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Let’s Talk About Relationships – Balancing Your Kids’ Use of Technology

From the series Q&A with Chip Ingram

Balancing kids' technology usage is one of several topics covered in part 4 of Chip's Q & A series, Let's Talk About Relationships. In this program, Chip answers your questions on a broad range of topics: What does it mean to honor your parents when you’re an adult? What about in-laws and standing up for your spouse? What are appropriate boundaries? How to encourage a loving husband and father to become a spiritual leader in the home? And finally, sibling conflict in the home and how do parents wisely monitor and control their children’s use of technology and social media?

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CHIP: So, I’m back in the studio with Jerry McCauley, a really dear friend, uh, staff member for many years, and he’s our senior vice president of communications and product development. So, Jerry, welcome to our time together to ask and answer these questions and it’s just great to see you.

JERRY: Thanks, Chip. We so appreciate everyone who sent in their questions and since it’s not possible to get to everyone, so let me just apologize if you don’t get to hear Chip answer your specific question. We’re gonna cover as many as we can get to today.

Alright, Chip, our first question, is about in-laws. So, do you have any advice regarding dealing with in-laws and creating healthy boundaries?

CHIP: Yes, do that. [Laughs]

JERRY: [Laughs]

CHIP: You know, there’s a lot of jokes about in-laws and things like that. But it really is an issue. And some people are blessed with warm, nurturing, wonderful in-laws that are super supportive and I know of a lot of relationships where people are closer to their in-laws than their own parents, depending on backgrounds and what has happened. But you do have to set some boundaries.

And I think this goes back to God’s design of marriage. So, it’s really important in my mind. I always have this equilateral triangle where God is at the top and then at the bottom of the triangle there is the man, the woman, and I have these arrows at the very bottom going toward the man and the woman. And it’s oneness or intimacy is this is God’s goal. This is what He wants us to become one. And then I go up through that triangle and I think of spiritually one, there’s soul or emotional oneness, psychological oneness, physical oneness. And so, then, each of them have this arrow going up toward God because as we get closer to Him and draw near to Him, we are drawn closer to each other.

And the biggest issue with in-laws is we get pulled between two super powerful and super important relationships, both of which we love. And so, if I’m a woman, I love my mother and my father, but I have had this transfer where now the most important person in my life is my husband. But under pressure, there’s times when I want to get the support from my mother and my father in ways that are inappropriate, or in many more cases, a mother or a father wants to kind of tell their daughter or their son-in-law, “This is how we think you should do life.”

And so, for a daughter to say, “I’ve got to set some boundaries, because my allegiance is first and foremost to my husband,” puts her in a very difficult situation. And depending on her family of origin, her relationship with her parents, how they respond, do they get angry – all the rest, it becomes very difficult.

And now let’s flip-flop it and the man has exactly the same issue. Is he has this issue with his parents and you grow up with your folks and you don’t want to disappoint them and you care about them. And some are very supportive and then others are meddling. Others are trying to tell you what to do with your money, they drop in unannounced, they do things with your kids or for your kids that you have been working for three weeks to stop a behavior and then they actually help your kids act in ways you don’t want them to. And you have to set some boundaries.

Two, you and your mate have to have an honest conversation and you’ve got to get on the same page. And this is, I remember, I wish I had stories to tell about someone else. But my parents, my dad was an alcoholic, and he was a very fearful person, although very courageous and a Marine and very strong.

And so, he got to the point where he would call my house – this was in the old, old days – person-to-person, asking for me. My wife, think of, this is, like, many years ago. And she would pick up the phone and the operator would say, “We have a person-to-person call for Chip Ingram.” “Well, who is it from?” “Ralph Ingram, his dad.” Well, can you even fathom the amount of rejection my wife felt? Like, “So, you called our house and you don’t want to talk to me?”

Now, we talked recently about: everyone behaves in a way that makes sense to them. Actually, my dad was really intimidated by my wife because she was quiet. My dad didn’t know what to say to my wife and so, in his mind, he was circumventing that with no idea what he was doing. But can you imagine some conversations I had when I tried to play the middle and say, “Well, you just need to understand my dad, and he has issues.” And she goes, “No, you’re not standing up for me.” Boy, did we have some marital conflict. And I had to come to the point where I told my parents, “Never call me person-to-person. If you don’t want to talk to me and my wife, then don’t call at all.” And that was so hard. And I said it nicely. And it took me a while to get the courage to say it. But my point is, you have to be on the same page; you have to set boundaries.

