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Connecting With Your Tech-Absorbed Kid

Connecting With Your Tech-Absorbed Kid

Youth ministry expert and author Jonathan McKee offers parents practical advice and encouragement in a discussion based on his book 52 Ways to Connect With Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid.
Original Air Date: November 23, 2016



Jonathan McKee: The relationship that is so important, because the relationship is going to be the element that transcends when they are out of the house, when you don’t have any boundaries. So don’t mess up bonding, with way too many boundaries.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Jonathan McKee is our guest today on Focus on the Family, and we’re so glad you’ve joined us. I’m John Fuller; your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: Hey John, it’s a new year– have you made those resolutions? (laughter)

John: I’m putting that off. I’m resolved to putting those things off!

Jim: Forget it!

John: I’m going to wait until about late January when I have already failed.

Jim: I think that’s a great idea, put it off. Hey, a resolution you might make is managing technology use and today we want to talk about how to better connect with those around you, especially young people. In this addicted world of phones and tablets and all the connectivity that we have, we want to help you get human interaction back into your relationships. How many people just leaned in on that one? (chuckle)

John: Yeah, this is a good one.

Jim: It is and as we’re talking about technology, let me mention a free resource we have on our website. It’s “A Parent’s Guide to Technology 2018.” It’s a great download to inform you about how kids are using devices to, you know, be active in social media– video games, internet use, texting and more. John, are you living in that world?

John: Oh, golly, I’ve got a 14-year old pushing on me every day, “Dad, I need a phone. I need a phone. I need a phone.”

Jim: Well, with 17 and 15-year olds in our house, it’s all about this– this is our pillow talk for Jean and I, every night, it’s ‘are we doing it correctly’ so I’m looking forward to the discussion.

Here at Focus on the Family, we want to help you to be able to talk with your young people about technology so they can reap the benefits and also minimize the land mine out there related to the use of technology.

John: Yeah and if you’d like that “Parent’s Guide to Technology”, stop by And connecting beyond technology is something we’re gonna learn about today from our guest, Jonathan McKee. He’s got some great thoughts. He’s got 20 years of youth ministry experience. He talks to parents, leaders and teens worldwide and he and his wife Lori have three grown children. He’s got a lot of first-hand insights about this topic of developing a strong relationship with your kids.


Jim: Jonathan, welcome to Focus on the Family.

Jonathan: Oh, thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Jim: Hey, we’ll go right at it, because this is a topic that so many parents are interested in. And you used a phrase which I caught, and that was you’ve got to teach your children to be tech-enabled, not tech-dependent. I like that. I think I know what it means, but clarify it. What do you mean by it?

Jonathan: Well, I mean this is one of the things we even talk with young people about all the time. I get to do school assemblies, and I’ll tell kids, I’ll hold up my phone and say, “Hey, this thing isn’t bad. I mean this is a great tool for connecting with people outside the room. It’s a lousy tool when it begins to interfere with the people inside the room.” And you know, technology is a fun thing. Me, as a parent, my kids are now grown, my girls are out of college, man, this little device I carry in my pocket is like my main connector with my, you know, grown kids. So it’s great, it’s fun. What happens often, though, is that when we bring that device and set it right there on the dinner table next to us and you know it buzzes and we’re looking at it, and when it starts to interfere with those relationships we’re having with those people right in front of us—our friends, our spouse—that’s when it starts to get scary, and we need to learn how to, you know, use this tool. And honestly, we’re all figuring out.

It was 2012 when America really crossed the 50 percent mark of owning Smartphones. So before then, you know, we could text, we could talk, but now we’ve got all this information at our fingertips. We can google, we can stream Netflix, we can do everything with this device, and for a lot of us, we’re still figuring out how to use this thing.

Jim: You know, Jonathan, in the news we’ve seen a number of stories where particularly—I don’t mean to be gender-specific here—but often girls that are losing privileges, and you’ll see in the news where the parent took the phone away, and it devastated this person, this young person’s life. You know, they can’t believe it. And they are on average (I couldn’t believe the number) in some of these cases, 3,000 texts a day.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Jim: I’m trying to think, how do you even do that? I mean—I’m an older guy.

John: They’re one-letter texts, I’m sure. Just “K.”

Jonathan: Taking a kid’s phone away is like lopping their arm off.

Jim: Well, isn’t that a sign that there’s a problem if it’s that critical to you?

