Ten reasons not to give your kid a smartphone

By Jonathon Van Maren

The responses to my column last week detailing the horrific story of a boy who engaged in porn-inspired sexual molestation of his young nieces after accessing porn on his iPhone have indicated once again that many parents simply do not want to recognize the dangers that smartphones pose to their children.

Over and over again, commenters made genuinely stupid and ill-thought-out assertions, such as “You must be a Luddite!” Obviously, one does not have to be opposed to technology to recognize the dangers of some devices. We all agree that children should not drive cars, because it is not safe. We are not anti-car just because we do not think everyone should be able to drive them at a young age.

Additionally, many people seemed unaware of the fact that pornography has mainstreamed sexual violence, and that the vast majority of young people access porn on their cell phones. These are unfortunate realities, and I could tell you hundreds of stories of children accessing porn on phones at incredibly young ages, often impacting their lives for years into the future.

I could provide you with 20, but for today, here are just 10 reasons you shouldn’t give your child a smartphone:

1. Many parents harbor the mistaken belief that once their children have a smartphone, they can still control their behavior. In reality, it is nearly impossible to completely lock down a device (although there are very important steps that can be taken), and 71 percent of teens hide their smartphone activity from their parents. I’ve had many parents tell me how relieved they are that their children haven’t ended up hooked on porn or involved in “that stuff,” knowing full well that their children have been involved.

2. As Vanity Fair journalist Nancy Jo Sales laid out in her devastating book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, sexting and sending nude selfies are now ubiquitous in every school from the big cities to the rural Bible belt. I interviewed a number of high school girls (from Christian schools) on this issue over the past several years, and every one of them said the same thing: The pressure to send photos is relentless. Giving your child a smartphone is providing the opportunity for that pressure to be applied. Many give in. Lives are ruined as a result. The photos are forever.

3. The average age a child first looks at porn is now age 11. (The youngest porn addict I ever met was homeschooled.) Providing children a device that, regardless of how hard you try to implement oversight or lock the device down (which is impossible to do completely), you are handing them a portal to the totality of human sexual depravity as it exists online. The majority of young people now view pornography, boys and girls. The majority of them have seen things (grotesque sexual violence among other things) that previous generations could not have imagined. To give them this opportunity and this temptation at an age when we would not trust them with the right to vote, drink, smoke, or drive makes no rational sense and is arguably more dangerous.

4. Most children are exposed to sexual violence via pornography via smartphones. As I mentioned in my previous columns, experts are increasingly noticing that children are trying what they see in porn on other children, with tens of thousands of cases in the U.K. of child-on-child sexual abuse being investigated, and healthcare professionals in the United States sounding the alarm.

5. Our society still has not figured out how to control these technologies. In fact, the very Silicon experts who create these devices and these screens warn that they are a “dark influence” on children and either do not provide their own children smartphones at all, or they strictly limit the amount of time they may be on one. If those who develop smartphones are saying that they are dangerous for young people, perhaps we should be listening more closely.

6. Porn companies are actively trying to get children to look at pornography. Some have tagged hardcore porn content with phrases like “Dora the Explorer,” for example, in order to get kids to stumble on to their material. Your child may not be looking for porn. Porn is certainly looking for your child.

7. The porn companies have quite literally re-digitized their content in order to make it more accessible on a smartphone. They know that the vast majority of young people will not be viewing their material on laptops or desktops or TVs anymore. Most young people are viewing porn on their smartphones, in their bedrooms. If parents have restricted Wi-fi, it is easy these days to find free Wi-fi almost anywhere. So while you may be convinced that your child/teen can withstand the relentless sexual temptation of having access to pornography, the porn companies are quite certain that they can win this fight.

8. Smartphones provide children the first environment in history that exists without any oversight by any adult whatsoever. The reason cyber-bullying is so effective and so dangerous is the fact that social media has created an alternative world, inhabited by young people and their peers and inaccessible to parents and guardians. A generation ago, the bullying would stop when you got home from school. Today, you can be bullied at home, in your bedroom. In fact, a spate of suicides resulting from cyber-bullying tell that precise story.

