This week on the show we’re talking with Christina Avallone, author of Thriving in a Digital World, to discuss the pitfalls many of us face when technology starts to take over.
For Christina, it started at home as she navigated the massive technological shifts as a parent to her now-grown daughters. This experience led her down a path of research and exploration into technology, how a pathological use of our tech can impact the brain, and how systems presumably designed for productivity and connection can actually cause increased distraction and disconnection.
Her book is driven not by a call for technological abstinence, but for understanding. For Christina, that means raising her children safe, in her faith, and aware of the tools in their pockets to do good in the world, while understanding their perils at the same time.
Brought to you by The ADHD Podcast Community on Patreon
Pete Wright: Hey, everybody. This week show is brought to you by TextExpander, the best way to say more with less on your devices. Stay tuned, I’ll tell you more about that in a bit.
Christina Avallone: I know that when my daughter got her permit to drive, we didn’t just say, “Here are the keys.” When she took her first turn left into our neighborhood, she didn’t know to put her foot on the brake before she turned. We didn’t inherently know to teach her that. When our second daughter came, we now knew that you got to put your foot in the break, you got to put your blinker on, and you got to slow down. When we gave our first daughter a phone, it was, “Happy birthday. Aren’t we great parents?” You know, “You now have an iPhone. Your teacher doesn’t have to call you out because you’re one of the ones with a flip phone and you got to go get the dictionary.” So it was like, great parents, you gave her the phone. We now know that it’s best to create a contract. As a person who has one of these devices, we have to do things differently.
Pete Wright: Hello everybody and welcome to Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast on TruStory FM. I’m Pete Wright, and I’m here with Nikki Kinzer.
Nikki Kinzer: Hello [crosstalk 00:01:32].
Pete Wright: Oh, hi, Nikki.
Nikki Kinzer: Well, hi, Pete Wright.
Pete Wright: What’s the good word? Do you have any good stories?
Nikki Kinzer: None. None. Nothing. Nothing comes to mind.
Pete Wright: Really? That’s it?
Nikki Kinzer: That’s it.
Pete Wright: I asked you to share the world and you give me a blank slate.
Nikki Kinzer: Nothing.
Pete Wright: I actually don’t have anything else either. So glass houses, casting stones.
Nikki Kinzer: That’s right.
Pete Wright: I apologize. I’m actually excited about this conversation. We’re talking about … Okay, let me just tell you what we’re really talking about. We’re talking about phones, problematic relationships with phones. We’ve talked tossed around phone addiction as a word. And Melissa, a Discord mom, knows that I have a sensitivity around the word “addiction,” and she wrote this in our show notes for us, “Pete, if you want to stay away from the term addiction, the medical community has been referring to the problem as PUMP.” PUMP, Nikki.
Nikki Kinzer: PUMP.
Pete Wright: It’s an acronym for Problematic Usage of Mobile Phones. Medical community, what are you doing?
Nikki Kinzer: PUMP.
Pete Wright: What are you doing?
Nikki Kinzer: Pump it up.
Pete Wright: PUMP, what? That is the worst acronym for this thing I’ve ever heard, PUMP.
Nikki Kinzer: That’s interesting.
Pete Wright: Stop it, medical community.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Pete Wright: Stop it. Just stop it. You’re in your own way. You’re not helping anyone on this road.
Nikki Kinzer: That’s not going to help, no.
Pete Wright: No. You’re so busy doing other things, medical community, go do those things, leave the acronyms up to the marketers. So here’s where we are. We’re talking about problematic usage of mobile phones. We’re pumping it today. That’s right, pumping it. But before we do that, head over to Take Control ADHD, to get to know us a little bit better. You can listen to the show right there on the website or subscribe to the mailing list, and we’ll send you an email each time a new episode is released. Connect with us on Twitter or Facebook at Take Role ADHD. And if this show has ever touched you, don’t forget, you can join our fantastic community over on Patreon, patreon.com/theadhdpodcast. We sure appreciate your attention and your time over there. And if you join, you get access to Pete’s Placeholder podcast, podcast about the tech we use today while we’re waiting for something better tomorrow, as well as our super secret member communities, you get access to me and Nikki, if you join at the platinum level in our coffees and our coaches’ corners. There’s just a lot going on.
Nikki Kinzer: Accountability anchors.
