Online Course

Creating a Media-Safe Home

Understanding Your Teen

No parent has ever thought the world was perfectly safe for his or her children. We taught our kids when they were young to look both ways before they cross the street and not to talk with strangers.

So session three is on creating a media safe home. Oh, wouldn’t that be nice? Now HomeWord, the organization I work with, is the largest provider of parenting seminars in the United States, probably in the world. And all of our centers got together and we asked this question, what questions do you get after the seminar or in the middle of the seminar? Now we do seven different seminars, so they’re on all kinds of different topics. You know, by far the number one question was? Media. So they were trying to deal with social media, they were trying to deal with pornography, and we’re going to talk about that within the video sessions. But the truth is, is that a lot of parents are confused. Now also, the truth is, is a lot of your teens know a lot more about media than you do, but they are being influenced by media in a big, big way.

And so the job is to get our arms around again, what’s going on when it comes to media, and then begin to set some healthy boundaries so that kids can become responsible adults. And to do that, they also have to become responsible with their media and technology use. So I’m looking forward to you having some good conversations after you hear this video and I hope you read the chapter, even if you didn’t get to it, read it because it’s really practical and I think it can be really helpful in helping your kids make right decisions in the teen years so that they’ll have better decisions when they’re becoming an adult.

Jim, in our home, technology’s kind of a big issue. Our kids seem to be on their phones all the time and they know way more about computers and social media than we could ever hope to learn. Do you have any advice on how we can reign this in?

Well actually, it’s the number one question at HomeWord. HomeWord is the largest provider of parenting seminars in the United States and we do seven different subjects, but whatever the subject is, I mean it could be any subject, when we start doing Q&A, parents asked that question because the world has changed in many ways. So I just want to talk for a moment about media because you’re right, our kids typically know more and you know, the world has changed this way. I mean, definitely changed. And so let me just be random for a minute to kind of answer your question in a random way. We can’t take for granted that our kids are going to make great decisions on media. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad kids, but we just can’t take for granted. I mean, my goodness, if I was 15 years old and I had a super computer that’s connected to the world, I’m not sure I’d always make good decisions, especially when some of my friends, even though I’m doing fine as a 15 year old, some of my friends say, do you want to see so-and-so with her top off?

And so the, the pressure today is massive and we can’t take for granted they’re going to make good decisions. That’s just really, really important. Now let me give you some kind of random facts, if you would. Number one, technology isn’t neutral. It’s not all bad, but it’s not all good. It’s slowly infiltrated every aspect of our life. So you know, we’re using technology right now. That’s good. But also, it’s sometimes bad. It’s just simply not neutral, so as parents, we’re going to have to understand that the technology that, in many ways, we didn’t use when we were growing up. We used technology, but we didn’t use the same technology, it’s very different and it’s just not always neutral. Also, the other thing we have to remember is that media is addictive and it’s really addictive.

My background, when I was younger, I’d speak to about a quarter of a million kids a year. That was what I did and I loved it. Now that I’ve gotten older, I still think about kids, but I mainly speak to adults. But the fascinating side to it is periodically I still get to talk to kids, and I was speaking not too long ago in Richmond, Virginia to 800 kids, and I was talking about this subject, media, because they don’t even know what to do with it. And so I said, “How many of you think it’s possible to be addicted to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter? And I just started naming different social media. “How many of you think it’s possible to be addicted?” Honestly, all 800. In fact, people afterwards said, “Amazing.” They all thought that. And then, randomly, I just said, “Well how many of you are addicted?”

All but about two and I and they were on their phone so they weren’t paying attention or whatever. But the point being is, media is addictive. So now we have a new world where we’re looking at really the addiction to media. You said they were on their phones and we make fun of the millennial crowd always being on their phones or what not, but they are. So, it is addictive and parents need to understand that. Another thing that we have to understand is that the world has changed. I mean, 2008 which is a long time ago, but not that long when it comes to history, kids now are involved with media more than they are with with TV. Now, TV is media, but TV was the primary instrument of media since time TV was introduced. In 2008 that changed.

