Navigating social media privacy and reputation with kids and teens with Devorah Heitner


00:00:01    Alyssa

You're listening to Voices of Your Village. And on this episode, I got to have a conversation that I personally have been wanting to have for a long time. I got to hang out with Dr. Devorah Heitner and chat about Growing Up In Public her latest book. I think it's huge because we are living in this world as parents that we didn't grow up in when it comes to screens and navigating privacy and reputation with kids and teens. Like, if a teen posts this photo, what does that mean for them now or in the long -term that people are losing their jobs over tweets or things that show up online? And so this is a conversation I personally have been very curious about. Like, what does it look like to parent in this world, to support kids with these tools that they need to thrive when it wasn't something we experienced when we were younger? Her book, Growing Up in Public, is a phenomenal resource for this. And it's one of those things where, for myself, I like to feel prepared and look at, like, how am I setting kids up for success down the road? So I personally am really interested in diving into things like this. Even though I don't have a teenager right now, I wanna look at how am I sharing about my tiny humans and what am I doing to serve or support them in that way? And really examining my role in this now to then look at how do I set them up for success down the road as well? You can snag her book, Growing Up in Public, wherever books are sold, and I, 10 out of 10, would recommend. All right, folks, let's dive in. 


00:02:06    Alyssa

Hey there. I'm Alyssa Blask Campbell. I'm a mom with a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education and co-creator of the Collaborative Emotion Processing method. I'm here to walk alongside you through the messy, vulnerable parts of being humans, raising other humans with deep thoughts and actionable tips. Let's dive in together. 


00:02:34    Alyssa

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Voices of Your Village. Today, I get to hang out with Dr. Devorah Heitner. She's the author of Screen Lies, Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World. And her latest book out September 12th is Growing Up in Public. It's about navigating privacy and reputation with kids and teens. I'm so excited to get to chat with Dr. Heitner about this today. I personally have so many questions. Dr. Heitner's work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN Opinion. She's delighted to be raising her own teenager. You can follow her on Instagram at devoraheitnerphd and on substack at Hello, Devorah. How are you? 


00:03:17    Dr. Heitner

Hi, I'm good thanks. How are you? 


00:03:21    Alyssa

I'm doing pretty well here. Yeah, you know, parenting a toddler and growing another human and doing all the things, but...


00:03:29    Dr. Heitner

So much energy, so much energy. 


00:03:33    Alyssa

So much energy. It's so true. I, like you said in the intro, I'm so jazzed to chat about this. It's something that I personally have so many questions about both as a parent and as a human with a social platform and when we started Seed, it was really a personal brand and it just started with me after our research ended, just sharing, sharing about the research, sharing what we learned, sharing about the method and what it looked like in my real life as a teacher, as a human, and it was really easy for me to share. Like it felt really natural. And even through pregnancy, it felt really natural for me to keep sharing. And then I had Sage, my little guy, and all of a sudden I like felt myself go really inward where I was like, oh, this isn't just me anymore. And I wish I had you two years ago and I'm excited to have you now because I want to pick your brain on all of this. And what it looks like to lay a foundation with the online world and our tiny humans. And yeah, so thank you for being here. 


00:04:45    Dr. Heitner

Yeah, and what it's like for them, like what it's like for Sage, when Sage realizes mom has this world outside of our family and outside of our home, that's a bigger world and people know about us and our family. And what does that mean? And I think most kids, if their parents are on social media, even if your parent isn't out there as an entrepreneur or as a thought leader in a space with like a bigger social media, but any parent on Facebook or Instagram, their kids are gonna at some point realize like, oh my gosh, mom or dad is known to people and therefore I may be known to people that are not people that I know. 


00:05:22    Alyssa

Yeah, and that's exactly it. Like whether it's just like, oh yeah, Aunt Mary sees these things about you and you've maybe met her once in your life and don't really know her, but she knows all these things about you or it feels like she does. Or we go to the farmer's market and someone stops us and is like, are you Alyssa from Seed & Sew? Is this Sage? Like, and I'm like, oh, okay. Like this is a thing I have to think about in a whole different way. And yeah, for him, like, what is that like? What will that be like? So thanks. Thanks for being here as my personal go-to for all these things now, Devorah. So grateful. 


00:06:02    Dr. Heitner

Happy to help. Although you can ask my 14 year old who keeps a very low profile online, what it's like for him too, because I think as kids get older, they have more to say. And if you look at my Instagram, you'd be like, wait, she has a kid? Because I don't share. And my kid knows I've been writing a book about privacy and reputation and social media. So I would be really, and that I've been saying that parents should be asking permission before they share their kids. So I really can't share. I haven't shared images on social of him for years. And so there's this kind of lack though. I mean, honestly, it's sometimes a bummer for me. There's times where I'm like, you just got your black belt and I got this great picture or you're taller than me now. That would be really fun to show a photo of. 


00:06:45    Alyssa



00:06:46    Dr. Heitner

It's hard to resist. 


00:06:46    Alyssa

Well, and it just like feels, I feel like the parenting world on Instagram can become this highlight reel, right? Where we're just like sharing all these like, oh, here's what you quote should do in this moment. Or here's how you can respond to your kid. But what feels more authentic and genuine for me is like, yeah, I had a really hard morning, like trying to get out the door and this is what it looked like. But that involves sharing parts of Sage's journey too, right? And like the challenges that we had getting out the door, the reality of who he is and how his nervous system works versus how my nervous system works and the mismatches that can happen. And just things like that that I think are like, it's the realness of doing this. And I'm so cautious about the highlight reel and only the like, I don't know, I guess like ideals, if you will, versus the realities. And it feels really easy for me to share about the realities, but it involves sharing him that then like now, yeah, feels uncomfortable. 


