“Help! Kids know technology better than I do.” This is the statement I hear over and over and over. It’s no wonder, because times have changed and parents feel overwhelmed when it comes to technology. Here are two scenarios to help you understand some of the differences, even if kids have not changed all that much.
The year is 1985 and a 10-year-old boy asks his mom if he can go outside and play. The mom says, “Sure, just make sure you are home by dark.” The boy heads out the door, and goes to pick up a couple of friends from the neighborhood. They have a ball, a stick, and enough curiosity to kill more than one cat. They start to explore around the neighborhood and find a “secret hideout.” They could tell they were not the first to find this secret hideout because of words that were written on the walls that they were not allowed to say. But the boys felt old enough to handle it and hung out there for a little while until they got bored. They saw another group of guys from the neighborhood and decided to put the ball and stick to good use. Not everyone was good at playing ball and they all didn’t get along when there was a disagreement about a call, but they laughed with each other, told stories that weren’t exactly true, and made it home by dark. The boy gets home and says, “Mom, I’m home.”
The year is 2015 and a 10-year-old boy asks his Mom if he can get online and play with his friends. The mom says, “Sure, but I would rather you guys not play those teen-rated games.” The boy agrees, pulls out his mobile device and heads to the TV that has the gaming console attached to it. The boy video calls his buddies to make sure they are all online. They all have a mobile device, an Internet connection, and enough curiosity to kill several cats. They start exploring the online world and find some “secret hideouts.” Not only do they find words left behind from those who had been there before, but also pictures, videos, and links to other secret worlds. There is enough to explore in this online world that they could get lost for days, weeks, and maybe a lifetime. On their journey together they run into other kids from other countries who happen to be online at the same time. They all explore together, laugh together, build together, and fight together. The mom walks in the room and tells her son that it’s time to log off and eat dinner.
In the first scenario the mom had her worries, but she knew the neighborhood. She also knew that her son couldn’t go too far. She had talked to him about not taking candy from strangers, not getting into fights with the other boys, and staying away from the house of the one guy who no one really knew. The curiosity of the boy and his friends could only take them so far before boredom or the urge to do something else kicked in. There was plenty of trouble that the kids could have gotten into, but there were also other adults in the neighborhood who were looking out for them.
The second scenario is very similar to the first. The mom still has her worries, but she really doesn’t feel equipped to know where her son is truly going. She doesn’t really understand all the dangers that are out there. Her son has the same amount of curiosity and the same need for community. The difference is that his curiosity will only grow the more he explores. There is plenty of trouble for the boy to get into and there are very few adults working together to protect him.
We all feel parenting is different today, but many of us can’t really explain the difference from when we grew up. It would be easy to blame the technology for all of the differences today. However, technology can be used in amazing ways, and innovation is not going to stop. The advancements we have today are incredible tools that reflect who we are as a society. Sometimes, we love the reflection that we see and other times it reminds us how broken our world is around us.
How do we help parents and kids in this ever-connected world that we live in? If only there was a device, a simple conversation, and a group of adults watching out for each other and their children. Wait, maybe that’s the answer.
Today there are plenty of technologies that will filter the Internet for kids. Most devices even come with parental controls, so as long as parents have a degree in technology, they’ll be able to stay ahead of their kids. There is good news for the rest of us, though. Let me introduce you to a parent’s best friend: Circle. Circle is an internet-connected device controlled by an app that helps parents do the following:
Time Limits — Put time limits on apps, games, and websites.
Insights — See how your kids spend time online.
Pause — Pause the Internet with a single tap.
Bedtime — Choose a bedtime for your kids’ devices.
Filter — Set individual filter levels by age per device.
All Devices — Manage all the devices in your home.
These are all powerful tools in a parent’s hands. Knowing where your kids have gone, what type of information your child is engaging with, and setting limits on the amount of time children spend online can make a huge difference in a family. Circle solves a lot of the technology issues for parents, but a device can’t solve all the problems.
Just like in 1985, parents still need to be able to talk to their kids. Parents need to feel equipped and empowered to have conversations with their child about where they’ve been, who they’ve been with, and what they’ve experienced.
Here are 3 questions that could help start the conversation between parents and their kids.
- What is the most interesting thing that you’ve seen recently?
- Who said something that surprised you recently?
- What is the coolest or craziest thing your friends are doing now?
Notice that none of these 3 questions ask specifically about technology. Kids today don’t divide their experiences into online and offline memories. They think in ways that are connected in both realms. You will get answers about both. Again, this isn’t about technology. It’s about having a relationship with your child so you can step in when they get into trouble, either online or offline.
We have a great device, a conversation, and now if we had a group of adults helping each other. I believe we have a community that has now been equipped to help each other parent. Jeff Shinabarger, the founder and CEO of a non-profit in Atlanta, says, “We will be known by the problems we solve.” Since the church believes it has the greatest message of all time and the hope for all people, then we can solve this problem. It’s ironic when ministry leaders say that technology is the enemy, because the church has been the leader of innovation in many areas over the last 2000 years. It’s only in recent history that the church has taken a back seat in innovation and lost its relevance. I believe the church has an opportunity to lead by partnering with parents to help keep their kids safe, both online and off.
Let me encourage you as a children’s pastor or parent. The good news is that you are not alone and you have the chance to connect with others who want to solve this problem. In all reality, no parent can protect their kids on their own. That problem is not new. Parents, to truly make a difference for our kids we have to model the actions that we want to see from them. Pastors, that means that we must model the actions that we want parents to have as well. As 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” We still have the hope of the future and a God who is pursuing each and every one of His children. God knows we need His help and I think it’s now time we ask Him for it.
Adam Duckworth and I recently started a movement called ParentChat. It’s a way to bring about encouragement, education, and a little fun to parents who feel lost when it comes to technology. We travel around the country doing parenting events, talking about things like Circle, how to have a non-threatening conversation with your kids, and how parents can help each other. We believe it really takes all three approaches if we’re going to make a difference. If you want to partner with us in helping keep kids safe online, visit ParentChat.tv to learn more about how you can help parents, kids, and your community with online safety. If you want to learn more about Circle and all of the benefits that it can bring to your family, visit meetcircle.com.
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Matt McKee is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, and just another guy who is trying to make a difference. He has a pastor’s heart, a business mind, and an entrepreneur hustle. twitter.com/mattmckee, facebook.com/mckeelive, mattmckee.me