9. Children do not need smartphones. They think they do, of course, because they want access to social media and the Internet. Who wouldn’t want access to something that can answer any and all of their questions? But considering the tremendous power of this tool, it is incredibly naïve to think that children and young teens are mature enough to handle it when the impact of smartphones on adults (and the skyrocketing rates of tech addiction) indicates that we have not even been able to figure out how to use this technology responsibly. If they need a phone for calling and texting purposes, get them a device without Internet access.

10. Smartphones often eliminate a child’s interest in other, healthier activities – like reading, outdoor recreation, and family time. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone who has given their child a smartphone that a smartphone rapidly becomes an enormous part of the child’s life. This, of course, was predictable: There is a reason they begged so hard to have one in the first place.

 

Screen Addiction in Kids

Children are spending an increasing amount of time in front of screens. Whether they be computer screens, phones, or tablets, excessive use of these devices is leading to addictive behaviors in children and teenagers. The article, linked to below, describes the warning signs of addictive behavior as it relates to children having too much screen time. The symptoms of digital addiction are not so different from those associated with drug addiction. In concluding the article, the author also offers recommendations on how to fight this addiction and says that “it’s never too late” to take action. Although this article is not written from a religious perspective, the information and recommendations are appropriate for families trying to limit the sinful, worldly influences that come to us through our electronic devices.

Article: Screen Addiction in Kids: Is Your Child Hooked?

Gaming

From the Synodical Modern Media Committee and also published in the January/February 2018 edition of “Insight Into“.

Epidemic

A rising epidemic of our times is (online) video gaming. It is a source of mindless entertainment that results in addiction, social isolation, violence, sexual fantasies, and physical harm. This article shows how these activities are contradictory to God’s Word.

Online gaming is mindless entertainment used by the devil to keep us busy, so we have less or no time to search God’s Word for matters crucial for our eternal welfare. A minister once said that the word “BUSY” stood
for “Being Under Satan’s Yoke.”

Boredom

Boredom is a common starting point for all kinds of wickedness such as gaming. We know what happened when David walked in boredom upon the roof of his palace, don’t we? He fell from one sin to another! Well, that’s what often happens when we in boredom use our precious time for (online) video gaming, too.

Most will acknowledge the fact that there is no benefit to gaming, but so many precious hours are spent behind a computer or gaming console. What benefit is there to playing games? Why are we wasting the short amount of time we have on earth? For, “man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away” (Psalm 144:4). We all have but one soul for eternity. Instead of filling long hours with mindless entertainment, we should search the Holy Scriptures and beg for that one thing needful. Paul says in Ephesians 5:15-16, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” While we mindlessly play games or watch videos, we are not redeeming our time.

Addiction

A growing concern with online gaming is addiction. While many gamers manage to balance their online lives with work, school, friends, family, and church, there are more and more that simply “live for the game.” One young man admitted freely that video games were at one time a severe addiction. He was a student in honours and AP classes but became addicted to online gaming. His grades dropped significantly, he lost most of his friends, and he rarely spoke to his parents. Eventually, his parents recognized his addiction and found help. However, looking back, he states that he was just like a drug addict, living solely for the excitement of playing his games. Alarmingly, recent studies have found that 10% to 15% of gamers fit the criteria the World Health Organization has set for addiction.1 This issue has become so large that there are digital detox or digital retreat centres that allow individuals to overcome their addiction to gaming and technology in general. In China, they recently found gamers who daily spend up to 17 hours online, without stopping for washroom breaks. Shockingly, in China alone, 24 million people are believed to be addicted to the Internet.2 We may start gaming with innocent intentions and only play games with “safe” content and for short periods of time, but that is not where it usually ends. Due to our sinful nature, we will slowly allow for more questionable content and begin playing longer and longer. Soon the games we are playing are like those described later in this article and we become addicted to gaming as the young man described above. Satan is very patient and he is very willing to give us all the time we need, as long as we continue to corrupt ourselves in the vices of the world including gaming, and as long as we are not searching out God’s Word. Our time on earth is so short and so precious. Isaiah 55:6 clearly teaches us to “seek ye the LORD while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near.

