Screens and Family
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Is technology bringing your home together or pulling it apart? Arlene Pellicane shares five skills every kid should have and how you can build them into their lives.
Screens and Family
Ann: What do you think our home would have been like had our kids had 24/7 access to the internet?
Dave: The days, when they were little and didn’t have any of that, was exhausting and awesome.
Ann: I’m thinking about the hours we spent—and you spent, too—outside, playing with our kids. No other parents were outside.
Ann: I mean, there would be 12 kids in our yard, playing. It’s something you don’t see as often anymore.
Dave: Yes; I mean, the neighbor kids would come to the front door and say [sounding like a young boy], “Can Mr. Wilson come out to play?” Of course, people don’t know what I’m talking about: Dennis the Menace.
Ann: —Dennis the Menace.
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.
Dave: We’re talking about digital world screen time today. We’ve got a pretty cool guest; don’t we?
Ann: Yes; we do, and I’m really excited. We have Arlene Pellicane with us today, and she wrote a book called Screen Kids: 5 Relational Skills Every Child Needs in a Tech-Driven World. Arlene, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Arlene: So great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Dave: And she isn’t just an author; she is a mom, a wife—got three kids—so you are living this stuff out.
Ann: She has a great podcast.
Dave: Yes, Happy Home podcast. By the way, you also have a Grandparenting Screen Kids: How to Help, What to Say, and Where to Begin—so this isn’t just parents; this is grandparents as well. Maybe, we’ll talk a little bit about both because we are parents—
Dave: —and grandparents.
Five skills—so review what those five are—and then I want to jump into “attention”;—
Dave: —I think that’s a big one.
Arlene: That’s a big one!
Dave: Review what they are first.
Arlene: I didn’t hear what you said; I wasn’t paying attention. [Laughter]
Arlene: The A-plus skills in the book are:
Affection: Can your child give and receive love?
Appreciation: Are they grateful, or are they entitled?
Anger management: We all get mad, but what do we do with that?
Apology: Can they own up for what they did and say, “I’m sorry,” in real life?
Attention: Can they pay attention in school, to you as a parent, to a sermon, to rules—to any of those things?
You know, these A-plus skills are so foundational for life; but right now, everyone’s the A-plus skill of Amusement. That’s what kids are really good at; and to be frank, adults as well. We’ve got to get back to these character skills to help our kids.
Dave: When you think of those character skills, as a parent and as an author of parenting,—
Dave: —I’m like, “Oh, yes; no question; those are definitely five of the skills”; but I don’t always connect the dots, like, “Okay, how does screen time—
Ann: —“affect it?”
Dave: —“affect those skills?”
Dave: It doesn’t seem like it would be that big of a deal. So talk about: “How does it help or hurt?”
Arlene: Yes, let’s think/let’s think of appreciation—so gratitude—being a foundational character trait; right? If a child is on screens a lot, they are used to choice—it’s not just like one program they could watch—they could watch 400 programs; you know? Then they don’t have to wait; they get things instantly. They have this sense of entitlement of: “I want it now.”
So when life happens—regular life—and you have to wait for something, they are like: “What am I waiting for?” “You mean I have to do my chores? I don’t have a choice in the matter?” They are not grateful; they are entitled: “I have a right to this,” “I have a right to that,” because my screen time tells me: “I am the king of the world; my screen does what I tell it to do.”
Instead of—perhaps, a child saving money for a device and then taking good care of it, being grateful for it—maybe, we buy it for them for Christmas or birthday. They don’t have to wait, so they think it’s coming to them. This fights against gratitude—which gratitude says—“Hey, I’m thankful for what I have. I’m content with what I have. I recognize that someone had to pay a price for what I have, and I’m grateful.”
Screen time is just: “Me, me, me, me”; but gratitude is recognizing: “Wow, you did something for me?: and “I’m really grateful.” That [screen time] undermines—and just think of it—it used to be very normal for a kid to say, “Thank you,”—so just the pleasantries of “please” and “thank you”—you know, kids just think it’s coming to them.
Ann: How did you get your kids to be grateful?
