Little has had a more dynamic impact on contemporary culture than electronic technology. I would argue that electronic technology is our feeble human attempt to copy God’s astonishing creation of our capability to communicate who and whose we are. This creative package includes the brain and its extended nervous system components, including the eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and communication modifiers—memory, emotions, and body posture, to name a few.
Electronic technology has afforded us fascinating ways to store and organize knowledge, access facts and figures with a finger touch or voice command, and make wildly rapid computations unthinkably easy. We can even communicate what we are about without being in the same space as our neighbors, looking into their eyes or heart, or reading their body language to see if they understand our message. One could wonder if we will need a brain at all someday. Let Alexa do it!
Clearly, and especially for our children, technology has gone from an informational instrument to an essential part of not just how they function but who they are.
Development and Identity
We are living in the days of “Generation Swipe.” Swiping down an iPad has become a core physical characteristic in children as young as two years old. I’ve seen it in my two preschool-age grandchildren. It’s scary. Not only do I think we are losing cursive and spelling proficiency, but I also wonder how long it will be before our children can barely write their names by hand. Electronic signature, please.
My concern extends beyond a lack of physiological development to the very heart of our young people’s perception of identity. From the point we bring our children to the baptismal font, we pray by faith that the Spirit would continue to mature their identity as children of God. Yet even within the Christian household, we are realizing that electronic media is often profoundly channeling our youth into negative or inaccurate understandings of self-image: Am I pretty enough? thin enough? tall enough? smart enough? handsome enough? Idealized or photoshopped imagery provides exceedingly false expectations. Much of this effect is because our teens are still developing their full behavioral, intellectual, emotional, and social attitudes and responses. As Luther teaches us in his explanation of the First Commandment in his Small Catechism, our youth can easily let social networks replace God as the thing they fear, love, and trust the most.
Furthermore, electronic media makes it difficult for our teens to differentiate reality from fantasy. Our younger teens may not be mature enough to think with discernment, especially regarding subjects like violence or sex.
Additionally, average teenagers use devices to send and receive information for more than six hours a day. This robs them of the chance to spend time playing sports, doing community service, reading, and communicating face-to-face with family and friends. We know that children who use media heavily are at risk of becoming socially isolated, which is a challenge to identity.
These are merely a few of the deleterious effects of electronic technology on our children and their understanding of their identity as part of God’s family. Have you had enough already?
Ding! Notification: We have Jesus to anchor our mentoring of youth. What resources does the Spirit give us to raise children to have resilient and Christ-centered identities, even in this challenging time?
Our children must be surrounded by caring, compassionate, faith-filled, and accountable adults—and friends. Don’t let your child become isolated and immersed in media. Begin setting boundaries for media time and content consumption in preschool. Reinforce them as your children grow up. Something as simple as setting a basket on the kitchen counter and depositing all electronic devices (including the adults’) during breakfast and supper is a start. Replacing bedtime media viewing with a heart-to-heart review of the day and prayer time is helpful. Bedtime is a wonderful time to reinforce baptismal identity.
Remember that you, a Spirit-inspired mom or dad, are the most important source of information, attitude, values, understanding, comfort, and security in a child’s life, especially regarding self-image, sexual behavior, drugs, relationships, and wellness. Remember that how we as parents steward our bodies, minds, and spirits remains the best way to communicate this to your child. Are we eating healthy, maintaining weight and exercise, resisting drinking alcohol excessively, avoiding smoking, and shunning pornography and excessive media use ourselves? How are we interacting with our family and neighbors? Are we glorifying God with our spoken communication? Children reflect the images of the adults around them, especially their parents.
We can provide opportunities as a family to serve at church, school, and our communities, working alongside our youth rather than vegging out in front of the TV or computer. Slow down and be physical rather than sedentary.
Know your children’s friends. Period.
No matter where you find yourself on the spectrum of parenting, calm and compassionate conversations with children, especially teens, remains the first line of family wellness. Do this face-to-face. Furthermore, be aware of the professional counselors, therapists, physicians, pastors, teachers, and youth ministers who are part of your influencing team. Electronic technology can positively help you effectively connect to these human resources. Use these gifts to create an identity characterized by purposeful and missional living centered in Jesus.
Take a look at Family Wellness: Raising Resilient, Christ-Purposed Children by John D. Eckrich for more information on how to raise a strong Christian family.