This week’s Meet a Mom interview is with Julie Jargon, the Wall Street Journal’s Family & Tech columnist. We picked her brain on tech and screen time during quarantine, her career in journalism and more. Want to follow along with what Julie is working on? Subscribe to her free weekly newsletter!
Can you please tell us a bit about your career?
I have been working at newspapers ever since I interned at an alternative news weekly in high school. One of my very favorite jobs was my first one right out of college, covering education and local politics at the now-defunct Boulder Planet. That’s where I really cut my teeth and learned the value of local news. I later worked as a staff writer at that news weekly in Denver and then at Crain’s Chicago Business. I joined The Wall Street Journal in Chicago as a reporter covering the food industry in 2007. My current job as the WSJ’s Family & Tech columnist has to be my overall favorite, though, because each week I get to write about the topics I grapple with every day as a parent.
How does being a mom influence your work?
I draw from my own life quite a bit for the column. I have a focus group of three children who are learning the ropes of technology every day. We have frequent discussions in our home about how technology can and should be used. The landscape is quickly evolving. Being a parent also provides me with more empathy for what parents and kids at all ages and life stages are going through.
What are the biggest issues you’re seeing for families, in terms of tech, right now?
The biggest trend during the pandemic has undoubtedly been the impact that social isolation has had on families. Parents and caregivers have been struggling to hold everything together while working from home (if they’re fortunate enough to be able to do so) and managing their kids’ remote school. Families have been turning to technology to help fill in the extra time at home. Parents are both grateful for the diversion that technology has offered and worried about how much all of this time with tech will affect their children. Adolescent and teenage girls have struggled with loneliness, video games have become an important way for kids to socialize and children are struggling with how to remain motivated in online school. Technology has been the undercurrent of life – for better or for worse — during the pandemic.
What is your family’s own relationship with tech?
We are fairly permissive when it comes to tech use. There’s no getting away from technology so our philosophy has been to model and teach responsible tech use rather than place heavy restrictions on it. If we notice that one of the kids is watching something we don’t like on YouTube, for example, we ask whether they think it’s appropriate and whether there might be a better viewing choice to make. There are teachable moments of technology every day. It’s become part of the daily dialogue, just like talking about school work and what to make for dinner.
Do you have any tips for choosing appropriate tech devices/apps for different ages? Or limiting screen time?
There are a lot of devices and services that can monitor children’s tech usage and limit screen time, but there are always tradeoffs, whether it’s giving up personal information or creating a situation where kids will feel they are being watched and therefore develop workarounds to the parental controls. I’ve found that the simplest and most effective way to start is to use the screen time limits on the devices themselves. Apple, Google and Amazon have come out with more options lately for limiting specific apps. For many families, that may be enough.
What’s your favorite part of being a journalist? And most challenging?
My favorite part of being a journalist is that I get to ask questions of really smart people to whom I wouldn’t otherwise have access, and then sharing that information with others. In my current role, I also speak to a lot of parents who share similar struggles and have the same kinds of questions I have about how to manage all of this tech in our lives. It is rewarding to be able to seek answers to those questions. The most challenging part is when there are roadblocks to getting information. That doesn’t happen as frequently on my current beat, but when I was a corporate reporter it was often very hard to get information about or from companies.
Do you have a story you’ve written that has been a career highlight?
A real highlight for me came early in my career, when I was at that news weekly in Denver, called Westword. I broke the news of what became a huge national scandal at the U.S. Air Force Academy. I uncovered a history of female cadets being sexually assaulted by male cadets and then punished by the academy for coming forward internally. I earned several big journalism awards for my coverage, including the Livingston Award for Young Journalists. That story dominated my life for more than a year. It was the most difficult story I have covered, on many levels – from managing sources who were understandably scared and kept changing their minds about whether they wanted to come forward to intimidation from academy officials. The lessons I learned while reporting that story — about being strong in the face of great challenges — have been enduring.
One of the most meaningful moments came when I attended the Livingston Awards lunch. The late and great journalist David Halberstam was sitting at my table. When the ceremony was over and he got up to leave, he bent over and whispered in my ear: “Stay gritty.” I remind myself of his words whenever I have to do something that is difficult or uncomfortable.
Wow, those are two amazing stories. What’s the biggest misconception about kids and screen time?
I think the biggest misconception is that all screen time is the same and therefore bad. People talk about screen time as though it’s one thing. There are many ways that the information we get on screens is incredibly helpful and thought-provoking and there are also many dangers. The trick is figuring out how to distinguish the good from the not-so-good and it’s not always clear cut.
What are you giving your kids (tech or not!) this holiday season?
We have gotten them some holiday Lego sets as an early gift. They will also be getting books, clothes, trains for my youngest and of course some plush Baby Yodas. We’ll probably allow them to buy some currency in the video games they like. My daughter always wants to buy new outfits for her characters in Roblox.
You’re part of the HeyMama community (like The Local Moms Network!). Why is networking with and supporting other moms so crucial?
Moms are always hustling. We’re like plate spinners. Doesn’t it feel like the second you let your guard down, the plates come crashing down? Supporting each other and lifting each other up is the encouragement to keep going. You know that thing we tell our kids – that if they’re ever lost or in trouble, to ask a mom for help? That is true in all stages of life. When in doubt, ask a mom.