Have you been thinking about how much time your son or daughter spends on the cell phone?
You’re not alone. Technology is changing so fast today that parents are challenged with questions like, “When should I get a smartphone for my child?” and “How can I control screen time in my family?” so they know how to protect their kids.
David Eaton and the Axis team give you some great pointers for developing your child’s character with regard to technology. Axis works with more than 80,000 families each year, helping parents navigate this ever changing frontier with their children.
Modern Swiss Army Knife
The glorious smartphone, the rectangular modern-day Swiss Army knife that’s in the pockets of preteens and teens everywhere. It seems that the smartphone could be the engine accelerating the good and bad shifts
in teen culture. We know, from interacting with thousands of parents, that the smartphone is the number one battleground over which parents and teens fight. Let us assure you. All is not lost. Actually, there are incredible opportunities for you to invest in your children and help rewire the way they interact with technology and the messages it transfers. The opportunity lies in reframing the conversation through “smartphone discipleship.”
What follows are four conversations to have with your preteens and teens about technology and, specifically, the smartphone. These might be four of the most important conversations you’ll have as a parent. Each conversation can also be a new way to pray for your kids.
Conversation #1 Very Good, Cursed, and Redeemed
God is committed to His creation, and through the death, burial, and resurrection (and way, truth, and life) of Jesus, God is redeeming that creation. The best part is that we are invited into that mission with Him. Think about that for a second. We are joining God again, this time in redeeming what has been lost. So here’s the first important conversation to have with your student: How is a smartphone (or anything!) very good, how is it cursed, and how can we as a family redeem it? This positioning is huge. You are no longer the bad guy, and you are no longer making the cool new piece of technology evil. Instead, you are inviting that technology into a bigger story, into the story of God. And while doing that, you are humbly submitting that form of technology under the rule of God.
Conversation #2 What Is It For?
When it comes to technology, we will quickly confess: We like it. It’s fun, interesting, and powerful. Of course, it can be massively distracting and, in some cases, flat-out dangerous. The second conversation to have about any form of technology is this: What is it for? Although it seems like a deceivingly simple question, how you and your children answer the question of purpose ultimately determines how you ought to use that technology. So what is a smartphone for? Maybe your family would say that it’s connecting us with the ones we love the most. Okay, great! Now fast forward to dinnertime. Your family is at a restaurant, and Dad is checking email, Mom is on Pinterest, and daughter is keeping her Snapstreak going. Whoops. #NailedIt
How about Netflix? What is it for? Sure, it’s an incredible library of long-form TV shows with a few movies thrown in. What a fun way to learn and be entertained by great storytelling! But understanding the intended purpose and subsequently, the actual outcome, needs to be an ongoing conversation. If the diet we’re on is causing us to be unhealthy, we should correct course. If the smartphone that’s supposed to connect us actually pulls us apart, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Conversation #3 We Are on a Journey with a Destination
In the same way that you don’t hand your kids the keys to a car, without any training, and simply say, “Good luck,” you shouldn’t hand them a smartphone and say, “What could go wrong?” Their lives, your life, and others’ lives hang in the balance physically, legally, and spiritually. In short, we advise against giving your children a phone if you are not ready to have a conversation with them about it multiple times a week for multiple years.
Also, you don’t want to be skimming all their texts for the rest of your life. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Your family is on a journey together of enjoying, leveraging, and self-regulating your phones. And there is a destination! This is when your children have demonstrated integrity and have learned how to self-regulate their phones—and therefore no longer have limits imposed by you; they impose their own limits! Usually this happens in their junior or senior year of high school.
Conversation #4 You Can Tell Me Anything
We had just finished a rather energetic discussion about the limits a teen’s parents were placing on her phone when she quipped, “The stricter the parent, the sneakier the child.” This teen was assuming, unbeknownst to her, that her parents didn’t have her best interest at heart and, ultimately, that God didn’t have her best interest at heart. So instead of pointing our index fingers at our daughters and saying, “You’re being sneaky,” we need to ask a deeper question. Do you believe that God’s path is good? Do you believe that it leads to life, flourishing, joy, and meaning?
And if their index fingers are pointed back at us, and they say with hot tears on their cheeks, “You are being too strict!” it might be good to self-reflect: Do my kids know I have their best interests at heart? Do they know I am safe, quick to forgive, and eager to reconcile? And here’s the real question to reflect upon: Are you raising a sin concealer or a sin confessor? The only way to know the answer to this question is to ask yourself, Do I model confession and forgiveness to my children?
So be a missionary to your kid. By the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, seek to reach into their world, just like Jesus did for all of humanity. This may mean limiting your freedom for a season to join them in a technology fast, or it may mean giving up your phone privacy to lead by example and show that you have nothing to hide. It could also mean downloading Snapchat (or whatever their go-to app is) simply to understand what they love about it. One thing is certain: You need to plan on spending thirty minutes a week studying your teens’ world so that you can better connect with them. You have what it takes, and we believe in you! Hold fast to your heart connection with your child.
Excerpts taken from Smartphones for Smart Families, written by David Eaton and the Axis team.
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David Eaton cofounded Axis in 2007. Every year Axis speaks to 10,000+ students face-to-face and every month Axis’ digital products equip 120,000+ parents, grandparents, pastors, and teachers. In 2018 Axis helped caring adults start 1,700,000 conversations, that they would not have started without Axis, with their 8- to 18-year-olds. David is married to Lindsey and they have three children, Shiloh (6), Zion (2), and Vale (1). The Eatons live in Colorado.