FamilyLife This Week®

Screen Kids

with Arlene Pellicane | January 9, 2021
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Screens are everywhere in our world. While it is smart to keep your kids from getting a smartphone too young, they will still need to be trained how to interact with them. Arlene Pellicane presents data and coaches parents to address this critical issue with their kids.

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Screens are everywhere in our world. Arlene Pellicane presents data and coaches parents to address the critical issue of smartphone usage with their kids.

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Screen Kids

With Arlene Pellicane
January 09, 2021
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Michelle: Arlene Pellicane and her husband James love their son Ethan. In fact, they love him so much they haven’t given him a smartphone yet, making him one of the

five percent of American teens who don’t own smartphones.

Arlene: We always thought it was safer for him to travel without a phone—right?—of what could happen, too, versus—“Okay; we give the phone because it makes us feel like you’re safe: but now you’re tempted to look at porn; now, you’re tempted to play video games all the time; now, you’re tempted to talk to friends, who we’re like, ‘Who is this friend you are talking to?’”—you know, etc. We always felt like, “We want you to be independent to solve your own problems, and we don’t want to put that kind of temptation right inside of your pocket.”

Michelle: We’re going to talk about temptations and addictions that maybe some of those 95 percent of the kids, who own smartphones, are facing. We’ll talk about that with Arlene Pellicane on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.

Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. I want you to stop and think with me—think about the last time that you left your home—maybe, you went to the grocery store; maybe, it was a restaurant; work; maybe, it was church—all social distancing, of course—but what did you observe? What did you observe of the kids, young and old? Were many of them watching screens?

You know, screens in the hands of younger brains—they really are at a disadvantage—and it’s creating a new form of mental health and behavior problems. Listen to this; these are just a few of those disorders: internet addiction disorder, internet gaming disorder, pathological video game use, pathological technology use, mobile phone dependence. Those are just a few of the issues that are facing us and our kids these days.

You know, I’ve been doing some reading on this, and I have some deep concerns for our next generation. To help me get some perspective, I’m going to call on my good friend, Arlene Pellicane. Arlene is an author and speaker; and recently, she coauthored a book with Gary Chapman titled Screen Kids.


Arlene, I loved your book. I was drawn in because—

Arlene: Oh, I’m so glad.

Michelle: —there’s just so much research and so much to learn about screens and kids. Actually, by the time ended, I was almost filled with anxiety about: “What’s going on? What’s going to be happening with our next generation?” I know how hard it is for me

Arlene: Yes.

Michelle: —to put the screen down, so what do screens do to a young brain?

Arlene: My goodness. You know that kind of anxiety that you felt?—Dr. Chapman and I—we certainly want to bring people peace; but sometimes, you get the peace by getting shook up a little bit. [Laughter]

Michelle: Right.

Arlene: So that’s what this book does—is that you read these things; you understand. Especially, if you think of a child—the younger and younger the child is, whether it’s your child or your grandchild—then the more is at stake. If your child starts going crazy on video games—and they are 14 years old—that’s going to be a lot different than if your child is 4 or 5 years old and goes crazy on video games. Age really does matter in this case.

I think what we want to do, in the book, is really take the veil off. We have accepted technology, particularly during the pandemic, because it’s our way to connect; but we want to take that veil off of: “Don’t just blindly accept all this technology; but recognize, ‘How does this technology impact your child?’” Different stuff does different things. If you wonder: “Why can’t my child regulate their mood? Why do they just break down so easily if I take this away?—they just melt and freak out,”—

Michelle: Right.

Arlene: —“Why, when they have a school challenge, they just: ‘Oh, I can’t do it!’?” It’s this part in the brain—that prefrontal cortex that’s been starving—that’s made for mood regulation, decision making, common sense, reasoning—and it’s being affected.

That’s just one of many ways that the brain is being affected. I think that kind of, when you’re looking at your child or your grandchild, you can picture like, “What is actually happening in the brain of my child?” That can get us moving and wanting to change things if we picture it that way.

Michelle: You were mentioning about gaming. What about a little five-year-old, who grabs his mommy’s phone at the grocery story, because he’s just beyond bored; and it’s—

Arlene: Yes.

Michelle: —a pacifier!

Arlene: Yes.

Michelle: What’s happening in his brain?

