The other evening, I was speaking to a local congregation about youth and media/technology, which I consider to be the most important issue facing our kids today. I was describing to the attendees that both individually and as a collective body, parents were one of the most powerful entities that existed today. And yet, as I lamented in an article written years ago, many parents acknowledged that much of their decisions around tech were predicated not on what they felt was best for their offspring, but rather what the going trends were. In essence, they were losing their will.
Yet as we continued this discussion, I encouraged the parents sitting in front of me (who numbered about 20 or so) to consider that even this size of group had an incredible opportunity to not just change practices for better in their own home, but even in their faith community and beyond. But what is required more than ever are courageous parents who were will lead the charge (in action and discussions) in order to create a sense of solidarity and safety for those who also desired similar choices to be made. The reality is that none of us parents want to be alone in making countercultural decisions for our kids that will leave them feeling like the “odd duck” as they grow up, especially in their teen years. But with just a few supportive and like-minded families, suddenly parents are freed to make decisions that they know are best for the child’s physical, psychological, social, and spiritual health. And as I told the congregation, this above all else is my priority. The last thing I want my young adult children asking me someday is why I didn’t protect them from obvious harms when they were younger, and teach them ways that would sustain their health and well-being for their lifespan.
In our own home, we have already seen this working as we and others close to us have increasingly cultivated a group that recognizes just how critical the topic of media/tech usage is for our kids. In the process, despite that about 85-90% of kids nationwide having their own (or constant access) to smart devices, our 8th graders (and the other six siblings below them) do not have any mobile devices, and we have no plans on giving them these while they are living in our home. We don’t have any gaming consoles, only one TV in the house (in our front room), nobody (including us parents) is on social media, and the two laptops used always remain in the public spaces of our home (not bedrooms or bathrooms). And although our kids undoubtedly push to be on the computer more than we like, and mention their friends’ tech habits regularly, it has been a long time since questions about them having their own mobile devices have come up. With high school approaching, it is likely these questions will resurface, but for now, our kids understand (even if they disagree) that the decisions we are making are truly out of love and care for who they are as a person, and who we desire them to be. And as I told the congregation the previous evening, I was blessed to have parents myself who reminded me that as long as my kids (or us kids) understood that this was their true purpose for the decisions made, the rest would work itself out.
In the meantime, in the midst of the decisions we are making, our kids are actively involved in sports, have a number of friends that come in and out of our house, and are engaged in all sorts of extra-curricular activities and social engagements in addition to academic endeavors. What we have come to realize is that even though the families we surround ourselves with don’t make the exact same decisions we make with media/tech, they respect us for ours (even midst some periodic comical razzings) and this filters down to their kids. We are also blessed to be in a school environment that largely respects these decisions, and works to utilize tech strategically, not immersively, in the classroom. Nothing is perfect and all remains a “work in progress”, but as each year goes by, I am further convinced that we as parents can take a countercultural (i.e., healthy, responsible) stance with our kids use of tech if, and only if, we support each other. And why wouldn’t we? Frankly, I couldn’t care less what the trends are unless they support my children’s health and well-being (and my own) in all the important areas that matter. If that means I am considered an “odd duck” myself, well, then I guess I better start quacking.
So what about you reading this? Part of my intent in writing this is to ask you a favor. Would you help be part of a movement that prioritizes what is absolutely most important for this generation and the ones to come? Instead of considering what you might be afraid to lose (for you and your kids), maybe first consider what you and your kids could be positioned to gain. Because when I see a child growing up in a healthy, vibrant environment, who is increasingly learning that NOTHING―not convenience, ease, access, or immediate gratification―should trump his or her ability to make decisions predicated on the health and well-being of self and others, then I am perfectly willing to forego anything on my end that is not geared towards accomplishing this goal. If this message resonates with you, consider being part of the “tech health” movement today as what you do and don’t do will have a lasting impact on this generation and those to come.