Courageous Parenting and Technology
Let me be direct: It is the apex of foolishness to allow your children to have free and unaccountable access to technology–– smart phones, tablets, iPods, computers, social media, etc. In the following pastoral letter I will explain why, as well as pass along a few simple ways we can protect our families from the destructive effects of technology.
Now, before I begin, I want to make clear that I’m no Luddite. I’m not against the advancement and use of modern technological devices. I have no desire to go back to the sixteenth-century! Quite the contrary, I’m profoundly grateful for the seemingly endless and valuable functions of my iPhone, iPad, and laptop computer. Moreover, it’s wonderful to keep in touch with family and friends from around the world through apps like FaceTime and Skype, and through social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram. Even so, there is a dark and insidious side to our brave new world of information and connectivity; and we would be exceedingly foolish to ignore it. Here are a few reasons why our children should not have free and unrestricted access to technological devices:
Internet Pornography: Internet porn, in our day, is a massively destructive epidemic. The statistics related to this wicked industry from the Covenant Eyes website are truly staggering. The porn industry generates thirteen billion dollars of revenue each year in the United States alone. one in eight online searches is for pornography, and the same goes for one in five searches on mobile devices. Twenty-four percent of smart phone users admit to having pornographic material on their device. Fifty-six percent of divorce cases involve one spouse with an addiction to porn.
These statistics do not bode well for our youth either. Did you know that nine out of ten boys and six out of ten girls are exposed to pornography before the age of eighteen? The average age that boys first come into contact with porn is twelve, and sixty-eight percent of young adult men (18-24 years old) use porn at least once a week. Nineteen percent of 18-24 years olds have sent a pornographic text (i.e. sext). It is most often during puberty that our youth get addicted to porn. Seventy-one percent of teens hide online activity from their parents, and the kinds of porn that teens access are too repulsive to even mention in this letter.
Yes, the problem of porn really is this bad. Serving in youth ministry for over ten years there was always a steady stream of junior and senior high students confessing to me their deep struggle with internet pornography. Many at age fifteen or sixteen had already been consistently looking at it for several years. Over the course of my ministry I have counseled dozens of men (all ages) struggling with porn addiction. It has caused serious marriage problems. For most of them the problem began in their youth. And this makes sense, doesn’t it? Tweens and teens are hormonal, curious, and lacking wisdom and good sense. They are becoming more aware of their bodies and attraction to the opposite sex. These discoveries and desires are very natural and good, making them eager to one day enjoy marriage. But the evil one seeks to twist, corrupt, and pervert those desires. Satan has come to “steal, kill, and destroy” (Jn. 10:10) our covenant children, and he is actively doing these things through the porn industry. Therefore, to allow our children to have free and unrestricted access to the internet on one or more of their devices is to practically guarantee that they will be exposed to all manner of sexual perversion online–– and the consequences will be long-term. Any parent that knowingly gives their children this kind of freedom on their devices is acting foolishly.
Ungodly Relationships: In addition to the porn epidemic, the world of social media and mobile connectivity is causing significant problems. With little to no parental oversight, youth ages ten and up are privately texting, instant messaging, emailing, and calling friends, acquaintances, and those whom they hardly know. Many of the friendships and conversations that occur through these media would be off-limits if parents actually knew about them. How are we to teach, shepherd, and protect our impressionable children in their relationships if we are basically ignorant of the substance of those relationships? God’s Word teaches us that “Bad company corrupts good character” (I Cor. 15:33). If our children are sending and receiving thousands of texts, instant messages, and emails per month without parental accountability, then we are being unwise at best.
There is a lot more to unpack on this important subject. But for now we must ask, “What should we do?” How should we, as Christian parents, approach these thorny issues related to modern technology? Well, certainly not as the world handles it. The world says to give kids what they want. The world says that kids will be kids, and we should let them sow their wild oats. The world says that everybody’s doing it and we shouldn’t make such a fuss. The world says that we shouldn’t be so prudish. But none of these responses takes into account the glory of God, the word of God, and the spiritual health of our children. Christian parents are commanded to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). This entails protecting our children from the deceitfulness of the world, the schemes of Satan, and the foolishness of their youthful hearts. Here are a couple of simple ways to protect our children in our fast moving, technological age:
Password Protect | Block Internet Access: Can anything be more commonsensical? Make sure that every device in your home with internet access is password protected (and those that a family member or friend may bring over to your house!). Make sure that you change those passwords on a regular basis in case one of your kids may have looked over your shoulder and figured it out. If your child has an iPod, smart phone, tablet, or laptop, be diligent to password protect the internet access on the device and any other apps that might be an avenue for porn or soft porn (e.g. iTunes is full of illicit album and movie covers). If you are unsure how to password protect the web browser on a device simply go online and find out how to do it. If your kids need to get online for a school research project or for some other reason, make sure they do it in a visible location in the home (e.g. living room, kitchen table, etc.). Moreover, it is critical that you prepare your kids for what they might encounter outside the home, and how they should respond in situations where others seek to show them illicit images.
Strict Oversight | Social Media: How many of you would allow strangers to walk into your child’s room, talk to them for several hours per day, and show them lots of pictures? That’s essentially what’s happening when we allow our kids to have unrestricted and unsupervised social media, texting, emailing, etc. How many of you would shrug your shoulders if your teenager developed inappropriate online relationships? Parents, it is extremely unwise not to monitor and limit your child’s time on social media and their online communication, especially in the early tween and teen years. You need to set down clear rules and consequences for breaking them, such as not allowing them to explore social media and text their friends after bedtime in the privacy of their rooms, and taking their devices away if they do!
Of course, as our children get older, and as they approach college years, we need to slowly loosen the reins of parental oversight. One day our covenant children will be out on their own. They will be off to college. Hopefully they will have gained some considerable wisdom and maturity before they do. However, especially in the early tween and teen years, they need consistent and loving oversight.
I’ve only scraped the surface of this important subject. If you have further questions I would be glad to speak and pray with you about them. Also, I want to encourage you to check out covenanteyes.com and challies.com. These two websites provide a lot of helpful information, statistics, and articles. While these matters aren’t always easy to discuss with our children, it’s critical that we do. Allowing our tweens and early teens carte blanche freedom on their devices is equivalent to letting our toddlers play ball next to highway 17 during rush hour. It’s foolish, plain and simple. Christ Church, if ever we needed wise and courageous parenting it is now.