00:07:54    Dr. Heitner

It's so tricky. And I think parents can feel less alone looking at content like that and stories that other people share. But I do think we have to be careful about what we share about our kids and sometimes maybe error on the side of sharing with a smaller circle, which is hard. I mean, I get what you're trying to do is like, you know, really serve and support a larger group of people, but it's tricky. There are times where I think we need to focus on, okay, what is the small circle? You know, do I have an intimate group of close friends who will hold this knowledge close and not kind of mention it to my kid later if it's kind of involving them? Or in the case of, you know, parents sharing about something like a diagnosis, like maybe your kid is neurodiverse or has a learning disability or a health situation where maybe you wanna share in an affinity group for people who are also dealing with that health situation or LD or, you know, neurodiversity, but you don't wanna open that up to the whole world. Is there a way to even share anonymously and get the same kind of support? Because at least for me, like I have one kid, I have a weird name, I have a somewhat public life. Like it's very clearly him if I'm sharing about my kid. Like there's not like some other, you know, and when you're Devorah Heitner, you can't really hide on the internet because like there's not a lot of other Google search results under that name other than me. So I think my kid likes having a different last name than I do for that reason, but it's still not, there's not a lot of ways to hide. And I think for all of us, search really changes things and facial recognition is gonna change things as well. My kid was recognized on the streets of another city when he was five at a parade we were at by someone who knew about him from seeing my pictures and didn't know him personally. And that was in this Screen-wise era when I was working on my last book. And so I was already talking about these issues, but I wasn't as focused on specifically privacy and sharing things. Although I had been saying ask permission, but my kid was so little. I was like, oh, you can ask permission when they're like seven. But he was so disconcerted by having someone know who he was that he didn't know that I realized, okay, maybe I need to think about this even sooner. 


00:09:58    Alyssa

Yeah. Can we chat about like, what are the fears, right? Like what are the concerns around if somebody recognizes them that doesn't know them or sharing stuff of theirs online? This is a conversation I was having with someone in my life recently where I was talking about this exact thing. I'm like, oh, I don't know what's the right amount to share. So it does feel hard to ask permission, right? And up until this point, and my friend was like, what's the big deal? Like, what does it matter if people know these things? Like, can we break that down? 


00:10:32    Dr. Heitner

I think part of it is you have to fast forward a little to them at their most self -conscious. So thinking about their life course, think about them as a 12 or 13 or 14 year old who's more self -conscious and think about nobody's not gonna hire you for a job because you had a meltdown at the mall when you were two, but you might not want people to know about it because it just feels personal and private. And especially, and I know you wouldn't do this, but I think sometimes we see parents actually photographing or videotaping their kids when they're struggling to self-regulate. And I think that's particularly a problem because that's also distancing in the moment. So rather than being connected, and there's all kinds of reasons why people do it. I mean, the sort of cruel reason would be like, reason my kid is crying and you're actually like making fun of your kid for not being self-regulated. I think that that's just cruel, obviously. 


00:11:18    Alyssa

It's not respectful. 


00:11:18    Dr. Heitner

I don't think any of us want to do that over here on the extreme. I think people do it sometimes because they don't know what to do. And a lot of us reflexively reach for our cameras and document things in our world and our families in life because we just don't know what to do. And the camera gives us a little emotional distance. But I think there are a lot of reasons not to do that. And that is profoundly disruptive to what kids need in those moments. So describing it later might feel less like a breach of trust and a breach of the relationship. I still think, again, that we need to be careful because think about, again, your 13 -year -old reading that later. Like from your point of view, will you wish you'd kept it in your diary or talk to your close friends in your parenting group or talk to your sibling who has older kids who will counsel you through or your parenting coach or your therapist versus sharing in a public way where your kid's friends can later read it. And these include things like parents posting about things like bed wetting or school anxiety or envy and jealousy when a new sibling is born, which are all real things and shouldn't be like shameful in any way, but it's still very personal. And I'm not sure I would wanna read an account of, I was seven when my sister was born, so I wasn't expecting a sibling. I'd always been told I was an only child. And then there was my sibling and I know that there were behavior issues because my mother later told me like, we went to family therapy and it was a thing. I don't think I would have wanted to read about that at nine or 10 on my mother's social media and hear her perspective on that. Like, I feel like as parents, we need to keep some things in our thought bubble or share with our people and not have that get found by kids. So I just think it's important to realize that our kids will someday see this. 


00:13:09    Alyssa

Yeah, yeah, well, and that's the lens for me is like, if he reads this one day, what will it mean for him, for our relationship, to me? And for me, it's interesting, like the idea of like personal privacy, I think is so personal. Like what is personal? What is private? What isn't? And that's the line that I find hard. Like, I think a lot of work around feelings, there's a lot of shame in a lot of cultures around feelings. I think because we haven't had a space to talk about them, to normalize them, to say, yeah, it makes total sense to feel jealous of a baby that's getting a lot of attention when that wasn't the case, right? To grieve the loss of the family life that you had before to make space for what is. And so for me, there's that balance of like, how much are we perpetuating shame around emotions and experiences by keeping it all private? And I think of like my experience with miscarriage. I had two miscarriages before Sage and it was so comforting for me to have read other people's miscarriage journeys publicly to then when it was occurring for me, no, like, all right, I'm not broken. There's nothing wrong with me. And this is really common. And like that, the normalization of the hard experience was really helpful for me. And that's a really personal thing to share, you know? And so that's where I have like, I get hung up in that space too. 


