In episode 59 of Eco Chat, Dr Kristy Goodwin shared her best tips for how to raise kids in a digital world. That was back in 2016 and as you’d imagine, much has changed in the world of technology since.

In this episode of Eco Chat Dr Kristy is back to share latest developments in how to raise kids in a digital world, with a particular focus on how to keep our kids safe while gaming and watching YouTube.

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My 9 year old has been asking me for a while now to let him be a YouTuber and I finally stepped out of his way and let him launch his channel, DabCraftGaming, a few weeks ago and I’m glad I did because he’s so much happier as a result and I can see the joy he gets from recording his Minecraft tutorial videos and sharing them on YouTube. But I also know that I’m parenting in unchartered waters and that there’s many things out there that I don’t know about, even though I’m a web-savvy techno mum myself….and I know so many parents are struggling how to manage screen time… particularly around gaming which is why I’ve brought in digital expert Dr Kristy Goodwin on to the podcast today……

What are the benefits of games like Minecraft?

Dr. Kristy: I’m so pleased that you have touched on this because I think as a society, in general, there’s a tendency for us to demonize technology with kids. We only have been hearing negative reports and the doom and gloom of studies and statistics that tell us that children’s childhood is gonna be eroded and impacted because of gaming. And the reality is, this huge educational benefits of gaming, I’ve conducted a number of studies for the Department of Education. We’ve looked that using gaming as a learning platform, because wouldn’t it be great if a kid’s – instead of wanting to spend 15 hours gaming on the weekend actually wanted to spend 15 hours learning educational content. So we are trying to tap into what it is about gaming that makes it so psychologically appealing. And games like Minecraft as you have suggested are great examples. In fact, a lot of studies are being conducted is how we can use Minecraft in classrooms. So basically, games like these are interactive. They engage the learner’s cognitive resources. So they have to problem solve, they have to think critically, they have to use their language skills, they have to reason, they have to hypothesize. These are very very different skills, to sitting there passively watching television shows or YouTube content.  There’s also usually in these games, particularly multiplayer mode, there’s social interaction. So there’s often a social capital. These are the games kids are playing with their peers. So it often facilitates collaboration and social skills. I know many parents find hard to understand. It’s a really robust opportunity for our kids to learn. So there are some huge benefits. And this just not me suggesting them, these benefits are actually substantiated by research.

What are the benefits of Fortnite?

Dr. Kristy: There are some positive potentials with games like Fortnite. There’s a social aspect. There’s problem-solving. But Fortnite has been designed to prey on young kids’ psychological vulnerabilities. There are particular gaming elements built into it. That means that it is psychologically appealing.

Now Prince Harry has been reported as encouraging kids to play Minecraft and not Fortnite….what do you think about this?

Dr. Kristy: I think one of the key benefits is the absence of violent content in Minecraft. Now, depending on who are you playing with and what are you creating, and what server are you on. Yes there are risks with kids engaging in violent content in Minecraft. But Fortnite, the underlined principle of the game is to kill other people. Yes, I know many proponents of Fornite, say the graphics are sophisticated, there’s a lot of blood and gore in Fortnite which is true compared to other video games where the graphics are very confronting and realistic. But at the end of the day, it is still a first-person shooter game. And we know how the brain is wired to imitate when we are playing some of these games. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll turn into a violent perceived human being. But if there are underlined psychological tendencies or other issues. The one playing this game, the first-person shooting game should be in particular problematic.The other reason I think that, but again speculating on Prince Harry’s behalf, but one of the reasons he may be suggesting Minecraft over Fortnite is that with Minecraft there are transitional opportunities. so you can, you know when it transitions from day to night or when you crafted a certain number of the objects. You can transition out of the game. Fortnite forces use and the game is a strategic design principle, fortnite uses a technique called the state of insufficiency. You never ever feel down, there’s always another battle I can have, you know if you are playing in a group format which many kids do, there’s often a team that they’ll let down if they have to you know close Fortnite down and go eat dinner with their family. So Minecraft there are transitional exit points that are a little bit more natural with Fortnite it’s a lot harder it’s like a kid needs to be in a state of insufficiency that they may never ever feel complete. So again, a whole and reward assistance and you get bonus points access to extra ammunition and other devices that you might need in Fortnite the longer that you play so you are actually rewarded for staying online. So there is a whole host of issues that make Fortnite really tricky for kids to navigate

What suggestions do you have to help parents to put in place safe gaming boundaries?

