SIX YEARS AGO MY CELL PHONE only made voice calls. My latest phone is my computer, camera, calculator, diary, Bible, lesson quarterly, library, shopping assistant, bank manager, entertainment system, map, and so much more. My smartphone helps me organize my complex diary and stay in touch with my husband when plans change. We can chat by Skype when I’m traveling, see our grandchildren, and watch inspiring sermons and videos. We’ve even experienced our own personal marriage seminar through www.toucantogether.com.
But there is no doubt that our intensive use of technology, apps, games, and social media also carries incredible risks. Preschoolers are accidentally accessing pornography. Dangerous strangers are grooming our children. Teenagers are depressed and anxious because of the intense peer pressure exerted by social media, cyber-bullying, shaming, and sexting. The Internet is babysitting our children, and it has absolutely no interest in their well-being.
INTO THE UNKNOWN
Our pocket-sized devices have the power to take over our lives, create addictions, feed anxieties, destroy our innocence, drain our joy, and distract us from our relationships with God and each other. We don’t have the wisdom of previous generations to help us navigate the ever-changing terrain of these incredibly helpful, yet highly dangerous, gadgets. It’s hard to stay ahead of our children so we can guide and protect them because they’re already running down the road ahead of us, exploring new possibilities beyond our imagination. We’re living inside a
huge social experiment with technology. And, by the time the scientists understand the complex consequences for our minds, health,
relationships, and spiritual development, it will be too late to reverse the potentially catastrophic damage.
We need to be wisely informed so we can protect ourselves and those we love from the invisible dangers that are tumbling out of the
“Pandora’s box” of hand-held technology. Start by reflecting on the effect that Internet/screen use is already having on your home, and discuss your ideas and concerns together.
• How many hours does each person spend on their devices (computers, phones, and tablets) daily, apart from work and homework?
• How do your family’s devices enrich or damage your family life, relationships, well-being, spiritual life, ministry/service activities, and studies?
• What negative effects is your device usage having on your own life? What are you doing to address these effects?
• When is device usage most likely to be a problem in your home? What effect is this having on each person? What changes might be needed?
• In what ways are you managing the devices in your home well? What helps you to do this?
• How do your devices help you to live out your Christian values? How do they distract you from living out your values?
Here are some biblical values to help us set wise boundaries around our devices.
• Philippians 4:8: Positive values help us evaluate which activities are true, pure, just, noble, lovely, virtuous, and worthy of our time and effort.
• Isaiah 26:3: Does our screen usage help us to experience peace and focus on God, or are many of our activities time-consuming, worrying, and overstimulating distractions?
• Romans 12:9-18: The wisdom in these verses gives us positive guidance for healthy relationships. How does our device usage affect our ability to love well, respond empathically to other people’s emotions, show respect, and be kind and hospitable?
• Galatians 5:22, 23: How do our device activities enable us to live Spirit-filled lives?
TIPS FOR MANAGING SCREEN USE IN YOUR HOME
• Stay informed. Read helpful books by Christians, such as Left to their Own Devices? Confident Parenting in a World of Screens1 and The Tech-Wise Family.2
• Access www.covenanteyes.com and download the free e-book Parenting the Internet Generation.
• Visit http://www.vodafone.com/content/digitalparenting.html/# for tips and ideas about helping your child to be strong and resilient in an online
• Research the games and apps that your children are using so you are familiar with the content and can help them make good choices.
• Check out parents’ reviews of apps, videos, and games on www.pluggedin.com (Christian perspectives) and www.commonsensemedia.org.
• Talk about the dangers of online pornography with your children as soon as possible. Use the book Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-
Proofing Today’s Young Kids.3 This book explains the dangers of pornography in child-friendly language and offers a simple procedure for
helping children respond appropriately if they accidentally access pornography.
• Be active together. Go for hikes, swim, row, or ski. Walking together in nature is a great way to have family adventures, learn practical skills, talk together, and be filled with wonder at God’s reallife creation.
• Be a good role model. Use your own devices with integrity. Let children see that you shut down all your devices at a set time each evening.
• Be transparent. Spouses need to share passwords, and parents need access to children’s phones and screens at any time to keep them
• Monitor and review each person’s usage. Keep bedrooms screen-free. Focus on developing internal values for managing screen activities rather than imposing external restrictions.
• Try some of the Get Real ideas in this issue’s children’s pages. Make these kinds of activities a regular part of your family routine. Spend time just hanging out together.
• Set ground rules as a family. For example, phones are gathered together in a charging zone when everyone comes home, and an hour before
bedtime. In order to earn one hour of screen time each person must do a chore well, complete all homework assignments to the best of their ability, prepare and eat a meal together, have family worship, spend 15 minutes in physical activity and 15 minutes in a non-screen activity, such as a hobby. When all of these have been completed, the phones can be accessed for a set amount of time, but all the devices must be “put to bed” at least one hour before bedtime. See https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx for how to create a family media plan.
1 Hill, K. Left to their Own Devices? Confident Parenting in a World of Screens. Muddy Pearl, 2017.
2 Crouch, A. The Tech-Wise Family. BakerBooks, 2017.
3 Jenson, K. A. and Poyner, G. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures:Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.