FamilyLife Today®

Kids and Addiction to Social Media

with Jonathan McKee | January 25, 2022
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Do your kids have an addiction to social media? Author, Jonathan McKee addresses the dangers and how to engage your kids.

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Do your kids have an addiction to social media? Author, Jonathan McKee addresses the dangers and how to engage your kids.

Kids and Addiction to Social Media

With Jonathan McKee
January 25, 2022
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Jonathan: The whole world changed in 2007/January of 2007. A guy wearing jeans and sneakers walked out on the stage, and he made an announcement that changed the world. I’m talking about Steve Jobs; he said, “Today’s the day we reinvent the phone.”

And on that January 2007 day, he introduced this device that, all of a sudden—pre-that-date, everything was: “Okay, I’ve got an entertainment device. I’ve got a game console. I’ve got social media plugged into a wall; and then, I’ve got my phone,”—they had like four devices; all of a sudden, now, it was one device; and it was in their back pocket. By 2012—in just 5 years—America crossed that 50 percent mark; and now, the majority of young people had social media in their pocket. It just changed communication; it changed entertainment; it changed everything!


And parenting, all of a sudden, got a lot more difficult as we’re trying to navigate this world of: “Okay, what’s healthy with this? How can I become screen-wise?” One of the best things to do is not just slap on a bunch of rules; but to connect with them, and talk with them, and engage them in meaningful conversation about these issues so that they, someday, can make these decisions on their own.


Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on our FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: One of the things we’ve talked about many times is how overwhelmed we were when we had kids.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: You know, like no sleep, just craziness. And yet, just last week, we were talking about: “What would it be like to be a parent today?”

Ann: Yes.

Dave: You talk about overwhelmed!

Ann: We talk to so many parents, who are overwhelmed, and are looking for answers on: “How do I manage this screen time thing?” “How do I manage phones?” “How do I manage gaming?” So many parents feel overwhelmed with the task, and they don’t know where to turn.

Dave: Yes, and I think when we’re overwhelmed, there’s a tendency to either give up—

Ann: Yes.

Dave: —or hyper-control.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: And we’ve done both! [Laughing] I think, often, my default has been to just throw up my hands and give up; and yours is—

Ann: Oh, yes! I go into the rule mode, like, “We are never doing this again!” I think parents do waver one way or the other.

I’ve talked to so many parents; especially, I know/I’m thinking of a family with seven kids. They’re all in that teenage era.

Dave: Talk about overwhelmed.

Jonathan: Yes.

Ann: And all of their kids are wanting phones. They’re trying to manage that; and they feel like, “I can’t even manage it anymore, so I hope they’re managing it.” And that’s their answer.

Dave: And every parent’s like us.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: They’re like, “Somebody, please help us!” [Laughter] And we’ve got Jonathan McKee back with us today, who has/you really devoted your life to helping parents/helping kids understand the digital world we live in.

First of all, I’ll say, “Welcome back to FamilyLife in Orlando, Florida.”

Tell us this: “Why did you get into this area?”

Jonathan: Well, I’ve been in youth ministry for 30 years. And working with young people, this was one of those areas—I mean, young people always love entertainment media; they always love communicating with each other—man, I’ll tell you, from when I first started working in youth ministry, it was pagers; you know?

Dave: Yes.

Ann: Oh, yes.

Jonathan: It was like: “Yo, I’m getting paged from my friend. Can I use your phone?” “I’m getting paged; I need to use your phone”; [Laughter] you know? And they pull up their green pager: “See, look! They put ‘911.’ That means it’s important! I’ve got to call.” And they call: “Yo, what’s up, girl?”

And then the cell phones came out. When cell phones first came out—the first ones—it wasn’t texting; it was just all talking. They would sit there; and they had, you know, this cell phone that they could talk with each other. And those who didn’t have a cell phone would be like, “Can I borrow your cell phone so I can return this page?”; you know? So that came out.

