Episode 106 – Tracy Foster, A Champion for Digital Health (pt. 2)

Today, we welcome back Tracy Foster – the Co-Founder and Executive Director of START. START champions using technology responsibly for overall digital health. Tracy and Jessica share a really vulnerable conversation about how last week’s great tech advice actually works now that the pandemic is changing the rules. Are the kids getting too much screen time? How do we handle virtual school technology? All of these questions and more as our special tech. series continues.


Jessica: Hey, everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host, Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.

We are in week three of the Tech Health series, and I know that you are learning a thing or two. Let me know what you’re learning! Find me on Instagram, @JessicaHonegger — that’s 2 G’s and one N. I want to hear what new practices that you are implementing because of what you’re learning on this podcast.

Today is actually the second conversation that I am having with Tracy Foster, so, in case you missed last week, Tracy is executive director of START, an organization that informs inspires and equips parents and families to maximize the benefits of tech while minimizing the harmful side effects. So, definitely give that episode of listen. It’s a great primer to what START is, what they do, and how they have helped and supported our family in technology. Tracy and I had that original conversation in late February,where we talked about developing practical approaches to creating tech health safety nets in our home. Then enter Coronavirus, and all of my tiny little tech guardrails flew out the window. So, I wanted to reconnect with Tracy again, this time at the end of May when I was actually losing my mind. And I think you can probably pick up on that in this conversation. We knew we wanted to do a check-in and chat all things Quaranscreen — very much a real condition of our new enhanced reliability.

A part of conversation that I want you to really listen for is a refreshing idea that technology creates an opportunity for families to establish values together and have conversations about how they can intentionally use tech to lean into their family values. Next week’s episode is actually with my friend Susan Seay who actually works with moms and families to help them establish what are their values. Here’s my conversation with Tracy Foster.


Quaranscreened: Maximizing the Benefits of Tech at Home

Jessica: So basically, we had a very rich conversation a couple of months ago, and things were a little bit tidy. Things were a little bit tidy. I’m not gonna lie. Maybe I was a little bit like… because you were like, "Yeah, Jessica, you’re really doing all of our recommendations, our tech recommendations." And I’m like, "Yeah, uh-huh." My daughter didn’t get a phone till seventh grade, you know, had to pay for her own. We hadn’t done any social up until two months ago when I talked to you. I was like, "No, no social, all technology goes to bed in the kitchen every night, nothing at the dinner table. We’ve got very clear boundaries, you know, no tech during the week. And then this is what our da-da-da." And then shelter-at-home went in place, and I just heard that a lot of schools around the country aren’t gonna start in August. And I just had a feeling, "Okay, we’re settling into this for a little while." And things are not tidy anymore. In my house, things are not tidy. I’m working from home. My kids are at home. My teenage daughter is fully on TikTok, which, by the way, actually, I’m kinda having fun with TikTok with her.

Tracy: Yes.

Jessica: But the boundaries are so unclear because they’re learning online now. And so, they’re like, "Well, I need to come get my phone to take a picture of something to send to this." And you know, I find myself now constantly yelling at my kids to get off technology. And that was not our situation before, and it’s rough.

Tracy: It is rough.

Jessica: So, I want to hear from you now, how has the landscape changed since we began to, you know, be in a situation where we are at home with our children all of the time? And what are the unique opportunities parents have in this season to build a better future for their kids as it relates to screens?

Tracy: Yeah. Well, I think that it’s both a challenge and an opportunity. Like, so many situations like this. Most days, most of what I feel is the challenge, to be honest. You know, we at START really focus on the fact that we wanna help families maximize the benefits of technology while minimizing the side effects. And I think both sides of that equation are just to the hilt right now. I mean, technology is a lifeline. It’s allowing us to connect, to work, to do school, all sorts of things, and yet we do still know that there are some side effects. But I think what you said in your language about "It’s not so tidy anymore" just really nails it, that this isn’t a time to try to feel extra pressure and guilt from impossible set-in-stone standards. The goal isn’t to have like a very specific number of screen time minutes, but really, there’s an opportunity to think more about how to build muscles of healthy digital habits, we call it digital health, so that we know that, as our kids are growing, they need to learn how to make decisions around their tech use and screen use. That’s gonna be healthy and helpful for them, and so, in some ways, this is providing some opportunities to really do that, to help them learn things like trying to choose what we call reciprocal interactions, things where people are actually going back and forth, almost like tennis, and as opposed to just one-directional consumption.

