By Jennifer Slattery, Crosswalk.com
Articles abound listing the harmful effects of technology for our children. Still others, often written by educators, expound on its benefits. Both sides agree that technology, with its computer games, mobile devices, videos, and texting is here to stay.
Perhaps the question is less about how damaging this rapidly growing tool is or isn’t and more about how we, as parents, guardians, and educators can harness this ever-expanding tool for the good.
We can use it to help our children stay connected, find educational resources and access information, and stay safe when they’re not directly in our care.
We can begin by recognizing three problem areas and proactively finding ways to address them.
1. Increased screen time has contributed to an increased sedentary lifestyle and decreased attention span among children.
Kids once spent their afternoons and evenings playing outside, but now, many gather in their friends’ basements with sugary snacks within reach and wireless game controllers in hand. According to statistics, today’s children are spending, on average, five to eight hours each day staring at a digital screen. At least two hours of this time is spent playing video games.
Comparatively, children only spend around four hours a week playing outside.
This is a problem for a few reasons. First, researchers have found that the physical and emotional arousal produced by intense gaming sessions can reduce the amount of REM sleep. Some suggest prolonged gaming increases a child’s impulsivity and reduces their attention spans.
I noticed this trend in myself about 10 years ago while trying to pray. I kept getting distracted, and my mind wandered much more than it had in the past.
As I began to analyze myself and the situation, I realized that my increased distractibility came after I began using a smart phone. My conclusion—all the dings and notifications continually interrupted my thoughts, thus, over time, training my brain to focus for shorter and shorter intervals.
To counter this, I turned off my notifications and intentionally set my phone aside to focus on whatever task was at hand or person I was engaging with.
Unmonitored, our children will likely waste a good deal of their lives staring at a device.
The solution: limit your children’s screen time to, perhaps, a few hours a week, and insist that they find other ways to occupy themselves.
Not only will they tend to become more active, the reduction of passive entertainment will encourage their creativity and naturally lengthen their attention spans.
This will also teach time management, self-care, and the establishment of healthy boundaries while developing their self-control to do so.
2. Technological devices can rob our children of the benefits of boredom.
Our youth are constantly being entertained and have less and less time to simply be. This perpetual “brain busyness” hinders their creativity and can get in the way of their relationship with Christ.
God often speaks to us in “quiet spaces”—when we’ve stepped away from all the noise, and, through inactivity, allowed ourselves to contemplate the deeper questions of life like why we exist and how we’re to relate to God.
It’s great to bring our children to Sunday school and church services, but God also wants to speak to them directly. In fact, He is speaking to them every day. But in our loud, high definition world, His voice can be swallowed up.
The solution: establish technology free zones and periods where children are encouraged to think, spend time in nature, and listen to music and are given opportunities to create.
3. Technology can expose children to danger.
One afternoon, when our daughter was in middle school, she was skyping one of her friends and a male broke in to their conversation. Luckily, this spooked her enough that she closed down her computer and came to me. But more curious kids might not have done this.
We’ve all read stories of how predators infiltrate chat rooms, posing as teens or, in some other way deceive children and lure them into dangerous interactions. Now, some are using snapchat filters that make them appear younger in order to form relationships with unsuspecting youth. Their goal? To convince them to meet up somewhere.
Then there’s all the harmful content that has become much too accessible. An innocent click can send our children to a site they never intended to visit, exposing them to content their young minds simply can’t and shouldn’t have to handle.
One mom said she’d intentionally hindered her son’s use of cell phones only to discover he’d been accessing them at school. It seems, if a child longs to use a tablet or other mobile device, they have ample opportunities to do so. These children could then be exposed to spiritually and emotionally damaging content.
This leads to frustration, increased conflict within the home, distrust, anxiety, and parental fatigue. For many, it seems like yet one more area in which they’re forced to battle with their children. However, though the particulars today might be unique, the underlying discord is not. Children have always had access to the very things their parents attempt to keep them from.
The solution: to protect them from all these unknown and unexpected dangers, we must be prayerful, communicative, intentional, and cognizant of their emotional and spiritual maturity.
A middle-schooler is not developmentally ready for hours of unsupervised access to the Internet and television. Youth are known for taking risks, feeling invincible, testing boundaries, and being impulsive. The pleasure centers in their brains are heightened while the areas responsible for rational-decision making remain underdeveloped.
Therefore, they are wired to make irrational choices! This knowledge should impact the amount of freedom we grant and the safeguards, like Internet filters, we establish.
Once we’ve done this, our primary goal is to reach, nurture, and equip their hearts; for, as Proverbs 4:23 states, everything they do will stem from that.
