Focus on the Family Broadcast

Helping Kids Relate in a Screen-Driven World (Part 1 of 2)

Helping Kids Relate in a Screen-Driven World (Part 1 of 2)

Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane explain the dangers of overusing digital gadgets and media, and offer parents practical advice on establishing healthy boundaries and teaching their kids the importance of face-to-face relational skills. (Part 1 of 2)



Jim: Dr. Chapman, what is one way screen time is changing the way we relate to each other?

Gary: Well, I think all of us are fully aware of this. We see it all the time. For example, my wife and I were in a restaurant just recently. There were four people who came in. They appeared to me to be a young couple and then two children, which were about 6 and 8, I guess. And the children sat on the end and the parents, the adults sat on the other end of the table. The children never looked up at the parents at all, never engaged in conversation. They were on their machines the whole time until the food came. Then they set them aside and, but they still didn’t talk to the parents. They were totally involved with the screen. That’s the way of life for many couples and you can observe it in our culture anywhere you go.

End of Teaser

John: Well, you can see it and you can probably be guilty of doing that in your own family and we have some help for you today if that’s the case. That’s Dr. Gary Chapman and he’s a very popular pastor and speaker, perhaps best known for his 5 Love Languages books and he’s here today on “Focus on the Family,” along with Arlene Pellicane. I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.

Jim: John, this is a really important topic for us, especially where we’re living with kids at home.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: And I know many of you are in that same spot, where you’re tryin’ to find that balance between what is reasonable and what goes over the line. And I think today’s conversation is gonna be extremely helpful. This is something we’ve tried to balance in our own home, of course. And we’re not talkin’ about cell phones with the kids yet. I mean, I got you know, junior high—

John: Pretty good for …

Jim: –boys. They’re ready to go.

John: –for how old they are.

Jim: Yeah, we’re kinda keepin’ ’em at bay. They don’t have a phone. They have limited screen time, but it takes a lot of work and a lot of perseverance and really you gotta hold the line or you will buckle on this.

Gary: Uh-hm.

John: Don’t you think, Jim, it’s just really hard when you try to do that, because so many around us are so into the screen time, into the technology. And the kids are sayin’, yeah, but they get to.

Jim: (Laughing) Oh, man, I love that one. Hey, but my friend has a phone.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: Oh, so what? (Laughter) But you know, everybody’s gonna manage that differently. We’re gonna give you some tools today to really equip you to manage that in your own home. We talked about the impact in the culture. I read a survey the other day where restaurants, they’re reducing the size of the tables, because 57 percent of reservations are now made by one person. Couples aren’t going out like they used to.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: There’s probably a lot of contributing factors, but one is, they said in this report that people are coming to dinner as … by themselves and then simply texting through the whole meal.

John: Hm.

Jim: And it’s almost like they think they’re having dinner with somebody (Chuckling)—

John: Wow.

Jim: –by doing that, and it fits with today’s conversation.

John: Uh-hm.


Jim: We’re gonna talk with, of course, Gary Chapman, author of so many best-selling books, of course, The 5 Love Languages and also his co-author in this case, Arlene Pellicane, who is coming from San Diego, one of my favorite places. And they have written a book, Growing Up Social, Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World. Welcome to “Focus on the Family.”

Arlene: Thanks for having us.

Gary: Thank you. Glad to be here again.

Jim: Let me give you a couple stats and get your reaction to this. One stat that I read is that, by the age of 7, a child born today will have spent one full year in front of a screen. That’s unbelievable.

Arlene: It’s mind-boggling, isn’t it?

Jim: That takes your breath away.

Arlene: Yeah, it really does.

Jim: And, you know, there’s all these other supporting stats that show really how much screen time kids get today. But it is all-consuming.

Gary: It is and that’s precisely why we wrote this book, is that reality. When you think about it, 7 years of age and they spent one of those years … that’s 24 hours a day also, one full year in front of a screen!

Jim: That’s shocking.

Gary: It’s hard to believe.