Jonathan: Well, and interesting enough, Common Sense Media just did a survey and asked parents and teenagers. They said, “How many of you guys think that this is becoming too much of an obsession, that we are too dependent on this kind of technology?” Of course a bunch of parents said—66 percent of parents—said, “Yes, this is too much.” Fifty-two percent of teenagers said, “Yeah, I think it’s too much.”

Jim: Well, does that point to an addiction?

Jonathan: Yeah. I think there’s an awareness out there, and a lot of young folks—when I talk to young people all the time and talk about this, if I say something like, “Hey, you know, how many times are you guys sitting around with your friends and you look and they’re on their stupid phones and they won’t even talk with you?” And they’ll always point at each other and go, “You totally do that!” Of course they never point at themselves. But you know it is—they are aware of that, and I think they’re still trying to figure it all out. But they don’t want to part from them.

As a matter of fact, more teenagers want an internet connection than they want to even drive, you know? So this new technology, they like it, they want it, and we as parents, we need to teach them how to navigate this landscape.

Jim: You know, to give that some scope, I think in your book you mentioned a survey that identified 13- to 18-year-olds and the amount of time they spend on entertainment and media, and it was something like 8 to 9 hours a day.

Jonathan: Yeah, for teenagers it was 8 hours and 56 minutes a day was the average, if you add up not just phone, but phone, TV, music, everything. Pretty much nine hours a day. That’s for teenagers. For tweens, which is the 8- through 12-year-old, you’re looking at almost 6 hours a day. But here’s the thing though. Before we all start saying “kids these days,” most studies that show what adults are spending, it’s actually over that. In fact, the most conservative studies (Nielsen just had one) showed 9 hours and 38 minutes a day for adults. Adults spend way more time in front of the big TV set, and sometimes two to four hours a day on a Smartphone.

Jim: You know, we’re going to come back to phones, but one of the things, especially for teenagers again, is the video game arena. So watching movies and things, that’s one thing, and then you have the phone usage, but video game playing—it’s something PluggedIn, we do here. We do reviews on those games, which is very helpful for parents. I use PluggedIn. My boys both say, “Dad, don’t go to PluggedIn!”

Jonathan: Because then you won’t let us play this game.

Jim: Right. Exactly. But talk about video gaming and the healthy appetite for that. Some parents have a really hard, you know, line on it, and others probably too loose of a line. What have you found in the research that is a healthy place to be.

Jonathan: Well, you know video games, teenage boys average 56 minutes a day, according to a Common Sense Media survey, on video games. And you know parenting, really, if you think about it, the two most important probably elements in parenting are bonding and boundaries, and bonding is hanging out with your kids, talking with your kids; boundaries is maybe setting those limits and saying only an hour of video games a day or whatever. We can use things like video games as a point of connection. Have you ever walked in and said, “Hey, cool sword. Where’d you get that? Can I try?” because—

Jim: That’s a mistake. I’ve done that.

Jonathan: Oh yeah, man, and you were terrible at it, because we’re used to a stick and a button-

Jim: Pong! (laughter)

Jonathan: -and an Xbox controller is like the cockpit of an airplane.

John: Pong!!! You’re dating yourself there! (Laughter)

Jonathan: Exactly! I at least had Pac Man, Jim.

Jim: Okay, good.

Jonathan: But no, I mean parents sitting down—when I used to sit down with my son with video games, I’d say about ten minutes into him making fun of me for my character running into walls and walking off cliffs and whatever– Jim: At least you can make him run. That’s good. Jonathan: Yeah, yeah. He would just start saying, “So Dad, where are you traveling this weekend?” And he would just start talking. And we had some amazing conversations because I used that hour of video games instead of just coming in and, my mistake many times was just checking, “Are you done with your video game time? Have you done your homework?”

And it doesn’t have to just be video games. It could be Netflix bingeing. I mean Netflix is the thing right now. If on a Saturday morning you don’t know where your kid is, go upstairs. She’s sitting on her bed, she’s been watching Netflix. She’s on season three of “Parks and Rec” because she started last night, you know? I mean Net- kids will—and the instinct as a mom or a dad is to say, “Put that stupid thing away.” And every once in a while—I’m not saying let your kids do whatever they want; don’t get me wrong here, but wouldn’t it be cool if instead of always saying, “Put that stupid thing away” if one time we were like, “Hey, what are you watching?” “Parks and Rec.” “Is it funny? Can I watch it with you?”

