104: Kids, Culture, Phones, and the Other Home
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David EatonDavid Eaton is a cofounder of Axis which started in 2007. In 2017, Axis teams spoke to 24,000 students, provided resources to 80,000 parents, and helped start 1 million conversations between caring adults and teens. The magic of Axis is Culture Translation: interpreting student trends for parents while translating timeless theology, philosophy, and essential questions of life for their teens. Axis believes in the power of life-on-life discipleship between caring adults and the next generation!
What rules, principles, or contracts should you make with smartphones and your child? David Eaton, author of Smartphone Sanity, talks with Ron Deal about 8 major concerns to consider to keep smartphones from invading your home and hijacking your child.
104: Kids, Culture, Phones, and the Other Home
David: We had a young lady say to us, she said, “I've only had one real conversation with my dad.” We heard that, we're like, “That's bad.” It's like, “How have you only had one real conversation with your dad? You're having like a thousand conversations on TikTok every single week. What do you mean you only had one conversation with your dad?” But then she smiled, and she said again, she says, “I've only had one real conversation with my dad, and we've never stopped having that one conversation.”
Ron: Welcome to the FamilyLife Blended podcast. I'm Ron Deal. We help blended families, and those who love them, pursue the relationships that matter most. And why do we do that? Well, because there's great joy in loving God and loving others, and it makes the world a better place.
You know, this year we want to hear from you throughout the year. We'd love for you to email us or call in and leave us a voice message and tell us—we're calling them “Promised Land Moments.” You know it may not be “Everything's wonderful in our family,” but it could be that moment where you feel like “We've turned a corner; something's better. There's some joy in the room.” “Boy, I had this conversation the other day with a child I've really been struggling with, and it just gave me some hope.” We'd love to hear about that. Look in the show notes. You can find out how you can email us at email@example.com.
There's that email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can call and leave us a voice message, which we might then share on the podcast. So look at the show notes. We'd love to hear from.
Speaking of hearing from you, Karen wrote to us recently. She said, “I just want you to know that The Smart Stepfamily and The Smart Stepmom saved my marriage.” Wow. “I share your books with every new stepmom that I come across as the wisdom contained in them is literally life changing. Thank you for your ministry.” Well, Karen, we appreciate you sharing that and sharing with others what you're discovering, what you're learning. We think that's really great.
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Today, on episode 104, we're all going to get an education in youth culture; and I need it. David Eaton and his wife Lindsey have become friends to Nan and me. We really appreciate them and what they do. He co-founded Axis, axis.org, in 2007. Every month, they educate hundreds of thousands of pastors and grandparents and teachers, all with their free Culture Translator. He's going to tell us a little bit more about that as we talk.
David is the co-author of Smartphone Sanity and Engaging Your Teen’s World. He's worked in partnership with a lot of Christian ministries, including FamilyLife®. David and Lindsey and their three kids live in Colorado. I'm certainly glad to have him join me now on this episode. David, how you doing? Thanks for being here, buddy.
David: I'm doing great; can't wait. Let's do this.
Ron: Let's do this. Let's have a conversation. How are things out in Colorado today?
David: Brisk, clear skies; just came out of a meeting with the staff here talking about how to help more parents raise, understand, disciple, have non-anxious conversations with their teenagers. So that's what we're all about here.
Ron: I'm anxious just starting into this dialogue and let me tell you why. Because I'm old.
David: Oh, come on.
Ron: [Laughter] When I think about youth culture, man, I'm already way out of touch. I know that, and I think a lot of parents listening to us are going, “Well, I'm not that old, Ron, and I still feel out of touch with language and what matters to kids and social media and you know, the secret codes that they don't tell us as parents and stepparents. Like it's a challenging thing and we all know every generation struggles with this. My parents struggled when I was growing up. Everybody does it. And yet it's amazing to me how out of touch we can feel. Do you hear that a lot?
David: Yes, everyone, every generation has got a gap. It probably is bigger now because of the technological advances of smartphones. But our parents hated the music we listen to, and their parents hated the music they listen to, and there's a whole new thing. I'll say if you feel out a loop, that's completely normal.
I was talking to probably a Young Life volunteer who was 23 or 24 and she felt disconnected from Gen Z culture—from what was going on in the world of high schoolers. It doesn't take very long for you to feel out of loop.
That's the purpose of Axis, A X I S, the organization that I co-founded 16 years ago. We want to be a parent's research assistant. We're in your corner. That's what the Culture Translator is at Axis. If you go to Axis.org, you'll see the Culture Translator when you're there. It just says, “Here are three things going on in your kids' world,” so you feel confident, so you feel ready, so you feel ahead. That's how we get to serve about a quarter million parents every single month.
Ron: Confident, ready, kind of prepared to engage in the conversation. I think that's an emphasis that we're talking about today: encouraging parents and stepparents to engage in the conversations in your kids' world so that you can get out there. The Culture Translator is going to help you do that.