Jim: It’s hard to believe. Now let me say this. So, often we in the Christian community, we come across as no, no, no (Chuckling). And technology serves a purpose. I was thinking about this while reviewing your book and looking at the material. You know, technology, for example, I’ve had my boys learn how to spell using technology, how to do math in a better way using software. There is a good place for some technology, right?

Arlene: There is and that’s the beauty of technology, is all of a sudden, you can Skype your father who’s deployed or you can look at Grandma, even though, you know, she’s many states away. But when you look at it, how are kids actually using technology. They’re not necessarily doing math problems or Skyping Grandma, you know. For the most part, they’re playing videogames. They’re doing things that they find pleasure in, that they find entertaining. And so, yes, technology is great. But when it is used for every spare moment of the day for entertainment, for pleasure, what is that teaching our children?

And the thing is, what’s the tradeoff? So, okay, my kid’s getting entertained. They see this. They might be learning this, but what are they missing? They’re missing out on throwing a ball with their dad. They’re missing out on cooking a meal with their mom, you know, being by her side. They’re missing certain moments, because there’s a tradeoff there.

Jim: Gary, let me ask you this. What specifically … what’s happening psychologically when we’re training our kids to interact simply with a screen, rather than with a human being?

Gary: Well, one thing is, they’re not growing up social. They get to be teenagers and they don’t … still don’t know how to look people in the face and carry on a conversation with ’em and ask questions of them.

Jim: Now is that new? Or that something … I have this sense that parents for many years beyond technology, have said for 1,000 times, you know, when you shake someone’ s hand, look ’em in the eye and then they don’t do it. Eventually they get there.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: But is it really new? Is it really technology’s fault that, that’s not happening? Or is it just exacerbating the whole thing?

Gary: Well, I think what’s happened is, that technology has pulled them away from those activities that interact with people. Because technology, you’re by yourself. I mean, there may be somebody on the other side that you’re interfacing with, but it’s not like face-to-face conversation. It’s not like playing ball with the neighborhood kids. It’s not like riding bicycles together with kids. There’s just not that interaction.

And if a child’s gonna grow up social and be able to make it in the world with people, they’ve got to learn some social skills and how to relate to people rather than machines.

Jim: Arlene, you have three young children, right?

Arlene: Uh-hm.

Jim: So, you’re livin’ this right now.

Arlene: Yes, they’re 4, 7 and 10 and you really have to be intentional about teaching them skills. It’s practice, what Dr. Chapman is talking about. It’s practice when someone comes over, that they’re not looking down at something, but that they greet the person at the door and they say, “Welcome to our house.”

And when they’re at a party that you teach them, talk to people. Say thank you to the host. And these are things that have to be practiced over and over and over again. And when kids are on screens, they miss out on all those opportunities to practice.

Jim: Would you say technology, Gary, has led to an antisocial behavior pattern in children?

Gary: I think to a large degree that’s true, because when a child is buried in the screen, they’re not relating to other people. It’s a game they’re playing. And I think what happens is, we become an antisocial society. I mean, what you mentioned at the beginning of the program, singles or individuals going to restaurants alone? Man, to me, that’s frightening. (Laughter)

Jim: Fifty-seven percent of reservations.

Gary: Whoa!

Jim: That’s amazing.

Gary: So, that shows you where we are in terms of withdrawing from people and living an individual life ourselves. And ultimately, it’s not healthy for the society.

Jim: Hm. You know, in addition to that, they’re preying on our cognitive skills, right? If you play the games, which you know, my boys do play some games, like Runner or some of those things. But they cue the kids and adults that play them to keep wanting to try more, ’cause you get a higher level. You get more affirmation. They’re actually using deep psychological approaches to keep you hooked to what they’re feeding you, don’t they?

Gary: And it can become addictive. In fact, it’s becoming a major problem in some countries, like in China, Korea and Taiwan, about 30 percent of the children are addicted to technology. And they’re actually treating children now. Hospitals and clinics are treating children for addiction to technology.

Jim: How does that brain chemistry work? What’s happening in the brain?

