Four Conversations for Kids
Teen researcher David Eaton knows that Smart phones are hugely popular among adolescents, but they're often misused. Eaton challenges parents to have four different conversation with their kids before giving them a cell phone. Start with the questions, "How is the smartphone very good, and how is it cursed, and how can we as a family redeem it?" and end with a conversation about trust. David Eaton is a contributor to Dennis and Barbara Rainey's book, The Art of Parenting.
About the Guest
David Eaton knows that smart phones are hugely popular among adolescents, but they’re often misused. Eaton challenges parents to have four conversations with their kids before giving them a cell phone.
Four Conversations for Kids
Bob: Yourson or daughter’s smartphone is a big part of their world. As a parent, do you have a right to know what’s going on in their life, online? David Eaton says, “Absolutely!”
David: We don’t have a right to phone privacy; and honestly, you need to model that. I think husbands and wives should know each other’s passwords and usernames—just like parents should know their kids’ passcodes and usernames. Honestly, something that’s scary about the phone—and it’s a lot of work—you should know every single app on your kid’s phone; and you should have in your mind, “What is it for?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, September 28th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk about what pro-active parenting looks like when it comes to technology—smartphones/devices. Our guest today is David Eaton. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Aren’t you glad there were no smartphones when your kids were teenagers?
Dennis: Oh, my goodness! [Laughter]
Bob: I mean, I remember trying to deal with Instant Messaging—that was a big deal—AIM.
David: Oh, AIM—that was huge.
Dennis: Oh, yes!
Dennis: I was looking over my daughter’s shoulder when some young man in Atlanta messaged her and called her a sexy thang—T-H-A-N-G. I tapped my daughter on the shoulder: “Get up out of the chair.” [Laughter] I said, “I want to sit down.” I wrote him back and I said, “Dear”—whatever his name was—“Ken, this is Mr. Rainey, my daughter’s daddy”; okay? “It is not appropriate for you to refer to my daughter as a sexy thang.” [Laughter] And it did help him! I mean, he began to relate a little more—
Bob: —little course direction; little course direction.
Dennis: Yes; exactly!
David: I mean, relational foul and grammar foul. [Laughter] I mean, come on!
Dennis: Exactly! Well, that voice is David Eaton, who is one of the cofounders of Axis. He and his wife Lindsey have been married since 2009. They have three kids. He is all about helping you, as a parent, navigate smartphones and how you, as a parent, can know, at least, enough to provide boundaries for your kids as they get them.
Bob: Yes; not just smartphones—Axis is all over helping parents and kids connect around what’s going on in youth culture. I get the “Culture Translator” newsletter that you guys send out every Friday that helps me know what’s going on in youth culture—brings to light things that I wouldn’t know otherwise. This is the sweet spot for what Axis is doing.
Smartphones and devices have become so prevalent that you guys have jumped into this in a big way.
In fact, you wrote a chapter on this subject for Dennis and Barbara’s book, The Art of Parenting, which has just been released. The thing I like about the chapter is it’s not going to be obsolete in three months, because you’re writing about bigger issues than Instant Messaging or Snapchat—which may be gone in a year.
David: It was so tempting to not write about Snapchat—just this little clause in there—because I know that it’s still going to be huge for the next couple of years. But like you said, there’s always going to be something—this technology is not going away. It’s something to be celebrated, but we didn’t want to just write something and people laugh about it six months [from now].
Dennis: Back to the big idea—David is challenging parents to have four conversations with their kids. In other words, your kids are looking for dialog. They may not act like it; they mayturn their nose up at the dialog when you attempt to make it happen. [Laughter]
Bob: —roll their eyes.
Dennis: But they need to connect with an adult around issues that could affect them for the rest of their lives.
David: Yes; they’re going to watch you and see how you’re using your phone.
They’re going to want to know—like they are going to become like you, so it’s important to have these conversations over phones. Especially, if you get your kid a phone, plan on talking to them about it every single week.
Bob: Talk to them about it before you get them a phone.
David: If you can, that’s great.
Bob: So, when you’re having these conversations—you say there are four. What’s the first one you want to have?
