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Episode 119: Unveiling the Dark Side of Social Media (Part 1) with Dr. Kardaras

Brief summary of show:

In this episode, we delve into the impact of technology on our well-being with Dr. Kardaras. Join us as we explore the dark side of social media and learn how to teach responsible media consumption.

Dr. Kardaras shares his extensive work and insights, discussing the correlation between personality disorders and social media. We also delve into the concept of performative disorders like TikTok Tourettes. Finally, Dr. Kardaras reveals his strategies for managing social media and technology within his own household.

Dr. Kardaras is an Ivy League educated psychologist, best-selling author, internationally renowned speaker and an expert on mental health, addiction, and the impacts of our digital age.

​He was a professor at Stony Brook Medicine and has developed clinical treatment programs all over the country. He is the founder and Chief Clinical Officer of Maui Recovery in Hawaii, Omega Recovery in Austin and the Launch House in New York. He is also a frequent contributor to Psychology Today and FOX News, and has appeared on Good Morning America, ABC's 20/20, CNN, the CBS Evening News, PBS, NPR and FOX & Friends.

Tune in for a thought-provoking conversation on the unhealthy effects of technology and practical tips for navigating the digital age.

Listen in as we talk about:

  • [2:40] The unhealthy effects of technology

  • [4:20] The dark side of social media

  • [6:20] How to teach media consumption responsibly

  • [9:00] Diving deeper into his work

  • [12:35] The correlation between personality disorders and social media

  • [14:15] Performative disorders and TikTok Tourettes

  • [16:10] How he manages social media and technology in his household

Notes from Natalie:

Connect with Me

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View Transcript for this Episode

Natalie: The tech epidemic expert insights on the impact of digital devices and games.

Natalie: Hi everyone, it's Natalie. I have a teenager and I know the struggles parents have with too much technology. We love it and we hate it, especially when it comes to our kids. Today we're breaking down the science and the effects of technology on our kids and on ourselves, and I have found the foremost expert on this subject, Dr. Nicholas Cardis, a former professor at Stony Brook Medicine. He's a renowned expert who has led clinical treatment programs throughout the nation. He delves into the social, psychological, cultural, and economic implications of our global tech epidemic, which includes rampant usage of iPads, tablets.

Smartphones and hypnotic video games as an esteemed contributor to Psychology Today and Fox News, as well as a guest on national programs like Good Morning America. Dr. Cardis provides insightful answers rather than mere hype on the pressing concerns we face as a society. I understand the significance of these issues, and I hold no judgment, my focus.

Is on future generations. Before we get started today, check out my website where you can sign up for my newsletter and hit subscribe so you don't miss an episode of the podcast. We have a lot to cover today, so let's get started with Dr. Nicholas Cardis.

Dr. Cords, thank you for taking the time. This is a topic people ask me about often as I do a lot of parenting topics, but I also have a 13 year old son and two daughters. We have social media they have video games, you know, we're typical American family. However being a health and family reporter, I also limit these things, but it's hard to know how far to limit them and how much is.

Too much, and I know you go really deep into all of this.

Nicholas: Yeah, I mean, I, I'm, by the way, I'm also a parent of 16 year old identical twin boys. So I've got adolescents, so I'm in, I'm not just a clinician, but I'm also, you know, in the fight as well myself. So it's a challenge. It's a challenge to being a tech cautious parent in 21st century America.


you know, the research is pretty clear that there's some pretty unhealthy effects now, You know, the question I most often get asked is how much, how much green time as if there's a magic number. Mm-hmm. As if an hour or 48 minutes versus, you know, 90 minutes. And the, the, the short answer is it really depends on your child.

There are some kids who have underlying vulnerabilities that are gonna make them more susceptible to some of the negative impacts of screen time. And there are some kids who have a more innate resilience to some of these impacts. So it's really looking at how your child is getting impacted by screen time.

Are they getting dysregulated, emotionally dysregulated? Are they getting, is their sleep getting dysregulated? Is it impacting their sense of identity or who they are? And so these are things that are different kid to kid.

Natalie: And we're talking about a lot of things, so of course, video games, but we're also talking about social media.

And what else? Texting. I mean, this is a big Yeah. A, a big array of things,

Nicholas: right? Digital media is a pretty wide, wide spectrum of things, but you know, there tends to be a bit of a gender divide in terms of what are more toxic to, you know, boys tend to gravitate towards gaming platforms and so there's, you know, and games can be, are, are baked in to be very habit forming, right?

