SUMMER SERIES | Jocelyn Brewer on Digital Nutrition & Technology Addiction

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Summer Series. Well, today we’re going to explore Digital Nutrition, digital superfoods, and how to deal with the digital world we find ourselves in. My guest today is Jocelyn Brewer. Jocelyn is a registered psychologist who is changing the way we think about how we use digital technology. Her philosophy of “digital nutrition” aims to optimise your wellbeing and improve your digital literacy online and advocates tips for better cyber-psychological health.

In this fascinating conversation, we explore the benefits and challenges of digital technology, the effect of screen time on teenagers, the ‘digital disinhibition effect”, digital nutrition, and digital superfoods and uncover some practical advice for developing better digital health.

Health Podcast Highlights

SUMMER SERIES | Jocelyn Brewer: Digital Nutrition, Technology Addiction & Screenagers Introduction

Well, if you’re listening to this, you’re a user of digital technology. Now, when I was growing up, digital technology involved the five fingers I have on each hand and my, how things have changed. Everything with a screen on it is now really regarded as digital technology and we are surrounded by it. 

I mean, one estimation as you will hear today, is that the average household has 17 devices that give it access to the digital world in each household. And when you think that many of us grew up with just one television and three step for four stations, that is quite a development, quite a challenge, in fact. And not just a challenge for our kids, for our adolescents, but for every single one of us.

And I’ve often said that I think the biggest challenge for parents in this coming decade will be how to manage technology and teach our kids and ourselves how to deal with it. We are like kids in a sweet shop and we just haven’t worked out how to control this amazing tool we have in our, in literally in the palm of our hands. And it is an amazing tool that can be used in such constructive ways.

Well, today we’re going to explore Digital Nutrition, digital superfoods, and how to deal with the digital world we find ourselves in. My guest today is Jocelyn Brewer. Jocelyn has been a Psychologist for over 10 years and runs a boutique private practise in the inner west of Sydney, Australia.

She works individually with adolescents and adults, as well as with families and parents across a range of mental health and life challenges. She has training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment, and Family Therapy. And her expertise is around helping individuals and families manage their technology use and preventing and treating Internet addictions. Look, it’s a wonderful conversation I have with Jocelyn. I hope you enjoyed this conversation I had with Jocelyn Brewer. Welcome to the show, Jocelyn.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:00:00] I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I am recording this podcast, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters, and culture. I pay my respects to their elders of the past, present, and emerging.

Hello, and welcome to Unstress. My name is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Well, if you’re listening to this, you’re a user of digital technology. Now, when I was growing up, digital technology involved the five fingers I have on each hand and my, how things have changed. Everything with a screen on it is now really regarded as digital technology and we are surrounded by it. 

I mean, one estimation as you will hear today, is that the average household has 17 devices that give it access to the digital world in each household. And when you think that many of us grew up with just one television and three step for four stations, that is quite a development, quite a challenge, in fact. And not just a challenge for our kids, for our adolescents, but for every single one of us.

And I’ve often said that I think the biggest challenge for parents in this coming decade will be how to manage technology and teach our kids and ourselves how to deal with it. We are like kids in a sweet shop and we just haven’t worked out how to control this amazing tool we have in our, in literally in the palm of our hands. And it is an amazing tool that can be used in such constructive ways.

Well, today we’re going to explore Digital Nutrition, digital superfoods, and how to deal with the digital world we find ourselves in. My guest today is Jocelyn Brewer. Jocelyn has been a Psychologist for over 10 years and runs a boutique private practise in the inner west of Sydney, Australia.

She works individually with adolescents and adults, as well as with families and parents across a range of mental health and life challenges. She has training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment, and Family Therapy. And her expertise is around helping individuals and families manage their technology use and preventing and treating Internet addictions. Look, it’s a wonderful conversation I have with Jocelyn. I hope you enjoyed this conversation I had with Jocelyn Brewer. Welcome to the show, Jocelyn.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:02:53] Thank you. Lovely always to get the opportunity to chat.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:02:58] Well, Jocelyn, I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for quite some time because we’re dealing with the topic that to say it affects each and every one of us is an understatement. If ever there was one. And at the risk of outlining obvious things, I wondered if we might just start with technology sort of an audit. How does technology connect us? What are the good things and what are some of the challenges that disconnect us? 

