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How to teach our kids to use technology during a pandemic

Leaning on God’s grace in a difficult season

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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 chair of research in technology ethics and creative director at ERLC. In his role as creative director, he oversees the communications team, including all creative design projects.  His book, The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity, released March 2020 with Zondervan. He is a graduate … Read More