Axis founder David Eaton encourages parents to talk to their kids about appropriate cell phone usage. Eaton reminds parents it's not so much about how to use the phone but why we use it. Eaton also lets parents know what the non-negotiables are regarding cell phone use, like porn and sexting, and helps parents coach their kids on how to stay safe online. David Eaton is a contributor to Dennis and Barbara Rainey's book, The Art of Parenting.
About the Guest
David Eaton encourages parents to talk to their kids about appropriate cell phone usage. Eaton reminds parents it’s not so much about how to use the phone but why we use it.
Bob: A smartphone is a device that can lead to all kinds of opportunities and all kinds of danger. As a parent, what can you do to make sure your son or daughter is ready to use their smartphone properly? Here’s David Eaton.
David: When your 16-year-old gets a driver’s license, they have to go through hours of driving with you in the passenger seat, written tests, governmental test, actual driving test, driving during the day / driving at night. There are so many—it’s legislated; right? And there is so much pressure.
When you get a kid a smartphone, there is none of that training. As a parent, when you have the smartphone, the idea is like: “What can the driver’s ed for my smartphone for my kid be?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 27th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to have a device discussion today and talk about how you can make sure your teens are handling their devices well—
—not just your teens, by the way. We’ll talk about your use of your device. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
Dennis: I’m putting my phone away.
Bob: I was about to say: “Here I am—we’re starting FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: Your phone is showing, Bob.
Bob: “You’re on your phone; the guest is on his laptop. I’m fully engaged with the program.
Dennis: Oh, give me a break!
Bob: “I am here, all in; and you guys are”—
Dennis: You would have made a great Pharisee, Bob. [Laughter] I’m glad God redeemed you.
Bob: I’ve got to tell you—I had dinner with our guest last night. We had a meal together, and I told him he needed to go home and check out the Art of Parenting™ online video series that we’ve got. He’s familiar with your book, The Art of Parenting, which has just come out. I said, “If you do that, we’ll let you on the radio tomorrow.” He did, and that’s why he’s on today.
Dennis: He is here. David Eaton joins us on FamilyLife Today. David, welcome back.
David: Hey, everybody.
Bob: You didn’t know that I was putting that hurdle—if you didn’t come home and do the Art of Parenting, we weren’t letting you on today.
David: I didn’t know that, but I’m glad I know that I passed your test.
Bob: You did.
Dennis: Well, our listeners likely remember David from having been on our broadcast a little over a year ago, as I recall. He is the co-founder of Axis, which was formed 11 years ago to help parents know how to navigate the digital world with their preteens and teens; right?
David: You’ve got it.
Dennis: David is married to Lindsey and has three children.
Bob, when it came time for Barbara and me to write our book, The Art of Parenting, we were writing a section of the book on character. We thought, “Man, we need a chapter in here on technology; because if there is anything today that has the power for good or the power for evil—
Bob: —“that will shape the character of your child in one way or another.”
Dennis: Exactly—and your children’s parents, too, by the way.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: —“it’s technology.” I thought, “Who have we had on the broadcast who could do this?” I thought of David and his team at Axis. I thought, “I need to call him on the phone”; so I did.
Bob: Do you remember getting this phone call?
David: And here we are—yes; it was a good day; it was a good day. I was like, “Hi, Dennis, how are you doing?” Then, I called the team in and said: “Hey, we get to write this chapter. Let’s do it,” because there are so many questions like: “When should I get my kid a phone?” and “Should there be phone privacy?” and “I always feel like the bad guy,” and “It’s just such an incredible tool that’s taking the world over.” It was such a fun chapter to write.
Dennis: So, my challenge to him, Bob, was—I said: “I want some uranium. [Laughter] I want something that is compact, tight, and gives parents the edge of being on top of this. Can you do it?!” So, Bob, I’m holding the chapter right here.
Dennis: It’s in the book, The Art of Parenting.
Bob: Is it uranium?
Dennis: It’s plutonium!
Dennis: Oh, yes!
Dennis: It’s plutonium.
Bob: It’s radioactive.
Dennis: It is. So, David, you began the chapter by talking about how you guys, as a team, speak to tens of thousands of teenagers; and you’re connecting with tens of thousands of parents, as well, every year. What are you seeing today when it comes to handling smartphones?
