ROSALIND WISEMAN: Hi.
COURIC: It's so nice to see you.
WISEMAN: Thanks for having me. Yeah.
COURIC: Now, I interviewed you back in the day. In--
WISEMAN: You did.
COURIC: 2002, when your book came out - on another network. And I want to ask you, because I think many people who have teenage kids might be familiar with your-- your first book. And this is really an updated one. So--
COURIC: -the-- the same book. But tell me why you wanted to write this seven years ago.
WISEMAN: Sure well, there were a couple of reasons. One was, after "Mean Girls" and this phenomenal success of this movie, I needed to take a step back and figure out, you know, what did I want to do? What made my work meaningful?
COURIC: Because Mean Girls came out after you published--
WISEMAN: Right after--
WISEMAN: Right, it came out in 2004. And I-- I really did have to say, you know, "I'm a teacher. I'm an educator. And how am I gonna make, you know, what I do meaningful and relevant to young people." And the other-- at the same time, I started-- when I was going to book signings, I started feeling guilty when people would buy the book. 'Cause I felt like the information wasn't as updated as it needed to be.
COURIC: Because when you wrote this in 2002 it was really before technology--
COURIC: --was so ubiquitous.
COURIC: And really a part of every kid's life in America. On-- a minute by minute basis.
WISEMAN: When I--
WISEMAN: When I sat down and really thought about it-- and I-- I thought-- the first thing I thought was, "My goodness." Like when I first started writing this book, there was no Google. There was no YouTube. There were not ten-year-olds with cell phones. There weren't 12-year-olds who I got an email today from a 12-- a couple days ago from a 12-year-old saying that she was so angry at me. She like hated me, because I had told her mother with my insane books that texting was not something that she should be doing at 12 years old. And she really was angry at me. (LAUGH)
COURIC: Yeah, well, gee, I--
WISEMAN: That didn't exist. You know, that-- that's not-- they would angry for something else. But they weren't gonna be this angry. She said, "This will ruin my life. That I cannot text is ruining my life." So, I needed--
COURIC: Well, think--
WISEMAN: to answer that.
COURIC: when you think about it, I mean-- and we have so much to talk about. But I remember taking-- my daughter, when she was 12, and her friend to a concert. And the-- her friend spent the entire time, even when she was walking (LAUGH) to the seat, even when we were walking around to hopefully meet somebody--
WISEMAN: Right, right.
COURIC: who was performing.
COURIC: She was glued to her BlackBerry. And I thought, not only is this-- this sick, but it's kind of dangerous, too. Because it's--
WISEMAN: It's also rude.
COURIC: this constant--
WISEMAN: it's also rude. And the other part is that you do need to be interacting with people like in a person to person basis.
COURIC: Which I worry about the technology. And-- and is it teaching our kids the social skills they need to actually read body language?
COURIC: Understand people's reactions and expressions and how they relate to one another? You can't really do that, even when you're video chatting. And the-- and also, I worry about how technology empowers them to be even meaner and nastier, because they feel somehow separated from their target.
WISEMAN: Right. I think-- well, there's so much in what you're saying. So, I mean, first of all, everything that they're-- they're doing with technology, all the mistakes that we all make when we're teenagers is amplified. And, of course, one of the funny things about it is kids will think, you know, they want privacy from their parents and they don't want their parents looking at their stuff online or whatever. But they have no privacy. I mean, the privacy only exists in their mind. They don't have any privacy anymore. So, the parents are really the least of it. It's-- it's a real-- for them and for-- for the young people that I work with. It really is so integrated into everything that they do, just like for all of us. That what I was really-- what I really think is that we're losing and that we need to take an opportunity to say, "This is where our-- this is what our family values are. And this is what your concrete reality is." And so, we can actually use this as an opportunity to show what we really think about how you conduct yourself. But if we don't then it really does become a "Lord of the Flies" situation. I mean, it really does. I mean, there is an amazing-- I am not ever now surprised at what kids will do to each other online. And the other part is, I've always boys equally to girls. And if boys weren't as good in psychological intimidation and humiliation before technology, they've pretty much caught up. I mean, they are-- girls and boys are very fluid in the way that they're using technology to gather against each other. So, it's-- it's just something that parents have to get a handle on.
