The Guptas on Parenting in the Social Media Era – Chasing Life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta Trendynewsbro


Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Welcome back to the podcast room. Does it feel a lot different?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Did someone pay you to say that?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Was that me?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


This conversation makes it official. You know, in this season of Chasing Life, I somehow managed to convince every single member of my household to travel down the stairs into my tiny basement podcasting studio and sit down and talk with me for over an hour. In fact, for the first time ever, I recorded these one on one conversations with all three of my daughters, Sage Sky, Soleil, and now it’s my wife’s turn, Rebecca.

The problems in society, the problems with girls and depression, the problems that we’ve all been talking about. I am very, very much concerned about those things. Do I think that social media is to blame? It’s really hard for me to say.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Like my daughters, Rebecca doesn’t hold back.

IPhones are almost like a a parasite that’s destroying its host instead of a parasite that has a symbiotic relationship with its host.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


It’s been such an incredible journey. As a doctor, a journalist, but most importantly, as a dad. And Rebecca is my partner in all things, including parenting. Most of the time, I end my day with Rebecca, and together we have these conversations. We unpack all the things we’ve learned throughout the day, so it only felt right to end this season with Rebecca, as well. To reflect on what we’ve learned together, about our girls, about life, about each other.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Do you think we got it right in terms of when we gave our kids devices, when we allowed them to be on social media? Now that we have some hindsight on this, what do you think?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Today, we’re going to share some of the biggest lessons that we’ve learned with all of you, and we’re going to hear from you as well, the listener. Because while this issue is really personal to me, it definitely goes beyond just our family. It’s one of the biggest issues of our time. I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, father, husband and CNN’s chief medical correspondent. And this is Chasing Life.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


You know, in 20 years of being a medical journalist, I’d never done anything really with the girls. But this season was very personal. And I’m curious, what did you think? When I first said, hey, look, I want to interview the girls for this. What was your thought?

You know, they know that you’re somewhat in the public eye and that this is your job and your career. And and they have smart and strong and interesting perspectives on all of these subjects because it affects them, but their desire to be in it was a surprise to me because they don’t like that kind of attention. They don’t like people coming up and saying, hey, I heard you here, you know, and and they get a lot of that. And, so I was surprised that they agreed to it because, you know, I do let them have that option. Although, I would say that since then, you know, they have said, look, maybe maybe not too much in the future.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta



Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I thought they loved it.

They love coming down and talking to you. They loved having smart conversations with you one on one. They just don’t like –

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


They don’t like the attention.

The people coming up like, hey, I heard you on your dad’s…

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


You know, I constantly think about this idea that nobody knows really how to be a parent. Right. I mean, your best examples, your own parents, I mean, that’s what you remember. But then when you add a completely new thing into the mix, devices, social media, there is no metaphor for this. I mean, the closest metaphor would be like television, right? You may have watched too much television when you were a kid or maybe gotten on the phone and you’d be walking around the house and the phone chord would be trailing after you, you know, wrapping around things. But not like this. There’s no precedent for what we’re experiencing. So that makes it hard, I think, to figure out what the right thing to do is for your kids.

Not just for our kids, but for ourselves.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta



It didn’t exist when we were young, so we are learning how to manage it ourselves.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


What is your relationship with your phone like? How would you describe that?

I guess it has become a necessity and you can’t really. I mean, it’s become a parenting tool in some ways where you can communicate with your kids. You can know where they are and you can, you know, do the 101 things that they want you to get done. And you can do them on your phone while you’re out and about. It allows you to multitask and on a different level. So it does seem that has become like a necessity, especially for you. It’s made you have to be constantly available. And I think that has been a big learning curve of people learning how to set those boundaries, how to say, like we do at dinner, no phones.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta



You know, or this time is no phones or just those those boundaries. And and it’s a learning curve for us and a learning curve for children. But almost as quickly as we are adapting to the phone, we are adapting to that learning curve.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I think was interesting. I can’t remember if it was Soleil or Sky, when I was talking with them I got the sense that the way they were describing their relationship with the phone was that they felt obligated in a way to always be available on the phone because they felt obligated to be there for their friends. Their friends might need them for something. And they and it was it was it was it was kind of endearing in a way, all consuming, but endearing in a way. And I remember thinking was a little bit of a mental shift for me because I have thought about these things in terms of work, in terms of professional sort of stuff. But the idea now that you’re going be a good friend, you’re going to be a good member of your community or even like your family, whatever it might be, that your group, your tribe. But with that comes obligations that you are always available. And I don’t know where that goes. Like, I think no one can always be available like that. I don’t think our girls should feel that way.

