Youth Development in a Digital Age with Dr. Erin Watson

Youth Development in a Digital Age with Dr. Erin Watson

by Chris Tompkins | October 4, 2022

Dr. Erin Watson is a therapist, relationship coach, author, and speaker who specializes in the empowerment of young women and girls with an emphasis on sexuality, identity development, body image, relationships, and digital culture. As a national expert on the sexualization of young women, Dr. Watson has spoken at high schools across Canada, leading workshops for girls ages 12-16 on topics like self esteem, and media literacy. She is also co-founder of The Expert Talk, an organization that offers mental health first-aid training for people who work with or parent tweens and teens.

Media literacy as it relates to empowerment

According to Dr. Watson, it’s crucial that young people develop an understanding of how digital technologies negatively impact their sense of self by promoting social comparison, setting unrealistic standards, and by operating with a complete lack of transparency. Digital media is designed to think for you, “lead[ing] you down pathways of what it wants you to see and hear and learn and do and be,” Dr. Watson explains. It effectively limits choice, which is problematic because empowerment is based on an individual’s choices as a means to effect change in their life and in the world at large. Without choices and with only unrealistic ideals to measure themselves against, Dr. Watson notes that empowerment is very difficult in the digital world.

Digital media and body image: a two-headed beast

Dr. Watson is quick to point out that while digital media can have your child feeling discouraged in the face of all the unrealistic imagery populating social platforms, it also works the other way and can even be life-saving to those young people who have found a community online. She cites the body-positivity movement and the increased representation from LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and neurodivergent individuals as opportunities for kids to see themselves represented in digital media, which is important if kids can leverage it responsibly.

How can parents contribute to their kids’ digital literacy?

It’s imperative for parents to go beyond simply teaching kids about online safety and protecting personal information. According to Dr. Watson, there has to be a shift away from the idea of “monitoring” and “limiting” what your child is consuming towards teaching them how to deal with the content. She argues that it’s critical to teach kids to be inquisitive about what they are consuming by asking questions like:

  • Why do you think this person posted this?
  • What do you think they were hoping to get out of it?
  • What do you think they’re hoping we feel and do with this post?

Parents should also have their children assess their own reaction to a post, asking how it made them feel and whether it’s something they want to feel more or less of. Learning to analyse what is going on behind the posts they are looking at helps the child trust themselves, which means they’re more likely to make healthier decisions when it comes to what they consume.

Leading by example

Kids aren’t the only ones struggling with digital technology. Dr. Watson talks about how the content we consume through our phones is an addiction for both parents and kids alike. Everyone scrolls for a dopamine hit. To combat our own screen addictions, and also help our children de-prioritize their devices, she emphasizes the importance of creating a fun and fulfilling offline life and bringing your kids along with you. It might look as simple as a family game night or by volunteering together in the community.

For more on what Dr. Watson has to say about youth and their development in the digital age, listen to the full episode of the Shaping Our World podcast in the player at the top of this post.

Visit our website to discover a variety of other guests that we’ve had on the show. Shaping Our World episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts.


[00:00:12.010] – Speaker 1
Hey, I’m Chris Tompkins, and welcome to the Shaping Our World podcast. My goal is to invite you into a conversation that will leave you more confident in understanding and inspiring the young people in your life. Each episode episode we talk with leading experts and offer relevant resources to dive deeper into the world of our youth today. Today we have Dr. Erin Watson on the show. Dr. Erin specialized in studying young women’s and girls empowerment with an emphasis on sexuality, identity development, body image, relationships, and digital culture. She’s one of Canada’s foremost experts on the sexualization of young women. As an invited speaker in Canadian middle and high school, Erin has given workshops to students age twelve to 16 on topics such as sexting and sexualization selfesteem, body image, dating, and media literacy. She has over a decade of experience as a lecturer for undergraduate and graduate courses at one of Canada’s top ranked universities and over 15 years experience working in the field of wellness education and sex ed. Erin is trained as a therapist and is sought after as a relationship coach, helping individuals, couples and families connect better. She’s a dynamic and engaging speaker who’s given over 45 invited talks, keynotes and workshops.

