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Cultivating Digital Discernment: A Call to Parents

The Principal's Blog
October 3, 2021

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

     Matthew 6:21

We become, neurologically, what we think. 

     Nicholas Carr 

Wonder comes from opening your eyes wider, not bringing the screen closer. Amy Crouch

* * * * *

Hello Parents,

If you are reading this, there is a very good chance that you remember life without smart phones, internet, and social media platforms. Perhaps you can go as far back as rotary phones, bookshelves of encyclopedias, and Pong. Back further even that? You’d be in good company. 

Our children and most young adults grew up in a very different world, informational technology speaking, than those of us who are teaching and/or have children. Many things haven’t changed a lot since you and I were children. But, if one considers how any aspect of life involving computers, internet, phones, and big data has changed, we might as well be in different worlds from our children. 

Over the last twenty years, there have been plenty of voices on both ends of the spectrum regarding the ‘goods’ of this technological and information explosion. For some, the advent of the smart phone, high-powered Google search, ubiquitous wi-fi, and multi-player video games has heralded an unprecedented opportunity for human potential. For others, this kind of technology marks a continuing erosion of human identity and purpose. Wherever you might fall within that spectrum of belief, you and your family have undoubtedly been affected by the constant barrage of changes.

My purpose in writing this blog article is not to prescribe a certain stance toward your child’s interaction with technology. However, I do intend to make the case that it is absolutely vital to have an intentional stance based on your understanding of what your child needs most to thrive. I would recommend not accepting the default settings--both literal and metaphorical--offered by our culture on what is appropriate for a certain age. As parents and teachers at RMCA, we have the privilege and responsibility of being the first and primary educators to our children regarding a redemptive purpose and use of technology. May we strive to live up to that very important calling!

There are some very fine people out there doing research on how all of these big developments--the smart phone, the internet, and social media--are affecting and will continue to affect how children learn, what they learn, and how they view reality. One can do a very deep dive or stay in the shallows, depending on how much time and interest one has. But none of us can ignore the fact that these kinds of technology are shaping how our children are being cultivated to think of themselves, their meaning, and their reality in ways not in their best interest.

One truism to keep in mind is that none of this is neutral. None of these technological developments are value neutral, in that they all have hidden costs along with their advertised benefits. A discerning user looks beyond the hype and flashy marketing to consider the questions, 

How will this help me to have a more humane and accountable response in my thoughts, words, and actions? and 

Just because I can, does it mean that I should? 

One thing to consider that as helpful or stimulating or ‘connecting’ as the technology may seem to be, what is it replacing? What kinds of other relationships is it replacing or pushing aside? And what is the impact on one’s attention? How is it formed and cultivated by staring many hours a day/week/year/life at an interactive screen that quickly responds to one’s desires, remaking itself with every touch of a button? 

How does that change how our children think about education? Stories? Creation? You? God? 

One of the primary ways that Christians in the next generation could have an impact is to keep raising these questions among their colleagues and families. Not accepting commonly-held beliefs and expectations but instead asking hard questions and making harder decisions will set them apart. It will also enable them to be a witness of what it means to be an image of God, not a mere consumer of tech, media, and information. That could be a major way that future generations live faithfully in a world that has forgotten about what makes a person, because it has forgotten who God is. 

Again, my goal here is to simply raise the age-old question, “how now shall we live?” when it comes to uses of digital technology. 

If you haven’t examined your own or your family’s use of technology recently, today is better than tomorrow. Talk with God about what He would have you doing with your children.

As you continue that conversation with your spouse, a friend, and certainly your children, consider engaging with one or more of the following helpful resources. They will not only help identify potential problems but also will provide ideas on developing long-term habits that will lead to more joyful and meaningful relationships in all areas of life. 

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place by Andy Crouch; I’ve known several people read and use this book in their homes. I started reading it in September, and will have my copy and several others available to be checked out from our parent library in the front office. It is a solid resource for helping identify where and why to draw the line on putting technology, particularly anything involving smart phones, internet, and computers, in their proper place in one’s family so that you can grow and be courageous in new and unimagined ways. 

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr; I read this slowly over the spring and summer this year. Published originally in 2010 and updated in 2020, Carr’s book covers many angles of the reasons why the internet--and the devices that offer it--have become so ubiquitous and invasive in our life. If you can remember what life was like before smart phones, wi-fi, and social media, you need to read this book in order to communicate to your children who only know this work and all of the unspoken assumptions and expectations that have been allowed to grow up around it. 

The Literary Life podcast network from Angelina Stanford and Cindy Rollins: Long-time educators, speakers, authors, and readers, Stanford and Rollins have created this resource for parents and teachers to share ideas about a life enriched by reading. You will find a treasure of new and old books, poems, and other ways of bringing joy to your home. 

For a couple of quick short reads, consider spending a few minutes with these two recent blog articles/podcasts from the Colson Center’s Breakpoint Daily ministry on tech. 

You Are What You Binge

The Cost of Our Digital Addictions

Finally, I invite you to subscribe to the Breakpoint Daily podcast/blog from the Colson Center. Every weekday, they send out a timely but brief piece on an aspect of cultural life from a Christian perspective. 

Serving together,