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Consider making a digital resolution in 2019

Our families are at war with technology and digital communication. At a time when information is more readily available than ever and we can connect with friends and loved ones in an instant, depression and anxiety among young adults and parents increase. Many report feeling disconnected from their families because of technology. So something that was designed with the intention to keep us connected actually makes us feel more lonely!

As beloved children of our heavenly Father, we were designed to be in relationships with one another. The very nature of our triune God points to the interconnectedness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our digital age has given us a false sense of interconnectedness by giving us so much information that we assume our relationships are more complete than they might actually be. Instead, we are lonely because we’ve stopped looking into each other’s eyes, and we’re anxious because we feel that we need to post or perform to receive attention.

This year, consider making a digital resolution to turn off the smartphone at dinner; forget the in-the-moment Facebook post; and talk face to face with family, friends, and especially your children.

Your commitment to set a digital resolution in 2019 could include:

  • Setting a specific time and place for technology use in your home.
  • Having all family members agree on when to unplug, perhaps during family meal times and at the same time every night.
  • Committing not to use technology before a specific time on weekends (Mom and Dad, this means you too!).
  • Using the resources on your mobile device to set daily time limits for use for every member in your household. Most Apple and Android devices now include this type of software. Consider a tool like mobicip, which helps parents set healthy limits on their children’s digital experiences (as well as their own!).

When you set limits around your technology use, watch for the Lord to bless your efforts, including more conversation, more face to face time, and perhaps even more hugs.

Laura Reinke and her husband, Matthew, have three teenagers. Laura is a marriage and family therapist at Christian Family Solutions and the director of youth ministry at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Kids and cell phones: What’s right for you?

Disclosure alert . . . my husband and I are definitely not the poster parents when it comes to cell phones and kids. In fact, I originally declined writing this article because we have made so many mistakes along the way—it’s embarrassing! But if someone had laid it all out when we were having the whole “I need a phone” conversation with our first child, who is now 18, I’m pretty sure we would have done things differently.  

It’s true. The pressure is huge for kids to get a phone. All of their friends have them, and as a parent, you see it as a way to keep them safe. But be cautious—once you enter this realm, there is no going back. Be over-prepared in this journey and plan it out. Here are just a few things we have learned along the way with our kids and their phones. 

 Start with the basics 

Back when we were kids, no one had cell phones. Today, if we forget our phone at home, it’s like we have lost a limb. That feeling of safety and convenience when your child has a phone is undeniable. But do they really need a smartphone? A basic cell phone really can be sufficient, especially when they are in grade school.  

I’ll be honest—we fell into the trap of “everyone has a smartphone at this age,” thinking it must be the right thing to do. I wish we could go back and start our children off with a basic cell phone. Sometimes I think parents are just as worried about fitting in as their kids are. Try not to let the crowd decide what is best for you and your family.  

 Set limits 

Phones truly do become a huge part of our kids’ lives, so you need to know and own this fact: YOU are the one that needs to be the enforcer of limits. Before you purchase a phone, sit down and think through exactly how much phone/screen time your child should have, and then make that happen. Be intentional. Tons of apps are available that limit screen time. OurPact (ourpact.com) is one that a friend recommended to us. It can block Internet and app usage on your child’s phone and set a schedule for activities like school, dinnertime, or bedtime. Also, take the phone out of their room at night—even if they tell you they need it for their morning alarm (yes, we hear that one all the time). 

Personally set limits on your phone/screen time. Consistently take time to do meaningful things with your kids that don’t involve technology. It’s amazing how different we are as a family when phones are put away and we are playing games without that constant distraction. 

 Social media 

Snapchat, group rooms, Instagram . . . these are lifelines for our kids. It’s the way they stay connected with each other, but it can also be a place where they can get seriously torn down. It is crazy what kids will write on social media sites that they would never think about saying in person. Remind your kids that what they write on those sites is there for all to read . . . potentially forever. And if you don’t think they are ready to be on these sites, stand your ground—even when their friends claim they have to be on a particular site for their “group project.” They’ll find a different way to connect. 