Arlene: I’ll have to be like: “My husband.” [Laughter] That’s pretty much the long and short of it: my husband! When Noelle was two, she would want milk; and she would be like, “MILK!”—like a dictator—“MILK! MILK!” I looked at her; I’m thinking, “Who is this child?”—who was so sweet a second ago; you know? “Oh, Noelle, I’m sorry. That’s not how you ask for milk. You say, ‘Milk, please.’ You don’t refer to: ‘MILK, PLEASE!’” [Laughter]
Eventually, it became, “Milk, please”; but it’s training early. It’s saying, “No, no, no; you’re not going to get that until you say, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you,’” and then just continue that. I think, too, when you say it to them—right? When they are young, you’re insisting on it:—
Arlene: —“If you want something, you may use the magic words of ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’” So don’t forget that; it used to be something that we said all the time. Go ahead and continue that.
Then as they get older, let them see you, when you get your cup of coffee [at a coffee shop]: “Oh, thank you so much.” I like to use their name just to freak them out; they’ve got their name [on the nametag]—you say, “Oh, thank you so much, Barbara,”—and they are like, “Ooh, she used my name.” Show them [your kids] courtesy to other people/to them; and then I think your kids will be much more apt to do that as they grow up. But I would insist on it, and look for it, and ask for it.
Dave: Yes, and in some ways, you just modeled a little bit of what attention—
Dave: —looks like, even eye contact/noticing. Talk about how attention is/screens can be hurtful to that.
Arlene: Attention is a big issue; because you have so many more kids, who are dealing with attention problems in school.
Ann: How have screens affected kids’ ability to pay attention?
Arlene: Think about the old show, Mister Rogers—
Arlene: —right? When you are watching Fred Rogers, what is he doing? He is talking very slowly.
Ann: I didn’t like that about him:—
Arlene: There is just one—[Laughter]
Ann: “Come on! Let’s go; let’s go.” [Laughter]
Arlene: “Let’s go!”—[with Mr. Roger’s] it’s just one shot; that’s it.
Arlene: Simple; but today, when kids watch things, it changes very fast.
Dr. Dimitri Christakis—who is a professor of pediatrics and a specialist—he talks about the concern is the pacing of the program, whether it is video games/TV. It’s over-stimulating, and it contributes to attention problems. What they are finding is—because when kids watch that, it’s like things change every few seconds—so they expect that. Then, when you are sitting in the classroom—and your teacher is talking to you and things—like ten seconds went by, and she is still talking to you; right? It’s like, “This is very hard to pay attention to.”
Ann: They are not used to it.
Arlene: They are not used to it; so it’s what a mind is used to. Because video games move so quickly, and it’s so immersive and so visually-stimulating—so when a child doesn’t have that visual stimulation, and the rewards coming every few seconds, and they are unpredictable—all these things that they are used to, even in social media: “Who is going to like my photo?”—it’s bottomless; there is attention. As you scroll through, there are videos, and there are advertisements; it’s all very stimulating.
So then, when they get to class, or they read the Bible, or they sit to pray—and it’s not this visually-stimulating thing—and they are like, “How do I pay attention in this?” Screen time really does impact how you and your children can pay attention and how well you do it.
Ann: So you’re saying that’s really impacting them in school.
Arlene: It is; I think all you have to do is ask a teacher. Ask a teacher, who has been teaching, maybe, more than ten years; and ask them, “What is it like today versus what it was ten years ago?” Of course, if you get an older teacher, who can know what the classroom was like 30 years ago, they will tell you for sure.
Dave: It even sounds like—I mean, I don’t know if you wrote about this—but it sounds like, “Okay; if I am going to go out on a date with my wife, or if I am going to take my son or daughter out, be intentional and say, ‘We’re not doing a phone between us.
Dave: “’Neither one of us are going to have one to look at. We’re going to look at each other.’” Again, your child may go, “Dad! No! That would be the worst thing ever!” Yet, I think, at the end of the day, it would be a beautiful thing; wouldn’t it?
Arlene: Absolutely; because it’s different.
Arlene: It’s different. And you know, for boys, I think, doing things with them side by side. You know, my son probably doesn’t want to go out with me and stare at me for an hour; but he will certainly go out with me—and if we’re doing something/if we have an activity—whether we’re rowing, whether we are playing ultimate Frisbee. He likes to run; I don’t like to run—so I would not be next to him doing that—but finding activities together that you don’t have your phones. That actually still has to with attention because now, your brain is having that healthy time to rest and be rejuvenated. That’s going to help you pay attention when you have to do that.
If your kids are sitting all day—let’s say they are doing online school—and then they are sitting more for more video games, and more YouTube, and more Netflix®. Then, of course, it’s hard for them to pay attention; they’ve been sitting in the same position for the last 15 hours. Our kids do need to go out and get exercise as much as possible, even inside, if the weather doesn’t permit. All those things are really important to help them pay attention when they need to.