David: The first conversation is all about if you’re tired of being the bad guy—if you always feel that, as a parent, you are always nagging you kids, always saying, “Get off your phone,”—all of that. You are, instead—it’s inviting the phone into a different story for the world. It’s the gospel—it’s the Christian story for the world.
Conversation Number One I call “Very Good, Cursed, and Redeemed.” A lot of people look at a phone and say: “Hey, that’s just a neutral thing. It’s just a piece of technology. Technology is neutral.”
It’s real easy to say, “Yes, it is neutral”; but I would say: “Stop for a second—say: ‘Wait; is anything really neutral in a world that God made?’ If you look at Genesis, God makes the world very good—it says: ‘…good,’ ‘…good,’ ‘…good,’ ‘…good’; ‘…very good.’ It’s the first conversation—
—“it talks about: ‘Hey, you’re in charge. Humanity, take control of this—steward this, cultivate it, care for it.’” Second thing is—humanity messes up; it becomes cursed—and then, finally, you have the story of Israelites and then Jesus coming to redeem us.
With the smartphone, I think, as a parent, instead of saying it is neutral, you should say, “One—it is very good.” If you actually think about it, there have been some studies showing recently that there’s more technology on a smartphone than it took to put a man on the moon.
David: Now, the technology in that space ship—it could withstand a lot of heat and cold and that sort of stuff—but still—that is in your pocket right now. So that’s something to be celebrated: “Wow! That’s amazing!” But then, it’s cursed—there’s so many bad things we can do with it—and finally, “How can we redeem it, as a family?”
What this does—is it allows you to position it instead of being the whiny, naggy, always-saying-“Get-off-that-device” parent. Instead, saying: “Let’s talk about why this is awesome,” “Let’s talk about how to celebrate this,” “Man, there are some ditches we can fall into,” and finally, “Where there are sad things/bad things that are happening, how can we redeem it?”
Dennis: The reason I called David and asked David to write this chapter in our book, The Art of Parenting, is because the section it is in is about character. It’s calling parents to raise children who are wise and not fools. What David is wanting to do in this situation is to help parents train their kids to be wise in the use of the phone and not a fool—not fall off into a trap. That’s what you’re pointing out. This device has the ability to be used for good things or to truly take a child into a dark place.
Bob: Think about just what you said at the beginning: “Is this neutral technology?” It was designed by sinful people.
David: Got it.
Bob: And it has been handed to sinful people. [Laughter] We can say it’s neutral, but the people who made it and the people who are using it aren’t neutral; therein is the problem. Now, we can, as redeemed people, take this technology and say: “Whatever it was meant for when it was designed, there is a redemptive use of this device. Let’s go, aggressively in that direction, and celebrate and rejoice over the redemptive opportunities.”
I have opportunities to connect with people around the world, because of my device. We can talk to missionaries and pray for them, not just through letters. I can see their face and pray with them—that’s a wonderful use of this technology. We have to be thinking, “What are the redemptive purposes?” because there are a lot of people who want to take us over to a dark side, and play to our prurient interests, and get us doing un-redemptive things with our devices.
David: Just think of grandma; right? The grandparents for my children live a thousand miles away.
David: They can actually have that connection via the screen that they couldn’t have had before. That’s really cool.
One of the statements we like to say at Axis is: “We’re all about connecting the wisdom of parents with the wonder of their children.” If you’re having a conversation—remember a conversation is not just a preaching at someone—if you say: “How’s it very good?” “How’s it cursed?” and “How can we redeem it, as a family?” don’t be surprised if your precious, wonderful, amazing teen has an observation about how you’re using it. [Laughter] I think that’s something that’s very true.
We asked a fourteen-year-old girl, “What are you going to do this weekend?” She said, “I’m going to go home and watch my parents stare at their phones,”—like that is pretty sad.
Dennis: So answer the question that every parent, who’s listening right now, wants to know. I know it’s an absolute question, but back to Bob’s point—these are sinful little creatures that you’re giving this phone to. [Laughter] The question is this: “When?”
David: When do you give them their phone?
Dennis: Yes; what’s your coaching for parents to determine when?