Okay, so yes, you probably will end up getting your child a smartphone. It’s the world we live in. But my biggest piece of advice for you is to have a plan, and, of course, pray that God will guide you in this huge growing-up process for your child. This little piece of technology has the potential to change your child’s life in a big way—so make sure you do everything you can to make it positive. 

Ann Zuleger and her husband, Matt, have four children—Zachary, 18; Faith, 16; Isaiah, 13; and Ellis, 10.  

Kids and cell phones: One family’s experience

Parenting sure has changed! I remember a two-week trip abroad as a high school junior. My parents heard via one very quick and expensive phone call that I’d reached Germany, but the only other communication was a postcard arriving after I’d returned to Wisconsin. Now I worry if my high school junior doesn’t text me that she made it to her babysitting job 10 miles away.  

On the plus side, cell phones provide a quick and easy way to check up on our kids, make plans or adjustments to plans, send a picture of the puppy to the one away at college, or ask for someone to please pick up more milk. Bible verses on a stressful day or an “I love you!” randomly sent are wonderful ways to use this technology. 

 Our family policies 

Although every family is unique, eighth-grade graduation is the time when our children receive their first cell phone. Once in a while there’s a free bonus month, but the kids pay the monthly service fees themselves. And, besides reminders about Christian conduct, general encouragements like “No phones at the table,” and an expectation that a timely response is necessary if Mom or Dad texts or calls, we don’t really monitor their phone use. This seems to have worked, but I wondered what the three kids, ages 22, 20, and 17, who currently have phones, and the 13-year-old, who doesn’t yet, thought of our family policies? 

On waiting until eighth-grade graduation for their first phone, our kids all agreed it was fine. “For our situation, it was just right because that way we wouldn’t get caught up in social media until we were a little more responsible and we would entertain ourselves in other ways. In some cases it might be better to get it earlier if that particular family member needs to be able to communicate for rides and stuff when they are younger.” 

On our relaxed phone rules, all four said there aren’t any other policies we should have that we don’t: “It is good for us because we have built a trust bond so you can rely on us to be smart with them. Some kids do need a feeling of being watched over their shoulder or else they will do really dumb stuff.” And, “As a parent, you should be able to trust that you raised your kids to be responsible enough to make good decisions.” 

As for paying their service fees: “Nothing in life is free, so it’s good to learn basic responsibilities like paying for a phone.” Another commented, “It makes you think that it is a privilege that you’ve earned not just something given to you,” but “younger kids should not have to pay for it because their parents are the ones giving it to them as a necessity.” (I would also like to add that no one has lost their phone for longer than a few minutes, which seems to be somewhat of a rarity these days and perhaps due to the fact that these kids are paying their own way.) 

 Some positives and negatives 

I also asked, “Did a cell phone change you or your life?” One said, “It did not change me, but it changed my life. It made it easier to contact friends for homework help or just to socialize.” Another mentioned, “[A cell phone] definitely came with negative and positive changes. A lot of the time I overuse my phone when I could be doing something else or talking person to person instead. You’re oftentimes so worried about what everyone else is doing that you don’t take advantage of what you have in front of you. Social media tends to warp your mind and make you ungrateful, but on the other hand, it can also be simple entertainment.” One also commented on useful apps like GPS and managing his bank account, but says, “It can take too much of your time or [lead to] spending money because of wanting the newer or better thing.” One other note from the child who admits to being rather “anti-phone”: “I don’t have an excuse for not knowing certain things or being ‘off the grid.’ ”  

So, friends, there you have it! Not necessarily the definitive guide to parenting in the cell phone age, but, at least, what has worked for us. May God bless our families as we use the tools at our disposal to raise our blessings in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  

Ann Ponath and her husband, David, have four kids ranging in age from 22 to 13. Their oldest son, David, shared his thoughts about cell phones in this article titled “Don’t let your cell phone run your life.” 