00:14:46    Dr. Heitner

I mean, that's a really good example. I mean, I also lost a pregnancy before my son was born. And I think what happens in that situation so many times is your women, friends and family members share all their losses with you. And you had no idea, you know, like so many people in my life opened up to me about having had miscarriages. And I just had no idea that it was so around me. And I think another example is the ways kids are now sharing about mental health. And I think we, you know, I was in therapy as a teenager and no one even had to tell me their stigma, don't share. My parents never even said, don't tell anyone you're in therapy. I just absorbed it from the culture. This is like, you know, early 1990s. And I didn't say anything or I would even lie and say I was going places I wasn't going when I was going to therapy. And now kids openly disclose that they're in therapy and it's de-stigmatized in some communities. I'm not gonna say that's a universal, but I think that there are communities more than there were 20, 30 years ago where you could say, oh, I gotta go, I have therapy. Or even like my therapist just gave me this great advice. Like, here, let me share it with you. You know, like that kind of thing. And what's great is I still think it's powerful and important for kids to know they have a choice. It's totally okay to be in therapy and choose to keep that private, that's fine. But if you do wanna share the fact that more people are sharing about it, de -stigmatizes it and makes it even seem like an option. Like maybe your friend would be like, oh wait, therapy, like tell me more. You know, I'd like to know about that. That sounds like a really good resource. And I think parents are nervous that kids are sharing things like that or mental health or neurodiversity or other categories of experience that we didn't talk about. Experiences of racial injustice and harm, experiences of surviving sexual assault or harassment. Kids are opening up about all these things online in their social media, on TikTok, on Discord, on Instagram. And I think for a lot of parents, they're like, whoa, whoa, that's really dangerous. I would rather see kids open up about it themselves. And again, it's not that I don't wanna see parents whose kids are going through, like we know so many teenagers are experiencing mental health issues. And clearly that's a crisis for the whole family. The parents need support too. I'm not saying suffer alone. That's not what I'm saying. I'm just saying if your kid, for example, is super anxious and refusing school, but they're in eighth or ninth grade, like for example, you can't share that in your social media publicly without other people knowing and maybe they're not ready for that or that's not actually even gonna help their recovery to have people know that, right? Maybe it's better for them to be able to have another story that they wanna tell and to tell only their most trusted circle. And so it's one thing if they wanna open up about it, but I think if you wanna be open about it, I think you need to find a space that's not your public social media. And again, there may be a Discord you can join. It may not be, it could be an online group, but it could be an online parenting group where it's shared and it's more locked down versus sharing in the open space where there are always people you forget about too on social. I mean, I think that's especially true for someone like you as a bigger presence, but I think for any of us, you're thinking about, oh, my parents will see this. And I started sharing my pictures of our son just with the grandparents. Cause I realized that's who I was really posting on Facebook for. It wasn't my colleagues that I used to work with at the various colleges I taught at before I started my business doing that. It wasn't my friends from my doctoral program that needed to see pictures of my kids. It was like, or my friends from summer camp back in the day, it was like, there's a small number of people who have an endless appetite for pictures of my kid. And those are like the three living grandparents. And I was like, I could just text them or make a calendar every year, which we still do, even though he's 14, like we still make a yearly calendar. And those are the people for whom like any number of pictures is wonderful. Everyone else would only really like a few and maybe none at all is okay. 


00:18:34    Alyssa

Sure, sure. I, yeah, and like, it does make sense to me as kids get older and they have, you know, they can participate in that conversation around what's shared and what isn't. I think what it feels hard is in the like infant toddler years where it's different in terms of communication and what consent can look like. One of the things that I'm curious about and I was sharing with you, like this conversation makes me think a lot of the one that I had with Jess Leahy on the addiction inoculation where she said, yeah, it's not at like 16 when they ask, can I go to this party that now you're starting this conversation. And for me, I think of the fact that like screens aren't going away. Social media isn't going away. Like this public piece isn't going away and it's only going to continue to evolve. And I, like that feels the unknown of that feels scary for me, but I also don't want to like live in the dark. It was so new for me as a kid, you know, like MySpace and AIM and whatever was like really happening and no one talked to us about it or at least no one talked to me about it. 


00:19:45    Dr. Heitner

And 13. Yes. It sounds like the kid, like those protagonists are in your, and I taught actually like my first college students were also in the AIM kind of generation. Like when I was right out of grad school, I was teaching young people who grew up with MySpace and it was really eyeopening for me because I was just a little bit older and their experience was so different. And they experienced also like Forum Spring, which was an app that a lot of kids used to be really mean to each other. So they were very hip to the challenges. And I think too, like one of the things we're doing when we ask our kids permission before we share, you know, whether that's starting at five or starting at seven, or whenever they sort of become aware of our sharing, I do think before a certain age, it just has to be our discernment. But when we start asking, we're modeling for them that this is what they should do with their peers. Right. And that's huge that they shouldn't be taking videos of their peers and putting them on YouTube, for example, without permission. 


00:20:37    Alyssa

That makes total sense. And I love that as a model. And so that's what I was thinking about is like, yeah, how do I model this? How do I set up a relationship? I love this part of your work so much that you're so focused on the like empathy and mentoring versus monitoring. And I, as a human, just in general, we have a team of 10 at Seed and nothing fires me up about micromanaging. Like it doesn't bring me any joy. It's not, I hire people to do things that I, that they're better at than I am so that I don't have to do it and think about it. Like happy to collaborate in any way that I can, but like micromanaging brings me no joy. And same in parenting. Like it's not what I'm here to do. And so I think of that with the like monitoring. I don't want to micromanage devices. I don't want to be like checking up on. I also grew up, I think my husband and I were just talking about this because we're very different upbringings and I'm one of five kids in a low -income community that was like really farm town, rural, really like a village mindset. And I would leave the house and be gone for hours and maybe call my parents from Allie Ty's house and be like, hey, I'm gonna stay for dinner with the Ty's and then I'll be home later. But it was, there wasn't a lot of monitoring of me. There was like a trust that we had and we also didn't have, there was no tracking of my whereabouts. Caller ID came on the scene later and we didn't have it at my house. So even that, like I call from anywhere, right? And I think about that of like, oh, I don't know what this looks like down the road. I don't know what this looks like with Sage and I don't want to be like, where is he? Did you get there? Are you safe? That's not how I operate as a human. And I don't know what that looks like in the social world of like, what's happening? What's happening in DMs? What's happening on Snapchat? Or whatever the new thing is. 


