Approach the Digital Age With Facts, Not Fear: An Interview With Yalda T. Uhls

By Randi Zuckerberg

November 7, 2017 5 min read

I work with Yalda T. Uhls on my kids show, "Dot." Yalda ensures that Sprout, The Jim Henson Co. and the Industrial Brothers keep children's TV educational while being entertaining.

That's why I support this woman's work.

Yalda T. Uhls is an award-winning researcher in the field of child psychology and an expert on how media affect children. Her new book, "Media Moms & Digital Dads," was an Amazon No. 1 new release in child psychology. Yalda also works with Common Sense Media, a national nonprofit, on its entertainment outreach. In her former career, she was a movie executive at MGM and Sony. Most importantly, she is a mom of two digital teens — a boy and a girl.

1) You left behind a successful job as a development executive in Hollywood. Why did you decide to leave your film career behind?

I loved my career in development and production, working with writers and directors on movies and storytelling. But when I became a mom, I didn't feel I could give the studio executive job my all and still be present for my children. I was lucky enough to have the means to step off, and since my husband is a screenwriter, I still have my foot in the door of that world.

2) You went back to school to receive your doctorate in developmental psychology in 2009. Do you recommend re-entering education for those looking to change careers?

Absolutely. Not everyone needs to go as whole-hog as I did, as the Ph.D. I received is actually quite intense. I was in school with people in their 20s looking to develop careers as professors and scientists. But I do recommend it highly. I loved learning, being around young people, exercising my brain, and it turned out to be an excellent move for me. The one thing I never realized was my past career was very relevant for the new career, and each thing built upon the other. Moms looking to enter back into the workforce should remember that they have a lot to offer.

3) How can the fear of new media for the older generations hurt raising kids who are rapidly adopting technology?

There is extensive research saying that authoritarian parenting — the kind which is low on warmth and high on limits and rules — is detrimental to a host of social and academic outcomes. This applies to new media, as well. Parents who are scared, who set too many limits and are always negative can create issues for their children. Some studies indicate that these parents end up having the children with the most risky online behavior. It's also clear that children spend time connecting with friends through media, and friendship is critical during adolescence. So if you cut them off, it could affect their developing relationships.

4) You did a study about the values of different television shows. What did your research find about fame?

Fame is a very strong value in more recent TV shows, where it was not before the 2000s. It seems as though social media and reality TV may be contributing to this, because young children see famous kids everywhere, not only in the traditional sense of true fame — like a Justin Bieber, who got found through YouTube, or someone on "American Idol" or "The X Factor" — but also in their local communities through social media. Kids who have a lot of followers are "famous" with their schools, and then, of course, there are Instagram and Snapchat celebrities. Children see this and get seduced by the opportunities.

5) How do video games help contribute to success in STEM studies — especially for young girls?

Girls who play video games with an action component (e.g., "Minecraft") develop stronger spatial skills. These are the kinds of skills you need to understand how objects move in space (or even to park a car). People who test high in these skills often are good at math, science and engineering — all STEM fields. Many studies confirm this for boys and girls. But for girls, who often test below boys on spatial skills, playing video games can bring this skill to the same level as boys.

Randi Zuckerberg is the founder of Zuckerberg Media, a best-selling author and the host of a weekly business show on SiriusXM, "Dot Complicated." To find out more about Randi Zuckerberg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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