David: Yes; I like that question. I think what I would say to this is—it’s a conversation—and the conversation is the third conversation in the book—it’s: “We are on a journey of trust, with a destination of independence.” I think you have to look at your family and say: “Hey, we’re on this journey together with this phone. I want to get you at a place of independence, but we’re going to start off with some pretty strict rules.”
Then you have to say, “Is your ten-year-old standing in a soccer field by themselves, feeling exposed, because you weren’t told soccer practice is going to be over?” You have to think, “Okay; I want to stay in communication with my kid, but that doesn’t mean that they have to get the entire internet.” They can just start off with GPS and the ability to call someone. They don’t even need to start off with texting. I think that’s what I would say.
It’s a decision you have to make; but when you’re making that decision, you’re entering into a conversation that you’re going to have multiple times a week for the next however-long they’re inside your house.
Bob: One of the things that is talked about in The Art of Parenting book and video series is that there’s a gradual release that comes with parenting. When your kids are little, you’re staying right on top of them; because they’re not smart enough to know whether the street is safe. But when they get to be 16, you’ve got to gradually start letting go—
—letting them make some decisions. You try to make sure that they’re safe, but they’re going to make some bad decisions.
What you’re recommending, when it comes to technology and smartphones, is a gradual introduction of the technology. Let them warm up to the fact that, “Oh, I can call somebody from anywhere.” Then, maybe six months later, I learn, “Now, I can text people,” or just let it come out, a little at a time, and manage it along the way.
David: To answer your question about what age—again, I think it depends on what level of work you want to do. Bill Gates has a number—his number was 14—he says: “We don’t have cell phones at the table when we’re having a meal. We don’t give our kids cell phones until they were 14, and they complained that other kids got them earlier. We set a time after which there is no screen time.”
He had three concepts there; but he said, “...14.” Whatever you do, do not make the decision about what age your kid gets a smartphone based on what other parents are doing.
Bob: So go back to the big idea of this conversation—you said, “We’re on a journey of trust—
David: —“with a destination of independence.”
Bob: I think that applies to so much in parenting, not just technology; but this is what we’re talking about. When it comes to technology—the journey of trust. Your child is earning independence—newer levels of independence as they demonstrate that they’re trustworthy with the independence that you’ve given them. Your point is: “Don’t just give them the whole enchilada at age 14, with unlimited access to everything that’s online and think, ‘Oh, they’re going to do fine.’”
David: Yes; that’s the same reason I don’t set a bowl of M&Ms® in front of my two-year-old and say, “You can only have one”; right? [Laughter] You know, there’s just so much out there. He’s going to stick his whole fist in there and eat it all and ruin his dinner, so you want to gradually do that.
What’s important, though, is you want to make sure that their heart is loving righteousness. That’s the hard transition that you have here—is like you want them to earn your trust; but again, you’re having this idea of: “Do you love righteousness and putting yourself in community?” This is a phrase you should say over and over again:
“We are better in community than we are in isolation.”
Bob: We skipped over Conversation Two. We kind of got right to Conversation Three with Dennis’s question about—
David: This is why we have books; so you can read it linearly; right? Let’s go back. You want to go back to Conversation Two?
Dennis: I want to get to Conversation Two. I just want to say one thing about the age. When Barbara and I told the kids what age they could date, it was never an absolute age. Why?—because of the issue you’re talking about—trust. If they’ve broken trust, then “Why are you going to give them more freedom?”
But here’s what needs to be in place: “You need to be obeying us and really following the guidelines we give you in a consistent, habitual way so we trust you.” It’s back to trust again. “At the point you’ve earned our trust, maybe then we’ll let a little more string out in the kite so that you can fly higher.”
Bob: Okay; now go back to Conversation Two. What was that?
David: Conversation Number Two is pretty straightforward—it is: “What is it for?” /
“What is it for?” You should say this frequently about a lot of different things; but a great thing to say about the smartphone is: “What is it for? Is it to help us to stay more connected, as a family, to know where everyone is?—to stay connected to Grandma and to Grandpa?” “Is it to get news or do homework better?” Well, then, great; that’s a great purpose for it—it’s asking the question of purpose.