By the way, just last week I had a conversation with my 23-year-old. My youngest is 23, about to be 24, and we were just talking about dating, and the definition of dating, and it was such a funny conversation. My wife and I were talking with him, [Laughter] and like, terms are so different. I know they're different with the Gen X, Gen Zs.
I was asking him, “So are you dating when you're going out?” He goes, “No, no, no, going out is not dating.” I'm like, “Oh, yes, that's what that is.” “No, that's just going out. We're just talking. If we're actually dating, well that means there's something exclusive about it.” I’m like “What? Do you not just give her a note with a box that says, ‘Will you go with me?’” you know?
Ron: Apparently that's not how they do it anymore. This whole thing about engaging and talking with our kids to discover what it is that they are thinking about and how their world and how they analyze and make sense of things is really important.
David: And they're probably not even talking when they say they're talking.
That probably means that they're texting. [Laughter]
Ron: That's right. That's right.
David: There's plenty of layers to it, and on many levels, what have dating apps done to that whole process? When you think about, you know, to go on a little deeper aspect here of the supply and demand of men and women for dating, it seems like the supply of guys is kind of low and so it creates more demand, it gives a power differential to men in relationships, and doesn't necessarily bring out the best in online dating situation and how it commodifies relationships because you/it's mediated by an algorithm. [Laughter] Well, we're just going like sci-fi on it right now, but your point about dating is really important and even to have compassion. I think it's always good to have compassion, empathy for our kids. I don't think anyone listening to this would say, “Man, I really wish that I was a teenager right now.
David: I think there's a lot of empathy to be had of like, it's kind of difficult situation.
When I was in high school, I didn't have a smartphone. I'm 39 years old. I got my first dumb phone when I was in college, and I kind of held out on it. But I had a dad say to me, he's like, “Look, David, I'm spending hundreds of dollars a month on my family's phone plans just to get in a yelling match once a week with my daughters.”
He is like, “This is just not worth the money that I'm putting into it, yet phones are here to stay and a really awesome tool that we get to use to stay connected with people.
Ron: Yes. Let's drill down on phones here in just a minute. Before we do that, I want to give you a chance just to plug the Culture Translator. What is it? What do people get when they sign up? What's it cost?
David: Yes, it's completely free; comes out every Friday morning. It's an email and it just says, “Here are three things that happened in your kids' life this last week. Taylor Swift dropped a new album”—how to think about that. Axis is all about—if you can just imagine if CS Lewis and MTV, if they made a baby, they would name their baby Axis— [Laughter] so the idea of timeless truth from great theologians and philosophers and also what's going on currently.
But even in the last week's Culture Translator, there was this great way to compare G. K. Chesterton, who's a writer, a philosopher, a Christian thinker, with Taylor Swift. When the newspapers asked, “What's the problem with the world?” G. K. Chesterton wrote back, and he was in London, he wrote back and said, “The problem is me. I'm the problem.” And that just happens to be the line from Taylor Swift's top song off of the Midnights album. Her top song is called Anti-Hero and she's like, “The problem is me. I'm the problem. It's me.”
And so, to be able to kind of bring worlds together in the Culture Translator—which is a free email; it comes out on Fridays—you will feel ahead and ready, and your kids, like, just imagine—I just imagine you—you're driving your minivan. You might be in your minivan right now listening to this. You might be going to work; you might be dropping a kid off at volleyball; you might be checking this out, and if you start reading the Culture Translator every week or every other week, your kids will be shocked.
They'll be like, “Mom, how do you know who Lizzo is?” “Mom, how do you know what the term cheug meant?” “Mom,” or “Dad, how come you're interested in this?” And you're like, “Look, I just love you and I'm interested in your world, and I want to help you dodge some landmines, and find out that Jesus is life and embrace Jesus—the whole process.” So the Culture Translator's there to help you on that path, parents. We're here for you.
Ron: Let's drill down; let's talk about phones. You just talked about terms; you know what phubbing is?
David: Tell me more.
Ron: Phone partner snubbing is the new term for when you prefer your phone in the presence of a person—when you actually are looking at your phone instead of engaging and talking with a live human being. And let me tell you, man, there's some research already coming out about this, but everybody listening to me right now goes, I got phubbed by the teenager at Walmart the other day who wasn't [Laughter] interested in helping me at all with my need, but he's checking out what's going on in the world on his phone and that just drives you crazy. It happens with coworkers; it happens with people we interact with, but—
David: —with spouses.
Ron: Spouses; that's exactly where I was going. That's a big conversation these days, and I don't care how old you are, lots of people totally get enveloped into their smart phone and start phubbing their spouse who's sitting right there next to you or across the table, or maybe you're at dinner and two people aren't talking because they're into their phones.
We do know it adds some distress. It adds a sense of isolation within whatever relationship is going on in the room, whether that's a friendship or whether that's a marital intimate relationship. It's just amazing to me, half of teenagers say their parents are distracted by their phones when they're trying to talk to them, and 70% of parents say their teenagers are distracted when they're trying to talk to them. This phone is important, it's helpful, it's great, and it's a problem. What role are phones playing in the lives of our kids and in culture today? Let's just start talking around this.