Pete Wright: Oh, accountability anchors. Yeah, absolutely, that’s coming up. So we’ve got links to that in the show notes. Check it out, please, please, please. Also, this week, you know, I got a race to it because I’m so excited every time I get to say this. This week’s show is brought to you by TextExpander. Here’s a little behind the scenes context. The TextExpander team gave us a choice about which episode would include this message in the month of April. I made the call for this episode. I hope you’ll see why in a second. TextExpander is one of my favorite invisible tools in my tool chest. It’s always there. It’s running in the background. It’s just waiting, waiting for me to type an abbreviation or a snippet in TextExpander, parlance. And when it sees that snippet, it goes to work, instantly expanding from just a few characters on my keyboard to words, sentences, paragraphs, URLs, code, entire pages of text. It’s just amazing. This week, we’re talking about unhealthy relationships with our technology. This is serious business for me because as much as I love my computer, you know I love my computer. I know the more time I spend recreating things I’ve already done, the more I am prone to errors and let’s be honest, distraction. I don’t know how I would be able to do what I do, as quickly as I do it without TextExpander in my back pocket. It is in a word, indispensable, but it’s not just for me. I’m on two teams that both use TextExpander, and I hope you’ll explore the team features too. The way TextExpander says it, their words, “Your team’s knowledge is at their fingertips.” And that’s true. But you know what else? If I write something and I put it in TextExpander for my team, frankly, I know no one else can screw it up, trying to recreate it later themselves. It’s easier for everyone. Everyone wins. So get your repetitive work in order and get your whole team on the same page by getting information out of silos and into the hands of everyone that needs to use it with TextExpander. Remember, store it, share it, expand it. They have made it incredibly easy. TextExpander is available on Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, Chrome. And for listeners of the ADHD Podcast, you can get 20% off your first year of service. All you have to do is visit, takecontroladhd.com/textexpander, and you’ll be whisked over to our page on their site where you can get started. Again, if you get started right now, you will save 20% off your subscription. The way we work is changing rapidly. Make work, work the way your brain works by saying more in less time and with less effort using TextExpander. Our great thanks to the TextExpander team for sponsoring the ADHD Podcast. And now, let’s talk to Christina. That was me being a notification. Christina, your podcast awaits you.
Nikki Kinzer: Ding!
Pete Wright: Christina Avallone is author of Thriving in a Digital World, and is here to share her passion for helping families break free from an unhealthy relationship with their technology. Christina, welcome to the show.
Christina Avallone: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Nikki Kinzer: Hello, welcome.
Pete Wright: Nikki.
Nikki Kinzer: Yes.
Pete Wright: You have been a long time enthusiast for having this conversation.
Nikki Kinzer: Yes.
Pete Wright: How would you like to begin picking Christina’s fantastic brain?
Nikki Kinzer: Well, I think it’s one of those issues that come up in coaching a lot, and especially because when we’re talking about routines and we’re talking about systems, building systems to get you out of the door on time, to help plan your day, to get things done, something that comes up as a distraction, as a roadblock is often the phone. I see it with adults, I see it with my college students. And especially when it comes to bedtime routines and morning routines, there’s this urge. You know, you wake up and you check your phone, you look at the news, you’re looking at social media. Well now, an hour’s gone by and you’re late for work. You’re late to actually even start your morning routine. So I see that a lot. And then I also see the evening where I really want to go to bed earlier, but I … Part of it is ADHD time blindness because they’re getting so focused on whatever it is that they’re reading or watching that they lose track of time. And then all of a sudden, it’s two hours past the time that they wanted to go to bed. So it is definitely an issue that I see all the time, and I have strategies, and we talk about these things, but I really wanted somebody on the show who dives deeper in it and really has more than just, “Put your phone in a lockbox.” We’ve talked about that, and I’ve had clients who’ve tried putting them in a lockbox and you put the phone in the little locker thing and then it doesn’t open until the next morning, and they’ll do that maybe once or twice, but then it’s not consistent. It’s not the answer to everything. So that’s why I’m just so excited to have Christina on the show and help us understand this better. And we can help our audience understand it from an ADHD perspective as well. And yeah, that’s where I’m at today.
Pete Wright: All right. So Christina, to you, what made you write the book? What made you dive into all of this?
Christina Avallone: So I saw the landscape change. My kids are currently 22 and 24, and I love walking and I’m always outside. I noticed a difference with parents pushing a stroller. You know, you’d push a stroller and you’d say, “Look at the butterfly.” Or, “Do you want to feed the ducks or the clouds in the sky?” And I noticed a change over the years of parents giving their child the device. And now it’s, the child as a device and the parents have a device. So that really just … Being outside and not seeing the interaction that I cherished as a parent, being able to talk to my kids and build that relationship. And when my kids were going to college, I’ve been blessed to be a stay-at-home mom and done different jobs and such that I just wondered what’s my next step. And I was talking to someone about, “Do you notice a difference? Are you seeing these kids not knowing how to have eye contact, not knowing how to give a handshake, not knowing how to hold a conversation?” And so she and I got together and we started a class, Parenting in a Digital World. One of the first parents in my class came in broken. She said her son, when she had to take him off his gaming device, he would hit her. So she didn’t know what to do. Week one, we just helped her over an eight-week period, giving her tools, giving her techniques, what to do. And at the end of eight weeks, she left restored. Does it mean the battle was won and she never has to deal with anything? No, but she has the tools in her toolbox now on what steps to do, or to think back, or to come back to me, or to talk to friends, build a network. And then my co-leader said to me, “Christina, you should write a book.” And I thought, “You write a book.” And then a pandemic hit.
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, yeah.