David: Well, I think the big question is: “Should I get my kid a smartphone?” and “If I should, when should I get it for them?” When a parent asks that question, usually, it’s because they are feeling pressure because other little kids have these phones; right? One of the things we ask parents is: “Who is your greatest competition out there in raising your kids?” You know what parents say to me? They say, “Our greatest competition is other parents,”—the peer pressure from other parents. They’ll say: “Oh, the Lepines—their kids are 11 years old, and they have phones. So, therefore, we, as the Raineys”—if we have 11-year-olds—“we should get a phone.”
Bob: You know, kids have been doing this—you did this ploy when you were growing up.
David: Absolutely! You’ve got to divide and conquer. You know what I’m saying? [Laughter]
Dennis: But parents are leaving the gate open with their children, and it’s not necessarily the Christian parents that are. You could do a good job with your kids, but the problem is your kid’s going to be exposed to dozens of other devices that other kids are carrying.
David: Right; and that’s one of the secrets—is that just because you don’t get your kid a phone doesn’t mean they won’t have access to a smartphone.
David: If they have a friend who has a smartphone—which they’ll have—so you have to train your kid with the understanding of like: “Someday, I’m going to give them a phone; but then, even if I don’t, I have to prepare them to know what to do when their friend slides a phone in front of them and says, ‘Hey, look at this.’”
I think one of the first things that we think about is—if you say, “What age should I give my kid a phone?”—you’re asking the wrong question or it is assuming the wrong thing; because it’s this idea of: “My kid has 0 percent of a phone. Now, once I get them a phone, they’ll have 100 percent use of a phone.” You go—it’s like binary—you go, “Either they have it—now, they don’t / now, they do.”
Well, first of all, the first part is wrong because, even if they don’t have the phone, they’re going to have access to it with their friends; so you have to have these awful conversations that you don’t want to have—that’s going to feel like you’re stealing your kid’s innocence; but you want to frame that conversation first with them before their friend does. Then, when you give them the phone, do not give them the entire phone. You give them partial control of it—certain things they have access to and certain things they don’t. We talk about this in the chapter.
Dennis: You mentioned a word—you said, “You’re stealing your child’s innocence”?
David: That’s what it feels like when you talk to your eight-year-old about sex, or when you talk to your twelve-year-old about sexting, or when you have to bring up this idea of pornography way before your kid is even hitting puberty. Parents tell us, “I don’t want to have this conversation.” We say to them is: “What you talk to your kid about, they will talk about to you. Who would you rather have the first conversation with? Would you rather your kid have that first conversation about sexuality with their friend or with Google®; or do you want them to know that you’re a safe person with it?”
That’s one of the extremes that the smartphone brings—is that one of the biggest regrets parents have—is their 11-year-old/12-year-old has a birthday or a holiday. They hand their kid a phone in the box; the kid opens the box; and all of a sudden, they are one-click away from the best part of human nature and one-click away from the deepest, darkest, scariest part.
Bob: So, you’re saying that, for weeks or months, before you hand them the box, you need to be engaged in dialogue and conversation. Parents are going: “What questions am I asking? What kind—like do I sit down and say, ‘Tonight, we’re going to talk about pornography with you,’—is that what you do?”
David: I think you have to say—if you’re going to give your kid a phone, you have to be willing to have a conversation with them about it, multiple times a week, for the next ten years / or the next five or six years. You are going to be in dialogue over this. This is the biggest battleground.
For the parents, who are listening—and grandparents who are listening right now—there are some of you who have kids that you haven’t gotten a phone for. That’s awesome.
There is a lot of hope that you can set this up the right way; but for those of you who are face-palming yourself right now and saying: “Yes; you’re talking to me. I have a 15-year-old right now, and we are having”—as one dad says—he says, “I literally feel utterly defeated, at least, once a week, over the smartphone.” If you’re that parent, there is hope for you, too, with this.
Bob: Yes; you guys have put together a series of videos. There are three videos—and by the way, you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and find links to these videos. These are like six minutes each; right?
David: Yes; they are short and sweet.
Bob: You can—as parents walk through the videos, you’ll get a framework for what this dialogue should look like before you give a child a phone or, if you’ve already given a child a phone, how you can play catch-up and get things recalibrated. It’s hard to pull the whole thing back once the kids have had a phone for six months or a year; but there’s a strategy where parents can recapture this whole thing; right?
