Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Rules to Our Son for His New IPod Touch

For years, my wife and I have shared a serious concern for the video-game and electronic culture that has overwhelmed children and young adults.  Children of previous generations were often found reading books, using their imagination, or playing outside.  Children of this generation are often found sitting in front of a television screen or glued to an electronic device.  Gaming has become a huge enterprise, culture-changer, and force with which to be reckoned. 

In recent years, both divorce lawyers and marriage counselors have attested that one of the rising causes of divorce among young 20-somethings is the astounding reality that the 20-something male is addicted to video games! These "men" have grown up in a virtual-reality world that in some ways has more value to them than the real world. I would argue that such men are actually boys in men's bodies.

The negative effect of violent video games has been discussed in the media a fair amount.  I am still appalled to walk into stores and see on the display counter video games with names such as "Grand Theft Auto."

There is a very real addictive element of video games that affects most boys more than girls.  Designers of video games appeal to the male "desire to conquer" and create games that are addictive because they almost never end.  There is constantly a "hook and bait" approach of getting to the next level.  Focus on the Family aired an excellent broadcast on the subject several years ago called "Sounding the Alarm on Video Games."  (I have not been able to find it online.)  In it they shared a story of a young lawyer who rebuked his parents for not taking the gaming system away from him when a child and teenager.  The addictive nature of the games combined with his obsessive personality had, in his estimation, caused him more personal trouble than it had been worth.  (I do believe parents have to make these choices on a child-by-child and home-by-home basis.)

I fear that many parents are unaware of the potential dangers of a childhood culture overrun by video games and electronics.  Parents give smart phones and other devices to children (not just teenagers) with no restrictions whatsoever.  Talk about handing a child a loaded gun!

Last year I heard Josh McDowell speak at a conference on apologetics in South Carolina.  He spent his entire session speaking on what he considers to be the greatest moral threat that has ever threatened to destroy the church in any generation.  The culprit?  Internet pornography.  Josh passionately explained the awful reality that our boys are growing up in a culture with instant access to nudity and watching acts of sex.  When I was a boy, it was difficult to come across pornography.  Someone had to put forth a lot of effort to do so.  I remember my buddies and I in elementary school on one of our many neighborhood explorations coming across someone's stash of magazines, hidden in a concrete hole under the neighborhood bridge. I expect that some teenager had hidden them there for his own use.  Now that was a lot of trouble and hard to come by.  Today, however, the child or teenager only has to go into his bedroom, close the door, and he (or she) can find 1000's or more pictures and videos of explicit sexual material - enough to make my grandparents blush! 

Ten or even five years ago there was a general rule of thumb with internet safety that said, Don't allow your child to have a computer with internet in his or her room.  Keep your computer with internet in the middle of the house in a place where it is open for everyone to see.  Well, with the development of wifi connection and of the smart phone, that world is now gone.  Now children carry an entire computer in their back pockets - often without any safety filter.  Those smart phones can be taken into their bedrooms and used at any hour of the day without parental knowledge.  Parents, we must fight against this societal-moral-spiritual problem!!!!  We cannot let the enemy devour our children (John 10:10).

(Focus on the Family shares this helpful article about keeping our families safe in the digital age.)

Dr. Mohler writes more about this social phenomenon in his article The Emergence of Digital Childhood. The Verizon survey also revealed that many parents fail to set any rules or protections for their offspring’s use of the cell phone. The danger of this is increased when it is realized that many of these cell phones are actually smart phones with advanced Internet access and access to social media. This effectively puts a miniature computer with unrestricted Web access in the hands of very young children.

There can be no doubt that we are all now living in a digital world. The digital revolution has wrought wonders and unparalleled access. But it has also brought unprecedented dangers — and those dangers are magnified when it comes to children and teenagers. This Verizon survey should serve as a wake-up call to parents and to all those who care for the coming generation. Childhood is being left in the dust of the digital transformation.

Children need to run and play outside a lot.  They need worlds of forts, outside adventures, swingsets, and bicycles.  Children need some boredom.  They do not need a world where every moment is crammed with a digital image.  Parents (and even church leaders) sometimes see boredom as a bad thing for children.  Boredom can be a potentially very good thing, because if encouraged, boredom can foster the use of imagination and creativity.  I wonder how many great inventions, books, or other masterpieces were born out of boredom?  (See Richard Winter's Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment: Rediscovering Passion and Wonder.)

Children need to learn how to engage in verbal communication, to listen to other people, to converse, to show interest in others, and to show respect to adults by listening, talking, and answering.  They do not need to almost constantly have their nose in a digital device.  They need to be trained to sit, to listen, and to talk!  As I tell my children sometimes, Life is not mainly about entertainment!

