Because technology is such a large part of our lives, it is easy to become overwhelmed and unsure how to manage it in our homes. We shared the scary statistics in last week’s blog post and podcast, but we can’t run away from electronics. Where is the balance between allowing technology use and not?
I don’t have all of the answers, but based upon the Bible and what I have learned in parenting, here are a few suggestions.
Preparing for the Job Market
I frequently hear from parents who are scared to limit technology out of fear that they will harm their child’s ability to be competitive in the job market.
Did you recognize the key word in the previous sentence? Fear. We should never let fear drive our parenting as fear does not come from the Lord (2 Timothy 1:7).
While I have no statistics to prove this, I don’t believe there is an adult alive who didn’t get hired for a job because their parents didn’t allow them to play on a smartphone at the age of 7. When my children interviewed for jobs, their employers were concerned about their work ethic and ability to work with others, and if they were responsible. None of these characteristics are developed on a smartphone or tablet.
With training, a point will come when your children will be mature enough to learn how to use technology for a career. But, don’t let fear dictate this timing.
God has called us to raise children who love God and love others. They (and we) love God through obedience (John 14:15). In our home, obedience often looks like work ethic, servanthood, and unselfishness. Loving is kind. It perseveres and is not self-seeking (I Corinthians 13:4-8). These are all character qualities that can’t be grown if a child’s always staring at a screen. Love requires face-to-face communication and oftentimes less than glamorous serving of others.
I have found these characteristics are best developed when a child works alongside an adult, through chores, contributions or serving. Begin with one age-appropriate chore for your child and then add on. Learn more on this post and podcast.
The Franz Family Technology Boundaries
Parents also often ask me how we manage technology in our home. While I don’t feel like our way is the only option or even the best, I am thankful we set the boundaries that we did.
Our children had very little electronic use throughout the toddler and preschool years. On long car trips (over 5 hours) they would watch a DVD for the last leg of the trip. Infrequently (about an hour a week) they watched shows like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. This continued into their elementary years with watching What’s in the Bible? as a treat or when they were sick. We didn’t have a tablet or iPad. Smartphone apps were only for extenuating circumstances like unusually long wait times at the doctor’s office. I have absolutely no regrets for this decision as our kids learned how to play, create, build, and invent.
At age 12, my husband and I consider for each child their need for a phone for emergency situations and for staying in touch with us. We have 4 kids and not every one of them got or will get a phone at this age. It is a case-by-case decision. Social media and searching the web is not allowed. The phone is strictly for communication with mom and dad. If the child needs to text a friend or youth leader, they use my phone. During this time, we start working on texting etiquette and building trust. Yes, this means that our kids are the rarity among their peers. But they are fine! They have not been scarred by not having a device.
Our children typically get phones in high school (age 15) when they are driving and because so much communication with the youth group happens through texting and the GroupMe app. Boundaries increase as maturity is shown because we know that once college begins our children will have full access to electronics.
Throughout all of these stages we continually provide training while teaching the why’s and how’s of wise use. All cell phones and electronic devices stay in our bedroom at night, and we monitor use when family is around. Devices are not to be used alone as we views accountability as a blessing. We watch more movies as a family now, stopping to discuss attitudes, choices, and behaviors that we see portrayed on screen.
I am frequently asked about parental control apps like Bark and NetNanny. We have tried a few but found that most made normal phone use frustrating and were pretty easy to override. What we have discovered in our research and in parenting is that protection apps can slow down the curiosity, but when a child wants to get around a system, they can. A simple Google search is all that is needed.
Has this been a perfect plan? No, because we are not perfect parents, and our children have sinful hearts. But it has worked for us, providing opportunities to train our children before we release them as adults.
It’s Not too Late
Lastly, parents also tell me that it is too late to change how their child uses technology. But, the only failure in this is continuing down the wrong path.
If you have discovered that you need to put technology boundaries in place, today is the day. I believe parents have a beautiful opportunity to go before their children with an honest, humble spirit asking for forgiveness and letting their children know how things are going to be different. Share the verses from the past two posts about protecting our eyes and how we are to think about things that are pure and lovely.
Then, depending on how far things have gotten, you may need to cut out electronics fully. No, it won’t be easy, and you will probably get push back. They will beg for TV and tablet time, but admitting you’re mistakes as a parent is part of the journey and provides a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate humility and grace. Use the time you’ve regained to build the child’s imagination through play, stickititveness, or just for conversation. Stay the course and with time and consistency, your child will understand you’re not wavering!