(Missionary to Thailand Brandon Lingle has written a parenting book in Thai, and he has graciously agreed to share it in English.)
Technology: Parenting in a digital world
Imagine taking your child to his first football game. You both enter the stadium and hear the loud crowd, see the cheering fans, the bright lights, and your kid is looking around trying to take it all in. As you make your way down the bleachers, your son is thinking, “Wow, we got front row seats!”
But then you do something strange. You take off your son’s shirt, put on a uniform, hand him a football, and say, “Good luck, son!” Some of our sons would probably run onto the field with excitement, oblivious to what they are getting themselves into. Other kids would probably be struck with fear and begin feeling like Isaac did when Abraham told him to lie down on the altar.
Would it be wise for a parent to let a child play football without training? Of course not. That would be the opposite of wise; it would be dangerous and the results would be painful.
In a similar way parents all around the world are letting their children enter the “ring” online. They are handing out devices without first giving proper training and instruction. Or they are letting their children go into the game oblivious about the dangers out there on the web. If we want our kids to do well with devices and online activity we must train them. So grab your gear and let’s enter the game together. We are going to grapple with the topic of parenting in a digital age.
Before we get too far into this chapter I need to say this: I am not anti-technology. I like technology. I’m the guy in the family that everyone calls with their computer and phone problems. I knew when preparing this book that a chapter discussing the challenges of parenting in a digital age would be important, that it would probably be the hardest one to write, and that even after I write it some things in this chapter will be obsolete because technology is changing so quickly.
I really never gave this topic much thought until my children began grabbing our devices and even unlocking them without being taught. We need to get them ready for what they are getting themselves into.
Who Invented the Inventor?
As Christians we believe our Creator created us. The Bible says God made us in his image which means God has created us to have traits and characteristics that are like his own. In this case, he has made us little creators. The innate desire and ability to create was given to us by God.
Could you imagine a pack of dogs popping out new products or inventions? The animal kingdom just doesn’t do that. One of my favorite authors on the subject, Tim Challies, said it this way, “ . . . human beings create because of a God-given ability to be creative. And the practical result of our creative activity is something we call technology.”
Theologians refer to this as the creation mandate found in Genesis 1:28, which says, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Humans have been subduing the earth whether they knew it or not by creating homes, tools, remedies, transportation, factories, and many other things. If we lived in a sinless world we would have no need for much of what we have had to create today (medicines, weapons, locks, etc.). But we live in a world that requires us to develop technology to protect ourselves and others.
One of the best definitions of technology that I have found from a Christian perspective is this: “Technology is the creative activity of using tools to shape God’s creation for practical purposes.” We know the Bible tells us to give glory to God in all that we do and that even means when we are creating things.
Technology is Neutral
Your TV, cellphone, and computer are not evil or good in themselves. What we choose to do with them, good or evil, is up to us and our hearts’ desires. I’ve read that nuclear fission is a technology that has both opportunity and risk. I can be used to operate nuclear power plants that provide energy for an entire city. Or it can be used to create a nuclear bomb to destroy an entire city.
Another example is that the computer I am using right now to type this has the capability to be used for good or evil. It is the same with all the devices we have and use.
There is so much technology out there and so many ways it can be used. Let’s focus in on devices that have internet access since those are what we have in our hands most of the time and what our kids want in theirs.
Kids from an early age become curious and excited about cell phones. How can they not? Our devices can play cartoons and games, take pictures, and play music. Phones can do it all, and I suspect they are doing much more to our families than we think. You don’t have to go very far or look very hard to see how these devices are shaping our families and our time together.
When you’re out in public, have you ever noticed a family chatting, smiling, and occasionally laughing, not at each other but at their phones? We should depart from our devices and give our family undivided attention. Phones should be a tool to bridge the distance when we are away from family and friends, not to build up walls and cause us to miss out on each other’s company.
I know the common question and concern is the appropriate age to give our kids a phone? I think the answer is when do they need it? Phones should be more like a tool than a toy. I got my first phone when I got my first truck and started to drive. The phone was a needed tool because the truck was very old and randomly stopped working. The parents, not the child, should decide when they are ready for a phone.
More Than a Distraction
Paul Graham writes, “Distraction is not a static obstacle that you avoid like you might avoid a rock in the road. Distraction seeks you out.” It’s good that our phones can flash, beep, and vibrate, but if we are not careful, those notifications can distract us. They can interrupt us and cause us to have shallow conversations and thoughts. You may even need to delete an app that distracts you. Think of it from a child’s perspective. How many times does he have to compete with our phones for your attention?