And so, I think there are a couple of things that I think about in terms of the unique opportunity. The first one is around the fact that, yes, while our kids are on screens so much of the day, a lot of families are also noticing that there’s kind of a renewed spark around the thought of going outside, or having even just a socially distant conversation with a friend, or whatever it might be, or even phone calls are starting to become more popular. AT&T can’t believe the number of phone calls. It’s like tripled since stay-at-home has started. So, it’s not just screen time. So they’re starting to taste some of that goodness, but I think in order to keep that momentum going, it’s gonna take more than just a wish and a hope, and oh, I hope that that continues. And I think this is a time for us to really press into practice and coaching, which requires some language around digital health that’s very coaching-oriented, not I’m-criticizing-them-oriented, as well as really stepping into being a safe harbor for our kids as they make mistakes.

“I think this is a time for us to really press into practice and coaching, which requires some language around digital health that’s very coaching-oriented, not I’m-criticizing-them-oriented, as well as really stepping into being a safe harbor for our kids as they make mistakes.” Tracy Foster

The other thing that I think is really interesting is the fact that I think, for the moment, in some ways, FOMO, the fear of missing out, which has been such an absolute pressure in our kids’ lives, I think in some ways it’s decreased. Now, for my family, I have to share, it has very much increased in one way, and that is around getting a puppy, because it’s on all those presses and calls in social media.

Jessica: My kids are begging me. Begging me.

Tracy: Oh my gosh.

Jessica: I mean, oh jeez, it’s… yeah. On Mothers’ Day, that was my Mothers’ Day gift, was like, "Please do not have this conversation with me about puppies today."

Tracy: My husband and I talked about it, and we were like, "You know what, we’re definitely not doing a dog, but you know, maybe we’re willing to do like a fish." And so we very excitedly shared with our kids, you know, "Hey, guys, you know, we think we’d be willing to get you a fish, like, maybe even a nice set of fish." And my five-year-old was almost succinct in saying, "Mom, that’s not a dog." And I was like…

Jessica: She’s a quick one.

Tracy: And so it’s just like, oh my goodness. So I do think there is that big area of fear of missing out, but what’s really interesting is it’s not as much of a… you know, we hear that phrase, “comparison is the thief of joy,” and so many kids from such early ages see other kids going to birthday parties and they weren’t invited or see other people living their best life. That’s all curated, and it causes them to really feel a lot of inner dissonance and sadness around things. And right now, there’s not as much that you can really be comparing yourselves to, right. And I think that what’s really interesting is that FOMO has waned this concept of JOMO, the joy of missing out, kind of seems to be on the rise. But we know that while there aren’t as many competing factors going on right now, they’re gonna come back.

And I think what’s really interesting about this time is to start to say, "What is it?" You know, as other voices are not speaking as much into our kids’ lives, yes, they’re still connecting with them, but there’s not as much cultural persuasion, what is it that we really want for our kid and for our families? And how can we use this time individually and with them to start to reflect on what are our values, what makes us unique as a family? Is it that we love adventure or competition of thinking like, "Dude, perfect, those guys are all so competitive, but they do these really cool things with each other," or service, or kindness, or humor? And maybe even take time to have, you know, a fireside s’mores session where you talk about this with your kids to say, "What is it that makes us a Honegger or a Foster or whatever?" And then talk about the role that technology and screens can play in supporting those values. So like, "Great, I have an app on my phone that can help my husband find a running trail wherever we are in the world." Right? That’s great. Who knows how often we’re gonna get to use that in the months ahead, but there are so many powerful ways that our screens help us live the lives that we wanna live. But then there are some ways where our screens actually kind of… they use us. We’re not using them. We just get taken sucked into the tide of them.

And so I think this is a really powerful time to introduce this concept of digital health, to start to ask your kids, to model for your kids, because we’re also on screens too much, to say, "Man, I am so tired of Zoom. I just wanna sit and have a real conversation, or I wanna have a phone conversation with someone, and here’s why." So phone calls, these things where you go back and forth, it can be a Zoom too or even a video chat, one thing that’s really neat about those is when you actually do a reciprocal exchange where you go back and forth, like that tennis match, it releases oxytocin, which is a chemical in our bodies, and it acts like a Pac-Man. And what it does is it eats up cortisol, which is the hormone that’s caused by stress. So I know, in our house, we have so much stress right now, and I think it’s been interesting to be able to say to my kids, "Hey, I think you’ve just kind of been like consuming a lot of this one-directional content, and take a break and actually interact with a human."

Jessica: Oh my gosh, I’m using this on my kids tonight. I’m using it on my kids tonight.

