Raising Youth in the Digital Age
“Equipping students to impact their world for Jesus Christ”
--NorthPointe Christian’s mission statement
I liked NorthPointe's mission statement 20 years ago and still do.
I frequently use it as a quick test of activities I plan in teaching young people to use technology. I ask myself, “Is this helping them to grow in a way that they can better impact their world for Jesus?” It has also guided us throughout the implementation of NPC’s one-to-one MacBook program as we consider how technology might or might not be helping us accomplish our mission.
In my role as NorthPointe’s Technology Integration Specialist, I have a front row seat to observe how young people use technology.
They are always connected: hanging out, doing homework, sitting in class. Their music, their photos, their friends--it seems as if their whole life is in“the cloud.” It’s not the device; it’s the connection that matters. The kids stay connected even when most of us are sleeping. I’m no longer surprised when I get an email sent at 3 AM from a student who wants access to a website from which they’ve been blocked. They just have to connect to their peers and what's out there. It’s their reality, their world.
As parents and teachers, we tend to see the device as a problem. Some of us want to control it: take it away, limit screen time, block access to apps and websites, etc. Others of us throw up our hands and are tempted to do nothing. We know we need to protect our kids, e.g., “Don’t touch the stove. Look before crossing the street.” But controlling devices seems harder, more confusing, and constantly changing.
Even though our children are skilled in using this digital world, we still need to help them navigate it. They need our help to figure out how to impact their world and how the virtual world is impacting them. They need our guidance in discerning right from wrong, good from bad, what builds up and what destroys. They need us to show them how to interact with others appropriately, how to protect themselves, and how to use their time wisely. Like most lessons in life, helping our kids navigate a digital world takes time and effort.
Start with prayer.
It seems like a Sunday School answer, but the Lord gives wisdom to those that ask.
Then set age appropriate boundaries. Internet filters are a wise place to start, but internet filters aren’t perfect, so I suggest having younger kids use their devices where you can occasionally look at the screen.
Like it or not, our children become older, more independent, and need to make wise choices with no teachers or parents around. We need to get them ready for those choices. You can use something like Covenant Eyes which is a great tool for Internet accountability.
Accountability needs to be a two-way street (otherwise it’s just spying), with sons accountable with their dads if possible. As they grow in maturity and in their ability to discern, you can give them more freedom. When they fail, we need to help them learn from their mistakes.
Talking with kids about relationships has never been easy, but the digital age makes it even more critical. Unfortunately, girls need to be told that they should not send nude pictures of themselves to boys; boys need to be told that it is not appropriate to ask for them. It’s good for all of us to remember that a thoughtless comment or an ill advised photo, once posted, is beyond our ability to control and could have consequences we never intended.
Help your children learn that not everything in the digital world is as it appears. That cute 17-year-old guy who just Snapchatted your daughter may really be a 40-year-old predator using a photo he scammed online. Online predators will use guilt and shame to pull your kids into deeper trouble. Build trust with your kids so that they can come to you even if they have made a mistake.
Lastly, model appropriate digital behavior for them. How much time do you spend in social media? Do you text while driving? Do you put your phone away when they need your attention? It’s knowing that what we practice is what students most imitate, which includes how we use our devices.
Parenting has never been easy; at the forefront of the digital age, it sometimes seems even more complex. Yet the digital world is a resource we have to steward.
Even though your kids may know more about the latest digital social trends, they still need so much that they can only get from you.
Fortunately, you don’t have to understand binary code to pass along what matters in life.