend some time with you all. 

Yes. For our listeners who do not know, will you tell us what Healthy Screen Habits is and how they can access your resources? 

Absolutely. Happy to do so. Healthy Screen Habits is a small nonprofit organization. We founded it in 2018, and we started in this as four moms trying to figure out how to navigate parenting technology, but pooled our individual professional strengths to work together. 

We have myself, a medical professional, we had a social worker, an educational psychologist, and educator who's a early childhood specialist. So between the four of us, as we were moms trying to figure out what to do best as far as parenting our own kids in the realm of technology, and we dug deep and found a lot of great scientifically based best practices and-- for our own use. 

And we wanted to make that available to other people as well. And so we decided if we create a website, then people from anywhere around the world can find it, can get the help and the information, create an awareness, and then we can provide tools that will make things easier. 

And so that's kind of how Healthy Screen Habits started with just a website, and then we started doing presentations for different schools and community organizations, and then as time passed, the world shut down about two years later, and so we pivoted and thought, you know, parents need this now more than ever. 

And it's just been so great to be able to gather experts from all over the world with all of their expertise and provide that content in one place for whoever needs it has been our passion. We want to educate and empower families to be able to have a healthy relationship with technology and make sure that it stays used as a tool and not a replacement for human connection. 

So drawing from your experience of all this research that you've done and just from what you've seen and from what you've heard, the different conversations that you've had, what are the most threatening factors of technology and social media that we need to look out for in terms of how it impacts cognitive development and emotional regulation in kids and teenagers? 

Where does one begin? So I, being the brain, I love the brain science side of it, so I'm going to glom on to what you said with the cognitive development. When babies are born, their brains-- there are so many neural connections that have not yet been made. 

Only 17% are yet connected and then it's through the experiences that, that child has that parts the brain wire together. And there's a phrase in the neuroscience community called those things that fire together wire together. And so as you have certain experiences, that connects parts of the brain to each other and strengthens pathways and actually changes the way that the brain develops. 

Which is why I love Dr. Huden's research that showed that depending-- if you exceeded the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for the amount of time spent utilizing screens, there was an actual decrease in a thinning of the white matter of the brain, which is the way that parts of the brain connect to each other. 

And so it's not the whole like, oh, there-- you know. It was no longer the sky is falling, the sky is falling. It's hard science that shows that there is a connection and so therefore, the choices that we make, the habits that we have, have a real life effect on not just the here and now but on how that brain is developing. 

Now the beautiful thing is that if you're just finding this out, the brain can-- you know, neuroplasticity is a thing, and you can do better. Once you know better, you can do better. But it is so vital that the more parents, the more practitioners, the more clinicians who understand the significance of those developing years, and having the interactions. 

A lot of times we think about what kids are using screens for or what they're viewing, but as adults, our habits impact that brain development also. Because if you have a parent who is on their device instead of speaking to their child, instead of interacting with their child, those things that you are not doing yourself, the interactions you're not having are minimizing the opportunities for that brain development of your child. 

So whenever I see somebody who's on a walk with their baby, and instead of talking to the child and narrating what's around them and pointing out, hey, there's a tree or-- those are the ways that cognitive development occurs, that the brain learns and it wires and things learn to fire together based upon those experiences that they have in the interactions with the world around them. 

So we need to be cognizant of that and actually be interacting with our kids instead of being distracted by our devices. 

So would you say the most threatening factor is not actually in the technology, but in the habits that we're forming around technology as parents and children? 

Absolutely. I mean, the technology-- well, OK. There's two sides to it. 


The device itself-- 


--is not necessarily problematic. What is problematic are the ways that it is programmed to draw us in. So the apps on the phone, the way that it's designed is based upon the highest levels of human psychology to basically make it harder for us to put it down. 

The people who develop the apps that are on the phone that we end up getting sucked into, it's not by accident that we get sucked in. They are designed to capitalize on our greatest vulnerabilities, the things that we naturally are drawn to like whether it be certain colors or certain-- designing apps to have notifications that remind us, hey, look at me, look at me. 