Arlene: Every time they play something, they get that hit of dopamine, that pleasure that says, oh, that was fun. And it’s kind of like spending a day at Disneyland, versus spending a month at Disneyland. You know, when you spend a day, wow, this is really fun. But after a month, you go, I’ve ridden this Space Mount thing 1,000 times. I gotta do something else.

And it’s the same thing with screens. It’s like, well, I’ve done this so much, it doesn’t provide the same pleasure anymore. So, I either need to do it longer, so you see your child, you know, on screens for a longer period of time. Or if they’re playing a game, I need to get to the next level. This needs to be more exciting, perhaps more aggressive. And so, you’ve gotta watch out for those kinds of things.

Jim: Are there any benefits? Let’s talk about that for a minute. What are some of the benefits to digital use? Are there some?

Arlene: There are definitely benefits. There are the kinds of things where the quick decision making, so the brain is used to sorting through links and be able to say, I want to click on this; I want to go here. I want to go there. So, they’re getting good at their decision making, their visual acuity. They probably have amazing peripheral vision, so there are those kinds of things.

But what they’re missing out on is that ability to have focused concentration. You know, when you read a book, you’re required to keep your attention there and you ‘re required to think about it, to contemplate it. What is this about? But when you’re online, it feeds something entirely different. It’s what am I gonna jump to next?

Jim: Hm.

Arlene: And so, there is a different pace of it. When you are reading a book, you probably see, when your child puts a book down, they’re calm. They’re relaxed. They’re not, you know, going crazy. But if you say, “Put that game away” or “It’s time to get off,” you know, it’s a different picture and it’s because something different is happening in their mind as they interact with that.

Jim: And to note the changes, I think I read in your book, Growing Up Social, you picked up a 1770’s Primer.

Arlene: Oh, yes, yeah.

Jim: Well, what did that show you? I mean—

Arlene: You …

Jim: –I’m always mortified by those early primers like that.

Arlene: Right.

Jim: Where you know—

Arlene: Yeah, they have—

Jim: –from 1800’s.

Arlene: –words, like—

Jim: It’s like a college—

Arlene: –for a first-grader—

Jim: –course.

Arlene: –for a first-grader, would say something like “commiserate,” you know, (Laughing)

Jim: For a first grader.

Arlene: Yeah (Laughter), how in the world did a first grader know how to spell “commiserate?” I’m working with our third-grader to get, you know, “their” and “they’re” and how to use “there” and you know, you think, wow, the capability that they had because they were more focused.

And many times we think technology’s the answer. If we give them this program, it’ll teach them. But do you know, my daughter, she’s in third grade and they have this thing with math, called “The Crazy Minute.” It’s multiplication tables. And she came home doing the times table of 2 and she got 5 out of 36. She was able to do five problems in one minute.

Well, my husband thought, my goodness, we have got to do something. My daughter’s got to get better than five in one minute. And so, he made these flash cards with her and worked with her for about 10 minutes that evening. The next day she went from five to 25 correct in just one day. And every night they drill on those and can you imagine? She went from perhaps the bottom half of the class to now she is the leader, that she is on the 6’s, when no other kid is on the 6’s. And it’s because she works with her dad on that and there’s no app that can replace an involved parent, that will spend the time and will draw that out of a child.

Jim: It’s so well said and it raises our, I think awareness level. Gary, the concern is how many parents use gadgets and media in some ways to babysit, if we’re honest about it. I mean, it keeps them occupied while we can get something done over here. You can lean on that a bit too much, is what I’m hearing you say and when you do that, there’s catastrophe ahead for you. How do you know what the right balance is?

Gary: Well, I think that’s the easy thing. That is the easy thing, is to put them in front of a screen and they’ll be quiet while I do what I have to do.

Jim: Yeah, they’re entertained.

Gary: Yes. I think the real answer to that is, first of all we have to recognize the danger of that, not only in terms of content, what they might be getting in terms of content. Is it building character? Is it in keeping with what we believe as a family, etc.? But what it does for the socialization of the child.

