Smart Phone Parenting
As parents, our job is to train our children to become godly adults. Until they gain wisdom of their own, we must keep watch over them with the wisdom that we have. Digital devices can be a wedge in that goal, but they don’t have to be. We need to get smart about phones. The problem is that things have changed so quickly that many people haven’t taken time to think deeply about the challenges of parenting the 21st century child.
Growing up in the 1990s was not like growing up in the 1970s, of course, but growing up in the 2010s is also very different from the ’90s even though the digital age was already well underway by then. My family did not have a computer until I was about 11 years old and we didn’t have the internet until I was 16. Our family computer was practically the size of an elephant and it was located in the living room on a desk where anyone could see what the user was doing. When we got the internet the only thing that changed was our connectivity to the World Wide Web, which was a big deal, but the computer was still very much “public”. So, when I used the computer I knew that anyone could see what I was doing.
I’m not sure if this was intentional on my parents’ part or if it was just out of necessity that the computer was so visible, but looking back, I am glad that I did not have free reign to create a secret world outside of the oversight of my parents.
Smartphones have changed all of that. A child today is exponentially more connected to the rest of the world than my generation was. With that, kids are now more vulnerable than ever to the temptations and threats that come with that connectivity. Far too often kids are connected in this way apart from the watchful eye of a mature adult who can guide them. The nature of the device itself makes its use personal and detached from parental guidance. Where once the only connection to the internet was immobile and visible to others, today the most well-meaning parents can be out of touch with their child’s activities.
The elephant in the room is not the miniature computers in our hands, but the fact that so many parents approach this subject with an out of sight, out of mind perspective. For some reason many parents have cowered to the cultural demands of outfitting our children with the latest and greatest phones, but neglected to do the work of training them to use them with wisdom. Our children are not automatically equipped with discretion and understanding just because they know how to operate apps. To think so is foolish and reckless. Keeping up with the latest technology may come a lot more easily to us than continuing with time-tested parent-child mentorship practices, but we cannot avoid the God-given role we play in training our children.
The commands to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6), and “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), etc. are no less important today as they were when they were written, we just have modern challenges to overcome in that goal. The age of the smartphone is still in its infancy and our culture is still trying to work through the details of this digital transition, so, as parents, we need to be proactive in thinking through these issues by arming ourselves with wisdom and understanding from the Lord. We need to be more than well-meaning. We need to be actively pursuing the Lord, knowing the battle that our children face, and calling out to Him for His wisdom and guidance.
Proverbs 2:10-11 says, “When wisdom enters your heart, And knowledge is pleasant to your soul, Discretion will preserve you; Understanding will keep you.”
When our children gain wisdom then they will have discretion and understanding that will keep them safe in situations that otherwise could have harmful consequences. That does not mean that they have to wait until then to begin learning, it just means that they shouldn’t have unfettered access to a phone until then. In the meantime, we as parents need to intentionally interact with our kids with the goal of teaching them to be wise with these tools.
Recently I watched a documentary by Kirk Cameron called “CONNECT”. The film aims to help parents understand and become involved in what their children are doing on their mobile devices. There aren’t many resources available when it comes to a biblical approach to handling media, so it’s a pleasure anytime I come across someone tackling the subject of media discernment from a Christian worldview. It brings up some interesting things to consider if you are a parent with a desire to understand the potential pitfalls of the modern, hyper-connected childhood.
Overall, I appreciated the film and gleaned some insight from it which I hope will be the case for you if you choose to watch it. After seeing it, a desire to guard the hearts of my children was rekindled in me. That alone made the film worth the hour and 11 minutes it took to watch. You can check it out on DVD and VOD from Amazon.com*. Other resources to consider are Axis.org’s “Reclaiming the Smartphone, 4 Important Conversations” and our documentary “Captivated: Finding Freedom in a Media Captive Culture”.
In the end, the most important thing to do is seek the Lord through prayer and the reading of His word, to hear from Him, and model His wisdom in training your children. “…’Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.'” Deuteronomy 4:10
*I am not affiliated with this film in any way and have no financial incentive to share it. I just thought this may be helpful to some.
Rhett is the office manager at Media Talk 101 and co-pastor at a recently planted small-town church. After being challenged at the very first Media Talk 101 presentation given by Phillip Telfer, he has grown to have a great desire to see the lives of others impacted as his was. Rhett’s story of finding freedom from media is featured in the documentary “Captivated.” He, his wife Emily, and their four children live in a rural community in northwestern Illinois and continue to enjoy the freedom that comes from life in Christ.