Cultural Pressures, Digital Devices: Ron Deal with Dr. Meg Meeker
Ever feel like digital devices are breathing down your family's neck? Dr. Meg Meeker discusses the challenges parents encounter with tech--like setting and maintaining wise boundaries, and following through with healthy choices for your kids.
About the Guest
- Connect with Meg Meeker and catch more of her thoughts at MeekerParenting.com
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Ever feel like digital devices are breathing down your family’s neck? Dr. Meg Meeker gets real about healthy boundaries and wise choices for your kids.
Cultural Pressures, Digital Devices: Ron Deal with Dr. Meg Meeker
Ann: Let me ask you this question. What do you think are the cultural pressures that families are facing today that we never had to face when our kids were growing up?
Dave: The first thing that comes to my mind is digital—cell phones, devices.
Ann: Me too.
Dave: Today that is a part of, an appendage of the body. It’s in your hand every second, and you have to deal with that as a parent.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: We’re going to sort of dive into that a little bit today. We get to listen to Ron Deal, who is the Director of our FamilyLife Blended®, and a podcast he did with Dr. Meg Meeker. It’s actually episode #41. Many know Ron is the Director of FamilyLife Blended and one of the most widely-read authors on blended families in the country. You knew that?
Ann: I did.
Dave: Yes, of course he is. He’s the best.
Ann: We’re a fan of Ron’s.
Dave: There’s nobody better. Dr. Meg Meeker—I don’t know if you know this, Ann—she’s from Michigan.
Ann: I didn’t even know she was a pediatrician.
Dave: She’s a doctor, she’s a writer, she’s a scholar. Her book years ago, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, and Strong Mothers, Strong Sons sold millions. She’s been all over the place, and she is a wise, not only doctor, but mom.
Ann: She’s a podcaster, too. Her podcast is called Parenting Great Kids [see: meekerparenting.com/podcasts], and that’s reached over 4 million listeners.
Dave: So Ron sat down with Doctor Meg, and they talked about raising kids in this culture and the pressures we just talked about. We’re going to listen in, so here’s a part of their conversation:
Ron: Doctor Meg, social media inherently gives a performance-based value self-esteem to kids, does it not?
Meg: Oh, absolutely. And now we know that time on social media is directly related to level of depression girls have, and it makes perfect sense. If a girl spends an hour on social media, looking at what her friends are posting, and how lovely her friends are, and the good life her friends have, and how smart they are, and how athletic they are, and how they have this boyfriend, well even after an hour she’s going to shut that off and think, “Oh, man. My life is not that great.”
Now you put her on for three, four hours every single day, and she is going to feel so badly about herself. Depression is all about self-hatred. It’s really the self turning on the self. It’s not the self being mad at other people. She can get suicidal. We know it’s a doorway to very serious depression. The difficulty I have, Ron, is convincing parents of that.
Ron: Do you think it’s just because we think, “Well, it can’t be that bad,” or “Man, I do Facebook for ten minutes a day and then I’m kind of done with it, so it doesn’t really do much to me. It’s not doing anything to my kids.” Do you think that’s what it is?
Meg: Yes. Everyone believes that their child can handle this, that their child is a good kid, and they’re going to be able to look at this and think, “Alright, but that doesn’t affect me.” Of course, it affects them.
Ron: One of the things parents miss is the immediacy of social media. All of us went to school on Monday morning and heard about the party on Saturday that we were not invited to, and we all felt left out and we all felt a little lonely.
But now they live not being at the party in real time. They see moment to moment what’s happening on that Saturday social gathering that they’re not a part of, and all of a sudden their isolation and loneliness is magnified tremendously, over and over and over again in real time. It’s a different level of impact, I think, that we underestimate.
Alright, parents need to do something. What kind of guidelines would you offer parents about helping their kids with screens and social media?
Meg: One of the things I recommend first of all, I fight very hard and usually I fight parents very hard to delay giving their kids a cell phone. Again, “My daughter’s a good kid, she’s 13 years old, lots of kids—"
Ron: All her 9-year-old friends have one.
Meg: Yes, exactly. “Her 9-year-old friends have one. (A) I don’t want my daughter to be the outcast, and (B) She’s so good, she can handle it.” No, she can’t, even if she’s a good kid. Kids can’t regulate the amount of time that they’re on social media. So, I try to help them delay giving them cell phones as long as they can. There is absolutely no way a 10- or even 13-year-old boy or girl should have a cell phone where they can connect to the internet, even if they’re good kids.
