Technology, social media, online gaming – these things have become one of the hardest things parents need to navigate these days – and our children are being exposed or influenced at younger ages than previous age groups. So it is a challenge – and we want to jump in and find hard and fast rules that will keep our children safe – but rules are rarely the answer. Instead, we need to look at the heart.
I believe the issues that we see connected to mobile technology, the internet and social media etc are here to stay – these interactive technologies are going to become more and more a part of our life and unless we walk away completely and go off grid, we won’t be able to ignore it.
So how is it going to affect your family? We need to think these things through. Our parenting and our family life does not need to be a victim to technology. We can use it and not be controlled by it.
I think a lot of our reaction to interactive technology is really just dealing with the symptoms and not the cause; technology itself isn’t the cause. Kids on mobile devices is not the cause of breakdown in relationships, body image issues, addictive behavior, or even online bullying – it all comes down to a choice that each individual needs to make – a values-based choice.
It is our job as a parent, to establish right thinking, and rights values in our kids lives, in their hearts, before the habit of using technology overwhelms their value system.
Technology enables wrong thinking to get deeper into the hearts of our children – and we see that in ourselves. So we need to build a foundation of right thinking that will help our children navigate this part of their world.
Build resilience in your family
When it comes to technology and social media we want our children to be able to use it and still do life well. Of course, we could make the decision just to ignore it and forbid it from being in our homes. I personally think this is short-sighted, as we miss the opportunity to teach and train our children to use something that they surely will be exposed to as soon as they step outside of our home.
Some keys that I believe helped us build resilience as a family in the world of technology are:
- We saw our hearts as the issue, not technology. Regardless of what distracts and absorbs our attention, the issue is always what is in our heart – what we believe, value, think, feel and choose. We can be distracted by books, movies, sports, hobbies, work, study, or even a particular relationship – the issue isn’t technology, the issue is what is in our heart.
- People in our physical space come first – This was a family rule. It was always expected that we would all show the people in our physical space basic courtesy regardless of any online interactions – this included mobile phone calls (which is probably more of a parent thing than a teenagers!)
- We respected the interactions with people online – be that in a game, a video call, or in group chats, as real relationships that also deserved respect.
- We set the guidelines for how our family used time in general. A time for everything – including screen time. These boundaries helped establish healthy habits, especially in the early days of online engagement for each child.
- We intentionally taught our kids how to use technology wisely, to be aware of the dangers and pull on their hearts as well as having the skills of using the internet and relating to others in a virtual space.
It’s a heart issue
Ironically, one of the mental pictures that helped me is that I see books as technology! To some this is blasphemous! And I get that, but when we stop seeing technology as the bad guy, we can see the parallels – books give us information and open whole new worlds and we become completely absorbed in them. Isn’t that what we say about digital technology? The internet gives us information, opens whole new worlds and we become completely absorbed! Same-same!
When I was a kid we weren’t allowed to bring books to the table. It was family time, and reading books, no matter how enthralling, had to be set aside. We had this rule in our family too when our kids were little. Dinner time was for eating and connecting with family. And though rules often change when kids grow older and family dynamics change, the purpose doesn’t – we still need to eat food and connect with each other daily……
Another situation comes to mind that has, in the end, shaped our ability to handle technology:
When Josh was six and Nomi was just a baby, she was sitting on the floor crying. Josh who was not that far from her was reading a book and didn’t help his baby sister. I was not too impressed and really jumped on him. But as I talked to him I could see that he honestly did not hear her. I realised he was so absorbed in his book that he was oblivious to anyone else’s needs around him. This was not acceptable. So we worked on it. It was hard for him as he is a focused person, but I wanted him to have a heart for people and so he learnt to be aware and available to the people around him even when he was focused on reading or learning.
This transitioned into him using the computer – whether it was for study or playing games. This skill, which then became a family standard, was applied to technology in its broadest applications.
Awareness, Availability, and Deference would be the three character traits that I believe help us balance technology and family life. I know we often put self-control with any issue with technology, but I think it is overused and our kids start tuning out. So yes, we do need self-control, but we need self-control for any character-based choice we need to make!
- Awareness: Being aware of what is taking place around me so I can have the right responses.
- Availability: Arranging my schedule and priorities in order to help others.
- Deference: Making choices that show the value of other people, before my own importance
You can see how these three work together – if we value other people before my own importance I will be aware of what they need and be available to meet those needs before I do what I want to do. Of course, before we go making rules, fast and tight, we always need to look at the context. My need to work (online) may well come before my children’s need to be entertained. My son’s need to study (online) may well come before my daughter’s need to have fun. We always need to consider context and not rules; we need to hear the heart of these three character traits and learn to become characterised by putting other people first.
Heart-focused Action Step
If you are struggling with the control technology has in your life, in your children’s life, and the impact of that on your family life then here are some keys to work on:
- Understand what you want for your family – What culture do you want to build, and how does technology impact that? How are you going to manage technology so that you can have the family life that you want? Be proactive but don’t make technology the bad guy.
- Consider what heart attitudes are missing (awareness, availability, deference are good starters) and work on those in all areas of your family life – not just the times technology is involved
- Don’t diss technology – There is nothing that is going to consolidate a rift between you and your kids (especially if your kids are pre-teens and older) than ranting about the evils of technology. They will just build a wall up and you will be on the old-fogey side and they will be on the going-places side. Our kids need to learn how to manage technology and it is far better that they learn this skill with you as their safety net than they learn it through the hard knocks of experience when they leave home.
I think this last point is my biggest concern – that parents make technology an issue and it creates division and break in relationship. It isn’t worth it. Far better to see technology for what it is – a tool to learn, create and connect, and relax and then to see our heart for what it is – selfish to the core. Our job as a parent is to teach, train and guide our children’s hearts and we can’t do that if they shut us out – so keep conversations going, keep learning about technology yourself, and as always – keep your focus on the issues of the heart.
Make Sure your Teens are Sharing Wisely on Social Media: Before our kids can use social media well they need to know what to share and what not to share. Knowing circles of friendship will help guard their hearts.
How Can Parents Help their Teens on Social Media: Social media is here to stay and parents need to find a way to help their teens do well online.
How to Manage your Mobile Phoe and Live a Life: The mobile phone is often a distraction but what do we really need to change? Consider why you use the phone and then consider what to change.
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Reviews of Heart-focused Parenting Podcast
A Clear and Thoughtful way to Parent
Belinda shares timely advice to weary and questioning parents. Her biblical-based method of teaching kids virtues throughout the day has already brought welcome change to MY heart. I’m excited (for the first time in a long time) to discipline my kids because now it means reaching the heart instead of simply giving another consequence. An engaging listen filled with practical tips. ~Jennifer
Thank you so much for this, Belinda! Your gentle and practical approach is helpful and encouraging. – Suzette