And I would encourage you, write them out as a couple. I mean, it gets really clear, you’re on the same page, and then it’s like, just water that dribbles away. You have to write down: we want them to call before they come over. This is how we want them to interact with our children.

Whatever it is, write down. And make it simple. And then decide how and when and where you can communicate that in the most kind and winsome way possible, knowing, are you ready? Knowing no matter how kind, no matter how winsome you do it, some of your in-laws are not going to respond really well. But you can’t allow it to destroy your marriage. You are one and that’s the priority. And especially if you have children, believe me, they will come around because they want to see their grandchildren.

JERRY: That’s super helpful, Chip, thanks for sharing that personal story, too, of how you, you walked through that with your parents and with your wife.

CHIP: Yeah, Jerry, I’m really glad, you know, God says He uses all things together for good. I am glad that my failures can be some help to other people. And all kidding aside, you know, those are, you know, there’s a lot of young dads, young moms listening to us. It’s hard. I mean, telling your, you know, confronting your parents is, no matter how well you do it, it’s really, really hard. But it’s something you have to do.

JERRY: Definitely. Well, this one’s kind of on the other side of the coin here. So, not about in-laws but about kids. And it’s a cultural question.

So what is your advice on raising teenagers in a society filled with unfiltered access to technology and social media? Do we ban it? Do we allow it? Do we tightly monitor it?

CHIP: Wow, I think parents have a greater challenge today than ever before, because of the media. I actually, Theresa and I, someone sent us a DVD and it was of media and brain development. And all this research by doctors and ADD and depression, anxiety among teenagers and, I mean, we are living in a crisis when it comes to technology.

And I think the easiest, quickest thing to do is just ban it, right? When you’re twenty-one, you get a phone. But I’m not sure you can pull that one off, although it might be healthier for their mind and their brain and their development. But I do think that might be one extreme.

But I think the other extreme is cowering to peer pressure. I read recently that the, I think the average kids were now getting their phone at, like, eight and nine years old. And, yes, there are good sites that can put some filters on them. And if you don’t know what those are, you’ve just got to download Covenant Eyes or whatever you think is going to be best. There’s also filters that allow you, you know, they can only have so much access.

I have a friend that uses technology that literally turns their phones off and only allows so much time on the Internet. And then allows them to see them everything where your kids have been. So, yes, you have to monitor it.

But, at the end of the day, what you need to do is monitor it early and often and let them know you are and then you need to be in dialogue and discussion, because you have to teach them the value of what they put into their mind. You have to talk to them about anything they post, any picture they send is up there forever. And this needs to be something that, are you ready? You have to model.

It’s pretty hard to talk to your kids about being on their phone or on the Internet or back in the bedroom when you pick them up from school and there’s no conversation and every stoplight, you’re looking at your phone. Or when you all go out to eat, you know, your kids are looking across the table and you’re into your phone.

So, I think this is something where it has got to start with us. I think you have to come up with a very clear plan. And at this point, Jerry, since your kids are a lot younger and you’re more tech-savvy, let me throw this one over to you. What do you say to parents that are challenged with technology?

JERRY: It’s a challenge for sure, that’s the right word for it. I think that my approach with my wife and our three daughters is that we have allowed it, but we do tightly monitor it. And so, one thing that it’s really kind of basic ground rule for us is that I own all of their passwords.

CHIP: Mmmm…

JERRY: So, that means I can log in and see what is happening in each of the apps that they use. But also means that they can’t add apps without me putting in a password. So, it’s a good failsafe for us.

We also collect their devices at night. So, at eleven p.m., phones have to be in our bedroom, so they have to let go of them. The phones sleep with us instead of with them. That’s the whole idea of constant or unrestricted access. They need to have a time to take a break. Their friends shouldn’t have access to them all the time.

