Raising Kids in the Tech World
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How can parents raise kids well in today’s tech-driven world? Arlene Pellicane addresses when a kid needs a phone, what skills they need, digital Sabbaths and more.
Raising Kids in the Tech World
Dave: So my question to you today is: “How do you think my phone and your phone have changed your marriage?”
Ann: I don’t think we talk as much; because I’ve always said, when your phone is in your hand, I feel like you’re talking to someone else; and I don’t want to be rude.
Dave: Yes, we’ve had fights—many fights—
Dave: —over: “Okay; so I’ll put my phone on my leg.”
Ann: Then I can tell—I can hear it buzz—and then I can tell that you’re just dying to look at it! [Laughter]
Dave: And if I glance down, I’m in trouble.
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—
Dave: So we need help. [Laughter]
Ann: And we have help!
Dave: And we have help in the studio! Arlene Pellicane is with us today. She has written a book called Screen Kids, which is not just about kids. Although it is a lot about kids, it affects marriages as well. Here’s her subtitle, which I love: 5 Skills Every Child Needs in a Tech-Driven World. We need to talk about those skills.
But you’re also a mom/a wife—three kids—so you’re living this out in your home. You’ve got a podcast called The Happy Home and a wonderful book called 31 Days to a Happy Husband. Is that what it was?
Arlene: Yes, that’s it! You got it.
Ann: And we’ve already been talking about just the effects of our screen time on our brains, on our homes—what that looks like—that was super helpful.
Dave: I mean, it’s helpful; because I didn’t want to know it. [Laughter]
Dave: You know, like I’m doing this—and I don’t want to know—[Laughter]
Ann: I was clapping and cheering when Arlene came; but then I was also super convicted, because I’m guilty, too.
Dave: I mean, it is fascinating to think how it affects our brain. One of the things I want to ask you about that is: “Can we become addicted?” Because my wife has said maybe I am. And is it like a drug?—screen time.
Ann: And Arlene, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Arlene: It’s so great to be with you!
Yes, you can become addicted. The idea—you know, of course, there are so many ways that we could talk about addiction—like, “What does that really mean?”
I think, in a marriage, it’s the kind of thing, where it’s taking more time than you want it to take. Let’s say you wanted to just be on it for an hour; and then you realize, at the end of the day: “Oh, my goodness! I spent three hours on YouTube and watching videos I didn’t even mean to.”
Arlene: You see that it’s causing problems inside a relationship; someone is saying, “Hey, you’re on that too much.” And then, you can always try the good old detox of saying, “Hey, I’m going to take a digital Sabbath,”— like a test—to say: “On Sunday, we know where we’re driving to, so we don’t need it for directions. You’ve got your watch on; so if there’s an emergency, someone could reach you.
Arlene: “We’re just going to do a test. Can we do 24 hours without technology?”
Ann: Have you done that with your family? You have three kids;—
Ann: —how old are they?
Arlene: They are 16, 14, and 11.
Ann: So they’re in it.
Arlene: They are in it!
We have not, technically, done this test, which is making me think, “We should try it.” [Laughter] We have hybrids of this test. Our kids are very strange, because they don’t have phones; and they’re not allowed to have social media accounts; and they don’t play video games.
Ann: How are these kids existing?!
Arlene: I know! And they still live and breathe. They’re not on oxygen; they’re okay! [Laughter]
But of course, we do have a lot of technology. So when they need a phone, they use mine or my husband’s. There’s a family iPad®, so they can grab that for school or for whatever. There are desktop computers; there are Chromebooks from school. I mean, we have a lot of technology in the house; but they don’t have a personal phone.
Ann: Okay; what does your 16-year-old think about this?
Arlene: Yes, so this is really funny; because my 16-year-old is frugal!—like he is good with money. He knows, if he had a phone, he’d have to pay for it. I have actually even asked, “If we let you have a phone, would you get one?” And he’s like, “Probably not”;—
Arlene: —because of the financial, which is funny; but that’s also part of learning.
Ann: Yes, if they want a phone—
Arlene: Because for kids/—
Ann: —let them buy it.
Arlene: —for most kids, it’s a freebie.
Arlene: You know, it’s like no risk on them: “Yes, mom; I want a phone! I’m ten years old, and I want the best phone that’s out there; because you’re going to buy it for me.”
So even teaching your child: “If you want that phone, you can earn that phone.” That’s even a good lesson in how this works. So for him, he would say, “You know what? If there’s a problem, because I don’t have my phone, I can find a work-around.” All he has to do is say, “Buddy!”—like two feet away from him—“Let me use your phone to text my mom.” And he does it; it’s not a big deal.
