Taking Back Your Home From the Phone
About the Guest
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Marketers spend millions of dollars everyday to entice us to our screens, so regular life doesn’t always make the cut for our heart’s attention. Arlene Pellicane shares how this affects our families.
Taking Back Your Home From the Phone
Dave: Okay, what habit of mine frustrates you the most?
Ann: Oh, easy.
Dave: And I know what you are going to say.
Ann: Maybe I’m going to say something different.
Dave: Okay, go for it.
Ann: It’s that you spend way too much time with your new best friend.
Dave: [Laughter] And my new best friend is?
Ann: Your phone.
Dave: The thing in my left hand right now.
Ann: Yes! This is our biggest argument.
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.
This is our biggest argument—your phone.
Dave: Well, the good thing is: today, we’ve got help.
Ann: Yes; I’m so grateful that we have help!
Dave: Yes; and it’s not you, and it’s not me. We’ve got Arlene Pellicane with us today, who’s an expert on screen time and digital world/this little iPhone® thing I’ve got in my hand. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Arlene: I didn’t know I was going to be doing an intervention, so this is good! [Laughter]
Ann: Arlene, it’s a counseling session.
Arlene: This is excellent; this is excellent. This is so that you’re listening, and you know you are not alone. [Laughter]
Ann: And you’ve written a book called Screen Kids: 5 Relational Skills Every Child Needs in a Tech-Driven World.
Dave: Another thing you do: you have the Happy Home podcast, as well as being a wife and a mother of three kids; so you’ve got a busy, crazy life.
I know on the Happy Home podcast, as well as your books, you talk a lot about screen time.
Dave: We’re living in a world of craziness with our screens. Talk to us a little bit; first of all, how did you get into this? Why this?
Arlene: You know, you can look around, and you say, “What’s going on? Something is very different than it used to be.” You cannot get around technology; it is a part of every single family’s life. For most of us, I think, it’s a problem; that’s why I’ve been writing these books. Because, you see, this is an issue—the same way we joke about like, “Hey, why are you on your phone so much?” you know, to your spouse—kids are thinking that about their parents; parents are thinking that about their kids. It’s a whole different thing.
I love television, so don’t get me wrong. I’m an only child; and I remember coming home from school and watching Gilligan’s Island, and I Love Lucy, and all these shows in a row. But that TV was different; because that TV was in a central location; it was huge like a chair. You know, you couldn’t just put it in my pocket and take it into my bedroom. There was a set time that you watched it—it turned on; it turned off—you went on with your life.
That is not how screen time is now. Now, it’s individualized; so we all don’t have to agree on what we watch as a family: mom can watch something; dad can watch something; kids can watch something/even the kids are watching different things. Maybe, you used to watch a show together—and it would give you this common vocabulary, common characters you loved, favorite enemies—you know, all those things.
Ann: And it was kind of bonding.
Arlene: It was bonding; right. But now, it’s something that’s very individualized. And then, because it’s so mobile—and now/not that you could bring a tablet somewhere, but it’s a phone—and it’s in the car; and it’s in the school; and it’s in the cafeteria; and it’s in all these different places; it’s really a disrupter.
Ann: And the thing that’s happening now is we’re living in a generation that we can’t look back to our parents and say, “Oh, what did you guys do about this?” This is all new territory. I think your book is so helpful; because we’re all saying: “Help! Give us some guidance and instruction in how to do this.”
Arlene: Yes; Barna research showed that eight out of ten parents say it’s harder to parent now than in their parents’ generation—and it’s because of technology—because it’s: “What do we do with this?” I think there’s also/you have to be able to have that hope of: “Well, what could this be like?” Because it’s easy to fall into: “Well, this is just how it is,” “This is just how it is—kids are on phones—this is how it’s going to be. This is how they communicate now; this is a new generation.”
But “What could it be? What are they missing?”—I think that’s what we really want to talk about in Screen Kids, and help parents to get back the childhood; because kids only get one. This is a wonderful opportune moment to say: “From this day forward, how can I help my child be in a real world?—where it’s not all video games; and it’s not all YouTube®; and it’s not all social media. How can I help them get there?”
Ann: —and to communicate with somebody, face to face.
