A study on teens, social media, and technology released by Pew Research Center in April surprised few in its collective findings: constant connectivity is the new reality for younger consumers.
In the report, 92% of teens said they go online daily with more than half doing so several times a day. Only 12% of teens said they don’t have a cell phone of any type, but among those who do, 94% go online via a mobile device daily or more often.
Parents of all backgrounds should be concerned over unfettered online usage among their children, even when those parents were the ones buying the devices. That point can’t be ignored, as the solution to the problem of too much online time for kids lies greatly with the ones who initiated it.
“We can’t ever expect our children to model healthy behaviors when it comes to technology usage until we do,” says Brian Bone, state missionary with Georgia Baptist Convention Youth Ministries.
“Is your phone always within reach? Are you unable to sit idly without desiring to check social media or websites? Do you have regular times each day, week, or month when you go without technology?” asks Bone, who has led seminars for youth leaders and parents on the subject. “If not, how can we expect our children to?”
The benefits of technology are just as numerous as the dangers, so how do you grow the former while staying aware of the latter? Thanks to Bible apps, Scripture is just a click away at any time. And, the growing numbers of student ministry leaders posting online give consistent feedback on trending topics.
Connectivity does have its limits, though, and when left on its own can lead to headlines such as …
- Inside the Chinese boot camp treating Internet addiction
- Forcing children to watch TV is now a punishment as iPad becomes ‘first screen’
- Screen addiction is taking a toll on children
Jonathan Jordan, GBC state missionary in Sunday School and Small Groups, has a simple step he began long ago with his 18-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son.
“Everyone puts their phone on our counter at night,” he says. “They need to have space to step away from constant contact and it becomes a sleep issue when friends are texting them at three in the morning. My goal has been to teach them to be responsible with technology.” Ministry responsibilities and availability to elderly parents living nearby make Jordan’s phone the only one not on the counter at night.
Eliminating technology isn’t the answer, he stresses. Managing it is. “Kids can think their phone is for them, but I make it clear it’s for me to be able to reach them,” he points out. “Once I lose that benefit I’ll stop paying the bill for it.
“Technology is their reality, so they need to be taught how to use it responsibility. It’s not appropriate, for example, for them to have a screen at the dinner table.”
Jenni Carter, also in GBC Sunday School and Small Groups (focus on preschool and children’s ministry), also warns against letting technology intrude on family time but going so far as to not enjoy its benefits.
“We need to remember that our kids are growing up in a tech savvy world and we need to help them learn to to set proper limitations,” she says. “Church leaders should help parents develop those rules for children at an early age and adapt as the child gets older. In church, technology needs to be used in the right context and never as a replacement for building relationships with kids.”
“Technology is their reality, so they need to be taught how to use it responsibility.”
Just as important as monitoring the amount of time teens and children spend online, Bone states, is tracking with the spiritual connection and what overusing technology can say about us.
“Social media, by its nature, tempts all of us toward two behavioral practices Scripture consistently implores us to avoid,” he points out. “With regards to selfishness, there’s a tendency to post updates, images, and comments in order to get our friends and even strangers to notice or ‘like’ us. It gives an appearance of connecting with others, but in practice encourages us to focus on ourselves.
“It also lends itself to duplicity – to craft false realities that bear little to no likeness to who we really are. This builds a habit of performance into us that can be incredibly dangerous as we relate to God. We must learn how to fight these trends, and become people who love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (singularity) and who love our neighbors as ourselves (selflessness) just as Christ commands us in Matthew 22.”