I recently shared an article titled, “Parent’s, Please Don’t Let Your Kids Watch Logan and Jake Paul” with a group of parents regarding the subtle dangers of famous YouTube channel stars Logan and Jake Paul. The response was strong – I don’t know if I’ve shared an article in the past that garnered as much interest and as eager a response. Why was there so much interest, and how we should wisely respond to questionable technology or media elements with our kids?
Why the Interest?
Why was an article about a pair of unknown (to most of the parents) YouTube stars so popular? My hunch is because, in part, Logan and Jake Paul were unknown. And when it comes to technology, many of us parent out of fear of the unknown.
Part of the tension is because our kids are “digital natives,” and parents often are not. Our kids have grown up with technology like YouTube, Netflix, and Instagram and they navigate these tools without fear or even a realization of danger. They are less discerning, less cautious and simply less wise because they tend to view technology as a given reality, rather than a new development.
A great example is Snapchat. In 2012, the photo-sharing app released and quickly gained a strong following among teens. Parents grew quickly concerned. In Snapchat, the photos erase themselves automatically after a set amount of time – stories quickly began to circulate the Snapchat was used for sexting and other illicit behaviors. Concerned parents quickly vowed to say “NO” to Snapchat.
Is Snapchat used for sexting? Of course it is! But according to a 2014 survey of Snapchat users, the regular text message feature of a phone was used for sexting by twice as many users (source). Did parents who had banned the use of Snapchat realize they hadn’t prevented sexting? Perhaps. But the truth is that it isn’t Snapchat that parents should be primarily worried about – it’s children’s poor discernment.
This relates to our fear of technology among our children. What we really fear is the unknown – the reality that in some cases, we don’t even understand the allure of certain apps or channels. If we can’t even see the draw, how would we be able to see the dangers? And then when we hear of dangers from seemingly “family friendly sources” – like Jake or Logan Paul – it confirms our deepest fears: nowhere is safe, and everything is dangerous.
In a sense, we’re hungry for our fears to be confirmed.
How Should We Respond?
There is an immense amount of pressure to respond to these fears, and the temptation is to respond quickly and boldly. “Well, that’s it! No more YouTube!” But these elements of technology are realities in today’s age, and no amount of banning, shielding or filtering can prevent our kids from being exposed to or influenced by them. Plus, it’s not hard for our kids to get around our filters or prohibitions either. If your daughter was obsessed with Logan Paul prior to reading that article, do you think simply saying, “That’s it – we’re done!” will guarantee that she won’t watch that channel again? It’s doubtful.
Here’s the bottom line:
We can’t parent while afraid of technology or media.
Fear will freeze our ability to respond. Instead, we need to accept the reality that this is a broken world and that most technologies have good and bad sides. Should we set up filters? Should we limit usage? Should we discipline for inappropriate online behavior? Should we age restrict and be discerning? Yes, Yes, Yes and YES. Of course. But we should never rely on those things to keep our kids safe. Instead of raising digitally isolated children, we must raise digitally wise children.
Begin by considering these three responses:
Focus on the Heart
Whenever we’re talking to our children about technology, we need to be focused on their hearts – not just their actions. Learning discernment is a life-long process, but we need to strive to raise kids whose moral compasses are more influential in their lives than their social compasses. Avoid the temptation to get caught up in the actions, and lean into the heart attitudes. Our kids can be doing all the right things – for a season – with hearts that are rotting away. Don’t neglect the internal for the sake of the external (I Sam 16:7)!
I’m consistently fascinated by the implications of Genesis 3 for parenting. Adam and Eve lived in a technology-free zone. There was nothing – no texting, Buzzfeed or Instagram to pull their hearts away from God. But there was still plenty of temptation – and it was enough. This is what makes passages like Ezekiel 36:26 so important: God’s work is about replacing our hearts and our desires, not just giving us rules and laws.
If we’re to parent as God parents, we must be focused on the subtleties of our children’s hearts and heart-attitudes, not merely their actions and behaviors.
Model Responsible Technology Usage
One of the greatest ways we can instill healthy technology habits in our children is by modeling those healthy habits. This probably isn’t surprising, but what a struggle it continues to be! But it’s not complicated, either. So:
- Don’t text and drive. In fact, don’t touch your phone and drive. At all.
- Don’t be enslaved to notifications. Let your phone beep or buzz without answering it. Make it a point to model “notification freedom” for your children.
- Don’t sleep with your phone next to you.
- Always respond to questions and comments by putting your phone down and looking at the speaker in the eye.
- Set up content boundaries for yourself and have conversations with your spouse or a close friend about areas in which you might struggle.
- If you use filtering technology on your children’s phone, use it on yours as well.
- Set extended periods of time in which you will not use technology.
- Model boredom or quietness to your children, without a phone.
- Let your children see you reading a physical Bible, not just a digital one. Consider carrying a physical Bible to church to completely eliminate pulling out your phone during services.
Don’t subtly teach that media moderation is something that kids will grow out of – teach them that it’s as important for you to be tech-wise as it’s important for them to be tech-wise.
Leave an Open Door, and Fish Regularly
Finally, like all areas of parenting, we need to ensure our kids know they can talk to us and ask us about anything. We need to carefully control our responses to questions to ensure that our kids feel free to ask, and we need to use creative questions to “fish for answers.”
There is a high likelihood, if your children have viewed or experienced content they’re uncomfortable with, that they want to talk to you about it but do not feel comfortable or don’t know how to open the conversation. Regularly “fishing” for answers can help give you insight into how your kids are processing media and can give your children a lifeline when they want to bring up questionable media they’ve viewed.
The best way to fish is by dropping questions into regular conversation. This isn’t a “Let’s sit down and talk” moment, but as you’re discussing the day or chatting about other topics, throwing out open-ended questions that can help lead the conversation toward media topics. Here are some examples of fishing questions:
- What’s the most surprising thing you saw this week on the computer?
- Is there anything you want to tell me about anything you’ve seen?
- Have you ever chosen not to watch something that your friends are watching because you knew it wouldn’t be the right thing to do? How did they respond?
- Which friend of yours do you think is most obsessed with his/her phone? Why?
- Did anything you saw on Facebook (or another social media) make you feel uncomfortable this past week?
- What’s one thing you would change about the way your friends use social media?
- Hey, I heard that the average teen spends almost 8 hours on media every day! Think that’s accurate?
- What scares you the most when you think about your phone (or computer, iPod, iPad, etc)?
- What do kids talk about at school in regards to their phones? Has anyone found a cool new app?
- How do you know what’s ‘too far’ when it comes to social media?
- Have you ever turned off a YouTube or Netflix show because of something that happened? What would make you turn one off?
Notice none of these questions were meant to cause shame or fear – they’re meant to prompt a conversation. Respond graciously and gently! If consequences are needed because of wrong behavior, couch the consequence in grace and appreciation for your child’s honesty, and make it clear that discipline is to help reinforce health and growth.
Andy Crouch makes the point in The Tech-Wise Family that we face a brand new context in parenting, but the issues remain the same as they always have: character. How will we help our children develop Christ-like character? It’s a tall order, but it’s also not new. So, don’t parent in this technology age out of fear, but be bold and advocate for your children. God is faithful!