However, if you’re saying that—then you go out to dinner. You look around, and the entire family has their phone out. Mom’s on Pinterest, and Dad’s checking his email, and your kids’ keeping their Snap streak going. You’re like, “Here we are, at dinner, and we can’t even have an eye-to-eye conversation / a face-to-face conversation; because this is taking so much control over our life.”
David: It’s a really simple conversation; and it’s something you can have about a lot of different things: “What is the purpose behind it? What is if for?”
Bob: Here’s the good about that conversation—you are defining: “What’s acceptable use of the device?” and “What’s unacceptable use?” No kid is going to say, “Well, one of the things it’s for is so that I can look at porn.”
I mean, if they say that, you’re going to go, “No; that’s not what this device is for. “
Bob: But you can start off saying, “That’s not what this device is for; therefore, we’re not going to do that with this device.” You’re bifurcating: “It can do a lot of things. We’re only going to do some of what it can do, because some of what it can do can take you in a really bad direction.”
Dennis: David, given that statement of purpose—of: “What’s it for?”—what if you’re finding out, right now, as you’re listening to us, that your teenager is already misusing the phone? He’s already off—or she’s already off—in some really dangerous places? What would you coach them to do?
David: Well, first thing I’d do is—take a huge, deep breath; and I would not act rashly. Don’t be the parent, who is just always snatching the phone away; always giving it back. You have to say, “What is my strategy behind this to get back into the situation?”—that’s why we wrote the chapter. That’s why we have “Reclaiming the Smartphone: Four Important Conversations” in the FamilyLifeToday.com website, where you can sign up and watch those videos.
We even have a plan after that for this detox/this reboot, because you’re having to take away—
—you’re having to take away freedom, and you’re going to have to fight. It’s not that you shouldn’t, as a parent—it’s just you shouldn’t enter into it lightly.
I think one of those things—if you gave your kid a phone and never told them [rules]—they’re going to say: “This is my phone,” “This is my phone,” “This is my phone.” No; you should say: “No; this is God’s phone. I am the steward of it, as your parent, and you get to use it. Therefore, I get to look at it whenever I want. I get to take it away whenever I want.” It’s this idea of, “Hey, you’re better in community.”
“But it’s my phone! It’s privacy. I’ve got to have privacy.” Well, you’re going to have to introduce this idea: “Well, we don’t have a right to phone privacy.” Honestly, you need to model that. I think husbands and wives should know each other’s passwords and usernames—just like parents should know their kids’ passcodes and usernames. Honestly, something that’s scary about the phone—it’s a lot of work—you should know every single app on your kid’s phone; and you should have in your mind, “What is it for?” Again, there’s so much to this—it’s worth it—but it is hard work.
Bob: You mentioned that the folks at Apple have just put some new parental controls, so that kids can’t download apps unless mom and dad give the okay. Mom and dad can set a bedtime for the phone. Mom and dad can shut off the phone, with an app on their phone, where they just say, “Your phone’s now off.” That’s a really great parenting tool to have. But if all we’re doing is becoming punishers with our phones, there’s a problem there; right?
David: Yes; you’re going to lose the heart of your child on that level. You want to be able to walk with them through this. This brings us to the fourth conversation, which is definitely, I think, the most important conversation—and it’s this: “You can tell me anything.”Your child needs to know, over and over again, that they can tell you anything—and in parenthesis or caveat—“(By the way, I’m safe; I have your best interest in mind, and I will be fair.)”
If they don’t trust you to be fair, then they’re going to be scared to bring it to you; and how are they going to get wisdom from you? They’re just going to Google® it; they’re going to ask their friends; they’re going to watch the YouTube influencers or the You Tube stars and what they think.
We’ve got to get connected. Your children have to be connected to the wisdom of their parents and their grandparents with that.
It’s one of those things: “You can tell me anything.” You have to say that; because you’re going to have to have tough conversations about pornography, sexting, sneaky apps. There are fake social media accounts that you can create so your kid will have multiple—more than likely—your kid will have multiple/different social media accounts.
I tell you what—the second question we get so many times, Dennis, is—people will say, “When should I get my kid a phone?” and “When should I let them have social media?” because social media is this whole other level of freedom / a whole other level of risk—a whole other way to disciple you child.
