Dr. Kathy Koch, Founder and President of Celebrate Kids, Inc. discusses the impact technology is having on family relationships, particularly among young people, and what parents can do to help ensure that their children develop an appropriate relationship with technology.
Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Today we’ll be exploring the impact technology is having on family relationships, particularly among young people, and what parents can do to help ensure that their children develop an appropriate and healthy relationship with technology.
Our guest is Dr. Kathy Koch, Founder and President of Celebrate Kids, Inc., which presents practical, relevant, results-oriented concepts to help parents, children and educators build healthy relationships.
Dr. Koch, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you with us on the show.
KATHY KOCH: Thank you. I’m privileged to be here.
JOHN RUSTIN: Dr. Koch, as we begin, we certainly all recognize that technology is a rapidly growing and changing arena that impacts all of us in many ways on a daily basis. What do you believe is the most important thing parents need to know as it relates to raising children in today’s technologically-advanced and technologically-saturated world?
KATHY KOCH: Great question to start with. I don’t know if anyone will like my answer, but I don’t compromise truth to make people happy. We need to remember children are watching us. They really are. When I ask pre-teens, teens and children: How many of you would like your parents to turn off their phones, 80 percent of the hands go up. So, I really want to encourage just a few things: Are your kids around technology too much, or isolatingly? If you’re concerned about the brain development ramifications, then you need to ask yourself what they are observing as they are spending time with you. And I want to encourage you to use the pronoun “we.” We need to make some changes here, rather than the pronoun “you” need to put that down, and you need, you need, you need…. It really needs to be a “we” factor in our homes.
JOHN RUSTIN: Is the concern more about what children are actually doing when they use technology, say reading a book on their device, or playing video games, or is it the mere fact that many children are immersing themselves in technology more and more, instead of experiencing people and the world around them in other ways?
KATHY KOCH: I don’t think you’ll be surprised when I say both. We need to be concerned for both. Certainly, [something] like reading is a more profitable activity. However, there’s much research that suggests our reading comprehension is negatively affected when we read it on a screen. Note taking, when using a screen is not effective, etc. So some of the things that we think are not harmless when it comes to their attention span and things like that, may actually be harmful when we’re looking at intellectual pursuit and academic achievement. The thing about video gaming and social media scrolling and things like that, that allows kids to isolate, right? It allows them to escape, separate, and it actually can contribute to the very depression that they think they may be escaping. And so I do want us to be alert to all of it.
JOHN RUSTIN: Dr. Koch, children today are clearly exposed to much more advanced technology than we ever were growing up. How does the ease and frequent access to just about everything by way of computers, smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and other similar devices affect us and particularly our children, compared to, for example, when we were growing up?
KATHY KOCH: This is really the crux of what we do at Celebrate Kids, to help parents understand what’s happening to the spirit, mind, soul and heart of a child who is continually allowed to use screens. For instance, they can believe that they are the center of their own universe. When I was a child, I had to watch the TV show my dad wanted to watch. And if I wanted to buy one song, I had to buy the whole album to listen to the one song. Now, kids can believe that the world revolves around them and they deserve to be happy all the time. That’s another lie. They think they deserve choice. For those of us who are older, we know choice is a privilege. Today’s kids, because of the drop down menu on all technology that we use, their brain is expecting to always be given a choice. So we go to grandma’s house and she serves pork chops. How many kids have said, “Wait, I don’t want that.” And grandma says, “I didn’t give you a choice. This is not a restaurant with a menu. Eat the pork chops.” So, I think that’s a real issue. And the authority issue is huge. When I had a question that I wanted answered, I had to leave my bedroom and go find my parents, or maybe talk to a pastor, a teacher or a friend, or parents who I babysat for. There were people available to me when I wanted answers to questions that were important to me. A lot of our children and teens today are simply asking Siri on the phone, “What’s the meaning of life?” And she has an answer and she’s wrong. But they don’t know she’s wrong. They’re able to go to Google.com and U-Tube University and any number of places you can think of to get answers for the questions. So, they can believe that we are not as necessary as we would love to be.