Dave: Now, what do you say to a parent about when to let their kids have a phone?
Arlene: This is a huge thing. It’s going to be different for each kid; because some kids might be able to handle it, where other kids couldn’t. See, are they, first of all, responsible with normal things: “Do they walk the dog when they’re supposed to?” “Do they do their laundry?” “Do they pack their lunch?” “Do they clean the house?” “Do they keep up on their grades?”
Because if you’re having trouble with these basic responsibilities—but they promise:“If you give me a phone, I will do everything you want me to do, and I’ll follow every rule you give me about the phone!” You’re going to be like, “No; your actions do not show me that.” So are they responsible enough?
And then, I would really say, for sure, it’s not needed in elementary school. If they need one to communicate—maybe you are in two different homes, and you need to communicate who’s picking her up/what’s happening—then just a simple phone that can text only; that will work, but not a smartphone.
Then, I would really caution in middle school; because a lot of times, we feel like, “Okay, it’s middle school. Now we’re going to let up; we’re going to give the phone.” But in middle school—think of it!—this is/this huge time, where they’re so unsure of themselves. They’re wondering/they’re asking the question: “Do people like me?” Girls are asking, “Am I pretty?” You know, guys are [asking], “Am I competent?” They’re asking these questions. You give them a phone and social media during that time, and they will find the wrong answers.
Arlene: So I would really caution, even [with] a middle schooler.
Ann: I remember one of my neighbors—we were talking to her—and then her daughter was standing there, too, who is 13.
Ann: And we were talking about phones. She said, “If I didn’t have a phone, it would be social death to me! I would have no friends.
Ann: “I would not know what’s going on. I would not…” And I was thinking, “Oh, but you’re getting your identity from what other people are saying and doing.” That’s the danger of it, especially in middle school.
Ann: As our values and everything are being shaped, and we’re pulling away from our parents more, and we’re really tuning in to what society is saying and our peers are saying; it can be a dangerous time.
Arlene: Yes, yes; and just, as a parent, scroll through TikTok/just scroll through Instagram®—and see what’s popular—and then you’ll wonder, “Is this what I want my child to be feeding on?”
This is not a popular thing [not getting a phone]; you know? No middle school child is going to be like, “Oh, great!
Ann: “You don’t get a phone!”
Arlene: “I don’t get a phone, so I can be healthy! Yippee!!”—you know? Nobody’s going to say that. They’re going to be like, “You are ruining my life!
Arlene: “This is death to me.”
Arlene: And that’s why I think it’s so important, in those elementary school years—if you are listening to us, and you still have those younger kids—that they’re building other activities; so that, when you get to that point in their life, they have relationships; they have real-life friends, who they don’t have to count on connecting on Instagram to be with that friend. They have a friend in real life, that they’re going to see normally. It’s not social death when they don’t have that phone.
Dave: Well, let’s talk about your subtitle: 5 Skills Every Child Needs in a Tech-Driven World. And by the way, I’m still stuck on this amazing concept: “Make your kids pay for their phone.” [Laughter]
Arlene: He’s still thinking about this phone! [Laughter]
Dave: What a novel idea! It’s like, “I don’t know a parent that does that!”
Ann: —or even the monthly—
Dave: That is a—yes, the monthly bill/whatever—it’s like that won’t change everything, but let’s talk about these five skills. [Laughter] What are they?
Arlene: I love that! [Laughter]
Dave: What are the five skills?
Arlene: You know about the A-plusses of school—academic skills—those are great; but even more than the academic A’s is: “What kind of person is your child becoming?” These are A-plus skills of:
Affection: “Can your child give and receive love?”
Appreciation: “Are they the child that says, ‘Thank you,’?—or the child, who’s like, ‘Is this all that I get?’”—you know?
Anger management: “Anger’s a part of life, but how are you going to deal with it? How are you going to talk to people when you’re angry?”
Apology: “How do you own up for things when you do things that are wrong?”
And then, lastly, Attention: “How can you take that wandering mind and say, ‘Wait right here; I’ve got to pay attention’?”
These are skills that are really in danger of extinction, because we have the A-plus skill of amusement—is, basically, what we have all the time now—“My kid needs to be amused, because that keeps them safe and out of my hair.” But in reality, is it helping them be these things: affectionate, appreciative, etc.?
