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Is technology changing how we relate to our parents?

Remember when you needed your parents for so much? We used to ask our parents everything. How to build this volcano for a science project or make a solar system out of coat hangers and styrofoam. I remember my dad helping me build that infamous volcano and my mom helping me cook homemade french fries for a French class project.

You have those stories too. Maybe it’s your dad showing you how to cut the grass or change the oil in your car. Maybe it’s your mom helping you quiet your own newborn child. Maybe it’s figuring out what mortgage insurance is or how to read the stock market. When we have questions, we ask our parents or those older than us. It shows dependence on them. It shows trust. It opens the door for another bonding moment or brief time for them to be, you know, our parents and mentors. It keeps the relationship going. At least that’s how it used to be.

Technology: Our new parent

Thanks to the internet and our handheld devices, we don’t ask our parents much these days. I mean, why would we? We have everything at our fingertips. Every dinner we could possibly want to make is featured on Facebook, thanks to those fast-speed short videos on how to make pizza cake or Oreo churros.

Yet, those of us who grew up without the prevalence of technology remember what it was like at college, when we got married, or when we became a parent. We usually picked up the phone because we needed to ask our moms or dads a question, like how to make the famous family macaroni and cheese. And sometimes we just wanted to call them and talk.

We need to depend less on our phones and more on each other.

A few months ago, my wife and I were discussing the issue of Watergate. To be completely honest, neither of us could remember entirely what it all was about. I knew Nixon was involved and that from the movie’s narrative, apparently Forrest Gump was the one who called down to the front desk of the hotel. We both were dumbfounded. How did we not know this? As one of us picked up the phone to dial home, the other picked up the phone for another reason: Google. Why don’t we just search for it?

We were both glad we chose the phone for what it used to be used for: calling people. We called home and got to have a conversation where we asked my mom and stepdad what Watergate was all about. They told us. We laughed about the fact that none of us could remember who took over the presidency after Nixon. All the good things of a phone call home to your parents.

But I am afraid the internet and technology are robbing us of conversations with our parents, cheapening our relationships with them. We don’t call and ask questions much because we don’t need to ask anyone anything. We can just ask Siri or call out anywhere in the house to Alexa. These are vital conversations that, before technology and Wikipedia, took place between mother/daughter and father/son, between grandparents and aunts and uncles, those older and wiser. For parents, I imagine it’s not easy to know you’re being replaced by a device that knows more than you and is easier to consult during our busy schedules.

More than knowledge & busy schedules

Sure, it might be easier to ask your device something or search for it on the web. There is a greater chance you’ll find the right answer the first try, compared to asking your mom or dad. Because frankly, your parents don’t have fields of data servers all over the world to pull information from in a millisecond. But are we losing something more personal, more important to who we are, by chasing efficiency and accuracy over relational investment?

We need to make room for those conversations. We need to depend less on our phones and more on each other. Siri may know what time it is in China or how many windows are on the Empire State building, but it doesn’t know how to comfort us when we’re lonely or encourage us when our job is tough. It doesn’t have the years of investment our parents do.

And we need to be less about accuracy and efficiency and more about intimacy and investment. We need to close out the Safari app, open up the keypad, and start letting our parents be parents again. We need human interaction, and we need to fight against losing our parents to the ongoing surge in technological advance.

There’s a passage in Deuteronomy that describes God bringing Israel over the Jordan River, stopping the river, and letting them pass by on dry ground. When they get through, the Lord commands them to build an altar of remembrance to commemorate all the Lord had done for them. He said, in a sense, put this memorial here because in the future your children are going to ask what the stones mean and you are going to tell them what I did for them and for you.

When your children ask their fathers in times to come, What do these stones mean? Then you shall let your children know, Israel eased over this Jordan on dry ground. For the lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the and of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.

Unlike our parents, Siri can’t tell us about God’s grace and mercy and how he’s acted wonderfully for his people. It’s not just about clay volcanoes and baking soda, it’s about God’s faithfulness and his love for us, his children. As children, we need to know these things.

So, let’s reach out to our parents and mentors with our questions. And let’s teach our children the value of doing the same. Let’s keep our phones close, not to search and surf, but to call and invest and talk and cultivate these vital, God-ordained relationships.

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