Parents – If you can’t put your phone down, why would your kids?

For the audio version of today’s post, click play.

I began writing on the dangers I saw regarding the electronic addiction plaguing our children a few years ago. The first post I wrote on this issue looked from my perspective as a mom wanting to cherish real life rather than watching life slip away lived with heads buried in screens. This post reached viral proportions multiple times reaching millions of people. I realized with this post I wasn’t alone.

Since beginning to write on screen addiction and parenting in an electronic age, this topic has escalated to limits I prayed we’d never see. Studies are revealing the devastation happening to our families and our children.

I read an article this week where investors in Apple are calling on the company to solve the phone addiction epidemic in kids.

The company that has made much of its money on addicting us, we are asking to take the responsibility of curing our addicted kids?

My initial thought when I read the title was, “Wait. Where is the personal responsibility here? Are we now living in a world where we make choices for our family that bring consequences and then we can’t fix them ourselves, so we place the burden elsewhere?”

I’m the parent of my children. It’s my privilege and my obligation to protect them, guide them, nuture them.

It is my job to prevent them from becoming addicted when they are too young to know the danger.

I would never put a cigarette in my child’s hand, or a beer, or a hit of a drug. Yet, we put something in the hands of our babies, toddlers, and children that is equally, if not more, as addictive.

Here are a few excerpts from an open letter sent to Apple by two of their biggest investors:

  • “According to an American Psychological Association (APA) survey of over 3,500 U.S. parents, 58% say they worry about the influence of social media on their child’s physical and mental health, 48% say that regulating their child’s screen time is a “constant battle,” and 58% say they feel like their child is “attached” to their phone or tablet.
  • The average American teenager who uses a smart phone receives her first phone at age 10 and spends over 4.5 hours a day on it (excluding texting and talking).
  • 78% of teens check their phones at least hourly and 50% report feeling “addicted” to their phones.  It would defy common sense to argue that this level of usage, by children whose brains are still developing, is not having at least some impact, or that the maker of such a powerful product has no role to play in helping parents to ensure it is being used optimally.  It is also no secret that social media sites and applications for which the iPhone and iPad are a primary gateway are usually designed to be as addictive and time-consuming as possible, as many of their original creators have publicly acknowledged.
  •  According to the APA survey cited above, 94% of parents have taken some action to manage their child’s technology use, but it is both unrealistic and a poor long-term business strategy to ask parents to fight this battle alone.”

But here’s the thing, a lot of attention is being given currently to the addiction of our kids, yet it’s the parents I’m most concerned with. We are addicted.

The addiction is coming from many angles, but if we would be so courageous to look into our souls, we will find the root issue driving our addictions.

For adults, particularly women, social media has become a lonely, isolated place of seeking identity. In the social media world we receive affirmation in the form of likes. We feel seen and known, yet it comes from people who really don’t know us at all, leaving us emptier than before.

We use social media as a platform to be heard. It’s a place to put our opinions out there, to use the mistakes of others to elevate ourselves. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just watch how fast people post how “good” they are when a public figure messes up.

We are desperately seeking love in all the wrong places. Social media offers instant gratification to a soul. But it is a lie which doesn’t sustain us.

Our souls were meant for authentic connection and genuine relationships. When we reach for this on social media, we receive the dopamine surge that will drive us back for more and more. But it’s when we are off, just like a drug, that the lows creep in.

Our social media addiction is depleting our souls of real life. It’s killing our joy, growing discontentment and jealousy. It’s creating an escape from our real worlds that are often painful. It allows us to leave the pain of life.

While much attention continues to focus on curing the addiction of our kids and teens in regards to social media or phone use, if adults are addicted, why don’t we start with ourselves?

A drowning person can’t help another drowning person. If I live my life hours a day scrolling online, I can’t possibly save my kids.

We are feeding a monster. It’s insatiable. It can’t be quenched, this appetite. This desire to be known, liked, accepted. Or the appetite for information. To know as much as possible. Yet the information available has no end.

Where is this leading us? And where are we leading our kids?

Be the leader they need

A mentor mom once told me I could only lead my kids as far as I myself have gone. If my Bible knowledge is surface level, Sunday school stories, that is how far I can lead them. However, if I am disciplined, spending time in His Word, I will lead them by example and with wisdom further toward the knowledge of the heart of God.

This tip applies to much in life as far as parenting goes. It doesn’t mean I’m responsible for their choices or their level of faith. I’m responsible for my choices, including how I choose to lead.

Recognizing that I’m a leader holds me accountable for my own growth.

True leaders never stop learning and growing. Leaders never reach a place of arrival. Room for growth is always available.

Parents, we are leaders who must rise to our higher calling.