And that’s really important for us to understand. So TV doesn’t influence them. It does still, but doesn’t influence them as much as the other aspects of it. Their computers, their cell… I mean, you’ve talked about their… It’s really not a cell phone anymore, it’s a super computer. Like I said, it’s connected to the world. So anyway, that’s an important thing to say. I mean, even relationships. Just recently a study came out that one out of six people in the United States who were married this last year were introduced online. So I’m not saying that’s good or bad, that is happening, but guess what? The year before, it was one out of seven, and a couple of years before that it was one out of eight, so where is it going? I’m not saying everybody one day is going to, all the dating sites are going to put everybody together.

But I’m just simply saying, your kids, that will be normal, and for you that was not as normal. Now, some of you maybe even got on that way. I truly understand that, but it will be absolutely normal for them to meet online. Sometimes they hook up online, there’s some real dangerous stuff like that. So again, these are the kinds of things that parents aren’t necessarily thinking about, but it’s important. Oh man, another one. One out of five kids today, teenagers, will be sexted or we’ll sext. So one out of five. So that means that for them, and at HomeWord we call it the new first base. So what that means is that they’re going to take a picture of themselves naked or whatever and send it. Now a lot of times they’ll use Snapchat or something where it’ll go away in 30 seconds, it doesn’t have to. But what they forget is that people take pictures of the picture and then now you’ve got a photo that’s out there for a long time.

So again, that’s a random statement, but it’s the kind of thing that we have to understand that, yeah, media is great, but it’s also, your kids are on it all the time and they could get in some big trouble in terms of their own heart. The other thing that I just simply say about Facebook, now your kids aren’t as much on Facebook, you know why? Because you’re on Facebook. And so they’ve kind of jumped off Facebook, but Facebook is the third largest country in the world. China, India, Facebook. So the influence and impact, even though it’s going away with adolescence, is massive in terms of what you can do with Facebook.

I mean, I use this, where the other day somebody wrote me this note and it was about our mission and I didn’t know who the person was, but I felt like I probably did the way they talk to me about it. And so what did I do? I went to Facebook and found them. I know everything about them because it just said about, and I looked at it and then I looked at some of their things and like, “Oh, okay. That’s where this person is coming from.” See? So again, Facebook is still very, very important. Prevalent. Now, what I’m going to say to you guys with your question about how do we do this, is we have to get our arms around this. Will you become the experts that your kids… Maybe not because they use it more hours a day than you.

You’ve got to become students of the culture. So what that means is with that phone that they’re holding in their hand or whatever, their computer or their iPad or whatever, we’ve got to be able to do at least three things. We have to listen to what they listened to, watch what they watch, and read what they read. So if in the teen years as parents, we say, “Okay, finally they’re becoming a little more responsible. So we don’t have to do what we did when they were two.” Well, in some ways we still have to be very up on what’s going on in the teen culture because the teen culture is influencing them. For example, Miley Cyrus, remember her name, used to be called Hannah Montana, and moms loved Hannah Montana. Hannah Montana went to church, Hannah Montana signed a purity code contract.

She was doing all these things, and then when she became 17, she changed her name back to, her real name was Miley Cyrus. Now I’m not even putting this young woman down because I don’t see her as the great expert. But the truth is, is that with junior highers, she is in the top five of sex educators. If they said, “Where do you get your sex education?” They say Miley Cyrus. And she’s not even maybe the most popular as she was in a different generation. But the point being is that moms didn’t stay up with this, so they’re like, “Hey, watch her new video.” Where her new video, at 17, not Hannah, but Miley, had her in booty shorts and she was in a club that she was even too young to be in. It had her, I’m doing kind of a sex act on a bed.

And so again, what was happening was these younger kids were watching this because their parents were like, “Hey, Hannah Montana is the one who goes to church and signing the purity contract.” Well, that had changed. It was called marketing or branding. So as parents we just have to make sure that we listen to what they listened to, read what they read, watch what they watch. But you have to be a little bit careful on that as well. Will that take care of all of the problems? No, but what it’ll do is it’ll get you much more educated in the fact that yeah, that’s influencing them. And how is it influencing them? Who is influencing them? Those are the kinds of questions you want to ask with your teens. And it’s not always easy because sometimes they’ll keep it kind of quiet about that.

