Find balance, together: Make time for both online and offline time. Discuss what kids and teens will be doing on their screens and make them aware that there are limits. Refrain from criticizing use. Instead, talk about it with your child to understand their needs and come to an agreement of which content is okay to access and what amount of time is acceptable. For time offline, provide alternatives to screen time.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Theresa Desuyo. Theresa is Qustodio’s Digital Family expert, leading Qustodio’s insights into how to best generate talking points around technology use adapted to each family’s reality. In addition, she leads growth, partnerships and operations in the US. Before joining Qustodio, Theresa worked in gamification for enterprises and a social enterprise, leveraging technologies to engage employees and for cause marketing initiatives respectively. She holds a B.A. from UCLA and an MBA from ESADE, is fluent in Spanish, Catalán and native English speaker from California. As a mother of 3 school-aged children (13, 11, and 5), decisions around technology use is an everyday topic and different for every child. She believes in educating kids and openly discussing the good and the risks associated to digital devices and the internet for them to build the resilience needed today.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Theresa! What is your backstory?
Thank you! I did my undergrad in California and my MBA in Barcelona. I’ve been working since I was 16, so balancing more than one major project at a time has always been a part of who I am. My first job out of college was at an internet start-up in San Francisco when we were all just learning about the World Wide Web. It was exciting and invigorating to be part of the digital revolution. It felt like a historic moment– start-ups were abound, entrepreneurs came from all over the world and all anyone talked about was their next big idea.
A few years into my job as an internet business advisor, I moved from California to Spain. In 1999 it was a place where the internet was largely used by businesses and home connectivity was slow and spotty. Fast forward to today, we often find ourselves digitally connected 24/7, working harder to find a digital balance and time to unplug.
Now, as a mother of 3 — a teenage boy, a pre-teen girl, and a kindergartner boy — I am responsible for making decisions around our digital use as a family. As a working parent involved in a global project I rely 100% on connectivity, but I also need to be conscientious of my digital actions and habits as I lifted my kids to be balanced, well-informed and resilient.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I’d say it was the big personal and professional leap from working on projects that capitalized on constant connectivity, to taking on a more socially conscious role around tech use at my current role with Qustodio — the leader in digital safety and wellbeing for kids and families.
I spent my early years successfully selling the far-reaching benefits of the internet. My first job out of college was to convince small to medium sized businesses throughout the Bay Area to buy virtual real estate on the World Wide Web. The last project I was involved in profited from the fact that on average we touch our phones 2,600 times per day. We capitalized on that very behavior.
Then, I made a career move that forced me to think more consciously about our everyday relationship with technology. It’s actually the first project that aligns my professional and personal lives. Our mission at Qustodio is to help families find a healthy balance between digital activities with life offline. We provide solutions to help families limit, monitor and use screen time safely for a healthier lifestyle. Our aim is that Qustodio serves as a starting point for families to start talking openly about digital safety and wellbeing.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes! Both my role and the overall mission of Qustodio are a seamless fit as I believe in the importance of balanced digital habits. At home, my family has always been very mindful of disconnecting and stepping away from the screens for quality family time. We talk through everything with our children, including tech use and its impact, and I want to make sure that families all over the world have the resources to do so as well. In the US, just over 53% of children will own a smartphone by the age of 11, and that rises to 84% for teenagers. There is so much content online and it’s important to remember that we don’t even have to go looking for that content — it finds us whether solicited or not.
With all the challenges surrounding content consumption and screen time management, it’s a very relevant space to be in today as we navigate our way through the as-yet-unknown impacts of screen time and digital device usage.
Most recently, we launched our YouTube Monitoring feature that allows parents and caregivers to see YouTube searches and watched videos. With more than one-third of parents allowing children under 11 access to YouTube and 400 hours of new content being added to the platform every minute, it’s important for parents to keep a watchful eye over what their children are being exposed to.
Parents can now:
- Easily see and play the videos their children watched on YouTube
- Clearly see the terms their children searched for on YouTube
- Set time limits for the YouTube app which can be customized depending on the day of the week
- Block the YouTube app entirely from devices
We’ve also partnered with Safer Internet Day and are gearing up to give more visibility to this key awareness day that takes place on February 11th. It’s a first for the company and an initiative that everybody’s excited to get behind. As a global brand with over 2 million users worldwide, it makes sense for us to support such a far-reaching initiative for a cause as important as online safety.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Between work and personal life, the average adult spends nearly 11 hours looking at a screen per day. How does our increasing screen time affect our mental, physical, and emotional health?
New research on this topic is released constantly as we try to understand the impact of living between two worlds — onscreen and off-screen. It’s crucial to manage not just the number of hours we spend looking at screens, but how we are spending that time online. Screen time, especially for children, should correspond to age, cognitive readiness, and developmental level.
Experts agree that screen time overexposure takes a toll on our mental, physical, and emotional health. The most tangible are the physical effects — staying in the same position, doing anything repeatedly without breaks inevitably has an effect on our bodies. When working on a laptop or using a mobile device, it’s important to stop, look up and stretch a little or even take a stroll. When it comes to our eyes, as with any muscle, it’s important to use them in different ways, and rest them from time to time. It’s also recommended to put screens down at least one hour before bedtime for more restful sleep.