Dave: I can still remember—this has got to be 20 or more years ago—driving home, seeing a father and a son walking together on a sidewalk, and it might have even been jogging—but I remember looking over, thinking, “Oh, what a beautiful scene!” I had little boys at the time, and this was like a teenage boy with his dad. I thought, “Oh, someday, I’ll be walking with my son like that.”
As I looked closer, I realized they both had headphones on; I remember literally, going, “Oh, that’s so sad! There is no communication going on.” I mean, I get it—I like music or whatever—but I thought, “Oh, there was a moment that was lost because of technology.”
Dave: Again, we’re not saying technology is bad—it is a beautiful—it is a gift from God in many ways.
Dave: But man, when it separates you from attention to one another in isolation, which it can do—that’s something you’ve got to be intentional about and say—“I’m going to have technology in my life, but I’m going to manage it; I’m not going to let it manage me.
Arlene: That’s a good point.
Dave: “And I’m not going to let it manage our family and hurt us in a tough way.” Obviously, I’m preaching your book.
Dave: I mean, that’s what you said the whole time.
Arlene: Amen; let’s go!
Ann: We have three sons, so their interests have all been very different.
Ann: But I can remember one of those sons was a sports guy. We’d be out; he would just be shooting baskets continually, and I’m just rebounding them for him. But in that time, the conversation was great: we’re talking about the day; we’re talking about what’s going on.
We have another son, who works in IT now; so he, from the time he was born, has been fascinated with anything that has to do with screens. That was a little trickier; but he, too—we’d have him outside—he would love playing games if we’re all together. Your kids want to be with you, as a parent; they want to hang out with you.
Dave, you’re just fun—[Laughter]
Dave: I’m just fun.
Ann: —like our boys wanted to hang out with you. I was thinking, “Man, we could have lost so much,”—especially when you have someone so/like that could be their vocation in the future; you don’t want to just squelch everything—but you’re helping them to learn how to manage it for their future.
Arlene: A good question to ask is: “Is technology bringing your home together, or is it tearing it apart?” Because there are ways that technology can bring your home together.
Ann: How would you know if it’s bringing it together?
Arlene: You would know because there is no friction or tension around it. You’re not going to bed, thinking [frustration in voice]: “Oh, man, we didn’t know; how did we do that?” or “She is watching this; he is watching that.” You have peace—you have peace about it—and there is not a lot of arguing around it. The limits are there, and people are abiding by it for the most part—things like that. That you know: “Hey, we have a healthy family groove,”—that’s laughing together/so if you are laughing together; are you doing something together? Do you serve together once in a while?—things like that that let you know: “This technology isn’t in the way.”
Dave: Even seems like—tell me if I’m right or wrong—that if you’re bonding together around technology, as a family,—
Dave: —it’s not that bad. Like you said earlier, back in the day, I can remember Sunday night, sitting with my mom, watching Ed Sullivan and Walt Disney. By the way, there were only three channels;—[Laughter]
Dave: —so what else are you going to do?
Dave: But that was a bonding moment; because then, we would talk.
But what we have now is five kids, all looking at different things; and we’re not bonding at all. But if we decide: “Hey, let’s watch this show,” or “Let’s listen to this head talk or this sermon,” I mean that’s a good thing.
Arlene: It is. So if you are watching together, that’s a technology-bringing-my-family-together moment. That’s a good thing.
Dave: Yes; talk about/because I would never have thought an A-plus skill that would be hindered by screens would be anger management.
Dave: How is that affected?
Arlene: Yes; so what happens in the restaurant when brother and sister start to fight? I had a restaurant owner tell me that it used to be that they’d just have to work it out; you know?—they’d have to talk about it—“You did this, and he did this. Well, you apologize to your sister,” or “You apologize to your brother.” He said, “They don’t do that anymore. They just whip out the iPad ® s; the conversation goes away, and they never talk about it.”
Arlene: You see, instead of the anger coming out and having to deal with it, a lot of times, the child is pacified—like, “Okay, you’re getting really mad right now. You are about to throw a fit; so let’s give you want you want, which is your video game,”—so they don’t know: “What do I do with that anger?”
You think of it, later in life—a husband and a wife—they get mad at each other; they are arguing about the finances. It’s getting heated. He’s going to storm off; he’s going to play a video game. She’s going to storm off; she’s going to tweet [frustrated voice]: “My husband doesn’t understand me,”—you know, whatever they are doing at that time. So how do you deal with that anger?
