Dr. Kathy Koch offers parents helpful insights and advice from her new book, Screens and Teens: Connecting With Our Kids in a Wireless World. (Part 1 of 2)
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Jim Daly: Dr. Koch, at what age should a parent buy their child the first cell phone? (Laughter) I see that face.
John Fuller: That's a hard ball there.
Dr. Kathy Koch: The first cell phone, I really can't answer that, because it depends on the situation--
Jim: And the maturity of the child.
Dr. Kathy Koch: --and the maturity of the child. But a cell phone that has only three numbers, mom's cell phone, Dad's work and 911, if the child is alone a lot, maybe at age 10. But that again, depends upon the situation.
Jim: And not Internet access.
Dr. Kathy Koch: Right, for sure.
End of Teaser:
John: Well, that is a thorny question, Jim, that I know you and Jean are starting to talk about (Laughter) and it's one that many parents have to deal with and there are a lot of technology and kid questions that come up, it seems every day. And here at Focus on the Family, we're hearing from you and we're bringing a program to you to address this matter. Your host is Focus president, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim: John, you know, in preparation for the interview, I read some shocking stats that, get this: in the course of one minute, YouTube users upload 48 hours of new video content.
John: In one moment--
Jim: In one minute—
Jim: --they load 48 hours of new video content. Facebook users share over 680,000 pieces of content. Google searches, now this is in one minute, more than 2 million Google searches will occur in one minute. And then lastly, over 200 million e-mail messages in just one minute.
John: Oh, my goodness.
Jim: On the one hand, it shows you how pervasive technology is and on the other hand, it shows you how pervasive technology is. I mean, it's right in our face all the time. It's convenient. It's useful and today we want to talk about how to parent your teens in this technology rich environment. And we're gonna do that with one of our great guests, Dr. Kathy Koch.
John: Uh-hm, yeah, she's been on here a number of times with us and is always one of our most popular guests to have on, because she brings a lot of wisdom and insight and energy to this matter of children. She's the founder of Celebrate Kids, Inc. and has written a number of books. And I am looking forward to the conversation today about one of her latest, Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World.
Jim: Kathy, welcome back to "Focus."
Kathy: Thank you so much. Glad to be here.
Jim: Let me ask you from that title, you get the impression you're talking about how to help and equip parents to allow and help their teens manage technology. That's really not what you're getting at, is it?
Kathy: What I want to help parents understand is how technology is influencing the belief system of their kids and therefore, their behaviors. So, it's not a book about technology, so much as it's a book about what technology is doing to their beliefs and behaviors.
Jim: Give me a specific. What is technology doing to my teens?
Kathy: Okay, are your kids arguing more than you thought they ever would or complaining more than you thought they ever would?
Kathy: Many parents are telling me, yes, they're never satisfied. Teachers are telling me that if the kids are asked to do a 500-word essay in blue pen, long hand, the kids are like, "How about 400 words on the computer due the next day instead."
Jim: Spellchecked and everything.
Kathy: Yeah, they're always asking for another option. Well, that's because their brains are wired for choice because of the drop-down menu.
Kathy: All the technology that we use and many of the platforms we use on the technology is drop-down menu drive, right?
Jim: Uh-hm, yes.
Kathy: TV, cable, DVR, cell phone, e-mail, your digital camera. Many of games that kids play have this menu of all these choices, so their brains are being wired by the technology to believe that choice is their right, where those of us who are older believe choice is a privilege. So, if you're raising children who are constantly complaining, that's because of technology.
Jim: Well, I mean, let's get practical. How does a parent start to deconstruct that "choice is a right and not a privilege."
Kathy: Oh, my goodness, it's hard, isn't it? We have to believe that for ourselves, because how many of us would like a choice, even though our brains aren't wired for it? So, here's an example. There used to be one kind of cracker that I liked. This particular cracker now has 12 varieties. (Laughter) When I go to the store—
Jim: Wheat Things--
Kathy: --I want Wheat Thins—
Kathy: --Triscuits. When I go to the store, I want my Triscuit. I want the Triscuit I have decided is my favorite. It's the old standard—
Jim: Onion, garlic--
Kathy:--one. I like rye. Actually, it's rye.
