Just wanted to be sure you are aware I am now posting video messages regularly. I will generally be broadcasting them live from my Facebook professional page, then adding them to my YouTube channel, and to my Video page here on my website (Video page tab above) I would love for you to follow my FB page and YouTube channel, and join in the conversation there. I look forward to your feedback, and any suggestions or requests you may have for encouraging words and guidance I can offer in the future. Blessings to you and your family!
One of the most fundamental changes in parenting teens in our times is the lightning speed with which new technologies are embraced into and throughout their world. We are still working on how to handle emerging digital technologies and the always expanding world of social media for ourselves, so we have little previous experience and no previous generations from which to draw our parenting wisdom. We have to figure it out for ourselves and our kids, and we need to do so NOW. Our kids are growing up in a whole new world I call “Technolescence,” and they need us to do our best to guide them through this complex time and space. With this in mind, here are six of the most common and significant mistakes I see many parents make in this realm of technolescence:
1. Saying “Yes” to all requests for tech devices and privileges. According to Matthew 7:11, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Yes, giving good gifts to our kids is really a reflection of our Heavenly Father’s love for us. But think about how many times you sincerely prayed for something you thought you or someone you loved really needed, and your Father’s loving answer was… “No.” Or maybe “Not Yet.” We need to take time to prayerfully consider and have parental discussions regarding new tech devices or privileges before saying “Yes.” Some new opportunities simply are not good for our teens and preteens, and other times they are either not ready or just need to learn the valuable lesson of waiting with patience. Kids who get everything they want as soon as they want it are often the least satisfied, most demanding, and generally disagreeable teens in the bunch.
2. Trusting kids too much in their technolescent world. Of course our teens want us to trust them, and in a healthy family this trust should continue to grow over time. Over time. I’m not saying we shouldn’t trust our kids at all. I am saying we should give them opportunities to earn our increasing trust, and this is a process that takes time and lots of growth experiences. And look, it isn’t just that our kids are still growing and developing their moral and social compasses and abilities, the nature of the technolescent world is very very much ACTIVE and not passive! The more they swim in digital waters, the more they are bombarded with complex choices, invitations, and temptations. Regardless of how naturally mature or good-hearted our teens seem to be, they need our guidance, training, and oversight to help them grow “in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man.” This means we need to periodically check in for ourselves to see that they are conducting themselves with right standards in their digital world of technolescence.
3. Lurking or snooping to excess. While we should beware of trusting our teens too much in their technolescent journey, we must also use caution against trusting too little and letting our fears dominate our parenting decisions. I have seen huge family fallout and alienated, embittered teens when parents became so obsessed with what may go wrong that they couldn’t stop lurking and snooping in their kids’ digital space. To keep from falling into this trap, we must be clear and open about parental boundaries, practice a healthy sense of balance, and prayerfully trust the Holy Spirit to prompt us when something is not right.
4. Not staying current on emerging digital devices, social spaces, and available apps. Folks, the world of technolescence is changing rapidly, and is unlikely to slow down anytime soon. In fact, its rate of change seems to be exponential – changing faster and faster and faster. Worn out yet? The reality for us as parents of adolescents today is that we must be very diligent in staying reasonably up to date on the tech developments that are available and popular among teens in general, and particularly those that appeal to our kids and their friends. This means we need to pay attention to what they are into in the digital world, we need to ask non-threatening questions and really hear their answers, we need to do the same with their friends when we have the opportunities, and we need to regularly take time to explore online to find out what is new and big. One source you may find particularly helpful is the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU). This is a Christian organization that does an exceptional job in helping parents understand what is happening in youth culture today. They have lots of very practical and useful resources, as well as informative and insightful articles. You really should check them out. Regularly.