Tracy: And it’s amazing…


Shaping Values as a Family

Jessica: I mean, first of all, I am a seven on Enneagram, and we are notorious for the fear of missing out. That’s real. It’s so real, and so that is one thing that has led to me having a deep sense of contentment in my life is… because I have always told myself a story, like, Friday night rolls around, and if I don’t have plans, I’m like, everyone’s having a party and I wasn’t invited. Because that is what you do on Friday night, you have parties. And it took me a while for me to realize as I talked to my friends like, "Jessica, we’re resting on Friday night. We’re chilling at home with popcorn and our kids." And I’m like, "Really? You’re not having a party?" And now I’m like, oh my gosh, I have no fear of missing out because we are all living the exact same lives. And I have to say, the last time we spoke, I had told my daughter she can get Instagram for her 14th birthday and follow through with that. She has not been into Instagram. She is super into TikTok, which I’m having fun with her on TikTok. The one time she experienced envy, she pointed it out. Because we have this time every Sunday where we have this confession time where you say, "What am I gonna do this week? Where have I hurt you? Where have you hurt me?" And we all just kind of lay our cards out on the table on Sundays and have this time of forgiveness and confession. And she confessed, she had been envious at this one point, and we traced it back. And it was like, it was. It was a photo from Instagram. And I’m like, "Yep, that’s what it does to me too, you know." And so it’s been interesting to see how she’s not that into Instagram but a lot more into TikTok, and we’ve made TikTok dances as families.

Tracy: I love that.

Jessica: Yeah. So that’s been really fun. So, I love how you’re all about… I love what you said to talk about your interests and your values, and then you take one step further in how can tech support that. So that is a really great takeaway. My second thing that is really interesting, so I interviewed Susan Seay . Her podcast interview is gonna come out next week, and she is in the process of raising seven children, I think. It’s six or seven.

Tracy: Oh my gosh.

Jessica: And, yes. And she’s homeschooled all of them. And what was interesting is when I did my interview with her, she just… I was expecting like, "Here are our technology rules. Here are our boundaries." And there was none of that. It was all about conversations, and it was about values and identifying our values. And it’s funny because, at the time, I was like, "Susan, come on. Give us the rules. Give us the clear cut." But now that we’ve all basically been forced into this homeschooling role, I’m seeing how gray it is when your kids are online learners. Things do become more gray. And so, it has to be a lot more about conversations than it is about "Do this, do that," because our kids are online all day.

Tracy: So true. I so wish that there were just an easy button or a list of to-dos and to-don’ts that you could just, you know, say, "Okay, I’m following this rulebook, and that’s gonna solve it." And now it is so much easier, but there’s not that. And I think part of what is powerful about it is, well, first of all, technology is always changing, second of all, kids have their own different needs. Families have their own different needs too, especially now. But I think what’s powerful about it is sometimes rules can be something where, yes, the parents can let up on them over time, but it’s something that the parent is enforcing. And what you’re saying about conversations, we think it’s really about instilling that internal dialogue, that internal barometer so that kids can start to find their course. Because they’re gonna be at someone else’s house. They’re gonna go to college. They’re gonna be in all of these situations.

And so what your daughter did where she came and shared, "Hey, this made me feel envy," you could be that safe harbor and that person to talk to her. I think it’s really fantastic. And what’s cool about it too is we hear from a lot of kids when we talk to youth that they are scared to talk with their parents about some of the challenges or stresses that they feel online, because they fear, let’s say they were in your daughter’s shoes, that they would go to their mom and say, "Man, this is really making me feel about this picture that I saw," and that their mom would respond back by being like, "That’s right, Instagram is just terrible. We’re taking Instagram off your phone. You can’t have an Instagram account." And what that does is it just shuts down the kid from actually getting help. What you are helping to walk your daughter through is a normal part of adolescence. Let’s be honest, it’s a normal part of our life as we scroll through Instagram.

And so I think, like you said, just the more that it can be about starting a conversation and inviting them to come openly, vulnerably, knowing that you’ll be that safe harbor, knowing that you won’t overreact, knowing that you’re their champion, that you’re really like, you know… it’s rewriting the narrative that it’s not about, like, you’re not the cop trying to take them away from screens, because screens are like a substance that needs to be limited, but you’re helping to call them into something better and what they want most for their life. And so I think that, right now, even during these stay-at-home days, we’re getting the privilege, and the challenge of having so much more time. But I think it’s a really great opportunity to start some of those conversations or continue those conversations with our kids.

“The more that it can be about starting a conversation and inviting them to come openly, vulnerably, knowing that you’ll be that safe harbor, knowing that you won’t overreact, knowing that you’re their champion … you’re helping to call them into something better and what they want most for their life.” Tracy Foster


Navigating the Highs and Lows

Jessica: You know, I have to say, I was so on board with so many things as this started, and we have. We worked in the yard together. We have these family meetings now. We go on long, long bike rides. But the longer this has gone on, I’ve realized the more I’m just like, "Get off your phones," “What are you doing?”, "Are you online right now," or we have established tech times where like, "Okay, you can be on tech 5:00 to 6:00. That’s when you can be on tech." And then I’ll walk in and they’re like, "Well, we’re listening to a podcast. That doesn’t count," or "I’m looking at something on Amazon for my friend’s birthday in a couple of weeks." And I’m like, "Yeah, you’ve just been scrolling for an hour on Amazon." And I find myself… I am being critical and I am being just more like, "Rawr." And where is that coming from? Like, why am I… I just feel out of control. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe we just feel such a loss of control right now, and that’s something that I can control.