Christina Avallone: You know, my kids are now home. I had been talking about this for so long, and I thought, “Well, let me take a stab of it.” Because years ago, I wanted to write a book, Sleep Deprivation, You Will Survive: A Mother’s Story. But I think I slept my way through that one. So I never finished that. I got to page 10. So I sat down to write this book because I wanted it to be a message of hope, right? We can feel so condemned and people can judge us that, you know, are we feeding at the right time? Are we giving our kids the right amount of advice, not advice? Are we being helicopter parents? Are we not? What should we do? And I just really felt led to talk to parents about, you need to have tools in place, you need to set boundaries when they’re young and you do still need to teach digital etiquette. It matters that people say, “Well, that’s what everybody does today.” Does it make it right? So the book came out and it’s been a journey, but it’s been a blessing being able to help others thrive in the digital world.
Pete Wright: People know me on the show, I’m an advocate for a lot of technology. And so many of the tools that Nikki and I talk about in terms of the systems that we talk about sort of require a phone. I mean, how often do we talk about, you know, use your phone, set a repeating alarm, use these apps, like do all of these things? I want to say for the record right now, that I also know tech in many areas is broken. So many of the biggest apps that we use are designed to be addictive. I say that with intention. Tristan Harris is a former design ethicist at Google and said once that the pull to refresh option, just slide down, you feel your phone make a little haptic beep, and it refreshes with new stuff. That was modeled after slot machines. Like that is designed to encourage a noted problematic behavior for many people who have gambling trouble. It is absolutely problematic. So I feel like it is so easy, it’s easy for me to go into a pit of despair, and one of the things that you talk about in your bio is the attachment to capitalist. What is it, surveillance capitalism?
Christina Avallone: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Pete Wright: Right? This is the whole notion that if you’re not paying for something, then you are the product, right? They’re watching your activity, they’re tracking you across the web, they being whatever the company, the business entity is tracking you across the web in order to make money off of selling your information and your data, right? I mean, are we talking about the same thing?
Christina Avallone: Yes.
Pete Wright: Okay. So that is hugely problematic. And I’ve said in our Pete’s coffee sessions, and I’ve said in our other shows, I have a real problem with that. And so you find me at a crossroads constantly, every day about when to be a booster for what technology can do for us, and when to be a protectionist of protecting your brain and your activities.
Nikki Kinzer: I think this might help you, Pete, because I know where you’re coming from because I know you very well.
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: I think what we have to separate is there’s a difference between using the system at like for Todoist, and having a nice time management system workflow than going on to Facebook. So there is like, there’s a separation here of how you’re using your phone also for productivity versus I think these other things that pull you in.
Pete Wright: I totally hear you. And I say, that’s the problem with phones. I want to toss to Christina here because I think the problem with phones is that using Todoist and using Facebook are right next to one another on that single device.
Christina Avallone: Yes.
Pete Wright: That is the problem, right?
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, because they’re next to each other. The way you’re using them are separate. I mean, the purpose of each one is different.
Pete Wright: That’s really the crux of it, isn’t it, Christina? Like the fact that the lure to pull to refresh on Facebook is right next to this thing that might actually help me and help me schedule my day.
Christina Avallone: Right. So hear my heart, I’m not [ allay 00:00:16:19] to your point. Allay, I had my husband had to tell me that word when I was talking about this, he’s like, “Christina, people need to know you’re not against technology, you’re not against technological advancement.” I’m against the misuse and overuse. So inherently, if you know that’s your problem, Facebook, then where I would recommend, one of my recommendations is, take it off your phone, put it on a computer so that it’s not as easily accessible. Because you’re right, if they’re next door to each other, you’re going to … Mean to go on for maybe the good tool of you needed to check your email, but right next door is Facebook. So I’m thinking you may have seen the movie Social Dilemma.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Pete Wright: Oh.
Christina Avallone: We now know, right?
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Christina Avallone: We now know that’s their intent. So in 2007, when phones came out, none of us knew. But my biggest thing, why I speak about this, why I have a heart of it because my kids are 22 and 24. They’ve heard me talk about this. I think they pretty much have it … None of us have it perfectly managed, and we have to reevaluate, is awareness, is to make the next generation, to make my generation, to make grandparents and elderly people aware that this can be a problem, that you need to take the steps. Because I would recommend for people that have a phone in a bedroom, you shouldn’t have your phone in the bedroom. The next answer to me is, “It’s my alarm clock. I then recommend go down to Walmart, to Target, to Bed Bath & Beyond, get an alarm clock. People then say to me, “Well, I use it for, I turn off my fan. I turn on my fan. I turn on my light. I use it for … ” Whatever the person, some people are ER doctors and they’re on call or they’re … whatever the case may be. So Pete, my answer to you is use it for the tool that it is meant to be. If you know that there is something on there that is addictive, take it off. My daughter likes to say, she fast from social media. She takes sometimes Facebook off or Instagram, or you can even make your phone look ugly, put it on black and white because the colors are what makes it pop. We all have to realize we’re all in the same battle with technology because some people may be addicted to Instagram, but you saw the movie, the one guy was addicted to email. He would go in his pantry to read his email. It really doesn’t matter what it is that gets you to go down that rabbit trail. But we now know that if you look at a notification on your phone, the average person is then lost for 20 minutes.