David: I think the best way to empathize has to do with your 16th birthday, Ron.
Ron: Oh yes; that was a long time ago.
David: Yes. Where were you the morning of your 16th birthday, Ron? Can you remember?
Ron: I don't remember specifically, but I imagine—
David: Were you waiting in line somewhere?
Ron: No, I was at home getting ready to go to school.
David: You were? Are you sure you weren't at the DMV? Are you sure you weren't getting your driver's license on your 16th birthday?
Ron: No, probably not on the 16th birthday. It came a little bit after that, but no I wasn't.
David: I'll tell you where I was on my 16th birthday. I was at that glorious government institution called the Department of Motor Vehicles, and maybe it came a few weeks, a few months later for you. I don't know, but I was anxious. I was excited. Sixteen meant I could drive.
Ron: Yes, that's right.
David: Sixteen meant I had freedom. Sixteen meant I could go on dates, I could go to baseball practice, I could go to band practice, I could go to youth group on my own. I could have a job because I was 16 and I could drive. It was a huge step in freedom for me.
Here's the corollary. You'll notice that kids turn 16. and they're not waiting in line at the DMV on their 16th birthday. They might not even get their driver's license until they're 17 or 18 and that's because the phone is the new driver's license. It represents freedom and it represents conversation and privacy and intimacy on different levels and friendship and entertainment and distraction. It's the greatest leap in human agency that any one of us will experience in our lifetime unless there's some incredible new technology that comes out.
My point is, let's say you turn 16 and your parents are like, “Hey, you can drive.” I mean, I'm just trying to get us all to kind of get in the shoes of the rising generation.
I drove a Toyota Corolla, two-door Toyota Corolla. My parents bought it. It was their car, but they bought it for me to drive. It was nice. It was clean. It was an old car. I was a little bit embarrassed because it was kind of an ugly older car for me, and I was unappreciative.
Some kids got pickup trucks for the 16th birthday. Some kids got new cars. Some kids got, you know, just used cars like I did. But what I'm trying to say is like, the same thing with the phone. The phone carries that cultural gravitas that a car did for us. So, I'll come out of the box, and I'll say this: I think every kid's second phone should be an iPhone. Their first phone should be something else. And now I'm thinking of a first phone landing between the ages of 11 or 12, or 10 or 13, or wherever it is for your family, it is a decision.
Once you make a decision for that—maybe your nine-year-old already has an iPhone, that's fine. You can work through that situation as well. But there is so much pain in homes today, and especially talking about blended homes, Ron. The smartphone can be just—I'm trying to think of an awful word, but it drives a wedge between parents.
Ron: Yes. Right.
David: And then you have a stepmom or stepdad show up, right?
Ron: That's right. It drives a wedge between co-parents in different homes, and then the stepparents have an opinion about it. Sometimes stepparents brought children of their own to the home, and their kids got a phone when they were three, or they're not going to get one till they're eighty. And then you have all these different—so now you got two, three, four opinions about when the phone should be used and what kind. Yes, it's stressful. And what I hear you saying is for the child, it is a rite of passage.
It is a—
David: Yes, that's well said.
Ron: It is a massive significance to them socially and just in their world, and so you can just see how the whole situation is ripe for conflict.
David: Yes, so if you say, “I'm going to get you a dumb phone or a flip phone,” which you totally can, but you're going to pay about as much as you would for a smartphone.
That's going to come with ramifications. If you get your kid any phone other than an iPhone—iPhone has the majority, like over 90% of the market; Android's fine too—but if you get them something other than an iPhone, they will be made fun of. They'll be ostracized and that's okay. Our kids get to be different in many situations.
But that's why I think like a first phone for a kid when they're just happy for anything is like training wheels versus a motorcycle. Getting someone an iPhone is like getting them a Harley. Getting them a Pinwheel phone—so there's like Gabb phone, Wisephone, Troomi, other, like Bark is coming out with a phone eventually. Right now, our favorite phone at Axis is called Pinwheel. It's cheap—two to three hundred dollars for the phone and then you pay fifteen bucks a month plus whatever your data plan is. It's a great way to onboard your kid to the phone, but a 16-year-old has a Pinwheel phone, or even a 15- or 14-year-old, they will be made fun of for having a little kid phone.
Ron: They might be made fun of by a step sibling who has an iPhone from the other home.
David: Right. It's like you have two—you have multiple homes now, so if your kid has two bedrooms—one at your house and one at your ex's house—they have two digital bedrooms so to speak and it's the phone rules. It is that significant; it actually might be more important than bedrooms, is the phone rules in both the situations.
I had a young lady say to me—I start the book Smartphone Sanity off with this story—she said, “I was trying to help her, and her mom figure out the smartphone situation. I thought I could help because I had a lot of knowledge. I was the youth pastor for this young lady and her brother, and they both really liked me, so I thought I had some cultural sway and some social equity with them. But it ended like in tears between the daughter and her mother—mad tears, angry tears. She said to me, the young lady said, “David, the stricter the parent, the sneakier the teenager.