Characteristics of strong parent leaders –

  • choose not to follow the masses
  • resist temptation to jump on bandwagons
  • concerned little with what others are doing because they have a vision for their family
  • wise
  • discerning
  • thoughtful
  • long visioned
  • critical thinkers

How can we lead our kids to be different?

We are living in a culture that seeks to devour our kids. I want my kids to be different, to be set apart. I don’t want them to mold and fold into our current culture.

I want my kids

  • to value people
  • connect well in relationships
  • maintain eye contact
  • think for themselves rather than being told what to think
  • push back and challenge ways that are opposed to a Biblical worldview 

To lead my kids to be different in a world addicted to smartphones and social media, I have to lead by example.

If I don’t want addicted kids, I can’t be an addict.

I need to lead my kids with head up, eyes trained ahead. 

How to break the addiction to social media or smartphone usage:

  • set limits and boundaries for yourself and ask a family member to hold you accountable
    • set specified times each day to check your phone. Don’t hop on each time you feel like it.
  • delete social media apps from your phone. Make your phone a tool of necessity and not pleasure or escape
  • create “no phone zones” in your home or family
    • dinner table- no phones allowed
    • car time is for talking
    • watching a movie means watching a movie – no second screening (scrolling while watching tv)
  • Go on a fast. Any fast and increase over time. If you are heavily addicted. Take a one day fast. Then increase to a one week fast. Later take a one month fast. Here is a post on 5 benefits of an electronic fast.
  • fill the time once given to social media with something better. Anytime we remove an addiction, we are wise to fill that space with something else. If we don’t we will run right back to the addiction.
    • rather than scrolling social media while feeding the baby in the high chair, use that time to talk to him/her. Laugh, giggle, be silly. Have fun again. This moment holds more than we could ever know. What we miss out on in the social media world is not lasting like connection with the ones we are called to serve and love.
    • rather than filling carpool time or homework time with scrolling take a real life book or magazine.
    • start a new hobby and fill the social media time with something that is life giving
    • when you are waiting in line, resist the temptation to fill your boredom with scrolling. Talk to someone. Make eye contact. Smile. Ask about their day. Connect in the real world.

God desires to give us life abundantly. Yet we are reaching for the imposter.

How to know if you are addicted to social media or your smartphone:

  • It’s the first thing you reach for in the morning
  • You can’t start your day without seeing what you missed while sleeping
  • You pick up your phone in the cracks of your day. Each downtime you fill with scrolling.
  • You find yourself thinking about people you don’t know day to day.
  • You begin to feel discontent in your real life. A sense of restlessness masked as a desire for more.
  • You feel jealous or cynical towards people you see online.
  • Your mind feels scattered and spins.
  • You have a hard time sitting still with your people.
  • You have trouble making eye contact because your mind is elsewhere in a virtual world.
  • A ding sends you reaching instantly for your phone.

 

What you will gain when you break the addiction:

  • benefits that can’t quite be measured because they fill areas of the soul that have been dying
  • trust and connection with the people we are called to love and serve in our real lives
  • a reliance on God for our worth rather than the empty likes of the world
  • moments that matter. A smile from a stranger you wouldv’e missed head down. An opportunity to help someone right in front of you rather than watching what everyone else is doing
  • active participation in life
  • an opportunity to lead our family well

 

Friends, social media we know is here to stay. Smartphones will never die. These companies have capitalized on our weaknesses, but we were created for more.

I want to challenge you to take one small step today. Don’t look at the massive task of breaking the addiction overnight. Start with one thing today and build on it. If that means you choose to turn your phone off at 3:00 when the kids get home from school, let that be the step you take today. Build from there.

Choose discipline. A disciplined life is a free life. A person of discipline isn’t controlled by their phone, instead they have chosen to be in control of that which seeks to control them.

Self-control is priceless. The example we are for the kids we are called to serve holds more power than we realize.

Let’s do real life well. Let’s choose to live free.

 

 

 

 

Parents-Don’t Let Peer Pressure Be The Reason You Say Yes To Your Child

Parents lead by example. If we model caving to peer pressure, our kids might follow.

For those who prefer audio, you can listen to the podcast of this post by clicking this link.

He burst through the back door out of breath. “Mom! Dad! Can I walk up to Walgreens? Please they are all waiting for me at the front door.”

We looked out the door and confirmed several kids, none of whom we knew at all, waited to walk along a major road full of traffic with no sidewalks the 1/2 mile to Walgreens.

Our response went something like this. “Um. No way.”

“You can’t say no. They are all waiting on me. All their parents let them. Y’all are overprotective. It’s not fair.”

He continued to tell us how embarrassed he would be to have to say his parents wouldn’t allow him to go. We told him we were sorry but for several reasons, he could not accompany these kids. We offered to drive them there but that was shut down immediately.