00:22:37    Dr. Heitner

And I think because we can look, a lot of parents feel like we should, because like we can read their texts and we can see their location and we can track them on Find My Phone or we can get them even on like Life 360, which is kind of like putting an ankle bracelet on a family member, I think. But I know adults who like it. And I think we do live in a world where knowing each other's whereabouts and being able to contact one another feels reassuring, but I think we are so used to it that it's like we're a little dependent on it. And then if somebody's phone dies and we can't reach them, even if they're sort of fine and where they're supposed to be or whatever, it just makes us so anxious. So I do think as the technology has become more able to track us and track our locations and all of that, it's made it really hard. And I think if we're reading our kids' texts, we're gonna relive middle school in ways that may be, at least for me, like I had such a rough time in middle school myself. Like I feel like I have enough sort of PTSD from it. I don't need to relive my kid's experience. What I wanna be is be available presence for him to talk about and like sometimes advise. Like there are times where I'm like, hey, I think you might be about to like call someone again that you couldn't reach. And I'm gonna strongly suggest you don't keep trying. Like I really am gonna push you to think about like, what is this person maybe doing? But also if they do keep texting and texting their friend, their friend might just push back and give feedback. So it doesn't always have to be you the parent that's preventing your kid from, I think, being annoying. I think when it's something like your kid wants to text someone else in the middle of the night and it's gonna be disruptive for that other kid or their family, like if you can intervene, obviously I think we would all want to. But again, maybe it's the friend that wakes your kid up and your kid is like, oh, I'm gonna turn my phone off at night or I'm gonna figure out how to deal with this problem. So parents, I think are very important in this role. I don't suggest giving kids something as powerful as a smartphone and just walking away and hoping for the best. But I also don't think we wanna kind of overreach into all of this tracking. And I think it undermines kids' abilities to problem solve as well and figure out like, what am I gonna do? Like I think of all the times where I was kind of like, literally like without a dime, couldn't call home. And needed something and I was like, oh, I was comfortable like asking a shop owner or the lady behind the desk at the library, like I'm stranded, may I use the phone. And kids may be like less comfortable doing that now, but it's great to know like who are the friendly strangers you can ask for help.


00:25:06    Alyssa

[AD] I don't know about you, but when I scroll through Instagram or I'm tuning into podcasts and diving into parenting resources, resources for myself as a teacher, I can feel overwhelmed. Like, where do I start? I need a guide for what this looks like in practice. And I don't want something that's one size fits all. Because every child is different, right? And if you have multiple children, if you're a teacher, you know that it's not one size fits all. Or if you have seen what works for your sister in law or your best friend or your neighbor, and you're like, oh my gosh, my child does not respond to that. That is how I felt. And then we created the Collaborative Emotion Processing method. It is a guide for building emotional intelligence. And y'all there are five components of the CEP method. One is about how to respond to the kids and what it looks like to have adult/child interactions. The other four are about us. Because I don't know about you, but I did not grow up getting these tools. I did not grow up with them.  didn't grow up in this household. Where I was taught tools for self awareness and self regulation and how to do emotion processing work. And now, as a parent and as a teacher, I'm supposed to teach those skills to a tiny human? But we can't teach what we don't know. And so my first book, Tiny Humans, Big Emotions, is here to support you. You can head to and snag Tiny Humans, Big Emotions today. This is a game changer. It's going to build these skills with you, for you, so that you can do this work alongside building these skills for your tiny humans, so that they can grow up with a skill set for self awareness, for regulation, for empathy, for social skills, for intrinsic motivation. A skill set of emotional intelligence so that they can navigate all the things that come their way in life. Snag Tiny Humans, Big Emotions at  


00:25:08    Alyssa

Yeah, I dig that so much. And that's, you hit the nail on the head of like, yeah, I don't want to read their texts and also I don't wanna hand them a smartphone and be like, good luck. And so like, what is that balance? It's like, how do I talk about it? For us, one of the things we have chatted about is like, what's our modeling with our phones? Like, what do we do with it? How do we engage? If I have an online presence and my tiny human might read how I respond to somebody else, how I engage with other humans on the internet, what do I wanna model for them there? Like, what do I want them to see? Or right now I have nieces and nephews who are my oldest nephew's 14. And so he could very easily follow me on Instagram and see how do I engage with people? What do I share? How do I talk to and about other humans on the internet? And so for me, that like modeling piece comes up there of like, what does that look like? What am I modeling?


00:26:06    Dr. Heitner

100%, yeah. And I think this is, I mean, there's so many reasons to walk away from dumpster fires on the internet. But for me, like an additional reason would be like, I'm theoretically a role model for being civil discourse on the internet. So it's like, people are getting into it about the school board. Maybe this is not where I need to hang out, you know? And again, not that I can't engage civically or that I can't have opinions. Like I don't edit myself on the internet to the point where I can't have opinions or I can't stick up for things that I believe in. But when it comes to people kind of, or even like complaining and being vetchy, which I think a lot of us do on the internet, like I'm always kind of trying to balance that with, well, I'm trying to help people. And what the research shows us is we know it doesn't make us feel better. And that's ultimately what I think is the most important and what I've tried to work on with my own kid and kids that I talk with at schools, is even if you radically disagree with someone, like say someone's posting in a really hateful, problematic way, you don't wanna give that person your eyeballs. Even if you are tempted to go and comment on their channel how wrong they are, they're not gonna change their minds because, you know, Devorah and Alyssa commented and said, you're so wrong, you know, this isn't helpful or this isn't a positive strategy. Like they're committed. So it's better to do things to raise awareness somewhere else. Or like if you're a kid, you know, to find the other young people at your school or in your community that believe what you believe and work with them to make change or support the group that's being targeted if that person is being hateful versus going on there and making the negative comment. And I think a lot of people want to kind of engage, you know, because the internet is so good at stirring up those negative emotions and like making us feel kvetchy and making us feel, you know, even like outrage. And it doesn't make you feel better though expressing that outrage. It just fans the flames and it leaves you with kind of an unresolved set of anger. 


00:27:58    Alyssa

I think what it's really good at is producing in -groups and out -groups.  


