This is a four-part blog series. Each consecutive day this week will feature Conversation one, Conversation two, Conversation three and Conversation four in both print and video. These excerpts were taken from a chapter written by Axis in Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s upcoming book, The Art of Parenting.
When I was in high school, I was eager to turn sixteen so I could drive. To my advantage, my parents were equally eager to stop being my personal Uber. So as a family we began the process of getting my driver’s license.
Getting a license can be a pretty intimidating process. You need to take a course, then pass a test (that most people fail the first time), then you apply to receive your permit. In some states, you need to have your permit for a year before you can get your license. And while you have your permit, you take lessons from a professional driving instructor and log hours while driving supervised, both during the day and at night. Finally, you take a driving test with your state’s department of motor vehicles. Oh, and while doing this, you are purchasing a vehicle, applying for insurance, learning how to drive a stick shift, figuring out how to change a flat with the hidden spare, etc., etc., etc. We think a similar mindset needs to be taken with smartphones. In the same way that you don’t hand your kids the keys to a car, without any training, and simply say, “Good luck,” you shouldn’t hand them a smartphone and say, “What could go wrong?” Their lives, your life, and others’ lives hang in the balance physically, legally, and spiritually. In short, we advise against giving your children a phone if you are not ready to have a conversation with them about it multiple times a week for multiple years. Also, when you’re teaching them how to drive, the goal is for them to drive on their own without you in the passenger seat forever. The same is true for smartphones: You don’t want to be skimming all their texts for the rest of your life. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Which brings us to the third conversation in smartphone discipleship. Your family is on a journey together of enjoying, leveraging, and self-regulating your phones. And there is a destination! This is when your children have demonstrated integrity and have learned how to self-regulate their phones—and therefore no longer have limits imposed by you; they impose their own limits! Usually this happens in their junior or senior year of high school. Every journey has milestones. Here are some of the key milestones on the “Smartphone Ed” journey:
Goal: heart and destination
Always start with your child’s heart in mind and with the end of the journey in sight. Your goal is to mentor your child so that his or her heart loves righteousness. This goes so much deeper than behavior management. You want your child to be able to use a phone with wisdom and joy, and without your oversight. You want your teenager to be independent and able to self-regulate.
Ownership: stewardship and leasing
If God owns everything, He owns all phones. As a parent, you are responsible to God as the ultimate steward of your child’s phone. A great way to help steward your children’s hearts and phones is by making a family contract that they sign in order to “lease” their phones from you. There are lot of great contracts online that you can use for inspiration. Also, consider having your child contribute financially to the costs involved with the phone.
Privacy: a privilege
Make your mantra this: We are better in community than in isolation. We recommend that you have access to the phone at any time and have access to all login information and settings. This sounds harsh, but your child does not have a right to phone privacy. Explain that privacy is earned through demonstrating integrity, and that even adults often relinquish this right to others in order to steer clear of temptation or misuse of their phones.
Remember: We are better in community than in isolation, so make sure you are modeling this to your kids! If worse comes to worst and you must take your child’s phone away (or do as two total ninja parents we know do and have all your kids share one phone), always remember that to the next generation, a phone is an extension of their identity. Taking it away is literally taking away part of who they are and their access to community. Never take it away lightly, and when you do, clearly explain what needs to happen before you to give it back.
Capacity: incremental responsibility
Phones are amazing and can accomplish thousands of functions. Upon first leasing your children a phone, we recommend you severely limit the phone’s functionality! Be warned, this may be a point of contention, but it’s a great opportunity to refer to the contract you had them sign. Remind them that as they learn to wisely use their phones, over time they will have fewer and fewer restrictions. Okay, here we go. When they first get a phone:
- The App Store should never be left on and should be restricted. Any app on the phone will require your approval to download and update. You should know what each app is for, in-app purchases should be turned off, and apps should not be allowed to be deleted without permission. Also, check all apps, especially ones buried multiple folders deep. Over time, you will want to and should give them the keys to the App Store, but don’t let them delete apps.
