Jenny Schatzle

Melinda Wenner Moyer

How to Talk to Your Kids About Bullying, Sex, Screen Time & More

EPISODE: 52  |    DATE: July 22, 2021

“It’s imperative that we have more deliberate conversations with our kids about difficult topics like technology, screen time, sex, pornography, sexism and gender stereotypes and more.”

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Key Takeaways

In all the research you did for the book, were there any findings that you found particularly surprising?


  • Yes! Actually what was amazing is I think every topic that I looked into I found something that I was truly surprised about. 
  • I went about the research for this book by digging into the published scientific literature on different traits and virtues that I thought of as being the antithesis of the assholery for kids. 
  • For example, what does the research say about raising kids who aren’t super selfish and who aren’t lazy and who aren’t lying all the time. What does the research say about fostering the good part of that: honesty, ambition and self listeness? 
  • I wasn’t really familiar with the research when I dug into it and there was always some nugget that was super surprising. 
  • For instance when I was researching laziness and ambition, I for a long time was using sticker charts and rewards with my kids. I found when I read really deeply into the research on the use of rewards with kids that there was this long term downside to it. 
  • In the long term it feels controlling to kids. It kind of undermines their intrinsic motivation for things because nobody – including kids – likes to feel controlled and manipulated. Rewards make kids feel that way. 
  • I was also really fascinated when I looked into how and why sexism develops. A lot of it is rooted in the language we use as adults surrounding gender and the differences we accentuate between the genders. For example, when we treat boys and girls differently and the kinds of things we expect from them. 
  • There is really interesting stuff on racism and how that develops and how we can counteract that stuff that I thought was very counterintuitive. 
  • Every topic I dug into there were nuggets I didn’t expect. And that’s one of the reasons I was so excited about the book! 
  • Because I feel like there is information out there that hasn’t really been translated yet to the public about what the research says that is kind of counterintuitive and I want to get that out there!


I know you have a chapter on swearing and how to manage that with kids. But I couldn’t help but notice that the name of your book has a swear word in it! Do your kids know that’s the title and how did you navigate that conversation with them?


  • That’s a really good question. They do know the title. My 10 year old son thinks it’s hilarious. He will say the title of the book without saying the word asshole because he knows it’s a bad word. 
  • It’s funny because the research on kids and swearing is also one of those really interesting areas.
  • There are researchers who study the development of swearing in kids. And they basically say that kids are going to be exposed to swear words. Even if it’s not in your home. They hear it from friends and at school and TV.
  • So you can’t shield them from it. 
  • Generally it’s best not to make a huge deal out of it and not to totally freak out if you hear your kid using a swear word. 
  • Instead you want to explain it to them. It does depend on the swear word, though. 
  • If it is a truly offensive word that you never want to hear your child saying because it’s discriminatory, you want to explain that and say this is hurtful language and here is why it hurts people and here is why we don’t use it. 
  • But with a word like asshole or shit – you could say this is a word that people do find offensive and it can upset people. It’s ok if you say it when you’re alone in your room, but I don’t want to hear you saying it elsewhere in the house or to other people. 
  • If you try to say that they can never ever say this word and if they ever say it they’ll be punished, they get titillated by that. It makes them want to use it. It makes them kind of obsessed with it and it fuels the opposite of what you want. 
  • So it’s really better in a way to let them have the word but just within limits. 
  • With regards to the title of the book, the first time I explained it to my kids, they didn’t know what the word meant. 
  • I think I actually explained the anatomical meaning of the word. So I said ass is like another word for anus or butt and ass hole. I told them that people use that word to mean people who aren’t nice and who are mean to other people. 
  • So this book is about what I’ve learned from the research on how parents can help their kids grow up to be kind people and this is just a funny way of saying that. 
  • I told them that grownups will think it is funny. 
  • It is a bad word but that’s kind of what makes it funny. 
  • What I tried to accentuate is that this is a book about values and about teaching kindness because I think it’s really important for kids to be kind.
  • So I used it as a way to discuss the importance of kindness. And I think they got it. 
  • They still think the title is hilarious and they love to joke about it. 
  • But that’s how I went about it. I’m usually pretty open with my kids and if they ask a question I try to give them age appropriate answers that are honest and as close to the truth as possible. 