David: Yes; the thing is you want to maintain trust.
Just because you have more control doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to have more trust in the process. You want to try to maintain and grow in trust through this.
I think it would be really helpful if we talked about the four big conversations you have about this. We talk about in the video series—it’s made out of the chapter Dennis and I collaborated on—and I think it will help you reorient the phone in your life.
Dennis: I want to stop you before you get to the four conversations, because you just made an assumption about our audience that I was surprised by as I read your chapter for the first time. I thought, “They have really put their finger on what is the core issue here.” It’s not necessarily the iPhone® or the device that the kid is struggling with and what’s on it. You say that parents need to be involved in one thing that’s very simple—conversation. As you’ve engaged with teenagers, you’re finding that teenagers are not having the conversations with their parents about much of anything like this.
David: Right. As a parent, you have this really awesome opportunity to have multiple conversations with your kid—we actually call it this. We had a young lady come up to us—she was in her 30s—and she says, “I’ve only had one real conversation with my dad.” When we heard her say that, we were like: “Oh no, you’ve only had one conversation with your dad. This is terrible!” She smiled; she paused and she said, “We’ve never stopped having that one conversation.” [Laughter]
So, as a parent, you’re going to have a 60-year conversation with your kids; and that’s awesome. As a grandparent, you’re going to have a 30-year conversation with your kid. As a youth pastor, you might have an 18-month conversation—really good coach, a four-year conversation. Axis is all about leveraging that 60-year conversation. We want you to have one conversation—not two conversations with a ten-year gap.
Bob: Well, and you brought up something else here: the relationship between trust and control.
David: Oh my; yes.
Dennis: Keep in mind—he’s [David] got a five-year-old, a three-year-old, and a newborn.
David: What do I know? I don’t know anything about this! [Laughter]
Dennis: No, no, no, no. You just don’t know what you’re in for as you move into adolescence with your own.
Bob: You are an advocate for the fact that parents need to exercise control over their kids’ devices; but if that’s all they are doing, there is a problem there.
David: Yes; I am an advocate for maintaining heart connection with your children. One of the ways you love them is that you provide boundaries for your children. Imagine you are playing soccer by a cliff without a fence. That fence is going to change the way you engage with the world, and that’s what parents do—you provide a type of fence.
I think one of the biggest ideas that you should have with a smartphone is think about a car. When your 16-year-old gets a driver’s license, they have to go through hours of driving with you in the passenger’s seat, written tests, governmental test, actual driving test, driving during the day / driving at night. There are so many—it’s legislated; right? There is so much pressure.
When you give a kid a smartphone, there is none of that training. As a parent, when you have this smartphone, the idea is like: “What can the driver’s ed for my smartphone for my kid be?”
Here’s the thing—one of the things you have to let happen in your heart is that, just like when your kid is learning to drive, you don’t want to be in the passenger seat for the rest of their life. You have to let them go; you have to let them drive and make decisions for themselves. Well, at the very beginning when you give them a smartphone, you should have your eye on it—you should have boundaries; you should have control; you should have a lot of interesting conversations—but at some point, you want to get them to the point where they are self-governing / where they are imposing their own limits on it—
David: —so that you’re not checking their texts for the rest of their lives.
Dennis: David, one of the reasons why you are on target is because, much like your illustration of driver’s ed with a teenager, when you take an iPhone—many of the young people, by the time the parents actually give them their iPhone, have more experience and know more about the iPhone than the parents do.
Bob: Mom and Dad are the ones going to the kid and saying: “How do I do this?” “How—show me how to use this app”; and the kids know it better than the parents.
David: It’s like you have tech support in your house. If you have teenagers in your house, you have free tech support.
Dennis: That’s why you guys have come alongside them, though, is to give them education and train them to know what questions to ask—kind of where they are hiding stuff, because we all hid stuff. I was speaking at a group, just a few months ago; and I said: “Stop looking at me like that. You know, when you were a teenager, you snuck out; you hid stuff. Hold your hand up.” Nearly everybody in the audience held their hands up.
David: Well, there is a whole industry of sneaky apps. There are apps that look like one thing on the surface, and you—like there is the notorious calculator app—it looks like a calculator / works like a calculator. You open it up; you type in a secret numerical code; and now, you have an internet browser and, now, you have a database that you can hide nude pictures from your parents. That’s one of the things that Axis does—is we want to say, “Hey, here’s how you see what’s going on in your kids’ world.”