There’s a lot of other things you can do with children besides putting ’em in front of a screen, you know? You can put them in front of a set of blocks at a certain age and they’re gonna build things, rather than just watching somebody else build things. They’re gonna be building things. So, there’s all kind of simple things you can do and we deal with some of these in the book, that children can do while you’re fixing dinner or whatever, that’s healthy, that’s building skills and if they have siblings, that are interrelating with the siblings. So you know, and I think another part of it setting some guidelines in terms of how much time we’re going to allow our children to be in front of a screen.

Jim: Uh-hm.

Gary: And to me, that’s one of the major issues, is having some limitations to it. Otherwise, all the free time the child has will be spent in front of a screen.

Jim: Arlene, you had a story about being on a road trip where this really hit home for you. I think your family and another family were in separate cars and you experienced something very differently. Take us back to that moment with your kids on the road. I think we can all relate to it.

Arlene: We were both headed … two vans headed to the beach. And we were there and we don’t allow any screens in the car, unless it’s, you know, this long kind of road trip kind of deal. And so, we didn’t have any screens.

And there was this motorcycle next to us that popped a wheelie. And we were like, this is amazing. It was just right there on the freeway. And then another one … two motorcycles, poppin’ wheelies side by side and we thought, this is the most amazing thing, like seeing a daredevil show right, you know, in your backyard.

And so, when we got to our destination, we said to our friends who were in the van on the same freeway just a lane, you know, next to us. Wasn’t that amazing? Did you see those motorcycles? Can you believe … that was so dangerous. That was crazy. And they said, “What motorcycles?”

John: Hm.

Arlene: And we said, “You didn’t see that?” And they said no, we were watching our DVD. And that really is a picture, right, of it might be harder to limit those screens, but when you do as a parent, your children will see other things. And they’ll begin to see things in life that they may otherwise miss because they are watching something on a screen and instead of something really amazing that’s happening around them.

Jim: Are you feeling guilty, John?

John: Not at all, no. (Laughter)

Jim: I know, for us, I mean, we have good long runs where we’re good at this and then other times, like when we take the camper out and we have an 8-hour drive, you know, it’s a great way for them to not ask every 14 seconds, “Are we there yet? (Laughter) Are we there yet?” And so, it is a bit of a … I don’t know, something to calm them down (Laughing).

John: Well, are you guilty of ever saying, “Well, we didn’t have that in my day, so you can just stare out the window and be bored for a while?” (Laughter)

Jim: Oh, now, that sounds so much like what our parents would’ve said, John.

John: It does sound like that (Laughter), doesn’t it? Well, really, this whole conversation is great for parents, but it’s also got a real convicting aspect to it, because even—

Jim: It does.

John: –even as we’re talking about, you know, should you limit screen time or how to you limit screen time, I’m thinking, Dr. Chapman, when you said that, I’m thinking I don’t know that I’ve ever said to myself, this is the limit. You know, there’s work. I come home. There’s stuff to do there. There’s projects on line. I’m not sure I’ve ever limited myself.

Gary: Yeah.

John: Maybe I need to start with me, huh?

Gary: And I think that’s a part of the problem, is that often the parent is so involved in technology that they ignore the child. You know, the child comes asking a question. “Well, honey, just a minute. Let me finish this,” you know. And then 30 minutes goes by and you still haven’t answered the child’s question.

Jim: I mean, and so, what you’re saying there is, we’re actually modeling some of the poor behavior that we don’t want them to do–

Gary: Yeah, absolutely.

Jim: –(Laughing) if I could say it that way. That’s convicting. you know, you have to be mindful and make choices, don’t you?

Arlene: Yeah, you do.

Jim: So, in the evening when you’re home, be there. Be present. Demonstrate to your kids that you are engaging them, looking them in the eye, having fun with them and hopefully, they’ll catch on that that’s the way normal human relationship occurs.

Gary: You know, Jim, I put on my Facebook a question, you know, give me ideas on what you do at your house. I got some very interesting things. (Laughter) One family said, we have a box at the front door and there’s a sign that says, “Unless you’re expecting a call from God (Laughter) or the Pope or the President, put your phone in the box so we can enjoy our evening together.

Jim: That’s good (Chuckling); I like that.