I love that you give the correct names of our body parts. I had this discussion with a friend years ago. She was saying, “Why can you call an elbow and elbow but not a vagina?” You’re already instilling shame around it that way. Have you come across any of that in your research or was that just initiative on your part?


  • I certainly talk about that in my book on talking to kids about sex and pornography. I have a whole section on talking about body parts.
  • I don’t know if there is specific research that confirms and looks at what happens to kids who are taught to not use the right words for their body parts versus those who have been taught the right words. 
  • But certainly people who are sex educators and who study sexual abuse say it’s incredibly important for many reasons to use the right words.
  • As you said, if you don’t it implies that these are body parts that are shameful in some way, that they can’t talk to you about them. 
  • And we certainly don’t want to start out by communicating to our kids that they can’t talk to us about their body parts. Or that in some way they should be embarrassed by their body parts. 
  • But also, from a sexual abuse standpoint, it’s improtnat for kids to know the right names for their body parts in case they need to talk to an adult about something that happened.
  • There was a sad example that one of the sex eductors wrote about in my resarch for the book. 
  • She told me there was a child who was trying to tell an adult that her dad hurt her cookie. That was her word for her vagina. 
  • But it didn’t get across because she used the word cookie. The adult didn’t know what that meant.  
  • So you want your kids to be able to use the right words in case they need to communicate something.


When and how do we start talking to our kids about sex? 


  • It’s so hard because a lot of us have grown up in families that treated sex as a taboo or very aswkard subject. I certainly did. 
  • So it’s really hard for us to talk about. 
  • I think first, you can start by talking about body parts and just having open discussions. 
  • Answer kids’ questions when they come up in a way you feel comfortable with while being as honest as you can. 
  • As far as how do you bring up the topic of sex, it can ceratinly be really weird to just decide to have a conversation with them. 
  • Because one thing I remember reading about is a lot of parents think they have to have one big conversation with their kids about sex and explain everything in this one conversation. It doesn’t have to be that way and it really shouldn’t be that way.
  • You could have little snippets of conversations that are just really about consent and body autonomy and how if someone is touching you in a way that you don’t like – even if it’s giving you a hug – that you can say no thank you. I don’t want to be touched right now. 
  • And likewise to respect another person’s body when they don’t want to be hugged or touched. 
  • So you start with things like that. And you don’t necessarily have to explain everything about sex in that same conversation. 
  • You can introduce these concepts like this that are related to sex and sexuality without having to talk about sexual intercourse. 
  • But at the same time I feel like it’s not too young sometimes to talk about things like pornography and sex.
  • With pornography for instance, I was talking with a reseracher who tells people that by the time their kids are in kindergarten, you want to be talking about pornography. 
  • Not in the way of sex necessarily but in the way of nakedness. 
  • You want to talk about how sometimes they might see pictures of naked people and it might make them feel weird. 
  • You would tell them that they might stumble across this on the internet and sometimes it can be confusing. Tell them that if they ever see pictures that make them feel confused to  come talk to you.
  • And you can talk about nakendenss rather than really about sex. 
  • But I will say I have loved using books about sex by Robie Harris.
  • Robie Harris is an author who has written a bunch of books for kids of different ages that is all about body parts, consent and sex. 
  • And the books even for the youngest kids do actually explain sexual intercourse to some degree. And they do a wonderful job of it. 
  • So I think when you don’t know how to bring up some of these conversations and you want to but you’re not sure how, getting these books is a really nice way in. 
  • It gives you a script and gives you a way into it and then they might have more questions.
  • I remember when my daughter was 4 or 5 she picked out one of the books and we got to one of the pages that was kind of explaining sexual intervoucrse.
  • She stopped and was like wait – did you and dad do this? And I was mortified. 
  • But I said yes we sure did! 
  • I thought she would freak out and she was just like hm, let’s move on. 
  • And it wasn’t as big a deal for her as I thought it would be. 
  • So books are a really great way to have the conversations that you’re not sure how to have.
  • But it is important to have the conversations in some way and to continue to because what I learned researching the state of sex education in the US is really bad. 
  • Kids aren’t learning good things from school. 
  • And what they’re not learning from you essentially they’re going to be picking up from friends or from the media from things they might stumble across. 
  • So it’s really important that we do what we can to have these conversations as hard as they can be. And as awkward as they can be. 
  • I give a lot of suggestions in the book of how you can talk about different concepts because they are hard.


