How to Raise Kids in the Digital Age – Chasing Life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta – Podcast on CNN Audio

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Dr. Sanjay Gupta


One, two, I gotta check the levels. One, two, three, four, five. Yeah. Sound good? I sound good. I like the way I sound.

You’re doing the TV voice again.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


That’s me and my daughter Soleil. Soleil is 13 years old, making her the youngest of my three daughters. She is wise beyond her years. She is whip smart. She has a lot of teenage girl confidence, which can be intimidating even to me.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I hate watching myself on TV. No, seriously

Because of your TV voice?.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


No, because of my TV face.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


This season on Chasing Life, we decided to do something really different and necessary for the first time ever on the podcast, I’m sitting down with Soleil and my other daughters as well, Sage and Sky.

This is my question. I have a question now.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Oh, okay, you have a question. My podcast, but go ahead, I’ll allow it.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


We’re going to be talking about something they are the experts on, social media.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


There’s a lot of discussion lately about banning Tik Tok in the United States. You probably seen some of those news stories-

I think that’s pretty stupid.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Well, they’re worried. That-

You know what all the teenagers are going to do? They’re going to set their phones so that they live in Canada. And they’re still gonna use snapchat and TikTok.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


They’ve already figured it out, haven’t they?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


And so many of these discussions we hear from experts. But I wanted to start this season by hearing from the people who use these technologies the most. Young people, my young people, my kids. And as you’re about to hear, they didn’t hold back.

When I have kids of my own, if I don’t think I want to let them be on social media as early as I was.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


According to a 2021 survey from the nonprofit Common Sense Media, kids who are surveys age spend an average of 8 hours a day on TVs, tablets, video games, phones. But I think the real question is how is this technology really impacting my daughter’s health physically, mentally? What can we say for sure about that? And when are we just guessing? And if it’s not all bad, then how do we maximize the good and minimize the bad? These are the questions I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. So this season, we’re going to speak to a number of experts who are also parents looking into these very questions, but also to my daughters, who reminded me again and again, this new world wasn’t necessarily the world they wanted. It’s the one that, for better and worse, we handed to them.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


If you go back and look now at my childhood or even grandparents, you know, your grandparents childhood, who do you think had the best childhood? Like overall, just for a kid.

I think that the generation in between you and me, their childhood, millennials. Mm hmm. They had the best childhood.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta



Because they could communicate with their phones, like flip phones or telephones, home phones, whatever. So they’re not just laying in their bed and they’re it’s not as addicting either, because it’s not just something you carry around in your hand that’s entertaining and something to look at.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I want you to know that as I work on this very important season, I’m going to be asking these questions as a journalist, as a doctor, but most importantly, as a dad. I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent and proud dad to three teenage daughters. This is chasing Life.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


A few years ago, I read a book that totally changed my approach to parenting and got me thinking about my daughter’s future. The book is called iGen.

So I’ve been doing work on generational differences for about 25 years.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Jean Twenge, who you just heard there, is the author. The year was 2017 and my oldest daughter was about to become a teenager. And I think it just sort of hit me one day. I was about to be a father of teenagers. You know, I spent so much of my life planning and training and preparing. I used to work 100 hours a week for seven years of my life during neurosurgery residency. People often expect me to have the answers for everything. I am Mr. Fix-It for my family and many of our friends. But this issue was gnawing at me. What did I really know about raising three teenage girls? Especially at this time? The time of the igeneration. And I thought this book might help.

And then around 2011 and 2012, I started to see some much more sudden, large changes in these big national surveys of teens in terms of how they spent their time, in terms of how they said they were feeling. And that’s when I realized we have a new generation. These young people are not millennials anymore. They’re the next generation who I think the best name for them is iGen, like iPhones.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


In addition to being an author, Jean Twenge is a psychology professor at San Diego State University. After reading her book, I wanted to learn more. So using my journalistic license, I called her up and asked if we could sit down and chat. Honestly, she scared the heck out of me. Describing the igeneration in ways that were so stark and so worrying.