It’s a lot of pressure. I think it is a lot of pressure that they’ve put on themselves. And I think that those are boundaries that they’re learning as well, and they’re learning to set those and learning to. I think just the differences between our girls, I think as Sage said when she was on the podcast, how she would do things differently and hindsight is always 2020.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Is she texting you as we’re talking?

Yeah, cause she just walked in. She just walked in the house, which, you know, so my phone is told me that somebody is coming to the house and now she’s texting me, you know, what time is dinner?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


So you’re kind of on call all the time.

Yeah, well, I mean, I would have been on call all the time if there was a phone or there wasn’t a phone. This allows me maybe to, I don’t know, maybe have more time to be on call, I don’t know.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Do you wish that you could be on your phone less? Do you wish that you were not so distracted by it?

I wish I could be on my phone less. One of the people that you had on the show, Michael-

Dr. Sanjay Gupta



Dr. Sanjay Gupta


The media-trician

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Dr. Michael Rich, he’s great. He calls himself the media-trician.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I thought it was very cute.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Dr. Michael Rich is a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders. You may remember him from the episode, How much screen time is too much? Dr. Rich treats kids who struggle with mental and physical issues that stem from the way they use technology. What he calls it is problematic media use. In our conversation, he told me something that really stood out to me and Rebecca.

Dr. Michael Rich


Their use of the screen media is really an attempt to self-care, to self soothe, if you will, rather than a problem in and of itself. And it is not the social media or gaming doing something to them. It’s how they’re using it that becomes problematic in their lives.

I really respected a lot of what he said about the self-soothing. I find that if it’s been a long day. Yeah, And I can see myself doing that. My downfall is that I will if I’m stressed at a moment, I might, you know, pick up a calm app and and try to calm myself down and. Yeah, is that using my phone too much or being depended on it. Like, sure, 100%. But yeah, it’s nice to listen to the music or, you know, take a minute, take a breath.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


So when you put it all together and you look at devices, but also social media and you have to distinguish those things because like you said, devices are important to to function nowadays to get from point A to point B, But the social media part. How much do you worry about it for the girls, really?

I feel that we were really lucky with our girls. We taught them and their school taught them early on about how to look at social media and make healthy choices. Because it’s you can’t really make it go away. Am I concerned about, the problems in society, the problems with girls and depression, the problems that we have, we’ve all been talking about. I am very, very much concerned about those things. Do I think that social media is to blame? It’s really hard for me to say.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Do you think we got it right in terms of when we gave our kids devices, when we allowed them to be on social media? Now that we have some hindsight on this, what do you think?

No, I, I there’s always areas of improvement. And there there are certain things that I wish I could have been stricter or more involved in. But I also do feel that like teaching your kids how to, you know, drive a car or go off and live an independent life. We have given them some tools to manage this in ways that, you know, because it’s all happened during their lives and in they’ve had to deal with those changes. And hopefully they can look at this and say, oh, my God, we need to make these you know, make these rules, set these parameters, stop these, you know, areas, because we didn’t we didn’t know.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Sage said. And this is, I guess to your point, because Sage is 17 now, so she’s our oldest and.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


She’s very wise. But I did think that it was interesting that she said when she has kids of her own, she said this to me when she has kids of her own, she probably would not let them be on social media as early as she was. And you heard that right? I mean, like, what did you think when you heard it?

Yeah, I heard that. And I. I thought that was fabulous insight on her part. I also think that social media. Ha-, has changed. And I also think that everybody uses it differently. Also, with Sage, she she has her own issues that make her not only self-soothe, but fine, like she has a busy day, like kind of like the Dr. Rich was talking about games and that kind of stuff that that.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Do you have a crush on Dr. Rich?

No, but I think he’s really brilliant. Hank Green, I thought they were both like, so brilliant. Just really interesting to listen to. But I felt that they were right. I felt I could I could understand what they were saying.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I’ve had the privilege of speaking to all sorts of really remarkable, smart, interesting people for this season of the podcast. And one of those people was Professor Jean Twenge. Her book iGen got me interested in this topic years ago. So when I sat down with her for the podcast, I got a little vulnerable. I’ll ask this bluntly, am I not a good parent for letting my teenagers be on social media? I mean, you are a professor of psychology. You’ve written a book on this and your adolescent age daughters, you don’t allow them to have social media. Am I doing the wrong thing?

