Parenting Digital Kids

Life Beyond the Screens

If you ask most teens what item is their most prized, important possession, they will say it’s their smartphone. In fact, I’ve heard teens say that if they could only take one thing on a deserted island it would be their smartphone, in spite of the fact that it would be useless once the battery dies. A lot of kids use their phones constantly and are addicted to the internet. They sleep with them and answer text messages in the middle of the night. They absolutely panic when they can’t find it or when someone takes it from them for even a second. They are quite open about it too; they admit that it’s a vital part of their existence.


The concern about technology’s impact upon the social, emotional, and spiritual development of our boys and girls is growing. “The average amount of time a preteen spends in front of a “screen” (including TV, DVD, video player, pre-recorded programming, video game, computer, etc.) is approximately 37 hours per week. This reality is in sharp contrast to the 7-14 hours per week recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.” (

Michael Simon, in his new book titled The Approximate Parent, says “Digital media is ever-present and incredibly attractive to teen brains — especially teen brains that register novelty, risk-taking, and the feeling of connection as highly pleasurable. The Internet, gaming, and use of social media are addicting.”

There are studies that show a correlation between screen time and all sorts of physical and emotional problems. Just how much limitation is needed is unknown, but it’s clear that the average it too high. Instead of so much screen time, young people need a wide variety of experiences in the world, including large amounts of time in connection with the outdoors, friends and family, sports teams, books, and musical instruments.

Porn is a particular problem. Most boys by 8th grade are struggling with pornography, and many are deeply addicted to it. In fact, 12 to 17 year olds are the largest consumers of internet pornography ( The average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography is 11. A total of 90 percent of children ages 8-16 have viewed pornography online ( It’s often their smartphones that fuel the addiction. Smartphones and tablets, without proper safeguards, make the addiction incredibly accessible, easy to hide, and always available. And studies show that pornography is usually a life-long struggle for those who are exposed to it very early in life, and it often creates other problems in the sexual life of young adults.

So, we have a problem with the AMOUNT of time and the FREEDOM that our kids have with internet-connected screens. And we struggle with knowing what is AGE-APPROPRIATE.

For the sake of brevity, I’ve simply listed some specific problems that I see kids and their parents perpetuating. It would be good to discuss as a family to what extent these problems exist, and discuss what action steps would be helpful.

The Problems:           

Kids are…

  • using social media in the middle of the night (losing sleep).
  • driving while texting (a real killer).
  • using their smartphones at the dinner table and at restaurants.
  • breaking up a relatioship via FaceBook status update.
  • hiding pornography on their portable devices.
  • spending dozens of hours per week on video games, instead being active or creative.
  • avoiding people, nature, and books.
  • suffering through abusive online chatter during video games.
  • dealing with shortened attention spans – academically and socially.
  • addicted to video games, pornography, and other forms of escapism.
  • socializing with their thumbs (texting) instead of face to face, or even voice to voice.
  • flirting with sexual overtones, or worse. (sexting)

Parents are…

  • buying kids devices at very early ages, then regretting that decision.
  • texting and surfing the internet while at their kids’ athletic events.
  • having their iPad babysit their toddlers for hours and hours.
  • using their devices to shut their kids up in the car.
  • assuming that their kids are fine because they are quiet with their screens.
  • sedating their high-energy kids with high-tech devices.
  • dealing with their own addictions to Facebook and other digital distractions.
  • unaware of what is on their kids’ devices.

Some Tangible Solutions:

  • Put ALL screens in public areas of the house – none in any bedrooms.
  • Have family meals, and put ALL digital devices away for every family meal, including at restaurants. Put them in a basket on silent mode.
  • When your child’s friends come over, take their phones away to charge until they leave.
  • Have digital-free zones and digital-free times of the day and week (digital sabbaths).
  • Teach kids how to have face-to-face communication with others. Make them practice it.
  • Discuss and practice cell phone etiquette: For example, don’t choose a digital conversation over a face-to-face one, unless it’s an absolute emergency, and then apologize earnestly for it. Excuse yourself from a person, a table, or a room to take a call or make a text message. You should physically disengage yourself from someone to acknowledge that you are socially disengaging.
  • Only check your email and social media accounts out of the presence of others.
  • Engage in exercise, nature, and other hobbies where there is no digital presence.
  • Disable web browsers on portable devices (or change settings and install filters).
  • Regularly check web browser histories, apps downloaded, pictures, and movies on each device.
  • Calculate how many times each family member checks email, Facebook, etc. each day.
  • Calculate how many hours of screen time per day. Discuss how much is too much.

Remember to love your kids from the inside out. Don’t just focus on the outer behavior. Instead, love them enough to train them in a better way to live. Show them that growing up well leads to a richer life – a life beyond the screens.

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