Internet Potholes

Parenting through technology-fear needs a breath of fresh air and comic relief at times. Enter Allison Slater Tate:

The question of managing screen time and who is on what screen and how to protect those in front of the screens from things they might not un-see or un-hear is a constant, exhausting issue that frankly makes me want to go full-on Amish on all of them and throw every last blinking screen away

Although our tech responsibilities often feel like an anchor dragging behind the boat, there’s a larger thing going on here. God is moving history towards an end that He has already revealed. He is not white-knuckled in fear, not behind schedule, not surprised. Someone once said that there is nothing that I can bring to the table that God is not already in possession of.

Notice how Tate works through our unprecedented reality:

…my generation of parents are pioneers here, like it or not. We’re the last of the Mohicans. We can try as hard as we want to push back and to carve space into our children’s lives for treehouses and puzzles and Waldorf-style dolls, but in the end, our children will grow up with the whole world at their fingertips, courtesy of a touch screen, and they will have to learn how to find the balance between their cyber and real worlds. It is scary. I don’t think I even believe there is a “right way” to parent with technology. But acknowledging that what we are doing is unprecedented – that no study yet knows exactly what this iChildhood will look like when our children are full grown people – feels like an exhale of sorts.

Nice combination. On one hand we parent, repeat, we parent through the ever-changing landscape. But on the other, we honestly admit that living in unprecedented times requires a broader perspective. A quieting of sorts. Here’s a set of verses I often quote in the silence of my own spirit:

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained (Philippians 3:15,16)

When CS Lewis said, “it takes two worlds to make sense of one,” I doubt he could have envisioned our current parenting reality. But it’s a life-giving perspective in an age of Internet potholes.

You can read Allison Slater Tate’s full article here.


Do You Get It Yet?

The mechanic slammed the hood of the truck, “better tow it to the dealer, no idea what’s wrong…”

The kid was fiddling with his phone and spreading his fingers to enlarge the words. “This make sense to you?” he asked, handing the phone to mechanic.

A wrinkled expression hit the man’s face before he returned the phone and crawled under the driver’s door. The sheet metal trapped a muffled expression before the kid heard, “try it now.”

The key turned, the ignition fired, the exhaust pipe hummed its mellow tune.

The mechanic scooted out and stood and knocked the gravel off his pants, then gave the kid a hard stare.


Brennan Manning once referred to himself this way, “I’m an angel, with an incredible capacity for beer.”


And so the parent lives life with the kids planted firmly in the front row- the closest observers of the ongoing struggle for authenticity. To become like Jesus involves subtle and gradual growth through the seasons of life. It involves working with paradoxes, things seemingly absurd yet true.

Enter technology.

One teacher recently emailed:

In speaking with a colleague, we both commented the issue of technology and how it’s use is being taught in homes. I thought her quote was very telling…”more is caught than taught.”  This gives credence to the idea that kids are just imaging and mirroring what they see at home. Obviously this isn’t always the case but as a teacher I have found that this seems to be a fairly accurate description of why things turn out the way they do.

One recurring paradox for us is the absurd, yet true pretending, that life can come through a screen. When we catch our kids in tech’s dark sectors we often miss the subtle connections that they learned from us. It’s why the transparent and authentic life is indispensable. For it creates a vacuum into which kids are drawn. They must see our flaws and they must see what we’re doing about them. They must be able to measure movement.

The absurdity that Brennan Manning- theologian, lover of mankind and legendary story teller- struggled with alcohol throughout his life is okay for me. Why? Because he was transparent and authentic. Because he made movement and brought a richer understanding of ‘grace’ to the world.

We’ll need to do the same with our technology. I’m currently tracking my energy and positivity as I contrast my increasing screen time to my diminishing outdoor time. What about you?

