Dr Denise Garcia On Raising Children With Healthy Social Media & Digital Media Habits

An Interview With Maria Angelova

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Do not give in after you have set a boundary or contract, but you also do not want to go into the situation with the “because I said so” mindset. Change your perspective around power struggles; you want to show empathy at all times, despite your child’s frustrating words and non-verbal expressions toward you.

Young people today are growing up in an era where screen time is a given from a very young age. Unfortunately, studies show that large amounts of screen time can be damaging, and social media can be even worse. Our children are facing enormous challenges before their brains and bodies have had a chance to develop fully. Social media can potentially keep kids from developing social cues and lead to increased mental health challenges, bullying, and much more. So what can parents do to create healthier habits around social media? How can kids be taught to use social media in a healthy way that causes as little damage as possible? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, and mental health professionals, about Raising Children With Healthy Social Media and Digital Media Habits. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dr. Denise Garcia.

Dr. Denise Garcia holds a doctorate in psychology, a marriage & family therapy masters, and is a professional parenting consultant. Dr. Garcia is a passionate mother who explains child-rearing in a way that provides clarity through relatable and digestible brain-based knowledge that deconstructs societal expectations to help others find peace with their parenting journey. Dr. Garcia is working on eight years of training, studies, and clinical experience with children and families, making her a parenting expert and leader.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I’ve unknowingly been developing my passion for this dream career. I often thought, What would it be? Who would I work with? What service will I provide?

Then my daughter was born, and it all became clear. I became obsessed with everything conscious/respectful parenting. I created an outline for my signature parenting program with my knowledge from years of clinical experience and training.

I became a therapist in 2015 after receiving a master’s in Marriage and family therapy, but my journey was not very clear initially. I had originally planned to get my human development master’s because it was presented at my job. I saw that my graduate school also offered a master’s in Marriage and Family therapy, so I went for it.

After graduating with my master’s in Marriage and Family therapy, I began working as a DIR Floor time Specialist, focusing on treating children on the Autism spectrum and their families. Here I learned about the senses and how they can help children with diverse brain capacities. I understood that we ALL have different capabilities in how we relate to others, regulate, and experience the world. I learned how a specialized sensory diet could help with overstimulation, sensation seeking, irritability, and other sensitivities children experience.

In my work as a community mental health therapist, one of the perks was access to the best conferences and training you can attend in Los Angeles. For example, I attended top-tier conferences on treating the birth-5-year-old population and trauma intervention. In these conferences, we learned about the neurology of young brains and early childhood psychology. Plus, the children and parents I treated for seven years.

During COVID, I had some extra time and was motivated to try for my Doctorate. I gained confidence in my therapeutic skills by relearning how children express emotional challenges. I also learned how our psychological needs affect our learning and taking in information. For children (even small children), it could be bullying, unbalanced parenting styles, or things changing at home that cause learning, memory, and focus challenges.

When my daughter was born, I started watching mom reels (reading comments) and realized that society is not gentle with children. Society has historically been misguided, misinformed, and unprepared regarding child rearing, especially in the early years.

My deep understanding of child development, child psychology, societal constructs, and the integration of a sensory diet inform my signature parenting mindset and expertise to be a parenting expert and consultant.

My calling and passion are to help parents understand child psychology so parenting is less challenging. Ultimately, I want to motivate all parents to become more aware of themselves because this will only benefit the child. Children are a crucial part of my passion because we can change the world if we treat our children better.

Can you share the most exciting story since you started your career?

The most exciting thing has been the conceptualization of my work. Finding my true calling as it relates to my personal style and what I am particularly good at. Finding what parts of my training and experience resonated with me and how I turned that into my passion and calling. I never really knew what my calling and desires were, I knew I liked being a therapist, but not everything about being a therapist was easy for me. Then, when I had my daughter and graduated with my Doctorate, I realized my calling. I have always been able to make good connections with parents regarding parenting. So when I saw the need for more information about parenting worldwide, I knew I was the one for the job.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am working on my signature parenting program to provide parents with techniques and strategies to be proactive about their child’s mental health and wellness. My consulting business is also starting, and I will soon make offers on my social media pages.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you?