COURIC: So-- so, you're saying that it's unrealistic to say "No technology in your life." But it--
WISEMAN: But it's a huge opportunity. Sure.
COURIC: Right. So, you have to kind of say, "How can our values fit in with the modern world?
COURIC: And the way things are.
COURIC: Tell me about how-- how kids are now using technology-- to a
negative end. (LAUGH) I mean, can you give me some examples. I mean, there are--
WISEMAN: believe me.
COURIC: Yeah, yeah. Besides--
WISEMAN: No. I mean, there's-- there's-- I mean, here's the things that are the most problematic to me. One is a boy who solicits-- "If you really like me, 14-year-old girl, you're gonna send me a topless, nude, or sexually provocative picture of yourself." And for girls who are freshmen in high school, the need to be-- to get attention is so huge, it's like a drug. It's like a little fix. You just want this attention so badly that you will do things-- that if you took a step back-- if you asked a 15-year-old girl to go to school, right? And to go naked or topless, in front of all the boys and say, "Do you like me now?" Would-- the girl would think you were insane. But that is what girls do online.
COURIC: And-- and-- and how do they-- do they feel like it's an actual just private exchange between them and said boy--
WISEMAN: -- yeah, I have--
COURIC: requesting it?
WISEMAN: This is a hard one. Because it's hard-- when I work with girls about this. And they've already sent out the picture and now everybody has it. And they are absolutely amazed. And they do seem to be absolutely amazed. I do think-- I mean, all of us have had moments when we're in love or we really like somebody and we want the attention that we just hope for the best. I mean, don't-- we do not look at things that are so absolutely clear to us, that are common sense. Like if you give a 15 or 16-year-old boy a naked picture of yourself, he will forward it. So, you think in the moment-- 'cause he says, "No, if you really like me, you'll send me the picture."
COURIC: And I won't show anyone--
WISEMAN: "I'm not gonna--
COURIC: "--I promise."
WISEMAN: "--show anybody." And so, you do, because you really want to believe that it's gonna work out.
COURIC: But jeez, how dumb, naive and--
WISEMAN: I know. But that's--
WISEMAN: But that--
COURIC: --is that?
WISEMAN: But when you're a teenager, all of the really dumb decisions that we made as teenagers, that's the problem is it gets amplified and it just gets out of control.
COURIC: You know, the-- the-- the whole sexting thing. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancies-- and Cosmogirl teamed up for a survey. Twenty-two percent of teen girls and 11 percent of young girls between the ages of 13 and 16-- I really wish I'd worn my glasses. Have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves. 22 percent--
WISEMAN: I think that's low actually.
COURIC: And 71 percent of teen girls have sent or posted suggestive messages.
WISEMAN: Oh, for sure.
COURIC: Which is no surprise.
WISEMAN: For sure. For sure. Now, there are moments-- this is like the world. You're coming into my-- like into my world of how crazy this-
COURIC: I don't know if I really want to be in your world, but--
WISEMAN: But if you-- But this is-- but, okay, so here's sort of a positive, which is that-- and it-- in a sexting situation. I was working with a group of kids in a school. A boy asked-- this is an older girl, what-- what her favorite things to do sexually. And she bit, basically. And she started describing, but by words, what she liked. And she happened to have her parents as teachers in the school. And he got it. He got the transfer-- he got the email or whatever it was. Okay, I think it was an I.M. And he sent it around to everybody. And somebody thought it would be funny to print it out-- and, you know, how faculty has like boxes, where you put their stuff? So, somebody thought it would be funny to print it out and put it in--
COURIC: In her parents--
WISEMAN: --in-- in her parents'-- box. Now, another boy-- a junior boy, who really liked that faculty, saw what was happening. And he told me like during the morning-- he saw that piece of paper in the faculty box. And he just couldn't live with it. And he went and got it out. So, there are-- as much as there are horrible things happening, there's also things where kids are actually doing things to-- because they want to do better. That's the problem is that-- when we as adults are like, "Oh, this technology is so out of control. My-- gosh, my kid's texting 3,000 texts a minute-- oh, I mean, a month."
WISEMAN: "I can't do anything about it." That we are losing the opportunity to say, "Really, this is the place where we step forward."
