The statistics have been published, the literature has widely circulated, the conversations continue, but the issue still doesn't seem to be addressed with due vigilance. I'm talking about teenagers with unrestricted access on their smartphones and tablets. I give a hearty “Amen!” to Russell Moore's recent tweet: “I am just stunned by parents who give their pre-teen children iPhones and iPads with unrestricted Internet access.”
We rightly claim that pornography is an addiction, but we don't seem to be challenging the dealers of this drug. Who are these dealers? Parents. Parents who foolishly give their teens (and pre-teens) free rein with their smartphones and by doing so have invited the world into their child's bedroom each night.
Some of you might think I am being a bit extreme, but after wrapping up another summer of youth retreats, my eyes have been opened once again to this absolute foolishness (there's no softer way to put it). The things our youth post on social media prove many things, and one is parental absence in this sphere.
I have too many conversations with students addicted to porn and equally as many conversations with parents who don't have a clue what their children are doing on the Internet. Were it not for an all-powerful, reigning, and ruling God, I would worry even more about the effects of this negligence on the future of our culture, including the church. Therefore, here are six pieces of advice from a youth pastor who doesn't pretend to have parenting figured out.
God has graciously given you children as amazing gifts. Before the foundation of the world, he chose you to be their parents. While salvation is from God, he still expects you to steward these children for his glory. Therefore, repent of your laziness in this area. If you don't restrict smartphone usage, and you have little idea what your children are doing on their smartphones, I am speaking to you. Ask for forgiveness from the God who gave you children and ask for forgiveness from the child whose addiction you have aided.
2. Get Educated
The Internet is always changing, and it is impossible to stay on top of all the latest technology. Yet this is no reason to give up. You can still learn about your child's most time-consuming technology. Take the phone you purchased for them and begin looking at the apps they have downloaded. Visit grovo.com for online tutorials of various sites/apps. Check out Walt Mueller's site Center for Parent/Youth Understanding at least once a week to stay on top of youth cultural trends and concerns. As parents, you also need to start downloading the same apps and familiarize yourself with them. If you don't have time to visit these various sites and don't have the ability to interact with them, make a friend who does.
3. Ask the Church Body for Help
In God's infinite grace and mercy, he has given the body of Christ a wide range of people and gifts. Praise God that he fills his church with “nerds,” those who not only love to learn about various new technologies, but who also have the patience to educate others about them. Find those within your church who are gifted with computers and ask them if they would meet for lunch—they may even be willing to teach a class. Even simpler, start an e-mail group with some tech gurus who will alert you to various concerns. Bottom line: use the gifts of God's church to assist in this battle.
4. Set Up Boundaries
Whether or not you bought your teens their phones or if you pay their monthly bill, you are still in authority over them, and you need to exercise that authority for the glory of God. Take away your teen's phone every night at a specified time. No text conversations are important enough for teens to stay up into the wee hours of the night. The pictures they are snapping during this time wouldn't make you want to hang them over the mantle. Restrict various apps they can use.
5. Tell Them Why
Almost any parent can switch into combat mode and wield the heavy hand of authority. But it takes grace from God to be a parent who sits down and converses with his or her child. Tell your teens why you are placing certain restrictions on their phone, talk to them about the various idols of their heart, and use this time as an opportunity to communicate the gospel. We so often want to speak in a more relevant manner to our teens—here is your chance. Illustrate the gospel's relevance by applying it to their technology. Ultimately communicate that any restrictions you place on them are motivated by love and care. Remind them you are protecting them from the evils of this world.
While there are foolish parents who have turned their kids loose on the Internet, other parents have been responsible with their teen's smartphone usage and still fear the technology. To those parents, I want to remind you of your loving heavenly Father. Many of you are great mothers and fathers who are, by God's grace, trying to steward the lives of the precious children God has given you. Remember that you have a Father who lovingly cares for you and your children. He is the best Dad who ever existed, and he wants to hear any concerns you have about your children. Plus, he is the creative genius behind any new creation; therefore, turn to him in prayer and trust.