In essence, she said, “I'm at war with my mom, and the more she tries to tighten these rules down, the more I'm going to sneak around them.” Control begets control. And this is from a family that the parents were divorced. The moral of this story, the young lady ended up with two iPhones—one iPhone for her dad's house and one iPhone for her mom's house.
She had effectively triangulated her parents. The mom got tighter. The tighter the mom got, the looser the dad got because he's like, “See, I'm the better parent. I'm the one who lets you do whatever you want. I trust you.” In reality, it was giving this kid way too much freedom that she hadn't earned and boundaries that she was transgressing, that she actually needed her father to have stronger boundaries. Probably the mom needed to loosen up for a while.
So yes, if you're thinking about this, I would say the number one thing to do with your kids is realize this is going to be an ongoing conversation. I think the best thing for parents in whatever situation, you’ve got to figure out with wisdom—actually, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, Ron, because where Axis gets to be the expert on smartphones, you're the expert on helping and tons of experience with helping blended families.
What Axis recommends is that you write down what your family's kind of rules are, or your family's principles or precepts. You try to make it like not offensive but there's a lot of funny contracts online. Because it's just good to say if you're not going to allow phones in the bedrooms, then it's good to write that down. It's also good to say that sending a nude photo is wrong and even having that written down somewhere, they need to hear it from you.
And then as far as like a phone trajectory, I think a really good one is like Pinwheel or something like it if they're younger. If it's too late, it's too late. That is fine; you can figure it out.
Second thing, maybe getting an Apple watch because it has a lot of the function and the street cred of an iPhone but not all the function. You can't browse a ton of stuff on there. Then an iPhone eventually, and you could give them an iPhone without a browser on it. You can give them an iPhone without the app store, which is what I recommend when you start off. But you want to have your 16- or 17-year-old have a fully unlocked phone while they're still in your home because they have shown you that they're wise. They have shown you that you can trust them, and they've actually sought to be under authority.
But at some point, you don't want them whispering under their breath saying, “I can't wait till I leave home. I can do whatever I want.” And then it's like, well, that might be the situation. You might be the perfect parent and have gotten there, but that's not the situation.
What do you think about that written contract, Ron, and you think multiple homes?
Ron: I love it. I really do. Anything that takes assumptions and makes them explicit so that everybody understands exactly what we're talking about—putting it down on paper in very simple terms; not pages, my goodness, but very simple terms—just helps to get the dialogue going and conversation.
Along with all of these things that you're going to write down, definitely need to share the “Why?” You know, why is it that there's/we're choosing to go with Pinwheel instead of an iPhone when you're 12? What is that about? I want to suggest to parents that you start with you. I always talk to my kids about porn on their phones with me. “I have parental controls on my phone too. I'm a grown man. I can do whatever I want. This is not about being free. This is about what is good for your soul. This is about moving you closer to God, not away from God, and the different things that want to steal your heart and mind and soul.”
And so, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Like that's true for me. I put my phone up at night. I've learned to do this. I didn't used to do this, but I've learned, David, to put my phone up at night, start charging it and put it away so I'm not on it. Hey, adults need to do that too. You start with you as you're explaining to your children why you're going to have that be the principle of how they're going to live as well.
Any sort of hypocrisy immediately just discredits whatever guidelines you want to have in your home. You just start the conversation there. It's a teaching; it's a learning; it's a growing. “Here's how we're going to do business here.”
Now, I immediately hear a listener talking back to me, and what they're saying is, “Yeah, okay, we're going to do that in our home. But in the other home, they're going to go over there and they're going to laugh at our rules. They are going to undermine our rules. They're going to get the phone anyway in that other place.” I just want to quickly come back and say—and I'd love your reaction to this—”Yes, that's exactly right.”
And by the way, if you don't have another home in your blended family, it's going to happen when your kids go to their friend's house. Somebody's going to laugh at your rules. They're going to laugh, “They have a phone, and you don't,” as David said. It's going to happen; that's just a part of our world and life, so don't take it personally. Don't get caught up in that. “Now I've got to overcome, or overwhelm or control my former spouse's parenting, blah, blah, blah.” No, no, no. Don't get into that game because that's a losing game. Just be the parent you are. Manage your home the way you want it to be. Yes, you probably need to have some conversation with your co-parent in the other home, but that's your job, not your child’s task to do. Be the parent you can be.
David: Don't let the phone be the adversary. You can only control what you can control. If your kid gets a fully unlocked phone when they're at your ex's house, then that's not what you want and there's reasons for it and hopefully you can co-parent.
Actually, think that, you know, watching—oh, there was this movie on Netflix that was really helpful to show how phones are addictive. There's always an article that comes out to talk about how it's not in the best interest. Control likes fear, because it's already living in fear, I think, instead of being open-hand and trust in God; but you could be like, “Well, you know the cigarette is to a lung what the smartphone is to the brain.” And yes, that's kind of true. There’re mental health ramifications. But in reality, when you're framing up what's written down—like you said, making explicit what assumptions are—you always want to talk about the good that you're trying to pursue with it. Like, “Look, we want to be better people.”