Dave: When we were in seminary in the ‘80s, there was a huge, big box phone that you could, like mobile, take in your car. I remember thinking, when that technology started/my thought—I don’t know if I’m original in this idea—but it was like, “Oh, that’ll be great; because you can drive from work, get more work done; and then when you get home, you’ll be home.” I had no idea that the opposite was going to happen. You will never stop looking at your phone; you’ll never stop work.
You talk about, early in your book, the effects of screen time in the digital world/the tech world, which is awesome—it’s wonderful, unbelievable benefits—but you talk about the effects on relationships; and we’ll talk about this: effects on your brain.
We joked at the beginning that she says I have this new friend/my best friend. It has affected our marriage, and I don’t want to admit it. I continually deny it: “Oh, it’s no big deal. I don’t look at it that much.” And when your kids are saying “Dad, you walk in our house; and you pull your phone out,” it’s a problem.
Dave: So talk about that—especially, whether it’s in a marriage or as a parent—how is this causing problems in our home?
Arlene: Eye contact; right? So let’s just think about that. When you are with someone, and they’re looking at you, you feel like “Okay, I’m heard. I am understood. This is great.” But when they are distracted and looking down at something else, you’re like “Helloo!” So just the simple thing of/you see: “Oh, my loved ones,”—whether it’s a parent or spouse—"their attention is somewhere else.”
They’ve done studies, where they put two strangers together to have a conversation; but there’s a phone present. They’ll report that they feel like: “Oh, the person wasn’t really listening very well,” because they’re distracted by that phone simply being present—not even being touched or—just being present.
Ann: They’re not even on the phone you’re saying.
Arlene: They’re not even on the phone—it’s just present—but they feel distracted, because they know that the person’s attention is divided—they’re wondering: “Oh, did I get a text?” “I want to pick it up; I’d like to take a picture at this moment,”—you know, whatever it is.
But the same situation, without the phone, they’ll say: “Oh, that felt really nice. I felt I made a connection with that person.”
So you just think about it—that when a husband and wife are together—I forgot the statistic, but it was something like the iPhone user is unlocking their phone 80 times a day. Can you imagine if you tried to reach out to your spouse just eight times a day?—right?—and you just reach out, whether it’s physically that you’re touching them; or that you’re asking, “Hey babe, how are you doing? Are you doing okay today?”—whatever it is/if you reached out to your spouse. Can you imagine if you reached out to your spouse 80 times a day?
Arlene: You’d be like— [Laughter]
Ann: It’d be amazing.
Arlene: —"What is wrong? What is happening to you?!” [Laughter]
But we’ll do that to our phones; and our phones—they don’t care; they are not emotive—so instead of reaching for that phone, if we even said to ourselves: “Wait a minute. I’m going to reach out to my spouse,” and to even make the statement: “My spouse is more interesting than my phone.” But then, in reality, how do we act? “Well, no; because our phone has constant news/has headlines that are very alluring.”
Ann: Yes! We can’t compete!
Arlene: We can’t compete: there’s shopping to be done; there’s work to be accomplished; there’s a world to save. I mean, there’s all these things happening on your phone; and then you think, “Well, of course, that’s more interesting.”
I think we have to get to the point, where we can admit and say, “Okay, this is a problem.” But also, realize it’s not your fault; because that phone has been completely wired to get your attention. Tristan Harris—he is a former Google® guy ethicist—and he is all for ethical technology; he’ll say, “There are a thousand people on the other side of that screen.”
And that’s why you’re having such a hard problem, Dave; because there’s a thousand people saying: “How can we make this more pleasurable?” “How can we keep your attention?’” And it’s brain scientists; it’s psychologists; it’s marketers; it’s advertisers; and they’re all on that other side of the screen, trying to get you. They’ve tested it over, and over, and over again. So here you are—like, “Let me just check this,”—and you don’t know you’re walking into this elaborately-set trap to get your attention.
Dave: Now, is it only me? You guys are acting like I’m the one with the problem. [Laughter]
Ann: I was going to say—
Dave: You two women never struggle.
Arlene: “We’re so good.”
Ann: I was going to say, “I’m thinking, ‘Dave is so bad at this. He’s spending all this time, but I am so much better.’” [Laughter]
Arlene: That’s so good.
Ann: And then my time/my usage on my phone will come up—
Dave: —and it’s higher than mine!