00:30:25    Alyssa

And helping us notice where we feel connection to different identities. And me, you know, given our platform, we post things that we get a lot of really strong feelings about. And, you know, we posted recently, post about it a bunch, but we posted in, it was April. We did a thread collab with my friend Wes, who had been on the podcast about gender identity and how you can't know someone's gender if you're just by looking at them and here's how to navigate that. And there were a lot of strong feelings about that. And for us, that's where I'm like, all right, how are we modeling what it looks like to respond to somebody who's coming here, dysregulated. And what I've found so powerful is being able to DM with them and use the voice feature. I'm happy to have a conversation with, I don't only want to talk to people who agree with me and share the same views and values that I do. I grew up in a community that has a strong, like views on things that are different than what I hold now in a lot of ways. And there's so many humans that I love and have deep respect for. And I think there's a lot of power in being able to have conversations that are civil with humans who disagree with us. And I think it's really helpful for me to do that with a voice note where you can hear my tone and regulation and we can have a little convo back and forth. 


00:32:05    Dr. Heitner 

I agree with all of that. I do feel like it's important for kids to know though that it's also okay for them to keep their emotional energy close and not engage. And if my third grader runs into someone on Roblox that's spewing mean language, I want them to know it's okay to just bug on out. 100%. And even as an adult, if I'm just being attacked, I think it's fine for me to just bug on out. But I think if someone's ready for dialogue, that's great. I just think at the same time, it's important for kids to know that they don't have to do the emotional labor of helping someone overcome their homophobia, their racism, et cetera. That that's not sort of your job on the internet. It's like a choice you can make if you want to engage. In those ways. But I think we do need to talk to the kids about emotional safety in those situations. And I think kids tend to, when I talk to them, be more in the side of feeling like they should kind of engage. But also they need to know, I think, safe ways to upstand. Like one thing I've done a lot is helping kids reduce the scope. Like what you're talking about is these one -to -one conversations. A lot of kids are communicating early on predominantly through group texts. So they'll go from like second, third grade talking to people on Roblox, maybe on a Google Hangout, maybe on a classroom setting. A lot of kids are doing their first texting on classroom Google Docs. And that's true even since remote school. So that's a huge kind of learning curve for kids. And then as they get into the sort of fifth grade, sixth grade group text era, it's good for them to know that if somebody upsets you or undermines you or whatever, you can go directly to that person and calling them out in the group text may not go very well because most people double down when they're called out in front of others. But if you reach out to them privately, that may go better. Or you can go to the person who got targeted and express solidarity and support for them. Or you could get off the group text, but those are all options. And I think kids just need to be equipped with like, and this is what I mean by mentorship. Like if you just read the group text, your eyeballs might blur over because you'll just be like, Oy vey, this is so gross or toxic or I can't believe the sixth grade group text went there. But if you can empower your kid with like, well, you can always get out, you can always take a break. You can always blame me and say, my mom's making me get off the group text or my dad says I have to go. Or I'll get in trouble if the language is problematic in this text because my parents look at my phone. And again, your kid can say that whether or not you do. And it's a good boundary for younger kids to be able to assert that. But they can also engage one -to -one with individuals who are either causing problems or that they want better understanding with. They can go to a phone call and that's something we can model. I do think one of the challenges now of raising kids in the digital age is like we're thumbing out so much of our lives in front of them and they're not learning from that. Whereas we heard our parents on the phone and we actually learned, how does my mom react to a solicitation call during the dinner hour? How does my dad talk when he really needs to go? You know, and what are the clues that they use to either continue the conversation or work toward the end of a conversation? Whereas we see our kids on Zoom calls with like grandma and grandpa where they'll just walk away. 


00:35:07    Alyssa



00:35:08    Dr. Heitner 

It's kind of funny when they're two but by the time they're six, it's like, well, let's see if we can talk about closure here. But you realize like, oh, they've never seen me get to a close in a conversation because I'm thumbing everything out in front of them. Click, click, click. They have no idea what I'm doing or how I'm saying, okay, great talking to you, gotta go. 


00:35:27    Alyssa

That's such a good point. I hadn't thought about that. 


00:35:28    Dr. Heitner 

So we need to teach our kids some of those things. 


00:35:29    Alyssa

Yeah, I hadn't thought about that. And I love that note of like just the social skills that happen with a conversation. I also like personally wish that somebody would have said to me growing up even outside of social. Yeah, when there's a group thing, like you can separately, here are your options. You can tap out and here's what that looks like. Or you can have a conversation individually with that person or you can go have a conversation with the person who is targeted. I think even outside of social that would have been a really useful thing for someone to have said, you know, of like, here's how you can handle these uncomfortable social situations and we will, you know, support you in navigating that. I was, when you were talking about that, I was thinking of a part of Justin Baldoni's book, Boys Will Be Human that came out last year. And he was talking about kind of like what it looks like to find that voice that allows you to stand up and say something in the moment versus what are the other options for in the moment that get not a, a lot of the times in the moment we're too dysregulated to have that conversation, right? And so that's something we'll model a lot on Instagram of like, I would love to continue this conversation in DMs when we're both in a regulated state, I'm gonna take a breather and then I'll check my DMs in a little bit. And just to show that like, you can step away. You can step away. 


00:37:02    Dr. Heitner 

Another huge thing we can teach kids is, especially as they're communicating more independently, like if they have a phone or if they're using a family computer, is check in with your physiology. If you're holding that device real tight or hitting the keyboard and the face of it hard, if you're holding your breath, these are clues that you're going into a fight or flight place and you're probably getting pretty reactive versus responsive. You're probably not adding much to this relationship or doing something that's gonna be like continuing the relationship in a positive way. So if you can walk away, take a breath or do anything to return to your body, that really helps. And I also ask kids what they can do if they're getting too mad when they game. You know, a lot of kids get too mad when they're playing Minecraft or when they're playing Roblox or, you know, they feel a little out of control. And it's like taking a drink of water, doing a pushup, anything that brings you back to your body is gonna help in those moments. And it's hard to remember to do that. But I think those physiological cues are probably better indicators for a lot of us, even adults, but certainly kids versus like, oh, am I getting into a reactive place? Like, I don't know if I could answer that question, but I can answer the question of am I hitting the keyboard hard? 


