Zombies!: 9 Ways To Fight Your Kids’ Technology Addictions

Last Sunday night, I was talking to our church’s High School group about the Biblical response to depression. In the midst of discussion, I talked about strategies for getting negative voices out of our lives. One of those strategies involved shutting off your phone and getting off social media. So I gave an example from my personal life: I like to go on walks or to the shopping mall while leaving my phone behind at home.

Collective gasps of horror from the teenage audience ensued.

One young lady emphatically cried out: “You just can’t do that!!!”

My confused immediate reply: “Why not?”

Same young lady: “What if you get hurt and need to call 911?!?”

Me: “Listen … I went to the store for years without taking my cell phone … Because they didn’t exist yet. You can go to Meijer without your phone.”

Another teenager: “You’re just being reckless.”

There you go: Reckless. Oh, witness the horror of disconnecting from the matrix! Keanu Reeves, where are you?

Here’s the obvious takeaway: Our kids are largely addicted to their devices. Consider the following stats on teens’ cell phone usage from Common Sense Media:

  • 50% of teens said that they were addicted to their mobile devices.
  • 78% of teens check their devices at least hourly.
  • 70% of teens said that they argue with their families about their amount of cell phone use.
  • 77% of parents said that their kids get distracted by devices and don’t pay attention when they’re together.

Even worse, I’m witnessing an alarmingly increasing number of church families in crisis mode due to teens and technology. Most of the issues simply revolve around the horde of teen smart phone zombies roving around most houses, blankly staring into screens, ignoring their parents’ conversations and conversing only in caveman-like grunts. However, I’m now routinely counseling families regarding a veritable laundry list of sins teens are committing simply via Internet and social media access: cyberbullying, gossip, pornography, cat-fishing, financial scams, sexting, sexual deviancy, idolatry of all kinds … you name it. Hand in hand, I’ve heard story after story of infuriated and frustrated parents wondering how to respond to growing technology problems in their homes: “How can I reclaim my kids from being a smart phone zombie?”

Let me go ahead and say this blog isn’t going to be a pollyanna approach to technology, where I suggest that Christians become technological Luddites. Everything God created has the capacity to be used for good or sinful purposes, and technology is no different. Christians must be wise stewards of the technology and devices that we have been blessed with. So I’m not going to suggest holding a smart phone bonfire in your backyard.

Without further ado, here are 9 practical strategies for minimizing the negative impact of technology in your home:

