Help Your Children Use Tech Wisely and Limit the Dangers
By Clayton Hentzel
Technology is complicated. No, I’m not referring to the challenges of remembering passwords or helping your parents log on to Netflix. Rather, I’m stating that technology is evolving faster than we can process. And, like most parents, I get frustrated at how much of my kids’ lives are consumed by glowing rectangles.
As parents and leaders, we grew accustomed to having multiple conversations about technology over an extended period because advances came at us slowly and in stages. During my growing-up years, a technological advancement was getting a long phone cord that could reach all the way down the hall. Over time, there was call waiting (for some of us), maybe even a separate phone line. Each of those moves involved separate family conversations.
Then there were TV-related and gaming console conversations. “Can I have a TV in my room?” “When are we going to get cable?” “Will we have access to all the shows and content?” “Can we get Super Nintendo? . . . Sega Genesis? . . . Sony PlayStation? . . . N64?” Of course, we also asked about the hand-held Game Boy.
Then there were conversations about computers and eventually the internet. Parents didn’t have to worry about you sneaking onto the internet because the dial-up sound was so awful. (If you know, you know.)
These days, however, when we hand our kids a smartphone, we give them all these things and more. Our kids now hold in their hands a phone, a messaging device, the internet, email, cable, camera, VCR, gaming device, etc.
There was a time when kids were isolated from the craziness we saw coming from the East and West Coasts. (I live in the Midwest.) It was easier to protect the purity of children because many impure things were out of reach. The impure things were in the back of a video rental store or behind the register at the gas station. Now they are readily available online or sent directly to their phone.
Still, I will admit, these glowing rectangles improve our lives on many fronts. In a single evening, we can learn much about any area of life we wish. Deep-dive research is no longer limited to libraries or your grandparents’ Encyclopedia Britannica. Our ability to connect with those far away has never been easier. Receiving text messages from the hospital during my dad’s recent heart surgery, and my sweet FaceTime call with him while he was in recovery, were precious gifts from Silicon Valley.
Like I said, technology is complicated.
Jesus offered a perfect illustration of what it is like trying to lead through change when he told John’s disciples,
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matthew 9:16-17).
In other words, the new patch of technology will not work if we try to use our mom and dad’s parenting style. The newness of technology will burst old parenting techniques. Too much has changed and too much is at stake. We need new methods.
Our desires as parents may be the same, and our principles may be the same, but our methods and approach must be drastically different and kingdom focused.
Here are three places to start.
DO A HEART CHECK
God gives us clear instruction how we are to live and how we are to parent our kids. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).
We must commit ourselves to guarding our hearts and the hearts of our kids. There is too much at stake. I hear parents regularly talk about their frustrations with social media. There is plenty to frustrate us.
A simple Google search reveals the brutal statistics on the links between social media and depression, anxiety, and self-harm. Since the introduction of smartphones, there has been a 65 percent increase in the suicide rate among 8th– to 12th-grade girls. A survey of 1,500 teens and young adults by UK’s Royal Society for Public Health found that Instagram and other social networks are associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Kids with smartphones are sleeping one hour less at night than their peers who do not go to bed with their phones. Almost two-thirds of teenagers (62 percent) say they have received a nude image on their phone, and 40 percent say they have sent one.
Furthermore, smartphone and computer users are targeted by algorithms designed to keep our attention and keep us online. An algorithm notices how long you pause on certain pictures, videos, and posts. Even if you don’t click on it, it notices how long you linger. Then it sends you similar content.
A pastor recently lamented on Twitter that his TikTok feed was nothing but an endless stream of indecently dressed women dancing, and he told his followers to watch out for this evil. He received lots of praise and agreement from his followers until someone pointed out to him that TikTok is an algorithm. The reason his feed was full of these videos was because that was what he was watching . . . or at least lingering on.
This algorithm impresses upon us that the whole world is doing the same thing, because that is all we end up seeing. That is why people get caught up in conspiracy theories or continually get more and more convinced of their position on issues. It is why your kids can find themselves pressured to experiment sexually and with drugs. It is a reason kids ended up eating Tide pods.
TAKE A TIME CHECK
Paul warned us, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
Another reason glowing rectangles are complicated is because they are a time trap. Algorithms are designed to do that—keep you online.
Time is one of the most important factors in your child’s development. I heard these six statements about time many years ago, and I have never forgotten them (though I have forgotten the person whom I should credit). They hit me hard.
Time over Time Is History. If you lose time with your child, you won’t have the history necessary to be a consultant in their future.
Love over Time Is Worth. If you lose time with your child, your child will not have a true sense of their worth. They will not see themselves through your eyes or through God’s eyes. Love is most powerful over the long haul, not in grandiose moments.
The Use of Words over Time Is Direction. If you lose time with your child, you will not be able to guide them when you are no longer in control.
The Telling of Stories over Time Is Perspective. If you lose time with your child, you lose the ability to help them see the bigger picture. They will see your words as controlling instead of as wise counsel.
Tribe over Time Is Belonging. The longer your child spends within your circle of influence, the greater sense of belonging they will have. They will spend more time trying to impress you instead of trying to impress unnamed faceless people online. Children who have a strong sense of belonging with their parents will not spend so much time trying to fit in with people who are not so interested in their well-being.
Fun over Time Is Connection. If you don’t have time for your kids, you will not have fun with them—and “fun” is the language of kids. If you do not have fun with your kids, you will not have a deep and meaningful connection with them. You must make time for memories. Lots and lots of planned and spontaneous memories.
PERFORM A GUT CHECK
Glowing rectangles are the major complicating factor for individuals as they seek to carve out their identity in the age of social media. Everyone thinks everyone else is the problem. “Other people” are posting stupid things. “Other people” are online too much. It’s time for a gut check.
As you read this, were you thinking about how you are impacted by social media and technology, or were you thinking about your spouse and kids? Every parent I talk to wants their kids to put down their phones and go outside and have fun. Well, take a wild guess what kids want their parents to do. They want them to put down their phone, close their iPad, shut down their computer, and go outside with them. Everyone thinks everyone else is the problem.
Maybe it is time for us to identify our role in the chaos. Are we online so much that our time in the Word and in prayer are diminished? Do we waste valuable hours that we could invest in our health or in the development of others because we are drawn into a night of endless watching, scrolling, and posting? Do we stay up later, have less time for sleep, get more tired, and expend less grace to those who need and deserve our very best?
My family has started having technology-free nights. We shut off technology from 6 to 8 a couple nights a month. We cook a meal, sit around the table, laugh, and play board games. We walk with the dog I hate and wrestle on the floor. Do you know what my kids keep asking for? “Can we have another no-technology night?” Try it a couple of times and see if you come to the same conclusion. Even if you don’t, I’m guessing you won’t regret it.
Clayton Hentzel serves as lead pastor at The Crossing, a multisite church with 11 campuses in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.