CHIP: Yeah…

JERRY: I do think that the bigger part of it though is the modeling and, you know, we just developed a resource here at Living on the Edge called Discuss This!

CHIP:  Yes…

JERRY: And part of the premise of it is: put down your phones and start talking to each other. I think that there’s this lost art in our culture and our society where we actually do the eye contact thing and we talk to one another.

So much of our faith, so much of our discipleship, so much of the storytelling of our lives is based on the oral history. And so, when I can look at my kids in the eye and tell them a story about whether it’s a challenge or a win in my spiritual life or my faith walk, that’s so much more powerful than them hearing it or learning it from someone else.

It’s one-on-one. It’s my story that they can actually see and sort of feel and experience. So, I think that’s the biggest part for me is: how do we balance this digital access versus the human interaction, especially as it relates to how we challenge our children’s faith and how we help them grow.

CHIP:  And, I will add, you know, this talks about teenagers, but it starts way before then. And the research is overwhelming. I don’t know if you know this, but in the first three years of a baby’s life, the brain triples in size. The first two years, this isn’t Bible, this is the Pediatric Society says, “Don’t let your children see any video or devices before they are two years old, because of what it does, those flashing images.”

And, by the way, whether it’s good content or bad content, their little brains are being developed and what you want to do is you want to talk, you want to sing, you want to interact, you want to play. And, of course, there’s going to be some occasional times for video. But if you allow video to become a babysitter, if the only time it’s quiet is when everyone is either on their phones in the car, they are watching video in the car, you are setting your kids up for brains that won’t develop, for creativity that won’t happen. For, literally, things that will harm them for the rest of their life.

And I think one of the things about technology that is so damaging is it provides so much help in the moment. It’s so easy in the moment. And that’s not just for my kids, right? I want to veg out. I just don’t want to think about anything. And I turn on the TV or it’s a Netflix movie or it’s binging for a weekend.

Those kind of practices don’t just impact our kids. All the latest neuroscience says that the adult brain, is growing and developing and changing if it’s being stimulated. And a steady diet of movie or TV – the frontal lobe of your brain turns off.

And so I think this is a big issue, not just for teens, not just for families, but for little ones and us older ones as well.

I love the apostle Paul. He says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by any,” there in 1 Corinthians. And I think to say, “I am not going to be mastered by technology, my phone, the TV, surfing.”

And for many of us, I just saw a Barna study recently, and he was interviewing a psychiatrist in America and he said, “How do you know if someone is addicted?” And they have, in the psychiatric world, they have six specific things that are behaviors or characteristics. And if two of these things are true, there is an addiction at some level.

And so, using those six, he did a bunch of surveys across America, multiple studies, are you ready for the number one addiction in America? Is to media. And I have to confess, boy, there’s a big part of me, at the end of the day that, you know, I just wanted to stop. I’m a pretty intense guy.

And what I can tell you, when I watch a little something and then I’m really tired and then maybe watch a game and don’t want to go to bed and, you know, flipping those channels and then watch some meaningless something, my spirit is dull, I don’t sleep as well, I don’t wake up as motivated and refreshed. We sow and then we reap.

And so, let me just encourage you, it’ll probably require something drastic and dramatic. And if you’re a really good parent, I’ll pretty much guarantee your kids won’t like you for a while.

JERRY: I think maybe a baby step toward this, because this could be a really steep cliff,

CHIP:  Yes.

JERRY: You know, for a lot of people, is a media fast. And it could be any version of that. It could be: “We are not going to touch our phones during meal time.” That could be kind of just tipping your hat toward this thing. And then maybe it could get crazy and it could be, “I’m not going to touch my phone after 5pm.” Or something like that.

And as you start to sort of ratchet back and see what happens in your mind – you know, Romans 12:2 tells us that we have to renew our minds, we, we have to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. And you have taught about that, Chip, in True Spirituality, how the power of what we think about so clearly is connected to our heart and our soul, our spiritual life, the mind and how we see God is so connected to what we fill our minds with. And so, I think there might be this sort of, I don’t know, low-level guilt.