Their satisfaction with their lives as a whole and with themselves really fell off a cliff in terms of the way they spent their time really shifted that they were spending less time hanging out with their friends in person.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Twenge was making the case to me that the I generation is just fundamentally different in so many ways. They are different in terms of how they spend their time, yes, but also in terms of how they behave, their attitudes toward religion, sex, politics. More than anything, though, Twenge worries that the digital world has made them lonely. I remember so distinctly having that conversation and then running home and immediately checking in on my girls, hugging them and trying to do it as cool as possible. It didn’t work. Kids pick up on everything. They sensed something was wrong. Sage, my oldest, looked up at me and asked, Who died? You know, talking to them. They certainly didn’t seem like they were falling off a cliff like Twenge had described. But what did I know for sure? What could I know? It was humbling. The idea that these people, the most important in my life, had one world in which we could help diligently navigate them and another that was nearly invisible to me. Mr. Fix It felt vulnerable, ill equipped and at a loss.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


The reason I started thinking about technology was because of you and your sisters and wondering how technology is going to affect your lives. What do you think about that?

I think that it already has probably affected our lives a lot. And like, it’s just like how human evolution is going to go on. And like, the technology that’s in our lives now probably isn’t going to change as much as when you get older. Like people say that adults aren’t on their phone as much, but I feel like when we become adults will be on our phones more than adults now. I don’t think it’s a good or bad thing. Like there’s plus and minuses, but like. There’s like certain downs that a lot of people try to avoid and like they try their hardest. But like even if they try to avoid it, they’re going to be exposed to it in their lives. So there’s not much people can do about it. It’s just it’s just the thing is going to get worse as we go on or better as we go on. Depends on how you look on it.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


You super smart, you know that. I can’t. 13 years old. Have you thought about this issue a lot?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


A couple of years ago, my wife Rebecca, and I had to make a big parenting decision, one that I think a lot of parents wonder about. When should we let our kids have a phone? You see, we wanted to be consistent and yet felt a lot of societal pressure to get it right. In the end, we decided the best thing to do was to wait until around sixth grade.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


What was it like when you first got your phone? You remember that day?

I do remember that day just because there was COVID. And I went and I walked to my friend’s house who lived right nearby. We hung out outside and I got my phone and we made a TikTok together. And I was like, new phone!

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


What did you think of the idea that we waited to get you guys phones?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta



I really like how we waited until middle school. I know. Like for parents, it’s difficult. Always with their oldest. So they’re like, when do we give them a phone? You know, they’re sort of trying to figure it out. Wait until middle school.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta



Every other time you’re being, like. Like, there’s always parents, somebody to look after you. But once you’re in middle school, sort of more of that freedom where you can go off and do things by yourself, which also allows more of the danger of going off and doing things by yourself.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


That’s the time to get it. Because the parents are not as big a part of your life at that point, you’re starting to become more independent.

It’s like the turning point of when you start teaching me and more, I start teaching. Or showing you guys things.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


So, question, you have a lot of friends, when you’re communicating with them, what platform are you using? Primarily?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


And why is that?

Because it’s easy, it’s quick, It deletes everything right after.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


And that’s important?

To me it is. Just because, like, you know, middle school drama. Like, if I’m like, hanging out with one of my friends and like, another friend finds out that we’re even, like, talking to each other, they’ll be like, oh, my God, I can’t believe you now, you’re so annoying, I’m like, okay, I’m friends with them. Deal with it.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


But why are they why are they like that?

It’s like just it’s like cycles. It’s just it’s it’s hard. Different reasons, different times.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Are you surprised that I don’t really get it?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


No. Yes or no?

No, no. I’m not surprised.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


So is a lot of your time on the device, like solving drama or addressing drama, because you bring up drama a lot.

