About the Guest
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When we look around today, we see most of the world absorbed in a screen. Arlene Pellicane points to the need for engaging in life by simply looking up.
Ann: Okay, I have a question for you.
Dave: You do? I have one.
Ann: Oh, you do? Here is mine; I’ll ask mine first: “Do you feel like I interrupt your screen time?” [Laughter]
Dave: Do you want me to be honest or say what I’m supposed to say?
Ann: Yes, be honest.
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 FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Ann: Do you feel like I interrupt your screen time?
Dave: Yes, you interrupt my screen time, sometimes.
Ann: Oh! That’s so depressing.
Dave: Well, I mean, if I’m watching a game or I’m, you know, reading a blog; yes. I mean, it’s like, “Can this wait two minutes?” [Laughter] Is that a bad thing?
Ann: Okay, what was your question?
Dave: When we’re on a date—
Dave: —and I pull out my phone—
Dave: There it is; that’s what I wanted to know: “What do you feel?”
Ann: “Oh!”—[depressed tone]—that’s it; like, “Oh, no!” I feel like, all of a sudden, somebody else came into the room; and they are much more attractive than I am.
Dave: Well, somebody is in the room with us right now; and she’s going to help us.
Ann: Yes, I am so glad. Arlene Pellicane is here. She wrote the book, Screen Kids: 5 Relational Skills Every Child Needs in a Tech-Driven World. We’ve been with her several days. It’s been so helpful because, Arlene, you have been helping us learn: “How can we manage this in our home?” Welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Arlene: So great to be with you. Thanks for having me.
Dave: And today is questions day.
Dave: You know, there is a whole list of questions we have that I think every parent and grandparent—by the way, you know we’re grandparents—and you’ve got another book, Grandparenting Screen Kids: How to Help, What to Say, and Where to Begin.
I’ll just start here—it’s not a question; or maybe, it is—but as a grandparent, I think sometimes we’re exhausted.
Dave: I didn’t think I would be more tired at this age in life than I was when I was in my 30s and 40s, having kids; but you are. You’re so tired; you’ve got the grandkids, who are precious; but you want to a break, so you just say, “Here watch this.”
Ann: I’m going to say this has caused conflict with us; because Dave somehow has the Disney Channel on every time I walk into the room. [Laughter] The grandkids are just cuddled up with him—and maybe, that’s not as bad because you are being affectionate—
Dave: It’s awesome; I think it’s awesome.
Ann: He does.
Dave: But that isn’t all I do, but I might do it too much. What do you say to grandparents?
Arlene: “That’s only when Ann walks in.” [Laughter]
Dave: Yes! [Laughter]
Arlene: “At first, she walks in: ‘Oh! You caught me again!’” [Laughter] Two thoughts come to my mind as you share that. One would be: “You know what? When you are tired, you should get a little bit of rest; because it is true God gives you children when you are younger for a reason.
My dad is a retired doctor, and he would play doctor with my kids when they were little. What he would do is have them be the doctor. He was the patient; he would lay on the couch for like 20 minutes. [Laughter]
Dave: That’s a smart man.
Ann: —and gives you a good idea.
Arlene: He would have a doctor’s kit that was just at their house, and my daughter would take the doctor’s kit and do the examination and talk to him. He got to lay there for 20 minutes, so it was perfect.
Try to invent games, where you get to be stationery. You really can be creative and try it. Especially with younger kids, they can handle that kind of imagination. Work in some rest during your time; and it is okay to think, “Alright; I’m tired. We’re going to do one hour of this show,”—or whatever it is that you choose.
Ann: —yes, and have a limit.
Arlene: —and to have a limit and to kind of set that.
Then what you can do is make things that are just special to your house. Maybe, it’s a reading corner; and it’s books that you have from the library. Maybe, the kids don’t gravitate to it at first; because they are like: “I want to play my game,” “I want to watch TV, Grandma.” They might not like it at first; but eventually, they’ll get that: “Okay, I get to watch TV for an hour; and then I’m going to play doctor so that Grandpa can lay around. Then we are going to have our library time.”
But that’s up to you. You really can build things that they get used to that don’t have to revolve around screens. You don’t have to feel like, “We have to be on a screen the whole time.”
Ann: That’s good.
Arlene: Know, as a grandparent, you are more interesting and valuable than a screen, even though you might not feel like it. You might feel like, “All they want is my iPad,” or “All they want is my phone.”