JOHN RUSTIN: So, how, Dr. Koch, do we balance the good that technology brings with the risks and harms associated with it, particularly when it comes to young, impressionable brains and hearts?
KATHY KOCH: It’s all about boundaries, right? It’s always been about boundaries. When you children were three, you didn’t let them color all day. When they were six, you didn’t let them play with dolls or trucks all day. There [have] always been boundaries and there’s always been exposure to a variety of ideas and people and activities and toys. So I think that’s a huge thing that we need to be remembering, that boundaries are healthy. Let’s put out in visible eyesight for kids, a variety of options for them. They are addicted to the adrenaline that technology causes, and we’re addicted to the technology itself. And so, it is hard when we say, “Please put it down, turn it off, put it away, find something to do.” They really don’t know how to handle boredom well, which is really dangerous. So we can actually help them handle boredom well, so that they don’t go from one kind of “coke” to another, which is actually what we’re seeing in our culture. So, let’s put out board games on the coffee table. Let’s put out a Frisbee and a football and a basketball and a baseball at the back door. Let’s put out a Sudoku book on the dining room table, or whatever, so that when they’re walking by, they see that there’s something that they could sit down and participate in. And one other quick comment is that quiet is really important to brain development. How many of us adults would admit to having a great “Ah Ha!” moment when we’re quiet. We’re driving, we’re emptying the dishwasher, we’re changing a baby’s diaper, we’re doing something possibly, but we’re quiet in the midst of doing that thing. I’m, for instance, in line to get onto an airplane and I’ll have this “Ah Ha!” idea. And our kids today do not know quiet because of the pods in the ear and the screens that are open and observing, and we need to help them discover the benefit of quiet.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s a great point that leads into my next question, and that is about the impact that technology is having with respect to faith among our kids. Now, a big part of faith is prayer and reflection and taking time to be quiet and listening for what God may be seeking to teach. Talk about that, if you would. I know that you have said that technology’s really maybe the biggest threat to our kids’ faith. Share your perspectives with us about that.
KATHY KOCH: Yeah, it’s so important, isn’t it? The first lie that I talk about in my book is that we can think that we are the center of our own universe. That’s a worldview lie. That’s huge! If kids are allowed to believe that they’re the center and the world revolves around them then they don’t need God and they sure don’t need to pray. And they don’t need His Word because they think they are the Word, if you will. And so, it’s extremely dangerous. And the idea that they think they can be happy all the time: that’s why they have multiple screens up. That’s why they x-out of games they think they might lose. That’s why they’re addicted to the reboot button and spellcheck and all those things that make everything easy. So, they could treat God like He’s an ATM machine. It’s His job to keep them happy. That’s why: dropping out church; dropping out of faith; church hopping as young adults even; there’s a lack of authenticity and transparency. I’m so concerned when I talk to teenagers. I ask them: How many of you are really able to be honest, to be honest with God. Or do you treat Him like a Facebook friend, and you’re only going to give Him the status update that’ll make Him smile and like it. That’s so dangerous because God wants to know our hearts from our perspective. He knows, but he wants us to say to Him: “I blew it today. I’m sorry. I’m sure you were disappointed. Help me tomorrow.” If we don’t help our kids to learn authenticity and vulnerability and that God is approachable and will never turn them away and will always love them unconditionally, then they’re in a lot of trouble.
JOHN RUSTIN: Dr. Koch, with that in mind, are there things that parents can do to help prepare their children, first of all even before they are allowed to access technology, but also if some parents may think: Hey, that train has already left the station. My kids are totally consumed with technology. What can they do once the technology has become such a major part of their children’s lives to kind of draw that back in some and set some healthy parameters for use of technology in the home?