Pete Wright: And now we amplify that by the context switching challenges of ADHD. Like if the average person, let’s say a neurotypical person is already derailed for 20 minutes, getting that context shifted back for somebody who is anywhere else on the neurodiverse spectrum is magnified by whatever, X. That is certainly me. And so for many years, I’ve turned off most notifications on my phone. I can’t handle notifications. And I do these purges all the time, but I do find that for me, it’s not Instagram, I don’t track with Instagram. For me, I was playing Pokemon Go with my son for a long time and discovered, oh goodness, suddenly I’m in the car and I’m in the passenger seat and I ask my wife to drive if we’re going on some sort of event so I can make sure I catch the latest thing. And I realize, oh, now this is my thing. This is my thing that I can’t stop thinking about. This is my thing that I’m constantly picking up my device. I have to delete the app. That I think is like tool, A, number one that we can offer is if you realize, if you do this assessment, if you go through this assessment process and discover, “Oh, I feel like the thing that I’m struggling with is Instagram or TikTok.” Just try deleting Instagram or TikTok for a little while and see how that changes your behavior, see if that … Forcing my dad, when he quit smoking, he quit smoking, he replaced it with Butterfingers, but at least he did the assessment, right? And he got real fat, but eventually he was able to tackle that too, right? I mean, isn’t that kind of what we’re saying? Am I making things up?
Christina Avallone: No, you are. And I think that’s the key though, right? You have to evaluate what your triggers are, for all of us. You have to say, is it TikTok or is it Pokemon, or is it whatever it is? The best thing to do is evaluate it, but maybe have an accountability partner. My husband loves to be it to me because he likes to remind me, “Christina, you wrote a book. You should look in the mirror.” And he’s right though. So none of us want to say, bring on the criticism, but usual it’s to better us, it’s to make us be more alive and aware and out here rather than down here. Chiropractors are saying that what it’s doing to the neck, it’s reversing the curve. These are the things that I think awareness is key so that you understand, it’s just not we’re waggling the finger. I think it’s important to share the why it matters, and to have people set their own boundaries, have kids that are at an age or of yourself, write down what you want to do of your timeframe of maybe Pokemon, and then phones today can stop you. So it takes it off. You set those alarms that shut it down. Because when you have a say in the matter, rather than someone just telling you don’t do it anymore, you’re going to be more likely to do it because you’re not hearing, wah, wah, wah, you’re hearing yourself. You set that boundary and you did it for a purpose, and maybe write yourself a note why you’re doing this to be more present with the people.
Nikki Kinzer: I have a question about that, because I notice, you mentioned this earlier about children, do they know how to have eye contact? Can they have a conversation? Are they learning these social skills that we learned? Because we didn’t have this stuff when we were young, right? I had the TV where I had to actually walk and turn the dial and we had three channels.
Pete Wright: I had pliers. I had to get in there and turn it with pliers.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Yeah. But I am always fascinated by how when you go into a grocery store and you see people waiting in line, they’re on their phone. When you go to a restaurant and you see people waiting for their dinner or to be seated, the whole family, the whole group is on their phone. What is that? What is going on that we can’t wait in line without picking up a phone and looking at something?
Christina Avallone: People don’t like to feel awkward. A lot of people say it’s just easier. And it’s, unfortunately, the disconnect. In my opinion, the enemy wants us to be so isolated. And when you’re isolated, you’re lonely, you’re anxious, you’re stressed. So we now know the connection is there. We now know that it is so much better to sit and to wander. I wonder if we’d have all of the beauty and all the artistry and all the things that were invented if we had devices back then, because we don’t give ourselves a chance to sit. It’s actually recommended that when you don’t know an answer to something, wait 24 hours before you Google it.
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, interesting.
Christina Avallone: Because that’s why the gray and the white matter in brains are changing because we’re not using what we always had to use. I can give you my childhood phone number because you had to memorize stuff.
Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Christina Avallone: Now, it’s, “Huh? Let me think if I can think what your number is. And if not, let me grab my phone.” They’re already seeing early onset dementia in kids because we’re not teaching those traits. So it’s something that I like to say I don’t do it when I’m out because I understand the importance of it. Sometimes you do because it’s very hard for me. I wrote a book on this, it’s something I study. When I go out to eat, I want to tell everybody, get off their phone, get off their phone.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. I kind of do too. Like, I want to say, go talk to your kid. He’s sitting right next to you.