Arlene: Yes; you have to think your child/you need your children to be able to soothe themselves. So just this whole idea of: “I’m bored; I can find a way to soothe myself,”—whether it’s “I start counting red items in the grocery store,”—

Michelle: Right; right.

Arlene: —to “I grab a book, and I start reading it,”—

Michelle: —or “I start coloring.”

Arlene: —“or I spy...” “I do things,”—

Michelle: Right.

Arlene: —whether it’s falling asleep, or whether it’s just surviving a grocery store trip, etc. Those are really necessary skills. If a child, from a very young age—whenever there is any kind of tension: “Oh, you know they are bored,” or “Oh, they are making some noise,” or “They are getting in the way,”—“Here, have a screen,”—then it really becomes the only avenue that that child can be soothed.

Now, you, as the parent or grandparent, you’ve kind of unleashed this really ugly cycle that, when my child gets ugly, they need a screen; and nothing seems to pacify them like the screen. That’s where the danger comes—is now your child is conditioned, and their brain is conditioned that: “This is how I soothe myself,” “This is how I amuse myself,” and nothing else really compares to it. That’s when we have to be like, “Oh no! This is not healthy.”

Michelle: I have a coworker, who has a large family; and all of their children sit through church—

Arlene: Yes.

Michelle: —all of them sit in the pew with them from the time they are like

six months/maybe, nine months—they sit there. I remember other church members going and asking them, “How do you do this?!” His answer was: “We don’t let them watch half-hour shows; we have them do other things.

Arlene: Yes.

Michelle: “We have them do things at the house or outside,” so they are not conditioned for a half-hour time period.

Arlene: So good; right?—because that is now normal. When we feel so defeated, like, “Oh, our kids couldn’t do that,” your kids can do it; you know? It’s just our responsibility to give them practice. The way they practice that is being okay with being bored—so not to rescue your child every time they say, “Oh, I’m bored,”—“Oh, here is a show you can watch.”

Michelle: In your book, Screen Kids, you helped me see that the internet addiction disorder is actually a thing. Coach parents to see and just recognize what it looks like if your child is addicted.

Arlene: Yes; so you would use this word, “addiction.” It would be the kind of thing that prolonged/this prolonged behavior—whatever it is—is going to cause harm to your child so that you see: “Okay; if my child continues doing this—continues gaming this much/continues on social media this much—continues needing it, this is going to be really harmful for them.” Maybe, you see that—some of those warnings would be:

“They are only happy when they are doing that activity; so they are only happy when they are able to game/when the phone is in their hand.” They sneak around to use it: “What are you doing?” “Oh, nothing,” “Oh, you’re playing a game; aren’t you?”

Nobody is waking up in the middle of the night to do their algebra homework online. You know we don’t have to worry about school in this way; but what would your child wake up in the middle of the night to do; right?—whether that is gaming, texting friends, be on social media, etc.—so you see them doing it at strange times, like, “What are you doing?”

They withdraw from people. Instead of maybe, “Hey, let’s go to Grandma’s house,” “Oh, I’d rather just stay home.” You see this withdrawal with people; they prefer being with their devices rather than people. They start/the activities they used to love—maybe, they used to love playing the drums, or going running, or soccer—and now, all of a sudden, they are like, “Yes; it’s okay. I don’t think I’m going to try out for the team this year, Mom.” Instead, they are interested in gaming, or social media, etc. You see them withdraw from other activities.

When you start seeing these things—and let’s say they can’t—a great test is just go one day without it. You know, if we just took this/if we just did something different for a day, or if we went camping for a weekend, if there are no complaints, then you can feel like, “Hey, they are doing pretty good”; but if all weekend long—it’s: “Man, we’ve got to get home,” “Man, I’ve got to get back on my social media,” “Oh, my goodness! My streak is over; I’ve got to get back on my video game,”—then you know, “This is a problem.” Those are some ways that you can test it.

Michelle: If they test it, and the parents find out—or grandparents even—

Arlene: Yes.

Michelle: —find out that something is happening here, and there is most likely an addiction, help a parent help a child.

Arlene: Yes.

Michelle: What do they do?