After he let down these friends we didn’t know yet, we explained that as his parents, we would never make a decision based on peer pressure or his pressure placed on us. We would never agree to let him do something simply because all the other parents let their kids. And we would never give way to his tactics of pressure by having his friends here waiting in hopes that we would fear letting any of them down or embarrassing our own child.

“We don’t make our decisions based on peer pressure, or fear of missing out, or fear of what others think.”

We continued explaining that we didn’t know these kids. What if they shoplifted and he was with them? He would be in the same trouble they were in. We explained it wasn’t out of fear, but out of protection, that we couldn’t let him go.

Until our children are more mature and able to make wiser decisions, we are responsible for showing them how to make these decisions.

Later that night he came back to us and said he completely understood. Initially, he was mad but after really thinking through it, he realized he didn’t really want to go to Walgreens. He simply wanted to be accepted.

Isn’t that what all tweens/teens want? To be accepted? If we are totally honest, isn’t that what we as parents want as well?

Peer pressure doesn’t end after graduation. It’s something we continue to walk through. As our children walk these roads, we walk with them. We find ourselves facing the pressure of allowing our children to do things so they won’t be left out or looked at as weird.

As parents we have an enormous calling to point them to the cross over and over and over again.

Our children are already accepted by the One who gave His life for them. And that is the only acceptance that truly matters.

If you are a parent, there is no doubt in my mind you have heard from the lips of your kids, “But that’s not fair, all my friends get to….”

And you might answer something like this, “Well, I’m not everyone else’s parent.” Or maybe you say something a little deeper and wiser. No matter we’ve all listened as our kids tried to persuade us to allow them to go along with what everyone else is doing.

I remember many times growing up asking to do something my mom refused to budge on. I was mad at her during those times, but now I’m grateful for her protection.

I find myself tempted to fall into the same trap my children fall into. I find myself worried about my kids not fitting in or feeling different or left out.

The area I see this most prevalent in is the world of the smartphone in the hands of kids, tweens, and young teens. By allowing our kids to enter into the world of texting, chatting, surfing, and social media, we are allowing them to walk into potentially dangerous situations that appear harmless and fun.

Just because all our kids’ friends have smartphones and social media accounts doesn’t mean we have to allow it in our kids’ lives. Yet this is the number one response I hear from parents who don’t want to allow their kid to have a smartphone.

I don’t believe that we recognize it is peer pressure causing us to say yes to our kids when our instincts are screaming, “No! Not yet. Just wait a little longer.”

 

What is happening to the souls of these children living in a highly connected, yet truly disconnected, picture-perfect driven world?

If I want my kids not to worry what others think, I need to set that example in my parenting.

If I want my kids to protect what they consume with their eyes, I have to place protective boundaries around their eyes in the training years.

If I want to protect their heart from destruction through bullying, I can’t place them in the arena where kids feel emboldened to speak freely because they speak from behind a screen.

Our kids, in their impressionable years, don’t know who they are yet. They are figuring out life, and life is hard even when it’s easy. Our kids need 100 times the reassurance in the tween years.

We are bombarded with new studies and statistics showing alarming rates of tween and teen suicide, pornography addictions in our children, runaways and abductions from online relationships, and bullying like we’ve never experienced before.

I have to ask, what good comes from our children relating in the online world? How does this enhance their lives, make them more well-rounded, make them wiser?

When we look at the statistics and studies are our teens better off since the introduction of the smartphone?

Once we open the smartphone door, it’s hard to close it. Once our kids get a taste of approval and acceptance and adoration online, their appetites grow. We know this is true because we see it in our own lives and kids need much more than we do.

Kids begin feeding on the likes, forming opinions of themselves based on what others say about them, valuing themselves based on how many shares they received.

Our boys attended a youth retreat last summer where the theme was A1. Audience of One. I would love for their lives to truly be lived for an audience of one. But when we place a smartphone in their hand, we are effectively handing them an audience of the world.

It’s better to say no, to protect our kids a little longer than they want to be protected. They don’t know what dangers lurk online. Our job is to protect, not just their physical lives, but their emotional, mental, and spiritual lives as well.

Times have changed. It’s ok to be overprotective when we are protecting their hearts, minds, souls, and lives.

We are still the parent. We can still say no. Our no is not a no forever, it’s a no for right now until they really know who they are. For each child this age will look different.

In our home we don’t have a set age because each child differs in maturity and wisdom. We are able to know which kids can handle a smartphone at what age.

At some point in the teen years, a smartphone will happen. As parents we still shoulder the responsibility of deciding when the right time arrives. I don’t think we will regret waiting longer than what seems to be the norm.