As my kids get older, my wife and I continue to embark on new, unfamiliar terrain, as I’m sure all parents experience. Most recently, the growth of peer friendships has resulted, naturally and appropriately, in a flurry of invitations for kids to spend time at each others’ homes. As we handle these invites, sometimes to homes of parents we know, sometimes to homes of parents we don’t know quite so well, we’re rubbing up against one topic time and time again: screens. This brings to mind a question, a question we’d love to freely ask, and be freely asked: What is your household approach to the use of digital technology?
This is a question we wish was widely acceptable to ask without causing offence, communicating judgmentalism, or with any hint of condescension. Rather, this is a question we hope would generate excellent discussion among fellow parents as we raise the second generation of digital natives in our homes. This is a question we want to ask because assumptions are dangerous and we would rather err on the side of caution to protect our kids from the sin infested corners of the digital landscape that are all too easily accessible, until such a time as they are sufficiently trained to navigate the digital world on their own.
The intention behind the question is not to shelter, bubble wrap, sequester, or helicopter. The question reflects a desire to approach digital technology in the same way as all areas of life: with biblical wisdom and discernment as we shepherd our children towards paths of righteousness for the glory of God, for their sake, the sake of the church, and the sake of the culture.
In the book of Proverbs, we and our children read that fathers and mothers are God-given travel guides along the path of wisdom: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck” (Proverbs 1:8-9). Parents, can we help one another fulfill this responsibility well, in this area, by a willingness to ask and be asked: what is your household approach to the use of digital technology?
By advocating for this question to be freely asked, we’re seeking answers along the following five lines: access, accountability, duration, location, and content.
By asking fellow-parent pilgrims “What is your household approach to digital technology?” we’re trying to determine the access our kids may have while in your home. What devices will they be able to use? What measures are in place to filter objectionable content from being found, or objectionable content to find unsuspecting users, as is often the case. According to Covenant Eyes, 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to pornography by the time they reach age 18. That’s sobering. Really sobering. The snare can be set early and entrap for years. Intentionality, vigilance even, cannot be under-valued here.
Related to this, by asking “What is your household approach to digital technology?” We’re trying to find out where devices are allowed in your home. Can they be taken to bedrooms where screens can be hidden, or are they only permissible in central, visible locations?
Again, closely related is the issue of accountability. By asking, “What is your household approach to digital technology?” we’re wondering if there are measures taken to evaluate how devices are used. We expect our kids are going to sin in their use of technology, especially as they age and are given more freedom when trust is established. We expect they will see images and videos that they will regret setting before their eyes, and so we want to ensure there is a mechanism for discussing failure and re-establishing that trust over time. We’re deeply interested in whether or not you trust your own kids in their use of devices, how that trust has been established, how that trust is evaluated, and what happens when that trust is broken.
The amount of screen time is a further consideration investigated by asking the question “What is your household approach to digital technology?” We’ve had groups of boys in our home on several occasions, and there is always the initial, sometimes continued request, for screen time. “Can we play this video game? Can we watch this show?” Eventually they give in and end up having a blast using their imagination, usually following the initial boredom and occasional pout.
But the temptation is there for us to cave and inadvertently raise a generation of young men and young women who only know how to socialize when a screen is involved. Do any of us want that? Let’s help one another ensure that screen time is not the default, or the way the majority of time is spent as our kids grow up together. As others have pointed out in the past, the apostle John understood the benefits and limitations of the technology available in his day. At the end of both 2 and 3 John, we read similar sentiments: “I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face” (3 John 13).
Last, and by no means least, the most significant reason for asking fellow parents “What is your household approach to digital technology?” aims at content. We want to know the nature of the material the devices will be used to access. Are our kids being invited over to watch a movie? To play video games? Which ones? What’s your review process?
We understand this is a tricky area because our respective kids may be different ages, mature at different rates, and be raised with different standards, even among the household of God. An openness to ask this question will at least help us have a dialogue. If that discussion is with our non-Christian neighbour or another parent on the playground, we can begin to talk about our desire to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in all areas of life, and how the Bible is our rule and standard. Among the people of God, we can sharpen one another to think about whatever is true, noble, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
As we continue to explore the implications of digital technology on our daily lives, we believe this is a crucial question. There are certain things we don’t even think to ask one another as parents when we entrust our children to each other because there are accepted standards.
We expect that car seats will be used and the wearing of seatbelts enforced. We expect that medication is out of reach in our respective homes. We expect that after a ball game kids won’t be allowed to wander the streets of Toronto on their own.
But because of the relatively new explosion and ever-changing nature of digital technology, an across the board standard has yet to be set. And even if one was established, there would still be variables from household to household.
In his book The Next Story, Tim Challies identifies a spectrum. On one side there is the enthusiastic embrace of digital technology. On the opposite side, there is strict separation from digital technology. In the middle is what he calls the balance of disciplined discernment. That’s what we’re aiming for by advocating that parents freely ask one another, “What is your household approach to digital technology?” If you believe with us that this would a valuable question to ask and be asked, pass it along, and ask away.