The Benefits and Challenges of Digital Technology 

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:03:25] So and look, technology’s been around for a long time. We can think of pens and pencils as technology. So when we start thinking about digital devices and digital technology, especially in probably the last 10 to 15 years, since, you know, people like Mark Zuckerberg and even before him came up with things like MySpace and ways to connect. 

So the connection absolutely is one of the really positive things, and it’s the active connection. So it’s the ability to reach out and share and kind of have those conversations. I remember going to the Powerhouse Museum when I was in year 3 in 1986 and then talking about video phones and then, you know, that was actually a thing.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:04:02] But there are some of ways the disconnection happens. I guess, is when we get really passive with things, so we sort of scroll mindlessly, we kind of feel like we know what’s going on in people’s lives because we’ve seen the photos that we’ve seen their kid having a swimming lesson in the bath that, you know, I said the other day.

So it’s really about how we use technology. It’s not the fact that pretty much 97% of the Australian population have a device in their hands. I think it’s on average 17 devices in every Australian home. But it’s how we’re thinking about using it and how we’re conscious when we’re using it.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:04:38] Well, I know that you talk about Digital Nutrition, and nutrition is something I’ve been interested in for almost 40 years. And I’ve always thought that calories were a pretty poor measure of nutrition. And I think I’ve heard you say times not a particularly good measure either. Tell me about Digital Nutrition?

What is Digital Nutrition?

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:04:59] So Digital Nutrition is not an app which, you know, plug in how many apples you’ve eaten or how much kale or anything like that. It’s really just using all of those years’ worth of work in public health spaces that we’ve done on what is healthy eating. To try and then buddy that up with how what we consume using technology can influence us and can impact the way we think and the information that we have, all of those sorts of things.

So my kind of philosophy here is about it being proactive and really positive that, yes, there’s calories as a particular metric. But if we sit down, we don’t actually look at the calories on our plate. We would usually look at the nutrients in the protein and the fats and the sugars and all of those other things. So in my invitation to people is not to have to use, you know, learn a whole another way of thinking about technology, but buddying that up on what we do know about what is healthful eating. And that comes in lots of different shapes and sizes. But generally there’s some principles that we can think about.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:05:59] So I do sort of say that I focus on screentime has been like a focus on just digital calories. And really we should be thinking about things like virtual vitamin. So Vitamin C for creativity, Vitamin E for empathy, play being like a protein, a building block for how we learn.

The first way that we start learning is through play — that social play, parallel play, and then playing together, all those sorts of things. And this is probably why games are one of the things that young people especially gravitate to, because it is so playful and it builds in all of these other virtual vitamins — self-determination theory of feeling connected and competent and in control, which kind of is why games to some people, you know, some people call them addictive, you know, inverted commas there. We’ll probably talk about whether or not that’s technically correct. I guess the whole analogy came from this rise of digital detoxing in the idea that, you know, you had to detoxify from technology as opposed to maybe you just needed to consume really consciously.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:07:02] Hmm. It’s interesting to take that metaphor further, because we’ve dealt with nutrition a lot on this programme and in my book and stuff like that. But I just always refer to it as being the key overriding principle is for it to be nutrient-dense.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:07:18] Absolutely. Yeah. And contributing to our values and being sort of aligned to the things that really matter to us. And I guess there’s so many calories out there. Right? And in modern society, few of us are really going hungry. It’s about choosing the right kinds of things that support our wellbeing, on the information that supports our wellbeing. And, you know, I will, but I think there’s that great saying where drowning in information, but we’re stopped for wisdom.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:07:47] Yes. Yes. Well, one of our by-lines is converting information to knowledge, because, you know, that seems to be the biggest challenge of all. I always and still staying with this metaphor of technology and nutrition because I really feel that we are like kids in a sweet shop with technology. Even after 15 years, I mean, I think 2007 was a major turning point with smartphones and Facebook and all of that. And we haven’t quite learnt as adults or children to fully be able to determine what’s good for us and what’s not. And I know addiction comes up as a word. And how do you define Digital Addiction?

Defining Digital Addiction

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:08:31] I think what’s happened with the word addiction is it’s become a shorthand for anything that’s a bit of a guilty pleasure or something that we know is maybe not aligned to the things that really matter. And so when we talk about Clinical Addiction, something like the DSM, doesn’t even use the word. In fact, it has a whole chapter at the start of DSM. And there’s a little paragraph at the front that says basically addiction is this really polemic word. It’s quite severe and we use disorder usually instead. So even the word addiction in a psychiatric term isn’t the go to that we would use.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:09:09] I know it feels like for many people where they’re young, you know, whether it’s their partner or whether it’s their child is really sucked in and hooked on devices or games, it can look like an addiction. But when we really dig into that clinically, it’s probably something else. It’s probably not necessarily an addiction to the device, but to each other. Alright? Because if I said smartphone addiction is a really interesting one, the phone itself isn’t really what we’re hankering for. 