- Texting/email should not be allowed unless you have access to all messages on a mirrored and separate device. Here’s the principle behind this: seeing themselves being seen. Eventually, you’ll get bored and can stop skimming their messages because you trust them. Trust the Holy Spirit to prompt you to check your kids’ messages when something is awry.
- Social media is not allowed (unreal, we know) until trust and open communication are proven. Our reasoning is that there’s really no way to monitor social media. If you do at some point choose to allow your child to have a social media account, proceed with caution and be aware of the mental and emotional health problems that can be caused or triggered by social media. We highly recommend that parents join whatever social media platform their kids are on. It’s beneficial for you to experience it and have the credibility to host the “What is it for?” conversation. Keep in mind that if you have given them your trust regarding social media, asking them before you “follow” them will reiterate your faith in them. Also take some time to study and learn social media etiquette and dos and don’ts. We’d hate for you to “heart” your own Instagram post.
- Internet browsers need to be filtered and have built-in accountability reporting. There are obvious sexual risks involved with full access to the internet, not to mention sexual predators. Think of a filter like a wall. A wall helps, but if you’re clever, you can always find a way around it. Your long-term goal should be to help your kids understand what triggers them so they can willingly build their own wall. The best wall is not actually a filter, but a community of friends and mentors to whom they are accountable. P.S. None of this will work if you are not first modeling it. #Goals
Boundaries: to be fully present
One story stands out to us as to why boundaries are important. We asked a thirteen-year-old teen what her plans were for the evening. She responded, “I’m going to go home and watch my parents stare at their phones.” Steve Jobs purposely designed Apple devices without an off switch. But sometimes the only way to be fully present and connect is to shut our phones off. Here are some of the things we’ve seen great families do to limit the incessant beckoning of their phones. First, they limit which apps are actually on their phones and how each app’s notifications work. Some dads refuse to have email on their phones because it causes them to work at home when they should be enjoying their families. Some moms turn off notifications for social media and even texting because they know they check them enough already. Second, families agree to a technology curfew for all devices in the evening and the morning. A helpful curfew is no devices from eight p.m. to eight a.m. We recommend setting a gentle alarm that goes off at eight p.m. every night to remind you of the curfew. Make it the bad guy. Third, great families limit or even forbid devices in the bedroom, especially at night. Instead, they buy everyone alarm clocks and charge all of their devices in a common area while everyone sleeps. This helps the devices stay charged during the day, helps everyone sleep better at night, and helps the family avoid temptations. Finally, great families decide on time limits for devices, and then they keep track. This very good device can become cursed pretty quickly when it distracts us from creating and only encourages us to mindlessly consume. Blaise Pascal critiques, “The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is distraction, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves, and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But distraction amuses us, and leads us unconsciously to death.”
A disturbing surprise: your greatest competition
We’re sure we missed some milestones, but after ten years in the teen/technology space, we think the above list is a great place to start. However, we want to give you a final warning. When we speak to parents, we ask, “When you parent, what is your greatest competition?” You may be surprised by the answer. A parent’s greatest competition is … other parents. Here’s what we mean. Just as your student experiences peer pressure, you will experience pressure from other parents regarding smartphones and discipleship. You’re going to have to call some tough shots and graciously disagree with how other parents set boundaries for their own kids. Know that this is normal, and don’t be discouraged. Always stay humble, be teachable, and stick to your convictions. Remember to have this conversation: We are on a journey with a destination.
David Eaton cofounded Axis 11 years ago. He is married to Lindsey, has a 5-year-old daughter, Shiloh Abigail; a 2-year-old son, Zion Daniel; and a newborn, Vale Calvary. David plays drums and uke, roasts his own coffee, and he is always collecting great questions that will start great conversations. The Eatons live in Colorado where David is also a part-time youth pastor for about 20 teens at his home church.
The magic of Axis is CultureTranslation: interpreting student trends for parents while translating timeless theology, philosophy, and essential questions of life for their teens. Axis believes in the power of life-on-life discipleship between caring adults and the next generation!