Ann: No, it’s not. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, it is; I see her. She doesn’t know I see it on my screen too. [Laughter]
Ann: But I remember, the first time it came up, I was shocked, like, “What?! I am the better one, but am I?” Because I—[Laughter]—I think it’s better, because I’m texting my friends; this is relational; and I need to get that shopping done on Amazon®. [Laughter]
Dave: What do you think I’m doing?
Ann: I don’t know. [Laughter] You’re looking at sports the whole time. [Laughter]
Dave: No, I’m not.
But let me ask you this, because you’ve already mentioned this; I’ve heard people say, “When you’re out for dinner or when you’re with someone, literally, get the phone off the table.”
Dave: Because I used to think, “I’ll turn it upside down; I won’t see it”; and they’ve said, “No, move it. Don’t have it accessible.”
Arlene: Yes; and I think that is a doable, powerful boundary—
Arlene: —that you can say: “We’re going to leave this in my pocket/we’re going to leave this in my purse, and we’re going to have a conversation.” It’s the same for your kids—and for the kids, for them to see you model it; so if the children—you know, parents/we’re always: “Put your phone away,” “Put your phone away,” “Put your phone away.” But for them, they’re thinking, “Well, you’ve got your phone at the dinner table. Why do I have to have my phone away when you’ve got your phone?” [Deeper voice] “Well, mine’s important; I might get something from work.” The kid’s like, “That’s not important.” So if you’re truly not an emergency worker, and you really can put your phone away for the meal, I think that’s an amazing way to start; that it’s not even a temptation.
Remember when you had a baby?—and whenever that baby made a noise, you’re just there: “What does the baby need?” “What does the baby need?”—that’s how our phones are; it’s like: “It made a noise; what does it need?” “Let me dress the baby,”—for the girls; right?—“Let me put it in a nice case.” We treat it like this baby,—
Ann: “Let me dress the baby.” [Laughter]
Arlene: —and we always have it just a few feet away from us.
So if you can put the baby to bed, and really have times in your day—meal time would be one; and then, I think, when you first wake up in the morning; and when you go to bed at night—again, if you’re not an emergency worker, and you can do this, to have it in another room. So for your first moments—because so many of us roll out of bed, look at the phone; get into bed, look at the phone; close your eyes. Those boundaries,—
Arlene: —I think, are really helpful.
Dave: Let me ask you this: if I put my phone in another room; and right now, I’m feeling convicted like maybe I should at night—
Ann: Well, it’s our alarm clocks too; so you have to get an old-fashioned alarm clock.
Arlene: You can, and you can do this.
Dave: You mean one of those things that goes ding, ding, ding, ding, ding; they still make those?
Arlene: They still make those.
Dave: No, here’s my question—and I’m just going to confess—so I’ll put my phone in another room, maybe turn it off—which I’ve got to be honest; right now, I’m like, “No way! How could I live like that? There might be an emergency at three in the morning.”
But here’s what I know: I’ve got my watch on. It’s a digital watch, so it’s going to go buzz; and I’m going to roll over, and I’m still going to look at it. Do I get rid of the watch? Do I eliminate digital screens for bedtime?
Arlene: And you know, everyone’s going to say this a little bit different. For some people, it might be, “Yes; let’s get rid of the watch; and let’s get a clang, clang.” I remember I had a Bugs Bunny® alarm clock [Laughter]: “It’s time to get up, Doc!”—go for it; so go get all the digital stuff out.
But for others, the watch is really not that tempting; because when you see people, they’re not like staring at their watch for hours. You know, because it’s small; and there’s only limited things you can do. After a while, you’re like, “Okay, I’m done.” So if the watch isn’t a problem for you, then maybe that’s the good solution—that the phone goes out and the watch stays in.
Dave: I was just thinking, “Maybe you ask your spouse”; because I bet you—I don’t know—she’s already told me a million times.
Arlene: But see/but then, you can also ask her things; so we’ve opened the door for that as well.
Ann: Yes, that’s true.
Dave: But I would want to say, “Ann, do you think I should put my phone away at night and my watch?”
Ann: That would totally make me feel loved; it would!
Dave: Oh, no.
Ann: Like the fact that you would ask me that says a lot. I would probably—
Dave: We’re going to edit this part of the show out; [Laughter] I don’t want anybody to know we had this public conversation.