But Bob, as you said, just because you can control it, you still want to have that heart connection of trust.
Bob: If you’re having the control without the trust, kids are just going to get frustrated—they are going to get sneakier. They are going to hide stuff, and they’re going to go:
“As soon as I’m out of here, man, I’m going to do whatever I want to do.” You’ve got to be winning their heart, not just controlling their behavior. That’s why what you’ve put in these videos and what you wrote in the chapter—the four conversations we’re talking about here—are so vital. This is a part of how you cultivate trust with your child.
David: One of my favorite quotes from this past year, as I was talking to a girl who was 14-years-old—she said: “The stricter the parent, the sneakier the child.” It’s this assumption of: “You know what? My parents are going to be strict. I’m going to be sneaky.” It’s like this magical, Houdini slight-of-hand that says, “Oh, this is the world”; but what she is really saying is: “My parents don’t trust me. I don’t trust them. Why do they have these rules? They don’t have my best interest at heart. So, I’m going to sneak away from them.”
The favorite response to that—and I wish I had them in my mind—was from The Art of Parenting. It’s: “Are you raising a sin-concealer, or are you raising a sin-confessor?”—
—answering a question with a question there—so: “Do your kids trust that they can tell you anything?”
Bob: Okay; so let’s say a parent is planning—they are talking about it: “Let’s get our kids a phone for Christmas”; okay? [Laughter] I mean they are at an age—
David: Of course; that’s exciting!
Bob: —so: “Yes; we want to get them something special. They are dying for it. We’re going to get them the phone. They are going to turn”—whatever—“They are going to turn 15. All their friends have them. They are finally going to get one of these. Between now and Christmas, what should I be doing, as a parent?”
David: I’m actually going to twist that on you; because of the assumption of: “I have to get my kid a phone.” There are other devices that you can get your kid before you get them a $700- or $800-phone.
What happens is—you have a phone. Maybe, if you’re listening to this right now, and you’re driving down the road, you’re like: “Hey, that’s me. We don’t have”—you could say—“I don’t have a rotary home in my house; I don’t have a phone that’s connected to a wall. Our family lives on our pocket phones—our mobile phones/our smartphones.”
You’re like: “Well, I want to get my ten-year-old”—
—“what if I leave the house, and I leave my ten-year-old at home for a little bit, because I’m trying to get some grocery shopping done. Well, I don’t want to leave them there all by themselves.” or “What if they are at soccer practice, and they finish early? I just don’t want to leave them in a field all by themselves,” or “What if something terrible happens at our kids’ school and there is some kind of dangerous situation? I don’t want to leave them there all by themselves.”
There is a device called a relay. It’s a product that’s out on the market right now—it’s like a walkie-talkie; it’s a screen-less phone. It’s this idea of like: “This is what you get your seven-, eight-, or nine-year-old.” There are a handful of other devices that you can get them as you incrementally enter—and you can get them a dumb phone; get them a flip phone; get them a—
Bob: These are training wheels is what you are saying: “Get them a bike before they get a car”?
David: Yes; this analogy just works so well. It never goes wrong with this driving thing.
Okay; so then, let’s say you’ve done that; and you’re like, “Let’s enter into this world of the smartphone.” You know your kid is going to be there Christmas morning or their birthday, and they’re going to light up. They’re going to be so excited.
I think one of the most important things you can do, as you lead up to giving them that, is be prepared. If you’re married—with your spouse, be prepared. If you’re divorced—you have to be extra, extra, extra prepared. Why I say that is because I am a very part-time youth pastor. Man, I have never seen anything divide divorced parents than their kids’ smartphones. I know kids who have two smartphones—one for the mom’s house; one for the dad’s house.
David: I’ve been invited to be an expert witness in court because of a parent who is like, “The other parent lets my kid do whatever they want on their smartphone, and I have rules.” So, there is just—that will create a huge fight.
If you’re in that situation, I would say: “Take extra caution. Definitely get Dennis and Barbara’s book, The Art of Parenting. Read the chapter as you go through that; but then, as you are entering into it, I think it’s really important to lay out an agreement.” Now, an agreement is something where—especially if your kid doesn’t have a phone, yet—is where you are starting to say, “What are the different situations this phone can be in?”
