My grandfather fought in World War II on an English Royal Navy Destroyer, which was both a technological marvel and a floating city. My mother and father saw the moon landing, the Kennedy assassination, and reports from Vietnam on their marvelous color TV in the living room, surrounded by family.
I grew up playing with my friends on game consoles, exploring the internet, and talking on cell phones. My son is 3 years old and can sit by himself, working a tablet as well his mother or I.
The new abilities of our machines and young people are growing so fast that new technology is measured in months now, not years. Yet when you lay it out in a timeline, it’s hard to ignore that the evolution of our technology ends up separating humanity in the name of “uniting” it. As the niche markets of different technologies are identified, it ends up just dividing us more and more. Are you an IPhone person or an Android person? Xbox or Playstation 4? Wanna fight about it?
My team and I run Praxis each Sunday night. Praxis is designed to be a place where we use games to “practice” the lessons taught from Sunday morning. We use Project Adventure, low ropes initiatives, trust exercises, and debriefing. Our biggest challenge is succeeding in disengaging 6-8 graders from their phones. If I’m not careful, I could be surrounded by 40 middle schoolers sitting silently staring at screens and ignoring each other. Getting kids to unplug and stay unplugged is a daunting task for role models.
In my experience, taking phones is not the answer, unless you are genuinely concerned that your child is engaged in something destructive or they are addicted to it and need a detox. When we remove phones, we remove power. When we take their tech, we also take away their identity, sometimes even their dignity. The connection between youth and phone is already made.
Can we nurture a healthy relationship with technology? Dare I say: can we model one as well? If you begin by removing a phone, you have just disciplined a kid who knows the phone is the first thing to go when they are in trouble. I don’t think we want to begin with that move. I think we begin by acknowledging that this is a spiritual struggle.
When human beings willfully disconnect from each other in the real world, they are reliving the willful disconnection from God in Eden. If we cannot have tangible, lasting, Christ centered relationships with each other, how can we have a similar relationship with God?
This is the struggle of our time: disconnecting our children from devices and connecting them with the embrace of a loving, Christian community. It is worth the effort to find balance between screen time, family time, and community time. Every time I zone out reading articles instead of catching up with my wife, or remember that I have once close friends on FaceBook that I haven’t spoken to in years, or ignore my son’s regular, “Play with me, Dada,” I have lost a battle in this struggle to connect.
Let’s be real. Humans today vote a project or experience worthwhile with their attention. Some nights, I know the lesson just won’t work, and out comes the toy or game to play with my kids at church or my kid at home. We need to be aware that the experiences we offer to these little ones are competing with video games, chats, and social media that all spend a lot more time and money to draw attention than we usually do. So when we get that attention, we have to be 100% ready. Polished. Prepared. And when a child spaces out, or gets that disengaged and bored look on their face, then we need to stop and assess how attentive we are, and whether we are fully invested in this moment, or just running on autopilot ourselves.
I think we engage this struggle of the 21st century by re-engaging as humans in every way possible. I’ve talked about gaming as a fun and inclusive way to do this, but it can be done with any activity that is fun for your family.
We can’t make tech disappear, but we can make a choice to set it aside. Try the experiment that for one week, after homework is done, we play a game and end our day as a family in prayer. Develop a tech free ritual to close your day together, even if only for a few minutes.
We have to acknowledge that this is not a struggle against technology, because we will lose that struggle every time. Tech has a place in a human’s hand, that is not debatable. The debate is how are we going to balance an ever changing, fleeting, unsatisfying addiction to technology with the unfailing, unchanging, totally satisfying Love of God in Jesus Christ that we can only find in each other?
Project Adventure: www.PA.org
How do you balance tech with the love of God in Christ? What growth do you seek as a role model?