They were outside in the driveway playing basketball. I saw them last week as I drove through a local neighborhood. Two boys. . . elementary-aged. . . doing what kids everywhere used to do every day after school when the weather was nice. I spotted them as I was driving up the street and I immediately thought through the contrast of the then and the now. “Kids don’t play outside as much as they used to,” I thought. “This is awesome!”
But as I got closer to the guys, I noticed that shooting baskets was secondary. They were throwing up one-handed shots. . . whenever it was that they looked up from what they were holding in their other hands. Yep. . . it was their smartphones. Another sign of the times.
According to a January 2018 poll of parents, 47% think their children are addicted to their smartphone devices. And 50% are concerned that their child’s mobile device use is negatively affecting his/her mental health. My guess is that those numbers will be creeping up over the coming years as we increasingly discover that what Marshall McLuhan said over 50 years ago is right: “First we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.” Or at times, more accurately, misshape us.
In the same poll, 9 out of 10 parents say that they, as parents, are the one’s primarily responsible for limiting their children’s mobile device use. I’m not sure what’s wrong with the thinking of the other ten percent, but these parents are correct. For those of us who are Christian parents, training our kids how to use the good gift of technology is not only our parental duty, but it is an important aspect of teaching children how to live now and in the future to the glory of God. Yes, as with all of our activities and pursuits, how we choose to use technology needs to be seen as an act of worship. Training them to do so is an important aspect of our discipleship efforts.
Several weeks ago I made a bold statement that I had never made before. It was in the context of one our Digital Kids Initiative Seminars at a church in Ohio. For those who don’t know it, our Digital Kids Initiative was begun almost a decade ago in response to questions we were increasingly fielding from concerned moms who asked, “At what age should I get my child a smartphone?” Well, the question isn’t being asked as often as it was back then. But my back then answer (“Well. . . it depends on the child.”) has now been replaced by the bold (and some may thing erroneous) statement I made at the church in Ohio. . . “As a general rule, I would not put a smartphone in the hands of a child until they are old enough to drive.” There are several reasons for this, including the growing awareness of things like digital addiction, sexting, relational breakdown, and pornography. There are just too many dangers, toils, and snares. This doesn’t mean that we don’t ease them into the use of shared digital devices. It simply means that the weighing out of the pros and the cons seems to point in the direction of my most recent conclusion.
At the very least, I recommend these basic rules for digital device use that all of us should implement into our lives. . .
- If you are in conversation/interaction with a real flesh-and-blood human being, put your phone away.
- No screens at the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table. Interact with those who are at the table. . . and not your phone.
- Don’t sleep with your phone on or near your bed. You need your sleep. . . and so do your kids!
- Make your family room a no-phone-zone. Establish one room in the house that is phone-free so that conversation will be encouraged.
- Don’t engage with your phone while driving. It’s a recipe for disaster.
- Take a social media sabbath. God created us for a rhythm off work and rest. Take one day to log off and shut down from all social media interaction.