According to the Pew Research Center, about a third of all teens have smartphones, a quarter of all teens have a tablet, and more than 90% have regular computer access at home. According to a 2006 Barna poll, the average preteen spends about 40 hours a week watching TV, and teens only a little less. Technology in the classroom has seen something like a 50% increase in use overall in just the last two years.
I could cite more statistics, but I don’t think I need to. We know that this generation of young people is more plugged in than every before, and unless thinks take a major left turn, that’s not likely to change any time soon. But it’s not that exposure to media is all bad. It can be both educational and entertaining, and is a powerful tool for connecting people in unprecedented ways. This can all be a good thing.
It can also be an incredible waste of time, and worse, a source of much temptation.
So how do parents draw the line? What is the best way to allow your child to use technology without allowing it to become a monster?
According to some surveys, while most parents are very concerned about their kids’ media consumption – and especially about social media activities – only about a third are doing anything about it, and nearly two thirds of kids feel confident that they can hide their activities from their parents.
But the reality is that monitoring your child’s internet activity isn’t all that difficult, if you’re willing to put in the effort. It can feel overwhelming, but it is very doable.
It starts when they are young. If your kids aren’t young any more, don’t panic – you can still insert yourself and set some boundaries. It might be a little more work, but that’s where you are, and there are no shortcuts.
If you start when they are young, you can create a culture of openness and acceptance of your boundaries. George Barna, in his book Revolutionary Parenting, notes that in their research, very effective parents didn’t all subscribe to the same boundaries or set of rules for use of media. Some were much more conservative about ratings and content than others, though all reflected that they felt it was important that the content not promote sinful activity. However, the common thread was that they all were involved in their children’s media choices. Their kids didn’t set the rules. And there were strong consequences for transgression. Your child won’t die if she has to go a month without Facebook access, or TV shows, but she will learn a lesson.
Along with that was one other critical function: they taught their kids why the rules matter. See, some parents who disapprove of certain media choices will just make a blanket statement: “No. Not allowed in this house.” But if they don’t take the time to explain to their children the “why” behind it, they are breeding contempt for the rule and a willingness to skirt it and try to hide it. By explaining, they teach the child discernment, which leads to a young adult who makes good choices all on their own, because they understand what is important.
Another important part of the strategy is to consume media together with your children. When TV shows and movies are a family affair, you will know the stuff your kids are into and can be confident about its content. You’re eliminating the guesswork. You’re also teaching your child, though, that some entertainment is okay, and helping them understand what that looks like.
The same can go for social media. True, it is hard to imagine a more embarrassing thing for a teenager than for their parent to comment on their Facebook post. Then again, teenagers who know their parents could comment on their Facebook posts are much less likely to make the kinds of posts that would lead to embarrassment should their parents interject. See, once again, it’s all about the culture you create.
Now, here’s the bad news: Even if you create this culture in your family, your kids are not going to appreciate it. Interviews the Barna Group did with committed Christian young adults revealed that most of them rankled under their parents’ scrutiny of their media choices as they grew up. But those same young adults now reflect that they appreciated their parents’ concern, and have since come to realize the importance of making good choices.
This is the goal of parenting. It is not to make your kids like you. It is not to be your kids’ friend. It is not to give your children everything their sinful little hearts desire. It is not to make them always happy. It is to raise them in such a way that when they grow up, they are committed to their Lord, they look back on your parenting with appreciation, and they have learned to make wise choices for themselves.
So here’s the takeaway in a nutshell:
- You set the rules of media consumption for your kids. They don’t. Limit the time, limit the content, limit the medium, whatever. But make it clear that you are the boss, using consequences when necessary.
- Teach your children the “why” behind the limits you set, especially when you veto certain choices. If a TV show, movie, or song is no good, explain why you’re concerned about it, and then be firm in not allowing it.
- Consume media with your kids. Listen to music with them. Watch TV with them. Be a part of their social networking online (even if only as a passive observer). Let them know you care about what they consume by consuming it with them.
- Don’t worry about how your children will react now. Take the long view and focus on the goal.