Ann: But I need to put my phone away, too, if we moved them out of the bedroom. I wouldn’t care if you did your watch; I don’t think you’re just going to be watching your watch at night.
Dave: I feel like the watch would be an emergency; like if something happened, I would get a—because when it buzzes at night, I don’t look at it—because it’s just sort of weird, unless I really think like there’s a playoff game on or something. [Laughter]
But here’s the thing—you’ve talked about the screens affecting relationships—are there other areas that the screens affect relationship?
Ann: —or even the brain, because you talked about how it affects our brain. Talk about that a little bit.
Arlene: Yes, yes; that is a huge thing for adults; but also, even more importantly, for kids. Because with an adult, you have this fully-formed lovely brain, by about 25 years old; so you can make these decisions. But for kids—like think of what we’re doing right now—we’re just talking about phone use, and how it is so difficult just to kind of wean yourself off of it; and we’re grown adults.
Arlene: You put that kind of technology into the hand of a five-year-old, ten-year-old, fifteen-year-old—and you think like, “Good luck,”—it’s not going to work. There is something definitely in the brain. We are very alert when it comes to like drugs, or smoking, or alcohol—we get that: “That’s bad for our kids,”—but this whole screen time thing; that’s under the radar—because that has a mix of good things: online schools, skyping Grandma; with bad things: addiction, pornography, getting your identity from the wrong place, just wasting a lot of time, obesity because you’re sitting there the whole time—there’s this huge mix of what could be good and what could be bad.
So much to say about the brain—when your child is playing video games, for instance—and a parent is wondering, like, “Hello! I just called you to dinner 30 minutes ago; why do you not respond? Why do you not listen to me?”
Ann: They say “Mom, I just need to get through this level.”
Arlene: It’s like, “I can’t stop now.” So when a child is playing a game, their body is thinking, like, “I am running away.” Like it is fight or flight, and we are flooded with these stress hormones. There’s no where to go; so your body is like, “Man, I’m stressed out; but there’s nothing to do here.”
And then the blood flow goes—instead of going to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the front part; that’s like the executive decision-making center that’s like “You know, you haven’t gone to the bathroom for an hour; you should probably”—and you’ve really needed to—"you should probably get up.” That part of the brain doesn’t get any blood; and instead, they’re thinking, “Survival.” Their body is putting all the blood into like the major organs—keep that heart pumping—“Let’s keep this kid alive. This kid’s in trouble; stress hormones are raging; let’s go!”
So here’s this kid in this constant state of stress, and their prefrontal cortex is not getting a whole lot of blood, and if they spend a little bit of time like this, okay. But if you spend hours of every day in this state, then you get to be 18/20 and you wonder: “Why does my child/they can’t seem to regulate their emotion? Their emotions are so crazy; they just freak out about things,” or “They’re either so angry or so depressed.”
A lot of that has to do with that prefrontal cortex—that part that’s been given by God to regulate our emotion/to help us with self-control—that part’s been starved their whole life by that blood not being there. The brain is a muscle, and it’s going to do what you’ve told it to do. For too many kids, all the brain knows how to do is work in this digital world; but they don’t know other things.
I remember, when we moved into our home, we did it to be close to my parents. It was just dirt/just new construction and dirt. My husband is saying, “Why in the world?” [Laughter] “Will they build something here, dear?” “I hope so!” So here it is: dirt. Of course, now, there’s tons of roads that go everywhere I want to go. But can you imagine if those roads had never been built?—we would be stuck in our house; and be like, “This was a bad decision.”
Well, for kids, their brains are just these dirt/just dirt; and they make pathways: “Oh, this is how you meet someone,” “This is how you comfort someone, who is sick,” “This is how you press through math homework when you really don’t even like math,” “This is how you get cut from a team,” “This is how you ask a girl on a date and get rejected.” So there’s these things; and then there’s pathways that show: “These are roads we know how to deal with this.”
But today’s kids/they’re not having pathways to reading; pathways to read the Bible; pathways to serving others; pathways to talking to their parents; to listening to people, even when they don’t feel like it—all those things—because all those pathways/it’s like concrete. It’s all being set towards where?—video games, YouTube, being entertained.
