Parenting in the Digital Age

1:02 PMHeather

Warning to blog readers:  I am about to sound like a crotchety old grandma, bemoaning the pitfalls for this current generation.  The following may make you think of me as someone named Mildred who complains about walking barefoot in the snow uphill, both ways, to school. It's alright.  I'll run the risk of said impression being left.

Back in my day, here were the things parents worried about with their kids, in relation to technology. 

Do you let a teenager have a phone in their room?  As in a land line.  It plugged into the wall.  And long distance calls were much more expensive, but the cost went down after 11:00 pm.  There was such as thing as calling people collect.  And you left home with a quarter in case you had to use a pay phone to call your folks.  

Or, do you let your teenager have a television in their room? Because you know--that MTV was sorta sketchy.  Some of their musical videos were a little iffy. And heaven forbid if your family had cable.  With movie channels.  Because that HBO might be of the devil.  There were movies with sexual content and foul language.  What had the world come to?

Those were the days where you escaped a scolding when your mom was on the phone if you could just step beyond where the phone cord could reach.  And video games were as violent as a frog being killed and smashed to smithereens whilst crossing the road.  Now, Pong was a good old game for the whole family--making that little ball go back and forth across the screen without bouncing out beyond the wall.  Oh, yes.  Atari.  How I loved you.  

Those were the days when my husband had his little handheld football game thrown out the window of a moving car after he defied his mother's warnings to quit playing the loud game with the fancy beep sound effects.

But now.  Oh, now.  I find myself as a child of the 80's being a pioneer as a parent.  

Parenting in the digital age.  

Few have gone before us.  And even those who have done so in the last few years had a whole different challenge than parents right now.  Because every blasted day there is some new app or social media thing or whatever that requires us to scramble to stay ahead of our very savvy children.  

College age kids?  Their parents were the first to deal with texting and Facebook and My Space and such.

Parents of teens now?  We have a litany of technology with which to keep up and it seems to change daily.

Apparently, Facebook is so last year.  Now, there is Vine and Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram.

And while my friends and I think we are pretty up on things because we can laugh at the video parody called "How to Insta Your Devo," the truth is that our kids are the ones laughing.  

Because our best attempt to participate in the digital age is nearly always a step behind our children.

And for all people here in this digital age...I have one thing to say about parenting in this digital age.

It. Is. Exhausting.

Exhausting, I tell you.

Knowing when to let your kids have a cell phone.  And which apps to allow or disable.  And what monitoring apps to install.  And which rules to enforce.  And how in God's green earth to keep up with this changing-by-the-minute technology so that we can protect and coach our children?

Our parents worried about such things as curfews and us breaking down and having to find a phone to use.

Now, I worry about things like cyber bullying and sexual content both online and within social media and how to coach and equip my children to care more about glorifying the Lord than they care about their number of likes on that Instagram post or how many followers they have on Twitter.

It's a whole new battleground of trying to train and disciple our kids to love and follow the Lord but not get caught in legalism.

It's not for the faint of heart.  But that's no news flash to anyone reading this who has children between the age of 8 and 28.

To be perfectly honest, it scares me to death sometimes.  I mean, cripples me.  Ties my stomach in knots and has me praying frantic prayers with no belief and little hope behind them.  

And I am not overstating it when I say this very loudly and very clearly to every single person reading this.


Did you hear me?  Yes, as a matter of fact, I am yelling at you.

You want to know why? 

Because someone I know and love saw his life UNRAVEL because a little online curiosity led to an addiction that led to time in a state penitentiary. 

And it is a wake up call for every single person who reads this blog.

I ain't playing, y'all.  We must be wise and discerning and careful as we parent and live in this digital age.  

And on top of that, here's another key thing I'm learning.

We need to stick together.  Because your kid might love some new app that you understand and know more about than the one my kid loves today.  And you might follow my kid on social media and see something I haven't yet.

Oh, yes.  I am that parent with informal agreements with all my friends.  We're in this together.  So if you see someone making a rude comment and taunting my child, let me know.  And if you see my child post something questionable or like or retweet or follow something in question--let me know.  And vice versa.

I don't have all the answers.  And anytime I think I'm close to feeling on top of it, it completely spirals again.  But, we are trying here. We make our kids sign a phone contract, outlining what is appropriate and expected and what is not.  And that all violations can result in the loss of that phone.  Because yes, you bought it, but we pay for the monthly service.  And we are the authority and you live under our roof.