Don’t let your cell phone run your life

As a 22-year-old, soon to be college graduate, the day I got my first phone seems so long ago. The thing is, I can still remember that moment, as the moment I finally caught up to all of my friends. As a seventh and eighth grader, I can still remember the jealousy I had whenever I would see my friends using their phones to communicate with friends or family. (And they only had flip phones back then, I can’t imagine the agony I would have been in if they all would have had smartphones!) My family has always had a rule, and they have kept to it for all four children, that no one gets a phone until after eighth grade. Growing up, I hated that rule, but looking back, I think that rule was fair and necessary.

Our world is so technologically driven, and much of it starts and ends with phones. It is important that there is a line drawn between freedom and control when it comes to parents and monitoring their kids’ phone use. My parents did not have any strict rules regarding phones besides no phones at the table or at places like church, and I think that was necessary. It is important to trust your kids with their phones and to not be too overbearing. Kids should be able to make decisions for themselves regarding phone use, but at times I think almost everyone gets to a point where phone use becomes too prevalent.

With all the communication and social media phones are capable of nowadays, it is very easy to be constantly wrapped up in your phone. Teenagers and college-aged individuals are so interested in what everyone else is up to they often think they need to check their phones so they don’t miss out on a social opportunity.

I feel that throughout my time as a phone user, I have often become too interested with my phone. Recently, I have begun to limit the amount of time I spend using it, and I try to be more focused on the activity I am doing or on the people that I am around. I think it is also important to try to do that with teenagers, who tend to take for granted everything they have in front of them. Stress that they focus more on the task at hand or the moment than their phones. Whether they’re having family time, doing homework, or attending a public event, it is important that they spend more time in the moment than on their phone. There are so many things that can come from leaving your phone behind, it is important that everyone does that every now and then. Phones are a fun and entertaining blessing, but they can also be a hindrance at times and it is important that everyone from adults to kids understands that and keep themselves from spending too much time wrapped up in their phones.

David Ponath is a member at Christ, North St. Paul, Minn., and a student at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. Read the article his mom, Ann Ponath, wrote titled “Kids and cell phones: One family’s experience.” 

 

Guiding children as they use the Internet

How many parents would take their two-year-olds to the pool for the first time and allow them to jump into the deep end? None, I hope! Being able to swim in the deep end is a process that requires lessons, practice, and experience, all guided by loving parents who want their children to enjoy swimming safely.

Staying safe on the Internet is not much different. If we want our teens to know how to enjoy using it safely, we must start the process much earlier. This can be done in the light of God’s Word and his commands.

Internet safety is a wide net, but most parents identify several areas in which they wish to keep their children safe online.

  • They are concerned with the addictive potential of games.
  • They share concern over the stumbling upon of offensive sites, such as pornography, as the kids discover what’s out there. This is often connected with the idea of sexting, which occurs as early as middle school.
  • Finally, parents fear the online social sites that encourage kids to talk with others, whether on gaming sites or social media sites that encourage kids to follow and be followed by others. These sites raise the concern of meeting strangers online who may not be who they portray and the opportunity for online bullying.

Unfortunately, many of us ignore these things until a problem arises. Being proactive in approaching these subjects really helps. Start early.

As parents, if we treat technology as a gift of God while training children to be aware of the dark side on the Internet, we can pray that they develop their Christian faith to assist them in making good and responsible choices. One way we can do that is by talking freely about the evil that is in the world that is now manifested online and can be found one click away. We can discuss this during devotions and in conversations with our children from the time they are in grade school and beyond.

The old model of keeping the desktop computer in an area of the home where mom and dad are walking through and can be aware of computer activity may seem outdated since we now deal with smart phones, tablets, Chromebooks, and laptops. I think it is still reasonable to expect grade school and middle school kids to use their technology in a common area of the home. It is legitimate for a parent to be made aware of musical playlists so that when headphones are used, parents know what is being consumed. As kids grow and schoolwork requires technology, a quiet place may be desirable, but it should still be understood that when homework is done on the computer, that is all that is happening, and parents may come by to see how it is going. Parents need to be vigilant.

At a time determined by parents, all mobile technology can be unplugged and kept in a specified spot. For example, maybe all family devices get plugged in at a common location for the night. Enforce the rules as you talk about why they are good for the family.

