Do Your Kids Feel Stuck?

Do Your Kids Feel Stuck?

Do Your Kids Feel Stuck?


Kids giving up. Kids not asking for help. They’re asking for help when they should know what to do on their own. Sound familiar? These are common frustrations.

As I write about in Screens and Teens, helplessness can be an effect of digital devices. Kids of all ages believe things should be easy, learning shouldn’t take any effort, and winning should be guaranteed. Of course, none of this is true!

Many parents and teachers tell me that kids are hurrying through their work, not concerned with excellence. They skip things they can’t easily do on their own. This is true of academic pursuits, musical practices, and handling chores around the house.

When children aren’t sure what to do, many aren’t asking for help. Perhaps they can’t admit they need it because “everything should be easy.” They might not even know what kind of help they need. When that’s the case, asking for help is nearly impossible.

Some children get easily scared of something that looks new and hard and ask for help before making honest attempts on their own.

I feel for these children and for you because this isn’t healthy, but it is stressful. The next time you see kids behaving in one of these ways, maybe you can use the example of an escalator to open up communication.

Remind your kids of escalators they’ve seen in movie theaters, shopping malls, and museums. Ask them to picture two people on an escalator when it unexpectantly stops. They realize it’s broken and they feel stuck. They wait quite a while, just looking around. Then they begin to shout,

“Somebody help us!!”

“Help us! The escalator isn’t moving!”

“We’re not moving! Somebody get help!”

Hopefully your kids will see how silly that is. Perhaps you’ll all have a good laugh. Then talk about what they could have done instead. “Walk up the stairs created by the escalator, of course.”

Exactly. Take a step. Get moving. Do for yourself what you can do.

Helpful Guidelines for Kids With Screens

When is the last time you highlighted an article so much that the whole thing was yellow when you were finished? For me, it was just yesterday. I read the new report on “Media and Young Minds” from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Like many people, I am very concerned about the number of young children I see using old phones and iPads of various sizes. Even if the game being played is developmentally age-appropriate, it still grieves me. These children are with adults who could be interacting with them. They could be learning from others and bonding with people. They’re being allowed to be self-absorbed and self-centered.

For example, on Friday, a young boy was walking in a crowded airport while playing a game on a mini iPad. If I wouldn’t have moved, he would have walked right into me. The adults with him seemed oblivious. Or, they were aware, but weren’t concerned. Or, they were aware, but gave up trying to change his behavior.

I grieve for the adults, too. They seem to be choosing something easy – children who entertain themselves – rather than something better – interacting with children. Adults are missing out on the bonding, too.

Perhaps you read my book Screens and Teens and are aware of the five big lies technology use is teaching our young people. Partly because of these lies, the longer we wait before exposing children to technology, the better.

But there are many reasons to delay and avoid technology use altogether. And, when using it, there are important guidelines to follow. Very important!

Allow me to highlight a few conclusions from the report. For example, you’ll read about the value of interacting with kids while they’re using technology. Maybe the finding that children’s obedience improves when parents decrease their own technology use will appeal to you. Or, how about the dangers of always using technology to soothe children? The statements about this common occurrence are among the most important, in my opinion.

I pray the following will be thought-provoking. I pray you’ll consider making changes if they seem appropriate. Please share this post with those in your circle of influence you may be concerned about. For those who want to read the entire policy statement, it is available here.

  • “Children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional skills. Because of their immature symbolic, memory, and attentional skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with caregivers, and they have difficulty transferring that knowledge to their 3-dimensional experience. The chief factor that facilitates toddlers’ learning from commercial media (starting around 15 months of age) is parents watching with them and reteaching the content.”
  • “It is important to emphasize to parents that the higher-order thinking skills and executive functions essential for school success, such as task persistence, impulse control, emotion regulation, and creative, flexible thinking, are best taught through unstructured and social (not digital) play, as well as responsive parent–child interactions.”
  • “Heavy parent use of mobile devices is associated with fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions between parents and children and may be associated with more parent-child conflict. Because parent media use is a strong predictor of child media habits, reducing parental media use and enhancing parent–child interactions may be an important area of behavior change.”
  • “For parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media, advise that they choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together with children, because this is how toddlers learn best. Letting children use media by themselves should be avoided.”
  • “In children older than 2 years, limit media to 1 hour or less per day of high-quality programming. Recommend shared use between parent and child to promote enhanced learning, greater interaction, and limit setting.
  • “Avoid digital media use (except video-chatting) in children younger than 18 to 24 months.”
  • “For children ages 18 to 24 months of age, if you want to introduce digital media, choose high-quality programming and use media together with your child. Avoid solo media use in this age group.”
  • “For children 2 to 5 years of age, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming, coview with your children, help children understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.”
  • “Avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Although there are intermittent times (eg, medical procedures, airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy, there is concern that using media as strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation.”

Your thoughts? Maybe go back and skim these points and choose some to think more about. Or, read the short report to see what else the authors recommend. What might you want to implement? What will you do? And, what have you been doing well regarding technology? Feel good about it!

You’re Bored? Good! (Guest Post by Jerusha & Jeramy Clark)

Today I’m excited for you because you’re going to understand more about your preteens and teens when you read this guest blog post from Jerusha Clark and her husband, Jeramy. I met Jerusha when we spoke together at a convention and I instantly loved her and definitely have come to respect her as I got to know her work. I wrote a bit about the adolescent brain in my book, Screens and Teens. Their book is brilliant. They clearly write about very important applications of significant brain research in ways you can understand. As they say, understanding some of this will make you a better parent. Yes, it’s true! Read this and then share it with your friends. You’ll want to!

You’re Bored?  Good! by Jerusha & Jeramy Clark

It’s late-July and the novelty of summer has probably worn off for students who, seemingly moments ago, couldn’t wait to shout, “School’s out for summer!”  Now a different refrain resounds throughout homes from the Florida shores to the misty peaks of Washington State.  Tweens and teens everywhere have been groaning, “I’m soooo bored.”

We’ve worked with adolescents for over two decades.  We’re raising two teenagers of our own. Still, this “I’m bored” issue is difficult for us to understand.  Perhaps it’s because neither of us has been bored since roughly 1990.  Maybe it’s because we’d like for our teens to actually use the sports equipment, art supplies, books and “toys” we’ve bought them.  Perhaps it’s because boredom seems lazy and selfish to hardworking parents who battle overflowing email inboxes and file folders, laundry and dishes.

“You’re bored,” many parents want to respond, “Great!  I’ve got work for you to do.”

If you’ve ever felt this way, we absolutely understand.  We’d also like to share with you some astounding scientific research that’s helped us reframe our thoughts.  Understanding what’s going on in your teenager’s brain doesn’t excuse bad behavior sparked by boredom, but it can certainly give us greater compassion and equip us with keener discernment.

Start by picturing your tween or teen’s brain like a massive construction zone.

No, really; this is how neuroscientists describe it.

At approximately 11 for girls and 12½ for boys, a dramatic neural shift takes place; the adolescent brain transitions away from the explosive growth characteristic of childhood and toward the dual processes of neural pruning and myelination.  Very long story short: your teen’s brain trims unused neural pathways and strengthens those that remain. This means what your tween or teen does on a daily basis literally changes his or her brain.  It’s absolutely wild to consider…an adolescent’s choices shape the brain he or she will enjoy throughout life. And this brain renovation lasts more than a decade, so keep your hard hats handy, parents!

How does this apply to adolescent boredom? Should we enroll teens or tweens in a zillion summer activities to ensure that their neural pathways stay open and healthy rather than being trimmed away?  Gasp!  Do we have to become our kids’ cruise director, providing them with constant excursions, educational or entertainment options?

By no means!  (Huge sigh of relief there, right?)

Instead, we need to approach boredom in new ways.  Here are some essential things to remember and put into practice when your tween or teen laments, “I’m sooo bored.”

  1. Your teen’s changing brain is super-sensitive to novelty. Your adolescent craves new and exciting opportunities because novelty brings particular pleasure to tween and teen brains (much more so, neuroscientists discovered, than either young children or adults!). Parents: this is not a bad thing! If your adolescent never wanted to try anything new, he or she wouldn’t pursue a career, start a family, or move out (ponder that for a scary moment). God created tweens and teens to push forward, to be movers and shakers and even world-changers, precisely so that they can eventually launch into adulthood with confidence and joy.  Trust us; you want and even need this!  And—try as you might—you cannot hold back the veritable tidal wave of novelty-seeking in your teen or tween’s brain.  You can only help channel it in healthy ways.  To do that…
  2. Fuel the fire of curiosity. Some parents we talk to think their tween or teen isn’t curious about anything.  Adolescents just mindlessly “click” or “like” or “post,” parents think; they don’t really want to know anything.  My friends, this just ain’t true.  Teenagers actually have high levels of curiosity.  Adults often don’t appreciate or feel excited about what they’re interested in, however.  Your tween or teen may be curious about coding or gardening or baking elaborate cakes.  Are you willing to invest the time (and possibly some resources) in fueling the fire of curiosity?  The dividends this yields can be tremendous.
  3. Don’t assume this is forever. If you tween or teen is curious about something for a season and then decides it’s just “not for me,” don’t despair.  This is a good time for your adolescent to “try on” different interests. Your tween or teen should learn to uphold his or her commitments, but if they do so (say for a season) and then decide they don’t want to continue, allow their developing brain to stretch in new ways.
  4. Embrace the spiritual reality behind this. God commands us five times in the book of Psalms to sing a “new song” to him.  He populates the world with a one-of-a-kind design in every single birth.  In other words, God isn’t afraid of novelty.  In fact, he loves both the traditional and the innovative.  Your tween or teens’ boredom is a gift from God in that it compels them to do something differently.  Don’t “solve” your kids’ boredom issue; instead, let it propel them into finding more of who God created them to be.  When our kids were toddlers, we gave them choices and structured their time; that season is mostly past by the time a kid reaches adolescence.  In the second decade of life, tweens and teens need to feel bored and parents need to let them feel it.  We have to trust that God will use that boredom as part of His grand design.  And we can thank Him when we see the great things He does in our kids.

For lots more on adolescent brain development, how understanding the physiological changes in your tween and teen can make you a better parent, plus spiritual truth that undergirds it all, check out the resources available at

Your Teenager is Not Crazy: Understanding Your Teen’s Brain Can Make You a Better Parent is available online and at local retail stores from Baker Books.          

7-20-16 JeramyClarkDr. Jeramy Clark received his Masters of Divinity and Doctorate of Ministry from Talbot Theological Seminary.  He served as a youth pastor for 17 years before becoming the Pastor of Discipleship at Emmanuel Faith Community Church.  His role includes overseeing Men’s and Women’s Ministries, Care and Counseling, and Small Groups.  Jeramy roasts, brews, and savors coffee of all varieties, plays pickup basketball, is a drummer, and enjoys surfing.

7-20-16 JerushaClarkJerusha Clark co-authored four books with Jeramy, including three bestsellers, prior to launching her own writing and speaking ministry, focused on helping others glorify and enjoy God, one thought at a time.  On quiet days, you can find Jerusha body-boarding, reading, or singing around a bonfire at the beach, her absolute favorite place.  Jeramy and Jerusha have two amazing teenage daughters and love ministering together at churches, retreats, schools, and conferences.

Today’s Christian Woman Interviews Dr. Kathy About “Screens and Teens”

"Your Family: Unplugged"

Have you read Screens and Teens and you wish family and friends would read it, but they say they don’t have the time? Or, maybe you haven’t made the time yet to read the book yourself and you’d love something short so you can figure out what all the fuss is about. Here’s an article for you by Maria Cowell with Today’s Christian Woman titled “Your Family: Unplugged.” From the article:

… The effects of all that screen time are still being studied with some experts wondering if internet addiction and social media addiction are real conditions akin to gambling, alcohol, or pornography addictions. The American Psychiatric Association affirms that similar to other addictions, inordinate screen time does change brain chemistry—chiefly, in the release of dopamine. In May 2013, the APA added “internet use disorder” to their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders. Other problems that are now being linked to excessive screen time in young people include loss of social skills, impaired cognitive functioning and sleep disruption, escalating exposure to cyberbullying, and depression.

None of this surprises parenting expert Dr. Kathy Koch, founder and president of Celebrate Kids, who has been studying the effects of technology on this generation of digital natives. Her newest book, Screens and Teens, takes a look at some of the lies screen time technology creates and how parents can help their children recognize the truth and find a healthy balance. Koch identifies several lies perpetuated by screen time technology, including I am the center of my own universe; I deserve to be happy all the time; and information is all I need so I don’t need teachers.

Maria Cowell interviewed me and Arlene Pellicane, the author of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Children in a Screen-Driven World (co-authored with Gary Chapman) and the article is worth reading in its entirety. These opportunities always make me a bit nervous, but Maria did an excellent job. I truly think you’ll find it helpful and thought provoking and so will your friends. Please share it.

“Boredom” As A Benefit

Don't be afraid of boredom...

How was your weekend? If you attended July 4th celebrations and spent time with family and friends, I hope you had great times. Perhaps you heard fewer declarations of “I’m booorrreeeddd!!!

You and your kids learned they can find ways to stay busy. But, now it’s the beginning of another summer week.

I fully recognize that bored children can complain and be difficult. To avoid boredom they may want to use a handheld device every waking minute – or that’s what it feels like. This can cause us to complain. Neither constant technology or our complaints are ideal responses to the reality that each day in the summer has 24 hours.

Boredom can actually benefit children. Have you planned and plotted to try to avoid it at all cost? Don’t. We can’t fill every waking moment with something entertaining. We shouldn’t try. It’s not what they need even if they think they do.

We also shouldn’t try to engage them during every minute even though engagement is what they need.

  • They must learn on their own to find things that engage them.
  • They must learn to benefit from quiet and having “nothing to do.” In reality, in those times when they feel like nothing is happening, much can happen.

Boredom cultivates reflection and generates ideas. If our children don’t run from boredom, but embrace it instead, reflecting on their thoughts can prove very beneficial. They might arrive at new conclusions. They might formulate their own opinions and be able to explain and defend them. Confidence in what they believe can increase. All of this is good.

Boredom develops curiosity and increases creativity. During quiet and moments when there’s nothing to do, children left alone will can explore thoughts and things. They can investigate things and ideas they’re already familiar with ideas and things that are new. They can try doing familiar things in new ways. All of this means they may discover new talents. All because they’re bored.

Boredom inspires vision. New thoughts, deeper thoughts, and new ideas can result in new vision – for today, tomorrow, and the future beyond that. This can be very good. Boredom can be very good.

Don’t be afraid of it.

Joy Abounds At Tech Free Church Camp

More Kids Enjoy Being Offline Than You Might Think

On Monday night at camp, three-fourths of the students raised their hands. Interesting! I believe even more would have raised their hands on Thursday if they would have been asked the same question.

930 middle school and high school students from one church spent last week at camp together. They were without phones or other handheld devices. I was so glad to be there to speak.

Mud pit. Unique slides and other activities in the lake. Mountain biking. Crate stacking. Zip line. Rappelling. Riflery. Slip ‘n Slide. Archery. Orienteering. Hiking. Super swing. So much more.

The Selfishness of Digital Life ‘On Demand’

Today, we’re posting an article I wrote for Christianity Today’s website called Her.meneutics. I’m very encouraged by how people are responding to the ideas presented in Screens and Teens. Have you invested in yourself and kids you know by reading it yet? How about starting with these ideas?

Please consider reading this with teens and young adults and letting the ideas stimulate a discussion.

The Selfishness of Digital Life ‘On Demand’
By Dr. Kathy Koch for Christianity Today – Her.meneutics
March 2015

The use of technology can cause any of us to become self-centered. It’s so focused on the consumer! If you trawl online one afternoon for a certain kind of T-shirt or new boots, advertisers for T-shirts and boots will appear on your Facebook news feed for weeks. When you buy a book on or borrow one via a library app, book suggestions will appear, tailored just for you based on your buying preferences and books that other people bought who also purchased the book you did. That computer seems to know you and be conforming to your particular needs! The computer reinforces the untruth: It’s all about me!

Dr. Kathy’s Discussion With FOTF’s “Plugged In” Blog

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.

The Culture Of Easy

Do you know children and/or young adults who want to be happy all the time? You probably do, even if they’ve never said that’s what they want.

Is complaining common? Criticizing normal? Do they make decisions and choices related to personal happiness rather than values you thought they prioritized?

The lie, “I deserve to be happy all the time” is one of five I unpack in my new book, Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World. I propose there are nine cultures contributing to their belief that happiness is essential and possible.

It’s not their fault they over-value happiness. Technology has wired their brains for it. I’d be like them if I was their age. So would you.

The culture of easy concerns me. It’s not that I want things to be hard constantly, but when they are, our young people don’t know what to do. Many quit. Some over-depend on others. Some whine. They depend too much on everything being easy.

Needing things to be easy can mean our teens don’t learn how to persevere. They may plateau and not grow because new things scare them. Without learning how to persevere, they may not develop character or hope.

To increase the likelihood that our kids will persevere when something isn’t instantly easy, we can:

  • make sure to evaluate our attitude toward difficulties,
  • not rescue them from all hard experiences,
  • teach them, don’t tell them, how to be successful,
  • encourage them through the process rather than waiting to acknowledge them only when they’re finished,
  • talk about, model, and teach what it means at a very practical level to depend on God for strength and wisdom, and
  • help them understand the rewards of hard work.

Did anything here cause you to think of a time in your life when you didn’t handle it well when something was challenging? Share that with your children. Invite them to share a time in their lives when they didn’t react well to a challenge. Commit together to improve attitudes and actions.

Our “Values” Matter

What do you consistently do? What decisions do you consistently make? What routines have you established? What choices have become the norm? What’s the same for you yesterday, today, and tomorrow?

Whether you’ve thought about it or not, these consistencies are due to your values. They drive our choices and decisions.

Keep thinking . . .

If we want our children to make the same choices and decisions we might make in similar circumstances, they need to know our values. Since adults aren’t always aware of what’s driving their choices, we sure can’t assume our children know why we do what we do.

Our values matter.