Ann: Yes, and we feel like we can’t compete—
Ann: —because it’s so entertaining. We can feel like we are boring. But you’re right; I think our kids just want to be with us/—
Ann: —our grandkids just want to be with us.
Arlene: Try the chocolate chip cookies. I think those—coming out of the oven—that’s pretty hard to beat.
Dave: That is what happens every time Bryce comes over—
Dave: —our two-year-old grandson.
Ann: He is two years old. First thing he wants to do—we make M&M® cookies because he doesn’t like the chocolate chip as much.
Ann: But he knows—he just turned two—he knows every ingredient that goes into the cookies.
Dave: He really does; it’s amazing.
Arlene: That’s hysterical.
Dave: He makes popcorn with me.
Arlene: That’s so cute.
Dave: My name is Pop—so.
Ann: So it could be little things.
Dave: Yes; so we’ve talked about the effect of screens on our brains, our relationships—five skills—I mean, we’ve hit some really hot stuff that’s in your book. If you missed any of these shows, get the book; it’s dynamite. It really is.
Ann: —or go back and listen to the other days.
Dave: Oh, for sure.
Here’s the first question I wanted to ask you: “If I am a parent of a middle schooler—or maybe, any age—how do I know when they are ready for a phone or a screen?”
Arlene: A lot of times I think we’ll give someone a phone just because they are nagging about it. [Laughter]
Ann: Yes, we want that to be done.
Arlene: That is not the right reason—like, “We just want this child to stop asking for this phone, so I guess we’ll do it,”—so when you give the phone, it really needs to be that you see that your child is ready. That might be middle school; that might be high school—you can laugh—it might be college. [Laughter] It’s the idea of: “How responsible is this child?”
If they are not responsible with their normal chores, then it’s really hard to think, “Oh, they are going to be responsible with this phone; and they are going to do exactly what we say with this phone contract,”—when they don’t clean their room, do their homework, walk the dog. If you see that your kid is not consistent with those kinds of things, then we’re kind of kidding ourselves to think they are going to be consistent with a phone.
Dave: Although—guessing here—when you talked about your oldest son,—
Dave: —he sounds like he is ready. He’s responsible; he’s a very mature young man. He doesn’t have a phone.
Arlene: That’s right; so here is phase two. First phase is: “Are they responsible? Can they do it?”
Phase two is kind of that whole idea of: “How is this going to affect them as a person? Is it going to, all of a sudden”—for my husband, he would say—“Why? Things are going so well with my 16-year-old son. Why would we introduce the phone and say, ‘Oh, look, now, you can be on social media or play video games’?” He would be like, “Why would we even want to introduce that?”
You do have to have, I think, this caution of—you never hear parents, who say—“I am so glad I got my child this phone; because now they are playing Fortnite, and they are on Instagram®. [Laughter] They are so satisfied; they are so healthy. We see them a lot; they are happy. The light has come back into their eyes,”—nobody says that.
They say: “Why did I give my phone/this phone to this child?” “I gave it too early. It introduced them to things that were much too old for them,” “It took them to the wrong crowd,” “It gave them weird ideas that we never had as a family,”—so most people say that. For that reason, I do give the advice to delay the phone/giving the phone as long as you can. That’s why my 16-year-old does not yet have a phone.
Ann: Would you ever ask your kids, “Let’s talk about why you want the phone”?
Arlene: Yes; actually, my daughter, who is 14—who does not have a phone—had said just the other day, “Mom, if you guys let me have a phone, I think I would have a phone.” “Okay, what would you do with your phone that you can’t do now?” She really likes cardistry, which is like doing card tricks. She said, “I would follow all these cardistry things on Instagram.”
I said, “Well, why don’t you just do that on my phone?”—because we were laughing, because she wouldn’t even talk to her friends on Instagram; she just wants to look at these card tricks. [Laughter] I told her, “Well, do that.” She has; so now, when you look at my Instagram feed, it’s full of cards. [Laughter] That’s okay with me.
It was interesting to find out: “Well, what would you do with it [phone]?” Then like, “Okay; well, you can do that with mine.” Talk to your kids—and that is a good idea—“What would you do with it?” Then, maybe: “Could you do it with the existing technology that we have?”
Arlene: You can have work-arounds; but the questions are: “Are they responsible?” “How is this going to affect their soul?” “How are they going to be emotionally?”
