Have you ever just sat down in the mall or store and watched how many people, specifically teens, are busy on their phones, tablets, or mobile devices? It can be alarming for sure. Of course, it’s not just teens on their mobile devices. People, in general, are all focused on the small and mobile screens that we carry around with us. Recently, while out running errands and shopping, I noticed that the most common denominator among teens was that they all seemed to look “down.” They were not so much looking at the ground; instead, they were staring at their screens. While they were walking or simply sitting down, both teens and adults were absorbed with their “screens.”
Screen time is rapidly replacing family time.
We are living in what is described as a “technological age.” One cannot doubt the phenomena of watching videos, flipping through pictures, and simply scrolling through Facebook to peruse what others are doing. Most people would admit technology is both highly entertaining and helpful. “They are both tools and toys – tools we need and toys we enjoy” (Kathy Koch). However, technology can also cause problems. For instance, while eating dinner the other day, I happened to look around the restaurant and notice that four people, two adult parents, and two teenage kids, all of whom were on their mobile devices instead of interacting with each other. They appeared to stay on their devices for most of their dinner. Think about it, while they were all together sitting in a booth, they were not really together.
This prompted several thought-provoking questions:
- What in the world are they looking at that is so important?
- What has captivated their attention to the point of being mesmerized?
- Could it be that our devices, which have helped our lives in so many ways, also contribute to other problems, such as isolation?
- Are we raising a generation of students who are dependent upon their screen time?
- Do teens, and even children, for that matter, desire to have any kind of interaction outdoors versus sitting in front of their phone or tablet?
- Would they like to be outdoors on their tablets?
One must wonder about the long-term effect that technology will have on both parents and teens.
Our kids live in a world of screens
It is true; our teens live in a world of screens; however, so do their parents. Teens are not the only ones who spend an enormous amount of time on their phones, tablets, and mobile devices. One question would be, “If we took a survey, would we find that parents would rather sit on their tablets and phones versus spending time outside or doing something that doesn’t involve a screen?” According to Scripps, a San Diego Healthcare website, “On average, adults spend about 11 hours a day staring at some kind of screen, whether that be a computer, phone, tablet, TV, or another type of electronic device. For office workers, some of that is unavoidable, but that extra recreational screen time isn’t doing you any favors.”
Undoubtedly, our world has changed because of access to the web, apps, and mobile technology. In that regard, what kind of example are parents setting for teens? Do we as parents model a good “screen time ethic?” Meaning, are we setting proper screen time boundaries for ourselves and our teens? Are we letting screen time get in the way of what God intended, namely, discipleship? How is all of this impacting our familial relationships? These are essential questions that every parent must ponder.
Undeniably, technology has many benefits, for instance, the speed at which we access information, work, pay bills, and even watch television. The benefits are numerous. Dr. Kathy Koch writes, “We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? Now we carry tiny computers in our pockets and purses. We add and delete and access a world of information with just a click or two.” As noted, it is not just something that teens deal with but a host of the population. It has forced parents to rethink some things about parenting. It has become an “extra” variable that has to be accounted for within the home. For example, some parents were not raised with the technological capabilities of our children.
Today’s young people are being raised by technology
We don’t know what it is like to grow up with so much technology, and if we are honest, we are still learning. Additionally, if parents are not careful, technology will replace the role and responsibility of parenting. For instance, it is tempting, if not captivating, to just sit around and scroll through the many apps on our phones. If parents are doing this, the relational effects could be harmful compared to being intentional with their teen. Therefore, it is vital for parents to be proactive and take the initiative to combat anything that usurps their God-intended role. As parents, we can intentionally “not” let screen time and technology rule the home.
Effects of Technology
One of the most important effects of technology is the need for face-to-face connections. Dr. Koch says, “Parents and teens are both affected by the influences of our screen-saturated lives, but young people experience the effects with ferocious intensity.” Living in a culture that is “screen-saturated” is a threat to real-life connections. God designed us for real relationships; therefore, we must give our relationships ‘their rightful priority and connect face-to-face’” (Koch).
Other effects that teens, and quite possibly adults, face is impatience, security, identity, and purpose. Again, if one is not careful, we could all let our security, identity, and purpose be found in our use of technology. It can cause other issues as well. For instance, the ease and access of technology over an extended period has indirectly brought about impatience. We all are accustomed to getting things instantaneous, that when we don’t get what we want when we want it, we may exhibit impatience. However, there is hope for parents and teens. There are practical steps that can be implemented to thwart the dangers of technology.
There are several practical steps to help our teens manage technology. First and foremost, technology must be put in its’ place. Meaning, technology should not rule the home. Parents are to model Christ in their home, disciple their children, and live their lives glorifying God. Deuteronomy 6:5-9 explains that parents are to teach the things of God to their children. The home should be a place that points to the love of God, and parents are to be an example. Another practical step is to recognize technology’s influence on relationships. Dr. Koch says, “Being honest and recognizing how technology influences you can improve your relationship with your teen.” Therefore, communication is crucial. Many have found positive effects from discussing the dangers and harmful elements of screen time and technology. In this regard, Dr. Koch says, “Contrary to what you might think, parent power can be stronger than screen power. Our children are worth the effort it may take to protect them or win them back from the power of screens.”
Another practical step is to set boundaries for screen time. Dr. Koch recommends having a set time for screen time, which may mean having an area of the home that is “screen-free.” One example is that the kitchen table or area is a “screen-free” zone where families communicate without phones and tablets. Her encouragement is, “Don’t expect your kids to be singing your praises if you choose to create screen-free zones. They may balk. They may complain…Stand firm and give your kids what they need, not what they want. They will appreciate it someday, but perhaps not until they have kids of their own!”
Lastly, simply setting aside time to have “face to face” time with our children is recommended. Even though one has a screen-free area and has set aside phones and tablets for a specific time, face-to-face interaction with them is vital. How else would a parent teach their child the things of God without face-to-face interaction? Therefore, being intentional to have “face-time” without screens is essential.
Families can take many practical steps, but the first step is to start something practical that is God-honoring and healthy for your home. Also, it is recommended to see Dr. Koch’s book, not to mention many other fabulous books and resources.
Ultimately, our desire for any teen or parent is they connect to God. The most important relationship any of us can have is our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In Dr. Koch’s words, “We want our teens to adopt and live out a Christian worldview that puts God at the center of the universe…Of course, we can’t force children to accept Christ or it wouldn’t be a loving and trusted personal relationship with Him. That said, don’t ever give up or stop praying about their relationship with God.” May God help teens and parents alike put technology under His Lordship in our lives.