We need the Internet connection and then we probably want the app that we’re connecting with. And if no one was on that app, would we be interested in it? So it’s actually our deep biological need to connect and be a part of something that plays into what we go looking for when to let’s say, you know, with social media and smartphones and things like that, we’re picking it up constantly. And we say that we can’t go without, you know, a few minutes without picking that up.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:10:08] In fact, if you go and get vaccinated at the Olympic Park hub, they will send you a reminder and say, bring your smartphone to keep yourself entertained in the observation section. Now, that is literally 15 minutes that rather than sitting with, you know, ourselves and this moment in history and this incredible opportunity to be vaccinated, we’re told, bring your phone so you can kind of keep entertained. And that, to me, is a really interesting kind of problem.

At one point like, don’t be addicted to your phone and the next thing, don’t be alone with your thoughts. And that’s coming from, you know, that high-end messaging. So where we really have some work to do to turn this around and practise. Again, it’s not necessarily about technology, but being with ourselves and being with our thoughts and being able to manage some of that discomfort and those uncomfortable feelings.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:11:02] And actually, when you look at people, when you see how, well it’s really about attention, isn’t it? Because attention is the currency of technology. And there are some pretty expert people that know how to get our attention. And this is us in the sweet shop. We haven’t quite worked that out yet. I mean, it that addictive? You know. Is our attention and our drive to us to make us engage constantly, don’t move away from it?

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:11:36] Yeah. Look, I think what it is, is it’s habit-forming, whether that habit is addictive or whether that habit-forming is just a neural pathway where you become unconscious and you got to do that. I think if I didn’t have my phone with me, I wouldn’t hanker for it. I would just take some time to readjust.

So I had laser surgery many years ago and I didn’t need glasses for, you know, five or six years after. And for many years I would still reach for my glasses because I had worn glasses since I was four. So it was I addicted to my glasses? No, but I had a habit that was formed from picking up glasses every day.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:12:10] So, again, I think we need to look at this in. Your real question is when does something become really problematic and we need help? And that’s when it interferes with several domains of life. So when it’s interfering with schoolwork or your job, when it’s interfering with your ability to have relationships and connections with people in a meaningful way, when it’s interfering with things like sleep and your basic functions, that’s where we say, OK, this is interrupting your well-being. And that doesn’t have to become seriously ingrained and your whole life falls apart. It can just be. I’m noticing that my relationship with my partner is not great because I formed this habit of wanting to check in on my community in a kind of creepy stalky way, not in a really adaptive, connected way.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:12:59] It’s more a fear of missing out, why really, isn’t it? That you might miss something really funny, critically important. It’s really the fear of missing out, isn’t it? 

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:13:11] Yeah. And again, the fear of missing out is made to seem like this bad thing, like, oh, you don’t want to fear missing out, but part of wanting to be like the flipside of that is wanting to be connected, wanting to belong, wanting to have social capital, wanting to mean something to your community and needing to be in the loop with the meme that’s happening. And being with the kind of trend is a way, I guess, in modern humans demonstrate their value to a group. It’s not because, oh, look at me. I have the skills to hunt and gather and keep us all alive. It’s because I can make you laugh and I’m nice to be around.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:13:48] Wow. I love your positive take on all this. You’re not going to be drawn into anything. That’s okay. I mean, I’m okay with that. But it’s interesting during this pandemic where we’ve been reminded, I mean, the plus side is it connects us. It connects us. But the thing the pandemic has, I think taught us is that that’s not quite enough, really, is it? 

The Pandemic from a Digital Consumption Perspective

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:14:13] Well, the digital connection, obviously, the way we communicate is very, very different from when there is a physical human with a beating heart in front of us. And most of my clients at the moment are choosing to safely come in and continue to have face-to-face because they know that telehealth isn’t quite the same and that there’s a benefit to creating the space and going somewhere to actually see that person. So I think it does a good enough job.

