Parents have a wide-range of opinions on what types of technology and how much screen time is appropriate for their children. My goal in this article is not to convince you that “good Christians” don’t let their kids have use a tablet or that your child should not watch TV until they’re 19.
My goal is to encourage you to think carefully about how you want technology to be used in your home and to use smartphones, TVs, tablets, and other devices on purpose. If you allow technology to occupy a part of your family life without carefully setting boundaries, these devices will consume more of your time, energy, and attention than you ever intended.
Technology companies are spending millions to become an ever-increasing presence in your daily life (Amazon’s Alexa for example) and entertainment companies are creating shows that encourage “binge-watching.”
Our smartphone apps, social media, and video games are designed to capture as much of your attention as possible. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many other apps are carefully engineered to be addictive.
No wonder the average millennial checks his or her phone 157 times a day!
What we give our attention to is what we value, and in most homes technology has become king of the mountain. Adults aged 35-49 watch an average of 33 hours of television each week. About half of teenagers say they are addicted to their mobile device, and young children are using electronics about 5 of their waking hours each weekday.
As parents, we must actively make choices about technology for our children. We can’t let our kid’s classmates, the latest trends, or the surrounding culture dictate how much of our family’s attention ought to be devoted to apps, websites, and digital streaming.
As Andy crouch says in his book The Tech-Wise Family, family is about the “forming of persons.” Parents are to be proactive in shaping their children’s hearts, minds, and characters. Technology can either assist us in our efforts or hinder us, depending on how we utilize it.
And it isn’t just Christian thinkers like Crouch who are sounding the alarm about the encroachment of technology into every area of our lives. Justin Rosenstein, the co-creator of Facebook’s Like button warns: “These are our lives. Our precious, finite, mortal lives. And if we’re not vigilant, computers and mobile devices will guide our attention poorly.”
So what are we to do? How can we be vigilant about technology’s increasing prominence in our homes?
Here are three areas to consider:
1. Watch Your Own Use of Technology
Our children have become jealous of the glowing rectangles that we are constantly focused on. They are watching us and are making judgments about what is valuable in this life based on what we devote our attention to.
Furthermore, children will mimic what their parents do and will develop the bad technology habits that we are modeling, such as checking our phones while in conversation, consuming entertainment rather than creating something meaningful, and isolating ourselves from real-world relationships.
- What does my current technology use communicate to those around me, such as my spouse, children, or friends?
- How much of my day is consumed by social media, checking the news, watching videos, etc?
- Do these things help me be a better person, or do they leave me drained, distracted, and distant?
- Does my use of technology free up my time for things that are truly meaningful, or does it consume my time and prevent me from accomplishing the most important things?
Examine yourself first, and be sure that you are living in a way that honors Christ and loves others.
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12).
2. Decide When and How Your Child Should Have Regular Access to a Computer, Tablet, or Smartphone
When to give your child a phone or a tablet is not the decision of the school or a generous relative at Christmas. It is yours. You must think through when it is appropriate for your kid to have regular access to technology.
Consider the following areas:
- Developmental concerns – Studies are showing that regular technology use may “rewire” the brain and affect the way children process information
- Maturity – Can you trust your particular child to obey the rules you set with devices?
- Moderation – How will you limit your child’s time with technology?
- Boundaries – What sort of use will you allow and not allow? How will you monitor their activity? How will you guard their hearts and minds from illicit content?
The average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography is now 9 years old. If your children can access the internet and you have not taken steps to supervise or filter the content they are able to view you are not doing your job as a parent. Beyond that, it is wise to set other boundaries such as time limits and other content filtering.
Protecting our children from harmful content is where technology can also help us. Look into things like Net Nanny or Circle parental controls from Disney.
3. Encourage Creativity Over Consumption
Humans are designed with a wonderful capacity to create wonderful things and to cultivate the world around us.
However, our technology has made us consumers more than we are creators. To ‘play football’ and ‘play music’ now requires the same amount of creative and physical energy on our part: just hit ‘play.’
There is a big difference between playing catch with your child and watching a football game with them. There is a big difference between listening to music and playing it. There is a big difference between watching a movie and telling stories.
An important part of becoming who we are created to be is channeling our energy and efforts in the right direction. If we spend an inordinate amount of time devoted to technology, we are training ourselves and our children to consume rather than to create or cultivate.
Is your home set up to encourage creativity or consumption?
- How can you design your living space to maximize the amount of time you spend actively engaging with one another as a family?
- Do your children ever see you create, or only consume? Let them see you cooking, repairing something, or participating in a game rather than just watching one. Be engaged in the world rather than passively benefiting from others’ engagement.
- Are you encouraging your children to create or consume? Consider the toys and entertainment you give them access to. Do they engage their creativity and help them to grow as a person, or do they require only your child’s passive attention?
I believe that, when used properly, technology is a net good. Like anything else in this life, it can either be harnessed in a way that it helpful to us or it can be misused and become a hinderance. Think carefully about your family’s use of technology and use it on purpose.
Again, the purpose of parenting is forming our children into the people God created them to be.
To that end, here are eight polite suggestions for you to consider:
1. Consider taking a “tech Sabbath” on Sundays. Setting aside one day each week where you avoid the use of phones, TVs, computers, and tablets as much as possible and instead focus on worship, spending time together as a family, and creating rather than consuming.
2. Implement a one-hour period each day where you and your family avoid screen time and instead spend focus on connecting with one another. Your kids may push back at first, but eventually they will value this time together.
3. Consider getting an old-fashioned alarm clock and charging your phone away from your bed stand. We do not need our first and last interaction of the day to be scanning Facebook, checking the news, or catching up on the latest outrage trending on Twitter.
4. Think long and hard before giving any child unsupervised access to the internet.
5. Evaluate how much time you’re currently spending on your phone and commit to not use it at all when you are interacting with another person.
6. Look into internet filtering products for yourself and for your family. The internet is not designed to protect your integrity, nor is it a safe place for your kids to go exploring without boundaries.
7. Set the expectation that you will have full access to every social media platform and messaging application on your child’s phone.
8. Don’t worry about your children being bored. It’s good for kids to be bored. “The less we rely on screens to occupy and entertain our children, the more they become capable of occupying and entertaining themselves” – Andy Crouch.
This is your family. God has entrusted you with your children. Don’t take this responsibility lightly, and don’t underestimate the unique challenge that technology presents for raising your children in the way they should go.