Parents can also make rules regarding time limits for game playing and can talk openly about gaming choices and their possible effects on those who play them. Conversations about learning to discern should be ongoing. Social gaming sites, perhaps, should not be allowed until an age that a parent feels the child can make competent choices in this regard. Parents will need to model good online behavior and set the tone for what is acceptable in the home. It should be a family effort.

The creation of the Internet brings many good things to us, but the reality is that it has created a whole other level of parenting. Parents must include applications regarding the misuse of the Internet as they teach their children to discern right from wrong in all facets of life. For example, what is learned in the home as far as how to treat one another in God-pleasing ways can help children be aware of the inappropriateness of bullying online, as an extension of bullying face to face. The idea of sexting as a practice can be addressed as veering outside of what God has commanded us regarding how to keep our bodies chaste. This is an extension of pre-Internet conversations with children that now need to be brought into the scope of what sins are possible through technology. We ask God to keep us from temptation in all we do, including our use of technology.

Parents have always taught their children about “stranger danger.” This same conversation now must be expanded to teach children about the very real dangers of social media sites with followers. Talking on those sites, or in online chat areas, should be discouraged. Stories of online predators and the attempt to catch them are heard often on the news, and you can discuss these news items at family gathering times to drive this point home.

We are blessed to have God’s Word as our handbook for parenting, and it is up to us as parents to continue to nurture our children in that Word as we make applications from the technology that is so ubiquitous in our culture today. May he bless our prayful efforts!

For a comprehensive list of websites to help parents keep their children safe online, visit https://forwardinchrist.net/online-safety-resources.

Gail Potratz and her husband, Phil, have three adult children and eight grandchildren. Gail has served as a teacher and technology coordinator for more than 30 years.

Dad, you are totally awesome!

“Dad, you are totally awesome! By the way, where’s Mom?”

“In the kitchen, bud.”

“Mom, you look really pretty today. I like what you did with your hair.”

It was nice to hear, even if my kid was totally insincere and he was only saying it because it was in the rules. Before you (correctly) jump to the conclusion that the Guenthers have weird rules, let me explain.

We love our technology in the Guenther household. We realize what a blessing from God it is when we can connect with our relatives in the Lower 48 all the way from Alaska via Skype or FaceTime. Mom and Dad love their iPhones and the way it helps us communicate. The boys love their iPad with the educational games and the fun games. We all love the Wii. But sometimes we need to rein it in a bit.

“No iPhones at the dinner table.” That was a rule the boys came up with. And it’s a good one, even though it’s hard to resist pulling it out of my pocket when I hear that little noise signaling a new text message. It gives us a chance to actually interact as a family, sharing our highs and lows of the day—with no interruptions even from Dad’s phone.

But we have some rules for the boys too. First, they have to limit their time on the iPad. If left unchecked, hours could pass while they clash their clans together or pop the enemy monkeys’ balloons. Siri helps us out. “Siri, set a timer for 30 minutes,” they tell her, and she lets them know when their time is up.

But even before they get to play, there are rules they have to keep. They have to complete all the tasks on the laminated page that sits on the face of the iPad (the seventh task is my favorite).

iPad checklist:

  1. Is ALL of my homework done for tomorrow? (memory work too!)
  2. Is my bed made?
  3. Are ALL of my chores done?
  4. Have I played outside today?
  5. Have I spent time with my brothers today?
  6. Have I asked mom or dad if they need me to do anything for them?
  7. Have I told Dad how awesome he is today?
  8. Have I told Mom how pretty she is today?
  9. If the answer is yes to all of these questions then you don’t need to ask permission to play the iPad. Just set a timer for 30 minutes and have fun! : )

Okay, so the last two are really just meant to be fun. But we do want our kids to learn to enjoy the blessings of technology without becoming slaves to it. We want them to learn to use God’s gifts responsibly. We want to encourage them to maintain human contact and not get too absorbed in the games. And everything will be okay—the world probably won’t come crashing down—if I ignore my phone for 45 minutes each night around the dinner table too.