Isolation

Closely associated with addiction is social isolation. One young man wrote that he became a social recluse. He avoided social situations because they gave him panic attacks, which only started after he began  excessive gaming. He lost all his friends and the only contact he had with others was with gamers via the Internet.3

Violence

Many studies have found and continue to find a strong correlation between online gaming, video games, and violence. There are many video games where the intent is to go on a killing spree, killing as many innocent civilians or villains as possible. Is it really a wonder that we see violence in the real world? Children, teens, and even adults exposed to the violent graphics begin to accept that as the norm. While researching for this article, snapshots of the many games appeared. The blood and death depicted were vulgar and sure to make one nauseous. There are also games which allow for teaming with others online to increase your ability to kill more effectively or to get into further levels of the game. This is another example of where killing is the norm and makes killing or being killed a matter of no consequence. After all, if you “get killed,” you have multiple lives and you will get more if you obtain the next level. In 2011, 16-year-old Daniel Petric unleashed a flurry of shots on his mother and father after they confiscated his violent games. His mother died instantly and his father spent two weeks in a coma. Petric, who was sentenced to 23 years’ imprisonment, is now fighting violent gaming. He believes the video game producers are essentially putting weapons into the hands of innocent young ones.4 What truth there is in that statement. The commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13), not only applies to the physical act of murder so commonly found in our society today, but also applies to our thoughts. If measured in this light, it is clear how these games directly contradict the commandments of God and how those who play them willfully transgress this commandment for hours on end.

Sexism

Sexism and sexual violence, common themes in online gaming, are also clearly apparent in many games which portray women in a degrading manner to entertain the male characters. Hebrews 13:4 clearly reads, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

Harm

While the physical harm is less than the social, psychological, and spiritual harm, it is definitely a component of online gaming. Many gamers frequently get migraines because of the continual strain on their eyes. There are also new injuries being documented such as “gamers thumb,” which is a strain in the ligaments of the thumb due to excessive gaming. One of the largest health effects is sleep deprivation, where gamers become too caught up in the virtual world to think about reality. Also, the violence and constant motion in the games can cause nightmares and overstimulation. Eating irregularities and poor personal hygiene can also be found in serious gamers.5 Newer games on the market have been the cause of a growing number of relatively minor injuries, including broken bones and black eyes. Authorities were concerned when it became evident that there were individuals playing these games even while they were driving! Instances like this are a safety hazard to the general public and not only to the individual playing the game.6

Bible

When we look critically at online gaming, and especially in the light of God’s Word, we must honestly acknowledge that we should keep ourselves separate and avoid such temptations. Gaming is a slippery slope that is very difficult to stop once one enters, similar to other vices of the world such as drugs and alcohol. Gaming starts as an innocent activity with “safe” content and good intentions that one will only play good games. As discussed above, all gaming must be measured in light of God’s Word and whether this activity is wise use of our short time of grace. We must be as the people of Berea who “searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). If we examined our lives in accordance with the Scriptures, we would find that gaming would not be an acceptable way to spend our time, but rather that we should be searching the Scriptures for our eternal wellbeing. My dear friends, is that what you may be doing? Time is so short, and eternity is never-ending. That’s why we all need a Nathan in our life. When he came to David with the words “thou art the man” (2 Samuel 12), his heart broke under all his sins but also under the goodness of the Lord for such a wretch. He had spent his precious time in sin, but then there came a desire to spend his time in the service of the Lord. Don’t we see the same with Paul who then learned to ask, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Is that already the choice of your heart?