I think a lot of things, putting it around mental health, we want to have better mental health. We want to have lower anxiety as a family. One of the best ways to do that is to be outside every now and then, is to have real face-to-face conversations with friends and each other, is to not have our phones at a lot of meals. These are good things.
I would say even—so if you're looking for a framework for some of the big ideas, I think there are eight big ideas that you could talk about. Because especially if you're going and you're trying to negotiate with your previous spouse about how you co-parent your kids together. I think there are eight domains that are important to talk about with the smartphone.
Ron: Before you dive in—because I definitely want you to go into this. The Institute for Family Studies in the Wheatley Institute released a survey on teens and tech. And let me just tell you, I want to put some numbers on the very things that you're saying. The research is now showing that children who are in single parent homes and stepfamily homes have far more media phone access than do children in first family intact homes. In other words, children, on average, have one hour, 1.3 hours more than children in biological family homes every single day.
Why is that? Because there's less oversight. There's less cohesiveness between the parenting system as we've been talking about. There's the child who has two iPhones—you know so mom doesn't realize I'm not using her phone, but I'm using dad's phone. There’re just more gaps in the parenting climate—I'll say it that way—and it has something to do with just the natural structure of the home.
All of that to say, “This is not gloom and doom for those who are listening to us right now. This is just, yes, you’ve got to be vigilant. This is something to be aware of and be mindful of and engage it rather than just sit back and just throw up your hands and say, ‘There's not much I can do.’”
Okay, with that, let's talk about eight domains.
David: Yes, that's super helpful. Let's say that you have a healthy co-parenting relationship and you're like, “Okay, let's try to get on the same page or at least partially on the same page.” Here are the eight different big conversations to have, or eight different domains, and four of them have nothing to do with the technical aspect of the phone. They all have to do with your family culture and philosophy.
The first four are philosophical; they're non-negotiables, money, location, and time.
David: Okay, let me explain them. Non-negotiables—you say, “Look, I want to be on the same page and at our house, I don't want the kids looking at porn on a laptop or a phone or a magazine.” So that would be a non-negotiable.
Another one is like, “We want to talk to our kids about sexting.”
Another non-negotiable is like your policy on the phone in the car. Your 16-year-old is driving, and you can't police them, but you can talk about it and saying, “I don't want them to be texting while they're driving.”
There's—I mean, inside Smartphone Sanity, I have a list of like, different kind of big ones that you'd want to say are kind of like the big, hairy, you know, scary kind of stuff. So that'd be the non-negotiables.
The second one is money, and this is one that I hope would be easier to agree upon because you don't want to be paying for the phone twice. It’d just be like having food. You're splitting food costs when the kids are at houses split. But what if you paid for full food cost for that 15-year-old boy who just eats everything?
Okay, so money is like, “Who pays for the phone?” There's an upfront cost. Then it's the ongoing cost of 60 to 80 or 40 or 100 dollars a month, depending on your plan, how you're swinging that. Then what do you do when the phone breaks? What do you do about all the accessories for the phone? That's a different conversation where you might be like, “Look, yes, they can have an iPhone, but they have to pay for it.” where the other one might be like, “Well, I was just going to buy it for them for their 14th birthday” and become the favorite parent for the next 6 months.
Next is location. And so, this is kind of more between the households, but it's like, “Are you allowed to take your phone to church? Are you allowed to have a phone in the bedroom? Are you allowed to have your phone before you finish homework? Are you allowed to have the phone in the shower because it's waterproof? Are you allowed to have the phone at the dinner table?” I mean, those kinds of situations.
And then finally, time. “Are you allowed to be on your phone for 16 hours a day?” I'll say this, there are three/considered three pillars of health. It's diet, exercise, and sleep. But Matt Walker is kind of like one of the leading thinkers out of Berkeley on sleep and he is like, “No, there's two pillars to health. It's called diet and exercise, and then there's the foundation to health, which is sleep.”
You've got this beautiful 17-year-old daughter and her body is in flux and she's thinking about college and she's on the sports team, or she's playing clarinet and she needs sleep because she's growing. She needs tons of it. Well, if she's sleeping with her phone, she's going to go to bed late. You might even be looking up something on your document right there
Ron: I am.
David: She's going to get interrupted in the middle of the night. She's going to be woken up by one or two things in the middle of the night. She's going to have interrupted sleep and it's going to harm her mental health, and really just her ability to be fully who God made her to be in your family because she's not sleeping, and she just happens to need a lot more of it.
Ron: Yes, it's true. Kids in blended family situations are getting less sleep than kids in biological family. Again, guidance rules management. I love these conversations.
These are really good areas to just say, “Hey, this is how we're going to function. This is how we're going to go. All this applies to adults as well as to children.” And the really important thing about what you've said so far that I want to highlight for our listeners is this conversation between coparents.