Some kids can handle it; other kids can’t. You’ll know because your kid, all of a sudden, will be more withdrawn to their room. Maybe, they are not as happy as they usually are; that’s the problem. Sometimes, in childhood—I like to call it a childhood killer—because the kid, who used to be out on the cul-de-sac, riding bikes or skateboard or hanging out; all of a sudden is like, “I don’t want to go out. I’m just going to stay here on my phone.”
Ann: I was going to ask—I mean, we’re reading so much about anxiety, depression—
Ann: —suicide. Is this contributing?
Ann: Is screen time contributing to those things?
Arlene: Yes; absolutely, because you see screen time usage go up pretty dramatically: in 2012—41 percent of teens had a smartphone—but that rose sharply to 89 percent in 2018. Then, in 2012, 34 percent of teens were using social media, many times a day; but now, 70 percent are using it. That was in 2018, so I’m sure that’s even higher.
The idea that half of the 18- to 24-year-olds are reporting anxiety and depression—and you can imagine—if you are not seeing people in real life, and if you are not getting ready for the real world, and then you have to go out there, and you have to figure all these things out, you don’t know what to do. It’s really something that’s affecting kids. If they are on screens too much as kids, then it’s going to affect them with depression and anxiety.
Dave: Yes; and I think one of the things that’s very interesting—if you think about when we were kids—you go to school; maybe, there is peer pressure; maybe, you’re getting bullied a little bit; maybe, negativity is happening; then you come home/you’re free.
Dave: But in this world, that never stops.
Arlene: Yes; I had a mother talk to me. She had a ninth grader, who was getting bullied at school. They actually changed schools in the district so she could have a new start; but the bully—because of phones—followed over to the other school and shared inappropriate videos that he had done before to the first school that was where the problem was. So now, the second school—these people have the same thing—so this problem follows her wherever she goes. Again, it’s in the pocket; it’s not something you just like walk away from. It’s something you have 24/7 access to; and that’s very unhealthy.
Dave: I would think—this is me talking—that there could be a positive—and I know what you’re going to say, because I know my answer isn’t positive—but especially a girl and boys—one of the biggest things they do with their phones is text—
Dave: —like almost non-stop.
I see over at Rob and Michelle’s house, and their daughters are—[making hurried sounds]—I’m like, “Wow!” They are talking to all their girlfriends.
Dave: You think, “Oh, that’s good; relationships are building; they are in conversation.” They are not going to pick up a phone and call them; but it is a bad thing; right? Why?
Arlene: So the texting—that’s great that you are reaching out—but how hysterical that, we are so advanced technologically, but texting is such a crude form of communication. It’s just like—then, for us, adults—we talk into our phones, so there are these full sentences; right? [Laughter] But for the kids, they are all just abbreviations—
Arlene: —they are all this. It’s like such a crude form of communication, and that’s the basis for a relationship. The bad thing about that is—my goodness—that’s so backward.
The most advanced form of communication is face to face: talking with words, talking with sentences, seeing body language. “You’re saying, ‘Oh, I’m not stressed at all’; but your body is telling me, ‘[I] have a problem.’” That’s advanced communication, let’s say. But that’s not what kids are getting. They are getting texting, which is great for: “Hey, what time do you want to meet?” “Where are you right now?”
Arlene: “What’s the weather today?” Okay, that’s great for texting. But: “Are you a happy person?” “Is someone hurting you?” “What are you going to do with your life?” “What do you feel like is the meaning of your life?” “What is God saying?”—those are not good conversations for texting. Yet, that’s the basis for communication for kids; and that’s, I think, what the problem is.
Sherry Turkle—she is at MIT, and she’s been researching this—she talks about, in middle school/that middle school teachers will say, “You know, it used to be that kids would come in the cafeteria, and they would talk to each other. That was really great for them to do; but now, they just talk about what’s on their phones. They have their phones out, and then they are talking about what’s on the phone.”
Arlene: It’s a new conversation. She says the job of the new conversation is not doing what the old conversation used to do. The old conversation used to touch us emotionally, help us to relate to other people, help us to figure out our way in the world. The new conversation is just: “Hey, did you see that video?” “Can you believe she did that?” “Can you believe he got that score?” It’s a different conversation.
Ann: So you’re not really getting to know the person.
Arlene: You’re not.
Ann: You’re getting to know their opinions about things;—
Ann: —but when you say, “Who are you?”—
Ann: —“What do you…”—not just: “What do you like?”—but: “Who are you as a person?” I think about that in marriage too.