I’ll tell you what happens. What the parents forget to think about is that your kid is not only in charge, you open the world to your kid, so you allow all of these people to come on and approach your child. So that’s the first thing I’d do. The second thing I’d do is really put limits on technology and make it a family rule. Don’t just say, “Daughter, you’re on social media five hours a day. You have to stop that. We’re going to make you—”
No, everybody in the family has maybe half an hour in the morning, half an hour in the evening where they’re allowed recreational time in front of a screen, and they’re done. That means mom and dad shut off their phone and stop checking their email. If you find your child really has a hard time when you tell them to get off video games or social media, and they have a fit, that’s a big red flag that they’re addicted to it. And that’s all the more reason to dial it down and ween your child off the internet.
Ron: I know the research is clear. There is an addictive quality to this, the dopamine rush that hits. It is neurological.
Meg: It’s real.
Ron: It’s real.
Meg: It’s physiologic. Yes, it is.
Ron: And we as adults are just as addicted. Something I keyed in on what you just said, everybody has to be self-disciplined, and when adults are modeling, “Yes, I’m on my phone all the time,” “Yes, we’re sitting at dinner and I’m looking at my phone instead of talking to you sitting across the table from me,” what does that communicate to a child?
That we allow third parties to impact our relationship. We always allow the third person to invade, and the third person in the form of social media on a phone. We have to show them self-discipline, so that they learn the self-discipline of managing those devices when they do ultimately get them.
The next question people are always going to ask, so I’ll ask you: Okay, so what age is the right age?
Meg: For a cell phone with the internet, I say 16.
Meg: Now some people would gasp at that. Ideally it would be 18, because kids don’t have the brain development, the abstract thinking. They don’t have the cognitive ability to understand that what they do and see today is going to impact them in two years. They just don’t.
I negotiated 16 because I know that parents aren’t going to do it. My wish would be it would be at least 18, because kids at least have enough brain cells to begin to be able to navigate some of that. They’re easily influenced, which means the internet can really hurt them, and social media, and by the way, pornography—extremely addictive.
My daughter teaches high school at a Christian school, and she said, “Mom, I’ve almost given up. They’re not supposed to have cell phones in school, but somehow they do, and the kids that are constantly on them, I say, ‘Give me your phone. Give me your phone.’” She said, “It’s such an incredible battle, and I can’t get their parents to support me.”
Ron: Let’s just settle on that for a minute, because I think a lot of this comes down to sometimes we as parents know there needs to be a boundary here, but we don’t make it happen. I’ve often said as a family therapist and somebody comes to me and says, “Okay, this is what’s going on with my kid. Such and such, X, Y, Z, here’s the scenario.” And I say, “What have you tried?” They say, “Well, we kind of talked to him about it,” and I think, “Yeah, okay, that’s not going to do anything.”
And “We did this, but we didn’t really follow through and—” I’m picking up real fast the narrative here is they’re hoping the child will spontaneously choose a different set of behaviors, and “I really don’t want to have to do anything hard,” as the adult. So, my response to them is something like, “Well, the good news is I think there are some things you can do to change that situation. You let me know when you’re ready to actually do something, and I’ll let you know what I’m talking about.”
And then I turn and walk away. Inevitably they’re like, “Well, tell me now,” and I say, “No, you don’t want to change it. You’re kind of okay with it being the way it is.”
“Well, what do you mean? No, I’m not. I’m talking to you.”
“Well, but clearly you are having a hard time setting this boundary.” What is it in us that keeps us from following through?
Dave: You’re listening to FamilyLife Today, and we are listening to a portion of the FamilyLife Blended podcast with Ron Deal and his guest, Dr. Meg Meeker.
Ann: I just think that Ron’s question about why we as parents don’t always follow through—
Dave: Oh, we always follow through. We know—
Ann: I think every parent can relate to that, but we all need to pause and just give thought to it.
Ann: Maybe Meg’s response will be helpful to our listeners.
Meg: We don’t like conflict, and we certainly don’t like conflict with our kids, because we’re afraid if we have conflict we will emotionally push our kids away and they won’t talk to us; they won’t open up; and they won’t connect. They won’t be close to us. Anybody who’s going to be successful at anything in life, relationships, school, work, you name it, has to have self-control.
Ron: That’s right.
Meg: The only way you teach self-control is by—you think about yourself as setting up a boundary. “I can’t do that, but here’s what I can do.” Anytime you tell a child “You can’t do that,” you’re going to have a fight on your hands. Oh well! I’ll never forget my son when he was 14. We didn’t allow video games at all in the house. He’s 14 years old. We had a knock-down drag-out, but I’ll tell you.
He went off to college, and after his freshman year in college he came home and he said, “Mom, I am so grateful that you guys wouldn’t let me play video games at home, because I went to college and when I saw these guys sitting there for six, eight hours a day in a dark room while their parents were paying all this tuition, playing video games, it was horrible.” It didn’t take him long to realize that saying “no” and setting a firm boundary made him into the person he really wanted to be.