COURIC: Okay. Well, I always like to have teachable moments. And this time-- in this case, for parents.
WISEMAN: Yeah, sure.
COURIC: So, I-- and I want to talk about so many other things, but when it comes to-- to parents and technology, what do you recommend they do? I mean, quite frankly, I-- I don't know if I could tell my 12-year-old daughter, who's now 13, but when she was 12, that she wasn't allowed to text.
WISEMAN: Oh, sure.
COURIC: Because this is--
WISEMAN: Yeah, sure. Of course.
COURIC: --this is how they communicate.
WISEMAN: Of course. Of course.
WISEMAN: This is what you do. You sit down with your kid as soon as they are on club penguins or I don't care what it is. Webkins. As soon as they are on a social networking site of any kind. You sit down with them and say, "Look, this is a privilege. This is not a right. And for you to participate, you need to not humiliate, tease, send embarrassing pictures, forward embarrassing pictures." Because we don't think about forwarding. Kids are forwarding a lot of things. And I think parents need to say to them specifically, "We're gonna hold you responsible if you forward also."
COURIC: Someone got me my glasses. Thank you so much, you guys. That's really nice of you. (LAUGH) It's kind of a casual show. So, we can do stuff like that. But yeah, so don't forward things.
WISEMAN: Right. So, I mean, we forget about not forw-- you know, like, "Oh, well, if they forwarded it, then they're not really responsible for it. 'Cause they didn't send it. They didn't create it." But they forwarded something, they contributed to somebody else's humiliation.
WISEMAN: So, we often--
COURIC: You know, some of like the--
WISEMAN: --take responsibility for that.
COURIC: Well, it's-- it is the bullying gang mentality, just transformed--
COURIC: --or transferred rather to the internet.
WISEMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, when you sit down with your kid as-- you know, age appropriately, even when they're-- when they're really young and say, "You're not gonna use this to embarrass people and humiliate. If you do, I take it away. And you have to earn my trust back."
COURIC: And what about-- what about-- what about if they get embarrassed and humiliated?
WISEMAN: Yeah, right. Sure.
COURIC: What if they get-- they get-- mean comments or didn't they have-- this-- this box on Facebook for awhile called the anonymity box?
WISEMAN: Oh, yeah.
COURIC: Or whatever.
WISEMAN: That was horrible.
COURIC: Where you could write-- write statements--
COURIC: --and not be held accountable.
COURIC: So, you could be like, "So and so is really ugly. And she wears bad clothes."
WISEMAN: Yeah, it's horrible.
COURIC: And it could be posted on their Facebook site.
WISEMAN: Right. Right.
COURIC: WTH? Right? (LAUGH) I mean?
WISEMAN: Yeah, you have to wonder sometimes about things like this. Like why would you do this? Why? Why? Why would you do it?
COURIC: Because people are mean. Kids are mean.
COURIC: And one thing that I think you point out in the book. By the way, I got in touch with some mommy bloggers.
COURIC: In silicon valley. And-- we've got a lot of great questions from them. And I'm gonna get to those in a moment. But one of the things you've found, Rosalind, between 2002 and 2009 is this sort of mean girl mentality is starting younger and younger.
COURIC: Which is really disturbing. So, why is that happening and how is it manifesting itself?
WISEMAN: Well, I think that-- the way I-- I'm looking at it is that--moms and dads are getting tricked or marketed into having their children look and act older, rather than mature. Right? I was thinking like is it maturity? It's not maturity, because maturity is--
COURIC: Or certainly over-sexualization of little girls.
WISEMAN: Right. So, it's-- it's acting-- so, it's-- it is not-- when we think about mature, we think about like responsible behavior, empathy, you know, mature behavior. That's not what it is. It is we're teaching our children in a lot of different ways to act older or more adolescent. Which if you think about it, like why would parents want their kids at younger and younger ages to act like teenagers? It doesn't-- that doesn't make sense. But they love it, when they get into little dance routines.
COURIC: Well, you know what?
WISEMAN: All that kind of stuff.
COURIC: I was just thinking, when my daughter was-- Carrie-- Carrie was about eight, you know, I think, or even seven, Oops I did it again. And Britney Spears was really hot. She used to make her t-shirt into a midriff.