00:38:16    Alyssa

Somebody just asked me yesterday, what do you think is really gonna be the game changer for teaching self -regulation? And I said, when we stop trying to teach self -regulation and we start teaching self -awareness, that you cannot regulate what you're not aware of. And so the physiological cues you're talking about is the self -awareness component of, yeah, am I fired up right now? Do I feel like I need to respond to this right now? Like, I can't walk away. That for me is the sign of like, oh, you gotta pump the brakes. When it's like, oh, I need to respond right now, like whatever I'm doing, this is now occupying my brain and my fingers start going like, okay, those are now my cues of pump the brakes. But we are, I think, so focused right now culturally on teaching skills for regulation and you can't regulate what you're not aware of. So I love that of like, what does it look like when you're gaming? What does it feel like when you're in these conversations so that you do know, oh, now's the time to take a break and what does that break look like? 


00:39:22    Alyssa

What, okay, this is not something that like, I even, like it's one of those things that feels like, oh, this is so far away, I don't have to think about it. But I think it's also one of those things of like you lay a foundation early or like sneaks up on you. But one of the things that I feel curious about are tricky topics like sexting and what does that look like? What does it mean, how does it show up for tiny humans or larger humans, I guess today? And what are we doing now? 


00:39:51    Dr. Heitner 

And I think the minute your kids are using YouTube on their own or TikTok or any of those, and a lot of little kids are exposed to YouTube and TikTok, even if they don't personally have the apps, they're still like, I saw a kid doing a dance on the playground. Where did that come from? Like a lot of the memes that are in the wider culture, even in elementary school are coming from TikTok, coming from YouTube. So it's easy to kind of feel like, oh, my kid is insulated from that world, but it's not likely to be the case. Certainly by, again, by elementary school, maybe before that they are. And YouTube is a place where kids can run into things like pornography. So it's good to talk to kids in a really simple way when they're little about, hey, if you see naked people on the computer, I want you to turn it off and let me know because that's not for kids. And you probably don't want to see that anyway, but if you see it, just turn it off and let me know, or teach kids how to X out of a YouTube video, because you could be literally watching YouTube videos about pandas or something. And like the suggested video, usually the algorithm is sort of more accurate than that, but I have been surprised again and again by the algorithm and how it will take you in directions you don't expect. 


00:40:57    Dr. Heitner 

In terms of things like kids communicating across, sending nudes or underwear pictures or anything like that, or whatever they think of as sort of sexy or even just like naughty. Because kids are interested in getting a reaction sometimes and even young kids, like fifth, sixth, seventh graders will sometimes be like curious about what will get a big reaction from someone. And that's a whole category of like, we know we're not supposed to do it. We know we're not supposed to take pictures of our private parts and share them. We know we're not supposed to take pictures with our clothes off or with underwear, but we also drive by billboards every day where we might see people like posing in their underpants or other things. So it's like, it's a confusing boundary and we know it gets a big reaction. And kids can be, especially as tweens and teens kind of curious. I mean, I would say tween sending nudes is a little different than teens. Like tweens, it's often about getting that big reaction, doing something forbidden. With teenagers, it can be more about flirting, also just gauging your attractiveness and like wanting to know that someone thinks you're cute. 


00:41:59    Alyssa



00:42:00    Dr. Heitner 

And that might seem like as adults, we might be like, what? But a lot of teenagers have shared with me that this is something that people do to kind of, you know, sort of test the waters to see if somebody likes them. And if you really think about it, you know, you may have done something when you were growing up and falling in love and having crushes that seemed kind of ridiculous, whether it was sending somebody a note. 


00:42:22    Alyssa

So many things, Devorah, so many things. 


00:42:23    Dr. Heitner 

I left poetry in people's lockers. Oh my gosh, that's so sweet. 


00:42:28    Alyssa

I did a lot of wacky things when I had crushes. And so I think we should never discount that. And what we don't want is for kids to feel shame about their bodies, about sexuality. I think it's important when our kids are little to also have boundaries around sharing nudes. Again, not because there's anything shameful about baby nudes or little kid nudes, but because we live in a world where unfortunately there are gross people with bad intent who could repurpose those. So I think that's a reason not to share them, but also to just talk about like, oh, maybe we'll only take pictures, you know, in these settings and not these other settings. And again, without filling our kids, hopefully with like body shame or any of that, like we don't want our kids to feel bad. And with sharing sexting and nudes and stuff, I would say to kids, there's nothing wrong with wanting to look cute, with being curious about how your body looks and how other people might think about that. This is just not a safe way for kids to express their sexuality. You could even say, maybe if you believe this, I would say like, it's not even a super safe way for adults to do it. Like it's especially stigmatized and illegal for kids, but even for adults, like ethically, I have no problem with adult sexting or kid sexting. Like I don't think a mutual exchange that's not coercive is ethically a problem. I'm talking about legally, you're in tricky territory in most states, if you're a kid and safety wise. And the safety could be your emotional safety because like they could leave their phone on the kitchen table and their mom or dad could see it and you're not gonna want that. And the bad case scenario is also like kids break up or end relationships and share photos around or unfortunately sometimes kids coerce each other or pressure each other to send photos and then might share them around. And that's the situation we especially wanna make sure our kids understand that no one should be coercing them, whether it's to share, whether it's to go on a roller coaster they're scared of. I mean, like truly like we have to understand and teach our kids that it's like, we don't want them to coerce their friends to do things. And by asking our kids consent before we share just ordinary pictures of them, when they're in those early years, they get that it's okay to say no. That translates to if someone's asking me for a topless photo, I can say no. It really does. Just like we don't force our kids to hug people and because we understand a different way of thinking about bodily consent than maybe we grew up with. I just think it's really important that that translates. And we also want them to know if you do share a picture and you later are worried that it got out, I will still help you. Like we never wanna give kids so much warning about something that they feel like if they do it in the sort of love and excitement of the moment and they're really into the idea in the moment because it just takes a second and this is where the technology makes it really easy to do this. We want them to be able to come to us and say, hey, there's this picture out there of me. Like, what are my options now, and not to scare our kids they won't be able to talk to us. 


