Children and technology

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, October 16th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: screen time and family time.

Trillia Newbell is an author and the director of community outreach for the ERLC. That stands for Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It’s the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

REICHARD: Last week at the ERLC’s national conference, Newbell spoke about how to promote a healthy use of technology in the home. WORLD Radio’s J.C. Derrick caught up with her to talk about it.

J.C. DERRICK, MANAGING EDITOR: Do you run into some parents sometimes who maybe aren’t as attuned to whether there are issues with overuse of technology? Is there an awareness that’s needed?

TRILLIA NEWBELL: I think we are at a place right now where everyone is likely aware kids have access to video games and kids have access to movies like never before and to devices like never before. What I would say is there’s a lack of awareness about what the content is. So, I think people know whether their kids have access in general, but what actually they are consuming? Because YouTube is a big thing for kids, especially ages 8 through high school, and a lot of programs, even at a young age, are exposing children to tough topics early and giving them a certain worldview. So, it’s important that parents understand—access is important, but what is actually the content of the videos or the movies or the shows that the kids are watching? I think that is what is probably lacking in awareness.

DERRICK: And I would guess that’s probably partly due to the fact that technology is not so much something people do together anymore, it’s kind of—the screens are the babysitters for those children and that helps to build that wall between the content and the parents’ awareness of it.

NEWBELL: You are exactly right. Parents are busy, and because we do have access to so many things, it’s easy to put on a video and say, “Okay, watch this,” and then next thing you know, 10 episodes later, because you had to do this or that or the other. And so I think it is something that you have to evaluate your home and really think, okay, what am I doing? What practical things can I do? In our family—and of course every family’s different and we have failed in many ways in this area—but one of the things we’ve started to do is just cut off internet access. So at night at a certain time, no one can access the internet, and it’s helpful. And it may seem extreme, but it’s easier than trying to fight off, “Oh, can I watch this?” “No, you can’t because you don’t have access, one, and two, at a certain time we need to say no to devices.” So we’ve just taken some really practical steps to help guard and shepherd our kids through this internet age.

DERRICK: I’m curious what advice you might have for a family with maybe older children, who have maybe fallen into patterns that they recognize aren’t good, and they’re getting a lot of pushback from their children who really don’t want to make any of these adjustments. They like life the way it has been. Do you have any advice for those types of parents?

NEWBELL: I do, and I share this not as someone who has done it exceptionally well, but as someone who is in the throes of it, we try to give them a Biblical understanding of what is actually going on, and it’s idolatry. So, there is a worship of these devices, they feel like they have to be on it, and they have to see this. And so for us, we start there. What is this longing? Why do you feel like you must see this? What is going on is it’s become an idol. And then just say no and be firm and confident that your no isn’t going to ruin your relationship with your kids.

And for us it’s also very important that they’re active. So we try to get them outside, give them an alternative. “Okay, you can’t do this. Read. Go outside. Do something else with your mind and your energy.” So, giving them an alternative I think has been helpful.

DERRICK: Now, you mentioned the internet as something you cut off at a given point of the day, but also I’m thinking of something like video games, which I know your children are into as well. So, I’m curious how do you structure that in a way that is healthy, creating boundaries there as well?

NEWBELL: It’s very similar. We just give them time frames. During this time, after you’ve done this, you can do this. So sticking with the boundaries that you’ve set up is what will be hard. It’s not saying that there’s a boundary, it’s actually implementing and sticking with it.

Another thing we do is try to make sure that at the dinner table we’re talking, no devices. We’re having a conversation and there aren’t devices there. So I think setting up these really clear boundaries helps. And giving them freedom when you’ve said that they could and they will enjoy it and understand, okay, this is time that is set out for whatever they’re wanting to do.

DERRICK: It seems like the theme I’m hearing throughout all your answers is choosing intentionality over just putting things on cruise control.

NEWBELL: Absolutely. I think that’s the name of parenting in general is intentionality. So, being intentional and not just setting up a random boundary or rule, but having a conviction. I think backing it up with a clear reason. Okay, this is actually good for your soul, reason in scripture, I think, is helpful. So we have tried to do that so that it’s not just some strange arbitrary thing that their parents are doing, but there’s a reason behind it that’s going to actually be helpful for their living and growing as they get older.

(Photo/Marco Verch, Flickr)

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