A lot of times, we’re having that mismatch of not having to deal with anger; because we just distract with screens.
Ann: It’s avoidance.
Arlene: —so avoidance; that would be one way.
Then another way would just be so many violent video games. If people are exposed to so many violent video games, what is the effect of that? Now, it doesn’t mean that, if your child plays a violent video game, they are going to go out and do this; okay?—that’s not what we are trying to say.
But the idea is: if you are exposed to violence—if you are watching a lot of violence; if you’re in a first-person shooter game, and you are doing that—it’s much more likely that behavior kind of becomes a little bit more okay in your mind. You can become more contagious—it is more contagious to you to catch that anger than to someone else, who is watching little butterflies or something—[Laughter]—you know what I’m saying.
It is also that idea: if you are getting pumped full of angry things, whether it is—really, social media is very angry—
Arlene: —very polarized—very angry. In fact, I remember hearing Facebook® saying that it wasn’t the happy feeling that got engagement. It was the angry feeling that got engagement. So they want to put stuff out there that makes you mad; because when you are mad, you engage. That’s what they want. To realize: “Okay, my child is on social media; they are trying to make her or him mad about something.”
They are playing a video game—they’re shooting people, and they are doing stuff; and that’s making them more aggressive—think of it that way. “Okay, how can we help our child?”—if we see that they are getting in trouble with the principal; they are talking smack to their parents—“How can we help them?” Maybe, it is related to what they are doing on screens.
Ann: Let’s go into an area that I know that, especially moms—and I’m sure dads feel this too—of the fear that we have is pornography.
Ann: How do we battle that? What do we do? I think, so often, as parents, we feel like we have no control of this.
Ann: Help us with that.
Arlene: Yes, that’s actual a big reason why our son, who is 16, does not have a phone. A lot of people had said, “How crazy?! He bikes to school, and don’t you feel like that’s unsafe for him to go without a phone?”
But we have taken the stance that we think it’s more unsafe to put something in his pocket that could so easily become a hub for him—because the thing is—as a boy or a girl gravitates towards that, there is so much shame that’s involved in it. Yet, that desire to be curious about that person of the opposite sex is a God-given desire and curiosity that someday will be very beautiful and fulfilled in a marriage.
So from a very young age, you can talk to kids about how—Dr. Chapman, the coauthor of Screen Kids, likes to say to people—“You know, whenever you see people of any culture, they have certain body parts covered up. That’s because God gave those certain body parts, so those body parts are private and should be covered up.” You talk to little kids this way: “If you ever see something that comes onto your screen that looks like, ‘Oh, that’s wrong!”—like it wasn’t covered up—
Ann: “It’s not covered up!”
Arlene: —“It’s not covered up!” [Laughter] “You can come and talk to me about that.”
I think it’s very important, when your kids do talk to you, that you’re just quiet instead of “Oh my word!”—whether it is a lecture, or a freak-out, or whatever—but just quiet and listen, and make sure you are a safe place to talk to. Again, that’s why I say to be quiet; because it’s too tempting to say the wrong thing in that moment.
Ann: What do you mean by a safe place?
Arlene: Because if you say: “How could you do that?! Don’t you know the Bible says to keep pure? Don’t you know it says flee lust? Don’t you know those things?!” “Okay, we’re going to take this/we’re going to take this away,” “We’re going to do this…”—they are going to be like, “Okay, the next time I have something to say, I am not telling my mom or dad”—
Arlene: —“because they are going to freak out, make me feel really guilty, and it’s going to be terrible.”
Instead, if you can, say, “Wow, it took a lot of courage for you to come talk to me about this. This is not a you-problem, son, in the sense of”—or daughter—“a lot of people are struggling with this. This is something we really want to help you with, so let’s get help if we need to. Let’s get a youth pastor involved if we need to. Let’s get other people…”—because sometimes, the parent isn’t the best person to talk to—
Arlene: —“Let’s get another loving, caring adult in here; and let’s talk about this. We’re here for you.” I think that is so important for them to feel like they can talk to you.
It really is a war cry for parents to say, “I don’t want my kids to get exposed to that, because then it sets up all these false expectations of what this supposed to be; it sets up just a system of shame for my child; it’s going to hinder their future marriage and relationship.” It’s so harmful. Then it’s like, “What can the real thing/how can that compete with this thing you are watching that’s just this fantasy world?”—so just for kids—to protect them, because they can’t un-see things.