And thank goodness that we have that now because, you know, SARS 1 when it happened in China, I mean, that was a really, really tricky time. And there are lots of things that we could have learnt from that. But again, it’s kind of finding the blend of what works for you. And I didn’t take a lot of my work into zoom, into online spaces because I felt like everyone was just going to be exhausted. And the irony of learning about how to balance your digital life online in the middle of that stuff was just too much noise. So I pulled right back. And I think these are skills that we’re learning as we go.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:15:18] And the emphasis definitely in the last few years has come to the forefront of our mind around what, you know, how our hyperconnectivity is impacting us, is fraying our well-being. And a lot of that’s just how much information is out there, like how many people we’re trying to keep up with. Our village is huge, yet not particularly useful. Like who would you call, when you know you, I don’t know you had a hangover or needed the kids picked up all of those sorts of things. So really re-evaluating our relationships, I think has been a big part of the pandemic.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:15:55] I picked out that date to 2007 because I know and I’m sure you’ve read it, too, it’s that work from Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind and the impact that’s had on teenagers who were born, well say they would I think it was if I were 10 years old, by the time they were 2007. Science tells us they’re struggling in many ways. And you used the term “screenager.” I think.

“Screen-agers” & the Effect of Screen Time on Children

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:16:23] I do. But that comes from an incredible researcher called Douglas Rushkoff. OK, first coined that in 1997 to talk about the generation of tech-savvy, young people that would grow up with technology and TV. So Rushkoff is a prolific writer. Oh, he just blows my mind. I first came across his work when I was a commerce teacher and I used to show his CBS Documentary The Hunt for Cool. He’s written probably twenty books, does a kickass newsletter. He’s one of the newsletters I still let into my inbox.

So he was talking about screenagers way back then and definitely Haidt and Jean Twenge and people like that. We all kind of look at when did the iPhone come out and then the iPod and then tablets and things like that. And yes, there are some correlations between rises in mental health problems and the occurrence and uptake of those. There are lots of other ways we can correlate things to show marginal effect sizes with those things. And again, you need a degree in statistics sometimes to be able to pick apart some of the ways that those statistical processes have been used.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:17:37] So there is some cause for concern, obviously. This is not about saying there’s no impact. We don’t know what the impact is and we should exercise due caution when it comes to developing minds. So you only get one shot at really developing your brain regardless of how plastic we really think that is.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:17:54] And of course, a very old saying is: Show me the — let’s make a gender-neutral. “Show me the per child at seven and I’ll show you the adult.” I know it was “Show me the boy and I’ll show you the man.” But let’s be proper in it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But that is in fact, you know, those first seven years of development are incredibly important. 

And I mean, I’ve witnessed in my own family, I’ve got grandchildren. Five, three, one. You know, when the five-year-old was put in front of a screen for any length of time, my goodness, a bomb could have gone off. Somebody could have walked through the whole house, a machine gunning everybody. And I doubt whether that child would have blinked an eyelid. It’s scary. Is there research? And there must be a lot of research out there showing the effect of screen time on under seven years?

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:18:50] Yeah, look, there is. It’s really tricky. One of the biggest problems, I guess, that we face with this research is how we dose people with technology. It’s not like you can really dose people with a vaccination. Did it stop that particular disease? So one of the questions, I guess, and one of the issues is what are kids watching? And I go back to back in my day, there were three or four TV channels and there was Sesame Street and, you know, playschool and things in the morning, in the afternoon. And there was afternoon TV, morning cartoons. There weren’t seventeen channels with 24/7 content and on-demand services. 

So the on-demand services make us quite demanding. My four-year-old will get up in the morning and say, I want TV, I want this show, I don’t want that show I want. And it’s like, oh my gosh. And this is just TV. This is before she doesn’t even know really where the iPad lives yet. So there are lots of issues with how do we dose that? And then how do we measure that, because we, as I guess the parents, should be the gatekeepers of what young people are consuming.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:19:52] And I guess one of my really big focuses is at the moment are screens in early childhood and really trying to delay access for as long as possible, using that as a kind of top-shelf distraction tool, like once you’ve done all of the colouring and all of the physical stuff that you can do, and then knowing what is the digitally nutritious kind of content to introduce, and the different screens for watching it. Watching TV is quite different. 

