I’ve written a lot these last few weeks about the dangers of giving our children unlimited freedom with their smartphones. I’ve cautioned about social media, video games, pornography; about withdrawing from community; about increased anxiety, depression, and loneliness, often leading to suicide. I think my tone has been appropriately alarming. I am alarmed. But as I sound the alarm, I also want to be clear about a few things I am not saying about our children and their smartphones.
First, I am not suggesting you throw out all of your family’s smartphones. Technology continues to move forward—sometimes slower and sometimes faster, but always forward. Though nuclear winters, electromagnetic pulses, and all other manner of apocalypses have been predicted by some, I cannot imagine the great calamity that would cause humans to stop moving forward technologically. In short, smartphones and social media and all the trappings are here to stay until something better comes along, and that something better will bring its own troubles with it. Rather than turn our backs to technology because it is dangerous, what I am suggesting is that we learn how to manage it and teach our children to do the same. Becoming a Luddite is not the way to prepare your children to live in the world. Helping them understand and navigate the dangers of the technology they have at their disposal is.
Next, I am not suggesting your children are some special brand of evil and cannot be trusted with a smartphone. Don’t get me wrong, your children are sinners, but it is unlikely they are of the criminal variety. The tone of my recent warnings may have some of you looking at your children out of the corners of your eyes and wondering if you really know them. The truth is that our children are just smaller versions of us, born with the same sin nature. The smartphone simply gives them access to far more temptation than they are prepared to resist. It isn’t that your children are particularly bad, it is just that the smartphone gives them access to a frightening buffet of sin that they simply do not yet have the tools to navigate, or better yet run from. What’s worse is that with a smartphone, they can experience all that temptation on their own without you ever knowing unless you’ve taken some specific steps to prevent that from happening.
Finally, I am not suggesting that every child with a smartphone will give in to all the temptations to sin and then withdraw from community and become anxious, depressed, and suicidal. The statistics I have shared in recent weeks, along with links to more statistics and articles, are well, alarming. But just because those statistics are out there doesn’t mean your kid has to go down that path. The children who end up in those statistics are children whose parents have their heads stuck in the sand. They are parents who have given their children smartphones and left them to themselves—reminds me of Proverbs 29:15: “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” If you have given your thirteen-year-old an unfettered smartphone and wished him best of luck with a pat on the head, you should be very worried—the Proverb does not lie. But parents who give their children phones when they are more mature; who put safeguards on the phones to limit what the children have access to; who limit the time of use and the reason for use; who teach their children what kind of media to consume and how much of it; who teach their children to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and even with the way they use their phones … well, those parents probably won’t have children who become statistics.
With so much to say about phones, social media, and the rest recently, I just wanted to make sure you knew what I wasn’t saying.