5. Not having regular family discussions about the technolescent journey. I’m not saying you have to have rigid weekly summit meetings with your teens. You don’t want to drive them crazy. But if you are only discussing their digital choices and experiences once or twice a year, you aren’t discussing these issues nearly enough. A good guideline is to have some kind of direct conversation about what is happening in their digital world on about a monthly basis. Sometimes this may be more of a curiosity based conversation. Other times it may be a negotiation regarding digital freedoms. When needed, we need to offer correction and discipline in response to mistakes made. And we will do very well to incorporate spiritual guidance as foundational elements to all of our digital discussions and decisions.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 NIV)
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV)
6. Not updating digital rules and freedoms as kids grow. That sound is my soapbox being dragged to the front of the room. This is such a fundamental dynamic of parenting teens, and I will preach it over and over again. Respect, responsibility, and freedom go hand in hand. Our teens naturally crave more freedom as they grow up. We parents hopefully expect to see increasing personal responsibility in our growing adolescents. And parents and teens alike want to be respected by one another. We need to make clear through our words, our decisions, and our actions that our kids will regularly gain more freedom and opportunity in their lives as they reflect responsibility and respect in their lives at home, at school, at church, and in their digital space. And as we periodically show this respect to our teens by increasing their freedom, they are more likely to naturally show more respect and appreciation for us along the way. Keeping high school junior locked in the same rules and boundaries as they had back in sixth grade is a sure fire way to frustrate and embitter that growing teen. Our relationships and rules should grow along with them.
As always, let me know how I can help you and your family navigate the ever-changing world of technolescence, and ask your school and church leaders about bringing me to speak to your community sometime soon. Blessings of wisdom, strength, and peace to you and your family.
Another summer break is nearing an end. Time to get the kids and the whole family back into school rhythm, and hopefully set them up for success as much as possible. As you do your best to lead your teens toward increasing maturity, responsibility, and success in the coming year, here are three ways to make a positive difference:
1. Commit to making your home a welcoming, safe, and fun place for your teen’s friends to hang out. A simple way to start this process is to ask your kids what they think would be fun for them and their friends at home. Find out what they enjoy about going to certain friends’ houses. Be prepared to share a genuine interest in the lives and activities of your teens’ buddies whenever they come over. It could be as simple as always having “good” snacks. Maybe it’s time to upgrade to a new gaming system or buy a couple of new games for the one you have. Check to be sure your wi-fi is optimal. A good old fashioned board game or two might be a big hit. The crew may become regulars if you have an organized neighborhood Pokemon-GO hunt every couple weeks or so. You might even consider a big investment, such as a backyard pool, a teen room with new furniture, or a game room with a pool table or huge TV with a great gaming system. If your house can become a home base for your teen’s social group activities, don’t you think it would be worth investing a few bucks in some strategic house upgrades? Just remember, it is important to establish clear boundaries with your teens and their friends about how the physical and digital space in your home is to be used.
2. Make clear your expectations of your students’ efforts and responsibilities, as well as where your boundaries and responsibilities fall. I may elaborate on this one with a full post soon, but for now – just be sure you have clear, open conversations about expectations of study time, grades, extra-curricular commitments, etc., as well as what you will or will not do as a parent.
3. Offer your teens one mental/spiritual refreshment day to skip school per semester. This may sound crazy, but I’ve never forgotten hearing this idea from a great client family years ago. Don’t make it contingent on grade performance or anything like that. Just offer them that occasional day, once a semester or so, to skip school and have fun. Spend a portion of the day talking about how they are doing in school, friendships, teams, spiritual walk, and life in general. Remember to listen more than you speak. The point of this kind of conversation is to be aware of where your teen is, but also to remind your daughter or son that you are genuinely there as a loving support, no matter what. But don’t let this convo take up the better part of the day. Give him or her an opportunity to have fun, enjoy a day of grace, and just be refreshed.
Let me know if I can help you and your family have a more successful year this year, and remember that I love coming to speak to parents and teachers at schools to share encouragement, inspiration, and guidance. Blessings of peace, growth, and wisdom to you and your family!
My family has officially reached that time where we have made the decision for our young adolescent son to have his own smartphone (after having his own tablet for gaming/YouTube only for a year or two). For as much as I have been helping other families navigate digital waters for years now, we are swimming in the deep end of the pool ourselves now. And since my wife and I are so serious about utilizing clear rules to help provide healthy digital boundaries for our son, I thought you might like to know what those rules are. Keep in mind that these rules will evolve as he grows through his teen years, so this is our beginning point with a middle-schooler. Here goes…
1. We reserve the right to examine any and all phone content any time we believe we need to do so. This could include phone calls, texts, internet history, and any app content. All passwords must be disclosed, or swift and sure consequences will follow. I recommend occasionally taking a look through the phone, just to be sure all is well. If something has popped up on your parenting radar that gives you particular concerns about your child’s or teen’s digital behavior, take a good close look right away, and keep a close eye for a while. Any kind of backlash from our youngster about handing over the phone will result in a loss of trust, which will likely result in some loss or setback of privilege.