Dr Kristy: Well a couple of little tips here because there are some things that parents can actually do too. What you’re describing is what I sometimes collectively call the techno tantrum and when you’ve got kids that don’t wanna turn fortnite off, you’ve got teenagers that don’t wanna put social media away or you might have partners that can’t shut their inbox down. What we know is that there are some neurological, neurobiological things that we can do to assist with the techno tantrum. So one of them is when we want our kids to transition off the technology and not emotionally combust. We need to have an appealing transition activity. so when they are playing their games. Whatever they are doing online their brains are using the neurotransmitted opening so they want more and more of it. So if we want them to transition off, we want to give them a choice of 2 activities that we know that they like doing that will also keep the dopamine . So we know for example physical activity -riding the bike, jumping on the trampoline, walking the dog will give you that hit of dopamine is another dose of neurotransmitters like serotonin. So we’ll help you with that transition. Whilst having appealing transition activities important to say to your son turn off Fortnite and go do Math homework is not an appealing transition activity. We know that priming them a technique called cognitive priming but warning them before the screen time’s going to end, rather than just going in abruptly and trying to be priving in console ahead of their hands. When they are combusting physically touching your son or daughter, you know when they are telling you, you’re the worst parent in the world because they only had 6 hours of Fortnite. Just physically touching their arm or their shoulder it releases this oxytocin and oxytocin is love hormones. And it is possible for them to keep erupting, you help to regulate them. So there are simple things parents can do to prevent that techno tantrum but it is also what we call a typical neuro-biological response.

 Laura: Akin of trying to use reverse psychology! Ok let’s do our homework.. and then we can play some minecraft.. you know!

Dr. Kristy: And that is a great technique. One of the key things I say to parent is you’ve got to be the pilot of the digital plane, and if you are the pilot of the digital plane you have different boundaries around what has to happen before the screen is turned on so that is a great example of being you know a very active pilot of the plane. 

Laura: Yeah, thanks we try in time or two but sometimes when it is going so well and we are enjoying out and that is the time we extend the time…

Dr. Kristy: Time is so difficult and again, gaming developer’s active helpers work to get all of us in what we call psychological state of flow. So we become so engrossed. I mean I suffer from this, you know I mean I go and check Instagram for 5 minutes and before long its 55 mins. We literally lost track of time, so giving kids time minutes off doesn’t work because they enter that state of flow. So what I suggest is giving them endpoints or cut off time of transition activities. The other thing I want to say though is game developers also I don’t know if you’ve noticed not so much anymore not in Minecraft. But then games like fortnite and other video games even apps that kids use. the choice of music is very intentional it is very melodic, it is very repetitive, it is employed to strategically get us into that state of flow. Exactly the same way as poker machines, exactly the same way as the background music in shopping centers were we enter this state of flow where we literally lose track of time.  When we look at that you know technology has been with all of it you know whether its apps that adults are using whether it is Netflix, whether it is apps that kids are using we are living in the attention economy and so technology has been designed to captivate and sustain and keep us hooked

If your kid is going to play multiplayer games which are really popular we often suggest to parents find a tech-savvy teenager or unit student and get you to set you up a private server, this way you can actually limit or determine exactly who your kids are playing with as oppose to playing on public servers we or our kids can be attracting the other people . So other alternatives is to keep technology publicly accessible spots in your house so keeping it out of bedrooms. A lot of these games use chat double chat , chat rooms so keeping headsets off so that you can keep your ear on the ground and hear what is going on having ongoing conversations with our kids talking to them and again they do not have working memory because their frontal lobe isn’t developed so you need to have this conversation repeatedly about being safe and vigilant online and reminding them that not everybody is who they are online. Talking to kids trying to get them to discriminate between sharing personal information and sharing private information and so reminding them that we don’t give that out our full name, our full address, our date of birth in this chat forums but again those ongoing conversations are really critical and in keeping it in open spaces.

