I love my cell phone-- it brings such convenience and connection. I do not long for the old days of pay phones, rotary dials and long-distance charges.
Cell phones have a dark side. Ten years of research has uncovered an unprecedented rise of anxiety and depression among teens. This is unlike any generation before and feeds higher rates of self-harm. The corresponding factor to this epidemic is the explosion of intense cell-phone use.
I don’t think the answer is to demonize technology. The goal is to help our families adapt in healthy ways to technology. With inspiration from blogger Jeff Henderson, here’s a few mistakes parents should avoid:
1. Allowing children to take cell phones into their rooms.
One of the best ways to manage technology is to limit where it is used at home. Allowing a child access to their phone while in their room will vastly increase the amount of hours spent in social media. Keeping phones located on the main level of the house increases family time and interactions. The obvious backlash from children will be the statement, “Mom, I’m bored!” Consider this statement a badge of honor for your parenting! Boredom is the source and motivation for creative thinking and imaginative play—think here about Phineas and Ferb!
2. Not keeping up with technology.
Parents can’t be lazy here. You don’t have to know everything but do a Google search on things like “dangerous apps for children and teens”. You wouldn’t send your kids into the woods without teaching them what poison ivy looks like. Why give them a cell phone without knowing the dangers?
Participate with your children in learning about apps. Have them teach you about the features. Ask them what they like about the app. Teach them to judge the risks.
3. Parents don’t set an example.
Many parents are addicted to their own cell phones. They use them at the kitchen table, in the car and as they walk around the house. If I want my kids to manage their technology, I need to manage mine. If you don’t think you have a problem with screen time, ask your spouse or your teens to give you their honest assessment. You might be surprised.
I know a Christian family that keeps a “cell-phone Sabbath.” Every Sunday they park their phones at home in the off mode. Screen time is replaced by outings, games, movies or just plain conversation.
4. Forgetting that you are the Parent.
Children put enormous pressure on their parents to allow great use of technology. The practices of other families is often weaponized by kids against their parents. The goal of parenting is not to be liked by your children. It is to form them morally and spiritually into honorable adults. It’s important to stay strong in this goal. One family drew a firm line at “Snapchat” not allowing their kids to have this app until they were 16 years old. After their 16th birthday they had to sit down with the parents and watch the sermon series “The New Rules of Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley.
Even if we’ve made these mistakes, we can re-set our family technology habits. It requires a family meeting and honest conversation about improving family life. Let your children participate. Don’t be afraid to confess your own failures. This will make it easier for everyone to commit to some new behaviors. May God bless your home with the life, peace and joy of Jesus Christ!