A new survey about tweens and teenagers confirms what most of us already knew: our kids are spending a lot of time online and watching video content. Common Sense Media released a survey about online video consumption and children last week that reveals that the percentage of those watching online content has doubled in the last four years, with the average child spending four to seven hours engaged in entertainment media every day. These figures do not include time spent online for homework, reading, or even listening to music. The increase of those watching online videos shouldn’t surprise us because many parents have similar issues with screen time and media usage, too.
As parents of two boys under four, my wife and I understand why many parents—including us at times—have allowed this much time online in light of the daily demands on our families and the ease of entertainment via screens. Whether in the car, at home, or even in the classroom, our kids are inundated with technology and are not prepared to navigate this complex world by themselves. This digital landscape is unprecedented in size and scale, leaving many children and parents glued to their devices as we gloss over many of the potential downfalls that come with the rise of online entertainment. Are we to simply accept the fact that this is the way things will be from now on, or do we have options to disciple our children in ways that defy the cultural momentum and point them to Christ?
Our new digital landscape
My wife and I have these conversations all the time, and you probably do as well. We debate the merits of screen time amid the seeming chaos of our daily schedules of school, doctor appointments, extra-curricular activities, and bedtime routines. Our lives feel busier than ever precisely because we are more connected than ever in society and as family. We have been sold a bill of goods that being more connected will lead to more happiness and a sense of belonging. All the while, we feel more isolated and disconnected from the communities around us.
But on top of the disconnection and isolation that we all feel as we live in our perfected, curated worlds of smart entertainment, we have grown numb to the reality of issues like privacy and increased media consumption. We fail to see that the things we purchase, play, and pursue online are tracked in order to get new goods before our eyes and sell us more stuff. This data is cataloged, tracked, and redeployed as predictive behavioral tools that are used to strengthen the advertising models that drive the large technology companies.
As much as we may long for the days of old without all of the online tracking and digital tools, there is good that comes from these innovations. And the reality is that we will never be able to roll back the clock to a time before the advent of these tools. Although we may fight against their infiltration into the daily lives of our children, this is the world that God has created them to inherit. We are each called to engage the world as it is rather than how we might hope for it to be. We should embrace the good uses of these tools and reject the bad as we seek to raise a new generation of disciples who are guided by wisdom rather than by the winds of cultural innovation.
Redeeming the time
We should keep some key concepts in mind as we seek to lead our children with wisdom in this digital age. First, we must remember that God has created each of us as his image-bearers (Gen. 1:26-27) with the responsibility to steward the gifts he has bestowed on us. Second, technology is not an evil or immoral pursuit when used in moderation and with the right orientation of loving God and our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39). The truth that technology is a gift to be used by us rather thank control us can help give guidelines as we move forward in this digital age.
We should embrace the good uses of these tools and reject the bad as we seek to raise a new generation of disciples who are guided by wisdom rather than by the winds of cultural innovation.
This means that we are to be thoughtful about how we use technology—not embracing every new tool or service but evaluating how we can use them to help us deepen our love for God and our love for each other. Here are some simple diagnostic questions you can ask yourself and your kids:
- What is driving me to use this tool or service?
- How is this helping me to grow in godliness?
- How might this help me connect with others in deeper and more meaningful ways?
Watching online videos and using these tools can be a blessing to our lives and the lives of our kids if we keep our priorities straight. One of the most enlightening perspectives on screen time comes from my friend John Dyer of Dallas Theological Seminary. He writes at his blog:
“Sometimes you just want to passively consume something, and in moderation there’s a place for that. But in that moment, I judged that we’d had enough consumption for the weekend, and I wanted to encourage my kids to find something that would express their God-given creativity rather than sit passively and consume more.”
Dyer hits right at the heart of the matter concerning discernment in our digital age. We need to embrace these digital tools because we are creators not simply consumers. This shift in focus helps us put these tools in perspective and to use them to build up rather than just chill out. This could simply mean that we choose to play games, create art, or learn something new rather than passively watch video content online. Screen time is not the issue, per se, but rather what we are doing on the screen.
As we move further into our digital age, let’s train up a new generation of creators and image-bearers who see technology as a tool to be used by us rather than something to control us. The goal is to follow Christ’s words of loving God and loving our neighbor as we seek to influence them with the hope of the world. Rather than longing for yesteryear, let’s embrace the day and redeem the time on our screens.