1 CRC Health Group. (2016, September 19). Video Game Addiction.
2 Geary, B. (2016, September 21). Inside China’s ‘digital detox’ camps …
3 Skylar. (2016, September 21). A story of depression, friendship, addiction, isolation, and hope.
4 Zurowski, C. (2016, September 21). Daniel Petric …
5 Physical Consequences of Gaming Addiction. (2016, September 21).
6 Brooks, C. (2016, September 21). The ‘Pokémon Go’ Injuries Are Already Piling Up.

Pilgrims on Snapchat

This article, the last in a 3-part series written by Dr. ir. S.M. de Bruin, was obtained from the Lethbridge Modern Media Committee with permission from the author and has also been published in the September/October 2017 edition of “Insight Into“.

Living as a stranger here below, journeying to a city that has foundations – and then, at the same time, on YouTube and Snapchat… Can the two go together?

The greatest walking event in the Netherlands will commence in one and a half months, when 50,000 people will walk in and around Nijmegen for four days to receive the Four Day March Cross. The exertion and perseverance of these walkers can be used as an example for us when we contemplate the baggage of Christian Pilgrims and their media usage. These walkers don’t only make sure they have the right shoes and light clothing, but they also very carefully pack their backpacks. As they add every bottle of drink and every roll of energy candy, they ask themselves if they really need it. They will avoid all excess baggage, because they feel that every 100 grams they don’t need acts only as ballast. Similarly, the runners in Hebrews 12:1 are urged to lay aside every weight that can hinder them. During their journey, these walkers or pilgrims also manage their time carefully and avoid everything that can divert them from their destinations. A Greek myth relates that Princess Atlanta lost a race because her competitor rolled three golden apples over the racetrack. She couldn’t resist the temptation and picked up the apples, thereby losing the competition.

Habituation or addiction

What is the practical meaning of this for a Christian in the 21st century? How can a father apply this image of the pilgrim to the upbringing of his teens? “Come on, Dad. You can’t walk with your head in the clouds the entire day, can you?” One of the malicious sides of today’s media is that they continuously demand our attention. This was already the case back in the days of the old-fashioned telephone, which penetrated into our conversations, disturbed the peace or interrupted our meals. Modern media devices don’t ring anymore, but the vibrating signal is quite sufficient to interrupt our concentration.

Why is this? In the past few years, we’ve come to know more about what takes place in the brain during the use of social media. Checking emails, messages, or WhatsApp becomes a habit or even an addiction, because of the regular interesting “rewards” perceived by getting these messages. These rewards cause the brain to produce dopamine, a “stimulating hormone”, which gives it a kick and stimulates the recipient to go on: to another film, another reply, reading another couple of messages. Another vibrating signal again: perhaps there is another interesting tidbit? It is precisely the unexpectedness and the pull of the unknown (just think of Snapchat) that make this effect so strong. Dopamine is a material in the brain that performs all sorts of functions, but one of its involvements is in addiction and the associated experience of pleasure. Brains can become so used to dopamine stimulants that we need more and more of them in order to feel “normal”.

In his book Ontketen je brein (Unleash your brain), Compernolle, a Flemish neuro-psychiatrist, describes how we become so accustomed to all these small, unpredictable rewards from our smartphones that we are no longer able to go offline. The deceitfulness of this is that we find it pleasurable. A second result is that these media continually disrupt us when we want to concentrate or rest or sleep. This disturbs important mental processes, such as reflection and archiving. Therefore, Compernolle advises us to go offline for an hour a couple of times per day, only do one task at a time and take regular breaks. This will improve our concentration, our willpower, our self-control and our creativity.