The gaming industry is very, very sophisticated in creating habitation through leveling up and reward. You know, the dopamine reward loop gets tickled very significantly by gaming sophisticated GA gaming platforms. Females tend to gravitate more towards social media because of their Collectivism and, and cooperation. Not exclusively. These are broad generalizations cuz we've had female gamers and we've had, you know, young men with social media issues. Social media.

The dark side is the, predictive algorithms that, you know, some of these algorithms, because again, the name of the game for social media is engagement.

And what the social media companies figured out very early on is that, Negative emotions really drive up engagement more than positive emotions. And so they act essentially these algorithms like heat seeking missiles that find psychological vulnerability to exploit, especially with young people. So if you're a young female, if you're a teenage girl and you've got some body image issues You've, God forbid any, uh, they detect any disordered eating, you're gonna get content that exacerbates any issues with body image or eating disorders.

And this was made clear, the curtain was pulled back by Francis Hoen, the Facebook whistleblower, their Instagram whistleblower, who showed that they had their own research three, four years ago that showed that Instagram was spiking suicide rates in girls. Mm-hmm. Suicide rates were going up 12% in British girls and 6% in American females.

Who were online with Instagram. And, the Wall Street Journal did a pretty impactful investigative piece as well, where it, it, they, they created 13 fake bots for young females, and they created these profiles that had eating disorder issues. And within 24 hours, they were just bombarded by toxic, you know, hashtag skin and bones under calories a day or less.

Things that made the person worse. And, and what was really, I think, damning for Maida or Instagram, Facebook was that there were internal emails that were saying, Hey, this is pretty toxic for young females. Should we, should we ramp down the algorithm and make it less predatory? And the answers were no, because that's gonna reduce engagement.

So it was a classic example of profit over people.

Natalie: Is there any healthy amount? You know, if we can't take it away, I, I teach media in high school. If we can't take it away, we know it will be a part of their life.

How do we then teach it uh, responsibly?

Nicholas: Well, I think to you know, I would back up a step and say, you know, the more important.

Precursor, the prerequisite to healthy balanced digital media is, is, you know, I, I like using a phrase a healthy psychological immune system. You know, we, we talk about, you know, we just all went through this covid pandemic and we talked about immune systems and you know, obviously we know that when infants are exposed to certain germs or bacteria, they develop a healthier immune system.

Mm-hmm. So I think it's helping kids develop. A stronger psychological immune system so that when they do swim in the waters of digital media, that they're better critical thinkers, they have more resilience. Their identity is less shaped by some of this external content. So what that means is can we help our kids develop an intrinsic sense of identity?

Can they have a clear sense of ethics and goals and values? Can we help them be better critical thinkers? Yeah. So that they're not just living on the emotions economy, that social media preys on. That's, and so, so if you have a kid that's, you know, that's balanced and resilient, they, yeah, they can access social media.

If you have a kid who is. Doesn't know who they are and who has a, a baseline of depression or anxiety, and then you throw them into the social media waters. No amount is gonna be healthy because they're gonna be. Pulled into the, to the undercurrent.

Natalie: Yeah. What a, a great analogy and so true, which means for one family, a 14 year old might be okay and in another, they might not be ready for it until later as a teen 18, 19.

And, and maybe if we take that into even adulthood, if you struggle with anxiety and depression back off. Of social media.

Nicholas: Right, right. Yeah. And the, the, I guess the, the other general prescription is delay it as much as possible. You know, generally speaking later is better because the older the, the kid is, the more neuro neurophysiologically developed.

They are, their prefrontal cortex is a little bit more robust when they get older. So, you know, eighteens better than eight. You know, then, then there's gray area in between as opposed to like 13 or 14. And again, that goes back to an individual situation with, depending on the kid, but later is always a little bit better.

You know, we don't, you know, there was, I think we as a society dragged the, the digital Kool-Aid 10, 15, 20 years ago, where there were parents smart, well-intentioned parents that were dropping tablets into the crib. Mm-hmm. You know, thinking that their two year old was gonna, you know, be consuming baby Einstein and they were gonna be smarter and.

And all the research showed that that was not the case and the opposite was true. Mm.

Natalie: So of your work, if you can just tell us about it because it is fascinating and I think anyone who wants to go even deeper should read glow Kids, correct? Yes. Right. And your, your newest work digital Madness, give us a brief on each of those and other projects because I, you, you've spent a lot of time on this and I appreciate that so much.