You talked about: don’t show a video to your kid when they are two. I mean, I have failed in that one and my kids are now in their teen years. But I think that I, I know that I can take steps toward helping my own life in that and putting my phone down, right? Dealing with the thoughts that are in my head, praying through them, journaling through them, reading God’s Word instead of just distracting.

CHIP: Yeah.

JERRY: And then I can also help the people around me, whether it’s my friends, my co-workers, my family. And maybe one of these really practical ways is to take a break. Take a break and see what God says to you, how He speaks to you, what He is saying.

CHIP: That’s great.

My daughter, actually, has four small kids. A six-year-old and under. And you can imagine that, boy, there are times where someone put on a video or something. And it was very interesting, she came over and the two little ones were here, and we were talking about this topic today, of all days.

And she goes, “You know, we just instituted no videos, no TV during the week, and then we let them watch a movie on Friday night, we have a little family time. And then we are doing just some small things on the weekend.” But she said, “You know, I have just seen the difference in the behavior of my kids based on the amount of interaction with videos and media and the iPads and all the rest.” And I think it is, I think it’s taking some baby steps along those lines.

Theresa and I were, you know, we just watched this documentary on all of this and so it’s not like I just keep all these facts in my mind and all this research. I just happened, you know, twenty-four hours ago to watch all that. And I was convicted by it.

And, you know, we were talking, you know, we had coffee really early this morning as sort of is our habit. And we were just talking about, “So, what about us? What is our application?” And I said, “You know, honey, I just have to tell you that, you know, when I put in a really intense day and maybe the Warriors are playing and I watch a little bit too long and it gets a little bit too late, I wake up kind of dull. When I read a half hour before I go to bed instead of watching” – I just call it mindless TV, and it’s kind of on purpose, it’s nothing bad, but it’s just mindless – “it really makes a difference. I really sleep better.”

And so, let me just encourage you to say this prayer, Lord, what is my first and next baby step to not allow technology and media to be my master? I want to break the chains. Just show me the next step. And why don’t you go ahead and take that? Start it today and then, you know, see what happens and then maybe there’s a next baby step and the next baby step.

And I’m with the apostle Paul. I struggle a lot, but I do not want anything to master me. And God’s Spirit says He always leads us in His triumph in Christ. So, this isn’t just a nice idea. It’s more than possible. God can do it in us and through us.

JERRY: Thank you, Chip, that’s, that’s good stuff.

Alright, Chip, this next question comes from a female listener and she says, “What advice would you give a wife who has a husband who is incredibly honorable and kind to her, but has no personal relationship with the Lord? How can a man be a godly leader if the only time he spends with God is at church? What should a wife pray or say to help her husband see that he has to love God first and foremost and more than his wife?

CHIP: Wow, that is a, uh, that’s a question that I think a lot of women would love to hear a great answer to. And first I would say, what a blessing to be thankful for, to have a husband who is described as incredibly honorable and kind to her. I think it’s always easy to look at what you don’t have in your mate and I think the first place to start is really communicate to your husband how grateful you are – verbalize to your husband, express in ways that are meaningful to him how much you appreciate what he does bring.

And I will say too, in this case, he doesn’t have a personal relationship. He sounds like a fellow who is moral. “I go to church,” and he may think that’s all there is to it. And, “I go to church, that’s how I grew up,” and you’re a godly person, you’re in the Scriptures, you want your kids to have a godly dad who is going to interact and lead in prayer and lead in the Word. What I will say is, one, he may not even see that.

Or, two, and this is hard for many women to hear, but I really need to say this, because, I mean, I study the Bible every day, but I’ll never forget when I got married and in my case it’s a long story, but I had two children, so I became a father immediately. I realized: I’m supposed to lead this family and I don’t have a clue. And I am so afraid to mess up. And you women, I just need to say this in a nice way, you just seem way more spiritual than us. I mean, you really do. And so, learning to lead my family was, it was a challenge for me.

I remember finding, it was an old, old book by Larry Christenson and long before you could just search everything on the Internet, but it was called The Christian Family. And it was like, okay, I’m a father. I want to have a Christian family. And it literally was so basic about how to have a, they called it “the family altar.” And how to lead your wife and how to spiritually pray and not be pushy or preachy. But I’ll say I do want you to understand how difficult it is for a man to do that.