My kid will watch TV but be playing and doing lots of other things to having a screen right in your face while you go around the shopping centre rather than, you know, show me all the things that engrain or let’s look at the prices and start doing, you know, number recognition or something like that. So just those sorts of skills. Again, a lot of what I teach is much more about being present offline than it is about how to use technology. It’s just reconnecting us to the stuff beyond our screens.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:20:51] Well, I would definitely recommend ABC Kids as a good gatekeeper for if you had a choice of 17 different channels. I go straight to ABC Kids and feel, and I love sitting there actually and watching with the kids. The shows, some of them are fantastic. Very nutritious, I would suggest.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:21:10] Yes, absolutely. ABC Kids, I think has that more educationally vetted content. When you get into some other streaming services, there are all sorts of things that have beautiful, amazing graphics but also demonstrate some body image things. And some of them even PG shows have some really things that don’t sit particularly well with me in terms of how friends become friends and how they even solve problems and gender stuff. There are all sorts of issues. So you do kind of have to be on top of that and you do have to fit what young people are watching.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:21:44] But, you know, back to us as a community, because I think we’ve all sat in our cars and abused people in a way that, God, if we ever faced them, we would just never do that. And I know there’s another term. I’ve heard you use Digital Disinhibition Effect. Would explain to us what that is.

The Digital Disinhibition Effect

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:22:04] Basically, that’s what happens when you’re not actually looking at somebody. You’re right. You’re not having eye contact. So eye contact really kickstarts so much for us as humans. The first thing our eyes are tuned to at two other eyeballs and two other circles, usually nipples because they’re going to be the source of our food.

So the Digital Disinhibition Effect is really, really fascinating because basically what happens is we forget that there’s actually another, you know, breathing human with the need for empathy, I guess, on the other side of a screen. So a few things happen is, one, we get a bit bolshie and we get a bit out there with what we would say because it’s not like I’m standing there saying it to you. 

We also then think that there’s some level of anonymity. So we can hide in some online spaces behind a Twitter egg or a fake name, and then we can also curate what we’re saying. So unlike having to have synchronous communication like we are now, I can sit back and I can think and I can kind of come up with something really nasty to say.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:23:10] So that is sometimes why people get a little bit outraged and people complain in the online space in a way that they wouldn’t, if you actually had to go up to the restaurant owner and say, oh, actually, my food wasn’t very nice today or blah, blah, blah. So that’s what’s happening in that space. I think we also forget that there are real-life consequences for our actions. 

And absolutely right now, I guess this new legislation that says online abuse and harassment is actually illegal in Australia and you can be prosecuted for that. So that really brings that back home. It’s not like the digital space is this Wild West where nothing applies. But actually how you behave in that space is the same as how you would behave in real life.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:23:52] And that is a law now?

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:23:53] Absolutely. Yeah. If you have a look at the E-Safety Commission. So we are very lucky in Australia to have an incredible Office of the E-Safety Commission, which started off just dealing with children about nearly six years ago.

Its powers have expanded and we now have new legislation that really looks at the impact of abuse, not just on minors, but on every single human in Australia who is using online spaces.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:24:17] The other thing that I’ve heard you speak of are 3 Ms. And I love that when I heard it. No wonder. I was hoping you could share that with us as well. Tell us about the 3Ms.

The Three M’s of Digital Nutrition

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:24:27] And so the 3 M’s of Digital Nutrition, I sort of say apply these before scrolling. It’s Mindful, Meaningful, and Moderate. So Mindful in that you’re really present like you’re not just sort of at the supermarket checkout scrolling through stuff that’s really taking up space in your brain, but not being processed particularly well. So you’re really present to what you’re doing. Think mindfulness shows up in wellbeing everywhere. It’s a really key skill. It’s not all about sitting in a cave and being a Buddhist-style person. It’s just being present to your emotions and how you feeling.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:25:04] Meaningful is all about it being aligned to your values. And again, a values conversation is something that many psychologists will have with clients to talk about. Well, what do you really care about? What is the stuff that matters to you? And are you living a life that’s aligned to that? Because you feel out of alignment with those things that’s probably where you’re having some difficulty. So that can mean things like just maybe unfollowing or muting accounts that aren’t necessarily showing you the kinds of things that you want to be seeing. Maybe you’re following celebrities because they were cool at one point, but you’re not really kind of into this stuff anymore or following particular hashtags or people who are more aligned to the things that you care about. 

So some really great research has shown that when young people actually take some time to think about who they care, about, what they want to do, so their jobs in the industry they want to be in and follow that, that has a positive impact on their mental health when they are using social media. So very different to some of the research that says all these kids are depressed and it’s social media’s fault.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:26:02] And then Moderate. Moderate is all about moderating. Yes, the time that you use, because even though we don’t want to be obsessed with that, we still only have 24 hours in the day. And yet we have different resources to use that. So Beyonce, that quote Beyonce has: “24 hours in the day so do you.” Yeah. Beyonce probably has a personal chef and doesn’t do her own washing. It doesn’t you know. 

