From the Pastor’s Study (6/20/2021)
Although I was very young, I still recall the excitement I felt when I unwrapped a present a relative in another state sent me for my fifth birthday. Underneath the wrapping paper was a small box containing a Craftsman jack knife. I was surprised and thrilled! My emotions changed within seconds when my mother told me that I was not old enough for such a gift. I assured her I wouldn’t stab anyone. I wouldn’t cut myself. But Mom was inflexible. She would hold it for me until I was ready for it. The knife disappeared until I was ten or eleven. My mother kept her word and returned the pocket knife to me when she thought I was mature enough to handle it.
Of course, now I realize that my mother was right. A kindergartener is not mature enough or responsible enough to possess a tool such as a pocket knife. I thought it was a toy, and really had no appreciation for the potential damage it could do to people or property.
Times and technology change. I doubt that many American boys today covet the kinds of things I did as a child such as jack knives, BB guns, and sling shots. However, most young people today crave things potentially just as dangerous – electronic devices and smart phones in particular.
In his recent book, Disconnected, family therapist and author Thomas Kersting contends that allowing adolescents unlimited access to electronic devices such as smart phones and gaming units is extremely hazardous. This is not news to Christian parents who are concerned about protecting children from exposure to graphic images of pornography and violence. However, Kersting argues rather convincingly, there are other threats. Too much screen time negatively affects the emotional development and stability of young people. It retards social skills. It can even alter brain development, negatively affecting behavior and learning, and creating problems such as anxiety, anger, and depression.
The Covid 19 lockdowns produced serious emotional and social problems for young people, most notably a spike in the rate of suicide. However, the suicide rate was already in a frightful climb. In the decade prior to the Covid 19 pandemic the suicide rate for youngsters age ten to fourteen nearly doubled. Cyber bullying, low self esteem, isolation, and shame all linked to social media are included among the main causes. It can be demonstrated that overuse and misuse of electronic devices is actually killing kids!
Banning cell phones altogether is no more a realistic response than completely banning pocket knives. However, not allowing young children to have electronic devices, and carefully monitoring and limiting their use when your child is older is very reasonable.
The apostle Paul wrote, “All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (I Cor. 6:12) Just like anything, the use of electronic devices should be evaluated. Does it help? Does it edify? (I Cor. 10:23) Parents need to ask, “Does my child really need a smart phone?” In most cases, the honest answer is, no.
“… I will not be brought under the power of any.” We also need to consider seriously, “Who or what is really in control?” The truth is, in too many cases, electronic devices are controlling the user rather than the other way around. Do not allow electronic devices to control your child’s thoughts, moods, attitudes, and time. One recent study showed that the average American teenager spends over nine hours every day engrossed in electronic media! And this study did not include school-related technology.
Electronic devices are dominating the lives of young people – their time, their thoughts, and their values. Parents, make certain that your children are most influenced by you, your church, and God – not electronic devices and social media.