But then, all of a sudden, when texting came out, oh, my goodness! Remember the parenting world then? At that time, I’m working with teenagers; and parents are coming to me, and they’re going, “Jonathan, what do I do? My kid just hit four thousand texts last month, and I got this bill for this!”

Ann: Yes!

Jonathan: Remember before—

Ann: That was our era.

Dave: Yes.

Jonathan: Remember that? That was before they had mastered the whole free texting and all of this. Parents were freaking out; and meanwhile, kids were like downloading on their little Mp3 players—you know?—songs and they’re downloading inappropriate stuff. Parents were constantly coming to me with these questions: “What should they download? What should they not download?” “You seem to understand this a little more…” and stuff.

I just started kind of teaching it; because I was raising my kids, also, through it. I was going through the same stuff and, you know, failing miserably! Usually, my seminars were like, “Here are seven things not to do; okay?” [Laughter]

Ann: —“that I’ve already done.”

Jonathan: “I learned this!

Dave: Yes.

Jonathan: “Here are the things I’ve done that will guarantee your kids will be messed up!”; [Laughter] you know? And that just kind of grew to be always researching.

I’ll tell you, the whole world changed in 2007/January of 2007. A guy wearing jeans and sneakers walked out on the stage, and he made an announcement that changed the world. I’m talking about Steve Jobs; he said, “Today’s the day we reinvent the phone.” And on that January 2007 day, he introduced this device that, all of a sudden—pre-that- date, everything was: “Okay, I’ve got an entertainment device. I’ve got a game console. I’ve got social media plugged into a wall; and then, I’ve got my phone,”—they had like four devices; all of a sudden now, it was one device; and it was in their back pocket. By 2012—in just 5 years—America crossed that 50 percent mark; and now, the majority of young people had social media in their pocket. It just changed communication; it changed entertainment; it changed everything!


And parenting, all of a sudden, got a lot more difficult; because now we’re managing what mentors they have in their back pocket because: “Mom, Dad! I love being coached every morning by Cardi B”; you know? It was like: “Wow! How do you navigate that? Do you just say, ‘No, you can’t have that device in your back pocket?—in your bedroom at night?’” I mean, these are the questions of parenting today. I’m just trying to help, as best I can, to say: “Hey, here’s what’s research is showing…” “Here’s what a lot of parents are saying works…” And I constantly want to put tools in parents’ hands that create conversations,—

Ann: Right.

Jonathan: —because that’s really what we’re talking about today as we’re trying to navigate this world of: “Okay, what’s healthy with this? How can I become screen-wise?”

One of the best things to do is not just slap on a bunch of rules; but to connect with them, and talk with them, and engage them in meaningful conversation about these issues so that they, someday, can make these decisions on their own.

Dave: Well, a lot of people will probably want to ask you directly, so they can go to—

Jonathan: Yes, yes.

Dave: —and direct message you there.

But let’s talk about two of your books that came out in the last couple of years: Parenting Generation Screen.

Ann: That’s your newest.

Jonathan: Yes.

Dave: That’s really for parents. And then, A Teen’s Guide to Face-to-Face Connections in a Screen-to-Screen World. Great title, by the way.

Jonathan: There you go!

Dave: You know, how do we have real—

Ann: And you wrote that with your daughter.

Jonathan: Yes, yes.

Dave: Yes, he wrote that one with Alyssa; and you’ve got three kids.

But okay; so you know, we’re handing this device to a child—

Jonathan: Yes.

Dave: —with really very little mentoring, just like, “Okay, here you go!”—and not understanding/nobody’s telling us: “Do you know what you just handed to your son or daughter? It has the potential for amazing good”—right? There’s all kinds of good—“but evil.” You even talk about the creepy dude, sitting in his basement, that may be reaching out to your kids.

Talk about some of those dangers; because we don’t understand, as a parent, what we’re handing them.

Jonathan: I think it is a perfect storm, because we’re seeing all kinds of variables that we’ve never seen before. The first is we’re seeing that never have this many screens and social media been in our kids’ back pockets. So it’s right there with them all the time—it’s at school; it’s at home; it’s in the bathroom; it’s in a field!—it doesn’t matter; they’ve got it with them. They’ve got social media right in their back pocket.