Dave: Well, I found it fascinating reading your section about affection. I was thinking, “What’s affection have to do with a screen?” And you draw out that we are less affectionate in life, or in our homes, and very affectionate with our devices.
Dave: And I’m like, “Oooh, busted!” [Laughter]
Ann: I know!
Dave: Yes; so talk about that a little bit. I mean, obviously that’s true.
Dave: So how do we build that skill of affection, and how does a device hurt that?
Arlene: This book, Screen Kids, is co-authored with Gary Chapman of The 5 Love Languages. If you’re familiar with the five love languages, think of: if your child feels love through physical touch, they love being hugged; they like to wrestle; the girl wants to have her hair braided. That’s how they feel loved and secure, by physical touch.
Well, you introduce technology into that, and how many times are we like, “Oh, you’re playing a video game? Let me sit right next to you so you can feel my…”—no! You see your kid playing a video game, and you run the other direction. You know, it’s bedtime; this is a time to take that younger child, and put them on your lap, and read a book. You have this really precious window to do that; but “You know what? Ah, it’s been a long day! Take the iPad; read yourself; fall asleep.” These times that would be usually reserved for some physical touch—all of a sudden, if we’re not careful—we’re touching the screens instead of our kids. Our kids aren’t feeling that love.
Maybe your kid’s language is words of affirmation. They want to hear you speak to them! But when a screen is introduced—whether it’s a tablet, a phone, a TV, or whatever—what happens? Conversation goes down, because you’re looking at the screen. Even if you have a TV on in the background, you’re kind of doing your own thing; you’re not really talking to your child; you might talk a little bit.
But let’s say it was quiet in the house; then, you’re like: “Hey, what’s going on? What are you working on?” “Oh, that’s good!” “Oh, who’s that?”—you know? And now, you’re talking; and you’re having this conversation.
You want more opportunities like that to speak words of affirmation. A lot of times, what works really well is specific words of affirmation—so not just, “Good job!”—but [whispering], “Hey, I noticed your sister was kind of being especially annoying today; but you didn’t yell at her.
Arlene: “You didn’t go crazy, and I noticed that; that was really good! You’re growing more loving. That was very good!”
Ann: It’s causing us to be more intentional.
Arlene: —and we notice! Let’s say we’re on our screens all day; we don’t even notice—
Arlene: —that she did that. It’s having those words come.
You know, whether it’s acts of service/of doing things for your child—now, maybe you don’t have time; because you’re checking other things: you’re checking email—you’re getting ahead at work—but you’re getting behind at home. So how can you show affection and make sure the screens, you know, are at a minimum so you can show affection?
Dave: I mean, there are times—and I wonder your opinion on this—where I’ve sat down beside my son and played a video game with him.
Dave: It’s actually a cool bonding moment.
Arlene: Yes; I’m so glad you said that, because now the other husbands are like, “Yes! I do that with my son; is that okay?” I think video games can be something that brings people together. If you’re playing together, like that works! If you find that you’re playing together with your children, and that’s something good; then the questions to ask would be: “Just be careful that it doesn’t turn into an addictive thing for either of you.”
The way you can look at that is just, as a gamer: if you’re casual, at risk, or addicted.
The casual gamer can be like, “Hey, let’s pick up a game.” They can play for 20 minutes/30 minutes, walk away, and go ride a bike. It’s just like one thing; it’s not a big deal! If you pick it up on a Friday night, and play with your dad, you do it. If you don’t do it Saturday night, it’s not a big deal.
The at-risk gamer is the one, who’s asking, “Oh, we didn’t play today! Can we play today?” You know, so they’re asking each day: “Can we play? We didn’t play.”
And of course, the addicted is like, “I didn’t play for my few hours today, and I’m not happy!” Then you know, “What’s going on?” So you can look at the frequency—
Dave: Yes, right.
Arlene: —of when you’re playing, and if it’s really easy to not do it.
Dave: And you mention—and I’d never heard this concept before—veggies and candy?—
Arlene: Yes! That’s right.
Dave: —with your digital devices. Explain that.
Arlene: Yes; so you can think about: if I were carrying around a bag of M&Ms®—a big, king-sized bag of M&Ms—and I was told, “Oh, just eat ten today!” I am going to fail; [Laughter] I am going to fail!
Dave: Me, too.
Arlene: I am going to sneak around the house, and I’m going to eat that thing until it’s empty. Because I’m holding it, it’s tempting—it’s candy; I love it; it tastes good—I’m going to eat it.