2. We will not abuse this parental power with excessive snooping. As parents, we must keep in mind that going overboard with hovering, investigating, and downright, snooping into our kids’ digital worlds will likely cause a strain in our relationship, and possibly push them to just get better at hiding what they don’t want us to find. Just as we want them to learn healthy boundaries, we must model healthy boundaries for them. Reserving the right to look when you have a clear reason is not the same as lurking. Don’t be a lurker.
3. No digital devices are allowed in kids’ bedrooms after bedtime. The simplest way to set this boundary is to have teens/preteens put their devices on the charger in a “public” family space before bedtime. If they get busted sneaking it into the bed at night, this will also be addressed with painful lessons and clear teaching and guidance.
4. Early adolescents are not allowed to have direct social interaction with anyone they don’t know in the REAL world. As we explained to our son, there are several reasons we are so serious about this rule, including the reality of predators and the risk of making online connections more important than real life connections.
5. Preteens/Teens should report anything inappropriate to parents immediately – including their own misbehavior. I realize this may sound far-fetched, but hear me out. We want our son to learn that life will always go better for him if he brings questionable activity or his own misbehavior to our attention than if we discover it while he is hiding it. Reasonable measures of mercy will be shown in such situations, along with a clear conversation about how proud we are of him for practicing confession and honesty.
6. Digital devices should always be turned off within two minutes of being told it is time to do so. I do believe it is important for us parents to recognize and respect that our youngsters may be in the middle of something that they would really like to finish or save. You may be surprised how much this respect from us will do to build a strong relationship of mutual respect with our teens. However, they also need to learn that there is a time to simply turn it off, and that their world will not come crashing down, even if they lose a little progress or the opportunity to get something really cool on a game or whatever.
7. We will have regular discussions about digital life. These discussions may range from Biblical inspiration and guidance to conversations about emerging technologies, apps, etc. to sharing recent experiences and decisions made in the digital world. Periodically include parental feedback about delights and/or concerns you have regarding your teen’s digital conduct, as well as occasionally discussing possible expansions of their digital freedom.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17 (NIV)
I’m not sure there has yet been an app that has so immediately caused such a cultural impact as Pokemon GO. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you probably think I’m kidding or exaggerating. I’m not. This innovative app has not only captured the attention of a staggering number of gamers from age five to twenty-five and beyond, but it is changing their behavioral patterns as well.
If you begin noticing young people wandering around in large numbers where you have never really seen them before, chances are they are playing Pokemon GO. If you see young adults strolling about in an oddly disjointed and distracted fashion, looking like they are part of some sort of smartphone-driven “zombie apocalypse,” there’s a good bet they are out hunting Pokemon. If there are kids giving you the creeps with the way they kinda seem to be taking your picture, but not really paying attention to you as they swipe their screens and whoop with delight, don’t fret. They just snagged a super-rare with a Pokeball.
And as peculiar and data-consuming as this new digital culture craze may be, I can see at least six distinct opportunities it gives savvy parents who are willing to work with technology in their kids lives, rather than to simply ignore it or fight against it or helplessly complain about it. So, at only a week or so into the new Pokemon GO era, here are the parenting opportunities I am seeing:
1. Motivation for kids to exercise. This is the most obvious benefit of the first major gaming technology since the intro of the Wii to encourage players to move more. And reports are already in of kids, teens, young adults, and families going for walks or bike rides for hours more than they every have before. WOW! This is a big deal in the increasingly sedentary, screen-centered world in which we are raising our kids. Don’t miss the motivational opportunity.
2. Open door for parents to enter the world of our kids’ interests. Whether your child is five, fifteen, or twenty-five (and still living at home), seizing the opportunity to step into his or her world and really learn about something that captures your son’s or daughter’s attention is so huge – especially when you have actually been invited through that door! Don’t squander this opportunity. Get in there and learn all about Pokestops and incense and gyms and water types and rares and all there is to know about the ever-growing world of Pokemon. It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not, or even if you think it’s goofy. It’s about connecting with your teen or child in a meaningful way and opening the door of communication.
3. Shared adventure time! What could be finer than joining your pre-teen or adolescent on a stroll, hike, or bike ride throughout your neighborhood, to the nearby park, and beyond? Go for it! Get out there and have some fun together. Get into the thrill of the hunt with your kid, but stay alert for the opportunity to blend in some “real-world” adventure, as well. I mean, you’re already out there together. Make the most of it.
