Saul Rosenthal, PhD

Boston Area Health Psychologist

Five tips for developing responsible digital citizenship

It’s an old adage that kids think they are smarter than their parents but that either over time or in any one of countless sit-com scenarios, they realize they are wrong, wrong wrong. 

Except when it comes to technology. 

Kids often really do know much more about technology than their parents. As a developmental and clinical psychologist, I find this a fascinating phenomena that has significant implications for growth, health and society.

As a parent, it freaks me out.

The problem with freaking out is that it often leads in one of two directions (and sometimes both). First, you may avoid the problem altogether. “Whatever my child is doing behind that closed bedroom door is fine. And I don’t want to know about it.” Second, you might try to annihilate the problem. “No access to the Internet, computers, cell phones or tablets. Or to any friend who might have any Internet access or technology that I can’t monitor 24/7.”

In psychology, we call that the fight or flight response. If there’s a threat, you either run away from it or you try to kill it. It’s a useful strategy for dealing with hungry lions, but not so much for most parenting issues.


March 8th, 2016

Posted In: Tech

One aspect of Internet Addiction (or Problematic Technology Overuse as I call it) that I think deserves attention is the role of impulsivity. Impulsivity follows a sequence:

I See It

I Want It

I Grab for It

We’ve all been impulsive at one time or another, usually without too many bad consequences. Unfortunately, if a person can’t control their impulsivity, they are likely to get into trouble. A child may see candy in a shop and grab it. A driver might see an opening in the next lane and cut in front of another driver. You might see something you want on the Amazon site and click the One Click Shopping button.

In fact, I think that in many ways our natural impulsivity is a driving force (perhaps the driving force) behind the success of the Internet. We see something we want and the Internet makes it really really really easy to get.

How often have you clicked from one link to another, following the promise of something more interesting/useful/fun, until you suddenly realize that much more time has passed than you’d thought? When we impulsively pursue something, our concepts of time and priority change. Impulsive acts are short-lived, distinct events that hyper-focus our attention. For better or worse, the Internet is filled with quickly-achieved targets that provide a taste of satisfaction while frequently promising more if you would just click this one last link…


April 22nd, 2015

Posted In: Internet Addiction, Neurofeedback

Recently, the Boston Globe and its affiliated web site ( ran some articles relating to the problems of tech overuse. They got me thinking about how our devices have evolved (some might say morphed) into an extension of ourselves and our social world.

In the first, Rachel Racza describes a study showing that when participants were separated from their iPhones during a task but could hear the phone ring, they reported higher anxiety, showed physiologic symptoms of high anxiety (such as increased heart rate) and performed worse on the task. Russell Clayton, who authored the study, argues that this separation anxiety reflects ways in which our phones are ‘an extension of our physical selves – an umbilical cord, anchoring the information society’s digital infrastructure to our very bodies.’ We feel anxious when we’re away from them because we feel as if an integral part of our self is lost.

The next day, Callum Borchers reports (this appears to be behind a paywall) on emerging apps designed to limit access to smartphones. Restrictions range from blocking certain functions to deactivating the device (except emergency calls) for an unmodifiable period of time. The article emphasizes the novelty of using technology to reduce the use of, well, technology. But anybody involved in serious behavior change should not be surprised by this.

To me, these different articles hit on a common theme — coming to terms with the fact that, like it or not, we have real relationships with our technology. Sure, these relationships have fundamental differences than the types of relationships we have with other people. But our smart phones, tablets and computers are so much more than tools. We interact with them, react emotionally to them and rely on them. Furthermore, they can, more and more, change based on our behavior towards them.


February 18th, 1015

Posted In: Tech

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