Ron: Let me add something to what you just said about why we don’t follow through, because I think our listeners right now, parents and step-parents in blended family situations, there’s another temptation. Everything you said, and “I feel sorry for my kid. They’ve been through a lot. I feel a little guilty about what life has spun in their life and in our world, and I just want to protect them from more.”
And then there’s that feeling for some people, “I’m kind of all they have,” or “I’m the only parental influence. The other home is not a good influence; I need to keep things okay between me and my child, because if I lose some of this connection I’m afraid they’re going to go to the other home.” So fear and anxiety over that, again gets in the way of them saying, “No, I’m sorry. We’re not going to do it that way,” and walking that out.
I feel for anybody listening right now who thinks, “Oh, that’s me. That is me, because, Ron, you don’t know what’s at stake.” You’re right. I don’t, and I get that there is another side to that coin that you have to consider. At the same time, I also know that boundaryless parenting—here’s the irony. If you’re afraid the other home is going to influence them toward something so you have to placate your child left and right, you become the other home. So, finding the courage to lovingly, gently—emphasis on loving and gentle—but set boundaries and limits is an important quality.
Meg: Absolutely. What I would tell parents whenever you feel sorry for your child, stop. Because when you feel sorry for your child, first of all that child knows it right away. Then they feel pathetic. They feel you feel sorry for them because something is really wrong with them, and then they become paralyzed, and that’s the worst thing you can do to a child.
My niece has a son with leukemia, and I remember when he was undergoing this awful, awful treatment and when I was around her, she was tough on him. I felt like, “Don’t do that! That’s so mean!” She said, “Absolutely not. I will treat him like a normal child because right now he feels like a normal child, but if I stop and say, ‘Oh, you poor kid. Oh, this is terrible,’ he starts to feel like a pathetic person.”
You should never, ever do that. I don’t know if you know John O’Leary, but he’s extraordinary. He’s been in a house fire, burned 90 percent of his body, and when he came home from the hospital after months and his sister tried to help feed him, his mother said, “Don’t you dare feed him.” I thought “That’s one of the meanest things I’ve ever heard of anybody doing in my life.” He said, “That was one of the best things. My mom was tough on me, and she said, ‘You will live a normal life.’”
Ron: The message in that is “You are capable. You can figure this out.”
Meg: Absolutely! And feeling sorry for a child—even if you don’t say anything, kids pick up on it right away. They feel like, “I can’t. That’s why my mom feels so bad about me, so everything she does because she feels sorry for me is really bad and it cements the idea that I really can’t do anything, because that’s what she’s teaching me.” So, toughen up on your kids, and they’re going to feel like strong people.
Ron: I love that. Even in their sadness, I think you can join them in their sadness, you can cry with them over the hard things that they have experienced in their life, and then you can say, “Now what are we going to do about it? You’re still responsible to deal with this and to measure your behavior, and I’m going to help you. I’m not going to let you just get away with murder.”
Dave: So Ron, we’ve been listening to just a part of your FamilyLife Blended podcast with Dr. Meg Meeker. Man, some really good stuff here. Any instinct or thought you have based on what Meg said?
Ron: Yes. I love Meg’s passion for us as parents to recognize that we don’t have to let our children be victims of the culture. We can do something about it. I think one of the frustrations that she was alluding to is that sometimes parents feel like “I have to make my children feel like they’re loved all the time, accepted all the time, and so therefore I don’t really ever say ‘no’ to my child.”
But all that does is turn them over to the culture, to the world, to whatever the influence is of the day, whether that comes through a smart phone or media or their friends at school or the neighbor. Whatever that is, everybody else is telling them who they can be, who they should be, rather than us.
Parents just need to embrace that we are the biggest influence in our children’s lives, but if we stand on the sidelines and don’t get into the game, so to speak, then our kids are just going to be susceptible to whatever the world throws at them.
Ann: I think that’s so true. We’ve said it here so often, that if we aren’t intentional, our kids are being discipled by the culture. And yet, I get it for parents, because it feels so big. It can feel so overwhelming, I think at times, that we don’t even know where to start. I think this program and the discussion you had with Meg is so helpful.
Dave: I also think, Ron, that what you just said—Is it just me? I’m seeing a lot of younger parents just saying, “Yes, yes, yes” all the times to their kids, and they never—
Ann: Well, they want their kids to be happy.
Dave: But you said, earlier, Ron, they don’t want to say, “No, you can’t do that,” or “No, we’re going to put limits on that.” What do you think is happening with that, Ron?