Their amusement muscle is really strong for the brain; but their relating with people muscle—the love one another; serve one another—all those muscles super atrophied or are nonexistent. That’s/I think, for parents to realize this is a brain issue: “What kind of pathways is my child going to have as they grow up?” If they miss it, they kind of miss it in those early years; and that’s really kind of frightening.
Ann: —especially when you’re seeing toddlers on their devices, all the time; because they/you know, it just becomes a habit; it’s easier. You’re saying they’re doing the same thing.
Arlene: Yes, absolutely. It used to be that kids in the ‘70s would start watching TV when they’re about four years old. Today, they say it’s four months—
Dave: Four months?
Arlene: —and that’s a big difference. If you’re listening, and you’ve got a baby or a grandbaby, then just take this as your friendly reminder: “No screens before they’re two.” The American Academy of Pediatrics still stands by that.
Ann: Does that include a TV?
Arlene: Yes; they would say not having a TV; so that that child can be looking at real objects, and getting used to/and faces; right?—connecting with people—that that’s so important. They say the video chatting is okay; so if they’re looking at a phone, and they’re looking at grandma or grandpa, that’s okay. But other than that, they say not to use screens.
Dave: Wow! I know for me, as a dad and as a husband—you know, this new term in the last year: social distancing—I don’t remember ever hearing that term before the pandemic.
Arlene: Exactly; that’s right.
Dave: You know, you think about we’ve learned to be six feet apart, and it’s safer. The phone has social distanced us: when I’m looking at my phone, she’s leaving me alone. Again, there’s a lot of great, and good, and benefits; but often, your mind is just mindless; you’re wasting time.
I think of Philippians 4—a lot of us know this verse, Philippians 4:8—I’ll read it to you, where Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things.” Rarely do I look at a phone and think about those things—and you can—there’s the You Version® Bible app. I have a Bible plan every day, and it’s awesome; but that’s like
10 percent; the rest/the 90 is like I’m sort of wasting time here—
Dave: —this wasn’t very lovely or honorable—and I’m pulled away from my wife and kids; I’m pulled away from people.
I can remember meetings, as a pastor at our church, where we all sat at a table and looked at each other. And meetings now, where there’s a screen in front of everybody, and they have to force their eyes up to look at one another.
Arlene: Right; yes.
Dave: I thought, “Wow, this is an awesome benefit and beauty from God”; but you’re helping us think, “Boy, oh boy, we’ve got to be vigilant.”
I want to say to any parent listening, and it’s myself in the mirror, “Take back your home.”
Dave: It can be on you to say: “I’m going to lead my family well. We’re going to talk about screen time. We’re going to put boundaries in place; and by the way, I’ve got to be number one model and show this.”
I would challenge any mom or dad—not only to pick up [Arlene’s] book and learn—because man, just reading your book is like: “Wow, I had no idea.”
Ann: So helpful.
Dave: You are one of the experts—and it’s not like somebody in a room or a college professor—you’re a mom and a wife, living this out.
Ann: You’ve lived it.
Dave: So I say, “Pick up [Arlene’s] book and take back your home.”
Bob: There is no denying that the four-inch screen we carry around with us/the ever-present wireless connectivity that we have with the internet, this is a game-changer in how life is lived; and it does affect relationships. And for kids, who are growing up with this as normal, it is setting patterns and habits that will be with them for the rest of their lives. That’s why this subject is so important and why Dave and Ann Wilson are encouraging all of us to get a copy of Arlene Pellicane’s book, Screen Kids, where she examines the relational skills children need in a tech-driven world.
We are making Arlene’s book available this week to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife with a donation. We think this is an essential subject for moms and dads to be aware of, to be on top of, and to be intentional. The book is called Screen Kids. It’s our thank-you gift to you when help support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today.
What you’re actually doing, when you support FamilyLife, is you’re helping to build stronger marriages and families. There are hundreds of thousands of people, who tune in each day to hear these conversations, so that they can be equipped, and discipled, and mentored in subjects like this to help us think, biblically, about these things. You can donate to FamilyLife Today online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to donate; the number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to donate: 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 get in touch with us.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about whether it’s actually possible to become addicted to your device; because it sure feels that way sometimes; right? We just instinctively/habitually grab for the device. Arlene Pellicane will be back tomorrow to talk about this. I hope you can be back with us as well.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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