One author suggested that maybe we should take a “digital fast”. Set aside a day when we fast from all digital media. If that sounds really difficult or painful then it is probably much needed. He also suggests taking a “digital vacation”. Maybe next time you go on a vacation take a break from emails, Facebook, and other regular digital media we normally consume.
How many times have you crawled into bed exhausted, opened up your phone, or turned on an episode? And then find yourself looking at the clock and thinking where did the time go? It’s late! Then your mind is thinking about what you saw on social media or about the plot of the movie. Our bodies need and require sleep, and our phones can distract us from that. They also can cause us to waste our time. Attention should be on spending time with our spouses, reading, or praying before bed.
Having our phones by our bed can be harmful in many ways, one being that it’s too easy to access anything at anytime. Depending on your life circumstances, maybe your phones should be kept in another room at night or out of arm’s reach. It is wise to take whatever steps needed to keep distractions and temptations away, especially at night.
If it is causing you to sin get rid of it. Jesus said, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” We need to be very serious about sin.
It’s obvious that social media is impacting our culture, but how is it affecting our hearts.
Tripp Lee said it best: “One of the problems with [social media] is that it distorts everything. This obsession with others’ approval has the potential to poison every thought we have, every decision we make, and every assessment of ourselves. It turns opportunities to glorify God into opportunities to glorify self.”
He then writes his own confession that I think we can all include ourselves in. Tripp says, “Seeking approval from others is one of my biggest struggles, and it always has been . . . My pride struggle isn’t thinking I’m amazing, but wanting everyone around me to think so.”
It’s important we remember we are not living to be praised, but to point praise to the rightful place: God.
There is a great irony going on. On the one hand we want to be seen and liked for our self-image on the internet, and there is another side that wants to surf the web and not be seen. Our challenge is to help our children use these devices for loving and serving others. Not only can our phones distract us from loving and serving, but we can even find the wrong definitions of love on them, or we can even start loving ourselves instead through social media. We must guard ourselves before we can teach and train our children to do the same
Remember, we are talking about these topics, specifically online activity, because we have little ones who will one day be alone in front of a screen with access to all kinds of information, images, and videos. I know a child who went searching online for pictures of women because he first saw his dad doing it. That same boy later found a magazine under his dad’s mattress, too. His dad not only didn’t protect him and teach him about the dangers of that sinful addiction, he lead him to them.
In many cases parents play a role in their children’s addiction to porn because they handed them a device without calculating the risk or putting up barriers. Porn destroys lives. Here are just a few numbers to get an idea:
- The average age of first exposure to internet porn is 11.
- 90% of 8–16 year olds have viewed porn online mostly while doing homework.
- Pornographic websites: 4.2 Million (12% of total websites)
- Daily pornographic search engine requests: 68 Million (25% of total search engine requests)
Technology has made it easy to access porn anywhere, anytime, at any age. Here is another statistic parents should be aware of: An astonishing 62 percent of teenagers say they have received a nude image on their phone, and 40 percent say they have sent one.”
Listen to this warning from a pastor to parents: “Unless your child is wiser than Solomon, stronger than Samson, and more godly than David (all of whom sinned sexually), they are susceptible to sexual sin . . . ”
Teach kids how to fight temptation. Equip them. Let them know God is always ready to be their present help in time of need and you are always there to talk and help them too, because you have probably faced all the temptations they are going to face. Teach them to notice the deception of sexual sin that is so clearly seen in Proverbs 7.
We guard our children from these things because we love them and want them to experience real intimacy and love some day. I think we know this already, but the evidence is coming out and showing that the earlier and more often you use porn the less likely you are able to have real intimacy with your real partner. Let’s go ahead and talk about how to keep the love-killer out of our homes.
7 Steps to Help Parents Introduce New Technology
Remember, we are getting them ready for the ring. Some day they will be alone and we know it’s a fight. Here are seven steps to help us train them:
- Educate: Educate yourself on the new device. Learn what kids can do with it, what they intend to do with it, and what they are actually doing with it.
- Boundaries: Designate what time and days they can have access to these devices. Also put blocks on certain apps, web access, where in the house they can use them, then pay attention to game and movie ratings.
- Mentor: Watch them and mentor them to make sure they are using the device well. Sit down with them as they use their new social media account. Sit with them as they explore the internet.
- Supervise: Don’t let children have unlimited access to internet and the ability to use computers in privacy. A home computer in the living room is ideal.
- Review: Ask your children what they have been doing with their devices and get reports of what they have done.