WISEMAN: Of course. Of course.
COURIC: stick oranges in there. And put a wig on. And dance around and gyrate. Now I probably should have said, "You know what? That's grossly inappropriate." But instead, I thought it was really funny.
WISEMAN: : No, but there's a difference. Because that's actually-- some of that's developmentally appropriate, right? 'Cause you want-- you know, girls are trying on their sexuality at early ages. And there's nothing wrong with like trying on, as you get to be a tween, there is nothing wrong with that. It's what happens--
COURIC: She was eight.
WISEMAN: --the difference-- but the difference is-- because pulling up your shirt is--
COURIC: Putting oranges in there?
WISEMAN: --a rite of passage for kids--
WISEMAN: --for girls. Now, you can't-- I'm not taking that away from girls. 'Cause that's like-- you can't-- that's what they do. But it is a parent going out and getting a costume for a dance recital. It is going and-- getting them, you know-- letting them-- I know it's hard about the music. I get it. But to watch them and encourage them and like take video of them on YouTube of them like doing "single ladies" videos. Do you see what I'm saying?
WISEMAN: It's like-- it's the difference between your child pulls the shirt up, right? That's what women have been doing for generations. To sort of try on-- like what does it feel like to be a woman? I'm not really sure. But there's a limited scope to that, and she created it. Whereas this is also being contributed by the parents. Like I'm gonna go buy the things that are going to make her feel like she's more of a teenager. I'm gonna laugh and think she's precocious, when she's really-- really rude to me, because I don't know what to do. Like laughing sometimes is really I think-- for-- for parents a lot about, "I don't know what to do." Certainly as a parent I have laughed, 'cause I don't know what to do in various situations. But that-- I think the rudeness and the precociousness, that's-- it's like we're wanting out little girls to be 15. And why would we want girls to do that? Like--
COURIC: How do you keep them, though, at-- at-- doing age appropriate behavior?
WISEMAN: Sure. Well, I think-- I mean, here's-- what I-- I think that some of it is really hard, right? Like you've got a kid who, you know, you turn on the radio and there it is. Or you're watching an appropriate TV show and an advertisement comes on. So, there are things that you-- that you cannot help, right? But you can say to your kid when they're watching advertisements or what-- "What do you think that's trying to sell you? What do they think they-- they want women to be? What-- that girls want to be? What do they think about what is beautiful for a girl?" So that you are teaching girls and boys to be literate.
COURIC: Critical thinkers.
WISEMAN: And to-- right. Media literacy. Critical thinking. Social competency. Those are the three areas that I'm always looking at. Media literacy, social competency-- I mean, that-- that's what it is. So, we are teaching people and kids to look at what's coming at them. So, they process it, and they can have more self-agency.
COURIC: : And you have to kind of remind yourself, 'cause it's easy to kind of go into a daze if you're working a mother or you're tired or--
WISEMAN: Yeah, exactly.
COURIC: --multiple kids.
COURIC: To not kind of pay attention to those messages that are so powerful.
WISEMAN:: Right. Me, too. All the time.
COURIC: Yeah. All right. So-- we talked about cell phones. And a Pew study found that 71 percent of teens have cell phones. And I think they-- very few use it to talk on. They do use it for texting, right?
WISEMAN: Right. They don't use it to talk.
COURIC: And I think I do it for safety reasons. What is the right age for a child to have a cell phone?
WISEMAN: Well, I think that-- first of all, they don't have to have their own cell phone. Like I think it's-- any time they're going to a concert, where they're gonna be with a lot of people, where they can get lost, then I think it's appropriate to give them that tool.
COURIC: But what about, you know, when they go to school every day. And you're working.
COURIC: And they may have forgotten to tell you they're going to Suzie's house after school. Or they forget to tell you, "Oh, there's a track meet."
COURIC: I mean, I think for a lot of parents, just-- you know, pragmatically thinking. It does give them a sense of security. So, it's kind of hard to say, "You can't have one unless you're going to a concert."