As a matter of fact, the Journal of Pediatrics, they recommend—and these are family pediatricians here—recommends that we co-view with our kids. And a lot of parents try to make these decisions without ever even just trying something with them.

Jim: Well, and talk about the benefits of doing that. Again, I believe in that. Sometimes you’re thinking, I don’t have time to sit down and watch something that you wouldn’t spend time doing as an adult, but it’s good to get into your children’s world. And one of the reasons I see is that you can train them about discernment.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Jim: If they’re watching something that’s inappropriate, talk about why it’s inappropriate, not that it just is.

Jonathan: I mean this is Deuteronomy 6, this is walking with our kids. This is having conversations as you walk along the road, as you get up, as you go to bed at night. And when we as parents, we’re tempted to say—I mean let’s be honest, I have three kids. I was so busy. I was traveling. And the temptation is to say, “I’m too busy.” But the numbers show otherwise. The numbers—those same numbers that show that we’re spending more time in front of the TV than even our kids are, you know, we do have the time.

And it is tough. I remember at the end of the day I’d be sitting down and I’d be in a comfortable chair with my feet up, and especially as my kids were older and they’re like going to bed and they’re like, “Good night!” It would be really simple to just kinda holler upstairs, “Yeah, good night. [blows kiss] I’m blowing a kiss. Did you feel that? I’m blowing that kiss up there to you,” and I’d stay with my feet up, you know, where it’s comfortable.

But to actually get my lazy butt up and walk upstairs—and not like our kids would be like, “Welcome! Thank you for coming!” They’d be like, “You don’t need to come up” (that’s what teenagers are going to mostly say) but if you walk in—and here’s the benefit. Our kid’s phone is on the charger at this point because they’ve used it, depleted, you know every ounce of the battery out of the thing, and you tuck your kid in, not every time but maybe the seventh time you do this, the twelfth time you do this, your kid’s going to look up from under the covers and go, “Hey mom, when you were my age, did kids ever talk about you and say something that wasn’t true?” And all of a sudden you’re going to have this maybe five minutes, ten minutes of conversation. You’re gonna walk out and you’re gonna go, “There it was!” And it’s because you got up and you went upstairs and you said goodnight. And we’ve got to look for these communication arenas. They’re there, these arenas where technology isn’t getting in the way, and a lot of it starts with us making time to do that.

Jim: Now one big assumption that your teenager goes to bed before you do.

Jonathan: Yeah, it’s tough.

John: Or goes to the bedroom before you do at least. Well, our guest is Jonathan McKee, and he’s written a book called52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone-Obsessed Kid, and there are a lot of practical suggestions in this book and we’ll invite you to get a copy of it when you stop by . Let’s see, how do we do that without being tech-obsessed, Jonathan? Getting people to the website?

Jonathan: That’s a tough one, I’ll let you guys figure that one out.

Jim: This is where technology is good.

John: All right, so use the old technology and call us. 800-A-FAMILY is the number. 800-232-6459. Request the book and in fact when you make a generous donation, we’ll send it to you as our way of saying “thank you” for supporting the mission of Focus on the Family.

Jim: Jonathan, again, something that caught my attention was a story that you had about your daughter. I think your dad called you because he saw something. Describe what happened there, because I think it’s very instructive for us as parents about being engaged and not looking the other way when you should be, you know, if I can say it, monitoring what your kids are into?

Jonathan: Yeah, you know this was fun. This was my middle child, and she was having a bad day and she kind of walked in and was kind of, “Eh,” and she did her typical throw the backpack down and go up to her room. And I was kind of like, “Hey, how’s it going?” “Fine. Good.” You know, one-word answers, typical teenage stuff.

Jim: I thought it was teen boys only.

Jonathan: Yeah, yeah, no,no.

Jim: Good to hear that girls do it too.

Jonathan: It’s across the board. (chuckle) And so I was kind of like—and I was busy, as most parents are—so I kind of told myself, fine, you know, whatever. You know, how do you figure out what a teenager is thinking, right? And then my dad calls me like an hour later, and my dad is one of those grandparents who’s really in his, you know, in his grandkids’ lives, and he spends time with them and just loves them so much. But he’s also one of those Facebook stalkers, you know. (laughter) He’s a Facebook stalker, and at this particular time—it was a few years ago, because now a lot of young people are actually fleeing Facebook for this very reason, because they know mom and dad are watching—but at this time, you know, young people were still on Facebook and posting stuff, and just some of her posts just caught his attention, and he’s all, “What’s wrong with Alyssa?” And I’m all, “I don’t know. What is wrong with Alyssa?” And he’s like, “It seems like she’s having a rough day. I mean she posted this and this,” and I was kind of like, “Oh really?” And so I walked up and sure enough, she was kind of having a rough day, and I’m sitting here going, okay, it takes my dad, Facebook stalker, calling me, and I didn’t even notice this.