And children need to learn to love to read.  One survey of great people from history attempted to discover some common denominator that shaped these persons.  The only thing the survey discovered that was common from each of these person's history was the fact that in every one of their childhood homes there had been more than 100 books.  C. S. Lewis once stated that boys have to be trained in matters of taste.  90% of boys will always gravitate toward things they do not need but want.  Unless otherwise directed, they will choose to play a video game rather than read a book.  You as the parent must help shape their tastes.  Just as you would not allow them to eat what they want all of the time, you must help to direct their spare time as well.

R. Albert Mohler writes, The most direct enemies of reading in the lives of today’s boys are video games and digital media. These devices crowd out time and attention at the expense of reading. Spence cites one set of parents who tried to bribe their 13-year-old son to read by offering video games as a reward. Spence is exactly right — don’t reward with video games. Instead, take the games away. If parents do not restrict time spent with digital devices, boys will never learn to read and to love reading.

For years, my wife and I have struggled with how much we will allow our children to play video games and enjoy digital entertainment.  We have not taken the approach of throwing the television set out the window nor banning all video games (though we have considered it!).  Nor have we allowed our children to watch whatever they want as much as they want.  And, of course, we keep a safety filter on our computers (and now will on our son's IPod Touch).  The past year we have used the one called SafeEyes.

When our children were preschoolers, we worked hard to help them understand that they could not play video games if we saw that they were being controlled by the game.  In other words, if we see that your behavior, attitude, and moods are negatively affected by them, then you lose the privilege.  And, very simply, if you cry and resist when we tell you that your time is up, then you lose the privilege.  Why?  Because too much digital world can control people's minds and spirits.  As Christians, we are to exhibit self-control and Spirit-control.  (And I do believe that boys are often more negatively affected and controlled by the digital world than girls.)

We have tried time-limits, which works well.  At times we have designated days of the week as "no-game days."  Other times we have observed a no-digital media Sabbath on Sunday, the Lord's Day.

Recently, my wife and I made the decision that we would allow our twelve-year old son to purchase an IPod Touch with his own money.  We did so with the agreement that we would give him some clear guidelines/rules for the usage and that these rules would most likely spill over in time into other areas of the digital world.  The following is our list of guidelines.  Perhaps they will be helpful to someone else as well.

This is a new challenge that the church must come to terms with and not be swept away foolishly with naivety.  In closing, Dr. Mohler, again, so rightly says, in his article, Screen Test: The Danger of Digital Fixation, that [t]his does not mean that parents should throw the computer (and other digital devices) out of the house, but it is a wake-up call that Christian parents should note with particular concern. . . .. We must be concerned with the means of grace that make for godliness in the life of the believer. The Christian should be a student of the Scriptures, and this requires the discipline of attentive reading. Attentive worship is another necessary discipline of the Christian life.

Are we creating a generation that cannot worship or read without the need for a dopamine release?This research is important for us all. The digital revolution has brought wonders and opened new worlds. There is so much to celebrate and appreciate. At the same time, there are real dangers in these new technologies, especially for children. Parents must set and maintain boundaries for their children . . . and for themselves.

Jesus Christ taught that the "eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness" (Mt. 6:22-23). 

May we do our part to raise children and be people whose minds are set on good things and are controlled by the Spirit of God (Ro. 8:5-8; Phil. 4:8).

Guidelines for Use of the IPod Touch **

1.        We use it in a way that honors Jesus Christ and our             family.

 Whatever you do, whether in word or in action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Colossians 3:17

2.        Your parents always have the password and can access it any time.  Because your parents are the gatekeepers and watchmen for your life.

3.        We keep a filter on it that your parents have the password for.  Because we all need help to keep out bad things.

4.        We do not use it during mealtime or family time.  Because we value each other, which includes talking and listening to each other.

5.        We do not use it more than one hour a day.  Some days less than an hour and some days not at all.  Because our minds and bodies need to focus on other good things to be healthy and well-rounded.  (The time limit is modified on weekends and summers.)

6.        You may not play it until all school work and chores are done for the day.  Because life is mainly about relationships and getting things done – not mainly about entertainment.

7.        Remember that wise men and women spend some time with the Lord in prayer and His Word daily .  Because spending time with God is much more important and beneficial than playing with electronics.  

8.        No downloading or purchasing without parents’ approval.  Same reason as #2.

9.        No new contacts you don't know without parents’ approval.  Because we want to know who your 
            friends are.

10.      If we notice that the Touch affects or controls your attitude and behavior negatively, we will intervene.  Because self-control and Spirit-control are more important than games, entertainment, and electronics.

11.     We keep the Touch in the den or kitchen at night, not in your bedroom. 

**  We created this list when our son was about twelve, and we thought it fit a twelve-year old's needs.  As children grow older, we modify the list as appropriate.

Pictures in this article are used by permission from Pixabay.

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