My kids are like consuming "Gilmore Girls" every night, like they’re obsessed. It’s absolutely hilarious. My boys, my little elementary schoolboys, they’re obsessed with "Gilmore Girls." They cannot get enough. But it’s becoming this, like, theme where I’m like, "Okay, we’re not gonna do it tonight." And then they’re like mad at me. And I’m just like, "What’s happening?" Things are just different than they were. Things just feel… And then I just feel like, "You know what, watch your freaking ‘Gilmore Girls.’ I’m gonna go watch my Michael Jordan documentary because it’s amazing." But at the beginning, the first few weeks, it was like mainly game nights. You know, even at night, we’ve had a nightly practice for like a couple of years, like “what’s your high and low for the day, what are three things you’re grateful for.” We see each other so much throughout our day now. We get to dinner and we’re just like, "Hey, do we really have to do highs and lows today?" I don’t know. It’s just maybe you’re catching me at a bad time that I just noticed the longer this has gone on, and now we’re coasting into summer. We’re in summertime, and it just feels like how it did, you know. It’s like, because we already were pushing our normal bedtime boundaries, you know, at 9:00, normally, in summertime, you’re like, "Oh, yeah, you get to stay up later because it’s summertime." I’m like, summer, it’s been three months of this, you know.

So explain to me. Myself, I don’t like this version of myself thatI’m being around tech, and it’s just…we had a nice tidy conversation before, which we aired last week, where I just felt more able to just control and have these conversations. And now I’m just kinda like… feeling like, "Am I being too harsh? But what if they are spending, like, hours on tech every, you know?" I’m confused. I’m tired. And I’m feeling like, "Do I just give them the break?" Like, who cares, "Gilmore Girls" is, you know, a harmless show to just binge on. Tell me, Tracy. Any help?

Tracy: I need the same help. I mean, I think one thing that’s so hard about this is that there is just such a full range of emotions every day, such high highs, such low lows. We are trying to juggle. This is one thing I have to think about personally. We’re trying to juggle a lot of the standards and expectations that we had for our life in terms of the amount of work productivity, the amount of civic service that we do, all of our level of engagement with our kids, our kid’s self-actualization in different areas. We’re trying to do, in many ways, the life that we had before and still put that pressure on ourselves. And so, I think that is really hard. That’s what I’ve been personally struggling with, is how do I realize that I just can expect so much for myself. And I can’t expect myself to always be patient or not tired, because guess what, I am more tired, you know. I know empty nesters, they have a lot of extra time. They probably have a lot of extra loneliness. They’re, like, posting these things on the internet about, like, organizing their garage and their closets, right. I mean, that is so far beyond my realm of reality.

“I think one thing that’s so hard about this is that there is just such a full range of emotions every day, such high highs, such low lows. We are trying to juggle a lot of the standards and expectations that we had for our life.” Tracy Foster

So I think a few things I would say is, one, I do think it’s fair to give yourself more grace. Even if, like, rhythms are your friend, it’s good to have rhythms. It’s good to try to set them in advance as much as possible because then your kids are, you know… this is just, I don’t know, counselor, whoever first came up with this concept, that the more that you’ve established rhythms, the less likely your kids are to push back and asking all that stuff. You know what, you’ve got to feel okay breaking them here or there and not giving yourself guilt about it. So, use rhythms and guidelines at the top for you, but then break them if it’s not.

The biggest thought that comes to mind from this extremely hard question that I don’t think any of us have figured out is that maybe it would be powerful… I mean, your family seems to be doing such a great job of talking about how they’re feeling. We have a, you know, it’s not really a plan, but it’s kind of a framework for thinking about tech use, and maybe you guys should have two conversations that we recommend. The first one is where you do talk about those values and you celebrate and honor, you know, what you guys care about. And in the second conversation, you can come back and say, "Hey, we’ve had these values, you know, scrawled on a piece of paper and stuck up on our fridge. I’ve been noticing — especially if you lead with vulnerability — I’ve been noticing that sometimes when I’ve been stuck on Zoom calls for five hours in a row, I’m actually not living one of these values when I come and I interact with you. And I just wanna tell you I’m sorry. I’ve noticed that when I’m just stuck scrolling on Instagram looking to numb myself that then I’m not as kind to you as I would like to be. Why don’t we sit down as a family and make it fun as much as you can to talk about what we should be doing?”