00:45:19    Alyssa

Not the fear of like, I'm gonna be in trouble. Yeah. There are two more like big social things for me. One is the dopamine reality of the likes and am I checking to see, what does this mean for me and my value and my worth and that part of it that I think honestly adults get really wrapped up in. And so - 


00:45:46    Dr. Heitner 

100%. I mean, as an author, like it's so easy for me to check my Amazon reviews and be like, they're really good. I have this many. And then I could look at another author who has twice as many or 10 times as many and feel bad. 


00:45:56    Alyssa

I'm failing. Yeah. 


00:45:57    Dr. Heitner 

And it's, there's no end, like whether it's likes or followers, there's no, but there's always gonna be someone who has more. There will always be someone who has more. And so the feeling that feels good goes away so quickly. Last thing self -esteem comes from walking the dog, helping your little brother, helping your grandma, helping the neighbor shovel the snow, like helping at home, putting things away, just feeling good, feeling mastery and feeling like you're helping in your family at whatever level is appropriate for the age that you're at. That's where kids get self -esteem that's lasting and sturdy. Whereas in the case of getting followers, and we can talk about that. Like I've talked with my kid about, when my TEDx talk years ago got shared on Upworthy and suddenly it went from like a few views to a lot, a lot of views. And I was watching the numbers for a couple of days and it was like really exciting. And then I was like, A, there's still TED talks out there that have a lot more views. If I'm going to put myself in that category, I'm going to feel really like I just don't measure up. And it just goes away after a minute. Like it's just exciting for a minute, but it doesn't last. And so when we have kids that are chasing a following or if they say, I want a hundred thousand followers or a million followers, we can ask them questions about it. Like, oh, what would that mean to you? Or what would be exciting to share with that many people? I don't think we want to just dismiss it. Like, well, that's dumb. You don't want to be an influencer. You want a real job, even though you might be thinking that, because they might be an influencer. You don't know, right? Your kid might be really awesome on TikTok or whatever place. But it's important to think about also what pressures could that put on you? And especially for someone whose identity is evolving rapidly, which is kids, tweens, and teenagers, I think it's even more. Like the one thing I'll say about having an internet presence as a grownup is I can look at myself from five years ago and I still agree with what that lady said. I might've evolved or I might've gotten smarter about an issue, but I don't feel like I'm a whole different person. And I might even still be wearing the same sweater. Because for me, five years is like, well, that's like a blink of an eye. 


00:48:00    Alyssa

Sure, sure. Yeah, versus like 16 to 21. 


00:48:03    Dr. Heitner 

But when you're going from 11 to 16 or nine to 14, like those are huge changes. 


00:48:09    Alyssa

Sure, that makes sense. I like the conversation around like, what would that mean for you? And for me, it was one of those like lived experiences that really was the lesson of like, oh yeah, every, let's say social goal that I've set, every time I reached it, I didn't feel different about myself, right? Like I didn't feel like, oh, now I've done enough. Now I am X, Y, and Z. It was always just a new goalpost. And so for me, that became the eye -opening, like, okay, then it can't be about these external things. Like this has to come from inside. But it took like living and honestly hitting a bunch of my goals, my work goals, my whatever, and being like, oh yeah, it didn't do the thing I was hoping it would do, right? Like I didn't get here and feel like, yep, check, Alyssa, you've achieved it. Here's success.


00:49:09    Dr. Heitner 

A hundred percent. Whereas those like DM conversations, like if you can get one person to be in a place where they can like sit next to their, you know, non -binary sib kid at Thanksgiving and just use their chosen name and pronouns and just be with that, like you have transformed, you know, a situation and made it a lot less uncomfortable and stigmatizing for someone. That's amazing. And I think to be in a place where we can do that kind of one -on -one work, you know, like if I've helped a few families check the grading app on their phone, less frequently and therefore like undermine the relationship between the teacher, the student, like made the whole triangle a little less stressful. Yeah. That's a win to me. Totally. I mean, of course, like I'd love to do that at scale and I'd love to see policy change. And there's this moment right now with the Surgeon General report and I'm being asked to talk about policy. And I'm like, I would love to be, you know, honestly like helping states and school districts, you know, rethink some of these policies. Like, absolutely. Like I wanna have impact at scale, but at least for me that hasn't come from like more, you know, LinkedIn followers or whatever. I mean, yes, follow me on Substack, do you, you know, follow me on Instagram, all the things. It's great. It's lovely. But if that's not like that number doesn't, you know, doesn't really change things. It's the person who writes me back, you know, like I might send a newsletter and get, you know, whatever thousands of people opening it and reading it. But the person who writes me back and says, I changed what I was thinking about posting where my kid was applying to college and she was so relieved and we talked about it and it was good for our relationship. That to me is like so much more powerful than like 60 people retweeted me. 


00:50:57    Alyssa

Yeah, exactly. It's that connection piece. It's the like, I got to have a real conversation and I love that. Like hanging out in my DMs is actually something that genuinely feels, it brings me joy way more than like honestly creating a post and sharing it and whatever happens with it happens. I love the individual conversations because I like to connect with humans, right? And like hear about their life and not even just the like, oh, how did my work impact you? But just learn about other people. My mom asked when I was younger, like, what do you want to be when you grow up? And I was like, I want to be either a waitress or a cashier so I can just talk to people and learn about them. And like, that still is something like that, something that fires me up and fills me up. And I was, you were sharing, was thinking about like, how do we talk about those, you know, in the same way that when we're texting our friends or people that our kids aren't hearing us sign off and say goodbye and all that, what does it look like to talk about those experiences with our kids in a genuine way? Or I, my husband asks Sage every day at the end of the day, they, or he talks about like things that he noticed that Sage did that were kind or that other people did for him that were kind. And I love this. It brings it back to like, that's one of the values in our family is kindness. And sometimes we're highlighting times where Sage walked away from something where he, instead of hitting or screaming, he walked away, right? And like, that's a kind choice. And so sometimes it's like that. And other times it's that, yeah, you were a helper making breakfast this morning and, or putting the cutting boards away when we were emptying the dishwasher. And I'm wondering, what does it look like to bring these conversations in so that we're not just doing them ourselves in isolation, but talking to kids about it? 