Thank God for his gifts of technology! And thank God for his forgiveness in Jesus for all the times that we’ve misused or abused them! And now, as we live lives of thanksgiving to him for these gifts, may he help us to use them responsibly.

Changes in the way families communicate

I admit that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with technology and the changes it has brought about for our lives. I love connecting with old friends on Facebook. (Look how big their kids are getting!) I hate the jealousy that so easily flares in my sinful heart when I see someone’s fabulous tropical vacation pictures when we are buried under yet another brutal Midwest winter. (I wish I could go on vacation instead of being stuck here shoveling snow!) I love connecting with my kids instantly via texting and Facebook. I hate that texting and Facebook have replaced much of the face-to-face communication that our family used to share.

At the risk of putting myself out there, let me give you a personal example (with permission from my children). Here is a text exchange that I shared with my son, Micah, one day after school.

Micah: Do you know where Ethan is? I am waiting for him in the parking lot.

Me: No. Can’t you text him?

Micah: I don’t have his cell phone number.

Please keep in mind a few things about this exchange.

  1. My sons, Ethan and Micah, had been riding together to their high school each day for two years.
  2. They are brothers. They live in the same house.
  3. During this exchange, I am at work—miles away from their school.

So what did I have to do? I texted Ethan the following message: Micah is waiting for you in the parking lot. Can you two PLEASE exchange cell phone numbers?!?

As I look back at this interchange, I’m not sure whether to laugh or be a little bit horrified. A decade ago, Micah would have trudged back into school, found his brother, and expressed his impatience face to face. How technology has changed the way families communicate!

So how can families stay connected in this digital age? And how can we make time for the most important connection of all—our relationship with Christ? I won’t pretend that our family always gets this right, but here are a few things we strive for in our home.

  1.  Use technology to build each other up. A Christ-centered text can remind family members that they are close to your heart and on your mind. We’ve sent many an “I love you” and “I am praying for you” text. We’ve also texted Scripture passages in tough times and in times of thankfulness.
  2. Don’t use technology to tear each other down. We all need to be so careful what we put out there via social media. Once it is out there, it is out there. Remember, “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21).
  3. Don’t let communication via technology take the place of personal, heartfelt communication. It is so important to share family meals as often as possible, minus the distraction of electronic devices. Sharing the day’s “highs and lows” at meals is a tradition we started when our boys were small. It provides a rich opportunity to pray about each family member’s triumphs and struggles. (But yes, as our boys became teens, we did have to make it clear that “having to share highs and lows” was not acceptable as a “low.”)

Our world is changing at lightning speed, and it can make our heads spin as we struggle to keep up. But we don’t need to. Ultimately, there is only one thing needful, as Jesus gently reminded Martha (Luke 10:42). I think I’ll text my kids that thought!

Parenting in the digital age

I’m glimpsing 50, so before digital, I first have to talk analog. When 21-year-old Phil and 23-year-old Anna were little, I was certain TV would fry their brains.

Ask them, and they’ll gleefully tell you how I monitored their screen time with a little capitalist system I invented. I gave them quarters they could use to buy half-hours of TV. They could watch each other’s TV times, too, so they got eight hours a week, plus whatever the family watched together. If they didn’t watch, they got to keep the quarters, saving up for a little something at ShopKo.

I thought this system would encourage them to watch TV intentionally instead of using it as background noise. The system didn’t last as long as the mockery of it has, and one child recently admitted they cheated.

Even while I fretted over the frying of their brains, I never found a babysitter better than Walt Disney. Using screens as a babysitter has always been a no-no, and I sinned boldly. Little Anna and Philly watched those Disney movies and sing-along videos over and over, singing and (sorry to say it publicly, Phil) dancing along. They were adorable.

TV has since morphed into every manner of magical machine. My stepson, Sam, 11, was born into this magical world and knows no other. Because my husband, Mike, is digitally savvy, we have a few devices lying around. Sam will play Madden 15 on Mike’s tablet while listening to Bruno Mars on his iPod while following the Timberwolves’ game on TV while texting someone on his phone. He’ll watch someone else play video basketball games streamed to our Wi-Fi-enabled TV—a guy who calls himself Smoove.