[00:01:33.510] – Speaker 1
Her research has been published in top academic journals and textbooks and is highlighted through mainstream media, including L, Canada, Men’s Magazine,, and so much more. Erin, welcome to the show. We’re so glad you’re with us.

[00:01:52.520] – Speaker 2
Hi. Thank you so much, Chris, for having me.

[00:01:55.030] – Speaker 1
Yeah. I’m looking forward to our conversation today. As I went through your bio and learned a bit about what you do. I’m really interested in what you want to share with us today. So as we get in, I just have a couple of quick questions to help us get to know you a little bit better. What shaped your world when you were a teen or a child or a young person? What were the big influences in your life growing up?

[00:02:18.510] – Speaker 2
I want to say Backstreet Boys. Music. I love music. I escaped in music, and I was also a dancer, a competitive dancer, and I spent a lot of my time training.

[00:02:31.260] – Speaker 1
My daughter was the same, so I know all about that world.

[00:02:34.300] – Speaker 2
Oh, yes.

[00:02:36.150] – Speaker 1
So what’s shaping our world today? Tell us a little bit about who you are and what occupies your time, maybe beyond your technical work.

[00:02:46.650] – Speaker 2
My whole world right now is my daughter. She is one and a half years old.

[00:02:52.090] – Speaker 1
Oh, wow.

[00:02:52.960] – Speaker 2
Yeah. The most amazing thing ever. And I’m balancing work and full time moming. Although we just found out we’re getting daycare in September, and I’m already so sad about it.

[00:03:11.190] – Speaker 1
Right. It’s a bit of a switch that goes on. That’s great. So tell us a little bit about what you do now, like, through your work that’s shaping the world of young people. And feel free to shamelessly plug what you do.

[00:03:28.770] – Speaker 2
Okay. I’m the co founder of the expert talk. So what we do is we run educational programming for people who work with or are raising Tweens and teens. And so kind of came from this idea of, like, you really wish youth calce with an instruction manual, right? And we fashioned ourselves as the guidebook. I mean, we are we draw from evidencebased, research experts in the field to really help you connect better with Tweets and teens and really understand them as they’re going through these pillars of development. So I say it’s like actually getting insight into behind the curtain, right? What is going on in their brains? Why do they act the way they do, and what do they really need most from you? That’s the world of the expert talk. And one of our visions is that all teens, Tweens, all kids, grow up to be loved and accepted for exactly who they are. But that comes down to us, and sometimes our own stuff and our own stress can get in the way. So we also offer support to help you become more confident and have the capacity to raise these resilient and welladjusted teams.

[00:04:58.590] – Speaker 2
So it really is about empowering the whole system, if you will. And I guess that sort of ties into some of my other work that is a little bit outside the expert talk, and that is that I’m a recovery coach, and so I help people, mainly adults, deal with things like mental health and burnout. And that empathy overload that comes from caring for people who have a lot of needs right now, especially in these times, if you will.

[00:05:33.110] – Speaker 1

[00:05:35.430] – Speaker 2
And so we tackle a lot of topics around wellbeing, but we also do that yikes stuff drugs and alcohol and social media and sexting and bullying and helping you really know how to take the next steps confidently and with ease.

[00:05:55.410] – Speaker 1
This is why I’m excited for our conversation today, because I think so many parents and youth workers and teachers and those of us who care about young people want to get behind that curtain, like you said, and learn about what’s going on. And I think we want to focus a little bit on some of your experience with media literacy and how self esteem and body image and sexualization and all that stuff kind of integrates together, because I think you have a lot to offer in that. But again, as we have this conversation, we’d love to pick your brain a little bit on young people today and where they’re at. I want to start to say, how would you describe youth today, like, as you work with young people? What are you seeing out there? If we’re listening to this podcast, we have young people in our lives, so we kind of get it. But you’re an expert in this field. What do you see out there in young people?

[00:06:51.090] – Speaker 2
I am so hopeful for the future because of the young people that we have today. One of the things that I am noticing the most is how much young people these days care about their community and the people around them. Sure, you may not always see that at home, right, but it’s the young people today that are saying, no, let’s be inclusive. No, let’s not do social hierarchy. No, let’s not exclude what does it really mean to accept and love everyone, and how do we do that? And I just think that’s a beautiful thing that we as adults can almost look to and learn from and step to the side and say, okay, how can I best support you? Because that’s a really valuable goal that young people have. So, yeah, I look at them and I don’t feel scared about what’s coming.

