By Jamie Shafer
Anyone with children knows that parenting is not for the faint of heart. Although wildly fun, raising kids is serious business from the moment these precious beings enter our lives. The sheer responsibility is overwhelming at times.
When our children are young, it is easy to be lulled into believing that we can protect them from all potential harm. We follow rules set by doctors and read books by parenting experts. We babyproof our homes, carefully eyeing each room for any object or situation that might result in a dangerous consequence for an innocent but curious exploring toddler.
As children grow, we begin to release that control. Parents with multiple children might find that they loosen their grip quite a bit by the time the third or fourth child comes along. But as kids begin to dip their toes into an ocean of their own independent decisions, parents must continue to help them evaluate the tide and the waves rolling in. For many parents, the tsunami of constantly changing technology at their kids’ fingertips can seem insurmountable.
The Bible directs parents to train their children according to God’s Word on a daily basis (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). It takes only a glimpse into our neighborhoods and schools to witness the raging cultural battle to win the hearts and minds of our youth. When it comes to technology, parents must assess the potential danger of various environments, just as they did when their kids were small.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Here are a few ways that parents or grandparents can step forward in the spiritual battle for kids’ hearts and minds.
Make a commitment to pray for your children on a daily basis. Pray about their relationships and the choices they make with their technology usage. This is a very simple but effective way to grow your own relationship with God and intercede on your child’s behalf.
It’s OK to let kids know you’re praying for them and to ask them if they have any special prayer requests. Younger children may surprise you with the things that concern them. It’s also a great way to grow your relationship with your child and demonstrate your faith to them.
Cultivate relationships with your children that allow them to ask you about anything, including things they hear at school or view on others’ mobile devices. If they don’t bring up their own questions, initiate conversation with them about what types of phones or gaming devices their peers are using. Let teens know that you are aware of what some of their friends might be facing, related to the temptation of using phones or computers in inappropriate ways to impress others. Talk to them about handling technology-related temptations.
In Andy Stanley’s DVD series entitled Parental Guidance Required, he talks about the powerful influence that parents can have in their children’s lives, but encourages that the relationship must be developed consistently over time and with an eternal perspective. He highlights the importance of parents transitioning from a position of control when children are young to a position of influence as kids move into their teen years.
Parents can help kids develop a relationship with God so their faith can serve as an internal compass to guide them through the decisions of life and for those moments when parents are not there to guide. Help children understand that God created them, loves them, and has purpose for their lives (Ephesians 2:10). Let them know that your goal is to help them become the men and women that God intended.
Talk with your kids about the importance of their friendships. Because teens spend so much time engaged with media, they often miss out on opportunities to connect with friends face-to-face. Or when they are with others they may focus too much on taking pictures or posting comments online and end up missing the “real” experience. Help guide them through healthy online interactions and relationships. Encourage them to take time to hang out with friends in person and just enjoy the experience.
Do your research.
Stay in tune with the media your child wants to use, and know the rules. For example, technically in order to have an Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter account, a user is required to be at least 13 years old. Many parents are unaware of this rule, or they just ignore it, allowing kids as young as 7 or 8 to have accounts so they can play games or talk with friends. These kids could easily fall victim to online predators. Children who are too young to be left at home alone should never be left to explore the Internet alone.
It’s also important for parents to assess their child as an individual. Some students might be ready to join social networking at age 13, while others should wait until they are older. Parents should have knowledge of the devices their kids are using, what they can access with that device, and the online accounts their kids are setting up.
Minimize your risk.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) offers online safety resources to help you identify warning signs that your child may be at risk online and ways to minimize the risk of your child being targeted by an online exploiter. Learn more (www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/parent-guide).
Let your child know that we all need accountability in life with others who love us, encourage us, and challenge us to grow in our walk with Christ. Let your teens know that they will need to provide you with passwords for social networking sites. Notify them that you will check their posts, profile settings, and chat logs on a regular basis. Then follow through with it. One mom said that her teens place their phones on her bedside table every night. This gives her an opportunity to spot check text messages and assures her that her kids aren’t using their phones late at night.
Set the rules.
Each family is unique in how they approach setting guidelines for the family. Before setting any rules, parents should assess what kind of model they are setting for their children in the realm of technology. Are you and your smartphone rarely separated? Are you constantly being entertained or working via a tablet or laptop? Identify any personal changes you would like to make in your own life as a part of the process.
Talk to your kids about online safety and the importance of guarding their eyes, minds, hearts, and personal identities. Teach them about common sense guidelines like refraining from posting personal information or befriending people they do not know in real life. Locate the family computer in a main area of the house where others can view the screen. Also know that many preteens and teens are doing most of their online browsing via phones.
Focus on the Family (www.focusonthefamily.com) offers a number of resource articles relating to protecting your family from online threats. You can even download age-appropriate Internet safety pledges that children or teens can sign to reinforce some basic safety standards.
Determine family boundaries related to screen usage time including gaming, social media, computer or tablet usage, mobile phones, TV, videos, and so on. Commit to regular screen-free times or days, and use those times to intentionally connect as a family.
Jamie Shafer is the Communications Director at East 91st Street Christian Church, in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the Marketplace Faith columnist for The Lookout. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.
Teens and Technology
In 2013, Pew Research surveyed 802 students ages 12-17 and their parents about technology usage. Here is what they found:
• Now 78 percent of teens have a cell phone, and almost half (47 percent) of those are smartphones. That means 37 percent of all teens have smartphones, up from just 23 percent in 2011.
• Also 9 in 10 teens (93 percent) have a computer or have access to one at home; 7 in 10 teens (71 percent) with home computer access say the laptop or desktop they use most often is one they share with other family members.
• Around 1 in 4 teens (23 percent) have a tablet computer, a level comparable to the general adult population.
• About 3 in 4 teens (74 percent) access the Internet on cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices at least occasionally.