Christina Avallone: Right. And when I present, I do the marbles. So I have a marbles, I have a jar for 0 to 18 years old and it’s per month, and then I do from 11 to 18, and then I do an empty jar, and that’s where I am. My kids are both grown, they’re getting married. So I’m an empty nester now. You can’t get those moments back out to dinner. And people say to me, “Well, I’m tired.” Did you not think we were tired? My husband traveled 50% of the time. When he would come home, we’d go grab a pizza somewhere, but we played I Spy, we played … Would we have liked to have had a conversation? We have plenty of them now. So understand that day will come, but if you’re just giving them a device, abdicating that role, you are missing out on so many blessings.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah, I agree with that 100%. One of the things that we did in our home and we still do is that you don’t have phones when we’re eating dinner, whether we’re at home or we’re out to dinner, you don’t have phones. I don’t care if you just sit there and look at me and eat and do not say anything, that’s fine, but I don’t want your head in that phone either. And one of the things that I have noticed, especially a few years ago that became really important to me and it’s about that mindfulness. It’s about being present, is when I would watch my kids play soccer or basketball or any kind of sport, I really wanted to be in the moment of watching them. And I was always surprised, and I know I’m probably coming across very judgmental and I’m really sorry, it’s not what I mean to be. Maybe that person is a doctor who was getting on call, I don’t know. Or it could also be their child wasn’t performing at that moment, and so it wasn’t as important as me being in the moment, I don’t want to sound like I’m a judgmental, mean person. I will say for me, it was really important that the phone was in my purse, locked away so that I could just zero in on my kid and be there, so that when they did the shot, I actually saw it.
Christina Avallone: And I think that’s so important. And some parents after coming to my class or reading my book say, they have to be intentional, they leave the phone in the car. Some people leave it at home. It’s a point of being intentional because, Pete, what you said is that ding, we all feel that ding. I just got a text, I felt it on my watch, right? So it’s an important thing to realize that we all understand what that means. What am I going to do with that? Is my connection with you more important, or is it, oh, let me just see what that was? Unless, you preface the conversation. I like to say it’s rude to people, that if you and I have eye contact, it’s rude. If I look, unless I say, I’m waiting for a phone call or a text and they say, “You really think it’s rude?” I said, “When you’re on the receiving end, it is.” And when you’re the one that you’re always down here and you’re only looking up when it’s your child, what about all the other kids that maybe their parent isn’t there, or they don’t have someone, or just the camaraderie of you then can talk to that other parent? “Wasn’t that a great game?” “No, I only saw what my kid did.” Because I’m right there with you. Hear my heart, I’m not judging. I understand sometimes you have to be on the device and you have to do that, but I think we’ve gotten so far the other way that we’ve just learned to accept it, that I think we have to take the reins back and say enough. We now understand the disconnect. People are isolated. Someone shared with me yesterday that in youth group, a child said to them, “The reason I am always checking my phone is I don’t know if there’s a better offer out there.”
Nikki Kinzer: FOBO.
Pete Wright: FOBO, fear of a better offer.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Well, fear of a better option, yeah.
Pete Wright: Yeah, fear of a better option.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. It’s a FOBO, FOMO kind of. They’re sisters.
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Christina Avallone: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Pete Wright: You know, I wonder, and as an aside, I feel like this is an intentional sidebar, and I really am just thinking about this. I have no strong opinion yet because I hear this too, and my kids, to the same thing, it’s rude on the receiving end when you pick up your phone or you look at your watch because you got a notification if you and I are in a conversation. I feel strongly about that. I don’t like it. And it’s a button. We use that language, “You’re pushing my button right now.” Right? You’re looking at a thing while you’re talking to me, and that’s pushing my button. And they don’t get it. They don’t get why that’s rude to me. And I start to feel like, man, is this a generational thing, a techno generational cultural thing that rudeness, the definition of rudeness is evolving right in front of me? Am I just an old man yelling at clouds over this, that I just should get over it, or am I tilting at windmills? I’m fighting the good fight to contain a sense of decorum in conversation and to continue to shout that, that it’s important, it’s important to do that.
Christina Avallone: As I said, my kids are 22 and 24, and the one’s a teacher, and she used to come home from school from college and she would do the, “Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.” And I finally learned, Pete, to stand there. And she’d say, “Mom, I can do both.”
Pete Wright: Ugh!
Christina Avallone: We can all do both.
Pete Wright: You’re pushing a button, oh!
Christina Avallone: I said, “We can all do both, but not successfully.”
Pete Wright: Yes.
Christina Avallone: And so when I present, it’s a little awkward, I can’t lie. When someone is introducing me, I hold my phone and as they’re introducing me, I’m on it and I’m just scrolling and I’m looking up and I’m scrolling and I’m looking up and I’m … And then I say, “Did anybody feel awkward while I was doing it?” Young and old, it doesn’t matter the age. And they say they were surprised that I’m about to talk about technology, and I’m on my device. And I tell them, it’s intentional because until you’re on the receiving end, you don’t inherently understand it and see it. But when they realize I’m being presented, people are introducing me, but I just think we haven’t taught it. I think we’ve learned to just … It got ahead of us and we got to take the reins back.
Pete Wright: I’d like to do a quick review of some of the signs and symptoms that you may be struggling with your relationship with your phone writ large technology. Do you have a list you review in your classes that you could share with us? I found a list from the National Library of Medicine that I find some of the things actually quite pertinent and funny, which I will augment if you have a list you’d like to start with that doesn’t include some of these things.