So, but time is a limited resource so we want to be careful of how much time we dedicate to these spaces and we want to moderate how we respond based on that digital disinhibition effect. Are we being kind online? Are we speaking to people and responding in the same way that we would if that person was sitting across from us at the dinner table?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:26:43] Wow, I love that. I mean, this Digital Nutrition is overlapping with so much more about, I mean, mindfulness and meditation. Very, very positive. You know, meaningful is part of what we talk about in this wellness programme that we do when we talk about think and reference Martin Seligman’s work of the PERMA Model.

P-E-R-M-A, the aim is meaningful and moderate. It sounds like moderate will be moderate. You know, everything in moderation is what we used to hear if we told. Now, I love that. That’s really good. But to take the metaphor a little bit further, because you also talk about Digital Superfoods.

What are Digital Superfoods?

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:27:26] Oh, yeah. That’s kind of where I started, actually. So, look, I started looking at games and looking at, I guess, the way that games get a really bad wrap. And there was a whole nother world of games that kind of like there’s a whole Australian film industry that maybe doesn’t compete particularly well with Hollywood because it just doesn’t have the big box and the big studios. So similarly, there’s this whole movement of games called Series Games, Games For Change, I guess, is one of the main organisations that drive some of these things that really had beautiful narratives, they were much more pro-social. There were these really gorgeous little independent games.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:28:04] And so I started talking about those digital superfoods because of the way we connect, we problem solve, we collaborate all of these different things that were happening in games. So it’s not just about saying or playing Fortnight is fine, but there are actually ways to hack games like Fortnights so that you can, you know, connect and build skills and even learn languages. 

So we’ve seen young people teach themselves Danish so that they could play Minecraft. There are all sorts of really fascinating, positive things that are happening that we want to amplify while being, you know, conscious of some of those compelling and dependent sorts of aspects of some game design.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:28:43] So, yeah, there’s this fantastic database called I would really recommend that to families who are, I guess, stuck eating the digital hot chips of games. So Minecraft, Roblox, Fortnight, those kinds of games. It’s developed by a fantastic dad gamer called Andy Robertson. 

In lockdown, he put together this database and you can search it by age, by the console that you’re on, accessibility features, the style of game, whether it’s a persistent world or it’s a one-off game, all those different things so that you can discover all of these different games. And play something that’s, I guess, a little bit more digitally nutritious and diversify the digital diet away from the hardships.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:29:30] Nice, nice, nice. And I love that. I love keeping coming back to that. I feel very comfortable with this. Now you know when we, as parents, we often told lead by example, you know, modelling is another thing. You know, we’ve talked about this with another psychologist, Jodie Lowinger, who’s in the Sydney Anxiety Clinic. She’s talking about the importance of modelling, but it’s probably more about do as I say, don’t do as I do. 

When you talk to families, how do you suggest to parents to.. for us all, because this isn’t just a kid problem, it’s a whole community problem. How do we as a family be the nuclear family or a community family? How do we deal with that? What’s some advice, some strategies to navigate this?

Practical Advice for Developing Better Digital Health

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:30:18] Well, there you know, I don’t want to sound like I’m pushing my course, but I have a course all for this. How to co-design your tech family tech use agreement because it is about co-designing with young people. If you really want to ignite change in your family, you have to collaborate and get kids on board. And you have to, I guess, depending on the age of your kids and the relationship that you might have, I really believe that having that 360 feedback is valuable because kids, you know, I don’t believe in do as I say, not do as I do.

So, look, I think it’s really about talking about your values as a family, having regular conversations and they’re tough conversations and awkward conversations and things that teenagers especially think, “Oh, God, have you done a parenting course, Mum? Why are you talking to me about this stuff?” But they build those bridges so that when the proverbial, if the proverbial hits the fan, kids feel comfortable coming to talk to their parents about what’s going on.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:31:14] And the more that we have collaboration around things like the fact that we all put our devices away at 9:30 PM, 10 o’clock and no one is kind of being sucked into those porous boundaries between work and life, I think then we all model wellbeing and we’re all more connected. Many young people say to me, well, why should I get off my phone if Mum and Dad are still on their devices and the cult of business and productivity and needing to be always on and constantly connected, I think is I guess, one of the pushbacks from the pandemic where those boundaries are really porous, like are we leaving from work or working from home? And young people notice that.