And we as parents, you know, we need to be noticing it. And a lot of this noticing is just face to face. But as we’re walking with our kids through this journey, you know, as our kids are getting some of this technology, it’s a good idea for us as parents to be on the technology with them. And sometimes that’s the answer. Parents are always saying, “Can I allow them to have this? Can I allow them to have that?” There’s going to be apps out there that we need to say “no” to, but sometimes it’s like, “I don’t know. Let’s try it together.” I mean that’s a good answer.

John: You’ve really touched on something here, Jonathan, that I’m curious about, and that is I am sure my kids are doing things online that I don’t know. When they hit 16, 17, 18.

Jonathan: It’s good that you know that.

John: In fact, recently I found out that my four oldest, five oldest—they are all adults or almost adults—they’ve got a private Facebook page where they make snarky comments about our family that I don’t ever see because I can’t get there. So how do you manage the stuff that our kids are doing that we don’t know about? I mean—because they don’t want us to know everything.

Jonathan: Well, I’ll tell you one thing is if we as parents try to do—you know, if we think for one minute that we are going to know everything about our kids, we’re fooling ourselves. I mean we’re not. The best that we can do is be in their lives, be where we can, have good, fair, realistic boundaries. You know of course listeners are going to be, “Well what? Exactly what? What time do they need to go to bed?” You know that’s the tough thing. And having incredible times of bonding where we’re talking with them, we’re getting to know them. If we’re in their lives and we’re having these conversations, we’re going to, you know, be more aware of this stuff.

We’re not going to be aware of everything. There are so many things I found out later from my kids, especially now that my youngest is 19; she’s out of the house. She’ll be like, “Oh, I remember the first time I saw this.” I’m like, “You saw that?” And there’s going to be things that we’re unaware of. But if we as parents take the time to notice—and especially, I mean that’s what this book is all about, looking for these opportunities to connect with them—we can learn so much.

I’ll tell you, you know, parents could probably identify with this. The old carpool, the taking our kids back from soccer practice, from school, wherever. You’re driving. You’ve got a bunch of teenagers in your car. As a parent, this is a great time for us to just listen. I mean I’ve got my German shepherd ears up just totally paying attention, because you’ll hear—if you just be quiet and don’t say a word and listen, you can learn so much about your kids when they are in the back of the car.

They’ll be talking about who they like, who they—what apps they’re on, what’s their favorite food. And the funny thing is every once in a while one of your kids’ friends will say something and your kid will be like, “Shh!” And that’s when you really got to listen. That’s when your German shepherd ears are turning and you’re going, “Oh! What was that?”

Jim: As soon as you hear, “Shh!”

Jonathan: As soon as you hear that. But I mean, I’ll talk with parents, and sadly, when I talk about, “Hey, let’s connect with your kids over a meal or something,” and they are like, “I don’t even know where my kids will want to eat.” That’s why we’ve got to be noticing this stuff, because kids talk about the dumbest stuff. They’ll talk about where the best fries are. “Oh, the best is the onion rings at Buffalo Wild Wings.” Well, if your kid is saying that he loves onion rings at Buffalo Wild Wings and you’re having trouble connecting with your kid, think of what an in that is that some night when he’s sitting there doing homework, “Hey, you tired of homework? Let’s go grab some onion rings at Buffalo Wild Wings.”

Now you’ve named something that you heard him say he likes. You’ve got a better chance—not a 100 percent chance, but a better chance—of connecting with that kid, versus if we take a wild shot with our daughter, “Hey, do you want to go get some wings?” “Dad, I’m a vegetarian!” (laughter) It’s not going to work.

Jim: Jonathan, one of the things that you’re saying there which is so important is knowing your child well enough to demonstrate what you’re expecting of them. And what I mean by that is show relationship, show the need for relationship, be demonstrating relationship to them. That’s what you’re saying.


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52 Ways to Connect With Your Smartphone-Obsessed Kid

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