WISEMAN: At what-- I think that if you're gonna give one to a-- to a kid, 'cause I know-- look, I could say to parents, "Don't give your children cell phones." And they're gonna go, "Uh-huh." And get their kid a cell phone, right? So, I know, this is not-- I think what you need to do is you need to sit down with your kid, again, in the same kind of way, but the privilege, this is not a right. This is what it's for. Right? "It's to tell me when you have a track meet. It's to tell me when-- it is not to tell me that you haven't done your homework and I need to come to the school and bail you out, by the way. It is not for that." Because it teaches kids to be incompetent, basically. If they're texting their parents about everything they forgot and the parent runs over to the school every time, then the text-- then the cell phone is actually-
COURIC: i don't think many kids do that, do they? Text their parents? I think they-- don't they-- it's just almost-- a language of-- of adolescence.
WISEMAN: Well, if they forget something at school. They're gonna say, "Oh, I forgot x can you please bring it over." And I think you get like once a semester to do that, and that's about it. I mean, that-- the thing about like sort of learned of like, "I just depend on my parents to like clean up my messes all the time." I don't want the cell phone to be for that.
COURIC: As someone who forgot everything all the time in sixth or seventh grade and called my mom. (LAUGH) I kind of relate to that. And I turned out okay. So--
WISEMAN: Right. Right. But-- so, but it's-- it's just-- it's those rules. But the other part that I-- what I-- that I think parents sometimes don't think about is that-- you know, parents love to have like-- they like to think about, for very good reasons, their house as like a bubble, right? They want to create a bubble for their house of safety for their kids. And so, they have strong feels about like PG-13 movies. Like when you have 13 or 14 year old children. And they let their kids have their cell phone by their bed, right? And lots of times they-- "I'm using it for an alarm."
COURIC: No, it's true. Yeah.
WISEMAN: And you don't even think about it. But so-- but the-- the only bubble that is in-- that exists, is in your head, if you let your child have the cell phone by their bed. So, that's what I mean by like-- there are very common sense things that if we think about this, we can teach our kids to use it.
COURIC: --to think along those lines. Because we didn't grow up with all this technology.
WISEMAN: Of course not. Right.
COURIC: And we're kind of addicted ourselves. In fact, I talked--
COURIC: --to Frank Luntz about his book. And he was saying parents really need to be better role models in terms of technology. And they need to put their cell phones and their BlackBerry's away, because they're not modeling very good behavior--
COURIC: --for their kids.
COURIC: Which is really true. But it--
COURIC: --takes a lot of discipline, doesn't it?
WISEMAN: No, it actually happens to me. My kid said to me. My six-year-old said to me recently, about a month ago-- "Mommy, you're not listening to what I'm saying." And I said, "Yes, I am." He's like, "No, you're not. You're just going, 'Uh-huh. Uh-huh.'" And I was on my cell phone.
WISEMAN: He was right. I needed to put it down.
COURIC: Or, you know, you're on your computer. And i have a friend that calls me, and she tells me that-- you know, she starts talking and she knows I'm not listening. And she tells me she's gonna commit suicide. (LAUGH) And I'm like, "Uh-huh. Really?"
WISEMAN: "That's nice dear." (LAUGH)
COURIC: Says, "You're not listening to me." Which is true. You know, we-- we talked about-- privacy. And-- and how it means something different for parents than it does kids. Or maybe the sense of privacy is completely false for children. But a mommy blogger named April writes, "My oldest daughter will be 12 later this month. My youngest will be nine. I remember needing my privacy as a girl and I don't want to deprive my daughters of that. But at the same time, I, of course, want to be sure that I don't give her too much space." So, how do you find the right balance between kind of keeping an eye on kids, but also respecting--
WISEMAN: Yeah, that's really hard.
COURIC: --their need to kind of be independent?