Christina Avallone: So anger, angry. I have a quiz, and when people, when they get sweaty, sometimes people get … unfortunately, they lash out. I’ve even had friends of a kindergartner whose children would watch YouTube Kids, and they got nasty to one in a other. The behavior changes, but that’s where the dopamine, right? So you’re asking someone to just get off a device that you’re saying to someone who’s an alcoholic, just stop taking that drink. You have to understand that you’re not fighting the person, you’re fighting that dopamine at that moment. So it’s just different ways that dopamine can respond. Some people go, if you’re taking away one, they may go to another thing that gives them that rush, if that makes sense.
Pete Wright: Yeah, totally. You nailed all of the top, all of the big ones, and there are some little … Like these are behavioral and I want to bring them up because I know I have felt them in the past and I have done these things in the past. And now, I’m only laughing about them through a veil of shame that I realize this is what these are. So lying about your smart phone use. And we always say in our house, “Are you lying to me, or are you lying to yourself about, you know, your behavior here?” You get up in the middle of the night and the first thing you do is check your phone, right?
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, gosh.
Pete Wright: You get up in the night, you’re like … And maybe it’s, you get up in the middle of the night to “go to the bathroom,” but to go to the bathroom, you take your phone with you.
Nikki Kinzer: You bring your phone with you, yeah.
Pete Wright: Yeah. That’s a problem. If you reach for the phone the moment you’re bored, we talked about that one. This one is the one that, oh, this gets, me phantom vibrations. Ask yourself.
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, yes.
Pete Wright: Do you think the phone buzzes when it doesn’t? Do you think your wrist is buzzing?
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, I felt it, I know I have.
Pete Wright: Right? Phantom vibrations. Are you kidding? So that’s it. This particular study poses the question for you to think about your closest relationships. How many close friends do you have outside of your immediate family? How has your friend network changed over the arc of say years? Do you have more friends today than you did 10 years ago? Ask yourself that question. And do you think maybe it has any connection to the lack of need to socialize because you have this thing in your hand? Does that make sense to you? What is your sense of the technology’s impact on strong ties in terms of your social relationships?
Christina Avallone: If you were to ask me, I don’t think it’s affected me, but I do think the younger generation, because they think they have a thousand friends, or they do online and yet-
Pete Wright: Or sort of reprogrammed what the word friends mean.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Christina Avallone: Exactly. And yet they have no close friends. So that’s the heart wrench that … Or they think they have a boyfriend, but they don’t know where they’re from. When did we ever think that would be the case? Or you wonder if that’s a true friend or is it, what did you call it? FOBO, right?
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Christina Avallone: Is that friend going to step out? Would you have ever done that 20 years ago, wondered if you’re going to get a better invite? I mean, maybe, but not really.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Christina Avallone: But now you’re always looking, “Ooh, is there something I’m missing?” And it just truly breaks my heart because if you look over the years, what has happened to the next generation with loneliness, depression, suicidal thoughts, it’s off the chart, stress. And I’m thinking, what are you stressed about? I mean, I see with my own children that they’re more aware when they’re out, they know to leave their phones in another room, they’ve told their boyfriends, now fiances that. There are so many that … I had a gentleman come to a bookstore event I had. He was 26 years old and he said he wanted to come because when he and his girlfriend watch a movie, they’re both on their devices. And he said he felt a disconnect with his girlfriend, and he wondered why. Because when you’re on your device, you’re there physically, but you’re not truly present.
Pete Wright: You dropped the suicide, and I just want to say that the CDC reports that between 2010 and 2015, the suicide rates are up over 65. At the same time, among adolescent girls, it’s up 58%, the largest group. So to say that suicide rates is off the charts, I think minimizes just how off the charts and sad it is. And I want to make sure that statistic is out there, that it really is bad. And as conservative as I am about using the terms, while research is so hot, this is the kind of research we need to cover. This is generational in span. We need long term longitudinal research to figure out what the direct impact is. But let me just say again for the record, it’s not looking great, right? It’s all out there, but now let’s pivot a little bit and talk a little bit more structurally about the relationship that you can have with your technology to not to steal a term, but to really thrive in a digital world,
Nikki Kinzer: We’re going to steal it because she’s here and we can do that.
Pete Wright: Right.
Nikki Kinzer: Because the author’s here.
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Christina Avallone: That’s right. That’s right.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Pete Wright: So how do you help people to build a new, healthy relationship?