Ron: You know, I just think we’re more about making our kids feel good in the moment than we are in seeing the long-term play. Now, not everybody’s like that, and boy, I look back on my parenting, and I was absolutely like that at certain moments in time. So, everybody does it. Yes, we get that. I think the question then becomes, “Okay, what was going on in me when I wimped out right then?”
Ann: Ron, don’t you think sometimes we’re just tired?
Ron: Yes. Yes.
Ann: We’re so tired. “Ughh, I don’t want to deal with it.”
Ron: Yes. I think you’re absolutely right about that. That’s situational. But more often than not, if there’s a repetitive pattern of not really following through, not setting boundaries, then we’re basically just afraid of something. I don’t know what that is. I think it’s different for every parent, but something inside of you is unwilling to get in the game.
Let me share a principle I’ve been chewing on a little bit. You know in James 4 there’s that little verse where he says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
Ron: Hang on for a second. Let me chase a rabbit here. Forever in my life I’ve thought, “Okay, I’m not sure I really get that. Is that an if/then statement? If Ron draws near to God, then God will draw near to him?” Well, I thought God always made the first move. I always thought He was the One who was pursuing me. Even when I am not aware of Him, His grace is there, and He loves me. That sort of sounds like Him coming close to me is completely dependent on me.
No. I don’t think that’s true at all. A quick analogy: have you ever heard somebody say, “I got away with my son or my daughter. We went away for a weekend and we spent some time together. Man, it was so great. We felt so close to one another. I felt like our relationship turned a corner and turned up a notch.” What are they saying? Are they saying, “I’ve never been physically near my son or my daughter until we went away for this little weekend getaway?”
No, obviously that child’s been with you a lot for a long period of time. What they’re saying is, “Our hearts drew closer to one another, and we connected, and there was something there, an emotional connection, an energy, a love that was shared, and that is something I feel like has improved.”
Okay, when James says “Draw near to God,” what he’s saying is “God is always around us. He is ever present. He is right there for the taking. But you have to open yourself to His Word, His wisdom, His ways, and surrender into who God is.” What you will discover is that He was there the whole time, and now you have an intimacy that you can experience. And that is drawing up close to one another.
Okay, back to our question about parenting. We are always there. We’re in their lives all the time. But if we don’t draw up close to our kids, their world, their circumstances, their behavior, and if we don’t say, “Look, I see this. Something here, no. We need to turn. Instead of going this way, we need to go that way, and here’s why. I love you, and we’re going to do this together.”
When we draw up close to them, I think we will find that they were always there waiting for us. Always there, just waiting for us to move into that space where they can feel an intimacy with us, an affection with us. The irony is, they will feel more loved in our discipline, in our presence, because they experience us being close and connected to them. Our influence at that point goes up, not down.
Dave: That’s a good word, Ron, because as parents we all experience this when they become teenagers and pull away. We think they don’t want us to be involved in their life, and the truth is they really do want to draw close, but we have to pursue and allow that to happen.
Ron: That’s it.
Dave: You know, the amazing thing is next time as we listen to your interview with Dr. Meg Meeker, we’re going to hear her thoughts about dads and daughters and fashion. That should be interesting.
Ann: I know. And sexuality, identity, and the culture. These are such important topics and discussions for all parents to have.
Shelby: Drawing closer to our kids as they get older looks different in comparison to how it used to when they were younger, but I love the hope there, because that can be a great thing.
I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Meg Meeker and Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today. Some fantastic quality advice. As a girl dad myself, I want to learn about this kind of stuff, because it can be very, very scary. But Meg gives me, me in particular, hope for the future.
She’s written a book called Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture: 11 Steps to Keep Her Happy, Healthy, and Safe. In this book you’re going to learn why it’s the quality, not the quantity of your daughter’s friends that matters, things like the essential complementary roles that mothers and fathers play, and the dangers of social media and how to help your daughter navigate them. That, and so much more. We encourage you to pick up a copy. You can do so at FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you’d like to listen to the full program with Meg Meeker on the FamilyLife Blended podcast [Go to: familylife.com/podcast/familylife-blended-podcast], you can check that out in the show notes. If you are listening to this conversation and wondering how you can help kids in your church or community, you may be interested in this year’s Summit on Stepfamily Ministry.
We’d love it if you’d join us virtually. That’s right. This is going to be virtual this year, a one-day virtual event. So, if you haven’t been able to attend in the past years, this is the perfect time for you to learn more about how you and your church can minister to blended families in your community. You can learn more about the October 12th virtual event and register by going to SummitonStepfamilies.com.
Coming up tomorrow, Meg Meeker and Ron Deal are going to be back, and she’s going to talk with us about how to help your kids develop a healthy sexual identity, so important in today’s culture.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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