Laura: Awesome great tips there!

 Dr Kristy: One of the things I forgot to say when I  speak to parents this one causes them a lot of attention initially, I really want to reiterate to parents that we really need to avoid screen times as punishment tool because if there is a perceived threat that we are gonna confiscate the gaming console and ban them from youtube or take their iPhone away when they encounter problems. Or when someone is being unkind to them in a chat forum when they are having nasty comments posted under the youtube click. Whenever they are facing a digital dilemma when there is a perceived threat that they ‘ll be digitally amputated, they won’t come to us when there is a problem so we really need to avoid using screaming tone as a punishment tool well same as using it as a reward tool too but that is a different topic. But again, it really helps because we want our kids to be able to come to us as the pilot of the plane when there are issues that they’re facing. 

Laura: Just incidentally what is the issue with using it as the reward tool?

 Dr. Kristy: So what I said to parents is that if we dangle the digital carrot all of the time, now I am the first to admit I depend on the digital carrot and i don’t get the house tided up as quickly as i do when I entice kids with the iPad in the 15 mins before the grandma comes over for an impromptu visit so my recommendation is not to do this all of the time or as a standard operating procedure for a couple of reasons the first one is if we say: if you do this then ill let you play on the iPad e elevate the status of technology even more. Kids already love technology and yet we are putting it on a pedestal, the other reason is that it develops a transactional relationship with our kids so if you do this then you can have this and our kids very quickly work the system and back us in a no winning option. You know ill unpack the dishwasher if you let me ply my game console. I stop hitting my sister if you let me do this. and so they start literally bargaining with the digital tools that they want. We want our kids to use technology but we want them to see that is a functional tool we can use in a really positive way 

How can we best monitor our kids use of YouTube to keep them safe?

Dr Kristy: I think parents know their kids best and so if you have an intuitive hunch that this might be a safe and appropriate way, it might be a creative outlet. Then I think you can ditch what I call the techno guilt and you know, allow your kids to use it. One of the key things we know with technology is that we need to plan, not ban it. Trying to avoid technology or to minimize kid’s exposure often drives the behavior underground. So you may prohibit him from having a YouTube account, but many kids have got secret wants that their parents don’t know about. I think you’ve taken a really proactive and positive approach and again, knowing your son and how he’ll perhaps best respond to it. So we need to remember that YouTube is specifically designed for kids over 13.

So if you’ve got kids under 13, what I recommend is setting up a parental account, um, so that you ask, legally the owner of that particular, um, you can also create what they call a family link account, so you can link, the app to your Google profile if you’ve got a Google family account. I talk if you are going to allow your kids to upload their own content onto YouTube. Again, being that pilot of the plane, talk to them about what it is that they’re creating. Often talk to students and talk to them about their digital DNA. And it’s this idea that everything that we do online is like a footprint or a record of us. And yes, we can delete things, but it doesn’t mean that those things haven’t been archived. All screenshot. So getting kids, and again, that’s a really difficult concept for kids to manage with a frontal lobe that’s still under development. Have a plan, you know, get your kids to give you, if you really want to make them work for their money, get them to write a proposal. You know, what is it that your channel’s going to be about? Who’s your target audience? When are you going to post? What’s the content of your posting? Are you going to sit down and enticing? You know, if they’re really ambitious and they will want to make money out of this. But really again, putting the ones back on them to actually think critically about what they’re doing. Another strategy that I recommend as particularly as an entrepreneur is do a beta launch. Um, you know, like a lot of tech start ups do start out small and get them to start just with a really small audience. Maybe you’ve got really strict privacy settings and you limit who the audience is.  Maybe it’s just trusted friends and family. Then see how they respond, what they create and get them to, I guess critically evaluate what they’re doing. And then you can start to loosen some of the privacy settings. Take an active role. You know if you are completely disinterested in what they’re doing, that’s when they can often get, you know, get into hot water. Whereas if you’re actively involved, even if you have to define your interest in what their chosen topic is, but that checking in because kids love to teach you with more to. And it really shows them that you value what they’re doing, even if it’s not a personal interest to you. And as I said, even if you have to feign your interest. But it really stops it from becoming the forbidden fruit for many kids. And the other really important thing is to teach them how, if they’ve got a public account, teach them how to handle the feedback. Because often kids, you know, that’s one of the really problematic issues is if the hurtful comments or links under the, the videos that are shared to inappropriate sites or predators preying on, on kids who are posting, that’s when it can sometimes be problematic too. Can you actually delete the comments under a YouTube clip? If someone puts one on your channel, you can go, you can’t. Absolutely, absolutely. But one of the problems is that kids know that if it’s a public account, it has been often seen by other people. So that peer humiliation is sometimes something, even once the comment is deleted that they know has been viewed.