Christina Avallone: And I think it is intentionality. I think you have to evaluate because the world, you to do it this way and that way. And I’ve had to learn since teaching my Parenting in a Digital World class that we can’t put everybody in a box, right? You may do five hours, you may do two hours, you may do an hour today, two hours tomorrow. So you have to evaluate what you’re using it for, and you have to evaluate, what is your purpose life? What is your purpose in that day? What do you want out of life? I think it’s a good question to have for yourself, for your family. Do you want joy? Do you want peace? Is your phone going to give it to you or … We’re all on computers right now. We need technology, but you want to set yourself guidelines, what would be best for you? I think that’s a good ask and reevaluate it. I need to check email. I need to check texts. As a Bible study leader, I need to be able to know what is going on, has something changed? Especially Pittsburgh, did the weather change? I need to have my text to see if schools are closed. So there is a purpose for it, but when I have someone that is there, I want to be present. I want to put it outside or preface the conversation with, I am expecting a text. I am expecting an email, or a phone call, but I am intentional that if I go out to eat and I … It’s in my book, I had a conversation with a friend and she said, “Well, our son is a new driver. What happens if he needs us?” Well, then be intentional and ask him to call you because if he’s in an accident, odds are, he’s not going to text you, “I’ve been in an accident.” But if you constantly have your phone turned up so you can check your notifications, you’re going to be constantly looking this way, not this way. So it’s a point of having conversations maybe we never thought we’d have to have that in 2022 we do need to have, and I’m not against you having your phone and maybe today’s not the right day for us to meet because you need to be more on it and not present. I’d rather meet when I can be with you.
Pete Wright: First of all, obviously, I agree. I think that sort of presages a different discussion too, for a lot of people, which is these devices are incredibly complex. And you’re asking me to do things with notifications and all kinds of things that I don’t understand. And out of the box, the moment I turn on and install some apps, the notifications are going bananas. And so I just want to make sure we plant the seed here that says, this is going to take work. This is going to take a learning curve on your part to get your hands around and develop a degree of I’ll say, intimacy with your device in order for it to be less disruptive to you. Is that a fair assessment?
Christina Avallone: It is. But think about, you both have children, right?
Pete Wright: Yes.
Christina Avallone: So I know that when my daughter got her permit to drive, we didn’t just say, “Here are the keys.” When she took her first turn left into our neighborhood, she didn’t know to put her foot on the brake before she turned. I’m very thankful at 35 miles an hour, she didn’t flip the car. We didn’t inherently know to teach her that. When our second daughter came, we now knew, you got to put your foot on the brake, you got to put your blinker on, and you got to slow down.
Pete Wright: Right.
Christina Avallone: So that she didn’t tip the car. Well, aren’t we at a stage, because when we gave our first daughter a phone, it was, “Happy birthday. Aren’t we great parents? You know, you now have an iPhone. Your teacher doesn’t have to call you out because you’re one of the ones with a flip phone and you got to go get the dictionary.” So it was like, great parents, you gave her the phone. We now know that it’s best to create a contract. We have to do things differently. So we have to research the tools that are out there. I mean, it used to be, there’s a few apps that are dangerous. Now, I know that someone recommended I have a sheet of 21 dangerous apps. So we have to do things differently. We have to have different conversations and realize that you may be doing it well today at age 13, but let me reevaluate it when you’re 14, 15, because isn’t that what you do with your. You know, you teach them how to walk, then you’d potty train them, then you teach them how to use a fork and a spoon. Isn’t that what parenting is? Isn’t that what life is? Constantly reevaluating things, and I think that, in my opinion, is the same thing with a device.
Nikki Kinzer: And what’s so scary about that is that … Like, I have a 16-year-old daughter and what’s so scary about that is they know more about the devices than I do. So what do you suggest in that? Like I knew about the calculator thing, but I know … I mean, you know, yeah, I’m just curious what your thought is for people who aren’t as savvy, necessarily parents that aren’t as savvy. How do you talk to your children, or what advice do you give so that we have that open communication with them?
Christina Avallone: First and foremost, I would apologize that you don’t know everything and you’re learning because we didn’t know everything and we are learning and we’ve made mistakes as parents. And then say, “I want to say yes to you, but you have to help me help you so I can say yes to you wanting Snapchat or Instagram or whatever.” And you have to have that conversation, what devices are you on, or apps are you on, and what are you doing because I love you. But also show them the social dilemma, show them the childhood 2.0, show them what the dangers are. Because when I speak now, I recommend 10 and older come to my class. I have a two-and-a-half hour workshop, kids come to my workshop and then they get it. That’s why I say the why is so important because otherwise they’re just hearing us lecture. They don’t understand, we want what’s best for them. I mean, inherently, they get it, but they’re frustrated because they’ll all say, “All my friends have this, they have that, they have this.” And they don’t, but that’s what they want to say. But what I would say to kids is, “If you want to have this, I’m going to be your friend on Instagram.” My kids had Instagram, they had Snapchat. We don’t necessarily know everything, but I would say to them, “If you want me to allow you to have it, help me understand so that I can see the pros and the cons.” Because a girl, when I spoke recently, she said. “I’m on TikTok and I like sharing my faith on TikTok.” I said, “I hear what you’re saying. I wish your mom was here though.” Because what I would say to the mother is, “That’s fabulous, she’s using it for good.” But I’ve had so many parents tell me the rabbit holes their children have gone down because of TikTok. That could be on Instagram, it could be on email, it could be on any of the devices. So it’s a point of, we don’t have to be technological experts, but awareness once again is key. And to have that relationship with your child. And if you didn’t already build that relationship, that’s where the, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know any better. I want to help you. I want to understand. How can you help me understand?”
Pete Wright: Nikki, do you want to talk a little bit about some of the examples that you have in working with folks that have been struggling with this and as we wrap up here, maybe we can pull apart an example or two?
