Parents’ Biggest Dilemma: When To Give Children Smartphones

By Barbara Reaoch

Director of Children’s Programs

Jenny and Ryan’s story of their 16-year-old son intrigued me. As parents, they enjoyed discipling their three children to know and love God and the gospel. They were confident of the durable foundation of truth in their kids’ hearts and minds. However, navigating through strong cultural waters sometimes left Jenny and Ryan wondering what way to go.

Take social media.

Not only does it absorb valuable time, it can supply toxic answers to our kids’ biggest questions. The family’s decision to keep social media “off limits” had always worked well. But in high school, Eric’s friends began to tease him for not being on Instagram and Snapchat. Gatherings planned on social media left him out. Eric wanted to join his friends on Snapchat. How were Jenny and Ryan to respond?

Kids are Vulnerable

Jenny and Ryan’s story is not unique. Parents in a recent Barna poll named peer pressure as the issue that impacts their children most. The latest technology, the right clothes, sexual encounters, drugs and alcohol and the money to have it all — wherever our kids turn, the culture pressures them to conform. “Parents’ Dilemma: When to Give Children Smartphones,” a headline of a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, highlights this issue.

“Experience has already shown parents that ceding control over the devices has reshaped their children’s lives, allowing an outside influence on school work, friendships, recreation, sleep, romance, sex and free time.” (1)

There are no simplistic formulas for safeguarding our kids. What guiding principles will help strengthen our children to flourish in today’s world?

Think about how we protect kids from the harmful viruses and bacteria all around them every day. We build up their bodies with vitamins and nutritious meals. We strengthen their defenses through immunizations. We protect them by making them wash their hands before meals. What would a spiritual immunization plan for our children look like?

Build

As nutritious food builds up the body, biblical truth builds up the soul. God’s Word was a consistent priority in Jenny and Ryan’s home. Their kids were developing a biblical worldview through the open communication they enjoyed. Although children will make mistakes, God’s Word is powerful to realign our thoughts and desires to what is true.

Eric spent time researching the pros and cons of Snapchat and presented his favorable findings to Jenny and Ryan. Although Jenny and Ryan weren’t convinced it was a good idea, they wanted to honor Eric’s time, effort and thinking, and therefore decided to allow him one week of access to Snapchat. At the end of the week, they would listen to his impressions. They wanted Eric to realize their home was a safe environment to ask tough questions and wrestle with the controversial topics presented in culture. They realized if they weren’t willing to talk with their son about these things, plenty of other voices in the culture would.

Before the one week was up, however, Eric realized Snapchat was not for him. He saw the wisdom in his parents’ previous decision and deleted the app from his phone without a second thought.

Strengthen

Vaccines train the immune system to fight disease. Bacteria or viruses still enter the body, but now the body is strong enough to resist the infection. Gospel truths are God’s way to develop a healthy spiritual immune system. Rather than telling Eric “no,” Jenny and Ryan knew a stronger biblical worldview would help him navigate cultural currents. Cultural messages will continue to bombard our children, but we can equip them with ways to distinguish the difference from a gospel-centered perspective. They need to know how to differentiate the good, true and honorable aspects of culture from those things that are not.

Protect

Smart phones put the whole internet at a child’s fingertips. Kids can turn to their phones for answers about everything, from fashion and sports to sexual identity. It is wise for parents to establish boundaries for internet usage for their kids’ protection. But how else might we protect our kids’ minds and hearts?

The simple rule “Wash your hands before you eat” sets a boundary that spares kids many illnesses. Likewise, a few simple relationship boundaries go a long way to protect our kids’ minds and hearts. Families are the one safe place where children can learn what they believe about God and why. When kids can talk about what they believe and ask hard questions without fear, their faith develops resilience. Our kids thrive when we spend regular unhurried time with them. With God’s help, this seemingly impossible goal can become reality.

Trust Him

There are no simple formulas for coaching our kids through cultural pressures. They will make mistakes. But God in His goodness provides what we need. Scripture reshapes our goals for our children. Prayer reminds us of God’s vision for our children. As we act on the principles — build, strengthen and protect — we free our children to flourish no matter what challenges they may face.

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Parents’ Biggest Dilemma: When To Give Children Smartphones