I know we’ve spoken before about our five key areas: start with yourself, tables and bedtimes, accountability, ride practice drive, and time well-spent. But we even have like just a little basic open-ended document that you can kind of fill in answers to each of those questions. But it’ll be interesting, if your kids are open for it at their opportune time to say, "Hey, how do you feel? How many ‘Gilmore Girls’ episodes do you like to stream before you actually are facing diminishing returns and just feel like a loaf on the couch?" You know, because a lot of time, even young kids will sometimes ask them, how many episodes do you think you should get to watch of "The Mickey Mouse Club?" And they’ll sometimes say, "One. Actually, I really feel the happiest when I just watch one." And so if they feel like maybe they’re having a voice into what that looks like right now or using other frameworks like, "Hey, how do you feel when you’re online?" Can we talk about the 3Cs?

When you’re creating, so that would be like even if you’re watching like a… we still are streaming old versions of Mo Willems doing doodles. So, something where you’re using… you know, you’re making a time-lapse video of creating, connecting or communicating with people, versus consuming. And I think a lot of kids will start to tell you that they do know. They don’t have the motivation to get up and do something else, just like I sometimes don’t with… I mean, the Michael Jordan series. I was talking to my husband last night, I’m like, "I wonder if this was planned to be 10 episodes or if they just realized we, as a society, need more. And so they’re just gonna throw as much of the footage out as they can." So there might be times where they’re like, "Hey, this is all I have. I’m feeling, you know, stressed and I just need to relax." But I don’t think that’s an easy answer. I’ll keep thinking about it in case I can share more thoughts, but I think…


Creating, Consuming, and Connecting

Jessica: No, I like this. We had been having regular conversations every week going into our week that was like, "Okay, what worked in your schedule last week?" Like, start, stop, keep. We were doing start, stop, keep.

Tracy: I love that.

Jessica: They were like, "Okay, let’s look at our past week. You know, what do you wanna start doing this week? What do you wanna keep doing? What do you wanna stop doing?" And yeah, I can say that I don’t think we’ve been having those sort of brief looking at the week. And I love… So, tell me the 3Cs again. It’s creating…

Tracy: Creating, consuming, and connecting.

Jessica: Okay. And so it’s really saying, "Let’s look at how much time we’re spending using technology to create, how much time we’re spending to consume, and how much time we’re spending on connecting, using it as a connection tool." And then the consumption part, that brings up your Pac-Man analogy before. So, it’s this idea that if we’re just… because what are… okay. Tell me the Pac-Man analogy again, because that was good. I wanna hear that again.

Tracy: So basically, when we’re doing one of those things, especially if it’s around the connecting one, so when we’re actually… like you and I are having a conversation back and forth, and your tone of voice and your question is responding to what I’m saying, I can respond back to you. Anything that’s interactive, it basically creates, in our brain, this deeper connection, which releases in our body oxytocin. And oxytocin is a wonderful thing. You also get it from breastfeeding and some other wonderful activities. But oxytocin basically acts like a Pac-Man, back in the old school game. And what it does is it eats cortisol. So cortisol would be like the little dots in the Pac-Man game. Cortisol is the hormone that’s caused by stress. So that’s why I know I have noticed more that, you know, instead of like putting something on social media like, "I’m so burned out. I’m so stressed out. Here’s something my kids did that annoyed me," that doesn’t actually provide the same therapeutic relief as calling a friend or doing texting. But texting back and forth with a friend and saying, "Oh my goodness, I’m having a really hard time," and they respond back to me and they say, "Hey, I hear you, I see you, I know you," and that connection, that kind of… we call it like a tennis match where it’s serve and return, it just does something for… we are just wired for that type of connection.

“Anything that’s interactive, it basically creates, in our brain, this deeper connection, which releases in our body oxytocin. And oxytocin is a wonderful thing.” Tracy Foster

Jessica: So that is the benefit. And then what is the detriment of consumption of just binging on Michael Jordan shows or just scrolling mindlessly, you know? Because I do. I mean, I do Rent the Runway and I’ll just scroll for clothes. I’ll just scroll, scroll, scroll. You know, and so part of me feels like the reason I’m being extra critical to my kids right now is I think because my inner voice is being critical towards myself. Like, I’m realizing I am not using, walking in integrity and what my aspirational values versus what are actually happening. And so when I am doing that, then that self-criticism comes out on them. So, what is… yeah. So tell us what, why. I mean, because part of it’s like, so what, binge on "Gilmore Girls," like, who cares, you know? Like, actually, why should I care if that isn’t good for my brain or my digital health?

Tracy: Well, I think the biggest thing is just how you probably have even noticed, I can certainly notice, how it starts to make you feel. So there’s a certain amount of time that I absolutely feel completely fine consuming. And for me, even personally, or for my kids, it’s not a set number of minutes. It’s kind of dependent upon my mood. But I can start to tell when I do just like endlessly scroll, and I’m actually just like feeling physically worse. I mean, it actually almost is like overeating. So I know, for Mothers’ Day, we just got my favorite ice cream cake. I know that I can down two pieces of that ice cream cake in a serving because I love it so much. But if I start to eat even like two slices that were cut larger than they normally would be or if I eat a third piece, I actually don’t feel good. I’ve lost the benefit of the joy that I had, the part that did help give me comfort and pleasure, and now I actually leave feeling worse than I did when I came to the table.

