Most kids today have had their hands on a gadget before they ever formed their first word. Technology is so integrated into their lives, that few if any can even imagine a world without it. If we are perfectly honest, we probably played a major role in feeding our children’s passion for all things media. Brilliant marketing strategies compelled us to purchase digital products that bore the names of geniuses or that contained convincing words like “leap” in them. We were sure that these “educational” toys could somehow give our kid an edge socially, academically or developmentally. We marveled at the way they were lulled and mesmerized by them and thought surely something wonderful was happening in their mind.
By the time our little tots become teens, however, many of us started to view technology a bit differently. Now, the smartphones, tablets, game systems and computers seem more like a beast threatening to devour us all. We try hard to tame this behemoth by setting guidelines, limits and by forcing them to endure life without a gadget in their hand every once in a while. Now, we find ourselves hoping and praying that their brain won’t be permanently harmed by the constant staring, scrolling, and screening.
This digital age and all that comes with it has become a regular conversation among parents of pre-teens and teens. We consult with one another to see how others are dealing with it all. “When should he get a smartphone?” “How long is too long in front of a screen?” “What kind of wifi filters do you use?” These are just a few of the questions I am frequently asked. Parents are worried, confused and tired of the daily disputes that often arise when limits or guidelines are set and enforced. Kids want more. And, moms and dads dream about the days when none of this existed at all.
Even though I have often felt the urge to toss every computer, gaming system, tablet and smartphone in the trash to instantly get rid of these, I know that in many ways we have greatly benefitted from technology. Eradicating it doesn’t really address the bigger problem. When we get mad or lose our temper because our kids seem more disobedient or distracted, we must ask ourselves what is really going on. Why are we so agitated? Could it be that the daily dilemmas remind us that our deeper longing to feel more connected with one another is not being satisfied? Or, perhaps, these battles indicate our great desire for order, peace and a bit of predictability at home. Connection and order are essential and both point toward part of God’s plan for man.
Quite often, our teen’s overdependence upon technology stems from their thirst to feel more connected or included. Because God created us for relationships, our teens desperately want to learn how to relate to one another. They long for authentic, life-giving relationships where they can be heard as they discuss, disagree and work through conflicts.
Even though social media seems to offer a forum for this, more than ever, teens seem to be struggling to create deeper connections and to maintain order and harmony. Nonetheless, the systems or devices themselves are not the problem. Our willingness to let these interfere with our ability to create committed relationships with one another seems to be the bigger problem. Our kids rely on us to teach them how to communicate, resolve conflict, and work toward peace. They need their moms and dads to show how messy and magnificent human relationships can be. Their devices won’t offer them this model nor will most of their peers. Like many things, our homes will become a place of connection and peace to the extent that we model this.
Become aware of how much you are pulling out your smartphone, staring at your tablet or tuning into a screen instead of chatting with your spouse, child or friend. When there is discord, work hard to stay tuned in and open up the lines of communication to resolve conflicts. Slay the beast by pursuing your teen, by creating order and predictability through the use of guidelines and limits, and by being more intentional about being fully present whenever you are interacting with friends and family. And last, but certainly not least, ask God to give you wisdom, insight and direction so that you can defeat the disconnection and discord that is all too often blamed on the products and platforms of the digital age.
Jackie E. Perry, MS, LPCS, NCC CORNERSTONE