The new movie “Eighth Grade” is a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be an eighth-grader in 2018. Kids have trouble talking to one another. They live one life online on their social media accounts and another life in the real world.
The movie shows Kayla trying to navigate these two different worlds and her father trying to navigate what’s going on with her.
Many parents are father Mark Day: wanting to have real conversations, wanting for their kids to put down the phone at dinner, and still wanting to be cool in their daughter’s eyes.
Many of their kids are like Kayla: not sure of how to have meaningful relationships with people in real life, but finding comfort in the world of their phones.
Austin psychologists Mike Brooks and Jon Lasser try to explain to parents what’s going on with their children and technology (and what’s going on with their own use of technology) in the new book “Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World.” ($24.95, Oxford University Press). They’ll be at BookPeople Aug. 2 reading and signing the book.
Brooks, who has always loved video games and did his dissertation on video game violence, works in private practice at the APA Center. Lasser was once a school psychologist and now supervises students in the master’s program for school psychology at Texas State University and is the associate dean for research at the college of education there. Both Brooks and Lasser noticed in their private practices that parents and kids were coming to them with conflicts around technology. Often, it was the kids complaining about their parents’ seemingly inability to put down the phone, as much as the parents being concerned about their children’s use of technology.
“The problem is pervasive,” Lasser says. Yet, he says, “Kids’ basic needs haven’t changed. They need face-to-face communication; they need to feel loved; they need to be connected.”
Both Lasser and Brooks are parents. Brooks’ three boys are still in school; Lasser’s two daughters are now in their 20s.
Brooks and Lasser met in graduate school and were jogging together when they came up with the idea for writing a common-sense approach to using technology that also looked at the neuroscience and evolutionary psychology behind it.
The book offers parents a lot of science such as research that shows that cognitive ability is reduced just by the presence of a cell phone. It doesn’t have to be on, just in the room. “It’s quietly leeching away our happiness and productivity through constantly checking it. Our eyes are more on it than on each other,” Brooks says.
They wanted it to be grounded in research, but also offer parents relatable anecdotes and solutions that would work for them.
If you’re looking for the quick-fix book, this isn’t it, “It’s nuanced and complicated and changing as we speak,” Lasser says. “It gives parents some strategies they can try.”
The book doesn’t advocate for doing away with technology because that’s not realistic. Nor does it believe that monitoring your child’s use of technology through apps will solve the problem.
“If you try to overly manage your child through apps, it becomes a cat-and-mouse game,” Lasser says. Kids figure out how to work around the app or how to find the game controller that you’ve hidden, he says.
Instead, Lasser and Brooks talk a lot about building up the parent-child relationship and making children part of solving the technology problem.
“Instead of having a power struggle, you want the parent and child to collaborate and mutually agree on some limits,” Lasser says. It could be that you all agree no phone during homework or at dinner.
That doesn’t mean that there are no limits in the Lasser and Brooks style. “We don’t believe kids should run amok,” Lasser says, “but (parents are) more likely to get the results they want by sitting down with kids and collaborating on problem solving.”
Brooks likes parents to think about the long-run, not just the current battle. “The ultimate goal is self-regulation,” he says. “If you over-control kids, they don’t have the chance to develop the skills to self-regulate.
“What sets our book apart is it’s prevention-oriented,” Lasser says. That doesn’t mean that if you have children who are already out of control with their use of technology, it’s not a book for you.
The book uses a stoplight’s color scheme as being symptomatic of how technology is interfering with your family’s life. Is the situation green (managed well), yellow (giving you pause for concern) or red (out of control)? It offers different techniques for parents to use based on whether you’re in a green, yellow or red situation. Even though Brooks and Lesser are strong believers in involving children in the solution, at the red level, you might have to just take away the technology for a bit to reset the dynamic.
It also talks about different parenting styles and which one works better to create order in the universe (or at least your home).
Their No. 1 recommendation is for parents to spend more time with their kids without technology. It reminds them that they have value, that they have worth.
“Our interaction is nourishing,” Brooks says. “The more time we spend with kids in that capacity, it feeds that part of their soul that is going to be happy, healthy, and they will have that in them that is it’s valuable to be in relationship.”
Of course, “change always starts with parents having to be mindful of our own patterns and behaviors,” Brooks says.
This means we have to role model what we want. “We have to lift our own heads up on our own devices,” Brooks says. “We’re trying to instill the values of the importance of the relationship through modeling and interacting with them.”
Think of it like healthy eating, Brooks says. We can’t force them to eat healthier foods, but if we model eating healthfully, they might do it.
Reading and Signing
“Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World,” by Jon Lasser and Mike Brooks
$24.95, Oxford University Press
7 p.m. Aug. 2
BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.