That’s why I believe that parents should be friends on their social media groups. It’s easier when they’re younger because then you can just kind of slide it into the teen years. But also what I’m going to say to you, please, I’ll cup every one of your faces and say, please do not make comments on their social media. Please do not try to friend their friends and things like that. But you can learn a lot. But silence is golden on this one. So be their friends, but also they should be your friend too. And there’s kind of an accountability on that.

How can we create healthy boundaries around technology?

Yeah, that’s a great question. But the answer is actually in your question. You know, creating boundaries. A lot of us at a certain age of our kids, we just hand them the cell phone as if everything’s okay. And the reason we’re doing that is it’s typically for safety at a certain age. But to them, it’s a lot more than that. So I think we do need to create boundaries and I think we can create important boundaries with them. For example, at HomeWorld, where I work, we have on our website an internet contract, a phone contract, music and TV contract, even a gaming contract. And again, I don’t know that you make this all, you know, contracts sounds so legal, but there are expectations and if you don’t give them some expectations… Let’s talk about gaming. I mean gaming is fun. I mean most games are great. There are games that are violence and nudity and all that, but take the fun games. But if you allow your kids, as teens, especially guys, if you allow them to spend too much time gaming, what it’s doing is it’s affecting their brain.
You know, I’m a little nerd on brains, but your brain is still developing when you’re a teenager. And actually the stimulation part, or the decision making part, which is called the frontal cortex, is the last decision. That’s why you can blame it on the brain if your kids are like, “Why did they do that?” We’ll just blame on the brain. They haven’t fully developed their brain. But with gaming, what happens is, it’s so stimulating to them that they’ll do it for five hours or eight hours and they love this thing. And think of this, it goes from your frontal cortex, right to the stimulation package, which by the way is the same part where there is the sex stimulation package. And what happens is they think of mud ruts. It’s raining like crazy and you’re driving your car for some reason in mud and you kind of get in a rut and just go down.

And so now it’s creating ruts that your brain is craving almost an addictive process of just gaming. So that doesn’t mean that all gaming is bad, it just simply means that you’ve got to be able to have the contract with that phone. So if you’re going to give your kid a phone, that’s great, that’s fine. But if you’re paying for it, it’s the family phone. So maybe you start out by saying, “This is the family phone, do you need it when you go?” But he or she doesn’t have it at all times. So again, you’re creating that boundary. If they break their phone, or if they lose their phone, don’t pay for the phone. They should pay for the phone. So they may have to go without that. When it comes to texting at school, today, you know there are apps where it’s very easy to just change it where they can’t text at school or they could only text you at school or whatever it might be.

So take care of this. Don’t just give them the supercomputer and think it’s going to be okay. But the idea of contracts is key. Now let me give you a couple of other tips about the idea of boundaries and whatnot. First of all, the computer, the mobile device, it’s not a toy and it’s not a babysitter. And what we tend to sometimes go is, “Hey, they’re doing really good. They’re in their room, they’re on their computer, they’re probably doing fine.” Well look at it, if a boy is in his room for five hours, I’m not saying he’s doing bad stuff, but he’s not doing his homework for five hours unless you have the son of the century who is going to end up going to an Ivy league school or something. So this is where we have to be careful that they don’t become the adolescent babysitters.
When kids are little, we have a little grandson, James, my grandson, and every so often we let him get on my iPad and watch Wheels On the Bus and the kid is like, he’s two, he’s going everywhere, and all of a sudden, Wheels On the Bus. Boom, he’s there. Well, you can do that too much when they’re little but when they’re adolescents don’t make that their babysitter. And I realize they wouldn’t want that to be called babysitter. But again, I think that’s an important one. And as I mentioned also, the web is a resource, it’s not a toy, so teach them the beauty of the web because they’re going to live with the web, how to use the web, but teach them that it is a resource, it’s not just a toy.

Because a lot of adolescents look at this as a toy. So again, you’re the one who’s going to teach them and train them in this. You’ve also, when it comes to boundaries, talk to them about privacy. Have the parent, kid privacy talk. I mean teens, they want as many people, if they had still Facebook or Instagram or any of them, they want as many friends as possible. They don’t know who these people are. I’m not saying everybody is a predator, but I think you have to put some rules in that in terms of the privacy because predators actually do go online and every day in America, every day around the world, not just America, there are stories of predators who somehow got involved with a relationship. And you know, we have a story in our community of a young woman who, at 15, their youth group had president, vice president, whatever.

