Handling computer time wisely is something I am still learning, and my children know it. I am easily distracted, and the computer rewards distraction. (Do I really need to interrupt my task to look up the average rainfall in Madagascar? Isn’t it always a good idea to act on the impulse to text a friend and see how she’s holding up in the midst of her chaos? ) I don’t have any easy answers for you, but I will share some of what we are doing and what seems to be valuable as our family works through glorifying God in our media choices.
How does God speak to our use of time? Stewardship of time, love for others, holiness, laziness, and rest, can all factor into our choices. Ultimately, we aren’t looking for instant results or mere outward compliance. Rather, we are cultivating good practices that will persist after our children leave home, and that is a long-term goal. There are no secrets or quick fixes.
Here are some of the good practices that we are hoping to cultivate.
- I want our filters and fences to be something we do as a family to help each other. We regularly talk about technology and how we are using it. I want to avoid using filters and fences as punishment or as a means to micromanage every decision they make online.
- We are open with our children about how mom and dad use the filters and fences to help us. We share our strategies for learning self control and wisdom with technology, and why we do what we do. They have heard us discussing the value of adblocking software that protect us from aggressive appeals to lust (whether things or people). We’ve also had to explain that advertising isn’t sinful and can be valuable to us. Not every site should be blocked.
- We value sharing content on the computer– “hey look at this!” I want my children to be comfortable sharing positive and negative content they see online, so I share those things with them.
- We also want to encourage real-life interactions. We don’t allow phones at the table. We want the times when we are all together to be ones where we’re talking! We often talk as a family about their online relationships, sometimes troubleshoot misunderstandings, and help them stay safe. Here is a good article to discuss with teens.
- Because biblical discernment is choosing right over wrong, wise over foolish, I want to give my children practice choosing. I have to give them freedom to choose.
- I want them to know how to download and use ad blocking software. I want them to feel the power of controlling what they see, because my ultimate goal is for them to take responsibility for choosing. Ads are a safer, low risk way to give kids experience choosing to eliminate unhelpful content.
- In addition to adblock (which is considered a software filter), we also use the Circle device (a hardware filter), which allows a great deal of flexibility in how we control our computer time. While I don’t give my children access to the Circle settings, I do want their input on how they want us to restrict or allow their use. I’ll ask them, How much time would you spend on that game if I didn’t limit it? Would you like me to limit how much time you spend on optional websites so you can get your homework done? I want them examining their own values and goals as part of our parental direction.
- One afternoon, I asked our children how they knew when they were spending too much time online. Their responses were insightful: When I don’t want you to know what I’m doing. When I get mad when I have to share the computer. When I am not as creative. Instead of constantly regulating their behavior, I want to teach them how to evaluate their own hearts and actions.
- We’ve asked our children to use a non-identifiable picture for profile pics. We do allow them to use some social media. Two of my children play chess on a website that has a chat function. When my daughter changed her profile pic from a bird to an actual picture of herself, she had someone comment on the picture during a game. It wasn’t an inappropriate comment, but it made her uncomfortable and she changed it back after we discussed what had happened.
- We have (with a few exceptions) asked them not to “friend” people they don’t know in real life, except with our input. We’ve talked about why, and explained that we like to see digital interaction augmenting real-life friendships. At the same time, with parental oversight, digital Christian friendships can be a tremendous encouragement to teens who live in rural areas, or who may not have godly friends nearby. We’ve seen digital friendships become real-life friendship in our own lives also, and consider it a blessing of our technological age.
Cultivating self control
- Self control is a fruit of Spirit. While not every Christian will struggle with self control and technology, many will. We should work to say no to our flesh, but ultimately, self control is not sustainable apart from a walk with God. Remembering the necessity of the Holy Spirit reminds me the relative importance of a relationship with God, and helping children understand what “drawing near” to God looks like.
- We alternate between more control and less control. Learning to use technology isn’t always linear. When I control their behavior, I’m buying time (sometimes the right approach), but I’m also putting off the inevitable process of learning wisdom. I’ve found it helpful to give freedom, and then evaluate and discuss how that freedom is being used. Without the ability to choose wrongly, our children will not learn how to choose right.
- Part of self control is acting intentionally, rather than simply eliminating computer time. We like to talk about how we can use technology to love others and cultivate relationships. I feel much better about my computer use when I’m planning to do good, rather than mindlessly spending time. I’d like to talk about this with my children more.
Cultivating a desire for accountability
- Accountability is largely ineffective when it is imposed; it’s tremendously valuable when it is sought out. For this reason, I’m more interested in what my children desire than merely keeping them out of trouble.
- I want to make discussions about accountability and growth in computer use normal. A good question I’ve found to encourage openness is “Have you experienced any success in choosing wisely what or how much you see on the computer?” It is far easier to start a conversation with our children sharing something positive about their battle, and I’ve found this encouraging for us both. God IS at work in their lives (and ours), and we can be easily discouraged if we focus only on the failures.
- Computers are a family room tool. We don’t use them in our bedrooms. While I like the family habit of keeping computer use in a public place, I’m tempered by the knowledge that not every situation makes this habit practical. Still, when I discovered our single youth worker spends his computer time in a public coffee shop with the screen visible to others, I was inspired by the wisdom of his approach! A single man living alone doesn’t have the same access to accountability of family around him. He must take other steps.
- I choose for my children when they are small. As they mature, I give them more opportunities to make wise decisions. Yes, I have a blocker that prevents access to pornography. However, a determined teen can access inappropriate materials. That’s why we’ve emphasized that the filters and fences we use are for helping them in their desire to do right, not to keep them from wrong. Inevitably, though, they will discover the hard way when they’ve chosen wrongly.
- I want my children to know that when they fail to love God as they should (and pursue their desires of their flesh), they can … make a fresh start.
- God’s mercy is available! Have I taught them enough about how to clear their conscience? How to restore a relationship?
- Do they know that growth is different than achievement? That the only time when they can honestly say “I have finished the race” they’ll be at heaven’s gate? Do they see the normal fits and starts as dreadful inconsistency or simply the process of learning?
It’s good to sit down and consider how we are using technology. I’ve seen some places we can improve. How about you?
(P.S. Here’s a book I found thought provoking awhile back. It’s a different approach than I take, but valuable to think about. If you’re a reader, you might want to check it out.)