August 2018 – Crista’s daycare teachers were astounded when they heard a phone ring and watched as three-year-old Crista calmly walked over, picked up a cell phone, and conducted a brief conversation.
It’s a true story, but no, Crista didn’t have her own phone. Mom had mistakenly left the phone in the daycare bag she left with Crista each day. But it illustrates how early today’s children become dependent on technology.
Technology is a quickly expanding world. A few years ago, family members had to get off the landline so someone could play computer games. Today, people have unlimited wifi access practically everywhere they go, with children as young as six or seven carrying smartphones bigger than their heads, and everyone you know is only a tap away. It’s easy for parents to get lost in this world of instant messaging and social media outlets that keep updating to be more and more complicated.
Current teenagers are part of today’s most digitally connected and smartphone-addicted generation, gaining them the nickname “iGen.” Born after the Internet was commercialized in 1995 and cutting off around 2012, iGen’ers have no memories of life without the Internet. Parents of iGen’ers face many new challenges in shepherding their children.
So how can parents monitor and protect children from the harms that come with the Internet and social media? How can they steward teens in the digital age?
Parents are often left feeling like their children’s technology is out of their control. But there are many services available that can help them find what’s needed for every family’s needs.
For someone looking for a way to spot red flags without combing through a child’s devices for hours, Bark (www.bark.us) is a relatively non-intrusive system that monitors social media accounts, texts, and emails 24/7 and alerts parents when it detects potential issues. Bark saves users from manually reading texts or scanning browser history, respecting parents’ time as much as possible by only surfacing potential concerns. It covers 24 different social networks, apps, and platforms to send alerts about everything from cyberbullying and depression to online predators and adult content.
Bark has won awards from The National Parenting Center, Mom’s Choice Awards, and National Parenting Product Awards. It’s economical – $9 per month or $99 per year for the entire family – and it can be easily cancelled at any time.
The Circle (meetcircle.com) is a device that gives parents the power to cut off wifi entirely or to a select device at the tap of a pause button right from their phone.
The Circle makes it easy to control content filters, time limits, and even bedtimes for separate individuals. Instead of entering parental controls on each child’s device, a Mom or Dad can control the wifi connection to all of them. The Circle can also assign each device to a different account for every family member with distinct settings for all.
Teaching children how to handle the web is challenging. Parents need God’s wisdom to use technology to develop healthy limits in their homes. The world is fallen, and while they can use the tools available, the lines of defense will never be perfect.
The greatest need of young people today is not new Internet restrictions, but homes and communities where they can thrive in Christ, serving and being served in a healthy body of believers. The parents’ main role is to disciple faithful young believers who will serve the Lord with their lives both on and offline.
Screens and Teens by Kathy Koch, PhD
See review at afajournal.org,
March, 2017 issue