- Trust: Show them your trust as they grow, and express to them your confidence.
- Model: We must make sure we are modeling the same things we are teaching.
You Shelter Your Kids Too Much
Our son is allergic to peanuts and almonds. So you can bet that we take every measure of caution to keep him away from peanuts; especially since at his age he doesn’t understand that if he eats some his throat will close and he will be unable to breath.
In the same way you can bet we are going to take every measure of caution to keep other things that will cause him harm out of his reach. Technology isn’t harmful or bad, but it can be used as a medium to get to things that are. A friend reminded me that people who watch TV five hours a day will be different than people who read books five hours a day.
Even though technology isn’t harmful or bad in itself, it does shape us.
One author makes an important point about portion control: “Just like with food, we must establish ‘portion controls’ for all media. It is OK to set limits on and say no to unhealthy access to certain technologies, even when your teens protest that “everyone else has it!” But be sure to model it yourself first. If we parents constantly text or surf the web, then why should our kids take our demands seriously? If we aren’t eating healthy, then why should they?”
Some parents say they let their kids play graphic games or watch inappropriate movies to let them see what the “real world” is like. To which I would reply, “The Bible has enough graphic scenes (David slays a giant) and sexual immorality (David commits adultery). Our kids don’t need to see R-rated movies so they can be connected with the “real world”.
Actually those kinds of movies do not help them understand real life because they usually glorify sin and downplay the real consequences of it, while the Bible rightly teaches us that God hates sin, which will destroy us and our families.
Defense vs. Offense
Are we defensive or offensive in our parenting? Authot William Farley challenges our thinking in this way, “Either we can focus on preparing our children to enter the world and conquer it, or we can concentrate on protecting our children from the world.” The Bible says children are like arrows (Psalm 127:4). Not shields. Author Spring Gardner said, “They must not be shielded from the world, but instead taught how vain and empty a thing it is.”
We need to have good offense. How do we conquer and overcome the world? Farley says, “Christians overcome the world by seeing the beauty and excellence of Christ. They overcome the world by seeing something more attractive than the world: Christ.”
Defensive parenting is worried that the gospel is not attractive enough. They might not say it, but by the way they parent they are saying that the world is more powerful than the gospel (Romans 1:16). We must believe the opposite is true. Jesus said, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Technology in Its Proper Place
We must train ourselves and our children to put technology in its proper place. Author Andy Crouch wrote, “Technology is in its proper place when it helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love. It’s out of its proper place when we end up bonding with people at a distance, like celebrities, whom we will never meet. Technology is in its proper place when it starts great conversations. It’s out of its proper place when it prevents us from talking with and listening to one another.”
As a family we love to watch shows about nature and science. It’s always exciting to learn and see things we would not otherwise see. Technology is in its proper place when we use it to cause excitement and awe for the creator of the world, but it’s out of proper place when it keeps us from engaging with the real world with all our senses.
It’s important for us to find a proper place for technology and keep it there. If we don’t, we will miss out on the best parts of family life. May we cultivate a home were family comes first.
Most of us have used technology without really thinking about it, without understanding how it affects our hearts and the family. We must guard not only our families, but our own hearts. We should know our strengths and weaknesses online and get to know our kid’s as well.
There will be gray areas with tech and we as parents will have to decide were to stand and how to lead. Trip Lee gives us some wisdom when we are facing uncertainty: “Here’s the grey rule: embrace things that lead you closer to Jesus, and reject things that lead you away from Jesus . . . ”
Maybe we should turn off phones, TV, and other devices and spend time playing with our kids more. What we do with our time shows what is valuable to us. Don’t show your kids you value a football game, Facebook, or video games more than playing with them.
Technology isn’t bad. I hope you didn’t hear that from me in this chapter. It is good and helpful when used correctly and in moderation. It would be hypocritical of me to bash technology in this book when I wrote this book using technology. May we be wise and discerning as we help our children ease their way into that “online field.” Make sure they don’t go alone or without a helmet, and make sure they don’t go in unprepared and unprotected.
Copyright © 2020 by Brandon Lingle @ https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/file/Intro%20-%20Chapter%201.pdf?token=AWweAHzYHnnqtG2JEAISzHe3UhxcHs-NuTUU4ezmjnOlaskyUYxtwmTJTQmnzd9PB1B4dxu1AkBlaA6niTImhDiBNoDcyjBKL4wqWplEPWnPC0zaKv89YZoCVxEdNYkXFzsn_13oGGWZPyJGqX_W7Z8W3LAZk32Rd8AxCCrO0vHuCg . Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org