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Parenting Well in a Digital World

Parenting Well in a Digital World

Even at the best of times there is nothing simple about raising children. But throw in a million new technologies—new devices and social networks and apps—and things get far more complicated still. This is every parent’s challenge today. Yesterday I offered a few tips on living well in a digital world and today I want to offer some tips on parenting well. I will use the same format: 3 things you need to put off or reject, and 3 things you need to put on or embrace.

Reject Ignorance, Embrace Education

You need to put off ignorance and in its place put on knowledge. Whenever a new technology invades society, we see a consistent pattern: the older people tend to reject it while the younger people embrace it. The older people are perfectly content with the technologies they have always known, while the younger people are excited to try something new. The younger generation surges forward and the older is left behind.

This is true of parents. Parents often feel intimidated by new technologies, so do not bother to investigate them. Instead, they hand their children devices without really understanding their power and capabilities, and that leaves the children as the ones who bear all the risk. This is what we saw at the dawn of the Internet, where parents handed their children a computer and an Internet connection, never even considering that their children might just look for and find pornography. As a consequence, we found an entire generation of young people addicted to porn. Why? Because the parents did not do what they should have done. It is easy to blame the boys, but we also need to look to those parents who did not fulfill their responsibility.

So parent, you need to reject ignorance and choose education. As new technologies come along and as existing technologies evolve, you need to remain educated about them. Before handing your children those new, shiny gadgets, or before allowing them to join those new, exciting social networks, or before letting them download the new apps everyone else is using, you need to educate yourself. Reject the temptation to be passive and ignorant, and instead force yourself to get educated.

Reject Folly, Embrace Responsibility

You need to put off foolishness and embrace responsibility. Today we are handing our children power tools and then acting shocked when they cut off their hands. This is absurd, and we should expect that our children will make serious mistakes if we do not guide them. So parent, you don’t need only to educate yourself, but also your children. You need to have a plan for introducing new technologies to your children and for monitoring them as they use them. This is your responsibility—the responsibility of having a plan.

Whatever plan you implement needs to account for both training and monitoring your children. Think about training your teenager to drive the family car. When that child turns 16 and gets his learner’s permit you would never just hand him the keys and say, “Have a good time and be back by midnight!” You would get in the car, take him to a mall parking lot and allow him to drive around in circles for a few minutes. Maybe if he did exceptionally well you would even allow him to drive home. You would instruct him, watch him, and give him greater privilege as he showed greater ability and responsibility. When it comes to a car, trust and privilege are hard-earned and quickly-forfeited. And in the same way, you have no business handing your children a mobile phone or signing them up for Facebook without providing instruction and guidance.

The Bible assures us that folly is bound up in the heart of a child. The consistent message of Proverbs is that young people are lacking in wisdom and desperately need parents to teach them how to live with virtue. This puts all the responsibility on you. When you give your child a computer, a mobile phone, or a social media account, you are giving something that has immense power. Your child can use these things to do so much good, but he can also use them to do so much evil. If folly truly is bound up in the heart of a child, you need to assume that without guidance, your child will use them for evil. You need a plan: a plan that will help teach children to use those technologies responsibly. Where should you begin? You could begin with The Porn-Free Family Plan or with my book The Next Story (the second edition, that is, which has “The Porn-Free Family Plan” as a new chapter). Don’t be a fool; instead, embrace the responsibility that God has given you.

Reject Fear, Embrace Familiarity

By this point you may be thinking that these new technologies are just too risky. You may want to take the Amish approach and find ways to keep all of these technologies far away. You may feel it, but you cannot succumb to it. After all, this is the world your children are in, and it is far better to train them now while they are under your care then to send them off ignorant. So this is your solemn responsibility before God, to train them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord even as they use a mobile phone or even as they use Facebook.

People often ask me if can predict what will become of all of these technologies exploding onto the scene around us today. I never know what to say except this: God is going to use them in unexpected and amazing ways. He will glorify himself through them; I am utterly convinced of it. How do I know? Because God has always done that through every scary technological innovation. Think about it:

  • When people first began to record things in writing instead of relying on their memories, many people were terrified, thinking that writing would breed ignorance. But God used writing in the best way—to record his Words, so even today we can find manuscripts going back thousands of years that contain what we now know as the Bible.
  • One of the greatest technologies in the Roman world was the Roman road system. It was created to quickly move soldiers from place to place so they could dominate other peoples and crush rebellion. But the same roads that carried the feet of soldiers carried the feet of missionaries who took gospel to the distant corners of world.
  • The printing press came along in the 1500s and people feared its power. But what happened? Soon the printing presses were churning out Bibles, and the Bible sparked Reformation. Not only that, but the Bible became the bestselling book of all time.
  • Radio came along and before long the gospel was being broadcast all over the world.
  • The television was invented and soon people were watching services and crusades and the gospel was flying to distant lands.
  • Digital devices allowed people to create apps, and very quickly Christians were churning out Bible apps. Already those apps extremely popular, and more and more people today are experiencing God’s Word in app form. And that’s okay. That’s beautiful. God is using digital technologies too.

We tend to think that no one has ever endured what we are enduring today. The truth is, this is a recurring pattern. Time and time again the world has witnessed technological explosions that have changed everything. Today we are at a new frontier, and we—you and I—have to do the difficult work of learning to use these things well. Instead of choosing fear, we need to choose familiarity. Instead of fearing new technologies, let’s investigate them and look for ways we can use them to advance God’s cause. Let’s investigate the benefits and the risks, and learn how to use these things to carry out God’s calling. And then let’s put them to work in doing good for others and bringing glory to God.

(If you prefer to watch than read, you may be interested in watching this talk I did at the recent Ligonier Ministries National Conference.)

Image credit: Shutterstock


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