Now, people are laughing right now because some of them are going “Okay, that's the dumbest thing in the world. Any conversation I have with the other home is not going to produce anything constructive.” And you know who you are. Other people listening right now are going, “Yes, I think we could have that conversation. I think we could see pretty much eye to eye. We're going to have to negotiate on certain things, but we'll figure it out and we just need to have the dialogue.” Exactly, put it on the list of your business plan that you have your regular conversations about.
For those of you that are thinking, “There's no way we can negotiate any of this,” I think it's still worth trying. I'll just say why; because worst case scenario, someday you may have to tell a judge, “Well, I tried,” and document that you tried but that's the worst-case scenario.
Hopefully, what happens is just in approaching them in a soft and gentle way, “Hey, on the behalf of our child, I want to have this conversation with you. I'm hoping we can come to some/see some things similarly, if not the same.” At least you plant seeds that maybe someday take root. You never know how kindness and respect in a tone and conversation is going to lead to a little bit of a heart shift in that person in the other home. I know some of you're going, “No, that's never going to happen.” I get it, but let's just assume miracles are still happening. [Laughter] It might just happen. Act as if that's a possibility.
I think these are wonderful things. By the way, money, one little added thing I would say is what happens if something goes wrong with the phone, or the child loses the phone or breaks the phone? Who's responsible? That's another good co-parent conversation to have so that when you communicate with your child, they know who's accountable.
All of that just helps them to be a little bit more responsible, knowing that they might be accountable for what happens to it.
This is great. This is gold stuff. People just need to think and prioritize. We’ve got to have these conversations.
David: Yes, and it's great to get ahead of it. Some of you will, and a lot of us won't.
And so, to just be gracious with yourself, be gracious with your kid, and if those first four of non-negotiables, money, location, and time, here's the heart behind them. The non-negotiables is like “Your health and your body are sacred. They are important. I want you healthy and safe. I don't want you to get in a car accident because you were texting.”
Ron: Right, right.
David: “I don't want you to send a naked photo because you were bullied or pressured—like your sexuality is sacred. This is this—you're important to me.”
With money is like, “Hey, responsibility is sacred. I want you to learn to be responsible.” You know they might have to pay for the insurance on it. Maybe that's part of it.
Location is like being present with real people in real life; having that skill is so important and sacred.
The time one is like your sleep is sacred and some people might be richer or poorer, or harder or easier situations if everyone has 24 hours. We don't want to give our pearls to swine, as Jesus would say. We don't give the best part of ourselves to a rectangle that fits in our pocket. We want to give it to other people.
I want to talk about the, the four technical conversations.
David: Which you might find easier or more contentious. They're easier because they're clearer, but they might be more contentious because this is the ones where it's not like trying to save somebody money. This is internet browsers, the app store, texting and social media.
All four of these things are technical on your phone. When you give a kid a phone or when they pay for a phone or when they turn 13 or 16 or whatever it is, whenever you get an upgraded phone and you give them your old phone, you can turn off all browsers, so internet browsers. This could be Chrome; this could be Safari. This could be the other 10 options. This could be a VPN, virtual private network. They will give your kid access to the absolute best and the absolute worst of what it means to be a human.
Ron: That's right.
David: They are 30 seconds away from seeing 15 naked people. It's just right there.
The app store is the next one, is like, this is a little more tame, but there's apps on it. They can be distracting, et cetera. You can give them a phone where the app store is turned off. Actually, if you open a Pinwheel phone, it's like on your side as a parent, and then you get to learn how to unlock it. If you open an iPhone, it is just on whoever's side, but then you have to spend your time figuring out how to kind of back it out and lock it down.
The app store is important to turn off because you can download a browser on the app store. You can download 15 browsers. You can download the browser and then delete it on the bus ride home from school. There's plenty of innocent apps and like, you can't have like a lot of extreme stuff on the app store.
And there's texting and social media. You can turn texting off; it's kind of hard to do. But with certain kids' first phones as I would call them, like Pinwheel or Gabb or et cetera, you can turn off the ability to send pictures. So, you know, for example, not to scare everybody, but your kid could be 24 hours in on a phone and they could get like a naked picture. They're not looking for it but it's just like, “Oh, this is a joke or whatever,” so you can start off by turning that.
Then social media. TikTok does something different than YouTube™ does, than Instagram does, than Snapchat does, than all these little Indie Social Media apps, than BeReal does. And so, all of those kind of require on the sweetest, most innocent way is like you finally let your kid have Instagram or whatever they want. They have a great birthday party and you're like, “You get to invite five of your friends to this birthday party because I don't want to have twenty-five people over. I don't want to have 15 people over. Maybe you go a little bit deeper in and like do something that's a little bit more expensive or more fun or whatever it is as a mom or dad.
They want to take a picture of it and post it because they're so excited. They get everybody together and they could take a picture and then they post it. Then the five other kids who weren't invited to this party see that and they feel left out and unloved and hurt. That would just be an innocent way for you as a parent with your wisdom to say, “Hey, let's take a picture of you at this place, but let's not put a picture of everyone so the other people that we couldn't invite don't feel left out.” There's just so much nuance to the social media experience and it's really helpful as a parent to enter in on those.