[00:07:59.900] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s so encouraging. And I think as parents, as people, youth workers, one of the things that we try to navigate is, like you said, as we get to know young people deeper and deeper, some of that hope that you find but one of the things we like to talk about is affirming the virtue and things, but also discerning some of the vulnerabilities. And you spend a lot of time and you’re, I think, well equipped to talk about one of the areas where parents are, I think, kind of taking a step back, because it wasn’t like this for us when we grew up, is around how some of these topics interact with our digital culture and social media and all that sort of stuff. So what do you think are some of the challenges or even opportunities that youth in our current digital culture are navigating or wrestling with, and particularly around you spend a lot of time and empowering young people? How do you see the social media world kind of fitting into where young people are at today and feeling empowered and who they are and like you said, caring about their community or some of these other hopeful things that you see?

[00:09:05.380] – Speaker 2
Yeah, there are many hurdles. We do have to acknowledge that this is a different world. And these hurdles to identity development are because that identity development is taking place mainly via these digital platforms. So digital technologies, they’re how youth are coming to know and understand and construct themselves. Right. And it’s also their main method of communication and social and self evaluation. So these are critical developmental tasks like who am I and how do I fit in this world? And they’re being mediated through this lens of social comparison, unrealistic standards, and lack of transparency. Right. So if you’re on social media, you don’t always see reality, right? Yeah, and then when I think of empowerment and I did a lot of work when I was doing my dissertation on youth empowerment, and the thing is, empowerment requires choice and it requires awareness. So the ability to actually affect change in your life, in your world, in yourself. And the thing about digital media is that it’s designed to limit your choice. It’s designed to think for you. It leads you down pathways of what it wants you to see and hear and learn and do and be.

[00:10:40.260] – Speaker 1

[00:10:41.160] – Speaker 2
They don’t yet have media literacy to understand how that is happening to them, and they can get swept up in the current of it all. I talked to a lot of parents who are really concerned about things like filters and the instagramers who have a lot of plastic surgery and all the advertisements that are undisclosed in posts, and teens are thinking that, oh, well, this is the ideal that I need to reach. But it’s not. I mean, not only is it not a reachable ideal, but even the people they look up to the most that they want to be and emulate aren’t even reaching those ideals. Right, because it’s not real yet. This is the pillar of what is socially valued, and then team sort of rest the weight of their self worth on those ideals.

[00:11:42.250] – Speaker 1

[00:11:43.490] – Speaker 2
And so I try and balance this lack of transparency and lack of understanding alongside the benefits. And there are and I will get to that, but we do have to understand that if your team is struggling, there is a strong chance that they’re feeling like they aren’t good enough, because what choices are available to them to measure up to the impossible? So I do worry somewhat because you can’t really be empowered under these conditions. And developmentally speaking, teens, they really are seeking outside information. They’re trying to see how they fit in the world. They’re trying to use digital platforms that really leave them deeply fixated on, if you will, external validations, likes, shares, comments, praise. And they don’t develop that inner sense of measurement.

[00:12:48.950] – Speaker 1
Yeah. So I’m really intrigued by that. Where do you see some of the connections between the digital culture and body image? What does that look like? And how do we, as parents kind of recognize when that’s happening and going on in our kids lives?

[00:13:06.950] – Speaker 2
Yeah, so body image has always been a moving target, especially for young girls, and it’s always been unrealistic and unachievable, sort of by design, because at its very core, it is a consumer industry. It’s a trillion dollar industry. It kind of requires in order to survive that people don’t feel good enough. Again, we can see that as adults. We go. Oh, yeah. Okay. I know they’re trying to sell something. They’re trying to sell an ideal. But tweens and teens don’t understand this because what they see and what they feel is truth to them. So if they’re being exposed to, like, way more images of altered, unrealistic bodies, that is reality to them. So they can’t help but have distorted expectations. They are really, really bumping up against an almost impossible uphill battle. Like, when you think of Sisyphus, right, that’s guy that rolled the rock up the hill, they’re trying, they’re trying. They’re trying to feel better. They’re trying to feel good enough. They’re trying to believe in their bodies and say, like, yes, I’m beautiful. I’m good enough. And then there’s like, just one post on Instagram, and there goes the rock all the way down the hill.