Yes and with kids being exposed to social media and media in general, it makes it harder. My daughter loves Lady Gaga and doesn’t understand why I won’t let her wear a bikini top out in public to the store of the park. It’s hard to explain that discrepancy to her.


  • Ya. Those are so hard. 
  • In a way this is all about gender stereotypes and expectations. 
  • Why is it that girls are expected to look pretty and show off their bodies in a way that boys aren’t? 
  • And those are also really conversations about sex. 
  • We think of sex being about sexual intercourse but really these conversations span so much. 
  • They have to do with gender and cultural expectations around gender and what girls do versus what boys do and what they’re expected to do. 
  • These are really good conversations to have with our kids too and they are all related to sex. 
  • They are all part of that umbrella but they are really difficult conversations to have and really difficult to navigate because there are things that conflict within them.
  • And we are so caught up in them ourselves because we’ve been raised in this culture with all of these very strong gender stereotypes. 
  • They are part of us too. So to try to unravel them to explain them is really tricky.


I want to go back to something important you said earlier about giving our children permission to say no when somebody wants to hug them. I grew up being told that I had to hug my family members, and I remember one grandmother in particular who had really sharp whiskers that scratched my face when she kisses me. I still remember the experience 35 years later! But there is something about not having autonomy over your body. If mom and dad say it’s ok for someone to hug you, then it’s ok, even if that overrides your own feelings. And that’s not ok.


  • Yes! It’s such a difficult situation because it’s the interaction of what we’ve been taught about what’s culturally expected and what’s polite, especially towards elders. 
  • It’s important for us to communicate from a young age that our children’s bodies are their bodies and they have the right to say no to being touched or being hugged. 
  • There is a great book called Consent for Kids by Rachel Brian. 
  • It’s a book for kids ages 3 or 4 and up which teaches kids all about the different ways that consent manifests in the world and the ways in which it’s important to ask for consent before you touch someone or do certain things that have to do with our bodies.
  • When my daughter read it she really internalised it and she uses the word now. 
  • She told me, “I said no to my friend who wanted to put lipstick on my face. I don’t consent to that!” 
  • There is also an important conversation here about privacy. 
  • In our family, I don’t care if my kids see me naked. They can come into the bathroom as I’m getting into the shower. 
  • I don’t mind, but now that he’s getting older, I will now say something like, “You know, I don’t mind when you come in the bathroom when I’m here but other people will mind. So it’s really important that you knock when you’re about to come into a bathroom.” 
  • So even if you do have a certain way of doing things in your home it’s still important to teach these concepts of privacy and consent and stuff to your kids so they understand that other people might have different boundaries.


Yes and I don’t know if you came across this in your research but at what age should parents stop being naked in front of their kids? Is there an age where it becomes confusing for the child?


  • I’ve never come across any kind of boundaries like that. 
  • What I’m seeing with my 10 year old is he still isn’t self conscious around us. 
  • We do tick checks every night and he does it. 
  • But if my daughter has a friend over, my son knows I would never be naked in front of them. 
  • So I think they start to develop their own boundaries. 
  • And they might get to the point where they don’t want their parents to see them naked anymore or they don’t want to see you naked anymore.
  • I think it’s fine to respond to that and respect whatever boundaries they create. 
  • But so far I haven’t seen any boundaries like that in my house. I’m waiting for it the day when my son says I’m naked, don’t come in! And when that day comes, I’ll take his lead.


You said you do a tick check. Can you share about that? Why should a parent put this into the routine for their kids every day?