Notice the ongoing challenge for our attention (mind) and affections (heart):

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God…” (Colossians 3)

Parental Controls

The end goal of parenting in a high tech world is kids who take responsibility for their own faith. Several necessary factors contribute to this process: 1) parental controls, 2) conversation and accountability, and 3) personal responsibility on the part of our kids.


Be Web Smart: For the Analog Parent in a Digital World – Notice the two features for iOS7 users on how to block content and certain contacts

Mobicip – For multiple devices that access the internet

Covenant Eyes – Notice that this Internet filtering site still emphasizes ‘conversation and accountability.’



Ideally, this happens within the family structure. Virtually every study ever conducted highlights the power of a parent-child relationship in terms of a safe passage to adulthood. Obviously this becomes strained during adolescence. The historic quote,

“the weening process has never been particularly attractive; not to the weenie, not to the weenor”

is often attributed to the late H. Stephen Glenn. Nevertheless, parent-child dialogue is the gold standard in terms of influencing our kids. And remember, dialogue is not ‘talking at our kids.’ It’s a mutual adventure of authenticity and conversation about shared struggles in life between people at different stages of development. To build on top of this unique power comes the whole idea of ‘intermediate influencers.’ Find people who are 2-5 years older than your kids and who embrace your worldview. Influence now comes in waves.



No internet filter and no amount of conversation/accountability can overcome a refusal on the part of the emerging adult to own his or her own faith and development. This becomes the core of our daily prayer for our children. The good news is that this develops in parallel with the considerations mentioned above.

Notice the creative way one mother writes about how technology has forever changed the way we parent:

“Technology and social media permanently altered the way we raised the first generation of children who were already out in the world, long before they left our homes”


“The irony of cell phones is that my kids are not as present when they are actually with me but are far more present, when they are away. At home they are often distracted by their phones but at school, they will text, send photos and answer questions at all times, including in the middle of class”

Parental controls are good but not as stand-alone solutions. Their power comes in the broader context of conversation, accountability and personal responsibility.

Connecting Struggles To Deeper Issues

Here’s a simple diagram that can help students understand their behavior- the iceberg metaphor. Only a small portion of an iceberg is above the water line; it’s the larger jagged portion (under the water) that sunk the Titanic. The same is true about our lives. The great one-liner, the issue is never the issue, comes into play:

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 6.15.54 AM


Here are some practical scenarios to help talk our kids through:

- They have to deliver a talk in speech class tomorrow. What type of temptations come (at the surface level) as a result?

- What kind of stress builds during tryouts?

- When faced with repeating temptations, pause in the middle and ask God, “what’s really going on here?”

- What role does technology play in my behavior choices?

-  Use a calendar to chart common temptations using symbols. Try to see patterns. Why did those temptations surfaced when they did?


One of the insidious aspects of sin is that it tends to keep us focused on the symptom instead of the core issue. And once we see core beliefs that fuel our behavior, it removes much of the pressure. Is the following too bold to use with kids?

FOCUS ON SURFACE STRUGGLES:  To simply attempt to use God to fix my problems will leave my relationship with him distant. He’ll seem like a small God who really doesn’t have much power. Why? Because my struggles always repeat.

FOCUS ON CORE ISSUES:  Instead of using God to fix my problems, I use my problems to know God deeper. I interact at the soul level, where lies lurk. In identifying them and replacing them with truth, I come to know God at an intimate level. He seems close as his power begins to change me from the inside out.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)

Top Ten Technology Tips For Parents

10.  Identify Your Personal Struggle with Technology – A Facebook mom recently caught herself. She’d do the daily chores- dressing and feeding the kids, cleaning the kitchen, etc. If she managed her time just right, she could plop the two older ones in front of a screen and grab her ½ hour of Facebook time while the baby slept. Here’s what she caught. Her kids were watching her do chores with drudgery but they also saw her light up in front of the blue screen. Her face came alive. And they learned….