[00:14:31.970] – Speaker 2
And it becomes this fisher cycle because they see imagery and icons that look a certain way, and then they don’t, and they feel bad. And when they feel bad, they feel bummed out. And so they go back online to seek that validation because where does it come from? It comes from social media. Now, I do want to say, like, yes, there’s a lot of pressure here, but it’s not all bad, right? And I know you would ask, what are some of them? Maybe the good things? And this is what I also want parents to hear, is, digital culture is not terrible. Even around body image. It can be life saving for some youth who might find communities or acceptance or information that they didn’t have access to. And we are seeing this around body image of the body positivity movement. We’re seeing a lot of representation from LGBT or BIPOC individuals, neurodivergent, superstars, or even simply influencers who have bad acne, who’s totally rocking it. And I think imagine being able to see someone just like you absolutely killing it online. Imagine the power of seeing you be celebrated, I guess, sort of pay attention.

[00:15:59.450] – Speaker 2
Like, are the images that your kid is consuming, are they representative of who they are? Are they being exposed to who they are? And can you maybe help them find some of those people that are like them and amazing? That’s a great, great thing.

[00:16:18.620] – Speaker 1
Yeah, I love that. And I have noticed a lot of organizations, companies are portraying a more representative of the population. Imagery and all body types and shapes and ethnicities and backgrounds and all that stuff are appearing much more in even promotional material, but even in some of the things that would have been associated much more with beauty imagery and selling and stuff. I love what you’re saying. I have a couple of questions. My mind is going in a million different directions to pick your brain, Erin, but I love when you were talking about transparency in media and how we understand what we’re consuming more. And I think that probably connects back to this idea of digital literacy, that how do we increase our own for parents and help our kids gain digital literacy, and what are some of the things that you wish, DAREarts, or people were more aware of that we kind of run face to face with in the media or our digital world?

[00:17:34.090] – Speaker 2
Yeah, this is a really pertinent question. And the thing with digital literacy and media literacy is, depending on your values and your viewpoints, the core components of it may differ. Right. So some people would argue that when we talk about digital media, we’re going to teach kids about safety, sharing personal information, restricting imagery, talk about the digital permanence of it. We’re going to talk about exploitation. Like, all these are critical factors. And they are right, they are. But when we stop there, what tends to happen is the interventions or the recommendations for youth wellbeing, or empowerment tends to be things like monitor them, snoop, nix social media altogether. And when we do that, we do throw the baby out with the bathwater because we don’t teach them skills. It’s like saying you don’t know how to swim yet, so we are going to eliminate water from your life.

[00:18:36.020] – Speaker 1
Right? Yeah.

[00:18:37.110] – Speaker 2
But you live on a boat.

[00:18:38.840] – Speaker 1
Yes, exactly. But we know you’re going to encounter water.

[00:18:42.600] – Speaker 2
Yeah. All of a sudden when you’re 18, there, boom, it’s there. And you know what to do. You actually have to suspend some of your own anxieties a little bit because they need to dip their toes in in order to develop the skills that would make you feel as anxious about their engagement with it. And so we want to yuill trust. And we also don’t want to prevent kids from using social media in those other positive ways, like to connect and collaborate and curate these identities that might not be possible in their offline world. So I always say what’s important, like I don’t give people what the rules or boundaries should be because that’s going to be up to the parent. Right, right. But I would argue that it’s critical to teach kids to be inquisitive about what they are consuming. So how is it being consumed and why? And perhaps getting them to reflect on like, okay, how is this impacting you? How is it impacting others? And so this is sort of along the lines of teaching social and digital responsibility. And I think that’s more effective because teens understand why you have these limits.

