Protecting Kids from the Technology Trap

When I was growing up, I remember spending times outside playing sports, “hide-and-seek” or “capture-the-flag” with the neighborhood kids. The Internet wasn’t a thing yet. My family got our first PC when I was in high school, and all it could really do was play CD-ROMs and dial-up to the America Online screen to see if you’ve got mail. That is, if you were willing to wait about 10 minutes.

Our kids today have challenges we didn’t have to face in our youth. What is the right age to allow them to engage in the technology available to them, and how can we make sure they do it productively? More specifically, what is the right age to allow your child to have their own phone and social media accounts?

To be clear, every child is different, and parenting can be deeply personal. Each parent knows his or her own child, and they can make the decisions that best suit their family.

That being said, for my family, I don’t believe there’s strong reasoning for my children to have their own devices, social media accounts or unsupervised Internet access until they are mature enough to handle it. (By the way, many adults aren’t yet mature enough to handle it.)

Lifeway’s Trevin Wax eloquently tackled this topic in a recent article for The Gospel Coalition. On his family’s decision to buck the trend and not to allow his 12-year-old son to have a smartphone and social media accounts, he writes: “Our son thinks the phone represents a new rung on the ladder, the next step toward the freedom of adulthood. We think the phone, at his age, is a step down into slavery. It traps kids, just like it can trap adults, into the social game of likes and comments and never-ending comparisons.”

Technology is great. The Internet and social media give us access to knowledge like never before. But, this technology can also suck us down a deep hole, trapping us with misinformation, degradation and humiliation. It’s too easy for parents to focus on the bad things out there that our kind can find online if they go looking. We too often miss talking about those bad things that find us when we engage online: jealousy, envy, backbiting, dishonesty, disconnection, depression, and the list goes on.

I’m reminded of Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 12:23: “You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is good for you. You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is beneficial.”

This standard would work well as we approach technology – asking ourselves “is this beneficial?”

So, how can you protect your child from all of this?

As noted in a recent article in the New York Times, New York psychotherapist Nancy Colier asked the question, “What really matters?” in life in her book, “The Power of Off. ” She observes that “we are spending far too much of our time doing things that don’t really matter to us.” She writes of encountering countless people who, thanks to technology, have become “disconnected from what really matters, from what makes us feel nourished and grounded as human beings.” These are adults, not kids.

When it comes to the question of how we can protect our children from the technology trap, maybe the better question is, “Are we protecting ourselves?” When we are more connected with “what really matters,” I believe our kids will be.

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