There can be no argument that our society is inundated with technology. As I write this, I am wearing an exercise monitor that automatically syncs with my phone. I am typing this on a laptop while watching a smart television. All of my vehicles have Bluetooth technology where at the touch of a button on the steering wheel I can say “call (insert name)” and I am driving and talking hands-free to someone perhaps all the way across the country. Want to listen to music? Access your phone. Want to read an e-book? No problem. Download one in mere seconds. Want to watch a movie? There is an app for that as well.
Technology is all around us, waiting to be utilized. As with anything in life, technology can be used for good and evil and for many things that perhaps exist in the muddy middle. In a world full of social media and emojis, how do we navigate the technological surge that most assuredly will not abate anytime soon?
I recently finished reading a new book by Tony Reinke called 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. Typically, upon completion of a book, I write a review sharing my thoughts on the merits of the author’s arguments. Because I believe the subject matter Reinke addresses is of the utmost importance, I want to share my thoughts on Reinke’s excellent effort in a slightly different manner than a “typical” book review. The issues addressed by Reinke hit home in a way no other book on the subject of the use of technology has to date. We have a teenager in our home so should I say more? The answer is unequivocally “YES”!
A little bit of background as to why this is such an issue of importance in my home. We are a family that has embraced technology. My wife, daughter, and I have the latest in cellular phone technology. We each have a tablet and a laptop. As noted before, our three vehicles are full of technological accouterments. We Pinterest, Facebook, Tweet, and all number of other social media functions. No big deal, right? Everyone does that stuff these days.
The issue we have faced of late is what I believe the premise of Reinke’s work is all about, namely identifying the proper balance of technology. Reinke saliently states, “Unhealthy digital addictions flourish because we fail to see the consequences.” It is after all so easy to spend untold hours scrolling through Pinterest or even in the name of fighting the holy battle for the Kingdom of God, hashing it out day and night on Facebook forums. Sharing the message of biblical truth is good. Addiction to social media at the expense of building healthy personal relationships – not so much.
Perhaps the most important issue other than the blatant neglect of personal relationships my family has been addressing is that of what Reinke aptly notes as the secret vices of social media. I mentioned earlier we have a teenager. For parents who may be oblivious to what is readily available at the fingertips of your children via their smartphone, let me clearly state it is not all righteousness. In fact, it is far from it. Since Reinke addresses this issue so well, let me share his thoughts on these secret vices. He states that technology “makes us think we can indulge in anonymous vices, even conceptually, without any future consequences. Anonymity is where sin flourishes, and anonymity is the most pervasive lie of the digital age. The clicks of our fingertips reveal the dark motives of our hearts, and ever sin – every double-tap and every click – will be accounted for.”
Stop and ponder on that for a moment. If that does not hit you in your gut, then I want you to read Reinke’s statement at least five more times and let it sink in, especially if you have children with access to smartphone technology or other similar technology. It is very easy for children (and yes that includes teenagers) to scroll through Pinterest and share questionable pictures. It is amazingly easy to “stumble” across YouTube videos that contain obscene and disturbing material. A little chuckle here, a little that’s no big deal there, and the seed of secret vices can become a not so secret habit as sharing questionable, and not so questionable material then lures in others to begin or continue their own secret vices.
What is a parent to do? I do not recommend the ostrich head in the sand approach. Reinke deplores such a response, noting that falls under the do nothing strategy Satan is hoping we all employ. I do not suggest complete withdrawal from all things technology either. We live in a technology-laden world. It is important for our children to be technologically savvy. After all, the job market will demand competency in this regard.
Parents need to come alongside their children to help them understand that while technology is not inherently evil, turning the corner towards improper addictions and behaviors is often just a few clicks away. It is vital for parents to be vigilant in providing accountability to their children. The specifics of what that accountability looks like may vary, but at a minimum, set in stone a regular review of your child’s online and smartphone activity. If necessary, employ readily available blocking apps and monitors. Help your child understand the purpose of these restrictions.
We have employed an electronics contract in our home whereupon we all agreed to the following list:
1) I agree to use devices only during the specified times with permission.
2) I agree to put way devices at designated times, such as at the end of the day, mealtimes, during schoolwork, church activities, etc.
3) I will remove myself and tell a parent or an adult immediately if something does not feel comfortable online.
4) I will not give out personal information including full name, passwords, addresses, or phone numbers to unknown individuals online.
5) I will not download apps without permission.
6) I will not lie or be dishonest about what I am doing on my phone because deceit could damage my trusting relationships.
7) I will not text, email, or say anything through this device that I would not say in person.
8) I will not take inappropriate pictures or post/share inappropriate pictures of myself and/or others.
Again, such a contract might look different for your family and situation. With that said, I recommend instituting such a contract with everyone in the home signing it. Place it in a prominent place. To do nothing as a parent to rein in and direct in a godly manner proper habits when it comes to technology is a recipe for disaster. Providing godly parenting is a must.
If you are struggling either personally or as a family with technology, I highly recommend Reinke’s book. It was a real godsend for our family at a time when we were in the midst of dealing with our own improper addictions to technology and heading off at the pass some bad habits that were beginning to form with our child’s smartphone habits. This is a book that strikes the perfect balance between recognizing the proper place of technology by explaining how things can quickly go awry. I trust the personal approach to this review was helpful in identifying specific ways to utilize the truths provided by Reinke in this timely book.