Article by Matt Crocker
I don’t need to tell you that technology has become an all-consuming fire in the average person’s life. We are not blind, we see that use of smartphones, social media apps, video games, and TV news have complete control over us. Simply ride the transit system in your city and this will become immediately evident. Modern technology is everywhere, always present in every facet of life. We gobble up new technologies like cheeseburgers and enjoy the distractions that they bring from the daily grind. Many of us even check our smartphones before we say good morning to our spouse. Technology is everywhere, even the marital bed.
With this ever-present reality that pervades the most private parts of our lives, comes a nagging but very real concern. How is this technological society affecting the life of my teenager? As the Director of Youth Ministries at Christ City this is a question that I get asked a lot. Perhaps not in this form exactly, but questions that effectively ask something along these lines. Questions like, “How can I talk to my kids about smartphone use?” or “I found something concerning on my kid’s phone. What are some ways I can help prevent that?” or “What are some tips to limit screen time in my home?” All of these questions work under the same basic premise: I know technology is harming my kid in some way and I need some help. It’s my desire to share some practical wisdom about how to help your kids navigate technology and hopefully provide some semblance of sanity in a technologically mad world.
1. Set up content restrictions
One of the analogies I like to use when talking about how we interact with the online world is that of a warehouse. Imagine a warehouse with many rooms. Above each room is a label that tells you exactly what to expect behind each door. Above one you read “soccer,” another “encyclopedias,” and another “pornography.” If you as a parent had the opportunity to go into the warehouse before your child and put locks on all the doors that had labels you did not want them to enter, would you not take that opportunity? I think most of us would. Think about your child’s interaction with the internet in a similar way. The internet is a giant storage facility with many rooms that people can enter virtually by simply tapping a button. Lock the doors of the rooms you don’t want your kids to enter.
This can usually be accomplished fairly easily. On iPhones, the screen time feature allows a user to set up content restrictions, which effectively places a lock on the doors to particularly explicit websites. You can even enter specific sites that you desire to be blocked so that your kid can’t access them. To learn how to do this you can follow this link.Preventing your children from being able to access certain online content is no different from preventing them from accessing things they are not mature enough for in the real world. Treating our online spaces in the same way we treat physical spaces helps give us perspective on why it is important to prevent our kids from accessing certain things.
2. Talk with your Kids
Technology changes quickly. Apps come and go so fast that it can be hard to keep up with all the different media forms popular at the time. This makes young people who have been raised in this digital paradise extremely adept at keeping up with the ever-changing technological landscape. To think that we as parents can keep up with the latest apps, websites, and other technological advances is naïve. So, how do we navigate these things with our kids? How do we stay on top of what they are interacting with and know how to respond to it? I think a good place to start is by fostering honest and open conversation in the home about technology.
If we are having conversations with our kids about what they are doing with their phones, asking them—with genuine interest—about the apps they are using, and talking with them about how they use these things then it’s not about keeping up. Instead, the honest and open dialogue helps you stay informed and gives you the opportunity to talk about the appropriate way to use these things. It opens up a discipleship opportunity that perhaps wasn’t there before. It allows you as a parent to talk about using technology in a God-honouring way. It gives you an opening to counter-catechize your kids as they are inundated with various worldviews on social media. Talking with our kids about social media, technology, and showing a genuine interest in how they use these things can be a wonderful opportunity for teaching your kids about applying God’s word to the online sphere.
3. De-digitize your life
It is sometimes easy for people to notice something in others without recognizing their own propensity to do that very thing. This is especially prevalent when it comes to technology. There are many voices today saying that we need to use technology less. To commit to less screen time. However, it is one thing to talk about committing to less screen time, it is another to actually do it. Take me as an example. I am not really into social media. I have deleted both Instagram and Facebook and I am thoroughly glad I did. These social media platforms were proving to be more harmful than beneficial in my life and it was time for them to go. Yet, even though I was hoping this would limit my screen time, it didn’t. YouTube prevented me from doing that. My point is simply this; if we want to help our kids use technology appropriately then we need to use technology appropriately. We can’t be upset when young people are on their phones all the time, when we are on our phones all the time. So de-digitize your life.
A good resource with practical tips on how to do that is Andy Crouch’s book The Techwise Family. I would highly recommend picking up this resource. Something I have decided to do is simply to put my phone away at a certain time each day. This gives me at least a few hours of phone-free time each day where I am fully present in whatever activity it is that I am doing. This is just one example of many possible ways that you can start to de-digitize your life. By committing to less technology, you are saying something about its value to the watching world, including your household. If you think time spent in various apps and surfing the web is more important than reading a good book or enjoying a meal with your family, then by all means don’t de-digitize. But if you think tech-free time is important then start with yourself and de-digitize your life.
These three things, I think, will help you navigate technology with your family. Yet, none of what I’m saying should make you think you can perfect the technology use in your home. The reality is that we are seriously broken people, with seriously addictive hearts, that will always be tempted towards bright, shiny objects. We will always be tempted to procrastinate, waste time, or find solace at the bottom of an endless Instagram feed. We will always be tempted by the suggested videos that YouTube’s algorithm perfectly tailors to draw us in. We will never perfectly de-digitize our lives. We will never perfectly understand how to parent our kids through technology use. But we don’t need to. We simply need to be faithful with the tasks before us and where we fail, we cling to Jesus Christ, whose perfect righteousness has become ours through faith. So cling to him and trust him as you work to live and parent in this technologically mad world.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1