Welcome back to the Questions and Ethics program with Russell Moore. I am Daniel Patterson. We’ve got an interesting question for you today, Dr. Moore. This question comes from a parent who says I’ve got a twelve-year-old. All his friends have smartphones, iPads, laptops, but I’ve got some concerns myself. Should I get my twelve-year-old a smartphone?
Well, you are really hitting on a sensitive area for me because this is something that just is a continual point of amazement to me are kids, not just age twelve, but even much younger than this who have iPhones and iPads and so forth. My kids are among the only ones in the neighborhood who aren’t walking around with smartphones. And so I really think this is an important question because I have to reflect all the time on my gratitude to God for the fact that as a Gen-Xer I came of age right before the digital revolution because if I had come of age just a little bit later, I think it would have been new enough that my parents probably wouldn’t have known what all sorts of trouble one could get into, and if I had had access to the internet I would have just completely destroyed myself. I mean, I know myself, and I know my weaknesses enough to know that that would have been the case.
And so I think when we are thinking about smartphones there are a couple of things that we need to keep in mind. One of those is that you are dealing with a situation in which porn is more trafficked on the internet than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. It is not simply that pornography is out there—it is that pornography is an industry that has every interest in using the technology to drive people toward it. So when you are just sending kids out into the Wild Wild West of unrestricted internet access you really have a Proverbs 7 sort of situation of sending a child into a place where there is danger that can be spiritually deadly.
And it is also true that you are dealing with children who are in the most vulnerable stage in that adolescent era in terms of creating the habits that are going to be with them for the rest of their lives and also in terms of writing their sexual scripts. I mean the images—now one of the powers that pornography has is to embed images and to embed scripts that for a developing young man or young woman can last for a lifetime.
And it’s not just pornography; it’s also a situation where one is developing one’s brain in terms of imagination and in terms of attention. I mean just think about how frustrating it is even for those of us who have given great attention in our lives to other things, to academics or Bible study or other things, to be distracted by the sort of digital world where everything is immediate and everything is constantly sort of barking at you like a carnival barker as you are walking past it. This can have serious repercussions.
So I think when it comes to smartphones it is not so much the same thing as saying we are going to allow our child to watch television—It’s more along the lines of we are going to send our child into this strip club because he or she is going to have to eventually know how to navigate not going into strip clubs when the child is grown. That’s not a Christian way of seeing the nurture of children. And so I would not get a smartphone that has easy access to the internet on it at all. And even when you are using programs that are blocking inappropriate sites, those programs often are able to be circumvented especially by digital natives who are typically more adept with those sorts of things than their parents are.
Now, I think there are options out there. One of the things that my wife and I are looking at are phones that would have cellular service and would have a restriction on the numbers being called and also on the text messaging capability so that we have approved numbers and people that are loaded in, including 911, where adolescents can call or text with their parents or with other people that their parents are aware of and approving of without sending them over into the cyberwilderness. And I mean we also do this with for instance an iPad. I have an iPad that when one of my sons is traveling with me I disable the internet on it and simply load it up with games or books or those sorts of things that I want my child to have when we are on a plane or when we are on a train or whatever we are doing. There are all sorts of ways that parents can do that.
And then as a child starts to get older you’re gradually giving more and more freedom as the child is showing maturity and showing responsibility. I just was told the other day about a dad who with his sons they are all Covenant Eyes accountability partners with one another, the dad and the sons. I thought that was beautiful. You have these older teenage sons that the dad is treating like men and part of what it means to be a man is a moral accountability to one another and the dad is not putting himself as kind of above this but he is putting himself right there in the struggle with these sons and showing them what it means to be accountable. I think that’s a beautiful sort of story.
But when it comes to smartphones I would just say jesus tells us that even the pagans wouldn’t give to their child a snake when he asks for a fish or a scorpion when he asks for an egg, and I think that we need to have that sort of wisdom. There’s just too much at stake to turn a developing psyche loose with no boundaries with a technology that could psychically and spiritually cripple him or her or a future family for that matter for a lifetime. And then beyond a lifetime.
And technology is good. We need to be grateful and glad that we have it. But that doesn’t mean that we turn our children over to the cyberwilderness.
Thanks for joining the Questions and Ethics program. If you have a question that you would like Dr. Moore to answer, email it to [email protected] and we will be back again next week to help you apply the gospel to the pressing issues of the day.