KATHY KOCH: The first thing I’ll say related to the whole faith development question about that, is to make sure that we are proclaiming God’s relevance and the word of God being relevant. Do they hear us pray in the time of their need. Do they see us opening the Word of God when we’re looking for answers? Are we excited on a Sunday morning or a Wednesday to be able to go back to our church and be in fellowship with like-minded people? Do we model that, talk about that? We need to be fully present. Technology is fully present; it is always with them. And that’s why they think they don’t need us. And so, I want to encourage parents again to put down their devices, even put down the book and the—maybe you’re doing something really legit, looking up Pinterest for new recipes. That’s great but if they’re awake and they’re with you, then turn it off and play a game and do something together.
Talk about the difference between “wanting” and “needing.” I think that’s huge when we look at helping kids use technology well. When they’re young, do we talk about: You need a nap, vs. You want a nap? I never really need a Diet Coke. I want a Diet Coke. And what do they hear me say? Do they hear me say,”I need that.”? So, this is why they think they need a phone and they need that game and they need that song and they need that movie. They really don’t. They need God. And so, do we use our language appropriately so they understand what we believe, and are we passing that on in really good ways? I hope that makes good sense.
JOHN RUSTIN: Oh I think it does. I really do. What would be some practical bits of advice that you would provide to parents, in addition to what you’ve already said, about setting some parameters in the home that may be helpful in creating certain times where technology can be used, different things like that? And do you find those kind of parameters or restrictions to be helpful or possibly harmful?
KATHY KOCH: I think it is helpful. And I think it’s helpful especially if you have parameters for other things. Like, if you stick to bedtime and you stick to when friends are allowed over, and if you stick to how long they’re allowed to do something, then you can add technology as a parameter. If you only have parameters for technology then they’ll begin to resent that and they’ll argue with you. I’m a big fan of digital-free days and digital-free times where we don’t use technology except for educational pursuit after school. Maybe it’s only a Saturday. That’ll kill some people listening but really, that’s good advice. And again, that’s a family matter. I like digital-free zones though: the dinner table, breakfast, wherever you eat a meal, at home or a restaurant. No screens. That’s captured talk time and we’re giving it up to a tool that doesn’t love our children. I’m actually also a huge fan of the car being digital-free. Now, don’t panic. If you’re going on a long car drive then certainly radio or a book on CD if you think that’s really profitable, certainly talk-radio like this is great to listen to with your kids. However, the car is again where we are captured and so are they. Kids love talking to us in the car because they don’t have to look into our eyes when they say something that’s hard to hear. And so, let’s use that time profitably. Let’s let them look out the window and they’ll figure out they won’t die if they’re bored. And let’s have those moments of conversation, because when we’re silent, someone will talk, and that’s how you stay connected to your kids.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s great. I know that this may sound archaic but a number of years ago we implemented a TV-free summer in our home for a couple of summers in a row. And it was a really special time. And I think my children would admit now that it was a special time because we had to be creative about time that we spent together. It gave us more time to talk and, in some cases as you said, maybe be bored a little bit, but also be thoughtful about how we were going to spend that time. And it ended up being a very fruitful thing. I think those are great suggestions. I know that we have listeners out there who are challenged and struggling with this issue, even now as we’re speaking. So I want to, Dr. Koch, give you an opportunity to let our listeners know where they can go to find helpful resources about your work and also to get copies of your excellent books.
KATHY KOCH: Thank you so much! Our website is celebratekids.com. So that’s the first place to go. There’s a shopping cart there and you can get to my blog if people are interested in connecting with me. I’m all over social media like you are. Certainly, my books are available at other online sites and even the local bookstore, perhaps. It would be great to stay connected with people who think we’ve got something to offer. That’s fabulous. Appreciate the opportunity to be on with you.
JOHN RUSTIN: Absolutely. And I just would encourage our listeners to avail themselves of the great resources that you have available. And just want to thank you so much for taking time to be with us on Family Policy Matters and for your work to help foster healthy relationships between parents and children. Dr. Koch, thanks so much.
KATHY KOCH: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.
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