00:52:54    Dr. Heitner 

Mm -hmm, a hundred percent. And I think helping them notice those things about themselves and notice then when they're older, like, how do you feel when you're on roadblocks and people do this or that? Or how do you feel when someone like messes up your creation on Minecraft? Or how do you welcome someone new into the Minecraft circle and help them figure it out? Or how do you navigate when the group text is getting tricky? Or if you are scrolling Instagram or Snapchat, like, what do you do if you notice it's making you feel bad? Or is there something you can do to help yourself transition out of it as well? Because it can be, especially TikTok and things like that can be such a rabbit hole for our time. And I think teenagers especially are really learning about how to prioritize their time and how to prioritize where they spend their mental energy. And they might notice this makes me feel bad and still be doing it. Like, I think even as adults, again, like I might know that sitting around versus exercising, I'm not going to feel as good, but I might still choose to sit around because in the moment it's like, so then it's like, well, what can I do to build those habits? And how can I help myself? Is there like a little cue I can give myself to like at least get up and walk around or to walk away from the scroll? And I think talking also with kids about how some of these things are designed, like how games are designed, for example, with the near miss phenomenon, just like Las Vegas casinos are designed with that. So you feel like you almost won and that's an illusion. But it's actually great to get into those design principles with kids, partly because a lot of them want to be game designers or to design social apps. So it's like, they're curious about that anyway. But it's also good because they can then feel a little bit of extra power, like, oh, I was really smart and walked away or I let my time get away from me, but I'm not going to tomorrow. And I think that's all really, really helpful. We want to set kids up not to feel like they're dupes and they're disempowered, but at the same time, these apps are really strong and powerful and they're designed to get us where we're the most human, like the like button gets us where we're super human, right? That's like, who doesn't want to be liked and seen and respected, you know, regarded. 


00:55:01    Alyssa

Yeah, even the fact that it's like a little heart that's called a like button, right? 


00:55:05    Dr. Heitner 

I mean, I want hearts, I want likes, we all do. And so it's not like, we don't want to treat our kids like they're dumb because they want those things. It's like, no, that app is really done with research that understands our brains. And how can we also recognize the ways that we want to get those sort of like in -person hearts and hugs and love and, you know, and that's like, that's petting your dog. That's, you know, seeing a friend and talking in person. 


00:55:31    Alyssa

I love that you popped in there, the like, just asking them, how do you feel when you're doing these things? How do you feel during? How do you feel after? How do you feel five minutes after versus the next day after, you know? And helping them start to build awareness of those things that really do build self -esteem versus those temporary wins, if you will. And I think there we're getting into, you know, the fifth part of emotional intelligence of extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation. And how different those two things feel internally for us. That when we're tapping into intrinsic motivation, the way that it feels, not just now, but tomorrow and the next day, feels different than the way that extrinsic motivation feels now, but then tomorrow and the next day. Yeah. I dig that. Oh my gosh. I have 7 billion questions for you, but out of respect for you and your time. And now I'm just like, I can't wait to get my hands on Growing Up in Public. Y 'all run, don't walk. Get Devorah's book, Growing Up in Public is ready for you to snag. So go snag that wherever books are sold. Devorah, where can folks connect with you? Learn more about your work, all that jazz?


00:56:48    Dr. Heitner 

Definitely the Substack, And Instagram is a fun place. Substack is a little bit of a deeper dive into what I'm thinking and sharing in the moment. And my website, also has some fun things that you can get along with getting a book right now, which is kind of fun. There's a couple of like extra things you can get if you get the book at the moment. And you can also bring me to your community. And I do a lot of Zooming in and flying out to school districts, to corporations. So if you know like, hey, there's a group of parents that really want this information. And I also have a discussion guide for the book. So if there's like, if you're like, I need this but I have no budget to fly in Devorah, you can lead the discussion and I'll just send you the questions. Just write to me and I'll send them to you. And then you can have a discussion because we're all thinking about this stuff. We're all thinking about how can we navigate this reputation stuff? How can we talk to our kids? How can we hopefully prevent, you know, mistakes where posts go wrong with kids but also deal with them when they do happen. Stuff happens. And I think that's the biggest thing I've learned in the last five years of talking with kids and parents is we need to have the prevention plan of like preventing the thing but we also need the kind of postvention of like, okay but mistakes will be made. And that's part of development. And your kid will get in a fight with someone on Roblox or they will leave somebody out of a group text or they will feel bad when they see somebody's post. So we need to be able to help them move forward and repair relationships. And we don't want to teach kids that, you know navigating the digital world is like high wire act. And if you fall off, you're broken and that's it. We need to actually teach kids that we do the best we can not to cause harm in this space. And when we mess up, this is how we repair it. This is how we make it right. This is how we move forward. And we also need to give that grace to our friends who are also still learning. 


00:58:41    Alyssa

I love that so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. And just how do we create that trust relationship where they can turn to us when they do make those mistakes without fear of punishment or getting in trouble or whatever. Thank you. Thanks for writing this book because I need it. I'm jazzed to have it. I will link to all the things in the blog post at So if you're driving or you're like me and often doing the dishes or something like that while you're listening to a podcast and weren't able to jot all the things down you can go to and all the links will be in Devorah's blog post. Thank you so much for joining me today. 


00:59:25    Dr. Heitner 

Thank you. It's my pleasure. It's great to talk with you. 


00:59:29    Alyssa

Thanks for tuning in to Voices of Your Village. Check out the transcript at Did you know that we have a special community over on Instagram hanging out every day with more free content? Come join us at Take a screenshot of you tuning in, share it on the gram and tag to let me know your key takeaway. If you're digging this podcast, make sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode. We love collaborating with you to raise emotionally intelligent humans.


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