I don’t think anyone was ready for the digital world. In an instant, it seems, the world changed with the invention of the smart phone. Communication changed. How we get information changed. How we process information changed. And in a very real way, family dynamics changed.
For example, a few years ago, when I started working in education, the pick-up routine was the same. A child’s ride came. The child was called to the car. The child got in the car with a parent on the lookout for their precious cargo, and was instantly greeted with the familiar words, “How was your day?”
Lately, however, I have noticed the dynamic has changed. The ride still comes, and the child still gets in the car. But now they get in the car with a parent whose head is down, most often texting away. The texting often continues until the car seat is locked, and they drive away.
I know that doesn’t seem like much, but something is lost in that subtle change. A relational dynamic is affected, and a new model is put before the next generation.
So, it is no wonder that we have kids who do not believe they can live without their phones. After all, we are having trouble living without ours. And now we are reaping some bitter fruit as a result.
No Christian author has helped me think through these issues as much as Kathy Koch. Her book, Screens and Teens, is, in my judgement, a must-read for today’s parents. In this work, she explains way technology has such a powerful hold on today’s teens (and their parents). Her answer is based on five lies technology tells us; lies we would do well to be aware of and fight against as we seek to raise today’s teens.
So, here they are with a few ideas on how to fight back:
- I am the center of my own universe. Technology tends to shrink our world. The main concern becomes, “Is this picture good enough for Instagram?”, or “How many likes will I get with this post?” When that is the case, our world shrinks to the size of us. But we cannot let them live this lie. No human was created to be the center of the world. (Not even us only children). God is the center, and we only flourish when He is.
- I deserve to be happy all the time. Because so many things are accessible, today’s teens adopt a way of thinking that they should get what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. They begin to believe the world exists to make them happy. But life does not work that way. Sometimes we must do things we do not like – things that are boring and hard. Teens need to know that life will be hard and not always fun. So, have them put down the screens and get involved in making someone else’s life better. Make them spend time giving instead of always receiving. Jesus, after all, said this is the way of blessing.
- I must have choices. I am old enough to remember a day when the cereal section of the grocery store took up half an aisle. Now it is its own section. For me, buying cereal used to be easy. Now it is mentally taxing and sometimes overwhelming. Today’s teens have never known anything else but unlimited choices. Consequently, they are often overwhelmed, almost constantly dissatisfied, and quick to quit. But we can help them by limiting their choices. (Yes, parents you can say no from time to time). For example, my kids are free to go to any college they want. But if they want my money to help them pay for it, they must choose from one of the many wonderful Christian colleges that exist in our country. We can also model for them an attitude of gratitude and teach them to be thankful for what they have. We can also place them in situations where they must be emotionally resilient. Have them play a sport where they don’t start or get much playing time. Teach them to push through and not to give up.
- I am my own authority. When you are the center of the universe, deserve to be happy all the time, and you must have choices, it is not a stretch to believe you are your own boss. No one should tell you what to do. But life does not work that way. Everyone has someone who is a boss. Teens need to know this. So, exercise some authority and put limits on their use of cell phones.
- Information is all I need so I don’t need teachers. There is a big difference between education and information. You must be able to process information, see through to good information, and make good decisions. But technology lies to us and tells us all we need to know is at our fingertips. Unfortunately, too many schools are perpetuating this lie by offering online classes. This almost completely takes the human element out of education, the very element Jesus said was vital in shaping a life (see Luke 6:40). So, be their teacher in life and expose them to a great teacher in school. Do this, and watch the lie fade and life flourish.
I hope uncovering and addressing these lies are as helpful for you as it has been for me. And may God bless you as you work on this crazy, hard job of parenting.