WISEMAN: Yeah. This is one of the things I really asked children about. And teenagers about for the new book. And the-- this is-- this is how I've-- I've come to see it. That privacy is like a treasure. It's like a jewel that you have as a parent. That you have-- you really have to value. Because if you are going to violate privacy. If you're gonna-- without-- like it's gonna come across as not respecting your child. And it's also gonna be a trigger for them to say, "Then I'm gonna start hiding things from you." So, if you violate privacy. If you start-- if you just say, "I am gonna absolutely, 100 percent, you have no privacy." Then kids are going to do a lot to try and create it. So, I think, first of all, everybody needs, especially as they're getting older, that you do need-- a place to feel private. And I think that's really important. At the same time, there has-- there's no-- you know, there's no such thing as like complete freedom. There's no such thing as limited-- as complete privacy. And so, I think for parents that they need to say, "Look, I don't want to be going into your, you know, texting. Into your phone all the time. I don't want to be doing all of this stuff. But there's a couple times when I'm gonna think that I have to. One is if I see a huge amount of change of a difference of friends. And I don't care if it's--" see, sometimes parents think if they have a lot of friends or if they change friends and those friends are super popular, that that's a good thing. Any kind of big change is something that I want parents to actually pay attention to. So, that would be one ex--
COURIC: Like going from no friends to a million friends.
WISEMAN: Yeah, like what--
COURIC: Or a very different group of--
WISEMAN: --and so what's going on with that?
WISEMAN: A very different group of friends. That would be one thing that I would think about. The second is if you are a parent of a high school child. Especially one with a lot of friends. And for whatever reason, you are going out of town. I would check the texts right before you leave. Of your child.
COURIC: To make sure they're not having a "Risky Business" situation while you're gone?
WISEMAN: Pretty much.
COURIC: Really? (LAUGH)
COURIC: But what-- is that why?
WISEMAN: Yeah. (LAUGH)
COURIC: you know, I have had friends who-- I have had friends who check their kids email, I.M., whatever, whatever.
WISEMAN: Right. Right.
COURIC: And just-- they just don't tell 'em.
WISEMAN: Right. And you can do that.
COURIC: Now is that really bad?
WISEMAN: It is-- well, here's the thing.
COURIC: is it dishonest?
WISEMAN: It is dishonest, but also it's that risk of like if they find out that you've been doing that, then that's a feeling of like, "I'm gonna have to do something to really hide." Right? It's that motivation of like you've done something that I-- that feels like a betrayal to me. And so, I'm gonna now do something so that you cannot-- you can't-- so that there's-- so, I --
COURIC: A lot of them are able to keep this from their kids, you know?
WISEMAN: Well, if you--
COURIC: They might say-- say, "Oh, yeah, I'm going to a party. It's Frank's parents aren't--"
COURIC: Frank-- I don't know where I came up with that name. No-- no kid is named Frank anymore.
WISEMAN: No kid's-- right, right.
COURIC: "Frankie's parents aren't home this weekend. And I'm gonna go to a party at his house. You want to come?" My friend would see it and say, "What are you doin' tonight?" And, you know--
COURIC: --"Well, I'm gonna call the parents and make sure they're there."
WISEMAN: Right. Exactly.
COURIC: I mean, it actually gives you better tools.
COURIC: But it does feel slightly--
WISEMAN: It is-- it is slightly-- the thing I just want parents to realize is it's taking a risk that if you get caught then the kid can focus being self-righteous about the violation of privacy and not on the content of their own behavior. That's-- right, when you're talking to kids about the problem, whatever the problem is at hand, they're gonna really latch onto things like, "You took away my privacy."
WISEMAN: Right. You see what I'm saying?
WISEMAN: That's an important issue.
COURIC: But at the same time, can't you say, "You know what? This is a privilege."
COURIC: You know? "And occasionally, I'm going to check in--"
COURIC: Because to me, if you sort of leave it amorphous and ambiguous then maybe they'll just feel like, "Gee, I have to be careful. I'm gonna-- I'm gonna be a better self monitor of how I use this technology."
WISEMAN: Well, I think the best way to do this, actually, is-- and it's changing so fast that I wouldn't have been able to say this like six or nine months ago. I think the best thing to do is to say, "Look, I want you to have privacy. I want you to have your own life. But I reserve the right to check if I feel that I need to. You know what? I don't even need to really use your phone, 'cause I can go on the website of our service provider and I can check all of your activity on there. So, I don't really need to look on your phone." And then just leave them at that.
WISEMAN: Because that little fear and paranoia--
COURIC: Very, very powerful tool in parenting, isn't it?
WISEMAN: It's a good thing. It's a good thing.
COURIC: Okay. All right. So--
WISEMAN: If it's used sparingly and judiciously.