How To Talk To Your Kids About Screens—Where Everybody Wins

I received a call from a dad whose middle school daughter got really upset at him for not allowing her to go to a football game one Friday night. In the exchange, she lashed out, “I hate you.”

How would you respond if this was your daughter?

If we’re really honest, many of us would probably react to the disrespect, not respond to her underlying emotion. This is a critical difference we need to be aware of.

When it comes to having conversations with our kids about their use of technology, we must empathize with them, even when they’re disrespectful. It’s not that we’re condoning disrespectful behavior, it’s that we empathize with the feelings behind it.

Remember, our kids and teens today are digital natives. Their entire lives revolve around technology. If we don’t respect that, they’ll go to someone else who will.

An empathetic father, in the scenario above, instead of reacting to the disrespect, will respond to the negative emotion, “I understand you’re really angry at me. What is it about the football game that matters so much to you?”

I’m glad the father responded in a similar manner. What he came to find out was that his daughter had been rejected by a group of friends. She would see pictures on Facebook and Instagram of her friends getting together without her. She sat alone on the weekends longing to be included. This football game was the first time she had been invited to be a part of the group all school year.

Talking to our kids about their use of technology begins by respecting their desire to be on it. What is her underlying motivation for using Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Kik, etc? Do you really understand why your kids want to be online and are using the apps they are?

Having a conversation with our kids begins by seeking the underlying motivation of their use of technology in the first place.

Remember, in order to be understood, we must first understand.

For our kids to understand why we’re concerned about their time spent on technology and why we want to set limits, they must first feel understood by us.

When our kids feel understood, it lowers their defenses and postures them to understand why it’s important to set limits.

This is the posture from which we want to enter a Family Meeting with our kids and collaborate on writing a Family Media Agreement.

If you’re thinking, “wait a minute. I’m the parent. I own the technology, they will listen to my rules,” I can appreciate that. At the end of the day, this is true.

But if we don’t respect our kids and empathize with them, technology will be the least of our worries as our children age. Our kids need us to pursue their heart. Not doing so provokes them to anger.

Regardless of the age of our children, the conversation needs to be ongoing. Our kids need to know we’re in their corner fighting for them, not with them.

Here are a few more principles to set a Family Media Agreement with your kids/ teens:

1.   Before Family Meetings even begin, make sure you and your spouse function as a team by establishing an e-nup (electronic nuptial agreement), asserting the same limits and consequences without undermining one another.

2.   Hold a Family Meeting with your kids to set limits and discuss consequences for when those limits are not obeyed.

3.   In setting the Family Media Agreement: listen to your kids, value their input and suggestions, invite them into the conversation, and collaborate together on the limits and consequences.

4.   Throughout the next month, continue to have open dialogue with your kids and spouse and evaluate how the limits are affecting your family positively or negatively.

5.   Hold monthly Tech-Checkups to reevaluate limits and consequences as a family.

6.   Be a model for your kids. Evaluate how you are modeling healthy screen-balanced behavior for them. Remember, anything you cannot fast from, owns you.

For more practical strategies on becoming a Screen-Balanced Family, check out the Screen-Balanced Family workbook! 

Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, and president and co-founder of the Connextion Group, a company designed to empower parents and families. Josh speaks and writes on emotionally safe parents and spouses and the influence of technology on today's family. He is the author of the newly released Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well (Waterbrook Multnomah) and along with his wife, Christi, is the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st CenturyHe wakes up each day striving to love others better beginning with his wife, Christi, and their son, Landon, and daughter, Kennedy.

For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century, you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at and follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.