The most impactful book in my life has been The Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel. This book was class-assigned in one of my master’s courses, and I still have it. This book gave me the most impactful mindset because it changed my outlook on life. This book started my journey to self-awareness. I used to be the type of person to become emotional and not really know where it came from, and what this book did was show me that every feeling has a root; it gave me the base for my growth. This book impacts how I perceive my clients and how I help them develop self-awareness. I teach them what I learned in this book, including how the brain develops and how our relationships with family and friends influence us and continue to influence us.

Fantastic. Let’s now turn to the central part of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about why you are an authority on how to help children develop healthy social media habits?

A part of my parenting mindset is based on social media and screen time use because when I started my career, I saw a lot of dysregulation around these two actions. I began to make connections between brain functioning and social media in my practice, and what I noticed over and over was that children were soothed by being on their devices, and frankly, so were the parents. I looked at a few theories on what is the most problematic about social media. The one that made the most sense is that social media provides quick and easy dopamine (a neurotransmitter that provides increased pleasure and joy) release and thus becomes a physical and psychological connection to the device. You may have heard of screen addiction which is a good description of what is happening. Still, if we want to shift our mindset to a more conscious one, we should rephrase and say that children crave connection and dopamine.

From your experience or research, can you help articulate some of the downsides of children having access to social media? Is there an amount of time, or specific content, that is just too much?

In my clinical experience and I have seen children become increasingly dysregulated when their child needs to put their device away. I have also seen how overstimulated, and understimulated children become after viewing their devices. An overstimulated child can, for example, be sensory seeking by wanting to swing, hit, push, pull, or may wish to receive visual stimulation that mimics a screen. An understimulated child will appear bored or underwhelmed with you and their environment; they may also appear sick, like they have a fever but no temperature. I’ve also seen children on screens for a long time every day have food challenges; they may feel a sense of satiation from the increased dopamine they receive throughout the day. Also, current research suggests that children who utilize screens too often in early childhood are also experiencing lower academic achievement by the third grade.

Besides the downsides, social media, in particular, gives children that extra connection they need from their caregivers and loved ones.

Is there a positive side too? Can children gain and grow from social media?

It is a wonderful way to connect with peers. However, parents can create boundaries and rules around it that are in the child’s best interest, where the child is socializing with their peers and growing in that area. It may not be realistic to expect bliss in all social media interactions, but it can be a lesson for a child to learn how to resolve conflict (with the guidance of caring parents).

Social media is an accepted part of life today. However, along with all of the good comes many challenges. From your experience or research, what five steps can we take to raise children with healthy social media and digital media habits?

Step 1: Create connections beyond the typical ways we connect. Find joy in every interaction, and be curious about why your child is behaving (both positive and negative behaviors). Do not disconnect from your child when they are experiencing negative behaviors. Instead, start spending one-on-one time with your child without distractions. For example, you can tell your child that you would like to spend some of their free time together doing whatever they want that does not involve screens. The more joy you express through non-verbal communication, the more connected they will feel (this will be a dopamine producer). This is an ideal step because we want to ensure that they get their dopamine from you, your relationship, and play accompanied by joy will provide that for them.

Step 2: Minimize your screen time and social media use. You are the first role model for your child; if you are on your phone, they will internalize that this is a norm for your family, and it will be much harder to set boundaries around social media when needed. For example, you are constantly on your phone scrolling through Instagram and your child comes in and can see that you are on it. They then ask if they can use their phone, and you promptly tell them they cannot and try to remind them of the house rules. Do you feel that it is fair and respectful? No, it is not. Your child needs to feel respected in your home and the hierarchy idea is not respectful. They may unconsciously feel that you are imposing a power struggle and start a power struggle with you. The hope is that they always feel that you respect them and that means leading by example and modeling mindful social media use. Could it be that you are also craving some dopamine?