9.  Indirect Conversations – Our kid’s technology choices often create tension points. And the confrontations are often counterproductive. Remove the flashpoint by talking about other families and situations. Explore stricter homes and more lenient ones. These types of conversations get insulated a bit because the focus is ‘out there’ and not ‘in here.’ They are indirect talks and are often better shoulder-to-shoulder (when traveling in the car together) rather than face-to-face.

8.  Limit And Replace – Limiting screen time is a huge responsibility for parents. But far too often we focus on limitations rather than replacement ideas. And this is where it gets tough. Since our kid’s reality is often in the virtual world, it feels punitive to them, like we’re downshifting their life from 5th gear to 2nd gear. If we say, “stop playing video games and go read a book,” it’s true. We’ve offered a replacement. But the comparison in their mind is lame. Get use to that feeling and to their initial reaction. It’s part of the challenge. The video games will produce a deadening effect in them whereas crossing something off their responsibility list will be empowering. The challenge is one of deferred gratification. We’re slowing down their dopamine release and getting them back into the real world of hard work and real gratification.

7.  Focus On Unique Gender – Culture is sweeping us towards gender equity. This requires some extra work in the area of what is uniquely masculine and feminine. Get your one-liners down. For starters, borrow the following and try to make them better. “A real man steps into uncertainty rather than avoiding it.” “A real woman empowers people rather than attempting to control them.”

6.  Make An Appointment – Find another mom or dad who get technology. How to set limits, how to shut off the router between 10pm-6am. How to monitor and regulate aggressive texters, how to turn various websites on and off. Which apps circumvent parent control and accountability? Which devices enable WiFi and which don’t. This brief post can get you started on which devices are age-appropriate for your kids. And make that appointment right now.

5.  Hands-On Experience –  The virtual places and spaces all compete for our kids’ attention. To achieve balance, adolescents need to get into the real world. Taking a machine apart, getting dirty with a shovel, learning how a pump works, climbing a tree, going for walks, driving a car before they’re 17, supplying wood for a camping trip, reading a physical book, raising something and keeping it alive, doing a mission trip. Here are some ideas for guys. The book Shop Class as SoulCraft is excellent on this topic.

4.  Simplify Categories When Talking About Sex – Notice the complexity in the following list: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, experimenting, asexual. And the list goes on. But there are two biblical categories that our kids must become experts in understanding: 1) male and female (God created the roles in the beginning) and 2) procreation and pleasure (they are a package deal and cannot be separated). If you want a simple diagram to get your kids thinking, check out this chart. Now, re-read the complex list above using the two categories to evaluate them. Finally, consider using this question, “does God have authority over my sexuality?” It can launch a great discussion.

3.  Travel – Trips continue to be an excellent disruption for adolescents. Since they are right in the middle of their worldview forming years, it’s imperative that they expand beyond their own technology control center. Many families are beginning to introduce ‘study abroad’ options to their high schoolers instead of waiting for college. They are customizing the experience through missionaries and service organizations where the parent is comfortable with the host family.

2.  Hire Intermediate Influencers – Pray for specific people to cross paths with your son or daughter, people who are just a few years ahead of them and are working on their relationship with God. This will ultimately involve the misuse, abuse and correct use of technology. In some cases, it’ll be well worth some financial investment. Guitar lessons? Math tutor? Athletic trainer? Make an excuse and hire someone to help. In all likelihood they’ll say some of the same things you’ve been saying when all of a sudden it’ll make sense to your adolescent.

1.  Be Authentic & Transparent In Your Technology – “Be the person you want your child to be, so that when they turn out like you, you’ll like who they’ve become.” Let them see your own struggles and victories in areas where technology grabs you. This stuff is far more “caught” than “taught.” Pick one of the following verses and drill it into your prayer life: 1) If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you (Js 1:5), 2) Be very careful, then, how you live- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil (Eph 5:15), 3) And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (Phil 1:9-10)

Our kids are just like us and therefore need three things in place regarding tech:

a.  Limits and Filters          b.  Relationships of Accountability             c.  A Personal Desire to Change