In addition to that, self-esteem has never been so low.

Ann: Where does that come from? Why is self-esteem so bad right now? What’s happening?

Jonathan: So that’s a great segue to talk about the effect that social media’s having on young people. I mean, it is, across the charts right now, crazy how/I mean, anxiety’s at an all-time high; depression’s at an all-time high; suicides, more than ever before.

Dave: Well, I found it amazing—you say in your book, there’s a correlation between 2012—right?—

Jonathan: Yes, absolutely.

Dave: —and the social media and our phones.

Jonathan: All of this has gone up.

Dave: Yes.

Jonathan: We’ve seen suicides spike. We’ve seen/as a matter of fact, just before COVID, one in five adolescent girls experienced a major depressive episode at some point during 2018. That was an 84 percent increase during the past decade. I mean, that’s no small number. A lot of people were scratching their heads about that. There are some experts, who are saying, “Hey, watch screen time! You’ve got to watch screen time. They’re having a screen in their pocket!”

And there’s so much debate that I’ve got throw respect out there for two researchers, Dr. Jean Twenge and Dr. Jonathan Haidt. The two of them were like: “Okay; obviously, there’s so much research out there about screens and screen time. Let’s find out what we all agree on.” And this is fascinating! If you’re in the research world especially, this is very fascinating; because basically, in short, you’ve got all kind of parents going, “Hey! I need to start watching how much time my kids are video gaming”; right? “My daughter’s spending so much time watching Netflix® that she’s watching entire seasons of shows in one day!”

These two researchers said, “Let’s see; is it affecting us?” And that’s the question they asked. Basically, they said, “What do we agree on?” And this is fascinating; the researchers came up with two things they absolutely agree on. The first thing they agree on was: hands down, we are in an unprecedented mental health crisis right now; it’s worse than it’s ever been before. That’s one thing they all agreed on; you know? Well, one of the other things they couldn’t agree on was, “Well, what’s the ‘Why?’”

Guess what? The second thing they agreed on was this: if you look at all of screen time, and try to cast some blame, the evidence is really weak and inconsistent. But if you narrow the study down to just social media, especially young girls, the data is consistent and very conclusive. The amount of social media time someone spends affects their mental health big time!”

Ann: When we talk about a child’s self-esteem—and a child with poor self-esteem is more vulnerable—

Jonathan: Yes.

Ann: —to a predator—

Jonathan: Absolutely.

Ann: —what does that look like? Walk us through some of the things we need to be aware of.

Jonathan: Yes; this is one of those things where I’ll give you just a snapshot of some of these things, because it is a perfect storm of opportunity for predators right now. You’ve got more phones in kids’ pockets; they’ve never been feeling so low about themselves; and the one other element that we’ve got to talk about is the fact that right now, eight out of ten young people want to be some kind of social media influencer.

Ann: Eight out of ten?

Jonathan: Eight out of ten.

Dave: And what does that mean?

Jonathan: Most studies showed 79-86 percent want to be an influencer in some way. They want to be an Insta-celeb; they want to have a YouTube channel; they want to have an Instagram account, where they show other people how to put on makeup. These are some of the common things you see: eight out of ten!

And it’s funny—I talked to my friend, Julie; she’s a teacher for third graders—she said, “Jonathan, when I read that number, I had no argument whatsoever.” She said, “In third grade, we used to do this thing called ‘Star of the Week,’ where we highlight a kid for the week. They would have a poster with pictures of their family and their dog. They would kind of come in; [they’d] bring their dog in for show-and-tell. They would say what they want to be when they grow up.”

And she said, “It’s funny. Beforehand, whenever it was, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ it was always like: ‘I want to be a nurse!’ ‘I want to be a policeman!’ ‘I want to be a dolphin trainer!’; you know?—all of these fun things.

Ann: Yes.

