We know it's true. Technology has changed parenting...a LOT. But how exactly? That's a harder question to answer. We were honored to sit down with the amazing Katherine Winter-Sellery, CEO & Founder of the Conscious Parenting Revolution to ask just that question!
Katherine is a parenting coach who has worked with thousands of families across the past 20 years. She is also a best-selling author, 3-times TEDx speaker, and a creator of the Guidance Approach to Parenting, a program that applies conflict resolution skills to communicating more effectively with children.
COSMO: You of course speak with parents every day. What kinds of things are you hearing parents say about technology and the challenges it brings for their kids and families?
Katherine: During my interactions with parents, what I hear most about technology is that they are fearful about the amount of screen time their children have. Especially with the amount of time spent doing virtual school, it really pushed many families over the edge.
Parents are concerned with games revolving around getting the adrenaline pumping, and the mind racing, in such a way that it becomes difficult to switch off, and dependencies begin to form. Simultaneously, parents are worried that their children are losing touch with healthy, screen-free activities, like playing, imagination, and creativity,
COSMO: Are kids growing up faster today? How do you think technology in the past decade has changed the way kids mature, especially at young ages?
Katherine: I wouldn’t say they are growing up faster today, just differently. Games, social media, and technology in general, have become a substitute for developing close personal relationships for some kids.
The gaming community, as an example, provides them with an outlet, to feel like they belong, and like they are exhibiting mastery within the space, which ticks a lot of boxes for children feeling good about themselves. This is especially true for kids who already struggled with forming close personal relationships, it helps ease the pain. I remember when my son was getting into video games with his friends. It was a connecting point, a friendship forming activity, in many good ways. But for the individuals who struggled to find their community, or were perhaps struggling academically or with bullying, the games became an escape. They began using gaming as a substitute for learning communication skills and as a coping mechanism for the loss they experienced at school.
It is important to note that this isn’t universal to all kids' experiences, but a good proportion of kids are using games in dysfunctional or unhealthy ways.
COSMO: Parents tend to feel like technology with kids is an all or nothing game. Do you have advice for parents who feel that moderation with things like social media, gaming, etc. is impossible?
Katherine: With regards to technology, I talk a lot about self-started behavioral change, rather than a controlling form of discipline. Self-started behavioral change refers to the internal ability of a child to set boundaries for themselves, saying “this is enough for today, I’m going to do something else.” without any external pressure or input.
This is far preferable to a controlling form of discipline, which is what happens when parents think it is impossible to teach moderation, and simply default to saying “we just won’t have technology in the house”. When this happens, the parent is the one who decides when is “enough”, and the child is unable to find the balance for themselves.
I would notice this all the time when my children would bring their friends over to our house for play dates. In these situations, where the child finds themselves outside of their controlling environment, outside the “tech free zone”, they have no practice in trying to regulate screen time for themselves, and were therefore unable to find the balance on their own. I think finding the balance for your child works against you as a parent, a better approach would be to begin with co-regulation, and teaching them how to regulate on their own.
COSMO: Many parents feel tech is a constant battle in their home. How can parents change that script and move from adversaries to partners with their kids when it comes to their digital life?
Katherine: With regards to changing the script, and transitioning from adversaries to partners in your child’s digital life, I think I touched on it some before. Adopting a collaborative problem solving model empowers children to start seeing certain aspects of their digital life as problematic as well, and recognize that, like everything, moderation is key.
It is also important to understand that providing a space which doesn’t set limits for your child will help foster the skills to “take it or leave it” in the future, and take a “tech-break” without fear that it will be taken away. In essence, we are talking about the difference between an internal and external locus of causality.
Children with an internal locus of causality will be able to tell themselves when it’s time to turn off the games, or step away from their phone. However, parents who tell their kids, “I’m turning it off because I don’t trust you will”, or “I’ll decide what’s enough because I’m the parent, I know better”, are really teaching their kids an external locus of causality. They are really telling their kids “you are incapable of making this decision for yourself”, and “you need external support in order to function”.
One of my favorite conversations was with Cam Adair, a gaming addiction expert. Cam likens gaming to chocolate, and says that he knows, for himself, that if chocolate is in the house, he will eat it all. Therefore, he will only allow himself to eat chocolate at the corner store down the block. Cam was able to set these boundaries for himself because he knows, and is able to regulate, when “enough” is. Not everybody is the same. Some can have chocolate in the home without consuming it all, but some just simply can’t. Our kids need to decide for themselves who they are.
The best outcome, of course, is for us to support our kids through collaborative problem solving, where the conversations are, “well what can we do about this? What’s a way that I can support you to be able to find the right balance between gaming and the other things in your life?” This way it’s a collaborative approach, with you as a partner not as an adversary.
COSMO: What kind of principles would you encourage parents to put in place, not just to limit tech but to make it more intentional and healthy in the home?
Katherine: I think the best thing we can do, in terms of our principles, is to see our children as people too. The greatest danger is that we feel as though we need to make children behave, and do things the way we think things need to be done. We start to see children as people made to be obedient and compliant, and begin saying things like, “I’m the adult, I know better”, and “Because I said so”. When we adopt this attitude, one of "power over", we activate what is called the “3R’s”, Retaliation, Rebellion, and Resistance, and create a resentment flow between parent and child. Unfortunately, rarely does this attitude create a change in the other for the reasons that we want.
More often than not, a "power over" attitude inspires the opposite of what we want, such as disruptions, disobedience, and other problematic behaviors. You may get a semblance of change, but it is never really for the reasons that we want. Your child changes because they are afraid of what you might do to them, or in the case of technology, how long you will withhold it from them if they don’t give you obedience and compliance.
Another principle I would encourage parents to put in place is consideration. True consideration is currency. When we consider our children’s opinions and views, they are far more likely to consider what we are saying in return. You will have more influence with your child, and they will stick around longer in conversations where you are trying to express why an action is problematic, or are trying to explain the reasons why they need to turn off their game. This doesn’t happen if we use power and control, only consideration.
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Katherine Winter-Sellery, CEO and Founder of Conscious Parenting Revolution, helps individuals minimize misunderstandings and melt-downs in order to communicate with more collaboration, cooperation, and consideration.
A creator of the Guidance Approach to Parenting, a program that applies conflict resolution skills to communicating more effectively with children, Katherine has positively influenced relationships for generations and brought about healing and reconciliation in families that were suffering from disconnection. For over 20 years, she has taught and coached thousands of parents, educators, social workers, and medical professionals in half a dozen countries through her popular workshops, coaching programs, TEDx talks, 250 page comprehensive training manual, and Ebook.
Katherine is a 3x TEDx Speaker and Amazon bestselling author of “7 Strategies to Keep Your Relationship With Your Kids from Hitting the Boiling Point.”, which reached the #1 spot in both the Parenting and Parenting Teenagers categories, as well as the #2 spot in the Parenting & Relationships category. For her expertise she has been featured on The Daily Flash, ABC10 Your California Life, Good Day LA, Good Morning Washington, Good Morning Texas, Great Day Washington, Atlanta & Co, WKEF Dayton Now, Fox31 Denver, 4CBS Denver, CBS8 San Diego, The Donny Walker Morning Show and has been a guest on over 40 podcasts.