[00:19:59.830] – Speaker 2
So some guiding questions I use are, okay, well, why do you think this person posted this? What do you think they were hoping to get out of it? Or what went on behind the scenes of this post? Is there anything hidden that maybe we’re not seeing? Or what do you think they’re hoping we feel and do with this post and then taking it that step further, which is teaching them to assess their own reaction. So how did it make you feel? And is this something you want to feel more or less of? Can I help you find posts that might help you feel those good things more and help you limit posts that might make you feel those not great things less? Yeah, and it helps build trust in themselves, I think. And I always frame it for parents who are like, no, I really don’t want to let go. I really don’t want to let go of control. I get that just sort of letting teens be on social media is scary. I understand. But the thing is, if you teach them these skills, then they’re going to be able to make healthy decisions as adults.

[00:21:15.410] – Speaker 2
And that’s ultimately your goal is setting them up to be okay, right. So that you don’t have to worry or be anxious about them teaching them.

[00:21:24.600] – Speaker 1
How to swim so that we don’t have to stand on the shore or the boat and be worried about the water.

[00:21:31.130] – Speaker 2
Yes. A good reminder for myself when my kid goes to daycare.

[00:21:35.040] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s right. So can I just on that note, and without answering my own question, I think as DAREarts, sometimes we struggle with this, right, identity development. We know that happens primarily through the teens and tweens, and we know with extending adolescents into the 20s. Now it might even go into that, but we’re constantly forming and reforming our identity through life. And so maybe even as parents, because I know you talked to a lot of parents, what does it look like for us to navigate our own time online? And how the Internet and I’m even going, man, I should start asking myself the same questions. What kind of stuff that I’m seeing in Navigating and how does it make me feel even as a parent? And again, maybe I’m answering my own question, but can you talk about like as adults or parents? How does our own journey through digital media literacy kind of interact with the family unit and connect to where our kids are at?

[00:22:41.370] – Speaker 2
I feel like our generation, I say ours is probably the main target audience here. We were kind of the guinea pigs of online identity exploration and recreation. It wasn’t the world we grew up in, but it sort of emerged when we were still settling into ourselves. Ish right.

[00:23:02.500] – Speaker 1

[00:23:03.350] – Speaker 2
I remember Facebook was an exclusive invite only community.

[00:23:07.130] – Speaker 1
That’s right. Yeah, right.

[00:23:08.820] – Speaker 2
And so it was a place where you could go and try on something new. It was briefly really safe for many people before, like bosses and grandmothers came on to monitor.

[00:23:21.210] – Speaker 1

[00:23:22.710] – Speaker 2
And that’s great because we learned, oh, this is why digital media can have this amazing effect. But it transitioned into this sort of more global AllAccess thing. And we were caught in that way because we didn’t understand what skills were needed to make that transition with our dignity intact. We teach kids about this now, but it’s because we had to learn the hard way that behind the safety of screens, people can be cruel or the information being shared and consumed is not even true. We talk about all these things that kids are struggling with body image and self esteem and connection and healthy relationships. We also struggle with that. But it didn’t get better with the advent of digital media. In a way, sometimes the drama got worse. The issue with us is we didn’t have those education or that protective factor or guidance that kids these days are having. And of course that’s going to affect your wellbeing, but I guess this is really relevant to you because yuill probably notice this in your yuill notice your team is addicted to their phone. But if I zoom out a little bit and I go, okay, no, really, this is about us because teens learn most from watching us, right?

[00:24:58.590] – Speaker 2
That’s where the addiction starts. We have addictions to our phone, and I say this to people and it shocks them, but do you realize that every time you go on your phone to relax or distress or zone out, you are choosing dissociation?

[00:25:16.740] – Speaker 1

[00:25:17.450] – Speaker 2
You are actively trying to cope by exiting your life, right? You’re stressed, you scroll, you’re bored. BuzzFeed. Okay, yeah. So we’re no longer the agents in our lives who’s at the wheel, right? Because you’re not driving that bus anymore. And what I want people to sort of understand is digital media makes a choice for you. It tells you what to click. It tells you to check out one more thing. Your life can wait. You don’t need your life right now. And an hour has passed and you never get that back. So that could have been time spent with kids. That could have been family meal time. There’s a lot that was sacrificed because we wanted that immediate hit of good feeling. Dopamine.

[00:26:04.370] – Speaker 1

[00:26:05.170] – Speaker 2
And that’s all fine and good, but what happens in the body physiologically and this is happening to your twins and teens, this is why they’re on the phone all the time. You get that like addictive hits, but then cortisol, the stress hormone is actually increasing.