Jim: --rye, there you go. I like the original. (Laughter)
Kathy: Well, you know, so when I go to the store, I want rye Triscuits and if they don't have them, I'm like, they should've known I was coming and there should be rye Triscuits on the shelf.
Jim: Okay, now let me ask you this. Is this producing the Ugly American?
Kathy: Absolutely, because now it's all about me and my happiness is another one of the lies I address in the book. So, first thing, Jim, is we as adults, we need to get real here and we need to discover that we've become perhaps more complaining and argumentative and demanding than we know we should be, because what are we modeling before our kids?
And then, you know, I love having the conversations with the kids, where we sit them down and we go, "Look, I have figured out that the reason you're complaining is your brain is wired for choice. I'm gonna respect that and I'm gonna give you options when I can. But I also am raising you to be obedient the first time, because that's right and that's what honors God.
So, I know your brain is wired to expect choice, but I'm sorry; we live in a culture where choice is what I sometimes have, but you don't have.
Jim: So, you've touched on how science is proving that our children's brains are being rewired through technology. It gives us the indication that we should think all technology is bad. That's not what you're saying.
Kathy: Not at all. I think technology's amazing. We're using it today, right? You know, and I'm all over social media and of course, I use a lap top and a cell phone and all that. But it is the use of it, if there's too much of it too soon, too many minutes a day. I know kids who are being nurtured by technology, rather than by their parents. 'Cause even when they're with their parents, the technology is still there. And that's not appropriate. I don't believe that, that honors God and the fact that our children are supposed to be more important to us than the cell phone, if you will.
Jim: Well, let me ask the hard question, which is, you know, look at the log in your own eye, before you look at the speck in your child's eye.
Jim: I mean, it's a little hard, but so often we're the ones sitting at the dinner table or maybe at the restaurant with the family and we're lookin' at our cell phones and doing e-mails in between ordering. And our boys and girls are watchin' us do it.
Kathy: Absolutely and then they're not gonna trust us when we say, "You need to put your phone away." They feel unimportant in that.
Jim: Well, a double standard.
Kathy: Exactly. So, here's what I would say. Dad is expecting an important call related to a business meeting tomorrow morning. So, I apologize, but I need to keep my phone on and I'm gonna keep it right here. And as soon as I see that, that's message has come in, I'm putting it off and it'll be down in my briefcase. The rest of you don't have a business call that you're expecting, cell phones off. One of my favorite examples is, that all the cell phones go in the middle of the table.
Jim: Or a basket.
Kathy: Right and the—
Jim: I like it.
Kathy: --and the first one that reaches for the phone pays the bill. (Laughter)
Jim: There's a good idea.
Kathy: So, I recommend that.
John: That's good, I like that.
Kathy: So, I think there's times when we explain and defend appropriately and you might have a child who is wondering whether or not volleyball practice is gonna be cancelled tomorrow and she gets texts from the coach. Totally appropriate that, that phone stays on for that legitimate reason.
Jim: I've been really proud of our kids. You know, they're of an age right now that many of their friends have phones and our guys have not even really asked us or pressured us. It's like I think they may think that we would say no.
Jim: But I guess in some ways, I want to delay that as much as possible. So, I'm not gonna bring it up. But we will need to start thinking about age appropriateness when it comes to that request. I mean, they've gotta be right around the corner.
Jim: Trent particularly, he'll be driving not too far from now and--
Kathy: And that might be the motivation for the phone.
Jim: --that may be the right time and I like that in terms of the age of responsibility and--
Jim: --it's a good security measure. What about the parent that's giving in maybe a bit too early, like 11, 12? And they've made the decision, but it's already creating some disaster. What can they do to help bring that in a little bit?
Kathy: If they believe they made the wrong decision and gave a phone out of pure pressure or even an e-mail account or even something like social media, which has a legal age of 13, they can step back and look their child in their eye and they say, "I've made a mistake and I'm so sorry, but I'm taking your phone away, because I realize that you're not ready for it." Or "I realize you don't need it yet and it's interfering with your choice to invest in real relationships with real people. So, mommy, daddy made a mistake. It's not your fault. You haven't done anything wrong, but we're taking the phone away."