So the technology itself is-- like a phone itself is not bad. In fact, it can be a really useful tool, but like you said, it's our habits surrounding it. And so we at Healthy Screen Habits are not anti-tech. We are pro intentional tech. Decide what role you want your technology to play in your life, and then set yourself up with the right habits that will reinforce that rather than just going with the flow and then without realizing it, you're spending more time on your devices than you want to. 

And then therefore, don't have the time for those other things that are of greater value, that will build those interpersonal relationships, that will allow you to have the mental and physical well-being that are vital. And it's one of those things that it just-- you don't mean to spend time doing things that are going to shortchange those others, but it just happens because of the way that the apps on the device are designed. 

So I want to move into addressing how social workers, law enforcement, victim advocates and other professionals who deal with abuse, how can they make sure that they're using accessible language when talking with parents or older caretakers like grandparents who may not be as familiar with the dangers of the programming, the social media? 

The first thing is recognizing that there is a spectrum on which people are familiar with and aware of, what's out there. I think that a few years ago when you said the word algorithm, people were completely clueless on what that meant, but I think it's one thing that if the parents-- 

I think fact checking, like seeing where people are at, what is your level of knowledge because there's a wide range. You've got people who-- when we started this six years ago, it seriously was huge levels of awareness building. People had no idea what dopamine was. They had no idea what an algorithm was. 

That has changed a lot over the last six years for a lot of people, but not for everyone, so for your clinician, for your law enforcement professionals. And so I think it's important that the professionals that are working with the families and the families themselves understand that it's not necessarily you going and looking for this. It is being fed to you. 

And so time spent on these apps has been shown to have a severe impact on mental health and exposure to content that can be extremely damaging. It's been so rewarding to finally have the surgeon general come with his report on the impact that social media has on mental health and this is why it's happening because whatever vulnerabilities someone has are being hijacked and intensified because of the content that the algorithms are feeding to them. 

Just to backtrack a little bit. Will you briefly just talk about the relationship between dopamine and the algorithms of social media? 

Any sort of substance that-- when you have something that you like, there is a craving. They used to think that dopamine was released when you experience something pleasurable. Now, later research shows that it's almost more the anticipation of something that you like. 

So when you're sitting there and you see a piece of chocolate cake, and you're anticipating that cake, your brain is releasing dopamine. And so whatever there's a pleasurable thing, it's that craving, craving, craving. I think about it like a little wave, like if you picture, you know, going up, going up, going up. 

You're looking forward to it. You're anticipating it. That's when the dopamine is being released, and then you get it, and then you come back down off that high. It's a normal part of the body that is supposed to function that way. The developing brains of young people get overloaded with that and then it's much harder to regulate, because you've got this overload of dopamine. 

Any time you've seen a kid who has been on a device or a video game, and then you pull them away from it, and then they throw a fit or a tantrum, it's different than your typical tantrum because it is not just a typical tantrum. That's not them just saying, I don't want to stop doing this. It is their brain saying, I am completely unregulated, because I have such high levels of dopamine flooding my brain. 

I cannot access the prefrontal cortex to think through this is OK. I can do this later on. And so that's where having that knowledge of how the brain science impacts behavior, it changes the way that you can look at that behavior, and hopefully, changes the way that you approach it. 

Yeah. I think that's a really important distinction to make between the two tantrums of well, this one is because I'm just completely irregulated and then this one it's because, like, they like actually need to eat or they're hungry or something. That's a distinction that I've never made in my head before so that was really, really interesting. 

So on the flip side of talking to parents, how about the parents that are overly suspicious and overprotective of their kids use of social media, because they are too aware of cyber crimes and online predators? 

The key is understanding what the dangers are is important. 


But if you focus so much on just the dangers, you forget the next step, which is OK, because I'm aware of these, are the guardrails that I'm going to put in place, and this is the conversation I'm going to have with my children so that way, they understand the reasons for the guardrails and will be able to develop an internal sense of what they need to do as individuals themselves to keep themselves safe. 

So we can just, you know, try to do-- you can get really caught up in the fear so much so that you don't actually take the steps to protect from the [AUDIO OUT] you're afraid of. 


So we went through and tried to identify all of the biggest concerns that surround technology use and kind of boiled it down to five key, five core healthy screen habits. And if you will implement those five core habits within your own life, within your family, culture, create policies that integrate that into your family policy, then it's amazing how just those five things can pretty much protect and set guardrails. 