In the question it says, “What should I say or do?” And I think 1 Peter chapter 3 is a really vivid answer. Let me just tell you that nagging, making him feel inferior, “Why don’t you do this?”, putting books out on the table before he leaves, putting CDs in his car about what a real man is, telling him he really needs to meet with Bob or Joe who goes to church that leads the men’s ministry.

Can I just tell you, ladies, anyone who is going down that route is like, you might as well just tell him, “Don’t ever do this,” because that turns us off. That puts pressure in the wrong way.

1 Peter 3 talks about a wife who wins her husband’s heart without a word and a wife who, I watched my wife do this, who prays and fasts and says, God, no matter what I say, I can’t change his heart, but You can. You can speak to him. And so, I am literally, I am going to, by my life, by my encouragement, by my love, by my modeling I am going to love him in such a way that makes the Christian life super attractive, and then I am going to go above his will all the way up to You, and I am going to talk to You and ask You to come down into his head and to his heart and draw him to Yourself.

And then I think it’s a matter of waiting, being encouraged. I think there’s some ways that you can ask for help and here’s my other, sort of, life experience. Often, you really want him to lead, but the moment he does, are you ready? He won’t do it the way you think he ought to. And the moment he doesn’t do it the way you think he ought to, you’ll either be tempted or you’ll grab the leadership back. In fact, the reason some men – and ladies, please don’t get mad at me – the reason some men aren’t leading is there is no room. You do it all. And I know, I hear you, “Well, he’s not doing it.” Well, are you willing to let a couple balls drop, let some things fall through the cracks, allow there to be a little chaos? Because, you know what? That’s his role. And if he doesn’t do it, there are some consequences that he might catch it that way.

On that note, my wife has a very interesting practice that we have never discussed, but whenever I lead anything, anywhere, she never picks it up. You know? It’s been kind of odd. Like, I will, I usually pick up my stuff because it’s my personality. But like if I will leave something somewhere and I’ll come back later, and it’s there. And my shoes were left out and they are on the hearth or I leave something over there. Now, don’t get me wrong. If company is coming or something. But I think she has just been wise to know, “You know something? If I start picking up after you all the time, we are going to develop a relationship where I am taking care of things that you ought to be taking care of.”

And I honestly resented it a little bit and I kind of like it now, because what she is really saying is, “You know something? You’re the man of this house. You need to model for me, the rest of the family what you’re going to do with your stuff.” And so, I think this is a hard one, but I think, A) Can you leave some room for him? B) Can you pray? C) Can you make the Christian life attractive? And then, D) Since you can’t control all of that, can you find your hope in the Lord and what He is going to give you and believe that He is going to provide through you and others for your kids so that this resentment doesn’t build up and he becomes the enemy and the bad person in the house? When a man feels like your, quote, in his mind, religion is pitted against him, it really builds a wall that is very hard to break down.

JERRY: Great response, Chip. That was incredibly comprehensive. You have, like, a five-point sermon for us there.

CHIP: Well, thank you very much, Jerry.

JERRY:  [Laugh]

CHIP: I will put that in my next series called Women in Pain, or something. But, yeah, you know what? It is hard and it’s really challenging and I, wow, I just, I see women come to church alone and I will say to all those women that are dating someone or all those women that are looking for that right guy is just because they say they are a Christian, “Oh, I love God. I don’t go to church very much, but I love God.”

Let me tell you, after you get married, he’s going to love the NFL. As now, so then. If he’s not engaged in worship, if he’s not in the Scriptures, if he’s not a godly man making progress, he will tell you whatever you need to hear and go to church for six months or nine months and go through premarital counseling and do whatever he needs to do or say until he gets you, because he’s in love with you. But let me just give a little warning: you want to find a man who is modeling the kind of life and the kind of leadership that you want. And that’s a word for those not married.

JERRY: Alright, Chip, this next question is about raising kids and specifically, this question says, “We are raising three boys. Our oldest son treats our middle son with disdain. How can we best close the divide between them and nurture a loving relationship?

CHIP: Well, this is one of those where not knowing the parents, not knowing the boys, not knowing how old they are, not knowing the dynamics of the family, I want to be very careful. But I think there are some principles.