But here’s the thing. Despite the deluge of digital distraction, all three kids’ brains remain unfried. Yes, they multitask in ways I can’t fathom, but they still read and write intelligently. They exercise and play piano and know how to cook pasta. I’m certain they’ll find gainful employment—probably with digital media as part of their jobs.

I wish I hadn’t been such an anxious parent with the older two, fretting that every hour of TV would make them stupid, every gram of sugar would give them diabetes, every domestic misdemeanor would lead to a life of crime. Turns out, the kids mostly grew up to be the people God made them.

That’s not to say anything goes. We have the same rules you probably do. No screens at the table. Homework before games. Parental monitoring of websites and TV shows. And every once in awhile, an enforced quiet time: no screens, no music, just people in a room together, either listening to their own thoughts or engaging in the civilities of conversation.

I haven’t hacked into the kids’ Facebook accounts or read their texts, but I can understand when parents do. The digital world is full of dangerous strangers—and awfully nasty “friends” too. Social media tools are sharp swords that bullies can unsheathe in anonymity and plunge deep into our children’s tender psyches. It’s scary, really.

Finally, I guess our parenting in the digital world is the same as in every other world, isn’t it? We pray for our kids every night, every minute, knowing our heavenly Father loves them even more than we do. We explain how rules—ours, God’s—are for their protection. We let them make their own choices and then watch quietly if they have to suffer the consequences. We talk, talk, talk about everything. We forgive them, and they forgive us. We laugh at their jokes and give their ideas serious consideration. We feed them, hug them, tuck them in.

And sometimes, late at night, when we can’t sleep, we grab our devices and push the buttons: “Love you, kiddo.” Sometimes they’re up too—in the next room or an apartment a few hours away—and they text their love right back.

Hitting the reset button

Staying connected with one another and with Christ in this digital age is quite a challenge, not only with trying to get my two boys to put down the electronics for a few minutes but also admittedly for myself as well. Netflix is my downfall (next best thing since sliced bread), and it doesn’t take much before I find myself three episodes deep into my favorite series, especially after a long day of work.

Quite honestly, I feel like most days we are losing the battle rather than winning the war on electronics. Nonetheless, we are all able to see the positive benefits to our family relations, our personal relationships with God, and our growing faith in our Lord and Savior when we do finally manage to unplug.

At a relatively young age, my boys (now ages 15 and 11), were able to make the connection between less time on electronics and overall better well-being. When I’ve noticed that we all have been spending too much time attached to our gadgets, at first my boys will be angry when I start setting limits. We talk about it, and as they stick to the limits and spend less time on TV and video games, they begin to realize they have more patience with each other, sleep better at night, and generally feel better after getting outside more. But that call to “get to the next level” and “see that new episode” is powerful, and I find myself needing to help my family hit the reset button by setting limits more often than not.

Several years ago, I bought each boy a copy of Egermeier’s Bible Story Book and put together a reading plan that took them through the book in a few weeks shy of a year. Reading the assigned story became a part of their daily to-do list, which needed to be completed before TV or time on electronics.

Now that they are older and can read the Bible on their own, I’ve installed YouVersion—the Bible app on all of our tablets and signed us up for a reading plan. In the coming months, we will be reading the Gospels and comparing and contrasting the Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We can monitor each others’ progress through the reading plans and remind each other when we get behind.  So far it has been a great way to embrace technology, yet at the same time remind ourselves the importance of spending time in God’s Word daily.

I’d like to say that I’m an organized mom who stays on top of setting limits and helping our family keep Christ at the center of our lives, but the truth is, I find myself hitting the “catch me up” button on our reading plans way more than I would like. But, instead of beating myself up with guilt, I turn to God’s Word for strength and remember that even though I’ll never be the perfect mom I’d like to be, I am perfect in Christ, and he has paid the price in full for each and every one of my imperfections (Hebrews 10:14).

Stacy Tomhave