“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” Proverbs 3:13-14
When I drove past the local high school last week, I watched teens all standing out on the grounds, scrolling on their phones. I realized how very close some of them were to the street, completely unaware that in seconds a car could roll up on the curb and hit them.
If we’re honest, I think many of us parenting in a new era are like those teens. Technology has taken over our lives, and most of us are standing too close to the curb unaware of the devastation that could be unleashed in minutes if we don’t pay attention.
The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, by Andy Crouch, is a little gem of a book which suggests“Ten Tech-Wise Commitments” for families who want to live by wisdom, establish balance, and have good family relationships. With its solid research by Barna Group, both my husband and I found this valuable reading.
Crouch isn’t overbearing, and he presents the commitments as positives (thou shalts vs. thou shalt nots). Crouch admits that the person who struggles most with tech balance in his family isn’t his wife or teenagers, but him. He honestly depicts his family’s achievements and struggles with each of the commitments.
For a while now, I’ve realized screens were having a more negative impact on my family than I would like. It is far too easy to hand a baby a phone to keep her quiet on a plane, and resort to doing it again to keep your toddler from going through the drawers in the pediatrician’s office. The effect of screens on the developing brain is becoming more and more apparent, and when the product developers at Google and Facebook require their nannies to agree to keep their own children off screens, we should probably all pay attention. My husband and I had already implemented some rules for ourselves, particularly about phone use. We realized long ago that phones don’t belong at meals and banned them from the table. We bought an alarm clock and turn our phones off at night.
My children don’t have phones and we have no plans to buy them a phone. Ever. I get to remind them that I was 25 before I had a cell phone, and my company provided it. They think I was there when the Pyramids were built. I foolishly bought a tablet (against my husband’s better judgment) and after multiple attempts to control it, it just went to work with my husband. Permanently.
Parenting in the era of technology is hard. It is far easier to let my kids play X-Box for hours while I get my own work done, read a book, and check social media. It is much harder to check up on chores, talk with them about their schoolwork, teach them to mow the lawn, and ask them what they are reading. I have failed to stay on top of their screen use; even more I’ve failed to model good behavior to them. I’ve given away too much valuable time to scrolling social media.
Immediately after reading “The Tech-Wise Family,” I implemented “We wake up before our devices do, and they ‘go to bed’ before we do.” For a long time, I’d been frustrated with late night and early morning text messages. I was raised that calls should only happen between 9 am and 9 pm, a rule which always seemed logical to me. So now my phone gets turned off about 9 pm and doesn’t come on until about 9 am. In truth, this is easier because I maintain a cheap landline and my family knows to call that if there is an emergency after hours. Obviously, there are exceptions: kids out late with friends, a husband on a business trip, etc. But this simple commitment has helped me maintain a much more peaceful existence and better sleep.
It was when my husband and I read through the commitments with our kids on a car journey that we really broke open a can of worms. Our kids listened quietly, but we knew they were paying attention as we discussed how we were doing in each of the ten areas. We discussed integrity, temptations, wisdom, being creators and not just consumers. We long ago decided we wouldn’t have DVD players, tablets, or phone scrolling in the car for just this reason. A simple book discussion led to some one-on-one talks with them later, and they made some individual commitments that will help as they seek to become wise.
As we learn to “rest” from devices, none of us are terribly sure if we can manage to take an entire weeklong vacation without them, one of Crouch’s suggestions. We are still working through how to tailor tech wisdom to our family. But we are more aware. We are more committed. We have moved back from the curb and are keeping our eyes on the road.
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