She was the president of the youth group, very tight into her church, and as she got online and she… Her name, I’m making this name up because I’m not going to say her real name, but her name, she became Lindsay and that’s not her real name, and she had a Gmail account, which was not her regular account. She had a Facebook account that wasn’t her regular account, and she started experimenting, talking with somebody and she said she was 19 and this guy from Texas said he was 19, he was actually 27. Long story short, he flies in, they have their honeymoon rendezvous, they have a sexual encounter and she rides over to the Hampton Inn on a bicycle and they have this moment. And then the next week he flies back, they have it again. And then he breaks up with her online. Well, he was a predator, he was 27 years old.

This is totally illegal, he obviously could be put in jail, and within a couple of weeks she killed herself. Parents didn’t even know she had an account. So I’m not saying that’s the story for everybody, but I’m saying teach them to respect the web. And you do that partly by having some privacy issues. Another thing that’s important when you’re thinking about boundaries is that pornography, I say oftentimes, rules the web. Now, you may not know that because it’s the underbelly of the web. I mean, I’ve never looked at pornography on the web. I know it’s there, and the stories I hear, I know the damage that it takes. But the truth is, is there’s as many pornography, new pornography sites, as business sites being put up there. So once they kind of get tied into that, it can rule the web and change their life.

And so that’s where you want to make sure that you have the right kind of filters. Now with teens, it’s going to be a different filter than with your five-year-old, and a ,different boundary, but make sure that you do have filters, make sure that you do have accountability in place. A number of you have mentioned that you have boys, and I think you’d do the same with girls, but I think today there’s great accountability sites where if they go on a porn site, an email will instantly go to three different people who are their accountability partners. And it helps them, it makes you pause if you’re going to do that. So those are the things that parents can do, as well as just understand, and this is not popular with teenagers, but I think the computer should be in a highly visible place most of the time.

I mean, today wifi… Wifi is awesome. I love wifi, but wifi can also be detrimental to a teen who doesn’t know how to handle some of the stuff that’s being thrown at them. And so when they’re doing homework, when they’re doing this, some of it should probably not be in their bedroom, door closed for hours and hours and hours. And if that is the case when it comes to being in a highly visible place, if you paid for the computer and if you’re involved in that, then you probably have every right, not probably, you have every right to look at the history and just kind of let them know that… You don’t have to be negative about it. You just say, that’s what we do. You can look at the history and my computer at any time, just like I’m going to look at yours. That’s what our family does.
Now, again, if your child is 17 and you come up with, “You know what, you’re going to have to start doing this.” It’s harder. Believe me, they’re not going to go, “Thank you mom and dad, you’re amazing.” They’re going to go, are you kidding me? But back to that, it’s key that we, as early as we can, depending on the ages of our kids, we set up some of those kinds of boundaries. The last thing I would say, and I think this kind of summarizes it, is there are three types of options that you can do with this. One is, is what I’m going to call the un-involved, uninformed. And basically that means that parents have their head in the sand and they just kind of hand over the mobile device, they hand over the computer and they just say run with it. We trained you well when you were young, you’re going to be fine.

That’s one option. I don’t think that’s a very good option. Again, it’s too dangerous, even for the best of kids. I just hear too many stories, accidental stories, of kids getting on porn or whatever, and then it changes their life. Also, we have the over-protective. So people would think maybe I’ll go to over protected. No, I think rigid parenting is oftentimes as bad as the lenient parenting. Rigid parenting equals rebellion and lenient parenting, they don’t have a rudder and so they don’t know where to go. So I think the answer is actually helping them learn to discern. So this takes time and energy. In some ways, what you’re doing is you’re discipling your kids about media and they know more about it than you. But teaching them to learn to discern, helping them to become responsible with media, just like we’ve talked about responsible adults, helping them become responsible with media. When you do that, it’s not a guarantee that your kids are going to be perfect, but it is much more a guarantee that your kids are going to have more of a reverence for this amazing world of media, but it has to have some boundaries.


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In this online course, parenting expert Jim Burns helps you navigate the change and transition to adolescence.

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