So for some of the kids that I work with, it’s actually not about working with the kids, it’s about working with the family dynamic, just like we would in eating disorders. Because, again, to use the analogy of food, it’s something that we’re all doing. And for some young people, their online worlds become the stand-in parents because they don’t have that attachment because everyone’s in their devices doing their own thing. So there’s a lot of stuff that sits here.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:32:19] And I start with a course, 90 minutes to kind of give you some sense of how do these five steps of how to set up a new agreement. And again, it’s not a contract. It’s not something we sign up to, it’s an agreement that needs to be tweaked. 

And then I offer connected families coaching. So I take you to sort of after you’ve done that course, I take you through a bit of a programme and I guide you through some of those things for families where there might be learning difficulties, special needs, or, you know, the pointy end of those problems we’re getting off technology just becomes aggressive, problematic. You know everything falls apart.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:32:57] Well well, we’ll definitely have links to that. And I mean, even if one was being proactive before a problem emerged, I mean, that sounds appealing. I think I’m going to sign our whole family up for that one. No, I’m being serious. I’m being really serious because we’re all you know, we’re all guilty of it. 

And, you know, I’m very aware with when you see young children of parents, you know, advising to put that away, put that away, you know, no, you’re not going to. And then the next moment they’re on their device and the kids aren’t going well, what the hell? You know?

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:33:30] And I think we have a different sense of what we can do these days as well. So it’s like, well, don’t be on your phone, OK? What do I do? I don’t know. Go have fun. Back in my day, I used to do blah, blah, blah, playing cricket in the street or all that stuff. So, you know, for many families, just letting a kid go to the park on their own. And this is some of Haidt’s work. Jonathan Haidt‘s work is around that coddling. 

We talk about the fact that kids are on screens more and that they more have higher rates of mental health, but they’re also having less sex, going to less parties. They’re not getting kidnapped as often. We actually live in a much safer society, yet we’re behaving as if it’s really scary out there. So there is dissonance, I guess, between don’t be on your phone, but we don’t know what else you should be doing that we’re comfortable with.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:34:18] And again, many, many parents don’t actually know what their kids are doing online. They don’t know the content of what they play. And the first homework activity or home play activity I give to parents is go and play a game. And if you’re too busy to play a game for 20 minutes with your kid, you probably need to go and play for an hour.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:34:34] Yes, because it’s not it is also I mean, things that kids are exposed to on the Internet are quite frightening in many ways. So about pornography, the whole sense of intimacy, expectation. I mean, this is why being proactive in this space is actually not an alternative. I think it’s almost mandatory, isn’t it, really?

Childhood Exposure to the Internet

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:35:01] I believe so. I think we’ve got a lot of work to do with understanding that when you allow your child to go online, it’s kind of like handing over the keys to the family car. You wouldn’t do that to an eight-year-old just because they’d seen you drive. There are very clear ways that we scarfo people into learning to drive in this country and in our different states around Australia. 

So we need to think of it that way. And if we don’t go, I guess with the food analogy, we can go with a driving analogy that there needs to be that, you know, learner driver, L plates, P plates gathering, the ability to demonstrate that you actually can be safe in that space, knowing that you can never mitigate every single risk. You can be a really safe driver. It doesn’t mean that the semi-trailer coming your way is also a safe driver doing the right thing.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:35:55] And again, we kind of need to be in conversation so that, you know, one of the biggest things that young people are worried about when things go wrong in digital spaces is if they tell their parents, their parents will take the device away. And having their device taken away is like having the family dog put down. 

For some of them, it’s just a really, really painful reality. So they don’t tell their parents about the little stuff and then it turns into big stuff. And so I’ve heard kids say, oh, I didn’t want to tell mom about that because I swore in a message to somebody and I didn’t want her to say that I’d use the F word or the C word or whatever word. 

And so in their little underdeveloped brains, they like, I’m going to get in trouble with for swearing. I don’t want my phone taken away, whereas we don’t care really if you swearing, we care whether you’re watching pornography or there’s an online predator lining up to meet you after school.

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:36:45] So, again, this is kind of one little example of why we really do need to not hand, hold or mollycoddle, but be very cognisant of the risks and not kind of pretend that it’s not going to happen but equip kids for how to manage when that happens. Porn is one thing. I mean, you know, the risk of people live streaming really inappropriate material and it being virally spread is another thing that happens. 

