I recently saw a video on Facebook that interviewed three generations and asked them a simple question: What was (is) your favorite thing to do growing up? Grandparents and parents recounted stories of building forts, playing outside, fishing, and making a sled from an old sign. Then they asked the question to a group of kids ranging from about 7-10 years old. Their answers were quite different: video games, texting, spending time on the tablet and watching TV. I see this all the time in my generation of parents. If you kid is crying, hand them a phone and put something on. If you're having a conversation and they are there, parents place an electronic device in front of the kid and I watch in horror as a glazed trance overcomes the kids and they zone out. This is routine... not an abnormality, and I see it regularly with children as young as 4. Since this is my blog, I get to say what I think and you can choose to read or not read, but in my opinion, this is nothing but lazy derelict babysitting... not parenting. This is what one would expect from a 14 year old babysitter watching your kids while you are on a date with your spouse, not what one should expect from a parent who is forming a child and shaping them in a way that will impact them for the rest of their lives.
I was the kid that played outside. When I was growing up, video games were new and my parents wouldn't let us get a Nintendo. When the Nintendo 64 (64 bit... yeah, I'm old) came out around the Christmas of my 13th year, I remember talking with my friends and being angry with my parents because my friends got N64's for Christmas and I didn't. I expressed my frustration to my parents, but looking back now, I see the wisdom in what they did. Today, kids are exposed to electronics at an alarmingly young age. The average age for a kid to get a smartphone is 10.3 years old. Tablets being the child's device of choice during car rides has gone to 55% with smartphones trailing at 45%. 64% of kids have unfettered access to the internet on their own devices. 42% of children 8 and younger have their own tablet.
That's not a problem in and of itself. The tablet of my day was a TV and we had one. The problem comes when parents hand their kids over to devices and don't parent through limiting and overseeing screen time. In our day in age, it's considered a violation of privacy for a parent to check what their child is looking at on the internet or texting. So, it's no wonder then that the average age a child (yes, I said child) is exposed to porn is between 8 and 11 years old. The problem is not the kids... the problem is the parents. No one would argue that a faithful and loving parent would give their kid a loaded gun to tote around at are 10, yet that's what we do when it comes to technology. We allow our kids to spend hours playing video games, watching TV, surfing the internet, all without any restriction or oversight. They can now stumble upon porn on their own at a young age and become addicted to it, all without the parent having a clue. We are raising a generation that cannot interact with other humans, cannot abide a moment of boredom, cannot think, and are addicted to technology.
And why shouldn't they be? As parents, we have trained them to do that. Bored? Forget about learning to deal with boredom... here's my phone with some cute kids video cued up. Parenting with smart phones, tablets, TV, video games is quite honestly not parenting. It's lazy and selfish. Why do I say that? Because it takes time to teach your children to not interrupt. It's inconvenient to foster your child's ability to use their imagination. It's a process that takes intentionality and honestly, it's easier to seek immediate quiet from your child by shoving a video in their face than it is to teach, train and shepherd them. The way you interact with your children and the patterns you develop with them, especially when they are young, will be their default of the future.
When we do this, when we act like babysitters rather than parents, we lose (at least) three things in our children that need to be fostered. Discipline, exploration, and creativity/imagination. Over the next three posts, I'll explore how turning our kids over to be raised by electronics harm our children in these three areas, but for now, let me just end by encouraging you with this... Past failures don't determine future faithfulness. So maybe you've been reading this and now you feel like an utter failure as a parent. Well, join the club. I don't think there is a parent alive that hasn't felt that regularly. Parenting is hard. It's easy to get sidetracked and take the easy alternative to the hard right thing to do. Once you do it once, it's easier to do it again, and again until you have moved much farther from a simple "it's just once" justification. If that's you, it can be turned around. You don't have to resign yourself to the status quo for the rest of your child's life. Yes, they might be upset with you (like I was over the infamous N64 crisis of 96), but guess what... They'll get over it. You'll survive, and someday they will thank you for doing the hard right thing.
Your kids were not put in your family to be autonomous decision makers in their lives. They were put there for you to care for, train and shepherd. In other words, success in parenting is not that they always see you as a friend first. Success is being able to say with a clear conscience "though I failed, I honestly worked hard to try to do what was best for my kids in every stage of their childhood because I love them and want whats best for them". The tears and tantrums will one day give way to a thankful heart that admires your willingness to sacrifice your comfort, convenience, even being their friend, for their good and joy. That's worth fighting for.
Jon is husband to Carlee, Papa to Finleigh, Ainsley, and Olivia, a pastor at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Ne, and co-host of The Pastor Discussions Podcast