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I am part of a family in which I and my siblings were all raised Christian and our parents took us to church every week. Our parents expected us to behave in church and to try our best to listen attentively to what the preacher had to say about things so we would all grow up right. They did their best to instill in us a sense of respect for God and His teachings and also to not be a source of distraction to our fellow worshippers inside the church.

That was a long time ago and that was before there were smart phones. Now it is not uncommon for me to see teenagers and young adults in my church looking down at their smart phones and even texting at times, and this includes members of my own family. My sister and her family occasionally come to my church and there have been many times over the years that my nieces had their smart phones in church and would sometimes do texting. In contrast, my wife and I have always made our kids leave their smart phones in the car before we went into church.

I have never observed my sister or brother-in-law telling their daughters to shut off their smart phones, or whispering to them to focus on what the preacher was preaching about. From a religious standpoint, I think this is so disrespectful towards both the preacher and God. I also think this must be very distracting for young kids in church when they observe others focusing on their smart phones instead of focusing on the words of the preacher.

My wife and I have so far been very hesitate to bring up this subject with my sister because she has a short-temper and has always gotten very defensive when anyone has criticized her kids about something. In fact, there have been many times over the years in which she got into heated arguments with my parents whenever my parents were critical about her kids behavior, such as whenever her kids used foul language at the dinner table, or whenever they got loud and obnoxious in a nice restaurant for example.

So, I would like to know what would be the best way for me to convey my feelings to my sister that her daughters should not use their smart phones in church?

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  • You can't make the kids wrong and still get results. Maybe you can challenge the girls yourself not to text (dangling a reward) to see "if I can understand the new world of texting and the draw it has." Aug 8, 2023 at 19:32
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    How old are the nieces? If they are old enough and mature enough, you can talk to them directly. If they are too young, though, then the behaviour issues like this should be the parents' responsibility.
    – Brandin
    Aug 14, 2023 at 7:01
  • @Brandin, one is 15 years old and the other one is 12 years old.
    – user57467
    Aug 14, 2023 at 19:33
  • Lots of people use bibles on their phones, and it's possible to look up more information based on what the preacher just said. Using a phone is not necessarily disrespectful. (And texting is like passing notes, which has been going on for a long time.) Jan 18 at 23:16
  • Although I agree with your assessment of paying attention to the pastor, these are not your kids. Mind your own business and let your sister parent her own children. Butting into something that isn't your concern because you have a preference that she clearly does not can only cause conflict within your family. If you sit near them at church and are distracted then sit somewhere else. If your sister asks why you are doing that then take the opportunity and be honest about it.
    – rhoonah
    Apr 10 at 19:41

3 Answers 3

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How do I talk to my short-tempered sister (who has always gotten very defensive when anyone has criticized her kids about something) about her daughters using smart phones in church?

To summarize the question/backgroung and the answer, simple and straight: don't.

From what you said, and the family background, nothing good will come out of this. In some similar situations, anytime I tried, I failed, and only annoyed family members or other people. They got angry and things quickly went south.

What you might try is to talk to the girls. Nicely, no pressure on them. Kindly inform them. Give them a chance to understand how their behaviour has an impact on others. Telling kids (especially not yours) not to do something isn't the best way to act, (m)any parent will tell you. What may work better is to titillate their sense of responsibility and grow awareness of the needs others have, boundaries, respect...and so on. So, more or less, something along the lines of this:

I wanted to talk to you girls, do you mind? A minute of your time please? No offense, but I think that, last time, in church, you bothered some people. You were using your phones, and they noticed. It would be nice if you could turn them down (the phones, not the folks :)) next time. It would be also very nice if you could think about that, it's up to you to decide what you want to do. Thanks.

If it works, good. If it doesn't work, no big deal. You tried.

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Coming in with a bit of a frame challenge answer:

Your sister may not be raising her children to be (as) devout Christians like you. And they aren't your children.

Given that you've stated she has a bit of a short temper I think the first and most important step is to understand where she's coming from and how important her faith is to both her and her children. Maybe she sees going to church as more of a family formality than actual worship, maybe she's teaching her children about Christianity as a lifestyle / set of values more than a religion, or something as simple as just not having had a dialogue with her children about church etiquette. Either way, understanding her viewpoint will help you set the tone for requesting their phones be turned off or left in the car.

In my experience, if you are seeking to change someone else's behaviour its best to come from an angle of "making me feel more comfortable" than trying to chastise and put them immediately on the defensive.

After asking about her faith I'd recommend you explain why her children's behaviour in church matters to you and why you'd like to see a change - making a reasonable request rather than backseat parenting or criticising. Though ultimately if you make the request and she denies it there is little you can do, and I'd recommend showing support of her decision because at the end of the day it is completely her decision.

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    I'm not a Christian at all. But sometimes I find myself inside a church. And inside a church, I behave in a respectful way. That has nothing to do with being a devout Christian, which I'm not, just basic good behaviour.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 11, 2023 at 12:25
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    @gnasher729 I am also not a christian and behave respectuflly in places of worship. But, I have to imagine some people just have not been taught the significance / importance Aug 11, 2023 at 16:42
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    @gnasher729, I agree with you on that. I'm a strong believer that there is a time and a place for everything. For example, there's nothing wrong with two people throwing a football back and forth to one another, but it would be wrong for them to do so while sitting in a NYC Broadway theater during the middle of an opera.
    – user57467
    Aug 11, 2023 at 16:46
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Going to answer differently to the very good answers of don't try/give up/directly confront kids.

Group, public, or 3rd party authority shame. Now it is not nice nor is it politically correct. But it CAN work. Either they all straighten up or stop going to church completely.

Group/public shame is basically getting everyone to talk to them, or about the topic with them as participants. 3rd party authority shame is getting the priest to talk to them about it.

Edit: Since I got a comment about my answer and a like. There is a reason I decided to post this answer and that is because people, especially women, are sensitive to how the people around view them, both close and strangers. People not only care about what others think about them, but also with fitting in or having a place for them in that community.

Now for these girls if their main community is the college anti-patriarchy fem crowd or high school cheerleader-in-crowd, the girls are already lost as that crowd actively demonizes people away from their family, religion, personal responsibility and accountability, with ALL of the attractive treats it has at its disposable(endless fun, partying, pleasure, no-work, no-responsibility, no-tolerance for wrong think, easy money)... and they do this with the exact same tactics I wrote above, group/public shaming.

So yes, if it works one way, it also works the other way... but it is extremely difficult to pull people away from easy vices before it is too late and very easy to push people towards it.

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  • Hi Ranald, welcome to IPS. As it stands, your answer needs a little work to follow IPS guidelines. It lacks some back up, using data or experience. You may also be interested in tips about writing a good answer, that usually helps improving and attracting UV.
    – OldPadawan
    Oct 19, 2023 at 6:53

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