Gary: I thought, well, it’s a little radical maybe, but you know, they’ve got the point and they’re working on it. They don’t want the kids to be on technology while they’re at home. They want to explore things as a family.

Jim: And you know what? If we’re honest, it’s hard to do. We’re all—

Arlene: It’s hard to do.

Jim: –addicted to some point. We’re all connected to some point with our device, whatever it might be and it’s hard to put it away. A lot of people would feel lost without that in their pocket or on their hip or in their purse.

Arlene: Yeah.

Jim: You mentioned, Gary, very quickly and I want to go back to it, but a few minutes ago, you talked about countries that are having high incidents of addiction of Internet addiction disorder. First of all, what is Internet addiction disorder? What are the signs of it, so that parents listening can identify that in their own children? I don’t know that in the U.S. we’re as equipped to understand that, the medical staff medical staff, psychological staff. I’m not sure that we have quite the sophistication that Asia may have at this point. What’s your observation in that regard?

Arlene: Well, 95 to 97 percent of our American youth are playing games, but they are not quite at the level. But I think it’s really good for us to look at these countries for guidance. And so, the Internet disorder, you know, things like playing 38 hours a week or more. It’s like a full-time job (Laughing), bein’—

Jim: Right.

Arlene: –on the Internet, you know. Um …

Jim: That would be a clue.

Arlene: Yeah, that would be a clue, 38 hours or more on the Internet and this is not job related. This is not, you know, someone who has to be on the Internet. This is over and above, that you find yourself on the Web. You sense a withdrawal when you don’t have it. When you don’t have the Internet, you … you feel that “antsyness” that you need it. You have a loss of other interest. You start neglecting other things, because you have to be on the Internet.

You know, they did a survey with 1,000 teenagers and they took away their gadgets for 24 hours to see what would happen. And many could not do it and they came back saying, “I felt like a crack head, like I needed to have it,” you know. And they said it was because it was their source of connection and comfort.

Jim: Well, but there is brain chemistry occurring there, isn’t there?

Arlene: Yeah, that they need that, that they’re looking for that and they need it to be satisfied.

John: But is real connection happening? It seems like I saw somewhere an indicator that there’s a sense that I’m being … I’m really connecting with somebody on the other end of this phone or computer, but that’s not really the case.

Gary: No, it doesn’t substitute for face-to-face interaction. I mean, there is a connection. Let’s face it, I mean, you can talk to your grandmother on the phone and you can watch her on Skype and that can be healthy. You know, the overarching question we’re asking is, does technology in your family draw the family together? Or does technology in your family separate the family? That’s the underlying question here.

Jim: But sometimes I would assume some parents don’t know how to answer that question or how to evaluate that. What does the unhealthy look like?

Gary: Well, the unhealthy looks like we’re all doing our own thing—

Jim: We’re not connecting.

Gary: –in technology. We’re not connecting. Now if a family sits down and watches a DVD together and then discusses the concepts of that, that’s good. That’s bringing us together. We’re learning something and we’re discussing it as a family. But if everybody’s on their own machine in their own room doing their own thing, that’s pushing us apart.

Jim: One of the things that we did and are doing is, to limit the use. Monday through Friday the kids don’t get any electronics, because it’s school work and they’ve got sports and other things that they’re doing. So, there literally is no time.

Arlene: Right.

Jim: But on the weekend, they’ll … they’ll earn certain time. Isi it appropriate to use technology as a reward or a uh … parental threat? (Laughter)

Arlene: I think it is appropriate to use it. A lot of people have them read for screen time, so one hour of reading—

Jim: Right, we’ve—

Arlene: –equals one hour—

Jim: –don’t that.

Arlene: –of screen time. Or you can even say, one hour of reading equals 15 minutes of screen time (Laughing) and try—

Jim: If you can get—

Arlene: –to up it a little bit.

Jim: –away with it. (Laughter)

Arlene: Exactly. (Laughter) So, you can do things like that to give them rewards and I think it’s good to teach them, get your homework done. Get your chores done. Get the things you need to do done before you pick up that screen for fun.