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that it does kind of go back to like this strategy, right? Like, how do I take back control of this situation and have some balance? So for example, we talked a little bit about out this earlier, where the person wants to go to bed at a certain time. They want to go to bed earlier and they know that their phone gets in the way of that. And so I’m curious to know from you, how would you work with someone in that regard? What would be your advice to, we know that this gets in the way, how do you curve that particular behavior?
Christina Avallone: Have they put their phone to turn off?
Nikki Kinzer: That’s where the lockbox went, came in. So there was this whole thought of, okay, I’m going to put the phone into the box before I go to bed. And it works for a little bit, but then it doesn’t tend to …
Christina Avallone: Well, because they have to put it there?
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Christina Avallone: So they can have their phone … At least an iPhone, it can turn off. So it’s, once again, an intentionality.
Nikki Kinzer: Turning it off.
Christina Avallone: Have it turn off, right, yeah. So you don’t have to physically do it, right? Because you could see that notification, but if it just shuts off and maybe you have a 10-minute alarms, you know it’s coming, but you know … I wonder if there’s a way that you can have it that you can can’t cheat it, if that makes sense.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah, yeah.
Christina Avallone: I think there is a way that it just automatically, and you can give it to someone in your family, the passcode or whatever. Because if you set it, you may need to adjust that once in a while, but also have an accountability partner, have someone that you trust, that if you’re struggling to go to them, or help me, or to check in. I think sometimes when I have someone I know that’s going to check in on me, that holds me more accountable with whatever I’m dealing with. But technology, it’s a point of it is an addiction. So when my kids were little, we had a basket that everybody had to put their phone in, and the first 10 minutes, these kids struggled. But once they got past that, they actually said, “Mrs. Avallone, do you know that was freeing?”
Nikki Kinzer: So that’s interesting because that goes back to kind of, Pete, what you were saying before. And I want to wrap this up. So what you’re saying is, there’s that intention of I’m turning it off, the first 10 minutes is probably going to be really hard, first day or two is going to be probably really hard. But then, Pete, you were saying, you are able to reprogram.
Pete Wright: Radiological Society of North America did a wonderful study with pathological iPhone use and they said, in a very short amount of time with, in some cases with the aid of cognitive behavioral therapy, brain chemistry reverts to non-addictive ratios very quickly, very quickly. That is a sign of great hope. If you can get your handle around it, if you can get yourself to delete the offending app, if you can get off of the TikTok, if you can get off of Instagram, if that’s problematic. If you can turn on the sleep schedule, let’s just say you’re an iPhone user, in the iPhone Health app. If you turn on the sleep schedule that says, “Hey, I’m going to go to bed at 10:00.” At 9:45, shut off everything, so that the phone no longer touches me when it needs me. Then you can reprogram yourself very efficiently. The data shows that you can do it. It is hopeful. It might feel like these are extraordinary measures that you have to go through, but it is possible.
Christina Avallone: But don’t do them all at once is what I would say.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Christina Avallone: I remember I was listening to something one time about when you’re eating, and if you think you’re hungry, at that moment, you’re going to snack, right? But if you give yourself something to divert yourself, it’s gone, right? Drink a water or read a book. So don’t just say, 9:45, but maybe have an intentionality at 9:46, you’re going to do X or you’re going to maybe read a short story, or you’re going to wash your face, or whatever your bedtime routine is, make that a point, start a habit. It takes 21 days to create a habit. So if you know that, if you know the end is in sight, I think it makes it easier because you’re not looking at, like I said, the elephant, you’re just looking at the little changes you can do.
Pete Wright: I also have to throw out a plug for smart speakers, even though I make jokes about my smart speaker all the time, it is the thing that allows you to put your phone to charge in a separate location and still be able to use your alarm and listen to audiobooks and podcasts or sleep sounds as you’re going to sleep and not deal with the offending notifications or desires to pull to refresh. I’m a huge fan of my smart speaker by my bedside table because I like listening to whales sometimes. I listen to whales.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Christina Avallone: Yeah.
Pete Wright: There you go.
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, this was so great. Thank you so much.
Pete Wright: Yeah, Christina, thank you so much for hanging out with us. Where can people go to learn more about the book and get involved with your classes, if that’s appropriate and available? Where do you send them?
Christina Avallone: WestBow Press. It’s also on Amazon. It is in our local Barnes & Noble. I live in Pittsburgh, so my class is local. It is something that I’m debating doing a curriculum. I haven’t figured that out, but my book is just available, Barnes & Noble online as well.
Pete Wright: Yep. We’ll put links to where you can get the book if you’d like to learn more. Christina Avallone, sounds like provolone, we surely appreciate you being here today. Thanks, Christina.
Christina Avallone: Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate the both of you.
Pete Wright: And thank you everybody for downloading this show. We sure appreciate your time and your attention. On behalf of Christina Avallone and Nikki Kinzer, I’m Pete Wright. We’ll see you next week right here on Taking Control, the ADHD Podcast.