Arlene: Yes; this is that whole idea of parents rising and grandparents rising. You’ve got to do the hard work, now. Of course, the base of all of this has got to be relationship; right? We’re not telling you: “Go in there and clean up house!” But I am saying, “Clean up house”; but do it in way that your kids understand: “I am on your side,” as best you can. Maybe, this looks like an apology:

“Hey, I’ve let you play this video game, because I didn’t want you to feel left out with your friends; but I see that you’re gaming more and more. You used to just do it one hour a day. Now, you’re kind of at two/three hours a day; and I just don’t think that’s going to be healthy for you, going forward. I know that might be hard to understand, and this is a way you connect with your friends. I’m really sorry for how this must feel to you.

“I’m really sorry; but I think, as your parent, I have to be responsible. There are too many people flunking out of college because of a gaming addiction. I don’t want that to be you. I want you to have a bright future, where you can choose what you want to do—that you are not addicted to anything.”

That’s the problem with digital media. For instance, if this was a cocaine problem, you could say, “Okay; you cannot be near cocaine, because that’s obviously a big deal for you.” But for kids, they are going to be part of the online world for the rest of their lives. That’s why it is so important, as kids, that we give them the chance of being kids—of having a childhood—of not graduating out of your home with this crutch of: “Man, I’ve got to play my video game or else I don’t know what to do.”

To that parent, I would say, “It might sound really harsh, but the best thing you could do for your child is say, ‘You know what? Until you go to college, that game—we’re not playing that at our house—sorry.’” Is that going to be a popular decision?—probably not—but is that a decision that is really going to protect your child?—yes.

Because nobody says, as a parent: “Oh, you know, I should have let him game more; that would have just made his life so much better. If I just would have not been so strict, and I just would have let him game whenever he wanted to, that would have really helped him in life.” No one says that—like, “I wish I would have given my girl social media sooner so she could have this slide of anxiety and depression,”—nobody says that; but they all say the opposite—right?—“I wish I would have waited.”

Michelle: We need to take a break; but when we come back, I want to hear from you how your kids are actually living life without smartphones. We’ll be back in two minutes, and we’ll hear that answer. Stay tuned.

[Radio Station Spot Break]

Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. We are talking today with Arlene Pellicane, and she is the coauthor of a book entitled Screen Kids. She wrote it with Dr. Gary Chapman.

Arlene, you have three children; and none of them have smartphones. I’m just curious: “What does your oldest think of that?”—because he has got to be in a time and a place, where he’s going to school and either he needs to get a hold of you—or his friends are like, “Dude, why don’t you have a smartphone? Do you not have cool parents? Why couldn’t you have talked them into that?” I’m just thinking there has got to be some issues going on that he has to face, whether getting in touch with you or your husband, or just being a young teenager.

Arlene: Sure; I love this question; it’s such a good question. Ethan is a junior. You have to see the philosophy is: “Kids these days/they don’t know how to solve their own problems.” Because, when they have a problem, they grab their phone; they text their mom, and they say, “What should I do?”; mom tells them that.

My husband James is like, “No; my children are not going to grow up that way. They are going to grow up the way I grew up, which means, ‘I have a problem; I have to figure this out,’—there is a little bit of pain involved—‘I figure this out.’” The joke is: “Oh, you don’t have your own phone; but you can just ask your friend, who is one foot away from you, ‘Hey, could I borrow your phone to text my mom?’” That is, in reality, what happens. [Laughter]

It’s communication—my son was, before the pandemic, he is riding three miles to school on his bicycle by himself without a smartphone—we’ll talk about that. He’ll say, “Mom, if I have a flat tire, then I will start walking, just like I would start walking if I had a smartphone; it doesn’t matter.”

In the absence of the smartphone, you kind of have to figure things out. It really has been a plus for my son; because we always thought it was safer for him to travel without a phone—right?—of what could happen versus: “Okay; we give the phone because it makes us feel like you are safe; but now, you are tempted to look at porn; now, you’re tempted to play video games all the time; now, you’re tempted to talk to friends that we’re like, ‘Who is this friend you are talking to?’—etc.

We always felt like, “We want you to be independent/to solve your own problems, and we don’t want to put that kind of temptation right inside of your pocket.” Those were just—so it is important to see the why—

Michelle: Yes.

Arlene: —and to communicate that to your child so they understand that. Now, my children, from the time they were very young, they’ve known—you know they, are two years old [speaking as a child]44: “I will never have a smartphone,”—[Laughter]—it wasn’t like news to them. [Laughter] As a result, nobody asks; nobody badgers us, like, “Mom, we live in 2020; coronavirus; can we get a phone?” Not one question during the coronavirus, like, “Mom, could we potentially get a phone now?”

