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Blog / Connecting with Disconnected Tech-Savvy Teens: An Interview with Dr. Kathy Koch

Connecting with Disconnected Tech-Savvy Teens: An Interview with Dr. Kathy Koch

Dr. Kathy KochAided by the convenience and constant access provided by mobile devices, especially smartphones, 92% of teens report going online daily—including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly,” according to a new study from Pew Research Center.

Technology is a non-negotiable for success in our educational, vocational, and social cultures. Yet, with all the advantages there are inherent dangers, deceptions, and abuses that can contribute to self-centered character, negative behaviors, and beliefs that inhibit spiritual growth.

Click to buy your copy of Screens and Teens in the Bible Gateway StoreBible Gateway interviewed Dr. Kathy Koch (pronounced “Cook”) (@DrKathyKoch) about her book, Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World (Moody Publishers, 2015).

Technology is here to stay. Is that good or bad?

Dr. Koch: Most people would agree we’re blessed to be living in these times. We have numerous digital/smart devices, the Internet and world wide web, social networking, apps/games, and expanded options for television, videos, and radio.

I’m glad technology is here and always evolving because I’m an author and I can’t imagine doing what I do with my old manual typewriter and only library research. People in sales probably greatly appreciate the convenience of their mobile devices. Sites like Bible Gateway make it easier for pastors and teachers to study and provide people in-depth teaching. Asking people what they’re most grateful for can be very interesting.

We, of course, determine if technology is good or bad based on how we use it. What devices? What reasons? When and for how long?

We can stay in touch with missionaries we support and more easily stay connected to people and causes. We can learn from a variety of resources. We can see and hear about crises in other parts of the world in real-time and we can hear great testimonies of God’s faithfulness, too. Today, we don’t have to wonder what to pray about. We are aware of people’s needs and can pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Yet, if we’re not careful, the use of technology can negatively impact character and beliefs. For instance, we might compare and compete more than is appropriate, become self-centered and selfish, and prioritize happiness rather than joy. I tell young people I don’t want them to be unhappy, but having a goal of constant happiness isn’t realistic, wise, or biblical. As a group of teens just told me, we’re called instead to things like service (e.g., 1 Peter 4:10), knowing God (e.g., John 17:3), loving one another (e.g., John 13:34-35), thankfulness (e.g., Colossians 3:15), following Christ (e.g., Matthew 10:38), picking up our cross (e.g., Matthew 16:24), faithfulness (e.g., Galatians 5:22-23), and praising God (e.g., 1 Chronicles 16:25).

How much do our children learn about technology by watching us and how much should we be teaching them?

Dr. Koch: Children of all ages learn a lot about technology and its uses by watching us. They learn when to use it and when not to use it. They learn what it’s good for and not good for. They learn how it helps us and how it can hurt us.

As with anything, hypocrisy won’t work. Are we always on the phone even though we tell children to take a break from theirs? Do we complain when they’re not focused, but we never seem to be either? This is hurtful.

When parents tell me their kids don’t listen to them, regarding technology, there’s almost always a legitimate reason. Sometimes children are responsible, but most times parents have yelled, demeaned or confused their children, contradicted themselves, and more. I often hear, “They’re hypocrites!” Ephesians 6:4 comes to mind: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

When our words and actions don’t seem to match, we must explain and teach. For instance, you might have a “no phone” rule when eating meals, but may need to occasionally leave yours on. For example, maybe you were told a committee meeting for that night may be canceled so you’ll need to know. This is a great opportunity to explain that purpose is relevant to the choices we make. This is also why your son should sometimes be allowed to leave his phone on during a meal. Maybe his soccer coach texted earlier that practice may be called off. Of course, he’ll need to know.

Also, with things like technology, age and maturity matter. It’s totally appropriate to have different policies for you and your children and for children of different ages. Even children the same age may be treated differently when it comes to freedom with technology because one has proved trustworthy and one hasn’t. To many children this all looks unfair. When they complain, calmly explain why the differences exist.

When children are young, we’ll tell them what to do and why. We’ll also be showing them. As children grow and we want them to be more responsible, we must talk about the “why” behind our decisions. We should never assume they’ve discerned our reasons by watching us. Teaching matters and our words are powerful. This will allow them to be wise stewards of technology in the future.

They’re not just learning about technology when observing us, are they?

Dr. Koch: No, they’re also learning about how we view ourselves, them, and others. For instance, if we post more pictures of them on social media than of ourselves, they may conclude they’re at the center of our world and maybe everyone else’s. They might wonder if it’s their job to help us look good to others. I know one mom (there are probably others) who posted pictures of her daughter getting ready for prom and commented, “I can’t wait until she’s home so I can post more pictures” rather than something like “I sure hope she has a great time!”

If we never post about our marriage, but always post about our kids, they might think mom comes before wife, children come before husband, and dad before husband. They shouldn’t.

Do we ever post prayer requests or Scripture? Praises and gratitude due to victories over longstanding battles? Do we share needs of others or indicate we’re aware of tragedies occurring on the other side of the world?

By the way we use technology and treat people, does it look like we or our kids are at the center of our world rather than God? Matthew 6:33 instructs us to “seek the Kingdom of God above all else.” He is not going to rewrite the Bible for these days of digital devices. This will never change.

In what ways can technology add stress to a teenager’s life?

Dr. Koch: When parents tell me they think their teens are stressed because of possible bullying on social media, I comment that it might be true, but there are other things going on that are actually more common.