Step 3: Create a social media and screen time contract. It is imperative to let your child know the rules around social media before having issues. That way, you avoid power struggles around social media use. For example, one direction can be: You may only use your phone after homework is done, extracurricular practice is done, and you have had at least one 5-minute interaction with each family member. Another definitive rule is that they report to you if there is any bullying happening. Any bullying can have detrimental effects on mental health.

Step 4: Do not give in after you have set a boundary or contract, but you also do not want to go into the situation with the “because I said so” mindset. Change your perspective around power struggles; you want to show empathy at all times, despite your child’s frustrating words and non-verbal expressions toward you. For example, your child may express anger (‘I hate you, you’re the worst mom/dad’) toward you around social media use, but you must remember the science behind it. They may be expressing anger because they are missing out on peer interactions and the dopamine associated with screen time (to put it simply).

Step 5- Seek help- if you cannot do your daily tasks like work or suddenly stop enjoying things you used to enjoy. The support of a friend and/or family members can help with the day-to-day tasks so that you can free up time to focus on the child needing the most assistance with weaning off their social media use. Also, you can hire a professional to clarify what is happening in the family dynamics and parenting. Remember there is nothing wrong with your child, their brain is responding appropriately to stimuli deemed a regular part of child-rearing, and it will take a conscious effort to help them.

How do you effectively respond to the constant refrain of “but all my friends to this!”?

It is vital to meet your child’s need for validation and respect when it comes to this concept because it is part of a developmental need to identify themselves outside of their home. In their teens’ children are looking to find out who they are besides being in their family. Children will look to their peers for clues to differentiate from their family of origin, which often happens online. However, children who have not been heard or validated by their parents will be attracted to completely separate from their family of origin. With that said, when your child states this type of narrative, you have to remember the science and not engage in a power struggle. For example, you can say: “I hear this is important for you, but this is a rule in our home. I am sorry.” You do not want to leave room for negotiation and always communicate empathy with your facial expressions.

What best resources would you suggest to a parent or educator who would like to learn more about this?

Look at scientific articles on this subject and read the abstract on the findings on Google Scholar. The book I own that provided me with the most bone-chilling evidence on-screen time is called Glow Kids by Nicholas Kardaras.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“As children develop, their brains “mirror” their parent’s brain. In other words, the parent’s own growth and development, or lack of those, impact the child’s brain. So as parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health.”

― Daniel J. Siegel, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive

This is why parents need to be conscious, respectful, and gentle with how they raise their children because even though we do not realize it, they are mirroring our inner world. Dr. Siegel’s words are so powerful to me, and how I raise my daughter, and if we all utilized this mindset, the world would be a better place.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

The movement is already in practice. Many people utilize a gentle, conscious, and respectful parenting approach. Still, if I could influence people to know the neurological reason for it, more people would have an easier time with it, as it is not an effortless parenting style to adopt. The reason it is not easy is that you have to, at times, face your deepest fears, as most of us have experienced challenges in our childhood years that go unresolved and come up when parenting our own children.

I also wish that people knew how incredibly vital your child’s childhood experiences are to their future. Sometimes parents feel they need to do certain things to their child so they don’t turn out ‘bad’ but sometimes those things are what end up hurting the child in the long run.

What is the best way our readers can continue to follow your work online?

I am on Facebook as Denise Garcia, Psy. D. I am also on Instagram @thegentleconnectedmom. I provide basic neurological information to support the conscious/gentle/respectful parenting approach. I also provided knowledge on how to break free from societal norms harming your relationship with your child.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Thank you so much for the opportunity to take part in your interview series. It is a great privilege for me to be able to share my experiences with your readers. I’m also grateful to all who have taken the time to read through these paragraphs hoping that the information found here will be insightful and helpful for everyone.

About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at angelova@rebellious-intl.com. To schedule a free consultation, click here.

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Maria Angelova, CEO of Rebellious Intl.
Authority Magazine

Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl.