Three Parenting Questions for Adam McLane

This post is part of a series celebrating the release of the new Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. We’re interviewing parents who think and write about faith, family, and ministry.

This week we hear from Adam McLane, an oft-consulted voice on teenagers and social media, partner with the Youth Cartel, popular blogger, and author of A Parents’ Guide to Understanding Social Media.
 

You think quite a bit about technology and how it shapes young people. How do you think about boundaries with technology when it comes to your own kids?


We have some household boundaries which we're quite rigid about. For instance, everyone in the house has to use Internet-connected devices in public spaces of the house. So you can't disappear into your bedroom with your iPad to play games behind closed doors. That also applies to Mom and Dad who both work at home full-time. Practically, that means that we've actually arranged our house so that our office space is really our old living room. In doing that we've made being online, playing games, watching Netflix, and working all a fundamentally social activity. We might all have headphones on, we might all do our own thing, but we're doing it within 15 feet of one another and all of our screens are open. 

That said, we don't have rigid time boundaries. In our house, we consider gaming or watching YouTube or what's commonly called "screen time" a free time activity. So while there are times our older kids have to do chores or get assigned to take their little brother to the park for a while, it's not unusual for our older kids to spend 6-7 hours playing Minecraft in the living room on a Saturday. On a typical school day, we have free time for an hour after school, then homework, dinner, and free time until bed. Many days most of that free time is playing video games. (Or bouncing on the trampoline!)

Is that healthy? I don't know. My parents fretted about my playing endless hours of Madden Football on Sega Genesis and I have still managed just fine as an adult. So while I openly acknowledge that dopamine-triggering games are changing the neurology of our brains, I consider that a societal issue and not something I'm using to manage my children's online behavior.
 

Looking back, what mistakes have you made in handling technology in your family?


Besides allowing them to play Minecraft? I'm kidding. Minecraft is the Commodore 64 of my childhood. Tomorrow's Steve Jobs is playing Minecraft right now. 

When I think about mistakes I think about my own mistakes. My own bad habits have negatively impacted my kids’ view of technology. A few years back I was taking my son, Paul, to a San Diego State football game. While we were on the trolley to the game, I realized I had forgotten my phone in the car. I said, "Paul, I'm super bummed I forgot my phone in the car. Ugh!"

He looked at me and said, "Dad, I'm so glad you didn't bring your phone. Now you can be with me at the game instead of telling all your friends on Facebook you're at the football game with me." Game. Set. Match. He was absolutely right and we've had to be more aware that attention given to our phones is attention not given to them. When we went camping in Yosemite this summer, one of the best things I did was turn off my phone and lock it in the glove box. I didn't need it, but I would have fiddled with it instead of spending countless hours of playing Bananagrams with my kids and their cousins.
 

How has being part of the Youth Cartel impacted your parenting?


Two things strike me as family-related impact of my work with The Youth Cartel. First, I'm traveling 80 or more days per year. That's a lot of days where I'm out of the house with only minimal contact with each of my children. It impacts their schedule, it impacts school routines, and it can make it hard to maintain a relationship on day-to-day things if you let it. Second, that means I'm home 285 days per year. Since both my wife and I work at home, we are with our kids a lot. I love the flexibility working from home affords, and one way I express that is by consciously creating one-on-one experiences with each of my children. 

As I have transitioned from full-time church-based ministry to full-time work-based ministry, one thing that has dramatically impacted my parenting is becoming a "regular family." I don't think I understood the pressures my kids felt about being pastor’s kids until they stopped being pastor’s kids. Sure, they miss going to a building where everyone knows and loves them. But it also frees them up just to be normal. So if we miss a couple of weeks in the summer because we're on family vacation, no one notices and that's really lovely.