The way we handle it is—they can grab my smartphone whenever they want to for group chats and staying in touch with people. My phone might blow up, but I don’t care; that’s great: “Please use my phone.” Then they have Google Voice numbers, which allow them to chat with their friends. My son is the captain of the debate team, co-captain of a quiz bowl team; so he communicates all that through text on Google Voice on the computer. There is a way around it; because people will ask, “How does he communicate with people?” He does it that way or uses my phone.

He teaches piano lessons to elementary school students, so he uses that voice number for those kinds of calls; and again, with his friends too. He/we have technology in the house; it’s just that it’s desktop or laptop technology that doesn’t travel with you. That makes it easier so that you’re not always checking, and you’re not always looking.

He has found a way—and he is very frugal—we told him, “If you ever do get a phone, like, you’ll have to pay for it yourself.” That is also part of it with kids—[Laughter]

Michelle: Right.

Arlene: —is let them have buy-in and let them feel like, “Wow, this is expensive to have that.” That’s a good responsibility lesson and an economic lesson as well. Don’t just give it to your kids; you know? For Ethan, he’ll say, “No; even if you said I could have one, I probably wouldn’t have one; because [speaking like son] it’d be an unnecessary expense.” Now, he is very frugal.

Michelle: Oh funny.

Arlene: That works for him.

I think, sometimes, we, as parents, we are fearful; and we project that onto our kids. But when we are confident, like, “Hey, you’re going to make it just fine without a phone,” they find a way. It’s/I think it’s really good for them. You know, kids are going to be different; why not be different this way?

Michelle: And well, what I’m hearing from you—and also what I got from the book—was that limiting time on smartphone, on a screen, on anything allows more conversation to flow.

Arlene: Yes.

Michelle: That’s actually where we need to be.

Arlene: Yes; that that’s where you get your sense of belonging; because what’s happening is—say, your child is going into middle school or maybe they are in sixth, seventh, eighth grade—they start talking about, like, “Hey, could I have that phone?” You’re thinking, “Oh, I want them to have the phone to connect with other people”; but that’s the age, where they are going to find their identity.

They are really looking for belonging; and all of a sudden, if they are looking at that through social media, that’s going to be the wrong benchmark. Then, all of a sudden, “I have to be popular, because my body has to look like this.” I have to be popular how people quantify it—like: “How many followers do I have?” “How many likes do I have?” Now, it’s a number; it’s quantifiable. I can see, “I’m a loser”; right?—those are the wrong things.

It’s really sad that, during a very vulnerable part of our child’s life, we’re like, “Okay; I guess everyone is doing this; here you go.” Where I would say, “Delay that device; delay social media.” When they ask those questions, let them find the answers in: “I really am good with animals,” “I take care of my dog,” “I’m a good dog trainer,” “I’m good at math,” “My parents love me,” “I’m useful at church,” “I volunteer.” Let them find that belonging/that meaning in other places. That’s going to be so much healthier for your kid.

Michelle: How do we teach our kids how to love and honor God with our phones?

Arlene: Yes; you know, I love the conversation you can have with kids about: “Is this a digital vegetable, or is this digital candy?” The idea would be: “Of course, there is technology that is very helpful;”—like what you are listening to right now is because of the modern age of technology—“and we’re trying to equip you to live for God in this world with your family.” That’s cool, so that’s a digital vegetable. When your kids have to do online school—so now they are online, and they are learning—that’s a vegetable. When they are Skyping Grandma, that’s a vegetable.

You’ll know; because kids aren’t like, “Oh, please, can I Skype Grandma in the middle of the night?” So you’ll know; [Laughter]they don’t get addicted to these kinds of things. But of course, the candy is: YouTube, TikTok, social media—

Michelle: Right.

Arlene: —video games. That might be okay in small doses, but what typically happens—it’s like putting a bag of open M&M’s in your child’s pocket and say, “Good luck with that,”—“I don’t want you to eat any M&M’s; just eat one today.” It’s not going to happen; so good luck with that.