And it’s the same thing for kids if you give them a device: an iPad, a phone, whatever. It’s like giving a bag of M&Ms and saying, “Good luck”; because there’s so much digital candy out there—
Arlene: —whether it’s Netflix®—and of course, if they watch one program, what’s going to happen?—the next program that is interesting to them/that’s been chosen for them—
Arlene: —is going to cue up. They’re going to have to have the power to go: [sarcastic tone] “Oh, I don’t want to find out how that ends. I guess I should turn the TV off!” No one can do that; there’s your bag of M&Ms.
So for kids, you have to understand that it’s very tempting. It’s kind of unreasonable, to be like, “Oh, just watch a little bit,” if you give them sway. So whether it’s video games, YouTube videos, Netflix—anything that is purely entertaining—is candy. Candy is fine in small doses; it kind of makes you happy; that’s fine. But you can’t build your body on candy. And in the same way, you can’t/they can’t build their brain/their spirit on candy.
Now, what are the digital vegetables? Those are things like listening to a lecture; they’re listening to a sermon; they’re learning a Bible verse; they’re working on their math. It’s something that’s obviously good for their brain/for their spirit. There’s really no risk of addiction there.
And it’s a vegetable; it’s something that parents have to serve to their children. The children are not gravitating toward: “Oh, let me watch ten Ted Talks today.” You know, they’re not gravitating toward this; it’s something parents—it’s the same thing with vegetables.
Digital vegetables—all screen time is not equal; so truly, if your child is on screens—and they’re learning how to play the guitar, and they’re skyping grandma, and they watch a sermon—that’s a lot different than them watching the latest Instagram star, and watching things blow up on YouTube; it’s different!
Ann: Can you imagine saying that to your teen? “You can watch the sermon.” [Laughter]
Ann: They’re going to be like, “Are you kidding, Mom?!”
Arlene: “Are you crazy?”
Ann: Yes; but I think I like that you’re talking about these discussions can start when they’re young.
What if we feel like it’s too late?—“My household is just bombarded with screens! We’re not really talking.”
Dave: “We haven’t been intentional for years.
Dave: “We’re now listening to this, going, ‘Oh, boy! I’ve got to start over,—
Dave: —“’and my teenager is going to rebel.’”
Ann: Right! They’re going to be so mad.
Dave: What do you say? What do they do?
Arlene: I think it’s best to start with an apology. Instead of saying, “Okay, you guys! You guys have been doing this all wrong! We’re going to do it right now!” just say, “You know what? I want to be a good parent. I love you guys very much. I’ve learned some new things, and I’m seeing that we’re probably not doing this in a healthy way; and I want to help you guys as much as I can.”
As long as your children are under your roof—even if they’re 18, 19, 20—there’s time! You can make an impact. I think your passion for them and enthusiasm—
approach it like: “We can do this!”—don’t approach it like [droning voice]: “Okay; this is going to be impossible! [Laughter] It’s never going to work; I know; but let’s just give it lip service, and let’s try.”
You know, they know that they’ve already got you beat before you even open your mouth. [Laughter] You’ve got to come in, confident. And if that means being coached up and mentored by an older person—having coffee with that person before you have this talk—go do that! But you come in strong; and you say, “I’m really sorry. I’ve messed up. I’ve let you sleep with your phone in your room. I know you’re not getting much sleep; I know your grades are shot. I want to help you. We’re going to take your phone; we’re going to charge it in my room overnight. We’re going to do that for a month; and then, let’s talk again and see how you’re doing.”
You come in—it’s simple; it’s a game plan—it’s specific. Maybe for you, it’s just that you’re going to do no screens at mealtimes; so you have an action step. Just think—whether it’s taking a phone away at bedtime, whether it’s a limit of three hours a day, or fewer video games/whatever it is—you’re going to come up with this; you’re going to say, “This is what we’re going to do, and we’re doing this because we love you.”
Don’t be afraid to try it, and don’t expect that they’re going to thank you. [Laughter]
But you can expect, perhaps in years ahead, they will thank you. Let that hope carry you through this tough day.
Ann: One of my best friends used to have all of these kids, who would come to her house. She had three daughters—teenagers—and when they wo goes, “Oh, that’s the basket for our phones, because we want to know you. We want to love you; we want to have a time that we can really talk.”
Ann: And her home became a magnet; because Michelle would sit and look at them, eye to eye. She would pray for them; she would communicate to them. I thought, “Oh, are these kids going to be so mad?” No! It became this haven/a safe place for them to come.