  • It depends on where you live. There are ticks across the country and there are lots of different tick borne diseases. 
  • But the east coast and midwest and south east have more disease than a place like California does. 
  • California does have lyme carrying ticks but they are just much less common. 
  • So I’m in the north east and half of all ticks here carry lyme disease and all these other crazy diseases. 
  • People have this idea that ticks are big enough that if they bite your kid you’ll see them and notice them and remove them.
  • But especially in the spring and early summer, ticks are so small. The size of a poppy seed. 
  • And a lot of times they’ll look like a tiny scab and you won’t notice them unless you’re looking. 
  • And they love crevices: butt cracks and behind the knees, the body parts you don’t look into in your children unless you were doing a deliberate tick check. 
  • So where we are – we try to do it every night even if the kids haven’t been outside. 
  • As a routine every night before bed I check my daughter: between her toes, butt crack and vulva, under her armpits. 
  • I’m looking for brown or black dots. You can see legs if you look closely.
  • And then I check and if I see it I remove it. It takes a few days for a tick to transmit lyme disease but you want to catch it within 24 hours if you can. We find ticks a lot!
  • We also take other precautions. I treat socks with permethrin. 
  • It’s not harmful to people when it’s dried on clothes but it will kill ticks on contact. 
  • So we spray shoes and treat their socks because a lot of ticks will climb up from the ground. They don’t jump from trees or fly. 
  • I have so many friends who’ve had kids with lyme disease.
  • I’m kind of waiting for it to happen because even with doing tick checks and taking these precautions, a lot of people get it. 
  • And it’s treatable as long as you get it early but it’s tricky to diagnose. 
  • The symptoms are hard to pinpoint because they are flu-like. Sometimes there is a rash.
  • Prevention is much better. We are very serious about ticks where we live because they are a huge problem.
  • There are different kinds of ticks. 
  • The american dog ticks are the biggest tic and they don’t generally carry disease. 
  • So where you live in California, there are probably most ticks that don’t carry diseases.
  • That’s another thing: there are different kinds of ticks and only certain kinds can transmit diseases.
  • It’s really the Eastern half of the US that ticks are the most problematic. The Western half has other diseases that are nasty but much less common.


Ok, let’s get back to the book. Let’s talk siblings! What are some of the ways we can help siblings get along?


