How to teach our kids to use technology during a pandemic

Leaning on God’s grace in a difficult season

October 12, 2020

I love Sunday mornings, but there is one thing I dread each week about them. Outside of the blessing of gathering together as the church (even remotely in this season) and extra time with my family, I get the dreaded notification on my iPhone. From reading and entertainment to social media and productivity, the screen time activity report on my phone displays the reality of my online activity for the past week. That methodic revelation often comes as a disappointing and discouraging reminder of the toils of this season of remote work, online school, and social distancing.

Our children are likewise fixated on screens, with countless hours spent online for homework, remote learning, gaming, reading, social media, connecting with friends, and even gathering with the church. This generation of children is the first to grow up in the smartphone era, seemingly always connected by social media and digital technology. It will be decades before we see the full effects of these technologies on their development as adults.

If we are honest, this season is hard on most of us. The guilt associated with screen time and our children can be overwhelming at times even for the most disciplined parents. I don’t know of a single family that thinks they have these things all figured out. Two things are for certain: we will get through this pandemic season, but we will fail at times in our role as parents. However, our job isn’t to be the perfect parents or guardians. Our role is to shepherd and disciple our children in the ways of the Lord, even in our digital first world. 

The bad news

Just this past week, I took our oldest to his four-year-old well check and was reminded yet again at how this pandemic is affecting our children, especially in relation to technology. After the doctor’s visit, they handed me a paper of developmental goals and tips for parenting that mentioned the amount of time recommended for him on a screen each day. Needless to say, I am not a shining example of a parent in this season in relation to screen time. I bet you are in a similar boat.

Countless studies have confirmed what most of us already instinctively know about technology and children. Too much screen time can be detrimental to their brain development, social skills, and creative thinking. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 2 to 5 shouldn’t watch more than one hour of high-quality children’s programming per day. Older children have various recommended limits and certain content restrictions. A recent survey by Common Sense Media revealed that pre-pandemic, the average child views from four to seven hours of entertainment media per day. During COVID-19, we will probably far surpass many of these professional recommendations.

The good news

With all of the increased pressures on our families and communities this year, it can feel as though we can never catch a break. But for overwhelmed and often overworked parents, the additional guilt and concern over our children’s technology habits can be a heavy burden to bear. There is good news, though, regardless of where you find yourself. 

First, this time in life will pass. It sounds a bit cliche, but in the middle of a busy season of life and parenting we all need to be reminded that this is not our new normal. It will be behind us soon. The habits and patterns of life that we have formed—in many cases, just to survive—will not and do not determine the future of our families or parenting. 

Acknowledging that we often fail and learning to lean upon God’s gracious mercy each day, we can begin to implement the little changes with technology habits that often yield bigger results in the long run.

And second, there is grace for our failures. As a fellow parent, I need the daily reminder from the Lord that there are new mercies each morning and that my failures from the day before do not and cannot define me (Lam. 3:22-23). God’s mercy is abundant, and he is faithful to see us through this difficult season of health, finances, online schooling, and even our technology habits.

As parents and guardians, we are fallible human beings. We will mess up. We likely will get sucked into addictive patterns of screens from time to time, pacify our children with technology, and use these technologies to avoid hard conversations. But not only is God’s mercy overflowing for us each day, it will also sustain us in the ups and downs and as we seek to use technology wisely in our homes. 

Start with small habits

Acknowledging that we often fail and learning to lean upon God’s gracious mercy each day, we can begin to implement the little changes with technology habits that often yield bigger results in the long run. I encourage you to start small. Maybe that is just seeking to have a single meal without any screens period. It could be a long walk with your family that is not tracked, measured, or put on Instagram. 

My wife decided to put together a fall bucket list of activities for our family that gets us active and out of our pandemic habits this month. Some of the activities include a fall drive with hot chocolate and no screens, baking cookies to share with neighbors (socially distanced, of course), setting up a bonfire in the backyard, creating handmade Halloween cards for family and friends, and even making a thankful tree to be reminded of the good gifts of God in this season.

A friend at the beginning of this pandemic said that this is going to be a year to remember but one that can be a sweet memory with our children. Even amidst all the hardships, there can be precious moments that will be remembered well after this virus. While it is easy to use technology as a crutch or pacifier right now, our children need us to disciple and help them form healthy habits concerning technology that will outlast us as parents and guardians. So even in the chaos of this year, we need to remember that God’s mercies are new each morning. And we can rest in knowing that God is even more present than the watchful eye of our smartphones and that dreaded screen time activity report.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24