When you look at a digital vegetable, you can tell them, “Look for things that honor God,”—those are usually the vegetables: those are the sermons that you listen to online; that’s the water project you are learning about in Africa; that’s getting in touch with your family members; that’s, maybe, texting a friend and inviting them to church—those are digital vegetables; those are ways to honor God. But the digital candy—I tell you what—if you, as a parent or grandparent—just scroll through TikTok, you’ll know there is not much there that glorifies and honors God at all.

So that’s a good parameter: “Does this honor God? Does this glorify God?” And a way to talk to kids is: “Hey, is that a digital vegetable that’s good for you, or is that digital candy?”

Michelle: That’s a good/that’s a really good point. Talk to a mom or a dad, who is exhausted. I’m thinking, maybe, even a single mom or a single dad, who is exhausted at the end of the day. It’s so easy to throw a screen at them or not to have the fight to go and play outside. Just coach them through how to have those conversations with their kids/how to be present with their kids when they are exhausted.

Arlene: Yes; I think there is going to be a point, where you are like: “The pain of staying the same is more than the pain of change”; because it’s so easy to just keep going. But there will be a point, where you’ll have to reach, where it is like, “Man, they/this can’t be this way. I’ve got to do something.”

At that genesis of—“I’ve got to change,” then think of something really doable. Maybe, it’s Friday night that you say, “Hey, guys, every Friday night now, we’re going to do a family movie night instead of everyone just going off in their own corners and watching whatever they want. We’re going to choose something that our whole family can watch together. We’re going to pop popcorn, and that’s going to be the only screen time of the whole evening.” Maybe, you start with that; it’s like, “That’s doable. That means no video games, no social media; that’s going to be our thing.” You get that Friday night in place, and it starts working. You’re like, “Hey, this is good.” One Friday night, you say, “You get to choose a movie.” Another Friday night, “You get to choose a movie,” or “Revenge!”—etc.

Then, like you were saying for that exhausted parent, instead of being so overwhelmed, like, “I’m such a loser parent, doing nothing,” just say, “You know what? For five minutes every day”—or maybe, ten minutes every day—“I’m going to sit with my child; and I’m going to read to them.” Let’s say you have a small child, and you’re just overwhelmed; but you can do this. If you say to yourself: “From 7 to 7:05, I can certainly stop everything, sit next to that child, and read for five minutes.” You do that every night, five-minute read. All of a sudden, now, you’re building a really healthy habit that, in time, will start to pull you; it’ll be like, “Okay; it’s our reading time.” Then it can grow from five minutes to ten minutes.

I’m not saying like [speaking strictly], “Oh, for good parents, you have to watch your child and be next to them the entire time they are home.” No; but you do need these pockets that are screen-free, that are just you and your child/you and your grandchild, and doing something together. Believe me, if you have a child, who is young enough that you can read to them, you want to take advantage of that time; because when they are teenagers, they don’t want to sit next to you for you to read to them a book.

Michelle: They grow up too fast; they grow up way too fast.

Arlene: If you’ve got a young child, you need to have that—say, “I can do that five minutes a night; I can do that,”—start there.

Michelle: Arlene, thank you so much for, not only educating us on screens and the effect on our children, but coaching us through how to have stronger relationships with our children/with our families. Thank you very much for joining me today.

Arlene: Thanks so much, Michelle.

Michelle: Arlene Pellicane, coauthor of Screen Kids with Dr. Gary Chapman. If you’re noticing problems with your child, I just encourage you not to wait to act or even to get help for them; because if I were you, I would so much rather hear from the doctor, “Don’t worry; this isn’t that bad yet. Here are just some practical things to work on…” rather than, “Well, you haven’t caught this in time; your child needs some clinical intervention.”

If you’re wondering just what to look for, first take the Screen Kids quiz that Arlene has; and you can find that at our website at We’ll also have a link there to an article by Neurohealth Associates, which gives you further information on what is happening with screens and kids today.

Hey, next week, on FamilyLife This Week, we’re going to talk with Holley Gerth. She is going to walk us through a mission statement. What?!4—you don’t have a mission statement for your life!—like: “Do you know where you are going in life?” “Do you have something to look at?” Maybe, something for you and your spouse to look at, or something as a whole family to look at, and really map out: “Where are you going in life?” We’ll talk with Holley Gerth about why that’s important. That’s next week on FamilyLife This Week.

Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producer, Marques Holt. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.

Our program is a production of FamilyLife Today®, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.

I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.


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