And I think that’s this… it’s just kind of implicit gauge in our own bodies. That is so hard for us to learn. But if we can pass it off to our kids, "Hey, what is it?" It’s not methodological, but when do you start to feel that slip of, "Okay, that was, you know…" Like, I’ve noticed, we have been big fans of "LEGO Master." But guess what, my kids, they really love one episode of "LEGO Master." Every time we watch two at a time, like they’re grumpy, they’re blah, they turn into zombies. And so I’ve been able to say, "Okay, one is right for them." And it’s an hour-long show. And actually some of my kids could handle two. But I think it’s just, you know, that self-assessment of what am I trying to accomplish now, "Hey, I had a really stressful day. I’m exhausted. I just need to veg." Okay, great. Now I’m feeling a little better, I can probably put down my phone, put down my computer, and go do something that I will enjoy even more. It’s mostly just an opportunity cost.

I guess, really, you are saying like, what’s the downside, is if there’s something that you know about yourself. Like my husband loves to run. And so, for him, it’s really one of these things where it’s like, "Okay, hey, I’m mentally exhausted. I need a recovery. I’m gonna go to ESPN or, you know, The Wall Street Journal, or whatever it is. But then, after a certain point, once my tank has been filled enough, you know, the thing that’s actually gonna make me feel better now and help me wake up feeling better tomorrow is if I go for a run." And you know what, if you don’t do that every time, you don’t guilt yourself. You’re gonna, like, indulge more, and that’s okay. But I don’t know if that describes it well, but that’s how I think about when you just overdo it. It just makes you feel like a bloated feeling, even though that’s supposed to be what it is with food.


Planning for an Uncertain Future

Jessica: Well, there is an opportunity cost, you know, especially right now, we’re managing our kids, doing their school digitally. And if they get kind of off-track, and suddenly, they’ve been watching, you know, Netflix, I mean, it’s just all right at their fingertips right now, you know.

Tracy: Yes. The other thing I just thought of, and I know you’ve read this article, I don’t know if you’ve spoken about it at all on your podcast, but this beautiful piece by Andy Crouch and others at Praxis that talks about blizzard, winter, mini ice age, I think that comes into play even with some of what we’re talking about. I found it to be so challenging, running a race where either you don’t know where the finish line is or maybe even worse, the finish line keeps moving. And so one thing that’s been really helpful that we just pivoted on by accident, thanks to my eight-year-old, was he started realizing like, "Hey, this is not…" Like, we kind of are just operating in a survive and advance type timeline, "Okay, hey, how are we gonna get through this day, this week, whatever?" And he started realizing… I haven’t had the heart to break it to him that school is probably not starting yet or starting again in the fall, at least in the way that we expect. But he started thinking, "Hey, I’m gonna think with a broader time horizon. What do I want to accomplish by the time I step into third grade?" And so, he has like really started to realize, "I really wanna see how many songs can I learnon the piano. I wanna learn to rollerblades." And by setting like a goal-line for him, it’s been very motivating.

And I think it’s even been interesting for us to realize what we were doing so much with so much of our life was just, again, trying to live our life in its current form and like just digitize it or adjust it as opposed to saying, "Okay, hey, if we’re gonna be in this for possibly a while, how can we cast our vision out even longer in terms of goals or things like…?" In our town, we have this awesome company called Sign Gypsies where you can go put these huge letter sign in people’s yards to say like "Happy Birthday" or whatever. And just the other day, I realized we might be like this for a long time. We should just buy our own set. Like that’s a new thing our family can do for people when they have birthdays. Why not? I’m trying to think, if we’re gonna be like this for 12 months, what will I think 12 months from now that I will have said, "Oh, I should have made that investment," and I don’t just mean financial but, "Oh," you know? That would have been a useful thing. And it’s so hard because we just can’t predict. We don’t know how long this is gonna be. But I’ve found recently that really thinking about a longer horizon has helped me to innovate a little more and feel a little bit more fire or whatever or excitement that I could call opportunity even though I am still mourning the loss of everything that I wished could be.

“We don’t know how long this is gonna be. But I’ve found recently that really thinking about a longer horizon has helped me to innovate a little more and feel a little bit more fire … that I could call opportunity even though I am still mourning the loss of everything that I wished could be.” Tracy Foster

Jessica: Right. Or one minute, you’re happy, and the next minute, you’re like mourning. It’s so crazy.

Tracy: Yes.