And there's actually one of them that pretty much takes care of most of the fear around sexual predators and things like that and that is the core habit of not having phones or screens in the bedroom. 


Sexual predators need vulnerability and availability. And if you've got a kid behind a closed door in their bedroom, it's a device, but it's more than a device. It's a portal into their world. And so if they are behind a closed door with a device, it's like they're inviting anyone-- not even inviting them. Those people are coming uninvited into your home, into your child's life. 

So I would tell them, go to our website at On the front page, it has great short little videos about each of the core habits and how to talk to your kids about it and why that's important. But the biggest thing really is actually talking with your kids. 

If you don't give them the why, don't help them understand the things that you're worried about. And you can do that from an early age and just age appropriately. My 11-year-old son, every time I talk to him about how even if you don't go looking for something, it will come looking for you, and what are those things and what do you do when it comes up? 

Having conversations often and just making it be a normal part of your relationship makes a big difference. 

That's so incredible. In terms of having these open conversations within the family to contribute to a healthier approach to technology, is there anything that you want to add to that or illustrate what that looks like? 

I think it's important to remember that there's a lot of shame connected with [AUDIO OUT]. A lot of times families know that they should be doing better but don't know what to do and so what we have found is that we try to have a very shame free approach, that it's one of these things that if you don't know it, you don't know it. 

And a lot of times you know it, but you don't know what to do about it. And we're all in this together. And so coming from a place of not a, I can't believe you're doing this but a, this is really hard. How can I support you in this? And that comes, you know, from a parents standpoint with our kids too. Here's something that I learned. 

I know that I didn't do this before, but since I learned this, I think that I need to change what we've been doing, and this is why. So coming at it from a place of love and understanding rather than a place of shame and condescension can go a long ways, whether it's from a professional standpoint or from a parenting standpoint. 

That is so important. So let's say you've had a teenager who, you know, we haven't had those conversations about boundaries, and we want to start having those conversations, but they've already sort of created their own boundaries with their phone on their own. 

So how do you create and integrate these new boundaries and conversations later on as they're a teenager? 

So it kind of comes to that place of humility, saying, listen, I just learned this. I was reading the surgeon general's report that said that teens that are on their phone on social media for more than this many hours per week have this percent higher levels of body image issues, or social, or mental illness, whatever [INAUDIBLE] challenges. This Is a real thing. 

I didn't know this before, but now that I do, how do you-- and coming at it from a place of how do you think life would-- what do you think your experience-- how would it be different if you instead of spending two hours on Instagram each day or TikTok, you spent less time? 

And like create it-- go at it from a collaborative approach rather than saying, this is what we have to do. In fact, on our website in the tools section, there's something called family technology plan, and it's available on the website for free in both English and in Spanish, and it's a seven step guide to guide those conversations that, like, we can sit down as a family and collaboratively look at the technology in our life. 

What are the potential dangers? What do we want to do about those things? What sort of policies do we want to have? And so almost-- when you're in that situation where you realize what you've been doing is not what you want to have been doing, it's hitting that reset button. 

Sit down with the family technology plan and go through it together. But the key is get them understanding the why behind it. 


Talk to them about the why because if you just come in and say, this is the way it's going to be, you're not going to have the buy in. Our kids are smart, and they want to be consulted. They want to be respected. They want to feel like you recognize where they're coming from. 

And so-- but there are some things that as a parent, it's OK to say or do-- implement policies that they don't like. 


That's our job as parents. Give them the why and know that it's going to get-- it's going to be uncomfortable for a little while. But if you've got somebody who is suffering from-- their mental being is suffering, because they're spending too much time on social media, they're not going to automatically say, yeah, I probably should spend less time there. 

As a parent, you've got to be willing to say, this is what I feel like is right, and then maybe the way you approach it is going to be different for every family and every kid, and there's not one right way to do it, but the key is have the confidence and the strength that when what is right for your kid, help them, have the conversations and be willing to set the boundaries and do the hard because it will make-- 

Doing something that's really hard right now will make the coming years that much easier, whereas if you go the easy right now and just say, well, it's too late. She's used to having on her phone, or he's used to spending endless hours doing this. I can't fight it now. 