[00:26:24.130] – Speaker 1

[00:26:25.170] – Speaker 2
By the time you get off your device, you’ve actually increased your physiological stress profile.

[00:26:32.160] – Speaker 1
Yeah. Not calm. We think it’s relaxing and distressing, but what we do is we hike without knowing it, and that makes it harder.

[00:26:42.720] – Speaker 2
So then you’re going to want to go on your phone more because you have to work extra hard to get that hit, and that hit is not going to be enough. And then you go, okay, well, I feel so bummed about my life, and I was on the phone for an hour looking at everyone else who’s like happier and prettier and more successful and richer. So now I need to get some validation. And when you start to recognize, wait, what am I getting out of this? Why am I doing this? It almost helps you have a little bit of perspective on your kids so that you don’t go like, put your phone down, put your phone down. It’s like you know what’s going on for them because it’s going on for you too.

[00:27:23.690] – Speaker 1
Yeah. So you talked about choices earlier too. So I’m listening to this and I’m going, oh my goodness. I think your questions and assessing what’s behind it and how I feel as part of that, but even listening to this conversation, recognizing that dopamine hit and the cortisol and all that, so help us, what do we do instead? Of that. How do we choose to model different behavior? What might that look like? What would you say to someone like me who’s like, oh, my goodness, I do that? What do we step into instead of that?

[00:27:56.580] – Speaker 2
I love this. I love this question. Right? Because naturally you’d want to know how to break the cycles and repair the risks. I think the first thing we need to do first is validate that we’re stressed, we’re overwhelmed. We just had an exceptional few years, and we’re carrying really heavy backpacks of grief and confusion and loss and burnout and overwhelm. And also we’re carrying the backpacks of our kids as well because we want to protect them and make it easier for them. So it’s a heavy weight, and the heavy weight is not offset very wells by the fact that we were never given the skills to sort of navigate something like this. So first things first, be easy on yourself. This makes sense that you would just go to your phone. It’s a shiny thing, and it’s promising you release. Right. I think after that, like you said, Chris, ask yourself, how are you using your device? Is it helping or hindering it? So where is it enhancing your life and where is it detracting from your life? Make a list. Where do you need to leverage it? Where do you need to tone it down?

[00:29:18.850] – Speaker 2
And when you can identify that, it’s going to be much easier to stop that cycle and to step out of it because, you’ll know, am I being intentional right now with this device or is it leading me? And then I think about, okay, the easiest way to break an addiction, which is not an easy thing at all, is about creating a softer, more enticing foundation that doesn’t make the addiction as powerful or salient. So you just say, oh, no more phone. Well, that’s going to be panic inducing. Right? Good luck with that. You’re going to push back. They’re going to push back. But if you build more opportunities for fun into your life or more opportunities for genuine connection and joy and pleasure into your life, then that phone takes a backseat because you’re fully engaged with something that is fulfilling in and of itself. So I say start first by building a more fulfilling world outside of digital media, things that don’t require devices. List Maker why not make it simple? So ask yourself, okay, if I use social media because either I’m trying to feel something or I’m trying to avoid feeling something, what are some things that I could do that might help me feel that or that might help me reduce that negative feeling that just aren’t reliant on digital media.

[00:31:02.030] – Speaker 2
And you’d be shocked at all the wonderful things that you used to enjoy in life. And you’re like, oh, yeah, I used to love dancing. Yeah, I just put in music, like, get back in touch with the things you already know about yourself. You don’t need the phone to tell you who you are anymore. You already know.

[00:31:18.450] – Speaker 1
That’s so good. And imagine if those things you step into that bring life that you enjoy are actually things that you can invite your young people to journey in with you on as well. Right? Like you said, music. And it’s one thing for us as adults to put away our phones to enjoy music. It’s another thing to find music that you can listen to with your kids, and that’s healthy to model that. But imagine if you can then practice that stuff together to find the things, games night as families or things like that that take all of us off our phones and allow us to. How tempting is it to come home from a busy day and want to retreat? But what would it look like to step into things and then find things to step into together and helps with identity development? I want to kind of take a minute just as we’re maybe coming to an end in our conversation. I mean, there’s so many things that I’ve taken, and this might take us in a little bit of a different direction. So we’ve talked about digital literacy and the digital world today, but I’m kind of going back because we kind of entered into this talking about where young people are at in their identity development information and social media and the digital world they live in really informs and shapes that.