4. Break from the tired lame routine. Not that routines are all bad, or anything. But be honest, sometimes it’s easy to let our lives and our family time fall into a routine that just isn’t making the most of our time. We may be gradually drifting away from meaningful connections with one another and from meaningful activity if we let ourselves default to the same old routine. By nature, Pokemon GO invites player to, well…GO! So, get up. Get out. Go do something different. Go find new places. Embrace the changes with your youth and GO for it!
5. Learning and practicing resource management. I’m not really talking about elements of the game now. I’m talking about time and money. Mark my words, there will be a collective scream in a few weeks when the first round of wireless bills hit since the beginning of the Pokemon GO era. This app is going to eat through data like an Excadrill rips through rock and metal! Hopefully, Niantic (the app developer, and probably overnight gozillionaires) will work on ways to minimize the voracious data appetite this little game-changer has at present. Even so, parents will need to be very proactive in training our kids how to be conscious, responsible, and wise in their use of data. Sitting in a WiFi zone playing endless data-sucking games is no big deal – it’s free. And putting a time frame on how long they can play certain games outside of WiFi is fairly straightforward. But the whole nature of this get out and hunt game is going to change all that. And as parents, we will either need to train our kids how to manage their data usage with this new adventure or we may find ourselves buying lottery tickets or selling our kids’ old rare Pokemon on eBay!
6. Developing critical consumer skills. Being a critical consumer of anything from food to teaching to entertainment to appliances is a really important skill for navigating our world today. And at its heart, being a critical consumer means learning to question and investigate. Using the Pokemon GO app doesn’t just mean investigating the world around your family in search of elusive pocket monsters. It also means asking important questions and being informed and safe in regard to privacy issues. What a great opportunity for us to train our kids in digital savvy and safety!
Happy hunting, all!
And please remember to watch where you’re going at all times. NO HUNTING AND DRIVING, PLEASE!
I have recently re-engaged the Facebook world, after taking a few years away from it. (Today is not the day to explain that sentence, but perhaps I will do so soon.) At the time of this writing, it seems my feed is flooded with impassioned posts regarding: gun control, LGBT rights, ISIS, the wonderful potential of each US presidential candidate, the horrible potential of each US presidential candidate, Radical Islam, Christianity, haters, and the list goes on and on. We are all painfully aware that our world seems to be increasingly filled with evil, corruption, hatred, violence, and ignorance.
What are we to do about it? And as parents, what can we do to train and equip our children and teens to make a difference? Can they make a difference? Is there anything we can do to actually empower them to be agents of change in this world that seems to be growing increasingly ugly? As followers of Christ, we have been filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Surely that gives us some kind of power with which we can fight back against the tide of evil. There must be something in particular we can do to teach our young people how to improve the world around them. But what?
Well, here is a simple list of six actions we can take, as outlined by our Lord in Matthew 25:31-46. And this is about as practical as it gets!
- Give food to the hungry.
- Give drink to the thirsty.
- Welcome the stranger into your home.
- Give clothes to the one without something decent to wear.
- Visit the sick.
- Visit the prisoner.
Don’t think these are really so important in the grand scheme of things? Doubtful these simple actions can help your teen change the world? Well, Jesus seemed to think these are the kinds of acts that matter for all eternity. And, interestingly enough, I didn’t see anywhere in his narrative an admonition for us to be sure we post lots of powerful stuff on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Instagram. Or our blogs.
He told us to make a difference in the lives of the people who live in arm’s reach of us. He instructed us to show compassion to those who need it most. He urged us to give what we have, without keeping track of it. He called us love well and share generously. And this remains His call to us today – to live as he showed us how to live.
Our teens are watching us to learn how to make a difference in this world. And how we treat the people around us will make a FAR greater impact upon them, and upon the world through them, than whatever message we shout from our digital billboards.
Sitting in my office today, I noticed this picture of my son in his then brand new tree-house, taken maybe five or six years ago. Since that time, despite my friend and I building the house with an extra-tall roof, the lad has outgrown the tree-house. Both physically and developmentally, he has just outgrown climbing up into that small space for imagination and play. When I was a kid, I used to dream about having a tree-house and making all kind of great memories of adventure in it. While I never did get that tree-house, my son did. Seems as if time is up for him to make those memories. I wonder what stories he would share with you, if you asked him about his time in it. What memories did he make? What lessons did he learn? What impact did his experiences up in that little tin-roofed shelter make upon him?