It reminds me a little bit of Romans 12:2—think about this; I’ve never thought of it in the context of screen time—when it says, “Do not copy of the behavior and customs of this world”—I mean, just that alone! Let’s not copy that,—“but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think,”—What we’ve done over the years/I think it’s so subtle; and we all have done it; we have allowed screen time to transform our minds—“Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good, and pleasing, and perfect.”
Dave: Yes; and I would say, “Boy, that apology—
Dave: —“Arlene, that was gold! I mean, to think about sitting on your son or daughter’s bed at night, or the kitchen table,—
Dave: —and saying, “I’ve done a bad job in this area,—
Ann: “I’m guilty.”
Dave: —“and I want to do better.”
Dave: “I want us to do better.” I just thought, if I’m that dad, and I’m looking at him now—or that mom—I’d say, “And I have to model it.”
Dave: I can’t apologize and then just be—you know, I’ve got to show it. When I walk into my son’s house with little Bryce, who’s two years old, and little Autumn, who’s just a couple months—he has told me: “You’re with my son, and you’re looking at your phone,”—I need to put the phone in the coat pocket and leave it there. Rather than just say, “Hey, you know, you guys should be careful with your…”; I need to model that.
I would challenge our listener to model that, as a husband/wife, and as a mom and dad. And pick up [Arlene’s] book!
Ann: Yes; Arlene, thank you for being with us.
Arlene: It’s been an honor to be with you. Thank you!
Bob: I think all of us need to be asking the question: “Who’s in charge of us? Are we in charge of our phones, or are our phones in charge of us? Who’s in control?” I know the easy, reflexive answer is: “Well, of course I’m in charge!” But maybe we’re not as in charge as we think. And for our kids, that’s an even more crucial question, as they just instinctively, these days, are drawn to their devices.
Arlene Pellicane has been talking today to Dave and Ann Wilson about how, as parents, we need to help build specific relational skills in our children so that they are not controlled by their devices. Arlene has written a book called Screen Kids: 5 Relational Skills Every Child Needs in a Tech-Driven World. We’re making her book available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners, any of you who can help advance the work of FamilyLife Today. Our goal is to reach more people, more often, with practical biblical help and hope.
We want to come alongside and be a trusted friend as you seek to move your marriage and family in the right direction/the direction that God has mapped out for us in His Word. You can donate to support FamilyLife Today online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to support FamilyLife Today. The number is 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Be sure to ask for your copy of Arlene Pellicane’s book, Screen Kids, when you make a donation.
And let me say a quick word of thanks to our monthly Legacy Partners. Conversations like we’ve heard today really happen because of the investment that Legacy Partners make. David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife, is here with me today. David, FamilyLife Today would not exist if it weren’t for these faithful friends of this ministry.
David: Yes, I just want to take a moment and thank our Legacy Partners; because those are the partners, who join with us monthly, and lay the foundation for us to be able to create resources like FamilyLife Today, and so many other resources, to provide biblical help and hope to marriages and families.
We heard from a Legacy Partner yesterday—the FamilyLife team forwarded me this email that was so encouraging—he said, “My wife Linda and I have been married for over 28 years and involved in some way with FamilyLife for many years. We attended the Weekend to Remember® during a very difficult time of our marriage, and it was so refreshing and gave us a lot of tools to use.” Then he went on and said, “I receive the daily emails, reminding me of so many important parts of maintaining a strong marriage. We love everything about FamilyLife and are happy to be a Legacy Partner.”
It just gives me great joy to find others having joy in their giving, because we certainly have the joy of getting to bring this gospel truth and the biblical principles of marriage to people because of Legacy Partners like this couple.
Bob: Yes; and let me just say, if you are a long-time listener to FamilyLife Today, maybe it’s time for you to join the Legacy Partner team to make a monthly investment in the lives of marriages and families in your community, and all around the world, by supporting the work of FamilyLife Today every month. You can sign on to become a Legacy Partner. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to sign up, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Here’s a little extra incentive for you: when you become a Legacy Partner for the first time, we want to send you a certificate so you and your spouse can attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway as our guests. That’s our thank-you gift for all new Legacy Partners. Again, sign on at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to join us and become a Legacy Partner.
Now, tomorrow, Dr. Gary Chapman is going to join us. You know him; he wrote the book, The 5 Love Languages. Dave and Ann Wilson have just finished their book, No Perfect Parents. They’re going to talk about parenting and love languages, and how all of that fits together. It will be a great conversation; I hope you can join us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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