[00:32:43.530] – Speaker 1
But what are some other really important things as parents as we come alongside kids, as they’re asking the two big questions, who am I and what am I going to contribute to this world? What are some other factors as parents, we need to be aware of? And how can we continue to support the healthy identity development of young people? And even in some of your areas of expertise? I’d just love to hear from you on that.

[00:33:08.530] – Speaker 2
Yeah, well, you actually raised a really good point in your question itself, which is how tweens and teens learn, right, by mirroring and modeling. And I love this idea of how can you, like, walk alongside your team in this journey? You don’t have to script the journey for them, and you don’t have to step back and watch it with horror. You walk with them as a guide, observing them and stepping ahead or stepping behind as necessary. And that’s the thing. Tweens and teens, they learn first by modeling and mirroring. They learn by you. So inviting them into activities, creating family rituals, games night, for example, if you’re doing it, they still look up to you, even if their attitude says they don’t right now.

[00:34:02.440] – Speaker 1

[00:34:02.830] – Speaker 2
They do.

[00:34:03.420] – Speaker 1

[00:34:04.020] – Speaker 2
They still do. And then secondly, they learn by experience, and thirdly, they learn by information, right? So they watch and mimic what you do, then they do it and see how it feels. But very lastly, Do they actually like, occasionally listen and take in what is being taught. So I would say it really is about creating and curating that beautiful life and bringing life, as you said, and inviting them in one of the ways that and perhaps this is just my personal value, so I will disclaimer it that way.

[00:34:38.770] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s okay. Yeah.

[00:34:40.200] – Speaker 2
But one of my favorite things is if you’re going to drag teams along to like community programming or events or things in your area, why not make it something that is volunteer based? So volunteering I just think, pays off a million fold, not just for you and your team, but for the community and the people you’re supporting. So helping a neighbor or being of service to someone, I think is one of the greatest ways to not just improve the integrity of this world. But it’s an excellent developmental yuill, right? Because you’re teaching empathy, altruism, commitment, but also vulnerability, hard work, discomfort, and perspectives on power and privilege and tweens. And teens may not admit it right away, but these tend to be the most fulfilling and purposeful events in their life when they’re giving back. Because digital media is a taker, right?

[00:35:49.030] – Speaker 1
It’s a consumption.

[00:35:50.320] – Speaker 2
Yeah, it is consumption. And as I said, there are really life saving aspects of it if you can leverage it. But if you’re not being intentional about how it’s being used, it can really suck the life out of you. And I think volunteering, especially community based or neighbor based volunteering, brings life back.

[00:36:14.930] – Speaker 1
Well, I love that and it comes full circle, funny enough in our conversation to when you talked about what you’re most hopeful for for kids today. Right. And what you see in young people is this desire to make their communities a better place and that care for their community. So as young people, sometimes it’s hard to work that out. And if we’re offering ideas and coming together to step into things that make our communities a better place, not only will that be true, but wells also be able to step into the things that are really important to young people and lead as parents and youth leaders, people that care in that kind of world. So yeah, Erin, there’s been so many incredible things and what I’d love to do as we kind of wrap up the conversation is to point our listeners, people who are like, oh my goodness, this stuff has been so helpful. What are some resources or places to go for parents who are like, yes, digital literacy, the stuff you’re talking, and again, feel free to point us in your direction as well, but we always want to give people something to do from this, like places to go.

[00:37:27.730] – Speaker 1
Beyond this conversation, if there’s been things that have stirred up or things they’ve been like amening or yesing, as we go, what can we do after? Where can we go? To find out more about the topics we’ve talked about today.