The impact that it will have long-term is worse than the pain of making the adjustments in the now. Does that make sense? 

It's never too late to form healthy habits. Yeah. Mm-hmm. 

It's not. It's not. And to realize that it's always a struggle, but the struggle is worth it. 

Yeah. I love that. So what about those kids that have gaming systems in their rooms, so I guess like PC games, right, they have access to the internet. Would you approach that in a similar way with the phone like give your computer a bedtime or are there different strategies in place for computers? 

So a computer is a screen so therefore, it should not be in the bedroom. 


And especially a computer that is connected to the internet. 


If you change the way you think about the internet-- instead of thinking of it as a thing, think of it as a place. 


You would not drop off your kid at the corner of Hollywood and Vine at 10:00 at night or even 7:00 at night, right. You just wouldn't do it. And why not? Because you don't have any control over who's there. 


That is what you're doing when you have a device, whether it's a phone, whether it's a Chromebook from school, whether it's a gaming computer. When you have an internet connected device in your child's room, they are available to whoever comes along. 

So is it going to be a battle to get that gaming system out of the bedroom? Hell yeah. But is it worth it? Hell yeah. And it's-- like I said, if you think of the internet as a thing, it doesn't seem like it's that big of a deal but when you think about what access that provides, it all of a sudden becomes a little bit more worth it to put in-- to take the stand. 

I love how you identify the internet as a place. That is super enlightening, and I've never even thought of it as a place with endless possibilities because that's what it is. 

It is. 

The internet is a place where literally anything and everything can happen. It is-- there are many portals in there. 

And you know, so often we hear the, but they're a good kid. They're a straight A student. I'm not worried about them. I'm not worried about the kid. I'm worried about who's coming looking for the kid. The whole, they're a good kid. I'm not worried about them. Even if they don't go looking for anything bad, those algorithms will feed them to other people. 

As you said, it finds them. Yeah. 

So there's ways to find a happy medium where they can still do the things that they love, but within bounds that are healthy for them. 

Mm-hmm. Awesome. Is there anything that you want to share with us, Juliana? 

Just I guess reiterating that it's worth it. The science is clear that using technology excessively using social media excessively, it is having a huge negative impact on the mental health of our youth, the mental health of the adults, and it's time to make a change, and you can. You absolutely can. 

You can implement-- maybe you pick one of the core habits to start with and implement that in your life and then the next week or the next month, pick the next one. But the important thing is decide what you want your technology with-- your relationship with technology to look like, and each day, do a little bit more and a little bit better, and that 1% better each day will add up. 

And you will eventually be able to have the relationship that you personally want to have with technology and the habits that you want to have, and you will be modeling that for the others in your life and it's worth it. It's worth the work. One of my co-founders, she had asked me, because my kids are a little bit older, she's like, what are you doing, you know? 

It seems like you got things dialed in. And I was-- I thought I was on top of it. I thought I had all the filters in place and all the policies in place. And when I found out that inappropriate content had entered my home and entered my child's life even when I thought I was doing everything right, I'm like there has got to be more. 

I don't know enough, and if I don't know, and I've tried intentionally to, I need to make it easier for other parents. And so I remember my why, and I remember that it makes a difference, even if it's just one family, and one life that we do what we do because it matters, and it hopefully will change the trajectory of others. 

The brain development, it will change, the mental well-being, the physical well-being, the interpersonal well-being. Hopefully, it will change lives, and that's what keeps me going. 

100%, Juliana. What you're doing matters so much. These are incredible resources that you're giving, and we're just so honored to have you on our podcast, and to remind us of our why. That's literally why it's called Remember Why You're Here because this is all about us remembering why we're doing the work when it gets tough, when it feels hopeless, when it's really hard. 

We just got to remember that why and so thank you so much for coming on today. This was really good. I'm so excited for us to just share this conversation and the resource-- these resources that you've shared with us today with our listeners. 


Thank you so much Juliana. 

Thank you for letting me be a part of your wonderful podcast. 

Thank you so much for listening to another episode of Remember Why You're Here. To access the transcript for this episode and to learn more about what we do at CIR, please visit our website at Until next time.



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