Unfortunately, way too often there are all sorts of things which I guess sit in the digital safety space a little bit more than my digital well-being space. But increasingly that overlaps and it’s hard to pull one out without the other. You know, it’s just part of that territory and part of like why we teach young people to defensively drive and drive in the rain and drive in the dark and all of those things. We need to think of it that way.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:37:34] I mean, there is just so much to think about, but very reassuring. Jocelyn, to know this is a course that you do provide because as I say, I think being proactive about it is the only alternative, really. It’s the best alternative.

Listen, I just wanted to just finish up now and sort of take a step back from your role as the Sheriff of Digital Nutrition and a Psychologist, because we’re all on a health journey together through life in this modern world, and I wonder whether you might think about what do you think the biggest challenge is for an individual on that journey?

The Biggest Health Challenge

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:38:09] Yeah, look, I think it’s consistency and applying what we know. I think of it like we were saying before, lots of information and we kind of know a lot. But are we applying what we know? And I guess if everyone applied what they knew about health and well-being, I probably wouldn’t have a job as a psychologist. 

So part of what I offer in that course and most of my work is a booster session because you can then learn the 5 steps and have the 38-page workbook. And but if you don’t try it and then try it again and review it and keep tweaking it and keep working towards it and getting that consistency, then we’re probably not going anywhere.

So for me, the biggest thing that I want to know is two weeks or two months after you see me speak or present or come to a course with me is what changed and what stopped you from changing so that I can kind of give you that boost to kick start and remember all of the things that you do know like we know a lot as humans, we just not probably applying it. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:39:12] Well, Jocelyn, thank you so much for today. It’s been terrific to talk to you. And on a subject that literally affects us all and we’ll, of course, have links to that wonderful course you mentioned. Thank you so much. 

Jocelyn Brewer: [00:39:24] I really appreciate it. Thanks, Ron.


Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:39:29] Well, I think you can see what I was drawn to in so looking forward to my conversation with Jocelyn. What attracted my attention, of course, was Digital Nutrition and Digital Detox and Digital Superfoods and the metaphors around nutrition, but also the fact that, look, let’s face it, we are all, it’s all a huge challenge. We walk around with these things in our hands that give us access to the world. I heard one description to put it into perspective, which said that a Maasai Tribesman in the middle of the Kalahari Desert with a reception and a smartphone has access to more information in 2021 than President Clinton had in the White House in the 90s.

And, you know, I think that is a sobering thought. And when you think that everybody does, I mean, when children hold a phone or have a device, they have access and there are many things they can be exposed to. 

We all can be distracted. I mean, I know personally, I have just switched off all my notifications, apart from messages from family and my phone calls. And I can only imagine if you have still got notifications on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian and The New York Times, whatever. 

It wouldn’t be hard for you to have to accept the default position of every app you have on your mobile phone, which is to allow push notifications. And if that is you, a very simple way of transforming your life is to switch all those push notifications off would be at least far more selective about what they are.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:41:28] Look, it’s a challenge for us all. And I’m certainly going to be doing Jocelyn’s course and encouraging my entire family to do that as well. I think this is something that we have to be really open and honest and collaborative with our young children about from, almost from the time they can talk. Maybe that’s a little bit too early. But certainly, I would think from the age of five, I would want to be sitting down with my children or grandchildren and talking openly and honestly about the digital world. And I think that you’ve got to be proactive. And that’s part of what this is all about.

And I loved Jocelyn’s two points of consistency and apply what we know. Consistency. Being consistent. And that’s a theme that keeps coming up when we talk about sleep as well, being routine, having routine, when we’re talking about food, we had a discussion with Dr Pran Yoganathan who mentioned that variety wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be. Maybe consistency in our diet is a good thing, too, and consistency in how we approach technology.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:42:44] Look, there’s something I’ve referenced this before. There’s something wonderfully consistent about the sun coming up every day and going down every night that drives the world around. And so there’s nothing wrong with consistency. I think that’s a very powerful thing. And what about applying what we know? Boy, wouldn’t we all be better if we applied what we know consistently? Anyway, we’ll have links to Jocelyn’s site, Jocelyn’s course. I will certainly be doing it, as I mentioned.

Look, we’ve got some exciting things happening. We’ve already had and will continue to have some Live Instagram TV. I’m just really excited about that. We’re going to be launching our Online Wellness Programme and we’re going to have a subscription as well, which will give you access to so much more than even you have access to at the moment. I hope this finds you well. Until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well. 


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.