“One of the most common, and contested, conversations I have with parents – both friends and those who I get to serve in ministry – is about technology.
“Should my kids use it?”
“How much screen time is too much screen time?”
“Should I let my _____ – year old have a phone? tablet? computer?”
“How do I filter what they’re watching & playing?”
These are all good questions. And they are not easy ones to answer. Conversations about things that really matter – including ones about technology – are often not as black and white as we would like them to be. There are a lot of grey areas and factors to consider, depending on things like your child’s age & maturity level, your personal beliefs, your child’s developmental stage and personality, just to name a few.
Just because the conversation is complex though, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be having it. In fact, I believe choosing not to have the conversation can be detrimental to our kids and families. While I can’t script it for you (your kids, the stage of life they’re in and the relationship you have will determine some of this), I am hoping this post can provide a starting point for you.
Start the conversation with a WHY.
I believe that every tough conversation is more successful when we start with the WHY rather than the WHAT. Instead of simply outlining rules and regulations for our kids, I think starting with the WHY behind those rules gives us more credibility, and them more understanding. So, when you sit down to have a conversation about technology, try to incorporate some of these WHYs.
“We are talking about this because…”
- “I am concerned about your safety and want what’s best for you.”
- “I want to know what you’re interested in.”
- “I want us to have balance/boundaries in our lives.”
- “I want us to honour God by the way we _____________ (use our phones or tablets, with what we watch on TV, the video games we play, etc.)
- “I know that technology is an important part of our world, and I want us to use it the best way we can.”
Using one of these lines or a variation of it should be a great launching pad into a conversation. If you’re reading this, and like me, you believe that honouring Jesus should be at the center of all we do, the WHY is the most important part of the conversation. Letting kids understand that our everyday lives – including the way we use our phones and tablets and televisions – is a reflection of our walk with Jesus – is an important principle that should be communicated.
Even for younger kids, this can work. While you won’t go into as much depth, you can start this at a young age.
“We are turning off the TV today because going outside is important too.” “We don’t watch that show because it isn’t a show that is _________ (kind, shows God love, uses good words).”
This is also a good place for YOU to start the conversation before you even have it with your kids. WHY are you setting boundaries on technology? WHY do you feel uncomfortable with a particular game or show or amount of screen time? Processing this through a lens of WHY rather than just setting rules will help you keep boundaries in place long term.
Do your research (involve your kids if you can)!
Any good conversation about something as significant as technology should be grounded in the facts. Whether you like it or not, technology is here to stay. It is an integral part of your kids’ lives – in fact, the generation being born today will never know of a world where technology did not exist.
So, instead of just having a gut reaction and getting rid of ALL THE THINGS, do some research and be armed with the facts. If your kids are older (I’m thinking elementary age and up, although even younger kids could be involved in some ways), get them involved too.
Trying to make a decision about a particular video game or app and if it is appropriate for your family? Do some digging to find out!
Want to decide if a certain artist or song is good for your children’s consumption? Pull up the lyrics on Google and read through them. Once you’ve done a glance over, read them with your kids. Decide together if those words are something you want to celebrate and accept in your home.
Trying to set a limit on screen time? Do some research, poll other parents, check out all the articles, and then, follow what seems best for your kids.
One of my favourite websites for doing research is Common Sense Media.
They review books, movies, TV shows, games & apps on a variety of factors. You can also see other parents’ (and kids!) reviews, and a recommended age. It’s a great place to start!
Be willing to make the decisions that are best for your family.
I am really convinced that too many kids download apps, stream YouTube channels, and listen to certain music, not because their parents are okay with it – but just because they don’t know how to say no. Nobody wants to be “that parent.”
You know the one I’m talking about. You picture a mean and strict mom who forbids everything but “educational” shows and songs and apps. No fun for the kids who live in your home! None of us want to be her.
Here’s the thing though – I am convinced you can be a fun and in-touch parent while still saying no. Technology isn’t just one of those things that doesn’t matter – it really does. The things that your kids consume will stay with them throughout their life. Don’t believe me?
Try to sing your favourite song from when you were 13. I bet you can!
I bet you can still remember an episode of a show you watched afterschool as a 7 or 8 year old.
The things we consume stick with. They impact us in ways that I’m not even sure we’re aware of. We can’t just say ‘yes’ in fear of being mean or disliked by our kids. We have to make the decisions that are best for them! When we start with the why and learn the facts, I believe that we can make these well-informed choices that will benefit our children.
They may not like the choices we make, but when they are informed and know what we are doing is for their benefit, I believe they will at least understand (and maybe in the long term, thank us… but don’t hold your breath!).
Set limits and stick to them.
One of the most important parts of this conversation is setting limits on technology for the people who live in your home. Yes, screen-time limits are a part of this. These are unique to you and what you belive is best for your family.
However, there are other limits that I believe as parents we must be vigilant about it. These are limits on what our kids are able to find on their devices through a Google or YouTube search. Stats vary, but most say that kids have their average first exposure to pornography online between 8 and 11. Many of those exposures are accidental – through a misspelling of a word, an innocent combination of words, a one-click too far on YouTube.
This isn’t even to mention the risk of exposure to predators, kid-to-kid (or teen-to-teen) sending of inappropriate images and videos, and exposure to violence. The Internet is an incredible tool, but also a dangerous one.
As parents, we must be vigilant in setting boundaries for our children. Things like parental protection, monitoring devices, safe search and limiting the apps our kids have on their phones and tablets cannot be negotiable. Just like you wouldn’t give your kids unfettered access to
In every part of this converstaion, we must remind our kids that we are people they can talk to.
None of us are excited about having a lengthy debate with our 11-year old about how much they play FortNite, or our 7-year old about not watching YouTube on their own because of what they may see. None of us are lining up to turn off the television set, delete the apps or talk about why we’re doing it. But we must.
Having the tough conversations lets our kids see we are safe, we can be trusted, and we can be talked to. Doing the research lets them see we are reliable sources – we know what we are talking about. And sharing the why allows them to see we’re in this for their benefit.
So, how have you started the tough conversation about technology? What resources have you used to help you along the way? Let me know!
Resources & Tools I Recommend:
- “The Tech Wise Family” by Andy Crouch (I cannot recommend this book and the research behind it enough! Every family should have a copy)
- “Children & Screens” Guide from Orange
- “How To Talk to Our Kids About Technology” from Covenant Eyes
- “A Parent’s Guide to Technology” from Focus on the Family
- “Kids and Technology” from
- “5 Apps for Parents to Monitor..” from Parents Magazine
- “Family Media Standard” from Fight the New Drug
- Circle with Disney