When we remember this, we’ll begin to see how the very challenges that cause us anxiety and stress can actually be used to foster healthy communication and character growth within our children. This shift of perspective helps us filter our concerns through a biblical, empowered, and grace-filled perspective. This in turn enables us to reduce those risks and detriments we fear while making use of the benefits.
Here are six ways technology can be helpful.
1. Concerns can initiate and model godly communication while revealing God’s protective heart.
Though many of us feel exhausted trying to stay alert to all the influences bombarding our children each day, God can use these challenges for good. They provide increased opportunities for gospel-centered communication with others as we discuss appropriate, Christ-centered boundaries.
In our efforts to protect our children, when we discuss our concerns with the teachers and other adults supervising them, we demonstrate the protective, loving nature of God our Father.
If handled well, every interaction can build and deepen redemptive relationships while pointing others to emotional and spiritual wholeness, which is precisely what biblical guidelines protect and create.
2. Concerns can facilitate character-growth training.
Parents of youth can use these situations to train them to make wise choices and live with integrity. When we set a boundary and our child crosses it, that’s a heart issue.
True peer pressure is difficult, and some children are more easily influenced then others. But the propensity that draws them to inappropriate websites, if not addressed, could also draw them to premarital sex, drugs, alcohol, or a host of other things.
When our daughter was young, whenever we caught her lying or acting deceptively, we came down hard. We wanted her to know we could deal with almost any behavior; we’d talk about it and there’d likely be consequences, but then we’d move on.
However, trust, once lost, is not so easily rebuilt. If she would lie over something trivial, like whether she cleaned her room, she was just as likely to lie over more serious matters, like whether or not she attended a party with friends.
We knew that every behavior begins in the heart, so that was our focus.
When she transitioned from homeschool to public school, I worried she’d be easily swayed toward poor behavior. But the opposite happened. Her encounters, filtered through our conversations and guidance, helped her more clearly see the contrast between good and evil. As a result, she became more committed to her faith.
3. Social media can be used as a contrast to encourage a Christ-centered identity.
For most of us, when we were children, if we made a mistake or poor decision, public knowledge rarely extended beyond our classroom. Today, viral videos and posts have destroyed many young lives.
Decades ago, bullying was contained to recess or after school, and though cliques have always been around, we weren’t bombarded with images showing all the fun everyone else was having at that party we weren’t invited to.
Though we can’t stop all the ugly behavior that occurs on social media, we can limit our children’s interaction with it, or (for those under 13), prohibit it entirely.
We can encourage them to build healthy relationships with loving peers, thus reducing the sting of others treating them poorly. And we can continually ground them in their Christ-centered identity—the only effective way to handle the painful behavior of others.
4. Technology keeps families and friends connected.
We’ve all watched videos of soldiers stationed overseas talking to their families on Christmas via Skype or Zoom. We can share special moments, like birthdays and first days of school, through Facebook and Instagram, and our kids can easily interact with their grandparents through text messaging.
Some may say these interactions aren’t as deep as face-to-face conversations, but when we use technology as a supplement to in-person interactions rather than a replacement, relationships are enriched. All involved can feel connected with one another on a regular basis, regardless of the distance between them.
We delayed getting our daughter a cell phone until we felt it necessary. Once she began attending high school, participated in extracurricular activities, and was allowed to walk to friends’ houses, we wanted her to be able to contact us at any time, and vice versa. My husband also installed a friends and family app that allowed us to keep track of one another. This way, if something happened, we would be able to find her quickly. This helped us feel more comfortable giving her increased freedom.
Many of us have probably witnessed our children mastering, through video or computer games, difficult concepts they’ve previously struggled with.
When our daughter was young, we found fun games online that turned various parts of a human cell into characters and, through this, sparked enthusiasm for the subject matter.
Today, many schools select a curriculum with correlating computer games to supplement material presented in textbooks. Children can build cities, care for animals, increase their vocabulary, and experience history through engaging and interactive games.
We also see an increase in the use of laptops and tablets within the classroom, and the chalkboards most of us grew up with are being replaced by interactive whiteboards.
Some have expressed concern, stating such devices will present ongoing distractions. But others feel that the benefits they provide, such as easy access to online resources, outweigh the setbacks.
Regardless of which side of this argument we find ourselves on, we all realize that the Internet, computers, and mobile devices will remain part of today’s culture and parenting challenges. Therefore, we need to be diligent to teach, stay alert, ask questions, facilitate ongoing conversations, and pray.
We also need to maintain open communication with other adults, such as teachers and other parents, who have influence or supervisory authority in our children’s lives.
If we work together and remain observant, we can protect our children from technology’s harmful effects while helping them enjoy its benefits.
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Restoring Her Faith and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team love to help women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. Visit her online to find out more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event, and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE to learn of her future appearances, projects, and releases.
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