  1. Don’t Start Too Young: My daughter is currently 10 years old. Her classmates often ask how they can text her. The answer is they can’t … According to our house rules, she won’t get a phone for a many years to come. However, our daughter is an exception to the norm: Most kids now get their first cell phone at 10 years old. In conjunction, 45% of online 12 year old use social media. Considering most social media sites have “age restrictions” (and I use that term loosely) for signup, that figure is astonishing and frightening. Ask yourself the question: Are kids who poorly navigate social relationships, hit hot-and-heavy puberty and can’t be trusted to walk the dog truly competent to meaningfully interact with peers and strangers online? My answer is no. So consider holding off on the cell phone under you believe your kid is mature enough to handle the responsibility. And don’t allow your kids to sign up for social media sites that they are legally prohibited from joining (see figure below courtesy linneyville.com).social-media-age-restrictions
  2. Get Devices Out of Their Rooms: This rule has been hard and fast in our home. And this rule is the one I most recommend to parents. There are no televisions or computers in our kids’ rooms. We only have televisions or computers in family areas. When we watch television, we do it together. When we use the computer, we generally use it in each others’ presence. Not only does this negate temptation for our child, it also minimizes temptation for the adults too. We always have to ask the question: “Should this media be around our kids?” Considering how most teens dabble in pornography and /or sexting, the accountability that comes from keeping devices in public places is highly important.
  3. Delete Dangerous Apps: With so many teens using cell phones and social media, it’s no surprise that apps are increasingly being developed towards teens’ worst proclivities. A great example is the notorious Calculator% app, which – despite looking like a calculator app on your home screen – is actually designed to hide unscrupulous pictures on your phone. While parents might feel overwhelmed trying to keep up with their kids’ apps, the website teensafe.com offers an annual “blacklist” of apps that parents should consider banning from their kids’ phones. Here are 3 apps in particular parents should be concerned about:
    • Snapchat: Most kids believe this app to be an innocuous photo app with the fun doggie and rainbow vomit photo filters. But the heart of Snapchat is the ability to share photos with others for a certain time period before they self-destruct. To this end, Snapchat can become a vehicle for discreetly sharing salacious or offensive pictures. Although Snapchat openly warns users to not use the app for sexting, Snapchat (justly or unjustly) probably will forever be associated with teens sharing nude photos. Regardless, the temptation of sharing photos with no accountability can be dangerous for teens. Find out more about Snapchat here.
    • Kik Messenger: Kik is a wildly popular messaging app that allows a level of anonymity to messaging. Kik is another app associated with sexting, and is increasingly popular with child predators due to the app’s anonymity. Find out more about Kik here.  Some close cousins of Kik are Whatsup and Yik Yak.
    • ask.fm: This app is notorious for its connection to cyberbullying and suicide. Find out more about ask.fm here.
  4. Protect Your Kids’ Privacy: One of the big generational differences between my generation (Gen X) and Millennials / Post-Millennials is the younger generations’ lack of hesitancy to interact with “internet friends.” To a generation growing up practically wired to the Internet, interacting with Internet strangers on gaming platforms or social media sites is no big deal. In a medium that lends itself to creeps and cat-fishing, the real danger is our kids oversharing in manners they consider commonplace or harmless. According to Pew Research, kids who use social media area highly likely to share personal photos, birthdates, school names and where they live online. So consider the following household rules:
    • If your kids use social media, steer them towards Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms where you can restrict friends lists and can restrict the level of information put out on the Internet.
    • Use this rule of thumb: You can only be social media friends with people you’ve actually met in real life. Eliminate people from your kids’ friends list that you don’t know.
  5. Carve Out Device Free Times / Zones: When your kids stare into a device screen all day, the solution is to set appropriate boundaries. Eliminate media from homework times. Eliminate media from family dinners. Eliminate media from car rides to and from social or practices. Don’t allow your kids to use their smart phone at school. Create times and spaces to actually talk to one another instead of texting one another from the couch to the love-seat. On the other hand, don’t be draconian in your approach. Instead of banning wifi and devices entirely from your home (and alienating your kids), give healthy parameters for your kids to communicate with their friends and peers.
  6. Buy An Alarm Clock For Everyone: Many of us have used their cell phone as an alarm clock or white noise machine. I have been guilty of this habit. But here’s what I’ve found: When my cell phone is in the bedroom, I tend to waste 15-30 minutes when going to bed and upon waking up checking social media. Similarly, our kids lose sleep due to devices too. According to Huffington Post, adolescents who used their phones an hour before bedtime were between 35 and 53 percent more likely to miss two or more hours of sleep a night compared to peers who didn’t. In addition, students actually send an average of 34 texts and emails a night after going to bed. Reclaim your sleep and your kids’ sleep by eliminating devices from your sleep environment. Unless you’re on-call for work, there’s really no solid reason why to have your phone by your head all night long anyway.
  7. Snoop Without Shame: Providing accountability for your kids’ device usage is a boondoggle for many parents, because they don’t hold their kids accountable until AFTER there’s a problem. Our job as Christian parents is to trust our kids but recognize the theological reality of Scripture: Our kids are sinners who face worldly temptations – just like parents. So the key is to randomly and regularly check up on what our kids are doing online. Check browser histories. Check who your kids are connecting with on social media. Check messaging apps. Kids are likely to protest parental accountability, but the purpose is twofold: (a) To check on what your kids post; and (b) To check on how other kids (or adults) interact with your kids.
  8. Don’t Be a Hypocrite: Nothing will undermine your rules about your kids use of technology faster than seeing you break those rules or arbitrarily enforcing the rules. You will quickly lose face if you don’t obey your own tech rules. If you set a rule about no cell phones at the dinner table, don’t use your cell phone either. By the way, 29% of teens said that their parents were addicted to their mobile device. Ouch! Know that your kids really are watching.
  9. The 1 Corinthians 10:31 Principle: Teach your kids that technology can be used in a Godly manner. And let 1 Corinthians 10:31 be your family’s mantra about social media: “Whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” Instill with your kids ideas for positively using social media: Encourage other believers … Promote your local church … Share what God is teaching you from Scripture … Build up other people instead of tearing others down … Commend instead of complain. Don’t be afraid of social media. Instead, be wary … Be wise … And – most importantly – be the example for your kids of Godly social media use.