  • The research here was really interesting.
  • I think a lot of parents have the idea that if kids fight it’s good to just let them work it out themselves because they’ll learn problem solving skills if they’re just left to their own devices.
  • That’s a good idea in theory but what the research doesn’t support this.
  •  There are researchers who study what happens when kids fight and parents don’t do anything. 
  • And what happens is that the more dominant one – often the older one –  will kind of win the fight with force or coerce. And that’s teaching kids the opposite of what we want to be teaching them.
  • It’s not teaching them to corporate and problem solve in a collaborative manner. 
  • It’s teaching kids that being dominant and being physical and coercion and bullying are good ways to solve problems. 
  • And of course it leaves the kid who is maybe younger or just less powerful in some way feeling terrible and down on themselves. 
  • The other thing you don’t want to do is referee a fight and say ok Jimmy is right here so Joe, give him the toy. 
  • You don’t want to solve the problem and just come in and bark whatever the solution is. That’s referring or arbitrating and that’s also not really helpful because again, the kids feel like mom is taking sides and she loves one kid more than the other. It causes problems.
  • So what the research now shows is the best way to handle sibling conflicts is you want to be what’s called a meditator. 
  • If you hear your kids fighting, first, you come in and say I’m hearing a lot of angry voices. And you say you’re fighting over this teddy bear. I’m going to take this teddy bear and we’re going to take a few deep breaths. 
  • And then we’ll talk about this. And everybody is mad and you give them a minute to calm down and you take the teddy bear somewhere far away. 
  • And then after everyone has had a minute to calm down and they feel like they can talk, you then ask each sibling what happened and in front of each other. Say Johnny, you go first and explain what just happened and then I’m going to hear Leah’s explanation of what happened.
  • And this is really good for kids to hear the other’s perspective because they’re only seeing the situation from their perspective. 
  • They’re like my brother did this terrible thing and there is no other way to look at this. 
  • But then when they hear their sibling explain what they felt like happened, they realize that there are different ways to look at the situation and this is a really good skill to be teaching kids.
  • So you have each child say what happened and have a rule that there is no interrupting. I want to hear each side in totality. 
  • And then you try to identify points of contention and common ground. 
  • Like you both agree that this happened and this happened but then you disagree on what happened next. 
  • And then as you’re doing this too you’re wanting to encourage the kids to talk about their feelings and saying when their sibling did this it made them feel really sad or angry or feel like it was really unfair and you want to really encourage them to be talking about feelings. 
  • Because a lot of times when we intervene in sibling fights, we’re kind of shaming our kids for being upset and saying stop fighting as if having angry feelings is bad and not ok and something to be ashamed of. 
  • What we do when we mediate is we instead give them the space to have those feelings. And we recognize those feelings and acknowledge them and validate them and say ok you felt this way – of course you did because you thought this was happening and so on.
  • And then after you have given each child the space to say how they felt and what happened, then you try to help them brainstorm a compromise or a solution of some sort.
  • What could we do to solve this problem that would make everybody happy? 
  • And sometimes they need help. They’re not going to know exactly what to suggest.
  • But you help them come to some kind of compromise. And I know that this sounds like oh my god, I don’t have to do this every time my kids fight. It’s a lot.
  • But there have been clinical trials done on this that have shown this really works.
  • I actually signed up for a clinical trial that was testing this approach and I started doing it and at first it was like I don’t have time for this. 
  • But then I did notice the kids really started doing it on their own or I could just prompt them and say ok now let’s talk about what just happened and they kind of just started doing it on their own. 
  • And then they started actually coming up with collaborative solutions to problems before they really started fighting. 
  • I started noticing one of them would sense a fight was coming and say ok wait a minute, let’s see if we can figure this out. 
  • They just started proactively figuring out how to solve the problems in a way that was more collaborative. It was pretty amazing.
  • The research is very clear on this. If parents actually do this with their kids and teach them these methods, the fights stopped being that unbalanced and became much more balanced and constructive and cooperative in the solutions. 
  • And you’re teaching kids these wonderful concepts and values. You’re teaching them that feelings are ok and that it’s ok to be angry but it’s not ok to do certain things in anger. 
  • You’re teaching them that others have different perspectives of the same situation sometimes and that we should be always thinking about how others might be feeling and how other people might be perceiving things. 
  • And that’s such a valuable skill for kids in terms of making them kind and generous.
  • Being able to proactively understand how somebody else feels is important. It’s a really big part of kindness and generosity. 
  • So you’re teaching them these great skills that will last them for a long time too just by helping them through these fights.
  • I realize it’s one of those things that you cannot do all the time. 
  • I still have moments when my kids are fighting and I bark at them to stop fighting. 
  • It’s not like you can do this all the time. But when you do have the time and the mental ability to take the time to help kids through their fights, those times – for every one time you can do that a week – it’s still constructive and it’s still helping them even if the other times you can’t always do it. 
  • I understand it’s unrealistic to expect parents to be able to do this every time their kids fight. But if you can do it every once in a while it makes a difference.


Let’s talk about bullying. What are some of the strategies a parent can use to first of all teach their kids to not bully and then teach them what to do if they are bullied or if they see somebody else getting bullied?


