A Pilgrim in Media Land, a book written about teaching our children the responsible use of modern media from a Biblical perspective, was previously distributed to all members. In cooperation with other NRC Modern Media Committees, an audio version has now been recorded that can be streamed or downloaded from this page.
Smart phones, as well as many other types of mobile electronics, have become useful for accomplishing many tasks. These tasks include communicating in many ways – with words, pictures, audio, video, and other formats. These devices are also useful for navigation (e.g. maps with GPS), accessing information, calculating, measuring, etc. Many tasks that required individual devices and mechanisms can now be completed by a phone set up with the appropriate apps. In addition, with so much information available through the internet with a phone, a person can easily get carried away when one subject of interest leads to other relevant information that is also found to be interesting. Consequently, parents, as well as other adults viewed as role models by children, often give a child or young person the impression, when they spend an excessive amount of time on their phone, that this is considered “normal”.
Considering these facts, we need to realize how important it is that parents do not let the use of their phones interfere with taking time to socialize with their children. The goal being that of edifying them and thus seeking their spiritual, as well as earthly, welfare. Mealtimes, family projects, vacations, and other group functions should not be negatively affected by the non-participation of family members who appear attached and addicted to their phones. These occasions should be used generously to teach exemplary and biblical priorities for living a life according to God’s Word. We should always be mindful of the divine instruction for parents found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7 as well as throughout the scriptures:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up”.
Adults should also be sensitive to the detrimental appearance of using their phone and other mobile electronics as entertainment devices. This misuse can give the impression of being obsessed with entertainment and amusement. Rev. G.H. Kersten wrote the following prior to World War II (The Night Visions of Zechariah, Chapter 40, page 203):
The…rich and the poor… all shouted loudly, ‘Let us eat and drink and be merry!’ The standard of living soared higher and higher. Entertainment and amusement were considered indispensable necessities of life. Church attendance decreased, and attendance at theaters, dance halls, and vanity fairs increased.
This description also applies to our times. Modern man generally practices a religion of having fun, and not delighting in God, who is the only true and lasting happiness for a rational human being. The amount and intensity of fun and thrill is the yardstick by which modern man measures the attractiveness and desirability of an activity. Today we have our modern media, distributed (and pushed) through the internet and mobile electronics. These devices are often used to gratify the passion and obsession for entertainment and fun. Sadly, however, it seems that there is rarely anyone who heeds Christ’s declaration in John 17:3, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Without the knowledge referred to here, there is no true, lasting happiness and pleasure. How important it is that we realize the folly of gratifying ourselves with the short-lived and temporary pleasures of this perishing world! During the first century, the apostle Paul wrote something still applicable to us today, even with all of the social, political, and technological changes that have occurred since his time. He wrote:
“But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away” (I Cor. 7:29-31).
By nature, our desires and priorities are evil. In light of the scriptural declaration that man is “dead in trespasses and sin” (Eph. 2:1), and that the “carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7), this evil should not surprise us. This fact shows how necessary it is that the Holy Spirit works a spiritual rebirth in each of our hearts. Without this rebirth, our desires and priorities, including those religious in nature, are not right or acceptable in God’s eyes but are “found wanting [lacking]”.
Starting with the spiritual rebirth, the Holy Spirit leads a person into the truth: the truth of our deep fall, of our actual sins including the sins of our best deeds, and of the righteousness and the offended justice of God the Father. The Father draws the sinner unto Christ, without which no man will truly come unto the Savior (John 6:44). When the sinner is found in Christ, the Father’s sword of justice can be put into its sheath and he can behold the Father’s reconciled face.
Let us not rest until we have experienced what David, the man after God’s own heart, knew when he wrote in Psalm 16:11, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” The priorities in life of those that possess this desire of David will be clear and will include a discreet usage of mobile devices including phones. A modern phone can be a wonderful servant, but a poor and evil master.
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.
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.