Dr. Michael Rich


It’s tough because, you know, every kid is different.

Every situation is different.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I think what she said was it’s tough.

Which was very basically saying yes without saying yes.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta



She’s very nice to you because she was your guest on your show.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Right. But I think the implication was clear that she would not give a-.

No, she hasn’t, her kids don’t have it.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


And she doesn’t. And her older child, who is Sage’s age, seems to be perfectly okay with it. But she has a younger child who is now, I think, closer to Soleil’s age, who she thinks, well, that’s going to be a bit of more challenge. She just because she wants it. But what did you think when Jean said that to me?

Well, well, first my heart went out to you because, you know, that was that was hard.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Well, you think you’re being a good dad. You think you’re being a good parent? You know.

I don’t think it’s easy to judge everybody’s different perspective. Everybody has a different perspective. But I do think that. Phones and devices and media is not going to go away. I can sometimes think of it like sugar, like, you know, too much sugar is obviously bad for you. But sugar is everywhere. And you can try to say like, don’t ever eat sugar or you can’t have sugar. And it’s going to make some people want it more because every single person is different and it’s going to make some people be like, fine, I am fine without sugar. It doesn’t bother me. But sugar’s there and it’s not going to go away. So you have to every individual’s going to have to learn how to manage their sugar and every parent is going to have to learn how to introduce it in a way that works for their child.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Rebecca’s right. No surprise. She also makes this food analogy something that we’ve heard before this season. If one thing seems clear, it’s that technology has become as basic a necessity as food. You can’t survive without it. And just like our choices with food, these decisions become really personal. So after the break, we’re going to hear from some of you, the listeners, about your media diet. We’ll be back in just a moment.

Hey, Sanjay, I just wanted to send a message, first of all, just to say thanks so much for this amazing podcast I just listened to about breaking up with my phone because it couldn’t have come at a better day, a better time. A month out of every year is being given away to my device. And it was a huge wake up call today.

I’ve tried to raise my daughters to understand that it’s okay to be alone. That’s when you get creative. That’s when you are comfortable with yourself. And it’s it’s all about the fear of missing out. Turn it off and just be alone.

I’m calling because the social media has made my life greater. And the reason I say that is I’ve got multiple health problems and I’ve been struggling for affordable health care for many years, speaking out on social media about this, helps make other people aware of how important this issue is.

I try to veg out on my phone and I have heard so many times from my kids and from my partner that my focus is so much on my phone rather than my family. So just having to think about and reevaluate what that actually means to have a connection to my phone versus the connection to my family. I think that’s been just really poignant from listening to your show, So thanks for giving me a chance to sort of reflect and reevaluate on that.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


The overwhelming response to this topic has been kind of surprising to me. I love hearing from all of you about how you felt about this, and I relate to a lot of you in terms of what you’re going through. The fact that we have listeners who are making changes to their lives because of what they’ve learned on this podcast, that’s what it’s all about. That’s what makes it worthwhile. It’s why I got into this business in the first place. The idea that media could somehow be a force for good, The media could offer a real public service. The season has been such a wake up call for me as well. I knew that it was a topic that I cared about, in part because I have three teenage daughters. But I didn’t know, frankly, if people were as worried about it as I was. But it makes sense. We all care about the impact that screens and social media can have on us, and especially our kids and their mental health. And when I sat down and really spoke to my wife, Rebecca, about this, I realized it was top of mind for her as well.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


When I heard the statistic that one in four teenage girls, and we have three teenage girls, one in four teenage girls have considered suicide in the past year. I believe that was the statistic. That’s like, really disturbing to me. Like, I mean, we know so many teenage girls. I mean, our girls, obviously, but all of their friends. It’s like a village of teenage girls that are constantly in and out of our house, that I’ve known these kids since they were babies. And I mean, I’m very close to some of them. And to think that if the statistics are true, that at least a couple of the girls that we know have thought about suicide, have thought about ending their lives, that was that that really bothered me.