I like to go right to the source and understanding these things, so give us a little brief on that, and then I'll link those things in the show notes

Nicholas: as well. Yeah. Glow Kids. I wrote in 2016 and I was one of the first psychologists nationally that were, was beginning to see was looking around the, the world and seeing that, hey, it looks like people are getting addicted to their devices.

And they were shown. Cause I'm a, I'm a psychologist, but my specialization was mental health and addiction and, and I'd worked with substance addiction for two decades and I was beginning to see all the telltale signs of. Compulsive addicted or habituated behavior, especially amongst kids and teens. And so I was one of the first people that began to write about and speak about it.

And I wrote a, a, a article for the New York Post called digital Heroin that went viral with 7 million views and shares. And that got me on Good Morning America and a lot of TV shows where I had to defend the idea of. Yes, people can get addicted to their devices. And, and now that's been accepted within both the clinical community and I think most of the world kind of realized that.

Yeah. And it's addiction by design, not, not by accident. Mm-hmm. So GLO Kids really was a compilation of 200 peer reviewed studies that looked at how these devices can be habit forming. And then the, my more recent book, digital Madness, how Social Media is Driving Our Mental Health Crisis, really looked.

What's the price that we're paying for this habituation? Okay, so now we've, you know, asked and answered, we can become addicted to devices, but now what's that addiction leading to? And now we start seeing these spikes, these epidemics of depression, self-harm, both suicide and cutting. A D H D overdose.

You know, all of the psychiatric metrics that we look at are disproportionately skewed towards younger people. So when you go to, through the generational cohorts, when you start at like baby Boomer and then you go down to Gen X and millennial and Gen Z, as you get younger, each cohort gets more and more psychiatrically unwell.

So you have higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, the younger you get. And, so the correlation was more digital media was leading to some. Really not good things. And, and then of course we talk about things like the loneliness epidemic and, and which was ironic because you know, you're old enough to remember the before times of social media.

One of the promises that we were all sold on social media was that this was going to be this great connector that. For a social species, which we are social media for social species was gonna be like chocolate and peanut butter. It was gonna be this great new combination. And what we found is that the most connected people are now the most depressed, lonely, and isolated people.

Yes. So it was almost like an inverse relationship. And, and by the way, all the social media research showed that the more online you are, the more depressed you're gonna be, the more online you're with social media. And that's attributed to something called the social comparison effect. You know, the more people you have to compare yourself to, the less great you feel about your own life.

Because now you have, instead of like your five or six friends that you might have been comparing yourself to, now you're comparing yourself to 500, 5,000 or 50,000 people online. And that makes you feel, that amplifies your sense of low self worth.

Natalie: Wow, that's huge. I'm, I'm fascinated by that. And this is, this is from Digital Madness.

You talk about this Yeah. In Digital Madness.

Nicholas: That, and you know, how, how that's correlating with a spike in everything from personality disorders, like borderline personality disorder to depression anxiety are the, the, the easy ones to see. The personality disorders are interesting because what we're seeing is because the coin of the realm in social media is, is followers and views.

The, the more performative. The influencer or the content generator the more views they get, right? The, the balanced reasoned person on social media is not gonna get any followers, right? It's usually the people that are like over the top performative. And so we're, we're seeing there, there's a whole host of psychiatrically unwell young people who are very performative and who are essentially, you know, their, their, their entire platforms are based on their, their disorders.

So you'll have like influencers with. Dissociative identity disorder, which we used to call multiple personality disorder. Mm-hmm. Claiming to have a hundred identities and they're getting hundreds of millions of views by 13 to 23 year olds who are now then also claiming that they have alter identities.

And what we're seeing is that when you have an adolescent spending hours and hours watching a psychiatrically unwell influencer, they begin to mimic some of their unwellness. And that's called the social contagion effect. Mm-hmm. So the social contagion effect is, I'm, I'm unwell and you're gonna watch me for hours and hours.

I'm gonna spread my unwellness. And so there was a well-documented phenomenon called TikTok, Tourette's, where mm-hmm. Pediatricians started documenting. This was in enrolling stone as well. They wrote about it. Adolescent females throughout the country were all of a sudden having tick disorders. And then they found out when their pediatricians were looking at, they drilled down on it.

They saw that they were all following these three. TikTok influencers, these three young women who claimed that Tourette's disorder, and they were very performative about it. They were very performative about their twitching and their, and so all of a sudden the teen girls started twitching as well, which was I.

Not authentic Tourette's disorder because real Tourette's is three to one male to female and it's usually diagnosed in early childhood. You don't usually get female adolescent onset Tourette's disorder. It was counter to all the medical research that we've ever had, so this was an example of Monkey Monkey Dew of a mimic behavior.