Regarding mental and emotional health, most experts agree that spending too much time on screens disconnects us from the here and now. Psychologists agree there is no simple answer to the impact of screens and social networks on teens. I recently read a New York Times article about the shift from our concerns over screen time to “screenomes”. It’s not just about the time itself, but what we see and how we engage and react to the content. Screenomes refer to the granularity of how we interact with content. The emotional impact depends on who we are as individuals. I would agree that emotions can’t be measured by screen time hours alone, it’s important to take the context and state of mind of the person interacting with the content into consideration as well.
Ultimately, it comes down to self-regulation, balance and taking a conscious pause in between our screens and real-life interactions, or just taking that much longer to sip a cup of coffee!
Can you share your top five ways people can improve mental wellness and create a healthy relationship with technology?
Like most people, technology is a must for my everyday productivity. But as a parent, it’s my job to be a role model, create guidelines and instill a set of values. Today, that includes talking about our relationship with technology and why it’s important to find a balance for our overall wellbeing.
To find a balance between wellness and technology in your family:
- 1- Practice self-awareness: The first place to start is being aware of one’s own behaviors and accepting what needs to be changed. Take note of how many hours you are spending in front of screens versus spending time with the people around you.
- 2- Get perspective: With the speed and ease of getting that one last message out, sometimes we create an artificial urgency to respond immediately. I recommend stopping to ask, will postponing a device-driven task until after the weekend truly affect the outcome?
- 3- Be a role model: With children in the mix, it’s important to stick to the house rules around technology and ensure that every parent in the child’s life is on board. No technology at the table means no technology at the table.
- 4- Find balance, together: Make time for both online and offline time. Discuss what kids and teens will be doing on their screens and make them aware that there are limits. Refrain from criticizing use. Instead, talk about it with your child to understand their needs and come to an agreement of which content is okay to access and what amount of time is acceptable. For time offline, provide alternatives to screen time. Pull out a board game, open up that forgotten toy box or dust off the skates and spend time with them.
- 5- Talk: Open family communication is key. Age-appropriate talking points are important to approach at the right time. It’s important to recognize what kids and teens need as well as what they are curious about. Discussions with my teenager who wants to stay on top of soccer culture and takes public transportation are different than with my 5-year old who is discovering different types of media and games. Be sensitive to these differences and allow them to learn the right use of technology.
Between social media distractions, messaging apps, and the fact that Americans receive 45.9 push notifications each day, Americans check their phones 80 times per day. How can people, especially younger generations, create a healthier relationship with social media?
The main concern around social media is the need for validation, seeking out the number of likes, comments, followers and pressure to stay active. It’s the social currency that social media users thrive on. Before giving teens access to social apps, it’s important to discuss why and how they want to use these platforms. Agree on whether you as a parent will have access to the account or open the account for them to check-in every now and then or if it’s more suitable for the family, that the child let you know when they see something that’s not quite right.
To create a healthier balance, and to support self-regulation, here are some quick fixes:
1- Configure and limit push notifications
2- Set limits on days and times to check apps, log out of the apps to decrease mindless access.
3- Prioritize and determine which apps or types of messages are urgent versus those that can wait
4- Leave your phone in another room at moments when you’re meant to be socializing in person or having an off-device moment — this can be during meals when you have guests over, are out with friends, or watching a movie.
5- Designate a device blackout day once a week. It’s liberating!
80% of smartphone users check their phones before they brush their teeth in the morning. What effect does starting the day this way have on people? Is there a better morning routine you suggest?
I’d say a better morning routine is to be in the moment. Why not try brushing your teeth, saying good morning, opening the curtains, taking the time to make breakfast, and asking about people’s days before you check your phone or device? Children will mimic what they see at home. Parenting is an “always-on” responsibility and technology serves as a quick escape from that or any other responsibility, for that matter. It’s tempting to grab a device to check the news, emails, and anything else that’s happened in the world while we were sleeping, but the time spent being present will help our children appreciate their surroundings and build real relationships in the here and now. Technology can wait, building resilient families cannot.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?
“Children are great imitators. Be something great for them to imitate.” — Anonymous
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Educate and provide parents with the right information for them to adapt the internet to their way of life versus allowing digital technologies to dictate what content they should see. AI is an incredible advancement, but it’s also our responsibility to take control over technology rather than allowing it to control us.
As adults, we need to be the eyes, ears, and voice of wisdom for our children before they encounter unwanted content, information, and interactions on the internet. It’s a big responsibility to take on as a child and we can’t expect them to be able to navigate it alone. A movement that supports digital safety and wellbeing is necessary for children to evolve into healthy and well-balanced adults.
Each family is different, but my hope is that every parent feels confident about making the right decisions about their family’s digital behavior. It’s not for everyone, but I’ve personally made the decision to keep my children’s faces off of the internet. When we talk about it at home, I tell them that I don’t have the right to distribute their identities, nor to create their digital footprint for them. When they are prepared and old enough they can make that decision on their own.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for all of these great insights!