How does Youtube Kids work?

Dr: Kristy: What I say to parents is that YouTube is basically the Wild wild west of the online world. But we know so many kids are both on YouTube and all YouTube kids. And this content isn’t bettered. The sheer volume of videos that are uploaded. We know that every single minute, 300 hours of video content are uploaded to YouTube. 5 billion videos are viewed on YouTube every day. And there are 30 million visitors. So I’m here to tell you that this content, whilst it is curated, it definitely isn’t bettered. So there are many, and you know the recent issues with the Momo challenge. We have issues I talked to parents about a phenomenon called digital doctoring, where kid content on YouTube- so Peppa pig, Sesame street, kid clips, Elsa videos etc, have inappropriate content inserted into them after the first two or three minutes. So these are digital playgrounds where kids are playing and there’s really, to be perfectly honest, not a whole lot of people, they’re doing playground duty, there’s not a whole lot of supervision.

And the problem is our kids can see inappropriate content. Now sometimes they can go and look for content that’s inappropriate intentionally. And now unfortunately because of Google algorithms, both YouTube and YouTube kids works off recommendation algorithms. So based on the keywords that you’re looking for, your search history and your viewing history, you can be flooded with more and more of that content. Now, if your child’s watching age appropriate content, maybe they are watching YouTube clips about the gamers, giving them cheats and tutorials, chances are that the videos that will be suggested on that right hand side be similar type of content.  And so that’s not necessarily a negative thing. But if our kids stumble on something inappropriate or if they go and intentionally search for something inappropriate, and this is the real risk at the moment which is self harm. Children on the internet search for something that once and now based on Google algorithms, it means their recommendation on the right hand side will be loaded or heavily geared towards that sort of content. And so this is where it can be problematic.

Many parents are, as I said, under the misguided impression that YouTube kids is a safer platform for kids. And whilst YouTube kids is curated, it’s basically a stripped down version of the YouTube site. Videos are filtered by target audiences age, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that inappropriate content is bypassed. There are still know countless episodes or countless stories where kids are seeing sexualized content,where they’re seeing violent and aggressive content. So YouTube is, you know, as I said, the wild wild west.

What digital trends on the horizon can you see that parents should be aware of?

