Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you are struggling to determine what healthy cell phone use looks like?
Struggling can be good because it helps us identify our values. I really love how God tells us in Deuteronomy to love him wholly—to value him above all things. He doesn’t say fleetingly or haphazardly share his words and precepts. He says, “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
We value our God who saved us, and we value the children he’s entrusted to us. And, since we are people using media devices who are raising children in the way of the Lord, how we use and model using devices is an important topic of our struggle . . . when we walk along the road (or drive to school), when we put our kids to bed (or sit in the family room)—really at any and all times.
Remember the expression, “more is caught than taught.” Our kids are watching us and listening—weighing what we say against what we do. Short of some cataclysmic dystopian accident, cell phones are not going away. Children can see if the device appears more interesting to us than the people around us do.
There is value in struggling with how to have and show healthy media habits. Notice when you choose to give attention to a device. While it’s fine to view entertainment online and be connected to others, it’s also good to evaluate: “Is my media time excessive or to the exclusion of those around me?” Evaluate whether you would allow or encourage those choices for your child.
Value in struggle
Recently, I was sitting with my youngest daughter when she beelined to retrieve my beeping phone. I thanked her and told her to leave the phone in the other room because I was spending time with her. The phone could wait.
Herein lies a struggle. We will have times when we need to take phone calls and answer messages. We also don’t want to give the impression that we value what’s on the other side of the beep more than we value the people present.
The apostle Paul reminds us that just because we can do something doesn’t mean it’s constructive to do so. He writes, “ ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
Evaluate how your personal habits appear to your child. Would your son notice that Dad stops what he’s doing to check every notification or that Mom checks her social media in the middle of conversations? None of these situations are necessarily wrong, but each one begs us to evaluate and struggle with: “Is this how I want my child to interact with those around him?” Where are the boundaries—or where would I want them to be?
There is no magic pattern to win the “best media boundaries parent award.” Yet being aware and evaluating media choices makes a difference. Share your values and discuss what you are doing: “I’m putting the phone away because . . .”
You may show healthy boundaries by deliberately putting the phone out of reach more often. Explain why you don’t want phones at meals or decide the family will all put them in the other room or turn them off during family time. Even declare the hour that it’s absolutely okay for everyone to catch up on their favorite media platform.
Let your children have input—work through this together so your family can use these God-given tools in moderate, healthy ways. There will be some struggling, tweaking, and reevaluating, but sharing your values with your children is priceless.
Amy Vannieuwenhoven and her husband, Charlie, have four children ranging in age from a fourth-grader to a high school senior. Amy is a teacher at Northdale Lutheran School in Tampa, Florida, and the author of Look Up From Your Phone So I Can Love You from Northwestern Publishing House.