A couple of years ago, I got an app on my phone that was being promoted through our church. It’s called Legacy Marble Countdown, and it is built on the simple concept that if you were to put a marble in a jar for every week you get to invest in your child from birth to high school graduation, you would begin with 936 marbles before they steadily dwindled away over the weeks and years of his or her life in your house. It seems the Tree-House Jar is now empty of marbles. Those lessons and experiences are now over, and exist only in his memory. According to my app, as of this posting, I have 255 marbles left in the Home Jar. 255 weeks until he moves that tassel from one side of his funny little flat hat to the other side, walks down off that stage, and moves on to whatever horizon God may lead him. Mercy! Since the time that tiny little rascal came home from the hospital, we have already spent nearly 3/4 of the time we will have together before he formally steps forth from our home as a man facing the world on his own two feet.
May my wake-up call today be yours, as well. Let us invest intentionally, courageously, lovingly, and wisely. Let us teach, encourage, train, correct, inspire, share, uplift, and coach our teens in preparation for the years that lie beyond wearing the silly hat with the tassel. Let us mold their hearts and minds with the Word of God. Let us fill their spirits with love and encouragement. Let us train them in the skills they will need to live lives of purpose and independence. And let us do so before we lose our marbles. Because, let’s be honest…some of us may be getting closer to that day than we realize. 😉
Whatever your reasons, I know you are already considering seeking some kind of guidance or encouragement from me – you’re reading my blog post. So, I think it’s safe to assume you (and probably several others you know) could use some inspiration and direction. Given that, here are five reasons to consider bringing me to speak to you and your people in your church, school, or other organizational community:
1. I’m better in person. My goal for my website has always been to help and encourage as many people as possible around the globe, regardless of whether or not we ever meet face to face. And I continue to work in this pursuit. But I’m a people person, for sure. And that means you will get my best when we are in the same room, sharing ideas and stories, and responding to the energy we see in one another.
2. You’ll have better community support. Whether you need help parenting an unruly adolescent, overcoming an addiction in your life, facing the daunting task of moving your life in a new direction, or help in a troubled marriage – by being a part of a larger group seeking help together, you won’t feel so alone. And we always make better, more lasting improvements in our lives when we do so in community, rather than in isolation.
3. It’s less intimidating than therapy. This may be what I do for a living, but I get it. Setting an appointment with a therapist can be intimidating. You don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what I’ll ask. Or what I might challenge you to do. You wonder what others will think. I know there are numerous barriers that can keep many folks from setting up a first therapy appointment, even at times when you know in your heart you need some kind of serious help. Setting up and attending a workshop or seminar can be a great alternative that feels much less daunting.
4. It’s a very affordable option. Oh, yeah, that’s the other big reason many may not even consider scheduling a therapy appointment with me – the cost. If that’s what has been stopping you, ask around! If you know even a handful of people in your school or church community who have also held back on seeking help due to the cost, chances are there are more than you realize. And given what most organizations will charge per registrant for a seminar like mine, you will be paying about 1/5 the price you would pay for the same amount of personalized time in my office. That’s some serious savings!
5. It may be the best way you can help that friend of yours. Many of the business cards I give away are to people who are concerned about a friend or family member, and they are hoping this person will be willing to get help. Sometimes I do hear from them. Oftentimes, I do not. For all the same reasons I listed in number 3 above, inviting your friend or family member to a seminar may offer much more readily acceptable help to them than urging them to call me for therapy. This is especially true if you tell them you will also be attending, and you have paid their registration fee for them.
If you are curious to get a preview of what you might experience with me at a live event, check out my YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/DrButner I will be adding more videos from my office and clips from my seminars in the coming weeks and months. Please let me know what you find helpful!
I look forward to meeting you and the people in your life community very soon.
Sleep until at least midday. Lay around the house all afternoon using various digital screens, preferably with headphones on to tune out any and all parental input. Stay up well past midnight interacting with friends via gaming connections or various social networking options. Sleep until at least midday…
Such is the lofty dream of many an American teenager for how to best spend their summer months. And while there is certainly a place for some lazy, relaxing summer vacation time, if this becomes the daily norm for our teens throughout their three month break from the school routine, they will have very little to show for it. As parents, we need to be prepared to help them aim higher than this. Here are six different ways your teen can do something valuable and productive with his/her summertime, rather than simply wasting the entire time on lazy self-indulgence.