Let's own that, you know, and let's be mature about it. I can't tell you how many parents have allowed their kids on social media before the legal age and they'll say to me, "Well, they need to be able to look at the photo albums that their aunts and uncles are posting." I'm like, "No, they don't. They can look over your shoulder when you bring it up on your Facebook account." "Oh, yeah, but they had to have one, because, you know, their brother has one." "No, they don't need to have one." "Well, I just gave in; it'll be okay."
And I look them right in the eye and I say, "What are you gonna do when they're 16 and they're asking about something else?" Oh, no, that'll be different." (Laughter) "No, it won't. You've started this slippery slope of allowing yourself to be manipulated by the whiny, demanding behavior." And what I want to say is, "Be the parent."
Kathy: Say no to the "no" things, yes to the "yes" things. Defend yourself if it's appropriate. You don't even have to defend yourself all the time. You're the parent who knows best and you have a vision for your kids.
Jim: You know, sometimes though, it can be parent-to-parent peer pressure--
Kathy: Yes, it's true.
Jim: --(Laughing) especially if it's fairly tight and your kids are friends.
Jim: And the parents have said, okay and boy, now your kids are saying, "Well, Joey's got one and Mrs. Joey said it was okay." (Laughing) And now you got parent-to-parent peer pressure and what do you do with that—
Kathy: You know—
Jim: --without throwin' the parents under the bus?
Kathy:--well, that's a really good question, because maybe you're parenting your kids the way that God's told you to.
Jim: Well, it's that moment you've gotta differentiate.
Jim: You know, that's gonna be fine for Joey and his mom and dad, but for us, we're gonna go a different direction and here's why. Is it important to explain? I think a lot of parents might make the mistake of not explaining it, so they're told, "We're doing it differently" and then the child's left scratching his head. "Well, why are we different?"
Kathy: That's a good point and then the child might feel badly—
Kathy: --you know, like I'm a bad kid; therefore I don't get a phone. So, yes, I do think there's times when we explain and if you read books like mine, frankly, you'll understand why the delay because of brain development issues and social issues that come up.
John: We're talking to Dr. Kathy Koch today on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and you can find some helps for some of these thorny issues and getting a handle on the technology in your life and in your children's lives, when you stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. You can also call us. It's 800-A-FAMILY. And then let me just mention, we do have a mobile app. (Laughter) It seems a little inappropriate maybe—
Jim: Hey, that's okay.
John: --but we're online and we have a mobile app, so you can get that at the website, as well. Kathy, I've observed that my now 11-year-old, I mean, he's grown up with SmartPhones. He knows what a SmartPhone is. There's a whole generation being affected developmentally by technology. What do you see comin' down the road when they're adults and they're parents?
Kathy: That's a great question. I'm concerned, because of the lies that I think the young adults are beginning to believe because of technology. So they're gonna parent from that perspective, which is dangerous.
For instance, the lie that I deserve to be happy all the time, which is another lie technology is teaching our kids. If you parent so that you're happy all the time and your kid is happy all the time, you're gonna not necessarily be saying yes to the correct things and you're not necessarily gonna say no as often as you maybe should. So, I am concerned with that.
I also see some potential in our culture, where this generation is gonna do a U-turn on themselves and they're gonna come back to face-to-face relationships, because in reality, texting will not meet their core need for healthy belonging. It will be a relationship like we're having even here at the table, where we're looking into each other's eyes.
Jim and John: Uh-hm.
Kathy: And I have hope for that U-turn.
Jim: Kathy, not only happiness, but you also have the issue of that perfection and I liked in your book what you talked about, when the mother took so many pictures. Describe that scene and it made an impact on me. I think you're on to somethin' that's very important.