Ann: I love it when Dave and I talk about how we’re doing or “What are you like? What do you like, and what don’t you like?”—
Ann: —instead of giving an opinion about something you’re looking at; it’s interesting.
Dave: And yet, it’s a bad thing; but [there’s] part of me is like, “Oh, I don’t want to talk about that. [Laughter] I’d rather…”
Ann: It’s because you are on your screen too much, Dave.
Dave: No; I mean, I’d rather—that’s why I think maybe, first—and I don’t know if it is a gender thing or not—but “I’d rather text back,—
Dave: —“’Fine’”; you know? [Laughter] Guys probably—
Arlene: — and “Why does this have to take ten minutes just to say, ‘Fine’?”
Dave: Yes; and she’ll say, Give me a number on a scale of 1 to 10.” I’m like, “Uh, a 6 is going to mean a conversation.” [Laughter] So there is some of that; it’s an escape.
Dave: It’s: “I don’t want to be intimate. This allows me to pretend I’m intimate. I’m just going to text you.”
In some ways, that’s a gift—I mean, I’m in a meeting; I can’t answer the phone; but I can say, “I’ll see you in ten,”—that’s wonderful. But if it’s avoiding relationship, it’s a bad thing for an adult or a kid; right?
Arlene: Yes; so texting, as part of your communication tools, fabulous; you know? And once in a while, a get-out-of-jail-free card that you can use to avoid a long conversation [Laughter]; but for kids, it’s like their thing. So they’ve got to learn to sit with a friend and talk to each other—
Arlene: —and have awkward silences and all that. They have to learn that. That’s when you think, “Okay; texting should be part of it, but it shouldn’t be the whole.”
Ann: Well, this has been fun because we are asking Arlene some of the questions that she put in her book: “Top Ten Questions and Answers about Screen Time.” Here is another one: “What if my son is left out because his friends all play video games?” I mean, we’re even doing that at church these days; you know, you go in, guys are playing video games. So—
Dave: Not at our church, of course—[Laughter]—those other churches.
Ann: But I notice some people do that, so how does your son deal with that?
Arlene: Yes, this is a huge question. I think many parents/they don’t want their child to be disadvantaged. Of course, we don’t want our child to be disadvantaged; so we’ll say, “Okay, you can do that; because I want you to fit in. I want you to have friends; I don’t want you to be ostracized or alone.” That makes sense.
With Ethan, he’ll say that people don’t/his friends are okay with it. He has friends, who don’t game a lot; I think that helps. For every child, that you’re saying—like: “You can’t be on social media,” “You can’t be on video games,” etc.—you are also trying to help them find things they can do. It’s not just like—“You don’t do this,” “You don’t do this,”—but: “Hey, we’re going to go hang out with this person at the park,” “We’re going to go do this sport together,” “We’re going to learn this skill,” “We’re going to camp,”—there has got to be other stuff.
For Ethan, he has other skills/other things he likes to do, whether it is piano or sports; so he can find friendship. There’s the key: he can find friendship with other boys his age through other activities, whether it’s he plays chess with a friend that is two years older than him; he plays ultimate Frisbee in the park with some other school friends. There are things he can do.
I know it feels, sometimes, like video games are the only way to connect with boys. You hear that all the time: “Video games are the only way to connect with boys”; but there is a basketball; and there is a football; there’s a chess board; you can have a building project; you could learn on-the-job skills. I mean, there are a lot of things that boys could do together to connect.
Then to realize that your kid—that you allow to play video games—he might feel really great right now; but if a boy grows up around video games—and there is a higher risk of addiction: four out of ten will deal with some kind of addiction-like something—and by addiction, I mean: “I haven’t taken a shower because I’m playing the game,” “I don’t do my homework, because I’m playing the game,” “I was just invited to go out to do something I usually like, but I’ve decided not to do it because of the game.” Those are the kinds of things I’m talking about when I say addiction. A lot of boys, because of video games, that will happen to them.
How is that going to affect them when they go for that first job interview? When they go to college, how is that going to affect them? They might be really having fun now; but later, will they be left out when conversations are not around video games?—because they are real comfortable in the gaming community; but if you take them out of the gaming community, then they are really at a loss.
So you also have to think long term. Short term, he might have to struggle a little bit with friendships; but long term, “What’s/how is this going to help him?”