A lot of it, actually. I never really thought about it like that.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Okay, look, drama isn’t new, but you are probably wondering the same thing. I was wondering, are these devices fueling the drama, making it worse, affecting their mental health? And now throw in that Soleil and her friends were navigating all of this, all of this drama in the midst of a pandemic. Well, the situation gets complicated. During the pandemic, I noticed my whole family was using phones more often, myself included. And I also know that our family wasn’t the only one going through this. One study found that during the pandemic, children’s electronic use went up by an average of more than one hour in 20 minutes. That wasn’t surprising. But what I did wonder was if this new habit was now here to stay, or should we as a family now rethink the amount of time we spend online? That’s something perhaps unsurprisingly, Soleil doesn’t agree with. For her, the North Star in all this is all about choice and trust.

I don’t want a limited access. People have to grow up in a society where they can control themselves because otherwise when they go somewhere else or when they’re older, or when they do have access to the things that they don’t right now, they’re not going to be able to control themselves.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


So you need to learn these as a learn these skills. Younger in life.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Okay. Well, that’s an interesting way to put it. Do you ever want to cut back yourself?

I do. But if I do, like, say, I need to cut back on TikTok, what I do is I’ll just be like, I’m not going to go on TikTok today. So then I just won’t, and then I’ll just communicate with my friends on Snapchat. It’s not that big of a deal. But if I say that I’m not going to go on Snapchat, it’s a bigger deal because then people are like, Soleil, why aren’t you responding? Soleil? Soleil? Where are you? And even if people don’t do that, then I’ll just be, I’ll just feel like people are doing that even when I’m off of it.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Why do they expect you to respond right away on Snapchat? I mean-

Not right away, but like, it’s just me. Like, I feel like also, like, that’s just bigger for me overall because I also just sort of want to like. Like if I respond to something like that, then like when my friends are, like, upset about something or like something else is going on like that, they need to talk to someone about they feel like, oh, Soleil will be able to respond. Soleil will be able to give me good advice about it.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Ah, interesting. So so they’re not necessarily putting the pressure on you to be on.

I’m putting the pressure on myself because.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


You want to be.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


There. (in unison)

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Solar reminds me so much of her mom. My wife, Rebecca. She’s incredibly caring and nurturing and wants to show up for her friends. Just like these devices have created a world in which professionals are expected to always be on, always available. The same can also be said for our kids. This deep seated desire to always be there for the ones they love. And honestly, that raises a lot of different emotions for me, including pride.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Thanks, Soleil.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Love you. You know what I always say?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I say favorite third daughter.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I often talk to my girls at the dinner table about what I’m working on because I always want to genuinely hear what they think. But as I said, this time felt different. I was learning from Soleil. And there’s the part of the conversation again that really struck me when Soleil said the generation before her, the millennials, they had it best. Why? Because they got to grow up with flip phones, not smartphones. Is she right? After the break, professor Jean Twenge will weigh in on all of this.

I really saw just that very, very sudden change, especially in mental health, but also in optimism and expectations and in time use between millennials and Gen or Gen Z.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Stay tuned.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


And now back to Chasing Life.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Last time we spoke, you know, you talked about the challenges that teens are facing. And it really stuck with me. I mean, it’s you know, again, if you’re a parent, I think frankly, anybody but if you’re a parent, that hits you right in the chest, you know that, gosh, I think I’m I’m wanting to do the right thing. But is, you, you believe that smartphones play a role, a significant role in all of that?

I do. Yeah. So smart smartphones and perhaps particularly social media. So, you know, first we can start with what the generational trends are that it’s really, really concerning. So, for example, that teen depression rates of clinical depression among teens doubled between 2011 and 2019. So we’re talking even before the pandemic. So these are very, very concerning when you look at those trends. And then you have to ask why? Why was there that stark increase right around that time about 2012 or so? Well, that is when the majority of Americans started using a smartphone.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


After she wrote iGen, Professor Twenge says she started to put even more of the puzzle pieces together.