Kathy: Oh, I appreciate that. You know, I'm a fan of the digital camera and the phone in the camera's amazing and I'm not opposed to us using it" But what happened with this particular mom was, it was her daughter's first day of preschool. So, she did what every good mom does, which is take her daughter's picture. But now with the digital camera, she was able to take it and look at it and realize that there was a shadow on her daughter's face. So, she said, "Turn a little bit this way. Oh, now wait; the tree looks like it's growing out of your head. Take two steps this way." And then there were all these issues and she kept taking pictures. And by the eighth or ninth picture, the little girl, 4-years-old, stomped off, ran away crying, "Mommy, I thought I was cuter than this."
Jim: Oh, so she internalized the whole thing.
Kathy: She internalized, not what the mom wanted. The mom didn't want her daughter to perceive that she was anything but adorable on the first day of preschool. But the demand from the mom for a perfect picture planted the seed in the daughter that she was imperfect. And that's the danger of some of the technology, because we're not perfect. Let's admit it. So, I want to get the best picture I can get. Sure, but sometimes we should just put our camera away.
Jim: You know, when you look at technology and particularly of social media and you think of the impact on teens, it's almost like the rudest, crudest, popularity contest there could ever be, 'cause they're talkin' about how many likes do you have and how many "unfriends" do you have? (Chuckling)
Jim: And I mean, how do you manage that as a parent with your teen, when they're coming home crying and saying, so and so "unfriended" me. Hey, what is that all about?
Kathy: Wow. Again, let's make sure that we have of positive relationship with our kids, so that they do have something solid they can come home to, where they know that we're going to listen to their heart and we're going to provide good insight. We're not gonna dismiss them as just being, you know, worried about nothing. So, I think that's a really core part of this whole issue, is that if we have a real relationship with our kids and we really know them and they really know us, then they'll be honest with us and that's great.
If they do come home disturbed about being unfriended or being bullied on social media, we hug them. We cry with them. I believe it's really important to respond to emotion with emotion. So, before we fix it, we hear it and we respond and we say, "I'm sad for you. That must have really been hurtful. Let's talk about that. Did you do anything that resulted and caused it? Let's own your responsibility here."
Because one of the things that we've gotta help our kids understand is that there are consequences, even though a lot of technology treats them as if there aren't any consequences, 'cause you can restart anything that quits—
Jim: That's right.
Kathy: --that quits, right? So, they believe that there really aren't consequences. So, I think it's fair to say as a dad or a mom or a teacher or a pastor, "Did you do anything that caused the unfriending? Or did you do anything that caused them to say negative, untrue things about you? And let's help our kids discern their own behavior and why did they do that? Was it a popularity contest? Were they, you know, wrapped up in the adrenaline moment, which can even happen to adults. And then we say, "Let's take a break."
Jim: You know, I don't have the research right at the tip of my fingers, but over the last couple of years I've read a fair amount of research that shows that children want a great relationship with their parents.
Jim: When they're asked, they say, "Yes, I want that." Something though is falling short, because when they become teenagers, that begins to wane. Something's going wrong in the relationship often. They yearn for it. I think it's something that God places in a child's heart, that they want that healthy relationship with mom and dad. And so, I would ask, what's goin' wrong?
Kathy: The busyness of moms and dads today can cause children to believe that they are second place. And I ache for that. I'm all about understanding parents have their own lives and they have many of them, careers and major responsibilities and yes, they're busy.
But children who feel like they're second fiddle, like they're unknown in their own families, they're unimportant there, the dinner's never on the table anymore and it's always something else, they begin to doubt the connection. They begin to believe that work is more important, that mom's friends at the club are more important and that's sad.
So, we have to maintain that positive real relationship, where we know our kids and our kids want to be known. And we parent from the get-go, Jim. You know when things are easy, when the kids are young and everything seems easy, we're still parenting. We're still proving to them that our knowledge matters and that our authority is for them, not against them, that the boundaries that we placed around them when they're 6, 7 and 8, we don't allow sleepovers, for instance, that that's healthy for them, not against them. It's not because we think you're a bad kid; it's because God has placed us in your presence as the parent and we will be responsible for you.
Jim: We're takin' our job seriously.