Jim: I would think that age-appropriate is an issue, as well, because you can manage at a parenting level, you can manage—

Arlene: Yes.

Jim: –a 3- to 5-year-old quite differently. You would manage them differently than a 13- to 15-year-old. And frankly, some of the contests for screen time become more difficult as they get older. So, differentiate for us how you would deal with a 3- to 5-year-old, an 8- to 10-year-old and a 14- to 16-year-old.

Arlene: I think if you’re listening and you have that 3- to 5-year-old, you have a distinct advantage, because you can start it right now and it will affect how you will parent them as they get older. I know for our kids, we have been very limited, probably half an hour of screen time a day, which is typically homework related. And there are things that we choose.

And it’s different. They’re different from the other kids, but when from a very young age are different, it’s kind of their normal. And so, if you can establish a normal pattern that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend no screens for babies to 2-years-old. And yet, 90 percent of us are showing screen time to that age bracket.

Jim: I saw that a—

Arlene: Yeah.

Jim: –third of 3-year-olds have a TV—

Arlene: Exactly.

Jim: –in their bedroom.

John: Oh, my goodness.

Jim: That’s—

Arlene: By the time—

Jim: –a shocker.

Arlene: –they’re 3, that they have a TV. And you know, we have all this marketing that shows that this is good for babies. But yet, research will show you that the face-to-face time is better for babies and for young children to learn language, of course. And so, if you can in those young ages, realize, wait a minute, I’m not gonna put my little baby … I’m not gonna give my baby a tablet in the store. And so, I’m gonna have my baby look around, even though it’s more inconvenient, I’m gonna have her do that. And if that’s how you start out, it’ll be much easier as they grow up.

I have a fifth grader and all of his friends have tablets and play videogames and they say to him, “How can you do it? How can you not watch TV and not know these shows and not play videogames?” And they kind of say it like they feel so sorry for him. And I was very curious. You know, what did he say? And he says, “You know what, Mom. I said to them, ‘I feel sorry for you. You don’t read these books and you don’t know these great historical figures.” He reads about Winston Churchill and he’s, you know, reading about Louie Zamperini and he’s like, I feel sorry for you and that’s how he turns it around.

John: Hm.

Arlene: And so, I’ve really seen that if you can create this normal of we do other things, that your kids really can gravitate towards that.

Jim: Now a lot of moms hearin’ that, Arlene are—

Arlene: Yeah.

Jim: –sayin’, “That’s a bar that you might be able to reach—

Arlene: Yeah.

Jim: –but you know, I can’t get there.”

Arlene: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, you sound like maybe a perfect mom. (Laughing)

Arlene: I’m not; don’t worry.

Jim: But you know, you’re not saying that, it’s just—

Arlene: Right.

Jim: –if you set the bar at a good place—

Arlene: Yeah.

Jim: –your kids will actually rise up to meet that challenge.

Arlene: Yeah and you don’t want to go crazy. You don’t want to give your kid … here’s a 400-page book. Go have fun. You know, so if you’re used to eight hours of screen time a day, then you could go to seven and do that for a while.

Jim: So, gradually—

Arlene: And then you might—

Jim: –work it down.

Arlene: –go to six. And you gradually work it down and replace it with things your child enjoys.

Jim: Okay, I do have to hit that teen though that’s pressin’ you.

Arlene: Yeah.

Jim: Come on. It’s fair. I did my chores. I did—

Arlene: Yeah.

Jim: –my homework. Why can’t you give me an hour or two of screen time? Come on, Mom.

Arlene: I’m gonna defer to Gary. (Laughter)

Jim: Okay, Gary.

Arlene: I don’t have to …

Jim: Come on, Dad.

Gary: Well, I think there is certainly a place for a teenager to have screen time. But even there, there needs to be boundaries and there needs to be limits—time limits as to how much time you spend on the screen and boundaries as to what you’re doing on the screen. Because otherwise, the kid can go anywhere. And if you’re not giving some supervision to that, they can get into all kind of things on the screen that you’re totally unaware of and are totally

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