“I’m so sorry, son. This is the first time I’ve been a parent to a 13-year old, and I definitely messed up. I’m trying to figure out how to be a great dad to you and your brothers, and sometimes I get it wrong. Will you forgive me for getting frustrated this morning?”
I shared these words with my 13-year old son a few days ago after I lost my temper while my kids were getting ready for school. I’m extremely flawed as a parent. I often feel like I’m stumbling through a minefield, not sure where to go or what to do. Every day is like a whole new adventure for my wife and me.
And I know I’m not alone. Every parent struggles and stumbles in their quest to be the best parent possible to their kids. We all walk through unchartered territory as parents.
Nowhere is this more real than in navigating technology in our home. We’re the first generation of parents who have to work through the challenges of kids and smartphones. The minefield analogy above rings even truer because of the potential dangers inherent in phones, computers, and devices.
In this post I share three overriding principles you must start with as you parent your children in the arena of technology.
1) The problem is emptiness and the solution is a full life in Christ.
In his excellent book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, Andy Crouch says we are most tempted by technology when our lives are empty. When we’re empty and searching for meaning, we drift to Instagram, we compare ourselves to others on Facebook, and we search for porn to cure our boredom problems.
We need to remind our kids of where they will truly find life. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (see also Romans 3:10-18, Ephesians 2:1-3). My bible says all of us fall short of God’s glory. Fortunately, God provides a way for us to be made right through the death and sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4-9). But while still on this earth, every Christian fights the tension between being renewed in Christ and struggling with sin.
This means your children, even if Christians, will fight temptations and will at times lose the battle. They’ll learn to set up fake accounts and incognito windows. They’ll search for and find loopholes on their phones. We’ve locked our kid’s phones down as tight as Fort Knox but somehow they can still access inappropriate content if they work hard enough (even though they know it’s wrong).
Remember not all technology is bad. There are many amazing gifts that come our way through technology. Much like money and sex, technology can either be abused and harmful or it can be used in a God-honoring way.
Question: When’s the last time you reminded your child of the depth of God’s amazing love and the true source of life and meaning?
2) Prioritize and grow your relationship with your child.
If you and I ever want a voice in our kid’s lives, they have to know how much we love them. They need to know they matter and we care. We can say all we want, but what do our actions indicate?
Kristen and I love spending time with our kids. Whether we’re riding in the car with them, playing games, or even watching TV together, we seek to create memories and grow our relationship. We know, especially as they get older, many other interests will compete for their time. Whether it’s sports, friendships, or girls, we know we have a limited window of time when our voice is loudest in their lives. And they’re only going to listen to those voices if they know how much mom and dad love them.
We try to be as intentional as possible as parents:
- We use our car time to pray for the day ahead and to catch up on the school day on the way home.
- We’re purposeful in not allowing our kids to bring devices to meals and the TV is always off when we’re eating together.
- We try to say “yes” as often as possible. We have 7,000 days from the crib to college with our children, so we do all we can to make memories and grow our relationship.
- Be humble and apologize and ask for forgiveness when you fall short (see James 4:6). A humble parent will find favor with their children and will gain their ear to discuss phones and technology.
- At bed time we laugh at highlights of today, talk about tomorrow, and pray about anything and everything.
Question: What can you do to grow your relationship with your child today?
3) Do something.
We get overwhelmed by the “paralysis of analysis” when it comes to technology and our kid’s phones.
What do we do and where do we start? The obstacles can be so overwhelming that we just want to dig a hole and stick our head in the ground. My pastor often says, “Start simply, and simply start.” Remember these are not one-and-done conversations. We started talking to our kids about technology at a young age, and it’s a weekly conversation for us. But you have to start somewhere.
Here are a few suggestions we’re trying right now:
- Our twins just got smartphones before they started eighth grade. We had them sign a contract where we laid out a few “rules” for their cell phone use.
- We removed the browser from their phones. At some point we know we need to add them back to help prepare them for the real world, but for now they’re browser-free.
- Every night they keep their phones/devices in our room.
- We check our kid’s texts at night to see who they’re texting and what they’re texting about.
Don’t suffer from the paralysis of analysis. Do something.
Question: What’s the one step you can take today to better lead your children when it comes to technology?
Your responsibility as a parent is to shepherd your children in all areas of life, including phones and technology. Remember how much they need you to point them to the true source of life, pursue them to grow your relationship, and do something. Your children need you to lead them and these principles will help keep you as the most important and loudest voice in their lives.
Scott Kedersha is the director of premarital and newly married ministries at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, TX. He’s a loyal husband and father to four boys.