Kathy: Exactly and when we do that from the get-go, then I think teenagers don't resent the interference. They call it "interference." No, it's parenting, it's parenting 101. It's my responsibility.
Jim: Let me ask this hard question, because part of that vacuum that's created when there's not healthy relationships within the home, I would think it's exactly when they'll turn to social media. They'll turn to technology, to have that need met, to feel connection, to have a sense of identity within that group, to have a sense of purpose.
Is it fair to say that? I know it sounds harsh, but those busy and moms and dads, if your priorities are out of place, it may be that your kid's involvement may be detrimental involvement in technology. It might be 'cause they're not getting something from home. Is that fair?
Kathy: I totally agree that, that could be why they'd be in a text and why they're texting all hours of the day, why they're gaming with the games where they get to be on a team with real people. And it also can be frankly, why moms and dads are lonely, because they've started to text more than is even appropriate and they're using technology to short circuit the reality of a real relationship.
Jim: Husbands and wives.
Kathy: Absolutely and I understand it's convenient and it's quick and we're busy and I get all that. But it's dangerous, so let's call it what it is. So, yeah, if I see that in my family, I would pull those kids aside and say, "We're concerned and this isn't healthy for your relationships. We've gotta have more heart-to-heart things that are going on there.
Let me say this, that all of us were created for a need for relationship and a need for connection. We were created for community. And if they're not gonna get it in the safety, if you will, of their family, they will go get it somewhere. We were the same way. If we were raised and our age was an unavailable mom, we joined the volleyball team or we joined a club in school and that's where we got our fix, if you will. Today they're getting it on social media.
John: Kathy, we had an experience some years ago. I won't identify which child, but we were there. We were available, but a technology entered in and that's where that child was going more and more and more. It's tough to get a handle on that. I mean, what advice do you have for me, if I'm thinking all right, well, she's talkin' about something we're dealing with, but I mean, I'm gonna ruin the relationship if I take the technology away. I know what's gonna happen. They're gonna just absolutely blow up and that's the end of it. So, give me a script. What might that sound like as I start that conversation?
Kathy: You have proven that you're not ready yet for the independence I've provided you, not "I am taking your phone away," but the consequence, you have proven to us that you're not mature enough to handle the freedom that this particular technology has allowed you. Because of the choices you've made, we are taking it from you for a period of time, to be determined based on your attitudes, your behavior.
I wouldn't necessarily say I'm taking it away for two weeks. I'm taking it away because you have proven that you can't handle it. We made a mistake maybe by giving you a little bit too much. We thought you were ready. You've proven you're not. It's a factor we've observed; we're taking it away. "Well, for how long?" "That'll be dependent upon your attitude, your cooperation, what you choose to do, how you choose to behave. You'll get it back when we decide based on your behavior, that you're ready for it." The other key is, in my opinion, what do we do with their now available time? Right? If I have taken away—
Kathy: --their communication tool, their gaming, their calculator, their watch, their alarm clock, their everything, I've gotta do something with that. And that's where now we read together. We plan games together. We go to the park together. We parent them in conversations.
Jim: That is so good and again, one of the things I'm grateful for Jean, she always emphasized imagination.
Jim: And which meant, we didn't want to place a lot of the artificial crutches there, that took that away from them. So, you guys come up with story. You build the Legos. You do the things that need to be done. And I think that's been a good parenting approach there and I'll give Jean credit for that, because she's done a wonderful job. And I'll tell you, the kids, their imagination is really strong because of that. We didn't give 'em a lot of screen time in that regard. And I think it's been terrific.
Jim: The other thing that I think is really helpful is, minimizing the time. So, Monday through Friday, we always had a rule where they did not do electronics during the week, during school year. Summer, we'd be a little more easy goin' about it. But during school, Monday through Friday, you don't get electronics. And then on the weekend, you get doses of it. And that's what we're gonna manage.
And you know what? To the kids' credit, they've really responded well. They haven't fought that too much. It's what we've done since the git-go and it's the way things are. And I think those have been things that have worked well for us.