[00:37:39.130] – Speaker 2
From your perspective, the first place to go is inside yourself. As cheesy as that sounds, the one thing parents don’t hear enough is you know more than you think and you’re doing way better than you realize. There’s a lot of parental wisdom and instincts that get forgotten. But of course, if it’s okay to also want to do better, and you can, it’s not by chastising yourself, it’s by asking for help. And going to is a great place to start because if you are looking for talks or workshops or guidance on how to handle any of the yikes things that the 20 years bring up for you, whether it’s mental health and your kiddo or it’s you feeling like, I just can’t anymore, we get that. And we have vetted experts in the field who draw from that research evidence based information. Now, interestingly, I don’t always recommend this, but because it’s on brand for our conversation today, this is actually a really good opportunity for you to understand more about what all these apps are like, what is ticktock and stick bram and who is what. So go on those platforms and find your best parenting influencers.

[00:39:15.970] – Speaker 2
Listen, there’s so many that I can personally recommend that I love, but I’m also aware that parental values might be different. There’s a wide array.

[00:39:25.330] – Speaker 1

[00:39:25.760] – Speaker 2
And so I want you to honor your own values and find those people that speak to your heart, that speak to your community, that speak to the lessons and opportunities that you want to reach or teach to your kids. But yeah, I would go on the apps and start searching for those people because you’re going to get excellent information and you’re going to get a little behind the scenes of how these apps work, which will help you better have conversations with your kiddos when the time comes.

[00:40:06.890] – Speaker 1
And I think that’s really good insight and advice if listeners are kind of like, where do I even start? If you’ve been tracking with our podcast, most of the guests we have have some sort of online platform and a lot of them may have TikTok and Instagram and stuff. So you can even scroll through, including our guests today. And so I think we can find places online. And if some of the people you’ve listened to in the past resonate with you, that might even be a great place to start.

[00:40:37.950] – Speaker 2
So just always remember to be critical and inquisitive about whatever is presented online and fact check everything.

[00:40:49.770] – Speaker 1
Yes. Two pieces of advice that are good for us as parents and also to impart on the young people in our life that we care about. Man, there’s been so many incredible tidbits of information. I’ve loved our conversation. As we kind of wrap up, any final thoughts, words of encouragement for parents or youth workers who are just like, this is good, but I’m just feeling overwhelmed. How can you kind of encourage us as we wrap up.

[00:41:19.190] – Speaker 2
You are doing so much better than you think. Like, these kids are not going to be screwed up. We’re all going to make mistakes. That is part of it. Give yourself credit, okay? Take inventories of your successes. Keep an eye on your growth. There is so much parent shaming and caregiver shaming out there. And the reason you probably feel stressed and overwhelmed is because your expectations are sky high. And that is just a testament to how deeply you care. And that’s amazing. If I had 10 seconds to give my best piece of advice or wisdom to people who work with youth, I would say, never underestimate the power of listening to and emotionally validating tweens and teens feelings and perspectives because that’s going to change the world to feel like their experiences are real and their feelings matter and therefore they matter.

[00:42:31.940] – Speaker 1
Mano watsa a great thought to leave us on. I’m super encouraged even myself as I think about my own daughter and the kids that we’re working with, where we are. So, Dr. Erin, thank you so much. Thank you for your insight and thank you for the work you do to encourage families and kids and help them navigate an exciting and sometimes rocky road. Just to build off what you were saying at the end. I always like to remind youth workers and DAREarts that this is more like a marathon than a sprint. We can’t evaluate things by the first kilometer or the 16th. There are ups and downs and it’s a long haul with parenting. And so I love what you said about that perspective for us and encouragement. So that’s really helpful on the marathon of parenting and working with young people. So thank you so much for what you do and for this conversation today. It’s been so encouraging.

[00:43:30.790] – Speaker 2
Thank you so much, Krishna, for the work you do. And thank you to all the parents and people who work with youth that are listening, because, you know, you’re the ones that showed up. You’re the ones doing the most important job in the world. Thank you.

[00:43:45.730] – Speaker 1
Yeah, I’ll echo that. Thank you. And we’ll see you next time, everyone. Bye.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins is the CEO of Muskoka Woods. He holds a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph, a teacher’s college degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Youth Development from Clemson University. His experience leading in local community, school, church and camp settings has spanned over 20 years. His current role and expertise generates a demand for him to speak with teens and consult with youth leaders. Chris hosts the Muskoka Woods podcast, Shaping Our World where he speaks with youth development experts. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys an afternoon with a big cup of coffee and a good book. Chris resides in Stouffville, Ontario with his wife and daughter.
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