The mental health is a is a huge, huge concern. And there’s two factors here because, one, we’re social creatures, so we enjoy having that communication. And when COVID happened, these these children, especially girls who tend to have more social relationships at this age versus boys who turn their social relationships can be like, you know, sitting next to another guy and watching a football game where the girls need to talk and chitter chatter and that that is a huge influence on their life. And when you take that away, when you have them in their homes and have them, you know, unable to communicate, and the only way that they can communicate are on these devices. And I actually have to say I was thankful for those devices because when I was a teenage girl, the people that had the most influence on my life were my friends. Hmm. What is most important is that we know this information and what we’re going to do about it. If we know that they’re using devices, are we going to use those devices as helpful tools for them so that they can find that support that they need and the tools and in those devices? Or are we going to try to shift gears and shift them away from the devices and try to teach them to find other ways to to. Solve and to manage these feelings that they’re having.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


When Sky said to me she feels this pressure to be perfect online, that she wants to put out a good image of herself out on social media and that she does think about that quite a bit. And you know, Sky is beautiful, Sky is gorgeous. She’s that kid that looks good in every color. Her hair could be in a thousand directions and she’s still like ready to be on the cover of a magazine. But-

She’s brilliant and she’s that kid that puts that pressure on herself in everything that she does.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


So where does that go for her?

And and and that is going to have to go to. Well, one, I mean, part of it is is going to be us trying to say like, you know, you don’t have to be perfect and and she’s not going to listen to us. Right.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Right. That’s the thing.

But also part of it is, you know, as much as Sky puts that pressure on herself as much as she has that drive. Kind of the dark side of that is that they feel like they have to be perfect, right? And out of our three kids, I do sometimes worry about her more out of her desire to be perfect all the time. But she’s also the one that can be the silliest, that can do the goofiest things that, you know, laughs in herself when she falls down, just laughs at her own, you know, self humiliation. And that’s a really good sign.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


You, as the mom of three teenage girls who’ve lived through this, I mean, their whole world has been a digital world. Simply how worried are you about their devices, about social media? Do you do you worry about it? Do you think about it a lot?

I don’t think about it as much. I worry about it a little. I see right now, as it being, that it’s much more of a distraction and, you know, kind of a dopamine fix. Especially after maybe, say, a rough day. You know, I think my one of our daughters came home this week and just had one of those just really, really rough days. And she talked about it. And I tried to do something to make her laugh or feel better. And then she was going to go upstairs. And I know she probably spent a few minutes watching some funny videos and and she came down and was in a little bit better mood for dinner and so forth. Do I. You want to pull that away? I don’t know. But it is something where in that situation, you know, if it was a it probably was a positive opportunity where give the same night our other daughter came home, just wiped, just physically tired from a busy day and, you know, picked up her device and started, you know, clicking in for that dopamine fix and probably didn’t start her homework till much later and then had like a negative kind of cycle of not of being the little bit behind of being a little bit behind. And me coming in and taking the device or doing any of that becomes like a nag like, like I’m, you know, stealing away her, you know, her her joy. So yeah, there’s places where I worry and then there’s places where I, I, I think it’s very positive, but what can I do about it, if that’s the question. And that’s a question that I asked myself a lot.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Would you do anything differently in terms of when you gave the device, when you let them be on social media? If you just and again, I don’t think there’s a right answer here. Like, if there’s a lot of parents are listening right now trying to figure this out on their own, what would you say?

You know, I don’t know. I think that, like you said, every kid is different. I think with with our oldest, I think there would have been some other things that I would have done. But I think those things would have not necessarily been because I wanted to control the social media, but I think it would be so that she didn’t lean into the social media so much. But with three kids, you’re you know, you’ve got a lot to to juggle to make all of the things happen. So in hindsight, there’s a lot of hindsight there and the device is just one of them.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Catherine Price, She said this one thing that I know really stuck with you as it did with me. And she basically she said, our lives are what we pay attention to.

My biggest takeaway for myself personally from how to break up with your phone is that our lives are what we pay attention to and that you only are going to experience what you pay attention to. You’re only going to remember what you pay attention to. And that means that every time when you’re making a decision in the moment about what to pay attention to, you’re making this much broader decision about how to live your life.

Oh, yeah, I want to paint that quote on my wall. I love that quote.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Isn’t that a great quote?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


It was funny. I remember she said it so matter of factly and I thought, wow, stop, rewind, repeat. And she’s right. And what I love about it, first of all, she’s right. But second, it’s very empowering. It is within our control. Like we can’t be everything, no matter who we are or what kind of human we are. We are going to have a very specific life. And our life is experiential. It’s made up of the experiences that we have. But the idea that we get to choose what we pay attention to, we don’t have to pay attention to toxicity and things that make us feel bad about ourselves. You don’t have you’re going to die one day. You’re going to have a certain number of things that you paid attention to make. Those are the things that you look back when you’re about to die and say, Yeah, I’m glad I paid attention to those things.

