A new decade dawned and life seemed almost perfect. It was the year 2000 and my husband, Jon, and I were enjoying life in our dream home. I was in my fifth year of homeschooling our daughters while my husband was happily employed. Together, Jon and I enjoyed mentoring and teaching couples how to be intentionally connected parents. We enjoyed serving high school students in our church youth group (which also allowed us to find cream-of-the-crop babysitters and mentors for our girls. Our daughters were 10 and 12 years old. Many consider this age range as the “tweens.” However, because we identified raising mature young ladies as our parenting objective, our family belief was that we didn’t have teens. We used 1 Timothy 4:12 as a guiding verse to inspire them to greater things than their peers:
“Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young,
but set an example for the believers
in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV)
The teenage years were simple as both girls were compliant, enjoyed being with friends, and their friends enjoyed hanging out at our home.
Then came the big SURPRISE!!!
In 2001, our third daughter was born a decade after her sisters. I was older, wiser, and way more experienced, or so I thought. Yet, everything I thought I knew about parenting shifted. While I knew each child has a unique personality, gifts, and temperament, I was not prepared for the impact digital media would have on our parenting; I struggled to keep up with all the latest releases.
Regarding technology, I am a digital immigrant! My children know more than I do and that’s not going to change! They are digital natives!
We were early adopters of cell phones and smartphones because my husband’s job in technology offered us the latest and greatest devices. When my youngest was little, she would walk around with a dummy phone in her hand, pretending to talk to someone. Back then, we thought this was adorable, but as a teenager it created turmoil. We found ourselves repeating phrases such as, “Please put your phone away,” “Do your homework,” “Stay focused,” “Have you done your chores?” The battle was real as I struggled to help her become a well-adjusted, mature, and productive gal rather than what I considered lazy.
If only life could have stayed so simple!
Honestly, early on, I loved mobile devices as a way to entertain my daughter while I jumped in the shower or visited with a friend. I searched for the best educational games and tools for her. I loved reconnecting with friends via social media and GPS on the phone opened up whole new worlds for this directionally challenged mom. Being in contact with my older girls when they were on the road or traveling was nice. Even now, when my husband or daughters travel, I am so grateful for the various apps that keep us connected. .
However, I feel that it has been much harder to raise my youngest in the age of technology. I’m not alone in this feeling as Statistics alone are enough to make you cringe. According to The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, a research-based book by Andy Crouch (2017), technology is the number one reason parents give when asked why parenting is more difficult today. When asked what makes it more difficult to raise kids today, 65% of parents responded “technology” or “social media.”
A few of the difficulties I personally have learned/experienced include:
The average American teenager spends nine hours a day on screens. Hence, they aren’t doing something else (hobbies, hanging with friends, reading a book, sports, sleeping, homework).
Overuse of screens overwhelms and creates anxiety in kids.
Connection in real life is not viewed as important.
There is more time wasted by playing games, posting photos, texting, etc.
Technology is constantly changing, thus making it harder to monitor.
Digital media shortens attention spans as kids try to multitask. Marketers have realized this and have adapted to creating shorter snippets of media to keep them from turning away to the next thing.
Inappropriate content is always just a click away, as are bullies and predators.
Vanity has increased with selfies and YouTube videos.
My daughter’s desire is to be “famous” without putting in the effort (Kardashian effect).
Kids feel the need to always be amused and thereby struggle with boredom.
Exposure to many opinions differing from and sometimes outright opposing those of parents.
Kids are being exploited by marketing giants trying to capture as much personal data as possible to improve targeting advertising.
And the list will continue to grow as more research accumulates. Familiarizing yourself with current research and making proactive plans to counter the effects of technology is the first step in raising healthy digital natives.
Many years ago, I likened technology to how the tobacco industry deceived us by portraying smoking as cool. Marketing was targeted at youth to create lifetime customers. Even I bought into it while in college. Hollywood was quick to jump in, portraying characters who smoked, played by famous men and women, in their movies. It wasn’t until decades later that we would learn the real impact smoking has on our health.
In a statement issued by Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, she said, “Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. It is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people’s mental health issues.”
This analogy, which has since shown up in several articles and books, supports my desire to encourage and equip others to avoid simply following the crowd. As parents, it’s our responsibility to teach our children how to use smartphones, social media, and technology as tools rather than allowing them to consume our lives.