I’m going to give you seven categories; okay? Now, we might not talk about all of these in detail; but the first category is non-negotiables. Non-negotiables are—we say: “As a family, we believe that pornography is wrong / we believe that sexting is wrong; and in no circumstances will this happen.”
Now, a friend could send your kid a picture of naked girl—a sext. So then, your kid has to—you have to have a plan for them to say: “This is what happens when you see this. Come tell us right away. Let us be the bad guy. We’re in your corner. We’re safe. You can trust us,”—so non-negotiables are the first thing.
Next thing is different locations.
Dennis: Okay; before you move on past the first one, here is where parents don’t get it—and I really appreciate how you wrote about this—many of these things you’re going to point parents into a collision course with their child on have become cultural norms—
Dennis: —among teenagers.
Dennis: And sexting is a part of dating today.
David: It is, and it should shock you to hear that. One of my favorite stories—
—we’ve learned so much at Axis from other incredible parents—is you have to practice your “I’m-not-shocked” face; because your kid might come home from school and say, “I saw two boys kissing.” Your kid might come home from school and say: “Listen to this song,” or “I heard this new artist,”—you’re like, “I know what that artist is all about.” Your kid might come home and say, you know, “Look what I was sent.”
Bob: “I got these pictures today,”—yes.
David: You want them—if you haven’t practiced the I’m-not-shocked face—if you flip out and start breaking things when they show that to you, next time it happens, they’ll be like: “I can’t trust Mom / I can’t trust Dad to show this to them. They are going to throw me under the bus. I’m going to be afraid. My friends are going to make fun of me.”
The thing about sexting is—sadly, it’s become a common part of dating. Now, it doesn’t happen to everyone; but what we notice is—when we were talking to students—is that there was this story of this one girl—she was asked for nudes [of herself]; asked for nudes; asked for nudes—she finally sent nudes to the boys. They shared that with their entire school. All of a sudden, this girl is a slut—
—enter whatever kind of awful, derogatory term—her heart is broken; but then, what really blew us away is that other girls were like, “I wish boys would ask me for nudes.”
We were like: “What?” “What?” “What?” “Stop!” “Stop!” “Stop!” “Why are you saying that?—you wish boys would ask…”—because they want to be wanted. This is a currency of attraction.
In either situation, as a parent, you have the opportunity to enter in and say, “Why do you want that?” Again, if you don’t have the trust built—where they can tell you anything—if you haven’t already started the conversation, preemptively, they are going to be like: “Mom doesn’t even know what this is,” “Dad doesn’t know what this is. I don’t want to tell them, and he’s going to start throwing things.”
Dennis: It is back to being safe again.
Dennis: If you’re not a safe person, you’re not going to get the real story. You still may not get it, by the way, by being a safe person.
Dennis: But there is a greater likelihood if you, as a parent, are loving well, and you’re a shock-absorber for what your kid is going to tell you.
Bob: This is a subject that needs a lot of attention and a lot of coaching.
Dennis: You think?!
Bob: And we’re going to continue with it this week. I, again, want to point people to the fact that, on our website, we’ve got a link to the videos that you guys have put together that will coach parents on how to be preemptive—how to head into this situation before you give the phone. If you’ve already given your child the phone, here’s how you reclaim and recapture. In fact, you’ve got—there’s a 30-day detox program you’ve put together to try to get things back to where they need to be.
Bob: It’s not just for the kids; it’s for mom and dad and their devices too.
David: It always starts with mom and dad.
Bob: There is more information about this on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. The videos—the three videos that are there—just click the link, and it’ll take you right to the videos. There is also information about Dennis and Barbara’s book, The Art of Parenting—the online video series that you [David] started watching last night; right?
David: I did!
Bob: There is also—
Dennis: Good answer! [Laughter]
Bob: —the small group series that a lot of churches are going through. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on all that’s available. Our website: FamilyLifeToday.com.
I hope a lot of parents will watch these videos that you guys have created. I think it will help give them a framework for how they can become proactive on this subject. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. If you are interested in the Art of Parenting resources, you can call us to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number—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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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation with David Eaton. We’re going to talk about whether your child has a right to privacy when it comes to their smartphone or their devices. We’ll have that conversation tomorrow. I hope you can be back 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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