I have six children. Yes, six. And almost all of them are teenagers, so they’re part of the golden, or should I say unkown, age of social media. Because of that, I often get asked how my wife, Chelsea, and I navigate phones, the Internet, Instagram and everything tech.
Can I be honest with you? With technology changing every day, we’re learning along the way and figuring it out as we go!
Like many of you, we found ourselves in the middle of a battle we didn’t realize we were fighting. Sure, we knew that smartphones opened up a whole new world, but we didn’t understand just how insane and destructive that world could be.
That’s why recently I set out to get a better understanding of the technological and social media landscape. I was tired of feeling helpless and confused about the world my teenagers were encountering and what I could do to help. I interviewed experts, from a neurosurgeon, to a pastor, to the director of a teen rehabilitation center. Those conversations are going to be featured in an upcoming Fathom theater event on February 27 (with an encore on March 1) called “CONNECT.”
And while I learned a lot during my discussions with these experts, and continue to learn a lot through articles on TheCourage, I wanted to share a few of the larger insights that stood out to me.Here's why the 'phone obsession' problem is both physical and spiritual. Click To Tweet
Your child doesn’t get to decide how you deploy your love for them
Tim Woda experienced a nightmare when he found a Facebook profile for his son and messages from a strange adult man. The man was soliciting inappropriate pictures of his son, and when Tim’s son refused the man threatened to abduct him. The story of how Tim put a stop to the predation is incredible and covered in the film. But something he told me during our talk was incredibly powerful.
While talking about the safeguards Tim had to put around his son in the wake of the incident, Tim admitted that there were some hard decisions and hard conversations he had to have with his son. And his son did not like all those decisions. But you know what Tim said?
“My son doesn’t get to decide how I deploy my love for him.”
Wow. What if we as parents focused more on our responsibility as God’s temporary caregivers for them instead of trying to be their best friends? What if instead of letting our desire for them to like us motivate our decisions, we instead let our duty to love them guide us? It’s not the easy route, but it’s the better one.
The problem is both physical and spiritual
How many times have you looked around while out for dinner and seen all the teens in the restaurant hunched over their phones, so engrossed in their technology that they wouldn’t notice if a bear came sprinting past their table? And how many times have you said to yourself, “Kids these days!”
What if I told you it wasn’t their fault?
One of the fascinating conversations I had while making this film was with Dr. Ian Armstrong. He’s a neurosurgeon, and he understands more than us how the brain works. He told me there’s actually an addiction-like stimulus that occurs in young people’s brains when it comes to technology and social media.
The “like” that a child gets on, say, one of their Instagram photos actually initiates the release of dopamine in the brain. The brain, like it does with drugs, associates that release with what caused it, leading to what can be described in our terms as cravings.
Our children’s brains are actually driving them deeper and deeper into their phones.What if I told you our kid's addiction to their phone isn't their fault? Click To Tweet
But the problem isn’t just physical. Pastor Ken Graves says it goes deeper. He gave me a better appreciation for the spiritual battle that’s happening all around us, the battle between truth and lies. It’s real, and it loves to target children.
“What a child can be, I believe, poses a threat to the kingdom of darkness,” he told me. The good our children can do drives the devil mad, and he’s doing whatever he can to stop it.
To be fair, that doesn’t absolve children, or their parents for that matter, from all responsibility. If there’s a battle, we have to fight it! But maybe the next time you find yourself in a restaurant with a group of zombie-like children, say a prayer instead of rolling your eyes.
Even if you’ve done it wrong up until this point, you can still do it right
You may be reading this post and finding yourself in a desolate place. Maybe you gave your child a phone when they were very young, and now you feel like you’ve lost them completely to their screen. You find them to be a “different person.” You’ve tried to pull back their freedoms and it hasn’t gone well.
I’m here to tell you: There is still hope!
Remember Tim Woda from earlier? In addition to his great comment about your child not getting to decide how you deploy your love for them, he also gave me some really practical advice for parents who have done it wrong in the past but now want to do it right.
Here it is: Blame yourself. That’s right, blame yourself.
Sometimes it’s appropriate to apologize and tell our kids we made a mistake by giving them such a powerful and influential device. We didn’t know what we were doing. Your oldest child understands he or she is your guinea pig. Admit it. Say, “It’s not your fault. It just is what it is. Because your behavior indicates your phone is changing you and we care deeply about who you are, we’ll be limiting your time with your phone. We’ll be making changes about how we use ours, too.”
The key is to present it as something you’re doing together.
Mark Gregston, who runs a ranch in Texas that caters to troubled teens, put it this way to me: “I don’t think anything is too late.”
In other words, a past bad decision — or even misinformed decision — doesn’t necessitate another one.
“We couch it that way because we don’t know what the next step is,” he added. So what should that next step be? It comes back to what Tim said: communication. The more open and honest conversations we have with our children, the more likely they are to respond to us.
That’s the type of conversation I invite you to be a part of on February 27 (and March 1) in theaters all across the country for “CONNECT.” Join me, Tim, Pastor Ken, Mark and others for a night of practical help that could change your family forever.
Let’s figure this out together.