Arlene: That’s why you don’t want to hand a smartphone to an elementary-school child. Then you want to really pause before handing one to a middle schooler or a high schooler. For me, I think the answer really is teaching your kids other skills so that they don’t have that smartphone in their hand when they are young.
Ann: Would you encourage parents to not let their kids have their phones in their room—
Arlene: I would.
Ann: —especially at night or their computers?
Arlene: Yes; just say it from a sleep perspective—just say: “Hey, I remember when you were a baby, and you cried all night long”; it was really hard for me to go to sleep. When your phone goes beep: and you wonder, ‘Oh, what does my friend have to say?’—beep: ‘You want to wake up and play video games?’—beep…’” [Laughter] Just from a sleep perspective, tell them, “I don’t want you to get interrupted all the time. I want you to have a good night sleep. You may think I’m the worst parent ever. I’m really sorry if this is ruining your life, but I’m going to take your phone overnight.” I think that is a really good step.
Dave: Obviously, you’re saying, “Put the home computer in the middle of the home,”—
Dave: —“right there where everybody can see.”
Ann: We didn’t do that at first. Our computer was in the basement.
Dave: That was—
Ann: —terrible; it was dumb.
Dave: —just a really bad idea.
Dave: Even as you’re saying—and I’ve shared this here on FamilyLife before—but our oldest was, maybe, middle school?
Ann: He was 13.
Dave: First, Ann comes to me and says, “Is this you?” I’m like, “No.”
Ann: —because I was checking the history.
Dave: Yes, checking the history, which every parent should do.
Dave: And it wasn’t me. We sat down our oldest and asked him; and he said, “Yes, it’s me.” Just as you said, I remember I was thinking, “How will I respond when that day comes?” It wasn’t if—it was sort of like: “It’s probably going to come someday, and if we discover that…”—and I thought I’d be mad. I started to cry; I said—
Ann: We both did.
Dave: —I said, “You don’t realize the Pandora’s box you just opened. I know; I’ve gone down this road, and it’s a battle. I will do everything I can to walk with you.” He was great; he was like—
Ann: Oh, we even said, like, “What do you think the consequence should be?”—we didn’t set the consequence—we were just saying: “Because this could affect your future, your marriage…”—all the things that you already talked about, Arlene.
It’s so funny; he is like, “I don’t think I should be on the computer for a month.” We were thinking, “A month—whoa! That’s longer than we thought!”
Arlene: Isn’t it funny that they will often do a harsher thing than we would even do?
Ann: Yes, yes; we moved that computer right in the center of the family room.
Arlene: Yes. [Laughter]
Dave: Parents, have a conversation with your kids—not just about this thing we’ve been talking about the last few minutes—but about this digital screen world they are living in. It shouldn’t be: “It’s their world,”/“It’s your world.” It should be: “We need to talk.” Maybe, you need to apologize; but what would it be like to open up the thing and say, “How are you doing with this, and how can we help you?” and “Maybe, we need to set some new parameters and start a new way.”
Bob: Listening to Dave and Ann Wilson today talk with Arlene Pellicane about kids and screen time. I’ve been thinking about how our screens are kind of like pacifiers for older people, whether it is teenagers or grownups. When your child is restless, it’s easy to default to screen time—to let them spend too much time online or with their screen— just because it brings some peace and quiet into the home. We’ve got to be careful about this as we seek to raise the next generation to be healthy and to know how to relate to other people.
This is really what’s at the heart of Arlene Pellicane’s book, which is called Screen Kids. It’s about 5 Relational Skills Every Child Needs in a Tech-Driven World. We’re making this book available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners, those of you who can support this ministry and help extend the reach of FamilyLife.
Our goal every day is to provide you and others with solid practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family. There are hundreds of thousands of people, who connect with us every day, looking for this kind of help and hope. Listeners, like you, have made today’s program possible. We want to ask you to make tomorrow’s program possible—to make a donation—so that FamilyLife can continue to reach more people, more often, and effectively develop godly marriages and families. We believe godly marriages and families can change the world one home at a time.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to make an online donation, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate over the phone. When you do, ask for your copy of Arlene Pellicane’s book, Screen Kids. It’s our thank-you gift for your donation. Again, the website to donate is FamilyLifeToday.com; or donate by calling 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk, among other things, about what grandparents can do or shouldn’t do as we interact with our grandkids, and their devices, and their screens. Arlene Pellicane will be back with us to talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be here as well.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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