So again, the four of the philosophical or the ones that you kind of don't have to have a phone are non-negotiables, money, location, and time. The four technical ones that are completely controlled by your phone or your kid's phone is internet browsers, app store, texting, and social media.
Ron: I'm assuming this is all covered in Smartphone Sanity.
David: Yes. It gets 25 percent of the book.
Ron: [Laughter] Good, because there's lots of details there. I know people listening right now are thinking, “Yes, well what about this and what about that?” Okay, so take the deeper dive and go to that next step if you want to learn a little bit more. But I love the way you've laid these out and these are essentials.
Nothing—I just want parents to hear me—nothing about smartphones is going to be easy. Even if you get a Pinwheel, that's cool for a day to your child and then they want something else. They want what their friends have. They want this other thing, and they want you to unlock whatever, and it's going to be an ongoing dialogue and conversation.
I want to commend, David, your tone. Just a few minutes ago when you were talking about how you share this, the why with your children about non-negotiables or about money or location and time, your heart has to come through to your child when you're talking about these things.
Anytime a parent says “No,” and “I said so,” and “I'm the parent, you don't get to say anything otherwise,” you've lost because what got lost in that moment is your love and care and the child's value to you. That's what got lost to them. All they heard was “My rules, my way,” and “You don't care about me.” And ironically, you're doing all this because you do care about us. You’ve got to lead with that, “Because you're so valuable, this is the way we're going to proceed with this.”
Now, they're going to push back; they’re kids. It's what they do. We’ve got to lovingly just sort of softly, gently persist and hang in there. You got any other thoughts or tips around that little part of this whole process?
David: it's the key story at Axis. We had a young lady say to us, she said, “I've only had one real conversation with my dad.” We heard that, we're like, “That's bad.” It's like, “How have you only had one real conversation with your dad? You're having like a thousand conversations on TikTok every single week. What do you mean you only had one conversation with your dad?”
Well, her dad was a pastor, and her dad was a Christian University president for two decades, and her dad was a board member at Axis; one of my personal heroes. It's like, “What? Oh no. How'd this happen?” But then she smiled, and she said again, she says, “I've only had one real conversation with my dad, and we've never stopped having that one conversation.”
It's the idea that you as a parent, God willing, are going to have one conversation with your kid that lasts 60 years. It's continuous; it's ongoing; it has conflict about the smartphone. It has joys about passing the test they've worked really hard on. It has tears of being rejected by someone they like, or it has fear of what happens after high school, or it has frustration with living in two homes or all those different situations, but you get to have one conversation that lasts a lifetime with your kid.
On top of that, you are the most influential person in your kid's life, period. Now this is scripturally true. That's why in Deuteronomy six, in the Bible, it talks about the number one commandment is the “Here O Israel, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind.” You're supposed to love God and then right after that it says, “Teach this to your kids and teach it to your kids when you lie down, when you rise, when you sit down, when you go somewhere.” Like the most important thing is loving God with all that you are and then the very next thing it says is, teach this to your children.
Sociologically, there's a book that came out called Handing Down the Faith, from Notre Dame. It's from a PhD named Christian Smith. He studied teenagers and their faith formation for the last two decades for in the national study for Youth and Religion. And he's like, in this book, he's like, empirically true. There's no one more influential in the life of a kid than their parent.
Parents, you may not feel that you're the most influential. You probably shouldn't and don't feel especially through some of the tumultuous teenage years but know that the work that you are doing will have return, know that your consistency really matters, and know that you are a one conversation parent. You've got this. You can do it. Ron and the team at FamilyLife are here to encourage and support you. Axis and the team, we're here to support you. Yes, you're going to have many conversations.
The smartphone is like the biggest fight right now, so expect to feel like it's a battleground in many times. The more you can recontextualize it around your love for your kid, that you want what's best for them, and honestly, to say that you need their help, like having a teenager in your household is like having at-home tech support.
It's pretty awesome. [Laughter] They're going to know stuff.
I'll put one more thought on this, and this is a question for Ron. Let's say someone says, “Hey Ron, we're going to sponsor like a dream vacation for you and Nan to go on for like six days. You can go anywhere in the world and it's like all in. What would you choose?” This is a/this is going to be a parable, so, but go ahead, tell me Ron.
Ron: I think we'd go to New Zealand, probably, or Hawaii, one of those two.
David: Okay, so an island somewhere.
David: And then say like last minute, you're like, “Man, I'm going on this amazing trip. David, I just hung out with you and Lindsey; you want to come on this trip with us?
We'll have a lot of fun going to New Zealand.” Let's say the situation, so there's four of us, we're going on this trip, it's going to be amazing, land in New Zealand and as soon as the plane hits the tarmac, we get off there, I just start complaining. I'm like, “You know, I just don't really like—people eat so much lamb here; can I just have some beef?” [Laughter] “I'm just tired of all this lamb.”