Christians must take this advice seriously. Young people – but also older ones – regularly complain that they have a hard time concentrating. Do we realize that the devices that constantly demand our attention are like heavy concrete bricks in the backpacks of pilgrims? That those hundreds of stimulations per day are the golden apples that roll over our racetracks? They look attractive and promising, but they exact a high price when they distract our attention during the sermon, during Bible reading or during our prayers. Here, only a radical choice is fitting, and parents have the important task of being the example: Go offline an hour before going to sleep, reserve time to “reflect” and time to think about and meditate on God’s Word. Do not read your Bible on an electronic device. Make sure that digital stimulants cannot disturb your Sabbath rest, by silencing your smartphone from Saturday evening to Monday morning. Avoid social networks that exist precisely because of surprise and stimulation (i.e., Snapchat) as much as possible. If your (home)work allows, turn off the sounds and signals of other networks (i.e., WhatsApp, Facebook, e-mail, etc.) to the extent possible and limit yourself to only answering these types of messages at fixed times. If someone really needs
you, they’ll phone you.

Vlogs

Among the many forms of media distraction lies a second danger that the pilgrim should greatly fear. In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we see how Christian continually met with diversions. When he, together with Faithful, passed the town of Vanity and could not bypass the fair, they put their fingers in their ears and looked upwards. Further on, when Christian and Hopeful passed the Enchanted Grounds, where sleep would be deadly, they kept each other awake by means of spiritual discourse and singing. In a previous article in this series, we have seen the excellent possibilities that these new media can offer. The other side of the coin is the secular influence of the “image culture” on our families. Games, videos, and vlogs on YouTube and series via NOP and Netflix slay their thousands. It is very important for parents to watch what their children are doing online and to familiarize themselves with sites like Facebook, Instagram, After School, ASKfm, Kik, and LIVE.LY to name only a few.

It often appears that parents themselves aren’t really that convinced of the associated dangers and, for the most part, are only concerned about the use of obscene language. The American preacher John Piper has an entirely different opinion about this. The article he wrote in 1995 about TV is still completely applicable to the image entertainment of the current era. “Turn off the TV. It is unimportant. And it is a lethal spot for your relaxation. The penetrating banalities, the sexual suggestions, and the God-denying values do not uplift your soul. It is mind numbing. It drives God away. It quenches prayer. It darkens the Bible. It reduces the value of your soul. It corrupts virtually everything. It is unnecessary for most of you and is spiritually lethal for all of you.” Later, he wrote that, although we can be more selective on the internet, “yet you can also search worse things on it, while only the Judge of heaven and earth beholds you.”

Whoever takes these words to heart, will say, together with the poet of Psalm 119: “I have refrained my feet from every evil way” (verse 101). Then, we will be happy with filters and other aids that keep this form of “recreation” at a distance; for ourselves, as well as for our children.

Filters

But filters – they don’t work at all, do they? Indeed, if someone wants to circumvent digital protection, they will most likely find a loophole. But those who know the deceitfulness of their own hearts and are afraid of it, actually feel the need for protection. These fathers and mothers will tell their children that, in the first place, they need the filter for themselves. Then, like Christian and Christiana, they will urge all their children to depart from the City of Destruction and join them on their pilgrimage.

In relation to this, we can also draw a valuable lesson from the Four-Day Race: not everyone can join, just like that. Someone can join up with the procession of walkers, go through the same difficulties, walk the same distance, and come into the same city along the same Via Gladiola. However, only those who have officially registered and can show their identity card will receive the Four-Day Cross.

The same holds true for the Christian pilgrim. Media education begins with conversion. The English evangelist Arthur Pink points out that we may not be satisfied with raising children to be “rich young rulers”, as “it will not profit us when we each try to form a good character and do that which will gain God’s approval, if our sins stand between Him and our souls. What good are shoes to us if we are lame? Or what good are pairs of glasses if we are blind? The matter of the forgiveness of our sins is fundamental, of vital importance. (…) At the hour of death, it comes down to this: Have our sins been blotted out by the blood of Christ?”

Dr. ir. S.M. de Bruijn