For instance, our young people can be stressed by the competition that social media creates. Will my post be clever enough? Will my picture get enough likes to convince me I’m popular? (We must raise them to know and believe their value is determined by God and not man. Psalm 139:13-14 come to mind.)

The amount of information available adds to their stress (and ours!). Especially when young people don’t have the thinking skills to sort it all out and discern what’s true, complete, most relevant, and biased, it’s challenging. Because information is easily and constantly available, it can become satisfying. They may never learn how to put information together to arrive at knowledge and wisdom. But, we were created to know wisdom so these are additional reasons stress can exist. In Colossians 2:3, we’re taught that “in Christ is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” We’re taught in James 1:5 to “ask for wisdom,” therefore, it must be good and important.

As I mentioned earlier, technology is teaching teens they can be happy all the time. They can x-out of games they’re losing, change channels quickly when a show bores them, delete friends who disappoint them, buy something newer and faster, and always find something more engaging to keep them happy. This is what they think—but it’s not always possible. Therefore, they’re often disappointed and stressed. Technology and life don’t work the same. Life doesn’t have an undo button.

Teenagers aren’t the only ones stressed. It seems parenting is more challenging because of some of the things you’ve explained here. Are there other reasons technology is making parenting more difficult?

Dr. Koch: I’ll briefly mention two more realities. Teens and children can learn from technology that they are their own authority. Some games make them feel very powerful and in control. Many movies and television shows are absent any authority figures or the ones included are portrayed in very negative light. Teens can learn much from online videos and search engines so they can become very independent. Authority seems unnecessary and ineffective. This might explain why they don’t always listen to us, they complain about our advice, and ultimately reject it.

Second, those raised by and with technology can believe they have a right to choice. Those of us who are older know choice is a privilege. Our devices and many things we use them for have drop-down menus. TV Cable, DVR, Movies on Demand, iTunes, email, games to choose from, websites,…. We’re inundated with choice. Not only do our youth expect to have a choice, but because they prioritize happiness, they are often afraid to choose. For instance, many parents have told me their college-worthy high school graduates didn’t go to college. This is often because they had never been before and didn’t know if they’d like it.

I’ve asked many audiences of parents, pastors, and educators whether their children/teens argue and complain more than they thought they ever would. You can hear them sigh and moan as almost all of them raise their hands. They’re relieved to know that they might be doing an excellent job and still have dissatisfied and argumentative kids because technology is wiring their brains in these ways.

How do you see the Old Testament characters of Nehemiah and Mordecai relating to today’s technological environment?

Dr. Koch: It’s always been essential that parents connect consistently and authentically with their kids. Technology makes it more challenging and more important. If you need a Bible hero to motivate you, think about Mordecai, Esther’s older cousin who raised her when she was orphaned. Even after Esther was chosen for the king’s harem, and he could have gone on to live his own life, he stayed involved in hers (e.g., Esther 2:10-11, 20-23, 4:4-8, 12-17). If he wouldn’t have, God would have needed to find a different way to save the Jewish people. If you read the book of Esther through Mordecai’s eyes rather than Esther’s, you’ll learn much about parenting well during difficult times.

Nehemiah is another profound example of connection. When he saw Israel in exile trying to reconnect with their roots and reunify their hearts by rebuilding their home, he didn’t despair and do nothing. He stayed alert and was involved with his people (e.g., Nehemiah 1:4-6, 2:5ff, 4:6). The environment around him was full of distractions and obstacles. Yet Nehemiah courageously persevered, and the family of God was not just preserved, but strengthened.

“Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families.” Nehemiah 4:14

What do sites and apps like Bible Gateway contribute to the technology culture in general?

Dr. Koch: Bible Gateway and similar resources make it easy for everyone, no matter their knowledge or how much time they have, to know and study Scripture. I use all the time because it’s so convenient to compare Scripture in different translations, see verses in context, and find verses using the search box. I especially know many missionaries in challenging situations who depend upon websites and Christian blogs like this one.

These sites are important because there are so many false and dangerous ideas accessible on the Internet. We want people to accidentally run across this information when surfing the net and we want to purposefully direct people here because we know it’s dependable and true.

Why and how can teenagers be encouraged to use sites and apps like Bible Gateway?

Dr. Koch: Our modeling proper use of websites and apps like Bible Gateway will encourage our teens to use them. We can use the site when preparing to lead a small group, find verses to encourage a relative, and strengthen our personal study. Can you imagine what would happen if we’d use sites and apps with our children to look up cross references and commentaries related to our pastor’s sermons after lunch on Sundays or before bed? This shows our children we value our pastor’s teaching and view him as an authority. It demonstrates we’re curious, teachable, and value God and His Word to lead us.

I believe it’s also important for us to model the use of “good old-fashioned” Bibles. For instance, we might use a paper Bible in church because we don’t want to be tempted by other things we could do on our device during a sermon or Sunday school lesson. We should tell our youth why we do that.

Bio: Kathy Koch, PhD, is the Founder and President of Celebrate Kids, Inc., a Christian ministry based in Fort Worth, Texas. She is an internationally celebrated speaker who has influenced thousands of parents, teachers, and children in over 25 countries through keynote messages, workshops, seminars, assemblies, and other events. She also blogs regularly. Her books include No More Perfect Kids: Love Your Kids For Who They Are, How Am I Smart? A Parent’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences, and Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness: 5 Questions That Will Change Your Life. Dr. Koch earned a PhD in reading and educational psychology from Purdue University. She was a tenured associate professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, a teacher of second graders, a middle school coach, and a school board member prior to becoming a full-time conference and keynote speaker in 1991.

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