And then you want to go on—of course, because you want to go to the Lord of the Ring; you want to go to the Hobbit town. I'm like—
Ron: That's right.
David: —“No way; this is so stupid. Only nerds like Lord of the Rings. I don't want to go there.” And then I'm like, “I hate this accent. Why can't they just speak English the right way?”
Ron: [Laughter] I'd be dumping you as fast as I could, man.
David: Right, right. You'd be like, “You're ruining my dream vacation.” My point is that often happens between parents and their kids. A kid will be so excited about this island named TikTok. Or actually this island named Fortnite because really, Fortnite is a video game based on an island theme. You land on the island and parents is like, “This is so stupid. Why are you wasting your time? Go work on your homework. Why would anyone like this? Your generation sucks. Millennials sucked. Gen Z sucks. I hate all these other; the only good generations are Boomers and Gen Xers.”
Then all of a sudden, what was a moment where your kids said, “I'm going to stamp your passport to Gen Z. You can come see something that's important to me,” we've already rejected it. When they were just opening the door to their heart to show, “Hey, this is something that's important to me. This is something that I'm curious about. This is something I'm excited about.” Instead of having that position of curiosity and interest, we've just shut the door and been kicked out of the country and not included on the vacation, and they're trying to dump us, deservedly so.
So again, as a parent to have that curiosity to enter into their world, we need the rising generations wonder and they need your wisdom as a parent.
Ron: You know it occurs to me—one last thought about that—if you can't give them, if you're saying no to something, internet browser on their phone and it's somehow tied to a dream, to be able to understand that dream well enough to hear them, to hear their heart, to recognize what it is that they're going to be missing out on, and to then wonder with them if there's a different way to get there just not with this internet browser, whatever it might be. I mean, at least you're paying attention. You're listening to the dream; you're trying to enter into their world. That's a great analogy.
You're seeking to connect with them around things that they value and cherish and then at the same time, offering wisdom and boundaries within it. That's difficult. That's challenging. This is why parenting needs prayer all over it: up, down, left, right. It's a difficult process, but it's one the Lord has given to us, so we’ve got to trust Him with.
David, thank you so much for being with me today. Appreciate your wisdom, appreciate Axis and all that you're doing for parents everywhere. Thanks.
You know a lot of parenting, folks, is just showing up. And sometimes that means you get put into places that you didn't want to go, conversations you didn't want to have. Maybe today you've had one of those experiences like, “I know I need to do this. I know we need to revisit this or that,” and yet it's brought up some angst just anticipating that conversation with a child, with a co-parent in the other household, whatever it might be. It can be difficult; strive to show up.
Recently, podcast number 97, we talked with Brian Goins about protecting your kids from porn. Two days later, two days later, I got a text from a parent who showed up.
She listened to the podcast. She said, “I'm going to do something about this.” This is what she sent me. “Just wanted to say because of the podcast about porn, we had the best conversation last night at the dinner table.” [Laughter] Of course, it was at the dinner table. Like that might not be the be ideal place for you, but she's just jumping on it, right? This mom was just going to jump on it. She said, “Such good information and talking points. I've shared it with all of my friends.” What she did is let the podcast ignite a dialogue that she needed to have with her children and it boar some fruit.
Okay, parents, I want to suggest to you: after today's episode, use this episode the same way. Ask some questions, some new questions of yourself, other parents that are involved in your children, with the kids. Sign up for the free Culture Translator; take the next step, whatever that is, and bring some sanity to the smartphones in your home. And watch what God can do when you show up.
I'm so glad you've been a part of this episode today and listened and joined us.
If you haven't subscribed, please do that. We would love to have you catch whatever we're coming up with in 2023 and beyond. You can learn more about David and Axis.org in our show notes, so feel free to take a look at that.
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Do want you to know we’ve got some live events coming up soon. I'm going to be at the WinShape Retreat facility north of Atlanta in Rome, Georgia. This is March 17 through 19. It's one of my favorite events of the year. Couples get to come, retreat, relax, enjoy each other. We spend time having meals and talking and sharing about blended family living. I'd love to spend time with you. That's WinShape Retreat, March 17 through 19.
And then make sure you've got on your calendar our next Blended and Blessed® livestream, Saturday, April 29th. You can sit at home and be a part of this whole livestream. Basically, a marriage seminar designed specifically for blended family couples, and your church can also host it, as well, for a group of couples. We make that very easy and affordable for you to do. If you happen to live in Melbourne, Florida, or anywhere near there, come join us for the live audience Saturday, April 29th. Again, the show notes will get you connected to all of that information.
Well, next time, on FamilyLife Blended, Gayla Grace and I are going to be talking about Stepping Stones for Stepfamily Success, so I hope you can join us for that. That's, next time, on FamilyLife Blended.
I'm Ron Deal, thanks for listening. I want you to know FamilyLife Blended is produced by Marcus Holt and Josh Batson, mastering engineer, Jarrett Roskey. Our project coordinator, Ann Ancarrow, and our theme music composed and performed by Braden Deal.
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