Dave: Well, I know this. When I sit down—it’s rare—every once in a while to play a video game with my adult sons—
Dave: —I mean, they are 30s and late 20s—I’m always embarrassed, because I’m no good. They’re like, “Dad, you are so lame!” They are zipping around, and I feel bad. At the same time, I’m like, “That’s good thing”; because I didn’t waste my life getting good at this.
Dave: I think there have been times—my oldest son had a PSP, this little gaming thing—and I would play Retracer. I’d be on a plane, and I’d be playing it. You know, you get: “Oh, I want to get to the next level; I’ve got to get this thing.”
I’m like: “I used to be sitting here, thinking, ‘How can I have a conversation with this person on the plane?’—
Dave: —“because I had a mindset that God wants to use me to lead people to His Son wherever I go,—
Dave: —“whether it’s on an airplane, in an airport, in an Uber car—you name it; that is my calling in life. That’s all of our calling: ‘Go and make disciples.’ And what am I doing right now? I’m not even looking at this dude.”
In fact, I look over, and he is looking at a screen. [Laughter] I thought, “You know, if I put this thing away, and I say, ‘Hey, man, how are you doing?’ I bet you a conversation could lead who knows where; and God could use me.” I just thought, “That is what I do not want to do in my life. I do not want to be looking down. I want to live life, looking up—
Dave: —“at God, and what He is doing in my life, and wants to do in me and through me and at others.”
Digital world is a blessing from God; but if you are not careful, it can lead you to lose what life is about: primarily, loving God and loving others. In fact, “Parents, there is life happening right in front of you right now; and you need to be engaged.”
Bob: Our screens can be a great tool, as Dave Wilson just said, but our screens make lousy friends. I think that’s the heart of what Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking about with Arlene Pellicane this week. We have to make sure we are connecting with people, not with devices. We have to make sure our relationships are healthy and strong, because that’s where life is. Use your screens for what they are intended to be used for; don’t try to make them more than they ought to be.
This is especially important for our children, who are growing up in a screen-saturated culture. Arlene Pellicane has addressed this subject in her book, which is called Screen Kids. It’s all about 5 Relational Skills Every Child Needs in a Tech-Driven World. We’d love to send you a copy of this book. We are making Arlene’s book available to FamilyLife Today listeners who want to help extend the reach of this ministry/help us reach more people, more often, with practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families.
Every day, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are coming to us for equipping, and mentoring/for training. It’s one of the good uses for the internet and for devices, we think. You make this program possible, as a radio broadcast/as a podcast. You make all that we do at FamilyLife happen when you donate. So again, if you are able to help with a donation today, not only will you be extending the reach of FamilyLife, helping more husbands and wives and moms and dads know how to navigate the challenges of marriage and family life, but you’ll also receive, as a thank-you gift from us, Arlene Pellicane’s book, Screen Kids. You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate over the phone. We are grateful for your partnership. We look forward to hearing from you.
We talked about the fact that there are good uses for technology in our day. David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife, is here with us; and we’re doing all we can at FamilyLife to try to wisely use technology as a way to connect people with practical biblical help and hope. One of the ways we’ve done that, David, is by developing a FamilyLife app to give people immediate access to help and hope; right?
David: Absolutely; I mean, technology and the four-inch screen in our pocket that has taken over our world in some way can be used for some really destructive things; but it can also be used for incredibly redemptive things. “How do we redeem the four-inch screen in our pocket?” One of the ways is by getting access to biblical truth, and that’s why the FamilyLife app exists.
That’s why we’ve improved it recently again. We’re going to continue to do everything we can to make that a place where: you can access things easily; you can share it with other people; you can stop and start, and even put it on double time if you’re in a bit of a hurry and Bob Lepine is talking too slowly. [Laughter] We want to do everything we can to provide the help and hope that we need as easily as possible.
Bob: [Speeding up his speech] I can talk faster if you think I need to talk fast; no, I’m kidding. [Laughter] You can find the FamilyLife Today app when you go to your app store: just type in FamilyLife as one word; our app will come up. You can download it, and then you have instant access to this program and other resources that are available from us, here, at FamilyLife. Thank you, David.
We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together with your local church this weekend. I hope you can join us on Monday when we’re going to talk about our own relationship with our screens. Wendy Speake is going to be here and tell us about a 40-day media fast that she took and how cleansing it was for her own soul. I hope you can join us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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