Technology is incredible. With my phone I can call my wife hands-free, look up information using my voice, and connect with friends I love but simply don't have time to see in person.
Yet anyone who uses a smartphone also finds there are some downsides. Games can pull focus and time, tasks can stress us, and social media can distract or even depress us.1
As parents we may fear the impact tech may have on our children and as believers we look to Christ for some example; but it turns out the Bible is pretty mum about our online use. However, Jesus is very clear about matters of the heart.
The Roads God Uses to Win Hearts
During Jesus’ earthly ministry his focus was always to seek and save the lost.2 Jesus traveled from town to town along roads built by the Romans. These roads were specifically designed to allow for free commerce and quick transport of troops throughout the empire. The Romans were as far from a righteous and God-fearing culture as you could have. If we look at the way these roads were used and who built them3 these roads should have been avoided at all cost. The Romans were a warring nation who took advantage of those weaker than themselves, established rule through fear and harsh consequences, and whose leaders should still make the top of the worst people in history list.4
So when Jesus, the Son of God, traveled he could have avoided those roads at all cost on principle. He could have hiked through the hills, walked on water, or just teleported. Instead, Jesus took the same roads everyone else did.
These roads came from a wicked source and were often used for wicked purposes, but they seem to fall into what Paul would later declare as the “weaker brother” measure: If it isn’t specifically sinful, your conscience allows it, and it doesn’t cause anyone else to sin, then you’re okay. 5
By using the Roman roads Jesus chose to use an effective method of travel to spread the good news of the gospel.
The Road of Technology
Technology is a modern-day example of such a road: People from all over the world use it for relationships, information and entertainment.
And we know our children are using this road. We know that, for several aspects of it, there is nothing morally wrong with the technology itself. The question is how do we raise our young people to reach their full potential in Christ, protect them from unsafe content and help them to utilize the resources available to them, all to the glory of God?
Here’s the picture: 9 in 10 young people go online daily4 and the average teenager spends 9 hours a day using media for enjoyment.5 Almost 3/4 of all young people have their own smart phone6 and they don’t all do the same thing: Boys tend to game and girls tend to use social media.7 Our young people are already using technology out there on those “Roman roads”. Our opportunity as parents is to show them how to travel safely, to discern what roads to take, and listen to God’s guidance as they continue on their journey.
3 Ways Parents Can Support Healthy Tech Use in Their Kids
1. Create clear technology expectations for the whole family:
- Ask the question: Does our tech use pass the Philippians test? Is it true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy? 8
- Determine which games, websites and social media platforms are appropriate and acceptable.
- Establish beneficial times for tech: When is it ok to use? When does it need to be put away? Consider these as potential tech-free times: Meals, family, study, quiet, bed.
2. Use technology to support healthy tech choices
These apps allow for intentional lifestyle support: (NOTE - I have not been paid for any of these. I just believe in the products.)
- Moment (free): Tracks time of use on a device and helps set simple goals and reflect on use. Moment keeps track of where time is going.
- Freedom App (free; iTunes): Allows you to turn off wifi and internet during selected hours (9pm - 6am, for example) to improve the odds of getting a full night’s rest.
- Unplugged ($7/ month): Blocks websites and social media from phone.
For home use with your family consider:
- The Circle with Disney ($100; Amazon): Allows you to monitor, set time limits and bedtimes, filter content, pause the internet, get insights, and build healthy habits.
- Net Nanny ($40): A great option for those who want to block content on computers.
- Covenant Eyes ($15 / month): I have used Covenant Eyes for accountability since college. It doesn’t make choices for me, I can go anywhere online, yet I go knowing that people I personally invited will get a note saying where I went. The internet also doesn’t work without logging into Covenant Eyes.
3. Set realistic, gospel-focused consequences
Boundaries are important (Step 1), and technology can help set those boundaries (Step 2), but what do we do when the line is crossed?
- Remember our job as parents is to guide and direct our children in healthy choices. 9
- The goal for consequences is to remind a heart (and a brain) what a healthy choice looks like. Pain helps us avoid those choices in the future. Jesus refers to this spiritual process as pruning. 10
- If something negatively impacts our hearts, we need to remove and replace it. 11
All consequences are going to focus on the main goal: Raising young people who are equipped to achieve their full potential in Christ. There are numerous ways to set this up, but most boundary crossing will come down to remove and replace.
4. Healthy Tech is a Journey. Take it together.
As parents we have seen the dangers and downsides of technology as well as the benefits. Using tech healthfully is a journey and we need to invite our children along. Rather than avoid technology out of fear, we need to recognize that our God is bigger than our sin, than death itself, and certainly the internet.
We need to:
- Lovingly set expectations
- Use tech to form healthy boundaries
- Consistently walk the journey of technology with our children
- Model what healthy choices and habits look like
On the road of life God provides opportunities for us to do exactly what parents are called to do: Remind our children of what God has called us to in all our dealings, including our travels with technology.12 We must model healthy tech habits, humility, and a desire to see God accomplish his will in all areas of our lives.
About the Author:
Nathan Sutherland is a teacher, speaker and trainer who works with families and students to help every young person reach their full potential. He founded Flint and Iron as a 501(c)(3) non-profit as a resource to spark positive purpose in youth.
Christian Science Monitor, Marjorie Kehe, Is social media making the young less happy?, January 26, 2017 www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2017/0126/Is-social-media-making-the-young-less-happy
Luke 19:10 (NIV) - “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 20 Mar, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/luk/19/10/s_992010>.
Public Products Services (PBS), The Roman Empire: The First Century, Slaves & Freemen, http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/slaves_freemen.html
ListVerse, Flamehorse, May 2010, Top 10 Worst Roman Emperors, http://listverse.com/2010/05/09/top-10-worst-roman-emperors/
1 Corinthians 8:4,7-9,12: “Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that an idols has no real existence, and that “there is no God but one.”...However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak...Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat mean, lest I make my brother stumble.” (ESV, Crossway, 2011)
Pew Research, Amanda Lenhart, 2015, Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015, http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/teens-social-media-technology-2015/
Common Sense Media, Media Use Profile, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/ default/files/uploads/pdfs/census_factsheet_mediauseprofiles.pdf
Philippians 4:8 (ESV): “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Crossway, 2011)
Proverbs 22:6 (NIV) - “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”
John 15:1-2 (NIV) - “I am the true vine and my father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 21 Mar, 2018. <https:// www.blueletterbible.org/niv/jhn/15/1/s_1012001>.
Matthew 5:29 - “If your right eye causes you to sin cut it out.” Jesus reminds us that the point is not to have freedom to do whatever we want, but freedom to obey what God tells us to do: Repent and believe. There are times when being obedient means giving up those things that draw us away from God and from who he is calling us to be.
"Deuteronomy 6:7 (NIV) - Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." Blue Letter Bible. Web. 20 Mar, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/deu/6/7/s_159007>., also11:19