And, and I mean the one way that was proof positive was even these were American girls and one of the influencers was British. They started having verbal ticks with a British accent. It really was mimicking. Mm-hmm. You know, what they were seeing online in ways that were really unhealthy.

Natalie: Was it intentional mimicking or were they doing it without knowing it because they had watched

Nicholas: so much of it that, that's a great question that I even asked that question in my book, digital Manness, is this intentional or is this not on the subconscious level?

And I think it's probably a little bit of both. Maybe more in unconscious where you're just kind of doing it now because it's in the same way that a lot of behavior is sort of subconscious. When you're in a group. You know, if you run with wolves, you're gonna be a wolf of, you know, kind of below the surface.

But to some degree, I think. The message registers that cause I had a client that I wrote an article, but, but she articulated it. When you start seeing that these people are so popular that they're getting billions of views, that TikTok, Tourettes influencers had over 2 billion views. The message consciously or unconsciously starts to be that, oh, if I'm unwell that this, that's gonna lead to this.

This goal, right? Because cuz how we value everything right now is views and and engagement. So I think that messaging can be both subconscious and conscious at the same time.

Natalie: Wow.

Okay. So I'm curious how you, how you manage this in your house. I'm sure people ask you this often, but for you as an author and as an expert, do you have social media?

How do you manage that and how do you then promote it? And then with 16 year olds, In your home? I mean, there's a lot of value is, I mean, I get value. That's how I find many of my guests. Yeah. And I, and, and I myself put out quotes from from my guests hoping to spread goodness, hoping to help people and offer mm-hmm.

Um, Support in things like this. But tell me how you manage that in your own

Nicholas: home. Yeah, I mean, I'll start with my kids first. You know, we definitely delayed delayed as much as possible, so there's like a wait until eighth movement. Where, you know, you wait till eighth grade for phones or any of it. And so my kids, you know, used were computer literate.

They used their school desktops. They didn't get, you know, we got them gab phones. I dunno if you know what a gab phone is, but it's a company that's gotten very popular that has, it's not wifi com compatible. So there's no social media or gaming on it. So they had GAB phones in middle school and they used desktop computers and we, they didn't get their own devices real well.

So they had their gab phones to seventh and eighth grade. And they did get an iPhone this year as 16 year olds. And so we, and they're not on social media and they don't game, but they play sports and they play music. And so we tried, we tried our best. My wife is a, was an elementary school teacher for many years, so we came at it like make their lives as full as possible so that the gravitational pull of some of this stuff is less.

Appealing. So so they're on their devices, you know, they do their stuff, but, but they they haven't asked it to be on social media even. They haven't really, like, it hasn't been like a struggle because, you know, they, again, again, they've been to a lot of my presentation, so maybe, you know, the message got in there somewhere.

And with and they don't game either. They don't game either. They, they play real games or real sports. You know, I'm on Facebook only to keep up with old friends. I've, I'm a conscientious objector on, I don't do Twitter and I haven't done Instagram and I haven't done any of that, just so I can kind of stay true to my message.

I mean, I, because I know, cuz I, you know, I also have a proclivity towards excess myself at times. So I know that if My life works more balanced. If I have less things that I know, I might fall down rabbit holes. And I mean, my wife will point out that, you know, I probably like my smartphone too much and I'm a bit of a news chunky myself, so I'll, I'll, you know, I'll do not quite doom scrolling as the kids do, but I'll, you know, I'll, I'm kind of a voracious reader of news, mm-hmm.

And, you know, that could, that could get to be a thing as well. So I try to be balanced with my time. What I find really effective as a family is doing a one day a week Digital fast where no one's on their devices. You know, usually on a Sunday where we say no devices and we all just do some stuff together.

We go out in nature. We, play stuff together. And that helps reset myself. It helps reset our family because, you know, you could fall down the rabbit hole pretty quickly. You know, one bad long weekend of, of, you know, being up till four in the morning can kind of spiral and snowball pretty quickly.

So I've seen it with young people where they were. Great athletes and great students, and then wind up in my treatment program for gaming addiction because they flunked outta college and they were back in mom and dad's basement and in the blink of an eye. You know, it's, it's, it's shocking to see how quickly sometimes this can sneak up on the young person.


That was part one and I learned so much. Next week, Dr. Cardis and I will talk about treatment and how to help anyone with a digital addiction. Be sure to join me next week for that epi with Dr. Nicholas Cardis.

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