Dennis: And let me add one point of protection to this conversation—be in agreement with your spouse about how you’re going to draw the lines and the boundaries. If there’s anything that can undermine this whole process, it’s for two parents to be out of sync with one another—
—one is strict; the other is permissive.
Dennis: That’s not going to work.
Bob: This is where you’ve said divorced parents often wind up polarized; because the strict mom, who has custody two weeks of the month—then the lenient dad, who’s got custody the other two weeks or the two weekends / whatever it is—all of a sudden, that’s a problem for the child.
David: Parents, who are controlling each other through this. I’ve been in situations where divorced parents are co-parenting; and they’re having this conversation, preemptively, because your kid will play you on this. Your kids are smart; they’re clever. You know what it felt like—you were there.
As you are entering into this, you have to be synced up. That’s why we have the videos on FamilyLife®. That’s why we’re doing this chapter—read the book—give it to your spouse; have them read that chapter. Watch the videos—send it to your spouse. Send it to your ex, as well, and say: “Hey, I’m thinking about this. We have to be smart when we get little Johnnie a phone, because there’s going to be a lot at stake.”
Bob: And “Can we find common ground, even though we may not agree 100 percent?—
—“can we find a place where we can both go, ‘Okay; we’ll support one another in this area’?” It’s important for your kids that you do that.
Dennis: It is, and I think it’s good to disagree. I think it’s okay to have dissent between the husband and the wife / a mom and a dad around the use of this phone. You’re going to get a better decision if you both kind of hammer this one out over a longer period of time.
David: I recommend that you become a missionary to your child. I recommend that you take a perspective of curiosity—and when you find out what their favorite app is—join it. Don’t follow them, necessarily, immediately; but enter into their world.
Dennis: Explain to a parent how you join your child in an app; because there’s a way a parent can do it that looks like they’re snooping and another way—you are recommending—is out of curiosity and maybe sharing the app with them.
David: Right; I think this is for grandmas—for grandmas listening to this, right now—you’re notorious for like any post that your grandkid does—is like writing about it. Take a step back.
I think it’s really important to ask their permission if you can follow them, and just listen to what they say about that.
[For parents]: Don’t dive in, necessarily; because you could still hopefully have access to their phone—you take their phone and just look at it. They could have multiple different accounts; then talk with them about it. I think you follow them. Then, there’s a lot of etiquette with different social media—like: “Don’t like your own post on Instagram, Dad. Duh!” There are things that you can learn from your children. You want to be connected to their wonder, just like you want them to be connected to your wisdom.
Bob: Your videos, that again we’ve got links to online, will really help parents know how to navigate this situation. There are a lot of parents, Dennis—for them, this chapter in your book is worth the whole price of the book. I mean, everything else in the book is icing on top of the cake; but what they need, right now, is this particular chapter because of what they’re going through. We’ve got both the book and links to the videos on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
David: I say that Dennis’s book is fabulous—Dennis and Barbara’s book is fabulous, because it’s tying into these timeless ideas. You’ve got to have these timeless ideas of identity, and mission, and character, and relationships. But when we decided to collaborate on it, we realized the biggest pain point/the biggest battlefield is the smartphone. That’s why we added this, because it will be a great entry point.
Dennis: We’re in sync about what we’re talking about here, because we talk about Bridge Building 101—that you’re building a bridge to your child’s heart—so you can protect them, you can take truth to them, and you can grow in that relationship—hopefully, to have some lanes coming back toward you, where you can have a real relationship with them.
Bob: Again, we’ve got copies of your book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center, along with the video series—the Art of Parenting™ that a lot of small groups are using this fall. There’s the online Art of Parenting video resource that’s available for free, and there are the videos that David has put together on smartphone usage.
Again, those are available for you to view when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
If this is an issue for you right now—the whole smartphone thing—go watch those videos right now. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. If you’d like to order any of the Art of Parenting resources—the website, again: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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With that, we’ve got to wrap things up for this week. Thanks for being with us. I hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. Then join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk with a dad who experienced what no parents ever wish to experience with their children—a dad whose son became addicted to opioids. We’ll hear Rick Van Warner’s story beginning Monday. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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