OK, this one may seem like a little hypocrisy coming from a guy who loves his electronics. The other difficulty with even writing this article is that everyone has a slightly different idea about what is “under control” and what is not — often depending a lot on how “connected” you are or are not. But believe it or not I think that there are some identifiable, logical limitations. And who better to write about the dangers of electronica than a “gadget guy”.
There’s not doubt about it, we are the most “connected” culture in history; although, ironically, we are probably also the least meaningfully connected culture in history. And it’s all due to our gadgets. They’re with us all the time feeding us an ever-flowing stream of information — most of which is trivial in the extreme. And both we and our teens are drowning in it. Why? Doesn’t the information “keep”? Yes, of course, it does — the emails stay right in the our inbox until we read them The voice mail stays right where it is, patiently waiting on us to listen. And the text messages stay right on our phones until a convenient time arises to read them. One of the advantages of all this technology was supposed to be that it waited on us, allowing us not to be distracted by a cacophony of voices that, if not listened to at the moment, faded away into the ether, like all sound does. But sadly the opposite has happened; we have gotten to the point that we wait, with bated breath, on our devices and answer them with urgency usually reserved for 911!
The intrusion of these devices into our lives is not harmless. They rob us of family time, of real conversation, and of the ability to focus for an extended period of time; and they sometimes actually make our children both “illiterates” and “mutes” in the languages of emotion, the body, facial expression, and more. There could be a reason why people who spend too much time in front of computers sometimes lack social skills, Worse, they rob us of time to think, evaluate, judge, and weigh things in our minds carefully. These devices often take away from us the time that they promised to give us more of — time that could be better used in Bible study, meditation, Christian service, or real interaction with real family and friends.
Now some of us have learned to wait until a convenient time has arisen to deal with our emails, text messages, voice mails, and recorded TV Shows, but it has taken disciplined effort. Even so, we can sometimes (just like teens) mindlessly reach for our devices like a nervous habit, like chewing our fingernails or playing with our hair. And this is what our teens are still in the process of learning to control. So what should be done? My opinion is that, given the fact that we live in a world full of these devices, we need to teach our children and teens how to use them well — in a way that isn’t harmful to them socially or spiritually.
Let me start by suggesting something that I saw recently as a guest at a dinner table. A basket was passed around the dining table, and it was expected that every cell phone would be turned off and put into the basket — adults and teens, no exceptions. I liked it. The family dinner table really ought to be considered that important. No TV, no cell phones, no computers of any variety, no remotes, no distractions! And this little discipline might be well applied to a number of other things, too — homework, family meetings, family nights. Its purpose would be to teach that we are to love people and use things — to the other way around. Face to face interactions ought to have highest priority, and we need to learn how to ignore the urgent but unimportant in favor of the truly important.
Keep TV-watching down to a disciplined allowance per day. Like a monetary allowance, such a discipline keeps your teens on track with important things, and teaches that budgeting time is as crucial as budgeting money. It is just one more way to emphasize that fun comes after work, leisure comes after responsibility, and that real accomplishment is more important than one’s knowledge of pop culture.
And the last thing that I’ll note here is that they need to learn how to “spot the lie”. This is true for just about every facet of their (and our) lives, but when it comes to the electronic world, there’s a lot of rotten stuff out there mixed in with the innocent and even good stuff. Like everything else, the Christian needs to learn how to discern — how to judge the good from the bad, the black from the white, and even the gray areas. They won’t learn this easily on their own par at from the “school of hard knocks”; so teach them. Help them stay away from the porn sites (putting their computer in the family room is a good start), learn to identify and stay away from predators, learn how to say no to inappropriate proposals (e.g., “sexting”), etc.
Like most things there’s a good side and a bad side to personal electronics. Let’s teach our teens how to take the earplugs out, shut things off, and use these tools for good and productive lives — staying away from the abuses.