Parenting in a Digital World
I am not one that believes the realities this current generation is facing is harder or more dire than anything we have ever faced. I believe that line of thinking is a bit idealistic and ignorant. However, I do think that each generation faces unique issues and challenges it must navigate with great wisdom and discernment. As a parent of two homeschooled teenage daughters, wisdom, and discernment are regularly called upon words in my journal and prayers.
Parenting in a digital world presents unique challenges that need to be addressed and faced with great intentionality and care. This is the first teenage generation that is fully digital - 100% smartphone availability in their lifetime. A continuously connected and, unfortunately, interruption driven culture. To stay on this topic for a moment, the new Apple Watch was announced recently and the core new feature is built-in cellular connectivity. Your watch, always connected, delivering notifications, text messages, phone calls, meeting invites, etc. Always connected, no phone needed. On the one hand, I love this technology - but on the other, our every day can turn into a constantly “connected” and never removed from interruptions or a stream of information.
Are we prepared and leading through this well? This constantly connected, information overload life has some serious consequences. Did you know teenage suicide is a growing public health problem. A recent Huffington post article unpacks the CDC report.
Leading our children and the next generation starts with leading ourselves well and being keenly aware of what being a teenager online is like. It's important to know that teenage depression is seeing a startling increase. A major contributor to this increase is cyber-bullying according to Susanna Schrobsdorff in this Time Health article.
I see evidence that technology and online bullying are affecting kids’ mental health as young as fifth grade, particularly girls. “I couldn’t tell you how many students are being malicious to each other over Instagram. “I’ve had cases where girls don’t to come to school and they are cutting themselves and becoming severely depressed because they feel outcasted and targeted.” - Ellen Chance
As parents are we monitoring digital use well? Are we aware of what's happening in our kids lives online as well as offline? We need to be!
A major challenge we face with our smartphones is our constant digital connection and addiction? Yes, addiction. For the most part, all of us, parents and kids, struggle with addictive behaviors with our smartphones. Some adults navigate this better than others, and some are horrible. Robin and I talk about this on a fairly regular basis, and in full transparency we both find ourselves sliding up and down that scale, from bad, to worse to swings in the good and doing great other days. But we both would say we do not consistently model this well in our home. And we have decided this has to change, and we are going to be intentional about building and shaping the right habits around our digital lives consistently.
Here are the four keys we use to do our best at parenting in the digital world.
1) Lead With Vision
One thing I have learned along the way is, it is critical with vision. Leading with vision needs to be about what your family is for, not what it's against. We opted to kick this off with everyone in our family meeting. Our family meetings happen on a semi-regular basis, say monthly. The key discussion centered around bringing clarity to our core priorities as a family. Those are:
Relationship with God
Building our Godly character
These priorities are not new to our family and not exclusive to this topic. We discuss these on a regular basis and they become our guide to many decisions we make (spoken and unspoken.)
2) Focus On Habits
After getting centered on our priorities, we then transitioned into how those priorities were being threatened and impacted by our digital addictions. No, not everyone was happy about this discussion, but everyone agreed this was a struggle - FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. So, we kicked off a digital detox. A 30-day removal of social media, and any apps that create demand for our attention. Robin and I both were in agreement that apps like text messaging and FaceTime were important because we want to encourage deepening relationships.
3) Parents, Lead by Example
As parents, we have also gotten a little more lax than we should have on computers and phones in bedrooms. We have NEVER allowed phones in bedrooms overnight - even with sleepovers. Kids' phones and devices get plugged in and charged in the kitchen, and if your phone is not on the charger when I awake in the morning you lose it for the day. BUT, during the day and waking hours phones and computers have become highly used in the bedrooms, and we also are putting a limit to that. We will allow exceptions to the rule when needed - but permission must be asked. Robin and I were also in the bad habit of having our devices with us throughout the house in the evening. Constantly glancing at, being pinged by and interrupted by emails, text, GroupMe, Instagram, and Facebook - just a bunch of stuff that in the big and grand scheme does not matter.
It’s hard to build solid face to face communication as a married couple on its own, and when you have the easy distraction of a smartphone, it’s near impossible. Phones need to get put up and on the charger when we are “home.”
Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule, and we discuss those and try not to be too legalistic. Robin prepares for school; I have work I sometimes need to handle...there are relational needs that need to be tended to on our phones, yes. But, what we are trying to avoid are the meaningless distractions of the digital black hole. Again, all this goes back to point two, to break bad habits and build new ones.
4) Review, Discuss and Modify
Parenting in a digital world is complex. Leading ourselves in a digital world is challenging. What I know is this: we must bring intentionality to all areas of our lives, or we will wake up, and the world and stuff will control us. To do this effectively, this must be fluid and adjust regularly. The age of your kids, situations you face and technology advancement means this is not a set it and forget it concept. Have open and transparent conversations with your kids, and each other as parents. Reward good behavior and celebrate new habits that have been formed!
If you read this far, then congratulations for wanting to make a change. Start now, reject and refuse, to be consumed and led by things of this world. Control your things, or they will control you.
Parenting is tough. Don't think for a second that we have all this figured our, or have never made mistakes. We make them all the time. Thank God for His grace, we need it. But I will leave you with this. Be different. Think different. Act different. And doing so will guarantee you to be WIERD. But as pastor Craig Groeschel says: "I choose WIERD, because normal isn't working:"