Jonathan: And she said, “Now, hands-down, eight out of ten young people: ‘I want to be a YouTuber.’”

Dave: —in third grade?

Jonathan: —third grade. We’re starting to see a lot of this.

Now, the thing that’s happening because of this—let’s go back to this perfect storm—is that is changing the way young people navigate social media; because now, they need more followers. They need more likes, and they need more followers; so they’re being very care-free about who’s following them, because being an influencer is all about having as many followers as possible.

Think about this: you’ve got kids, walking around with a device in their pocket, feeling bad about themselves, letting anybody follow them; because they’ve got to have more followers. Predators are loving this world.

Ann: Oh.

Jonathan: Predators are loving it, because kids are trying so hard to gain friends—and posting everything about themselves—and predators don’t have to be in their proverbial white van anymore, parked by the playground. They just sit at home and just look; they’ve got everything they want on the screens.

And this is one of those realities that’s affecting—I was talking with youth workers about this—and they were saying, “You know, Jonathan, this has become such an issue that, when we go on trips with young people now, if we’re staying at hotels, we have to have a chaperone in every room. We’ve had chaperones sleep by the doors; kids are trying to sneak out at night to meet somebody they just met in that city—

Ann: Wow!

Jonathan: —“a stranger.”

This is one of those times where parents need to ask themselves, “Am I equipping my kids to recognize predatory behavior?” Now, we need to talk about this stuff; and that’s why, in something like this Teen’s Guide to Face-to-Face Connections in a Screen-to-Screen World, we spent a chapter where my daughter and I laid out: “Here’s some predatory behavior; be on the lookout for this.” We need to talk to our kids about this stuff! We need to engage them in these important conversations.

Ann: Teach our audience.

Jonathan: Predator behavior—if you’ve got young people, who are feeling bad about themselves—one of the simple things to tell young people to look out for is for people giving excessive compliments and offering gifts and this and that. Sometimes, you get these people, who are like, “Wow! I’m sorry you’re struggling with your parents like that. I did, too. I tell you: I feel just like you! I don’t know why they wouldn’t trust you; you’re so great!” Almost watching out for those excessive compliments.

Dave: And of course, you’re going to be drawn to that.

Jonathan: Yes, yes.

Ann: Who wouldn’t?

Dave: “That’s a wonderful compliment”; yes.

Jonathan: Predators—one of the obvious ones is trying to find out little facts about your personal information—the school you go to; and exactly what neighborhood you live in; and stuff, which sadly, most predators don’t even need to ask that stuff, because it’s right there on their posts. Our kids are posting a lot of that stuff.

Predators sometimes make these promises of exciting, stress-free life, custom-tailored to that person. It's amazing how, in my Parenting Generation Screen book, I did a whole chapter on predators. I told stories that I hear, sadly, at the end of my parenting workshops. A parent will come up to me and say, “Okay, so let me tell you about my daughter. She was talking to this guy all night long; and the next thing you know, she’s going to meet this guy. Come to find out—he said he was a high school kid—and he wasn’t a high school kid,” you know? I hear these stories all the time.

Ann: That’s every parent’s nightmare!

Jonathan: Yes; it happens so frequently you’d be shocked. I mean, most of your police departments have entire divisions just focused on this. They’ll come in; they’ll grab the phone; and they’ll tell the parents, honestly: “Yes, we’ll try to catch them. We’ll keep posing like we’re your daughter, and we’ll try to lure them out; but very rarely…These guys are usually working 15 conversations at once.” It’s really scary when you see this, but that’s why I kind of lay out some of these precautions to look for.

And by the way, this isn’t just in social media. For those of us, who have young kids, who like gaming, a lot of games are online games, where there are other people in the “room.” I have a friend, who said, “Man, I was gaming with my nephew; and as we were gaming, this one guy was just kind of making these kinds of sexual comments. And he starts asking these boys some questions and stuff.” He/the uncle goes, “Hey, man! How old are you?” And the guy disappears.

Dave: Gone!

