Earlier this year I was asked to prepare a talk on families and technology. I was to speak to a group of adults, mostly parents of teenagers, and address issues related to digital technology. I was pleased with the challenge and was reasonably happy with the final result. As I prepared that talk I began to think about the role of parents in the media consumption of their children. I turned to the Bible and found three biblical description that I found helpful in describing how they are to serve their children: teachers, watchmen and gatekeepers.
You are familiar, I’m sure, with the words of Jesus in Matthew 23 where we find some of his strongest “woes.” “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” There is an exhortation here to the listeners to ensure that they do not fall into the temptation to be like those whitewashed tombs, sparkling and clean on the outside but actually full of death and decay. They are not to make a show of being clean on the outside while remaining a mess on the inside. An application for us today is that we are to know and remember that the eye of God is upon us at all times. Though new technologies give us unparalleled opportunities to do deeds in secret, we cannot ever escape the gaze of God.
These exhortations apply to those of us who are adults and parents. They apply to us especially in this role. We know the words of James 3:1: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” What applies to teachers applies to parents, the most important teachers our children will ever have. In our position of teaching and authority, we will be judged more harshly. We are responsible before God to ensure that we are modeling godly wisdom and discernment in our use of such technologies. How many fathers would be devastated to find their sons looking at Internet pornography even while dad knows that his computer is stuffed full of the same filth? How many mothers wish their children would stop spending so much time using the PlayStation even while mom spends the national average of 28 hours per week in front of the television (which means, mom, that by the time you are 65 you will have spent 9 years in front of the tube).
We are to be teachers, leading our children to greater wisdom through the wisdom that we have been given. We do not need to spend much time in Scripture to see how the Bible compares age with youth. Time and again the Bible tells us that youth is to be regarded with suspicion, age with respect. These verses are typical of Solomon’s proverbs: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him (Proverbs 22:15).” Compare that with Proverbs 16:31 which tells us that “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die (Proverbs 23:13).” “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother (Proverbs 29:15).” Leviticus 19:32 says “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” God even commanded that his people were to stand in the presence of the elderly to render to them the honor due. Perhaps one of the clearest endorsements of God’s commands towards the aged comes from Job 12:12. “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”
The job of a parent comes into focus when we consider that the Bible tells us our children are foolish, in desperate need of discipline and in desperate need of both wisdom and discernment. If Proverbs does not teach us that, it teaches us nothing! Meanwhile, our task as parents is to lead and guide our child from foolishness into wisdom. Without our leading, our guidance, they will use technology foolishly and inevitably make foolish decisions about media.
Ezekiel 33:6 offers an important warning: “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” While we have to grant that this is a specific law given at a specific time, it is applicable even to us today. As parents, God has appointed us as the watchmen of our families. We stand at the gates of the home and at the gates of our children’s hearts. Like watchmen, we need to be vigilant, knowing what to look for and where to look for it. It is our job, as watchmen, to be aware of what technology our children are encountering. It is our task to watch, to warn, to protect. And this is exactly what a watchman would do.
He would watch to see if an enemy was advancing against his city. He would be focused outward, looking for the approach of anything that posed a danger. As a watchman, he needed to be constantly vigilant, never sleeping at his watch, never growing tired or distracted or disinterested. And like this, we are responsible before God to be vigilant, looking out for the safety of the families we guard.
This is where Ezekiel’s warning gets especially serious. The watchman was not just to watch but was also to warn. If he saw that the enemy was coming, he could not simply watch the advance while resting his head on his hands. Neither would his lack of watchfulness serve as an excuse. His life was tied directly to the lives of the people he protected. If an enemy was able to sneak past the watchman, it is the watchman who would be held directly responsible. In the same way we, as parents, are responsible for warning our children against what might harm them. This may mean warning them against specific dangers such as the addictive quality of the pornography that is so easily shared and viewed on a cell phone, or it may mean warning them of the remarkable power and privilege that is theirs simply by virtue of having that phone.
Of course if an enemy was advancing against the city, the watchman would not run home and go to bed, content that his task was done. No, he was a soldier and would be involved in the battle. He had to protect his city. As a defender of the wall, he might be the first person to wade into the battle. He would watch, he would warn, but he would also protect his city and its people. Likewise, it is our task to protect our children—to fight for them (and yes, I know this often means fighting with them!).
Finally, we are the gatekeepers of the family. We read about gatekeepers often in the Old Testament and usually in relation to the temple. The gatekeepers were assigned to the entrances to the temple and their task was simple—they had to keep out whoever or whatever was unclean. Like the watchmen, they would assume at least some of the responsibility were they to allow into the temple a person or even an animal that was forbidden.
Our task as the families’ gatekeeper is to guard the entrance to our children’s hearts. There are more entrances to their hearts than ever before. We need to be aware of what is on the television screens they watch, what they are writing about and taking pictures of when they use their cell phones and what they are downloading while on the web. We stand between them and the world as a gatekeeper stands between the temple and the crowds.
The Bible tells us that our children are foolish! Today we give them incredibly powerful tools and often simply trust them to handle them in a responsible way. It’s like giving a baby a set of power tools to play with and trusting him not to cut off his hands! Our children need us to teach them to use technology wisely. Our children need us to shepherd them in their use of technology, teaching them to seek wisdom and apply discernment to their use of any technology.