1. Get a job. Whether full-time or part-time, spending the summer months in gainful employment offers so many benefits for a maturing adolescent. You could even encourage your teen to look for a job opportunity in a field related to their career aspirations. I’ll never forget how impressed I was with the young lady who took a job as a receptionist/secretary as a college student in a counseling center where I once worked. She was very interested in becoming a professional counselor, and wanted to get a closer perspective to see if it was really the best career field for her. Today, she is a successful counselor!
2. Volunteer. Some teens may find even greater life benefit from volunteering in a worthwhile organization during their summer break, rather than working in a paid position. Not only is this an experience that looks great on a resume for college, graduate school, and a career position, but it also can be a powerful means for shaping a teen’s heart toward considering and caring for others.
3. Summer School. This is certainly not something I would recommend for every teen. However, for those students who have either been struggling in certain subjects, or may be interested in getting a jump on their college experience, summer school may well worth sacrificing that coveted break from the academic routine.
4. Camps. These days, it seems there are enough summer camp options to make your head spin! From sports to music to academic to art to science to fitness to faith-building – there are great options for piecing together an enriching and rewarding summer experience. Take some time now to explore the various summer camp options available near you, or even away from home. It may just be the best investment you make in your teen all year.
5. Extracurricular Lessons/Classes. Check with your local colleges/universities and library system to find out if there are any community classes available this summer that would be of genuine interest to your teen. Perhaps the summer months would be the ideal time to try enrolling in that swimming, martial arts, community theater, private music lessons, or other ongoing activity that just wouldn’t fit into the normal school-time schedule. If the summer trial goes well, you and your teen may just decide to adjust your family schedule when school starts up again, to ensure that this experience can continue throughout the year.
6. Have Regular Household Responsibilities. While I would recommend assigning your kids ongoing household responsibilities throughout the year, beginning even before their teenage years, summer break is a time when this may need to be stepped up a few notches. Especially if your teen will not be regularly involved in any of the previous suggested activities. Manual labor, both inside and outside the home, is good for the body, mind, and spirit of teens and adults alike. While they may not thank you for it, don’t deprive your growing kids from the valuable experiences and lessons of doing some good old fashioned work for the family that doesn’t directly benefit their bank account.
*Regardless of the particulars of how your teen spends her/his summer days, I highly recommend having a regular expectation of getting out of bed by 9 am at the latest, except during days that are truly designated as vacation time.*
When I decided to pursue my Doctorate back in the day, I was eager to study the dynamics of family life and entertainment media. At the time, television was still king, so to speak. Smart phones and tablets had not yet emerged. Laptops were not common. Netflix and Redbox weren’t around. It’s mind-boggling to consider how the media landscape has changed in less than two decades!
At any rate, I put together a research design to study the relationship between the healthiness of family functioning and how families interact with television. While there are many more screens in the mix these days, the good ole TV set still serves as a family focal point in most homes today. And what I learned then continues to be true: the strongest, healthiest families not only have clear guidelines and limits regarding TV viewing, but they intentionally and actively engage in conversation around what they watch together. Television content is used to spark meaningful discussion.
We “cut the cable cord” several years ago, so whatever TV viewing we do (not counting watching movies on DVD and Blu-ray) is via Netflix streaming. One of the delightful benefits of watching shows this way is being able to start at the very beginning of a series and watch every episode in order. My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Everybody Loves Raymond, Cheers, Friends, Arrow, and other series together after our son is in bed. His entertainment preferences these days lean much more toward playing Plants vs Zombies on his laptop or watching YouTube videos of gaming commentary – both with his Beats firmly fastened around his ears. And since we regularly enjoy (okay, sometimes we insist) spending family time together around board games and reading stories aloud, we decided it’s time we began using the “big screen” as an active family gathering place as well.
The choice of shows to begin this new adventure together was clear: The Wonder Years. The pilot episode begins with Kevin and his friends, Paul and Winnie, entering Jr High. My son is making his way through his first year of middle school. We loved the way this series faced so many coming of age and culture issues in such an endearing manner. Perfect! And so, we began. I must tell you, we hadn’t gotten ten minutes into the first show when my wife and I looked at each other and questioned if we should be sharing this with him. But we took a breath, hit pause several different times, and calmly discussed the various life issues that Kevin and his family presented to us. I’d like to share updates from this journey with you from time to time. Not to convince you to watch The Wonder Years. Rather, I hope our family experience will inspire and enlighten you to share the same kind of conversations with your teens and tweens. Let me know what you think. And I hope you will share with us your own experiences along the way.