  • This was also a really interesting topic for me for a few reasons. 
  • One was: I went to a panel discussion on raising kind kids. It was all about what we can do to raise kind kids and kids aren’t as kind as they used to be. 
  • And when they opened it up to audience questions, every question the parent asked was what should I do when other kids aren’t being kind to my kid? 
  • And it was clear that what we worry about most as parents is other people being horrible to our kids. And of course we are. 
  • But if you look at the research there is this general assumption among parents that their kids will never bully. 
  • And the research is striking on this. When researchers have interviewed kids and parents about whether their kids bully, they found that most kids who do bully and who admit to it, their parents say my child never bullies. They assume their kids don’t bully.
  • And what’s amazing is the parents of the kids who bully are the least likely to think that their kids bully. 
  • Parents equate being a bully as being 100% evil so they don’t talk to their kids about it.
  • But it’s really important to have conversations with our kids about bullying.
  • My son’s eyes are crossed and he wears thick glasses. I worry about him getting bullied all the time. 
  • But I think also in this same conversation we need to be thinking about the fact that we also as parents need to be proactive about ensuring that our kids don’t bully. 
  • And to do that it’s hard but we should have conversations about what is bullying and what it looks like. 
  • When I talk to researchers who study bullying, they said that a lot of kids who bully don’t actually recognize that what they’re doing is hurtful. 
  • They think that it’s fun and that other kids are having fun. 
  • They don’t make the connection that they’re actually hurting the people that they are bullying. 
  • You’d think that bullies are doing it on purpose to hurt. 
  • And I think of course some bullies are like that and they know exactly what they are doing. 
  • But bullying is a continuum and there are a lot of kids who are kind of in this middle ground of maybe they occasionally will engage in bullying behavior but they also maybe are bullied sometimes and maybe one day they are kind to their friends and another day they’re not. 
  • But there is this continuum and there is a lot of middle ground and a lot we can do as parents to help those kids who are in that middle ground who might occasionally bully.
  • So as I was talking about with my son, I worried about him being bullied. 
  • I know that he’s said things that kids have called him names and done things. 
  • But there was one time when the principal called me and said my son was calling another kid a name on the school bus. 
  • And I was like my kid? No! But he did. 
  • And it was really terrible and I sat down with him and had long conversations about how do you think that that name calling made that kid feel and how did it happen? 
  • So I think it’s important to really talk about bullying. Talk about what it is, how it makes other kids feel if you say something or call someone names or if you do something that fits into the rubric of bullying. 
  • I think it’s really important for us as parents to talk about how it affects other people.
  • There is an approach to discipline called induction and there it’s basically explaining how your kids actions affect others. 
  • So instead of saying pick up the legos on the floor you’ll say please pick up the legos because otherwise I’m going to step on it and it’s going to hurt me and it’s going to hurt really badly. 
  • So you’re always connecting what they’re doing to how it affects others. 
  • And with these conversations on bullying I think it’s really important. 
  • You can say, “when somebody calls someone else a name that makes them feel terrible and ashamed,” and you really want to talk about the effects of it.
  • So let’s talk about what you can do if you’re worried about your kid being bullied. 
  • We can’t protect our kids all the time. Things are going to happen. The research also suggests 40% of kids who get bullied don’t tell anyone. They don’t even tell their friends or parents. They are scared, ashamed – they feel horrible.
  • So I think one thing is to try to talk to your kids about it. Ask them, “How is school going?” and have conversations with them. 
  • Ask them, “Has anyone said anything that’s not nice to you on the playground?” And maybe even have that as part of your daily conversation. Ask them, “Did anyone say anything unkind to you today?” 
  • Try to get these conversations going and make them a regular thing so that hopefully your child will open up to you. 
  • And when your kid does tell you that something has happened, the research suggests that it’s really important to listen and not at first to provide advice. 
  • To just let them say what’s happening and validate their feelings. 
  • Let them explain what happened. Let them get it off their chest. Validate them. 
  • You can say things like, “That must have been so hard, I’m so sorry you had to experience that. That was so unkind.”
  • And then after you’ve given them the space to share what happened, then you can try to problem solve. You can ask, “What could we do?”
  • A lot of kids don’t want their parents to talk to teachers or schools. 
  • But what the bullying researchers I talked to said is that it’s really important to get the school involved if there is repeated bullying happening. 
  • You can tell the school to keep it anonymous and not make it a thing when you’re talking to the bully directly about it. 
  • But that it is really important that schools or teachers or school psychologists or principals understand what’s happening and you can work with them to put a plan in writing, like a safety plan that will address what the school will do if the bullying continues. 
  • What are the steps they’ll take? Are they going to monitor the bullying? Is there going to be a teacher who is really paying attention to your child on the playground more than they normally would be to make sure they see the bullying? What’s the response going to be if they do see bullying happening? So you create this collaborative plan with the school.
  • And there is also what your child should do if the bullying continues. What are the steps they can take? Are they going to go to a particular teacher and explain what’s happening? 
  • One thing that’s not helpful that schools sometimes suggest is bullying meditation where you have the bully and the child being bullied thrown into a room together to try to solve their conflict. 
  • That is not constructive because with bullies there is a power dynamic and it’s not these kids aren’t on equal standing, so that doesn’t work. 
  • And the one other thing I think that’s really important for parents to talk to their kids about is what to do when they see bullying happen.
  • And it can really hard for kids to stand up to bullies, understandably. It can be really unsafe if the bully is a huge kid who is scary. 
  • So a kid doesn’t have to stand up to a bully. A kid also doesn’t have to go to a teacher and report bullying if they feel uncomfortable doing that. 
  • What the research suggests that’s the most constructive thing kids can do when they see bullying is that after the bullying happens, to support the child who has been bullied. To sit with them at lunch. They don’t have to talk about it. But to just be there supporting that child the rest of the day. Be their partner in PE. Go out of the way to be kind to that child.
  • When kids have been interviewed about what’s the best response that other kids can have when you’re bullied they say just having other kids show their support for me afterwards and come up to me and stand next to me and sit with me at lunch. 
  • That means more than anything and that helps me more than anything. 
  • And that’s an easy thing. It’s something that doesn’t put your child in an unsafe situation.
  • It’s not requiring them to be courageous in a way that they might not be ready to be. But it really makes a difference.