Jessica: Okay, you just said something that probably freaked a whole lot of people out. Like I just imagine someone just dropped their cup of coffee. They’re like, "Twelve months, are you crazy? Are you crazy?" I am curious though, as someone who is working in this, you know, industry and keeps up with the latest tech trends. What do you expect tech trends will be as the country gradually reopens over the coming months, especially in the classroom?

Tracy: So many of that’s there. So, I think there’s the chance to really use this as a moment where people start to realize that screens are small and life is big, and there is the power of in-person connection and talking with that grocery clerk, you know. I hope that people will be more friendly and more engaged and more joyful than ever. It’s very likely that, unless we’re intentional, we’ll have a pretty fast snapback. So I think there’ll be some higher levels of trust and excitement and engagement, but then it could revert back. So, the more that we can do to try to set habits that will help it stay longer is good. In terms of broader trends, I am really hopeful that there’s gonna be a lot of innovation on the software side and actually even some… I just was in a conversation about the hardware side, that helps make it so that we can be using our screens in more intentional ways. So, like in many ways right now, especially at the level of K-12 education, a lot of what’s happening is taking the way that things have previously been designed and trying to do them in a digital version.

“I think there’s the chance to really use this as a moment where people start to realize that screens are small and life is big, and there is the power of in-person connection … I hope that people will be more friendly and more engaged and more joyful than ever.” Tracy Foster

So, schools were organized around, you know, 20 to 30 kids in a classroom, in a physical building, with set hours and all of the types of things that we know from K-12 education. And so they’ve kind of tried to keep that, and we hear from education experts that a lot of teachers were saying, "When can we just go back to what’s traditionally normal?" However, what’s interesting is, at the secondary or post-secondary, the college level, we’re finding that there’s a lot more disruptive innovation. So, colleges have always been more student-centric, I mean, in many cases, professor-centric too, but they have had the ability to have, "Okay, hey, this class actually works best if it’s one time a week for three hours, and you know, this works best, this can be a lecture, and this can be in small class size." And so we’re hearing lots of stories about ways that universities are actually finding some opportunities to say, "Hey, previously, professors could only interact in this way, and now we’re just gonna try to do this even more. This professor is gonna offer five sessions of that class. Each one is gonna be smaller, and it’s really gonna facilitate this." I think there could be some neat innovation in the K-12 space around what is it that we’re actually trying to accomplish. And going back to your question, I can’t remember, start, stop…

Jessica: Keep. Start, stop, keep.

Tracy: Start, stop, keep, you know. So I think, in education, there could be that, but I think there’s absolutely looming and it varies so much. That’s one thing that’s really so hard that when we’ve talked to some educational K-12 experts, there are some who are saying, "Oh, yeah, we expect kids to come back for two weeks in the fall just for the purpose of getting their school-issued devices, learning all their passwords and programs, and then we’re gonna send them back home." So I think there is a very fair chance that there will be a lot more virtual distance online learning, and my hope in some of that is that we don’t just try to make it as rigid as it was before but that we do it with some extra creativity to say, "Okay, hey, school is a little different. Maybe all the fifth graders do 50% of this stuff and then 50% is actually more customized to the kid." There’s the potential for cool customization. But if I’m honest, all of it honestly just terrifies me, because from a systemic level, K-12 has been designed so that parents…

Jessica: Can work.

Tracy: …can work. So I don’t know, personally, like, how can we navigate something that all of a sudden shifts a lot. That, like, creates a lot of stress and fear and denial.

Jessica: We’ll create stress in the home.

Tracy: Yeah.


Technology: Changing the Way We Live

Jessica: I mean, I’m living working from home. I actually ironically went into 2020 and one of my big goals was to manage my time and my calendar in a way that I had significant block times of working from home.

Tracy: Oh, wow. Nailed that one.

Jessica: Here I am. But I was wanting to work at home, alone, in my house.

Tracy: Exactly.

Jessica: And so, there’s this level of, you know, stress, because my kids just walk in during a meeting and they’re like, "Mom, look at this," or "Mom." I mean, one time, my daughter was just like, "Mom, I’m just giving you a morning hug." And I was like in a really intense meeting and was like, "Okay, just in 30 minutes, okay," you know. And so, that is creating this mom guilt that I haven’t had in years. I had it back when I was working from home when my kids were little, and I was like, "I don’t care that you’re awake. You can just hang out in your crib for another hour." You know.

Tracy: Totally, yes.

Jessica: I’m like, "Oh my gosh, I haven’t felt this in years, and now it’s back." So, what are we gonna do as far as… yeah, what are some of the new… how is this gonna change how we work from home as well?