What I’ve realized since then, it’s also when Facebook acquired Instagram and Instagram really took off in popularity. And it’s also around the time that Facebook started to be used by the majority of Americans. And for teens, it’s when about 75% or so started using social media every day. So as recently as, say, 2010, it was about half and half. About half use social media, half didn’t. Then it seems optional, once it gets to that 75%, 80% or so, then it feels more mandatory. And if you don’t use it, you’re left out. And then, what happens, what teens tell me is, they feel like they can’t win because they don’t use social media. Sometimes they feel left out. If they do use it, then there’s that potential they’re going to spend all that time on it. Neither one seems like a great choice.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Wow. That is a dramatic shift teenagers like. So they went from using social media more casually to feeling like they had to be online, that it was an obligation. And during that same time, depression rates doubled. But what is the chicken and what is the egg? Did one cause the other? The shift seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. But keep in mind, there were a lot of other things happening in the world at the same time. My girls were born into a tough time in history two wars, two significant recessions, climate change, and now a pandemic. So are the devices really to blame or are kids in part using the devices to feel better in an already difficult world?

You know, I think we have to take the broad view on this in a number of ways. So one is just to to look at some of those other issues and see if they line up. So the economy is a great place to start. So you see the biggest increase in teen depression between 2011 and 2019. Well, that’s a time when the U.S. economy was on a tear. It was improving at the same time the teen depression was going up so completely misaligned. The reason that I think you could make such a strong case for technology having an impact is it’s not just something that people are worrying about that they read about in the news. It’s something that fundamentally changed people’s day to day lives. And that was especially true for teenagers.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Do you look at this as the device itself being, you know, the culprit, or is it the opportunity cost lost in terms of what you could have been doing instead of being on the device?

It’s a lot of different factors. And I think it’s really important to acknowledge that it’s not really the device itself, it’s how we use it. So, you know, smartphones, for example, overall are amazing. All of the things that that they can do for us, I mean, the Maps app, having the boarding pass on your phone when you when you find an airplane, being able to use Uber or Lyft, being able to call somebody, when you get a flat, you know, there’s just all of these things that really are essential. If we use smartphones just for those and then put them away, I would have very few concerns. But that’s not generally how we use them, because social media apps, for example, you know, are designed to keep you coming back. It’s just it’s so tempting to always pick up the phone and then you get distracted by something else. Just because our whole lives are on it.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I’m a child of immigrants. My parents came here from India in the late sixties, and it’s very interesting and I think non-intuitive when I tell people this that they didn’t they didn’t go back to visit India for at least, you know, ten, 15 years after I was born. They were raising me as they had been raised in sort of 1940s, India, But I was living in the United States, in Michigan. You know, my point being that that was who they were. That’s how they grew up and that’s the values they were trying to impose on me. When we went back to India in the in the eighties. They were like, Holy smokes, this place is totally different, totally changed. Right? How do are you able to avoid the, I think, trap almost of trying to define or describe this new generation by an older generations values?

Well, I think that one way the best way to avoid that is to listen what young to what young people are telling us. So the the the the surveys and data that I’m drawing from, that’s what young people are saying about themselves. And I think that’s what we have to listen to. And that’s what they’re telling us. They’re telling us that they feel stressed. They’re telling us that they they feel like they’re not useful, that they’re having these symptoms of depression, that they’re not happy.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


That’s that I mean, it’s hard to refute that. I find that my daughters and really it’s my oldest daughter who really uses it the most, I guess, you know, we’ve limited it for our younger daughters, but she’s a very authentic person, actually, I find, when she’s using the device. When I look at the comments, you know, in response to something that they may have posted, it can be very affirming, I find. Love you. You go girl. Heart emojis, you know, lots of stuff like that. It almost it it’s it’s emotional as a as a parent to see other children reacting to your child that way and and also understanding how they must feel reading all those positive comments, the tendency, the narrative is to think, okay, you’re going to potentially be surrounded by toxicity. But I haven’t anecdotally, I haven’t seen that. What about what about you?

Well, so my my kids don’t have social media.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Hmm. How old are your. How old are your daughters?

