What do you think makes a significant difference in how children live their lives? How they live as adults? Do several possibilities come to mind? Good, because there are many things parents can do – and teachers and others, too.

A main source of excellence and a main way we pass our values on to kids is through conversations. By connecting. Listening. Talking. Observing. Questioning. Listening more. It’s both simple and complex.

That’s a main reason I wrote my new book, Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World. We must stay connected and screens can get in the way. Technology can become our focus, rather than each other.

Because movies, television shows, and games are a major influence over our children/teens, we can rely on Plugged In to help us understand and navigate popular entertainment. Plugged In is a Focus on the Family website with consistently informative and valuable reviews and articles. In Chapter 7 of my book, I highly recommend it as a resource to turn to often.

In the March 2nd Plugged In blog, Bob Waliszewski posted answers to some questions he recently asked me. Titled, A Conversation with Teen Screen Expert Dr. Kathy Koch, I hope you’ll benefit from reading our interview here.

Bob Waliszewski: You’re not advocating that Christian parents get rid of all technology in their homes and go back in time to the 1890s. You see the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to technology, especially screen time. Let’s start with the good. What are you most jazzed about?

Kathy Koch: I’m excited that our young people are able to see what’s going on around the world in real time. Sometimes it’s frightening because it’s raw, unedited real-time footage of war and tragedy, but what that can do for kids who are raised in a hopeful environment is instill in them the desire to make a difference. So, I am constantly meeting teenagers who want to improve the world and know how they want to do that.  They’re very aware and I think that’s really exciting.

Waliszewski: So, what concerns you and why?

Koch: Well, today’s technology can cause a disconnect. It’s possible that parents and their teens and even young children are so in tune with their screens that they’re ignoring what’s going on around them. Parents who are using a camera phone to take pictures of an event rather than being fully present at that event; and the emotional connection and the bonding and the conversation that could’ve taken place. Kids who are learning that it’s okay to disrespect the elderly because they’re texting rather than listening to grandpa tell an old story. So, it has to do a lot with the permission to disconnect. The permission tends to give us a reason to ignore what’s going on around us, that concerns me.

I am also concerned about the potential for unhealthy relationships forming where parents are not aware of who their kids are connecting with, and children watching video programming on a handheld device that mom and dad don’t know that they’re watching.

Waliszewski: You’ve expressed concern that teenagers (and I would assume you’d say adults, too, at times) turn to technology to meet their five core needs; security, identity, belonging, purpose and competence. What do you mean by that?

Koch: I believe that God designed us with needs that need to be met through Him. He is our trust, our security and our truth. And our identity found in Him is more important than any other identity. But today’s kids are finding their identity in how many Facebook friends they have. Their identity might be a score that they got on a game or an app. Their belonging is to these false relationships that really aren’t real. Technology can really get in the way. Now it can instill in them a positive—it’s possible through technology that kids have access to the Bible via an app. And it’s possible that they’ll become more spiritually mature; they might listen to some great preachers, for instance. However, I’m also concerned about adults and kids who get a Bible verse a day on an app and think that’s been their quiet time. I think what parents need to be doing is modeling the appropriate use of technology when it comes to spiritual development, so that the core needs are still met in God even if technology is a way of having that happen.

Waliszewski: You say that when you’re speaking and you ask parents how many of them find it hard to get their teens to turn off their cell phones, stop listening to their music or power down any screen they may be watching, that nearly every hand goes up. And when you ask how many of these parents also find it hard to detach from their cell phones, you get a lot of nervous laughter. So, is it really realistic?

Koch: I think it’s very realistic when the family makes a commitment, and I know that from people who have already experienced my teaching on this topic and have implemented the ideas and I get the most amazing feedback. I’m not saying there won’t be some pushback and some doubts. The thing about it, Bob, it’s not just, what do we not want to do, but what do we do instead? So, if we simply say to the kids, turn off all your screens and they sit on the couch like a bump on a log, of course they’re going to be miserable and there’s going to be tension and stress. But, let’s get out a puzzle. Let’s get out a game. Let’s read aloud. Let’s go miniature golfing. Let’s go make snow angels if we live in the winter climate. So, it’s not just what don’t we do. It’s what do we do instead. I think if we think more about the substitution idea we’re going to get more agreeable kids. Not necessarily the first day, but so many kids have said to me, “Dr. Kathy, you were right and I am more content with less screen time.”

Waliszewski: In chapter 7, you talk about a family using Plugged In. Obviously, my favorite chapter and thanks for your kind recommendation. But what is it about Plugged In that impresses you the most?

Koch: I love that you’re using biblical standards when helping parents decide whether or not games, shows, movies are safe and healthy and good and right.  Because the Bible should be the authority. God and His Word ought to be what we are turning toward for making decisions. Although there are other ways that we can maybe get ratings on movies, you’re helping us understand from a biblical standpoint whether or not there’s anything redeemable in the movie. Whether or not that game is something that would be appropriate for kids being raised in a Christian worldview environment to be playing. So, I love the Christian perspective. I think that you guys are extremely fair. I like all the detail where the violence, the sex, the language, the plot development…  It’s very detailed.  You give tons of information that allows parents and even teens who go there to make well informed decisions.

This was originally posted on the Plugged In blog here.