I remember my wife, we have twins, and then our next was six years younger, Ryan. And then Annie was six years younger. And so, one of my twins was way bigger than the other twin. They are fraternal twins. And he would beat up his skinnier brother. And then his skinnier brother was so much bigger than Ryan, six years younger, he would tease him to death and actually, you know, pin him down and wrestle him.

I only share that to say part of sibling rivalry is common, normal. Is it good? No. But does it mean you have the worst kids in the world and they are going to end up terrible kids? No, it doesn’t. In fact, Theresa, at one point, she grew up with two sisters, she just said, they were really going at it and it got pretty physical and she goes, “Are they, are they going to be like this forever? Will they ever like each other?” And I said, “Yeah, honey, you know, yeah. I grew up like this,” and, now, we have to discipline it. But this is not the end of the world. And, actually, those two twins now are the best of friends.

And so, here’s what I would say: ask yourself, first and foremost, you’re the parent. You see this dynamic of the older son, middle child – by and large, older children, firstborn children, they get the hardest of their parents. When your first kid comes, you don’t know what you’re doing, you really want to do a great job, and you put a lot of pressure on them, the standards are really high. We really expect a lot. Middle kids tend to get lost. And then you’ve got to ask yourself as parents: is there anything we are doing unconsciously that creates this?

For example, I’m the firstborn and the expectations are really high, but look how you treat this middle one. And especially if one of them has an issue or a problem or isn’t as social or isn’t as athletic and you feel like you really need to prop them up and help them in special ways. It might be a jealousy that comes from how the parents are treating the kids, not just one with the other. So, I always ask: what part of this problem is mine?

Then the second one is you’ve got to set some really clear boundaries and you say to this older one, “Look, here’s the deal. You can’t talk to your brother like that. You can’t hit him. And here’s the way it goes.” And depending on their age, you know, we would discipline in different ways. And when they got old enough, I had them write a contract out.

And so, I literally did this. I said, “Look,” I said to one of my sons and I won’t mention his name on the air because, you know, they’re grown. They may not like this. I said, “This issue of you beating up your brother is really not going well. And we are not going to have any more of this. And I have tried everything. I have disciplined you, I have grounded you, I have, obviously on bad days, yelled at you. So, I want you to write out, the next time that you get physical with your brother or you say derogatory things and tease him, what consequence would really help you not do that anymore?”

And, literally, we sat down and I had him write it down and he goes, “Well, if I was grounded for three days, that would be terrible.” I said, “Okay, write that down.” So, if I do this, then I’ll be grounded. Okay. And then we went through, like, just the top three behaviors.

And with the middle son, “When you do this, when you talk to your older brother this way, you incite him and you get him…what would help you? Write that down.” And then I had, I signed it. I had my kids sign it. And we had a contract about their behavior. And then when it happened, I’m not going to yell, I’m not going to do this, it was – I brought out the contract, “Stop. You’re grounded for three days.” “No, no! He said this!” “No, no, no, no. No. We’re not going to have…I love you, your mom loves you, we’re all in this together. You wrote that out. There’s the consequence.”

And when they had to come up with it and then they had to own it – and by the way, then you don’t change it and go, “Oh, two days is okay.” If they said three days, it’s three days. “Oh, but the prom is coming up.” “Well, better to miss a prom.” I can hear your moms going, “You didn’t really make him miss the prom, did you?” Yes, I did. Because I thought, You know what? Missing a prom won’t be as important as him understanding while he still lives in my house that there are consequences to your behavior.

One of my other sons was on the starting team and we had a contract and it was what he decided would be the consequence. For a few games, he lost his spot on the starting team because he couldn’t make practice.

All I’m saying is we are not trying to help our kids become little, happy, peaceful, little nests. We want to help them become responsible who treat people the right way. And our role as parents is to define clearly what that means, do it under control without yelling and screaming, and then provide consequences that help that behavior.

And then here’s the hard part: you have to be consistent. So, I know that’s a lot, but if you have a lot of sibling rivalry, as old Barney Fife used to say on that old program, Mayberry R.F.D., some of you remember that, you’ve got to nip it in the bud.