Tracy: I think that’s gonna be really interesting. I don’t know whether it will be a little bit of a shift. I mean, there are so many different facets to it. How will it affect different genders? How will it affect if one spouse starts actually having to go outside of the home again for work? How does it affect single moms or single dads? I think there’s a chance that we’ll just, through pain and suffering, probably fight through to learn those things where our kids will start… Maybe there’ll be more signs on the door that says, "Hey, here’s my schedule," for kids that are old enough to read. Do not come in unless there is a fire or someone is like bleeding heavily, you know, during these specific times. I’m not talking like a scrape, you know. But I think there’s a chance that some of that could lead to kinda powerful and unique development opportunities for our kids. This is like trying to be wishful thinking. But if you think about it, so much of our society now is so helicopter-y and so scheduled and so, like, “you’re gonna go do all these different activities.” This is maybe just self-justification, but I think it is actually useful that my kids know that I am working until a certain time, and when they wake up, they’re not in cribs anymore, but they have to entertain themselves for quite a long time.

I hope that there are gonna be some really neat things where kids, you know, learn to bake and they learn to do some of these different things as they press through that boredom. Because I will say, at a societal level, one of my hopes about this is our kids, and Brené Brown had an awesome quote about this recently, but she basically said, one of the things that our teenagers don’t know is how to press through boredom, how to build those muscles to go through it. It is the first time for them to be experiencing that, because their whole life, you know, they’ve had a busy, you know, school and activity schedule, and memes and TikTok, right, at the ready. And now they’re having to figure out, "How do they do that?" And it’s gonna be a process of pain and suffering. I think she said, they’re gonna complain 1000 times that they feel like they’re dying, but if they fight through it, they’ll get to the other side and experience something that very few youths today experience, which is their imagination.

“One of the things that our teenagers don’t know is how to press through boredom, how to build those muscles to go through it … but if they fight through it, they’ll get to the other side and experience something that very few youths today experience, which is their imagination.” Tracy Foster

So I mean, there’s a hopeful thought of, "Okay, maybe we’ll start to come to some process where we just know each other better and we stop feeling guilty." But I don’t know. I think it’s gonna be really hard if we and the organizations that we work with or for or run are expecting the same things from us. And if we’re expecting the same thing of us towards our kids, you know, I just don’t know. I think so much, for me, because I do work, that I, when I’m in my time with my kids, I really have a high standard for that time. I wanna be on. I wanna be interactive. And right now I just can’t be as much because I’m juggling so much more. And I mean data shows that multitasking is like one of the worst things we can do, right. If you’re doing an activity, like a work task or any task really, but especially tasks that require a focused problem solving, if you’re doing it in what’s called a state of continuous partial attention, it takes like four times as long. And you can tell that when you’re thinking about the critical thinking, it takes you about 20 minutes each time you shift in or out of the different things. So like you, when you’re in that intense call, your mindset was in a certain mode, it would have taken you probably 20 minutes, according to this theory, to really truly be in the spot ready to accept a tender hug from your child. And so those… like, the back and forth of that, I think that that’s one of the most migraine-inducing things in my life. So I don’t know, Jessica. We need to talk to Oprah. Does she have a good word for us on this?

Jessica: Maybe, I venture she does.

Tracy: Because if Oprah doesn’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know how this is gonna go. And I’m fearing, trembling.

Jessica: I so love and appreciate the compassionate space that Tracy creates when talking about establishing and maintaining digital health for ourselves and our families, especially during this new age of Corona. At the time of this interview, I was really struggling to maintain balance and be an integrity with my own consumption of tech, and I was feeling impatient and critical of my kids and their own tech use. I feel like that is the words they’re going to remember most that I’ve said to them during this time, is like “Get off tech.” Which is not my goal.

This conversation with Tracy was such a bomb for me. I so appreciated the tips she shared for rewriting the narrative of digital boundaries with our families using those three C’s: creating, consuming, and connecting. Walking with my kids through this reflection of assessing how much time is being spent creating with tech, consuming tech, and connecting through tech — it’s been a game-changer in being able to understand our baselines and what healthy and realistic boundaries can be in place for us. So, it’s been really great language. I’m excited for you to get to implement that with your families.

Next week is the final episode of our Tech Health series before we take a summer break, and it’s a conversation with Susan Seay, and you’re going to turn into this powerful conversation around Tech Health in the time of the sweeping response to racial injustice, leveraging technology to amplify voices and move forward a movement, and knowing when to rest, knowing when a moment a disconnection is needed in order to continue to work for progress and education. So, tune back in.

Keep up with Tracy and START at www.westartnow.org. That’s where you’re going to find their Tik Tok Drivers Ed is what they call it, and also their Snapchat version as well. We just read those out loud as a family at the dinner table – super, super helpful. To access the super helpful parenting guides that I just mentioned, go to https://www.westartnow.org/featured-content.

Before we go, if it’s been awhile since you thought about rating a podcast or leaving a review for a podcast, it would mean so much to me if you would do that. In fact, as I’m saying this, I’m like, “I need to go review a podcast or two, because I’m asking you to do that, I need to go do that for the podcasts I listen to.”

Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.