If you’re old — I mean, ah-hem, mature — enough to be the parent of a teen, then you remember a day when sending messages through handheld devices to and from anywhere in the world was virtually impossible. You probably like your newfound ability to rekindle high school friendships (some of them, anyway) and keep tabs on your kids at all times.
But when is too much, too much? And what do you need to teach your teen about responsibly using a smartphone and all the communication accessibility that comes with it? Since these aren’t things our parents needed to teach us at that age, it’s easy to neglect teaching our kids about it — or even developing boundaries and standards for our own smartphone use.
Besides “sexting” and “cyber bullying,” there’s plenty of “digital abuse” going on these days. Dishonesty, slander, and breech of privacy are common online activities for many teens and adults. Our teens need to know that that kind of behavior is just as unacceptable from their smartphones as it is from their lips.
Phones and tablets make it easier to be “mean” online, though. There’s no immediate, in-person confrontation involved, and there may be the potential for anonymity. Regardless of how private or anonymous they think their online interactions are, God sees them all (1 Samuel. 16:7).
Having access to communication is a great responsibility, and that takes maturity. It also means standing up to others who engage in less-than-honorable online activity. That same God who sees things we might want to hide sees the good we do for others. Christian teens can shine their light as ambassadors for their Lord online!
There is a time and season for everything, including a break from electronics. Many teens and young adults are experiencing less fulfilling relationships and trouble sleeping, as a result of out-of-control cell phone use. We have to teach our kids to use these tools for God’s glory and the benefit of others and themselves, not to allow them to tyrannize their lives.
We all need time to connect in person and be still before God, without constant interruptions (Psalm 46:10). Whenever we allow frivolous, mundane interactions to take precedence over life’s necessities and beautiful moments, we lose.
We can’t expect our kids to limit themselves when we don’t. As parents, we also can have out-of-control gadget use and screen time. We can be real with our kids about our own struggles and what draws us to constant connectivity. We can repent of letting lesser things fill the voids in our hearts and face this battle together. Maybe we can even text each other reminders about taking time away and keeping our phones and online presence in perspective.