What are some of the strategies you can share around how parents can manage social media and screen time and games with their children? 


  • One of the big themes that I found looking at the research on managing technology and social media with kids is there are different approaches parents take. 
  • I think parents sometimes feel they need to limit and be like monitors of their kids screen time and hovering and setting these very strict limits. 
  • And what the research suggests is that really if instead of having that as your overarching approach if you can be more of a mentor with your kids with screens. 
  • So you’re using them with kids and learning with them. 
  • Instead of being an external force that’s making rules and trying to create limits you’re instead working with them. 
  • And so when a child wants to download a new app on their ipad at a young age, you research that app together and you learn about it and you set up boundaries together as to how they can use the screens or apps. 
  • So you’re in this sort of mentorship relationship instead of being in a monitoring relationship. 
  • Those kids who have those mentor relationships with their parents when it comes to technology get into much less trouble when they are online.
  • There has been some research done on this. 
  • Kids of the very limiting strict parents are in one study twice as likely as the kids of more mentoring parents to access porn, to post rude comments online, to impersonate classmates or adults online. 
  • Because they’re not given the guidance. 
  • Their parents are saying don’t do this and don’t do that. You can limit screens at home to a degree, but when they go to their friends’ houses, who knows what it’s like. 
  • Those parents aren’t really giving the guidance and the teaching that will help kids be careful and be kind online. 
  • But when you’re using screens with your kids and you’re teaching them – you’re learning as you go too. I feel like my kids know more about stuff online than I do at this point.
  • So I’m learning too. But when you’re learning together and you’re working with them and doing things with them, they learn and take cues from you. 
  • And you can use those moments as teaching moments for values you want them to have online, for the things that you expect of them, for the things that are kind and unkind to do. And so that’s one big overarching suggestion. To just be more of a mentor.
  • And also to be really intentional about the kind of framework you want to have surrounding screens. 
  • So one thing that a lot of people told me is you want to have a digital roadmap with your family. 
  • Have sit down conversations regularly where you’re kind of creating these ground rules.
  • Like where can the kids use screens? Can they take their ipads into their rooms and shut the door or should they be only in common areas. When can they use screens? Can they use them anytime they are done with their homework and chores or do they have to ask permission every time? Or is there a certain time of day? 
  • Creating these kinds of understandings is key. 
  • They are rules but you’re creating them together and talking about priorities and values.
  • So again a lot of my book is: have more conversations – deliberate conversations – with your kids about difficult topics like technology and screen time, sex and pornography, sexism and gender stereootypes.
  • That’s one of the big overarching themes of the book is that we should be conversing with our kids about these things a lot instead of just having this hierarchical relationship where we’re just telling them what to do. 
  • We want to engage with them and work with them. Because when we do that it gets more constructive and much more likely our kids will listen to us and respect us and ultimately we can keep them safer that way too.


And with regards to social media, I can imagine it would be so helpful as a kid to have a parent sitting with you looking at it and discussing the things you’re seeing so you can talk through the feelings instead of internalizing them. Because they are big feelings that need to be talked through even as an adult.