There’s 16. 13 and ten. Almost 11.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Got it. Mine are 17, 15 and 13.

You know, if you look at social media use and depression, it’s it’s it has a dose response curve that’s similar to a lot of other things where it’s the worst at the very, very, very high levels. And even the even there stuff that everybody who uses social media five or more hours a day is depressed. But there’s, say, double the number than at low levels of use. So that that principles comes up a lot in many other contexts that some folks are going to do fine with it. The problem is that you’re going to have more people with the negative outcomes. And that’s what I think the danger is. How do you know which group your kid is going to fall into? Mm hmm.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Well. I’ll ask this bluntly. Am I not a good parent for letting my teenagers be on social media? I mean, you are a professor of psychology. You’ve written a book on this. And your teenage, or, you know, adolescent age daughters, you don’t you don’t allow them to have social media. Am I doing the wrong thing?

It’s tough because, you know, every kid is different. Every situation is different. I think for. For social media in particular. I do think that is the biggest problem. But it depends. It depends on age. Now you’re supposed to be 13 to have your social media any social media account if you’re 12 or under kid is on social media, then yeah, you need to stop that immediately. Kids 13 and over. I think it depends on it depends on the context, and it depends a lot on how much time they’re spending on it. If you have given them permission to have the account, what their mental health status is. Lots and lots of different factors, and it’s tough. So, I mean, I think for that reason, just because you don’t ever know what the impact is going to be, it’s just been easier to say, let’s just let’s just not do that at all. And some of that, too, is because my 16 year old is fortunately, I’m just not all that interested in it. My 13 year old, she might be, she’s going to press more once she gets to high school.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


So what are you going to say when she does?

And I’m I’m not entirely sure. It maybe also it’s also a function of, you know, which which app are we talking about here and how much time are you going to use it? But I have certainly, especially over the last year in particular, seen too many cases of extremely bad outcomes with with social media and those algorithms and what kids end up getting exposed to it. It’s been really frightening for me as as a parent to read about. And those are the extreme cases. But that’s your parent. Your job as a parent sometimes is to you know, you think about those extreme cases sometimes and think, how can I forget my kid from from being in that category?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I want to be honest here. I did really feel vulnerable asking these questions. As a parent, it’s tough to know for sure if I’m making the best choices. Forget right or wrong, are these the best choices with what I know? I just wanted to do the best for my kids. I’m grateful Professor Twenge’s book got me thinking about these issues, and I have really learned a lot from her over the years. I would say that Twinkie has a pretty straight forward view on this topic, quite simply. She thinks social media is the problem. But one of the things I’ve learned as a journalist is that nothing is ever that simple. Nuance is important.

Dr. Michael Rich


Their use of the screen media is really an attempt to self-care, an attempt to self-soothe, if you will, rather than a problem in and of itself. It’s how they’re using it that becomes problematic in their lives.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


On our next episode, how much screen time is too much? We’ll have a virtual house call with someone you may have never heard of before, a “mediatrician”.

Dr. Michael Rich


We are trying to raise kids in a dramatically different environment than we grew up in. What that means is we don’t really have access to the rights and wrongs of parenting that we gleaned from our own parents. Right? We’re in a brave new world that we’re going to have to figure out as we go along.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


And later in the season, you’ll get to meet my other two daughters, Sky and Sage.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


So, have you ever been down here before? What do you think of my podcast studio?

It’s kind of creepy. Hahahaha.

I think that there’s a right time, of like, right maturity to start using social media and technology.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Stay tuned. And thanks for listening.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Chasing Life is a production of CNN Audio. Our podcast is produced by Grace Walker, Xavier Lopez, Eryn Mathewson, and David Rind. Our senior producer is Haley Thomas. Andrea Kane is our medical writer and Tommy Bazarian is our engineer. Dan Dzula is our technical director. The executive producer of CNN Audio is Abby Swanson. A special thanks to Ben Tinker, Amanda Sealey and Nadia Kounang of CNN Health and Katie Hinman.

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