Kathy: That's excellent. I recommend that parents set digital-free days and—
Kathi: --digital-free zones, like the kitchen table, the restaurant table. I think the car should be silent, no pods, no hand-held devices; talk to each other, look out the window, just rest, 'cause there's evidence that the brain benefits from rest and our generation of children aren't resting enough, 'cause there's always noise and there's always something that they're doing.
And the digital-free days are very powerful, one weekend or one week. I like the idea of no screen time other than homework Monday through Friday. I think that's very wise for a lot of reasons. The weekends then may be a little freer. I've had a lot of parents tell me that they've recognized when they've taken their kids off a technology, how less angry their kids are.
Kathi: And they didn't know that the anger and the aggression and the lack of contentment was being birthed in the use of technology. So, when you take it away for a while, you discover your kids are actually very sweet.
Jim: And again, is that because the games are kind of feasting off of that and it's putting patterns down in our children, competitive patterns, winning patterns in that way, that aren't typically healthy?
Kathi: That's part of it. Technology is teaching them that they have a right to be happy all the time. They can multitask and choose among things that can win every game if they play, if they play long enough. And so, when they're off technology, they still demand that until they've had enough of a break that their brain settles back down, if that makes sense.
Jim: Oh, it does; it does. And we have zoomed through this first day.
Kathi: Oh, my goodness.
Jim: And you know, we've talked about adults and how we need to admit our own shortcoming in this area. And we need to rein in our addiction, our own addiction to technology, so we can model it for our kids. And then hold our kids accountable. Don't be too soft in this area, because you know, these are critical things for our children to learn. Be the parent, as you've said.
Technology's not bad in and of itself. It's how we use it and how we let it make us who we are. And we gotta be careful about that. Kathy Koch, author of the book, Screens and Teens, I want to come back next time. I want to talk about narcissism, which I'm thinking, what teenager isn't a bit self-centered? And then how do we begin to give them a bigger perspective of the world? Can we do that? Come back?
Kathy: Can we also talk about what's great about today's teenagers?
Jim: Absolutely, let's do that.
Kathi: Let's do it.
Jim: Let's celebrate them.
Kathy: I would love to do that with you.
Jim: Okay, great. Let's do it.
John: Well, and there is so much to celebrate when they hit that age and Kathy, we look forward to hearing more from you about technology use in the home. And you'll want to get a copy of Screens and Teens, which covers all the ways that technology is influencing your child and in some ways that you may not even be aware of and how you, as a parent, can set some realistic boundaries when it comes to screen use in your home. You'll find a copy of Screens and Teens at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
While you're there, be sure you get the free document that we've posted there. It's called "Social Networking Challenges Every Parent Should Know." Now this is an informative step-by-step guide about how you can protect your child online from cyberbullying, inappropriate websites, predators and more.
And let me share a comment that we received from a listener named Rick, who said, "I enjoy being able to hear your broadcast on my iPhone with the Focus on the Family daily broadcast app. The wisdom you share has been very helpful in my life and God has used Focus on the Family to help bring my life, Laura and me, back together after being separated for 12 years. God is amazing."
Well, what a great comment that is, what encouragement and it reflects our desire to come alongside you at whatever spot you're at in your walk and to give you some hope and biblical perspective.
And if you haven't done so, please download that app and if you can, donate to the work here at Focus on the Family so we can continue reaching out through the media, through events, through so much more, to make a difference in the lives of people around the world. We need your financial partnership to continue this work and you can donate at the website or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459. And today when you make that donation of any amount, we'll send a copy of Screens and Teens by Dr. Kathy Koch, as our way of saying thanks for your generous support.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow for more from our guests about managing the impact of technology in your home, as we have more trusted advice to help your family thrive.
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Kathy KochView Bio
Dr. Kathy Koch is the founder and president of Celebrate Kids, Inc., an organization dedicated to helping parents and educators understand and meet the needs of today's children. She is also an international speaker and the author of several books including Screens and Teens, No More Perfect Kids and How Am I Smart? Dr. Koch earned her Ph.D. in reading and educational psychology from Purdue University. She resides in Ft. Worth, TX.