How can parents help their children and teens safely navigate today’s digital world? Two vital principles, according to youth culture expert Jonathan McKee, are bonding and boundaries.
The author of such resources as Parenting Generation Screen and The Teen’s Guide to Face-to-Face Connections in a Screen-to-Screen World, McKee delivered a pair of keynote addresses during the conference. Navigate 2021, which attracted about 150 participants, also included a dozen breakout sessions on topics ranging from “The Science of Screens” and “Guardrails” to “Healthy Gaming Habits” and ‘Lead by Example.”
Conference coordinator Clay Cunningham, family pastor at FBC Benton, said overall goals of Navigate 2021 were to “encourage, empower and equip moms, dads, grandparents, teachers and coaches as they navigate the digital world with the next generation.”
Citing the overwhelming impact of smartphones and other electronic devices in today’s world, McKee told the conference crowd, “I’m not here to say that this screen is bad or this screen is evil.” Rather, he said, a key issue is: “How can we help our kids become screenwise?”
Noting that “89% of teens have a smartphone in their pocket,” McKee said the average age that kids in the U.S. are given their own smartphone is age 10. He added, “A lot of our kids are being handed this device to figure it out for themselves.
“These devices have changed the way young people live their lives because they used to just live their lives,” he cautioned. “But now they live their lives and they need to post what they’re doing for everybody to see. Now, it’s not just about enjoying the moment; it’s about posting the moment.”
As they post about their thoughts, feelings and activities, McKee said most teens typically are asking themselves: “What do other people think about that? How many followers do I have? How many likes do I have?”
Importance of time
McKee said key moments in the explosion of social media include the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the 2012 milestone of at least half of Americans owning smartphones. Instagram and Snapchat also were launched and gained rapid popularity during that time frame.
Since then, he said, mental health experts have seen an alarming spike in depression, anxiety and teen suicide, especially among teen girls. Amid such overwhelming challenges, McKee noted, “We need to instill them with the truth and spend time with them.
“When it comes to parenting, when it comes to raising a generation, there’s kind of two elements that most of our parenting practices come down to and those two elements I see are bonding and boundaries,” he explained. “Bonding is connecting with our kids. Bonding is rolling on the floor wrestling with our kids, hanging out with our kids, laughing with our kids.”
By contrast, he added, “boundaries are ‘Sorry, you’re not going to bring your phone in your bedroom at night. I don’t care that all your friends do.’ ‘No, I’m sorry, 10-year-old, maybe all your friends have smartphones but we’re going to wait a little bit.’’
McKee said keys to parents balancing bonding and boundaries with their children and teens include:
- Get face-to-face in a screen-to-screen world. McKee urged parents to “model putting that device in our pocket and learning how to communicate together and talk to each other.”
- Take the time to notice their world. “This is taking time to ask questions, listen and empathize with where they’re at,” he explained, including taking time to notice what apps they’re using and what they’re soaking in through social media and other sources.
- Connection before correction. Even when kids mess up in the choices they make, “how we respond in those moments is going to dictate how much our kids come to us and talk to us later when they need us,” McKee pointed out. He encouraged parents to be approachable, noting that “rules without a relationship leads to rebellion.”
- Move from reactive to proactive. Urging parents to “set helpful boundaries,” McKee said realistic boundaries include limiting screen time, delaying screen ownership, establishing tech-free zones and times such as during family dinners and allowing no social media until age 13. “That’s an easy one,” he added, “because it’s the law.”
- Don’t become so focused on blocking lies that you forget to talk about truth. “Parental controls won’t raise your kids,” McKee emphasized. “The ‘why’ is probably more important than the boundary. When they get focused on the truth, they start to recognize the lies.
“I can give you all the tips and all the practical stuff in the world, but we can’t do this alone,” McKee concluded. He said parents “need strength from above” as they seek to mentor today’s “Generation Screen.”
Hear from the keynote speaker Jonathan McKee below. To watch a video recap of the whole Navigate conference, click here.