Jonathan: Gone, just like that. And, literally, there are guys out there doing some of these behaviors. We need to talk to our kids and help them become aware of some of these behaviors.

Ann: So when we sit down with our kids—and we’re like, “Hey, I want to talk about this,”—I hear, “Ugggghh!”; you know? Is there a way to talk about the precautions that we can take?

Jonathan: Well, I’m not trying to give a shameless plug [for] my Teen’s Guide book, but the whole reason I wrote this book—

Dave: Right.

Jonathan: —is I wanted to put in the hands of parents something that they can—not just throw at their kids and say, “Read this!”—but something that would actually start dialogue about this important topic. So when they read a chapter like that, the best thing a parent can do is say, “Hey, read this chapter on predators, and let’s go to breakfast next week; let’s talk about it.” I put discussion questions at the end of the chapter so that the parent can ask. You’re not just sitting there, lecturing. Besides, most parents are like, “I have no idea what to say!”

Dave: Yes.

Jonathan: You know, they’ve got to Google® it or something. I want to put a tool in their hands so they can dialogue with their kids about it.

Dave: Yes; and as I’ve read it, you know, you do such a good job of helping parents connect, dialogue, have a conversation; but at the same time, there have to be some rules.

You even just mentioned a woman, or a mom, will come up to you after a parent seminar and say, “You know, I found my daughter’s talking all night.” Okay; so talk about the phone all night. Is that one of those rules, as a parent, you just lay down the law? I mean, you have a conversation; but you say, “I’m not going to budge on this one.”

Jonathan: Yes; you know what’s funny? I was doing an interview once, where somebody said, “Okay, Jonathan; if you could only have one rule today for kids—

Dave: Yes, that’s good.

Jonathan: —“one rule today.,,” And I was thinking, “Oh, man! What?—no phone!” No.

Dave: Hey, you know what? We’ll be nicer: three; give us three.

Jonathan: Well, you know what? I’ll keep it simple.

Dave: Yes.

Jonathan: I’m going to just say the one; because literally, hands-down, the thing I said was, “No devices in the bedroom at bedtime.” And I say, “devices,” not just phones;—

Dave: Yes.

Jonathan: —because guess what? There’s that family iPad® that you forgot; there’s that old iTouch® that they had that you forgot they had. They can still download apps on and have social media.

You kind of, as a parent, need to be shrewd; and remember to: “Hey, no devices in the bedroom.” And maybe, remember some of those old devices; because that’s one of those things, where I find most of those questions I get from parents after a parent workshop, have that common denominator of: “Okay, my daughter was on social media all night,” “My kid was gaming all night.”

Almost every bullying story, the parent would be like, “My kid is hearing these onslaughts and these insults all night long! It affected his sleep, and his studies the next day, and everything.” Sometimes, I would actually hear a parent say, “So my 12-year-old was hearing these onslaughts on social media all night long!”

  • And right there, I went, “Ding, ding, ding!” Three dings right there: 12-year-old—okay? They gave their 12-year-old a smartphone when—last show, what did we talk about?—we talked about what age most experts are saying, “Wait to give your kid a phone [until] high school/freshman year of high school.” Waiting on age is a huge thing.
  • And “on social media”; a ding! They had to lie about their age to be on social media. You can’t even be on social media until you’re age 13, because of COPPA, the FTC’s Child Online Privacy Protection Act, which says that Instagram®, TikTok®—name it!—Twitter® or any of these—they’re not allowed to collect data from anyone under 13. So you’ve got 11-/12-year-olds lying about their age to be on social media.
  • And then, they have this device in their bedroom all night long.

That’s three things right there that parents could wait a little bit to give their kid that device; don’t let them on social media until they don’t have to lie about their age about it—that’s 13 or up—and then, “Hey, guess what? We’re going to provide a free service for you. As Mom and Dad, we’re going to charge your phone for you at night; we’re going to do that for you. Don’t worry, there’s no fee for this. We’re going to do that every night for you, and give you a fresh little device in the morning. ‘Here you go!’” And you put it in your master closet; you might even want to put that right next to your bedside. And then, take a light bulb and crush it on the floor right next to you there; [Laughter] so that when your kids—“Gaaaaahhh!”

