Stereotypical images of teenagers today would have to include kids texting on their mobile phones aloof to the people around them, or perhaps sitting in the living room with a video game controller, their gaze transfixed on the glowing screen before them. We all know that electronic media consumption is a central part of the life of American youth, but you may be shocked by the amount of it. A new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that children 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day with electronic devices (includes smart phones, computers, televisions, video games, etc.), and an additional hour and a half texting and half-hour talking on their cell phones). This is virtually every moment of their lives outside of school and sleep. The same study in 2005 found an average of 6.5 hours, and the authors believe then it had reached a saturation point. Thus, they were shocked that it rose by an hour. The study also found an association between heavy media use and negative outcomes such as lower grades and behavior problem.
As a high school teacher, I see evidence of electronic media obsession and observe its negative effects daily. I see it manifested primarily in kids lack of concentration, expectations that learning happen instantaneously, and difficulty in thinking coherently about complex topics. I attribute the latter two to minds being bombarded daily by a continuous, rapid stream of largely disconnected information. Instead of reflecting on the information to interpret and make meaning of it, which takes time, it enters the mind briefly and is immediately displaced by something new.
How should Christian parents and educators respond to this cultural reality? An extreme response is to imitate the Amish and forbid new technology in our homes. This is nearly impossible to do unless you live in an isolated community that does likewise (and the Amish are not really anti-technology, they just favor the technology of a particular time period from the 18th to 19th century). A more realistic response is to do what I’m sure many parents do which is to impose limits on media time, taking it away as punishment, and granting it as a reward. This is sensible and has been shown to be effective. I believe, though, that setting such rules in the home should be coupled with instruction on the implications of a biblical worldview on the development and use of technology. This is where I want to devote some space on my blog.
Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias draws a parallel between the function of technologically in society today and the function of magic and sorcery in the ancient world. Both seek to give humans control over reality in order to satisfy desires. He contrasts this to the pursuit of virtue in which humans seek to conform their desires to reality (virtue is defined as “conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles”). Questions about what virtue is and how to acquire it were once a central concern in Western culture. Today questions about how to control more of nature through technology are more prominent.
While developing and using technology to “rule and subdue” creation is a morally legitimate human activity, Scripture places a much greater emphasis on conforming our lives to moral principles. In addition to the numerous specific moral laws we are obliged to obey, Scripture calls us to conform our lives to the moral ideals embodied in the person of Christ who perfectly conformed to the will of God:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” – Romans 12:2
“17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
– 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” – Colossians 3:12
Scripture also cautions us against living to gratify our desires:
“Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”” – Luke 12:15
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” – Colossians 3:5
This contrast between pursuing virtue and gratifying our selfish desires should guide our use of technology. Much of electronic technology is used for pleasure, distraction, voyeurism, gossip and spreading lies. But electronic technology also is used for spreading the gospel, writing blogs, studying Scripture, enhancing communication, and so on. As we evaluate our and our children’s use of technology we must examine our motives for using them and effects on our heart. To the degree that technology allows us to care for human needs, communicate biblical truth, and increase our knowledge of what is true and good, it should be embraced. Technology use that serves and feeds selfish desires, distances us from relationships with others, and distracts us from our moral obligations should be rejected, all for the sake of knowing and serving Christ.
How do you seek to use technology in a redemptive, God-honoring way? How do you help your children do likewise?