Just so you know--that came out with way more conviction than I usually feel.  Because, to be honest, most days I feel as if I am in the middle of an ocean in the dark of night and trying desperately to swim to a shore I cannot see.

Here's the thing.  Every child is different.  Every family is different. Some kids are more easily influenced by or interested in social media than others.  Some kids have a tendency to get tripped up by how others respond to or affirm them on social media.  Other kids get tripped up by seeing content that is not appropriate.  Some kids are tied to their technology and it holds a place of significance and connection more so than other kids.  

And all of it--every last tiny part of it--is hard to navigate.  We parents of technology users are truly pioneers, traveling by wagon into uncharted territory, one little swipe of the phone screen at a time.

When is too young?  What technology is permissable in what amounts at what age?  What apps are okay and which are not? How do we train our children to use it wisely?  How do we model it for them ourselves?  (Oh, yes, little and not-so-little eyes are watching and learning every time we pick up our phones or iPads). How do we set ground rules and then monitor and enforce them?  

And the biggest and hardest question to answer--the one that feels nearly insurmountable--is how do we stay on top of it in order to lead our children's hearts to good habits?

Listen, I don't know. 

I just don't know.  Because I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all solution here.  My husband and I are making this all up as we go along.  And it causes such angst in my soul that I cannot even articulate it.

Because I do not want the enemy to lull my children into such an addiction and sin that it takes them farther than they wanted to go fastest than they ever wanted to get there.

I know this from the mouth of one who has been there.

And in my deepest mama's heart, I want the best for my kids.  And for yours.  I want our children to live with no regrets.  

I want every teenager on planet earth to get this fact.

When I was your age and made a dumb mistake or misspoke, THERE WAS NO PERMANENT DIGITAL EVIDENCE.

That regrettable note I wrote and passed in English could be torn up and destroyed.  That not-so-smart conversation was not documented because it didn't happen on a text thread. And that not-the-best-idea photograph could be ripped to shreads.

Now, screen shots and such make every last little impulse a potential for future regret.

Regret later when you want to apply to college.  Or try to join a sorority or fraternity (yes, they all have people assigned to look into the social media of potential members).  Or when you try to get an internship or summer gig.  Or have a serious special someone who suddenly wonders if they can trust you or really know after they've found things out from your past.  Or when you are grown and mature and want to get a job. Human Resources departments weed out candidates after looking through the social media and digital history of applicants.

But more than any of that, I don't want any of these precious, precious people to look into the eyes of their Savior someday and feel a sadness about poor choices and lost opportunities to do the hard thing in obedience and follow the narrow path.

And it makes the hair on my arms stand up when I hear another awful story of kids becoming victims of bullying or heaven forbid, taking their life, and it all being partially fueled by people who say and do things behind the layer of social media that they would never do in person.

As I said, parenting in the digital age is exhausting.

But I hope we can all encourage each other.  I hope we can ban together and remember why we take the time to read through texts and double check phones nightly and have endless conversations on a loop about making good choices with technology.  

And beyond all that--that we can every last one of us remember that our most effective weapon is to pray for our kids.  And never give up.

But fall on our knees in absolute dependence and surrender, pleading for our children's lives and choices.  Praying against the enemy.  Fighting it out for our beloveds day after day after day.

We are the generals on the sidelines.  And it is a battleground. 

And as followers of Jesus, we can know that our Commander and Chief is the ultimate Victor. 

We have a God who is bigger than all this technology.  Bigger than all our fears and questions and doubts and exhaustion.

And he has loaned us these children, but they are his.  

So, listen up, fellow parent in the technology age--I feel your pain. This is hard.  This is tiring.

And I want to remind myself and to remind you.

This is worth it.  

So, let's keep slugging it out.  Trying to educate ourselves on apps that should be forbidden and trying to navigate apps that aren't--by following our children's accounts on all of them.  And carefully monitoring them.  And shutting them down when need be.  And giving consequences and having the conversation.  Again and again.  Ad nauseum.

Because we are determined to fight this battle with every ounce of our being.

And hold on for the future day when our kids will be the parents who are navigating a digital age with a daily changing landscape.

And we can become a praying grandparent, fighting for our grandkids.  And breathing a sigh of relief for all of our efforts for our own children.

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