I really, really love that concept. And that is one of the things that I, I think that I, I feel that we learned in a certain way growing up, not never really having words around it, but we you know, when we were younger, we learned the things that we loved to do, that we learned that we like to go outside for walks. We learned that we like to, you know, have certain friends or play pickleball or something like that. And. Our kids didn’t really get so much of that opportunity to go out and learn those things. And it wasn’t just the because they’re on social media, it was like so many of the other pressures that they had, the pressures for schools, the pressures for sports. I’m looking forward for our daughter to experience college and the respect that she will. She unfortunately doesn’t get to start doing those things until that age. She doesn’t get to find out if she likes to, you know, kayak through rivers or would rather paint a picture. But hopefully that idea that she will be what she pays attention to will really start to resonate with her when she starts to pay attention to things that we have not, you know, somehow controlled for her.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Anything else you want to say to close out the entire season of Chasing Life?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


You’re the you’re the last. You may be the last voice ever heard.

Oh, my God. Don’t say that.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


This. That sound scary, that sounds more frightening than I intended.

Yes, that’s very doomsdayish yourself. No, I am the first voice.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


First voice?

Yes. On the, on the new horizons of how we are going to regain our hope in social media.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Yeah. You know, I’ve. I’m hopeful. I’m a hopeful guy as a sort of baseline. But I walked out of the season more educated for sure. And and surprised in some places, but still hopeful. Still very, very hopeful. Sounds like you are, too.

Yeah. I am. I’m very hopeful. Like I said, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I want us to find out how to separate the good from the dirty.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


As Soleil said, I asked her. I said, Do you think this is you know, she says, we’re going to use more and more technology. And I said, Do you think this is good or is this bad? And she she basically gave me this look like, Dad, you don’t get it. Do you? Some things aren’t good or bad. They just are. And I thought that was her. You did good. You raised good, wise, thoughtful, kind children. I’m happy about that.

Yes, Thank you. So did you.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I had a little to do with it.

Couldn’t have done it without you.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Aw, thank you.

It’s hard to believe this season is coming to a close. In many ways, it feels like we got right in there, tackled some of the thorniest and biggest topics around devices and social media. In another way, it feels like we just scratched the surface. But I do want to say this. I did have this opportunity after 20 years to bring my family into this part of my world, to sit down and have these very long conversations in our tiny podcast studio. It wasn’t during a drive. It wasn’t over a meal. It was face to face talking about big topics, and it was magic. If you do nothing else, have the conversations with the people that you care about. Don’t assume the worst. Ask people. Oftentimes they’re going to enlighten you in ways that you couldn’t imagine. So I learned a lot, not only from the experts that we brought on, but also from my girls, my wife. And I hope that you learn something, too. For me, it is this understanding of how we truly live in a digital world, in a world where the technology is constantly changing. It can be scary. I started the season by asking, are technology and social media impacting our kids lives? The answer, I think, is clear. Yes, of course. Absolutely. Are there good things about social media and digital screens? Yes. We don’t need to catastrophize all things. Sometimes we have to assume the worst. We have to prepare for the worst. But we can also hope for the best. It is true there are some bad things, and that’s what makes it all so tricky. So we’ve got to be mindful of the role that technology plays in our lives. That’s a big lesson. I know it sounds like a simple lesson, but sometimes you have to pause and reflect and truly think about this high powered tool that sits in your hands. We got to make sure that we’re not letting these devices take over what really matters to us and that we are being honest with ourselves when we do need to take a step back. It’s been so illuminating and enlightening for me. I hope it’s been that way for you as well. We are going to be back in a couple of months with a new season of Chasing Life. In the meantime, you should tune in to another great CNN audio podcast. It’s called The Assignment with Audie Cornish. Every Thursday, Audie and her producers unpack a news story in this really nuanced way by talking to the people living through it. If you like the personal approach that I decided to take this season with Chasing Life, you’re going to love her show as well. Hope you give it a listen. Chasing Life is a production of CNN Audio. Our podcast is produced by Grace Walker, Xavier Lopez, Eryn Matthewson, and David Rind. Our senior producer is Haley Thomas. Andrea Kane is our medical writer and Tommy Bazarian is our engineer. Dan Dzula is our technical director. The executive producer of CNN Audio is Steve Lickteig. And a special thanks to Ben Tinker, Amanda Sealey and Nadia Kounang of CNN Health and Katie Hinman.

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