Dr Kristy: I’m going to talk about a really tricky topic and I know this is something people would rather not hear, but one of the biggest risks I think facing kids today, I’m trying to work with the federal government here in Australia to recognize that this is in fact a health epidemic. And that is kids exposure to pornography. We know that kids are accessing pornography at younger and younger ages and they cannot unsee it. And their ecstasy in pornography almost not TV because it’s now internet connected. Kids are seeing pornography in games like Roadblocks. They’re seeing it in very popular video games like Grand theft auto. And the consequences of this are dire. And we’re seeing it firsthand. We are seeing young boys being treated for erectile dysfunction issues because they have been desensitized because of the amount of type of pornography that they are watching. We’re seeing girls presenting to emergency departments with really serious anal and genital injuries because they’re imitating pornography. And the problem is that pornography is prevalent. So this is, I know, a very confronting awkward topic, but it’s something I think that parents really need to be mindful of. Given that their kids have access, often unfiltered access to these devices. So that’s one of the negative things. There’s some positive things. Definitely artificial intelligence, augmented reality are really exciting, opportunities and horizons, particularly in the educational sector. So there are definitely some positive things that we’re seeing in terms of how that will shape educational activities and opportunities for kids to learn. There’s the good and the bad, but again, it just involves parents being actively involved. And I often say to parents, whether you love it or whether you loath, the realitu is your kids are going to inherit a digital future. So digital abstinence isn’t an option. You know, we can’t say, I’ll just ban it or I’ll avoid it. What we have to do is to teach them how to use it in those healthy and helpful ways.

You can install and you should install internet filtering software. I use personally recommend the family zone, but none of the internet filtering tools out there are a hundred percent fail safe. Your kids need you. You need to be that pilot of the plane, helping them to navigate this digital world. Because I’ll keep turbulence, they will be cyber bullied, they will experienced or encounter inappropriate content online. But if you’re sitting in the pilot’s seat, you can help them to course correct when they hit turbulence. But if you’re way back in economy class and they’re the only one in the pilot seat, they’ll hit this turbulence and they’ll crush the plane. And that’s not what any of us want for our kids. So we have to, unfortunately, I am the bearer of bad news there. We have to be vigilant and we have to be involved.

What advice can you share for parents who are beating themselves up with techno guilt?

Dr Kristy: I don’t think we need to be riddled with techno guilt. Guilt doesn’t serve anybody, so what I say to parents is this three B’s that you really have to nail on that seat when it comes to navigating the digital world with kids. The first one is to make sure you have boundaries, have very, very thin boundaries around what your child can access, download, play, create or view. Have firm boundaries around when they can use it, where, with who, and also how. If you’ve got those firm boundaries in place, then you don’t need to feel guilty about them using the technology, because you know you have created the parameters for them to use it in safe and healthy ways. Closely related to that is the second B – and that is basic needs. We’ve got to make sure that screen-time doesn’t erode or displace their basic needs. Are they getting sufficient sleep? Are they physically active? Are they interacting with people in real life? I call it, real face time. Are they developing their language skills? Are they eating? You know, all the rudimentary things that we know that kids need for optimal development. And then the third thing, and I know many parents find this counter-intuitive, I actually do a lot of work at the moment with corporations talking to them, to adults about digital well-being and productivity. And this is one of my key recommendations to adults. And the third B is boredom. We need our brain. That frontal lobe that I was talking about before was never designed to be switched on all the time. We need opportunities for white space and to day dream. And so one of the best gifts parents can give their kids is the gift of boredom. So if we nail those three things, their boundaries, their basic needs and boredom, kids will still thrive in the digital world and they can use technology and we can ditch the guilt and you know, the grief that we often riddle ourselves with

Where can our listeners best find you online?

My digital home is drkristygoodwin.com. And I have recently started a portal for parents because I do a lot of talks. I traveled throughout Australia and Asia speaking to parents, to educators, to health professionals and employees and executives about health and well-being. And my issue after I’ve delivered these seminars is that this topic keeps evolving and changing. You know, this is an ongoing issue. The concerns and the digital dilemmas parents are facing are constantly evolving. So I’ve developed something called the Switched on parents portal, where I provide parents with up to date information in a digestible format. Ironically, it is an online forum, but it’s a digital library where parents can go to get answers to their questions. 

You can follow Dr Kristy Goodwin at https://drkristygoodwin.com and join her online Switched On Parents Portal HERE.

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Laura

Laura Trotta is one of Australia’s leading home sustainability experts. Fusing her professional expertise as an environmental engineer with the down-to-earth pragmatism that comes from being a busy mum, Laura is an eco thought leader who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Laura