No; I mean they love their devices, and we’ve got to talk with them about this stuff. Some of these rules can be very helpful.

Dave: Now, how do you talk—I’m thinking there’s a parent out there, thinking, “Okay, first of all, my son’s 12; my daughter’s 11. I gave them a phone;—

Jonathan: Yes.

Dave: —“now, I’ve got to take it away.” Or a parent is thinking, “I have tried to say, ‘No.’ I can’t win this argument, because all of their friends have it.”

How do you put down the foot and say: “You’re not going to have a phone,” “You’re not going to have a phone in your room at night either”?

Jonathan: You know, I think one of the best things you can do in that moment is not try to answer that question in the moment. For me, I remember thinking, “You know, I’ve got this!” I would tell my wife that: “I got this!” I might as well have just told her: “I’m an idiot! [Laughter] I’m going to just say the first thing on my mind instead of really thinking and praying about it.”

It’s one of the things I really talk about throughout the book: is trying to kind of delay—and by delay, I don’t mean you never answer it—

Dave: Right.

Jonathan: —but sit there and say, “Hey, I want to research this. I want to pray about this. I want to think about this.” That “Connection before correction” really is: “Hey, tell me what you feel about it. What are the pressures you’re feeling? Let’s think about this; let’s pray about this; let’s read about this; and then, let’s make a decision.”

And that’s one of those things I do in Parenting Generation Screen; I say, “Talk about it,” and then I say, “Delay it for this meeting you’ll have later.” And then, at the end of the book, I actually have a chapter talking about this pizza meeting,  this meeting where you go out for pizza; and you say, “Okay, we’ve talked about this; we’ve prayed about this; we’ve thought about this. Here are the rules we are going to have”; and you lay out those rules.

But it starts with those conversations, where we listen to them. We’ve heard what they said; we empathize with them, because those conversations are the things they’re going to remember more than any rule we’ve ever given them. Those conversations are the things they’re going to remember when they’re in that college dorm some day, and they’re making that decision for themselves.

Dave: Yes; and at the end of the day, as a parent, we’ve got to realize our “No,” is for their best, just like God’s “No,” to us. We don’t always understand; but we know, now, we can trust Him because He wants the best for us. That’s what we want as a parent; and so we have to say, “No,” sometimes.

Bob: You have undoubtedly heard it said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And what we have to recognize, as parents, is that, when our kids have access to a screen and to the internet, they have access to great power. The question is: “Can we help them be ready for that? Can we help them, at a young age, know how to navigate that power?—how to exercise responsibility?” This takes coaching and mentoring from us as parents. Honestly, most of us need help; because we didn’t get screens handed to us when we became teenagers. They didn’t exist back in the day.

That’s why I think a book like the one Jonathan McKee has written can be so helpful for us as parents. It’s called Parenting Generation Screen: Guiding Your Kids to be Wise in a Digital World. In fact, we want to make this book available to you this week if you can help the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation. The book is our way of saying, “Thank you for your partnership with us.”

I heard this week from somebody, who wrote to us and said, “I started listening to FamilyLife Today when I was a teenager; now, I am a mother of six.” So it’s been a few years; right? She said, “You helped me, all along the way, know how to think biblically about marriage and parenting.” She was thanking us for that. Well, you help make that possible for yourself and for others when you support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today. You can donate at, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation. That’s 1-800-358-6329; or again, online at When you donate, be sure to ask for your copy of Parenting Generation Screen by Jonathan McKee; and we’re happy to send it out to you.

Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear from Jonathan McKee about some of the ways in which the online world/the digital universe is having its impact on our children’s self-confidence, their self-esteem, their sense of identity. This is a significant issue; and as parents, we need to be alert to it so we can help our kids walk through this minefield. We’ll hear more about that tomorrow. I hope you can join us.

On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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