Some parents dread the moment when their child turns 16 and is old enough to start driving. For me, the greater dread came when my oldest child became old enough to have her own cell phone.
While most of our peers had given their child a smartphone at an age years before we did, we recently took the plunge.
Like giving a young person keys to a car, we understood this phone was a privilege and a responsibility. As with teaching a young person to drive, we gave the phone with numerous rules, instructions and warnings.
Some of the rules were as simple as leaving the phone in a common area in our house to be charged at 9 p.m. at night. Another step included downloading a smartphone app that had an advanced Internet content filter and other parental controls (The Qustodio App is one of the best I have seen and very affordable).
Another guideline was for our child to, at least once a week, take a break from the phone. It could be for a few hours or even half a day. Many people would say we are taking too careful an approach, but the statistics show that too many people are taking a careless approach when it comes to teens and technology. The effects of this are starting to be seen.
A recent Fox News report said, “One out of two teenagers feels ‘addicted’ to their phone.” It does not take a research expert to see that teens—indeed most Americans—are too reliant on their personal digital devices.
The report sounded an alarm saying, “research published in Clinical Psychological Science found that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71 percent more likely to have one risk factor for suicide, like depression or suicidal ideation.”
Sometimes the problems are more ordinary than these more extreme examples. A report said an estimated “78 percent of teens check their phones at least hourly, and experts say that when a cellphone interferes with school, mood and temperament, a problem exists.”
Since it is parents and grandparents who most often supply the smartphones for their children, we must be part of the solution as well.
For starters, set some guidelines before you give a young person a device. Next, get a quality parental control app like Qustodio or Covenant Eyes to protect them from dangerous online content. Also, foster an open dialogue with the young people. If they stumble into trouble, they need to know they can come to you for help.
Finally, you yourself need to model good behavior. If you are constantly on your device at all hours of the day—including mealtimes—why should you be surprised when they are too?
C.S. Lewis once said, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”
The next time you catch yourself staring down at your phone for no good reason, just stop and set it down. Then look up to the heavens and remember the God who made you and redeemed you. Because it is God alone who can help teens and grown-ups through the hazards of life, whether on the roads or on the phone.
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