  • Yes. If your child is at the age where you feel like you’ll get an Instagram account for them, you can do that together. 
  • You can say let’s sign you up but for the first 3 weeks let’s do it together and let’s talk about what you’re seeing and let’s talk about what we’re doing and how things feel. 
  • That said, to the degree that can, avoid getting phones and social media accounts for as long as you can. 
  • Obviously some kids need phones for various reasons and a lot of it has to do with the community you’re in. 
  • If every kid in the 5th grade class has a phone, it’s hard to not give your kid a phone.
  • But there are other communities – like in ours – where most of the kids don’t have phones yet. And I’m so happy about that!
  • But as I said, to the degree that you can delay your kids getting phones and access to social media, please try to do that. If it’s not going to harm them or harm their social lives to not have it, delay it as long as possible. 
  • Or you can also figure out ways to have your child have a dumb phone wihtout apps so they can call you as they are walking to school or if you need to have some way that they can communicate with you. 
  • So there is a lot of middle ground you can play around with where you’re keeping your kids safe and giving them what they need but without introducing them to things you feel like they’re not ready for.


Melinda’s book, How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes, hit bookshelves July 20th! Be sure to pick up your copy today!


Praise for How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes:


“It’s one thing to say you don’t want your kid to be an asshole. This book gives you data-driven, research-based tools to actually achieve it.”

Emily Oster, PhD, author of Cribsheet and Expecting Better

“I can’t think of a more important life lesson than ‘don’t be an asshole.’ Unfortunately, many kids don’t learn it—because many parents fail to teach it. Thanks to this book, they no longer have an excuse. It’s a smart, engaging, honest, and surprisingly useful read about how to nurture decency and generosity.”

Adam Grant, author of Think Again

“Wenner Moyer crafts a winning guide for parents who wish to build a ‘better, fairer, stronger world.’ This delightful mix of strategy and humor shouldn’t be missed.”

Publisher’s Weekly, Starred review

“Most parents say we want our children to be kind, compassionate people. Yet everything in the culture urges us to teach something else . . . Melinda Wenner Moyer weaves cutting edge science with accessible stories and actionable tips to help us rebalance those crucial scales, to be the parents we know we can be—and, truly, to raise children who aren’t assholes.”

Peggy Orenstein, author of Girls & Sex and Boys & Sex

“If the title alone doesn’t make you fall in love with the book, I’m not sure what to tell you. Wenner Moyer is a science journalist who realized that despite books that tell us how to do nearly everything in parenting, there wasn’t a book that helped you to raise kids who weren’t, well…assholes. This is an interesting, fact-based look at how to do just that. (Also, I suspect that if you bring this to the playground, it will attract like-minded mom friends!)”

— Book Riot

“How can parents raise kids who believe in themselves and in building a better, more compassionate future? This book provides the roadmap. Filled with actionable, sometimes surprising, always data-driven ideas, Melinda Wenner Moyer has given us an invaluable resource.”

Madeline Levine, PhD, author of The Price of Privilege and Ready or Not   

“Crucial, timely, and wise. This is the parenting handbook for raising the next generation.”

— Carla Naumburg, PhD, author of How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids 

“If you are a parent who wants to know that your parenting energies are tried and true, tested and trusted, this book is the place where you can plant your flag.”

Mark McConville, PhD, author of Failure to Launch 


About Melinda

Melinda Wenner Moyer is a contributing editor at Scientific American magazine and a regular contributor to The New York Times, Washington Post, and other national magazines and newspapers. She is a faculty member in the Science, Health & Environmental Reporting program at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Her first book, How To Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes, will be published in July 2021 by J.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Melinda was the recipient of the 2019 Bricker Award for Science Writing in Medicine, and her work was featured in the 2020 Best American Science and Nature Writing anthology. She was also awarded a 2018 Alicia Patterson Foundation fellowship. Moyer’s work has won first place prizes in the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, the Folio Eddie Awards and the Annual Writing Awards of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. It has also been shortlisted for a James Beard Journalism Award, a National Academy of Sciences Communication Award and a National Magazine Award. She has a master’s in Science, Health & Environmental Reporting from NYU and a background in cell and molecular biology. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, two children, and her dog.






Resources mentioned in this episode

Melinda’s previous episode #40 from April 29th (listen to this one too!)

Children’s books about sex by Robie Harris

Book by Rachel Brian: Consent for Kids

Melinda’s article about Ticks in the New York Times

Parenting approach: Induction

Melinda’s newsletter

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