If you are like me, you spend a lot of your parenting time and energy helping your kids navigate digital technology. I heard a speaker recently say that if you’re one to 18 years old, new technology is not really technology; it’s just the environment you live in, the air you breathe. If you’re 18 to 36, you believe new technology is incredibly exciting, with the power to change the world. If you’re 36 or older, you believe new technology represents the end of civilization, as you knew it.
Parents of pre-teens and teens who use digital technology, parents like me, may feel as though they’re in the latter group, at the same time they find themselves relying more and more on the very technologies they’re trying to manage. Recent studies show that, of all the reasons parents today believe parenting is harder than ever, 65 percent of parents say the number one reason is managing their children’s digital device and social media use.
Technology is a gift from God, revealed to man and then created by man, using materials, tools, knowledge, and wisdom that God provides. All technology, whether books, pens, computers, or smartphones, are to be used by man for God’s glory and His purposes. In a fallen, broken world, technology can be and is used by fallen man for distorted, evil purposes, as well as for good, redemptive purposes. Technology is a tool, like a hammer, and a hammer can be used to build or to kill. As a school that is trying to “teach Jesus,” partnering with your family, our collective goal is to teach students to use their knowledge and those things are given by God, including digital technology, to steward the earth, to love God and to love others.
But, digital technology is different than other tools and technologies, given the fact that it’s everywhere- after all, most do not carry hammers around and interact with them six to eight hours per day. As parents and teachers working together, it’s important to help kids understand how to use technology intentionally, in its proper place, and for normative ways that glorify God.
So what are those ways? I’ve been reading a great book by Andy Crouch, former editor of Christianity Today. It’s called The Tech-Wise Family, and I highly recommend it. Crouch gives some helpful guidance as to when technology is in its proper place, and when it’s out of control. This guidance can be useful in helping us shepherd our kids (and ourselves!) in the use of digital technology. According to Crouch (with my editorial comments):
Technology is in its proper place when it helps us bond with the real people we’ve been given to love, like helping us keep up with family and friends around the block or around the world, supplementing their actual, physical presence in our lives. It’s out of its proper place when we end up bonding with people at a distance (like celebrities) who we’ll never meet. If I use my smartphone to try to develop a relationship with Taylor Swift, I have not only reached new levels of creepiness and probably made myself the subject of her next song, but I’ve used it outside its proper bounds, its proper context.
Technology is in its proper place when it starts great conversations, actually speaking with each other and engaging face-to-face. It’s out of its proper place when it prevents us from talking with and listening to each other, like so much of social media posting, when we just yell at each other, clamoring to be heard, but not to listen.
Technology is in its proper place when it helps us take care of the bodies God gave us, like the time, distance, and heart rate functions on my Apple Watch (never call it an “iWatch” in front of a teenager-big faux pas). It is out of its proper place when it promises to help us escape the limits and vulnerabilities of these bodies, creating virtual realities in which I escape who I really am.
Technology is in its proper place when it helps us acquire skill and mastery of domains that are the cornerstones of human culture (sports, art, cooking, music, etc), actually helping us learn to do these things better. It is out of its proper place when we let it replace the development of skill with passive consumption, substituting watching for learning and doing.
Technology is in its proper place when it helps us cultivate awe for the created world we are part of and responsible for stewarding (like the BBC series Planet Earth) It’s out of its proper place when it keeps us from engaging the wild and wonderful natural world with all our senses (like a 36-hour Halo Wars 2 binge in Mom’s garage on a beautiful day, like today).
Crouch notes that technology is in its proper place only when we use it intentionally. Technology doesn’t stay in its proper place on its own, or by default; he says it’s like toys and stuffed animals in kids’ rooms, in that it finds its way all over the house and all over our lives, and creates a mess. I would say it’s even more like fire: providing warmth and fuel for cooking when it stays in the hearth or pit where it belongs, but burning the house or the forest down when left alone, or to its own devices.
The time, energy, and intentionality you spend in your children’s lives as they learn to use these God-given tools are worth all the time and energy you expend. Chances are, in this digital age, most of us can’t teach our kids to tear down and rebuild an engine, or build a house with our bare hands. But, we can teach and model for our kids to use these new tools of our age wisely and well.
Jay Ferguson writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.