Researchers in recent years have observed that young people are spending large amounts of their time using electronic media—to a degree unprecedented in prior generations. Some estimates put young people’s daily use of electronic media in the 7–8 hour range (“Young people spend 7 hours, 38 minutes a day on TV, video games, computer,” Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2010). One survey found that 38 percent of students could not wait ten minutes without switching on some sort of electronic device.
Sadly, these devices often transmit destructive and dangerous values to their users. Consider that some of the most popular video games have titles like, “Grand Theft Auto,” “Modern Warfare,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Street Fighter” and “Resident Evil.” Some studies suggest that video games can increase aggression and reduce students’ ability to concentrate on schoolwork. And because these games are more popular with young men than young women, some blame them for the growing disparity in academic achievement between men and women.
For older people who grew up in a world where “face time” was the norm (see our article “Face Time” on page 10 of this issue), the phenomenon of “texting” can be mystifying. While texting is not unique to young people, they use it far more than adults. Market research firm Lab 42 reported, “71 percent of teens prefer texting to talking and 45 percent of teens send at least 30 text messages a day.” Girls are more likely to text. While the average adult over 18 texts 10 times a day, and boys 14–17 text 30 times per day, girls 14–17 send 100 texts per day, according to the Lab 42 study.
Shockingly, texting sometimes turns into “sexting.” Estimates suggest that 15 percent of teens have received a sexually suggestive multimedia message showing someone nude or nearly nude. In their popular duet, “Dirty Picture,” Kesha and Taio Cruz sing “take a dirty picture for me,” as if this would be a normal part of romantic courtship. A 2010 Super Bowl advertisement showed actress Megan Fox in a bubble bath, taking a cell phone picture of herself and thinking about sending it while two men gawk. No wonder teens now think of “sexting” as normal and even “cool.”
Apart from sexual messaging, no review of the risks of contemporary media use would be complete without considering the scourge of pornography. The worldwide “Internet porn” industry has been estimated as pulling in $4.9 billion per year in profits. About 12 percent of all Web sites are pornographic, and 25 percent of all search engine requests are pornography-related. As many as 40 million Americans are regular visitors to porn sites, and their first exposure often came early—93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls were exposed to online pornography during adolescence.
Yes, technology plays a role in doing great harm to our modern society in general, and to young people in particular. Yet there is another face to technology.
Because of modern technology, my children can speak with their grandparents on the telephone, though they live miles away. Through modern technology, many of us, through a simple Google search, can view photographs of the most beautiful locations on earth. We can view the splendor of distant galaxies and the innermost workings of the smallest cells. Like a king at court, we can summon the finest musicians in the land and listen to them perform—in stereo. And we can fly through the air, faster than any bird in the sky.
In countless ways, our world is made better by “technology.” Consider Jesus Christ’s instruction to His disciples to “Watch” world events (Luke 21:36). Through the Internet, television, printed media and radio, we are able to grasp the scope of world affairs as no other humans before us. Prophecies written in the pages of the Bible come alive for us through the tools of modern technology. And that same technology allows us to preach the Good News recorded in those pages. We can follow Christ’s instructions today in ways that the first-century apostles could not have imagined (Matthew 24:14).
Since technology can be used both for good and for evil, what should we do? We read in Scripture that “the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). So, here are some biblically-based principles to help us use technology with wisdom:
Set Rules. It is parents’ responsibility to make rules. Parents are commanded to teach and train their children (Deuteronomy 6:7), which involves setting boundaries. Rules should reflect individual family values, which should reflect God’s values. Our family technology rules should include where we allow Internet access, when we allow computer access, and how much time—on the computer, the game console, or the phone (whether texting or talking)—is appropriate. For example, a family rule might be that we do not “plug in” to a headset when we are together with other family members. Another might be that Internet access is only allowed in common family areas. Another helpful rule might be that all of a child’s passwords (to social media sites, e-mail accounts, computer logins and mobile phones, etc.) be known to the parents. Children will develop a relationship of trust with parents as they demonstrate their wisdom in communicating with others, and parents will not want to “micro-manage” a responsible young person’s communication. But if your children demanded the “privacy” to walk into an unknown dark alley unattended, would you let them do so unless they had shown themselves well able to fend for themselves? Parents need to be unafraid to exercise balanced parental responsibility.
Resist Peer Pressure. This point is for parents. Adults can be pressured into adopting technology of the wrong type, and for the wrong reasons. Our own use of technology may be part of the problem. Do we really need large-screen TVs in the living room and the bedroom? Do our children really need private TVs in their bedrooms? And are we ourselves becoming so entranced by the latest smartphone or tablet, the latest cable TV plan or movie streaming service, that we pay less attention to our children than we should? Our children need our face-to-face time, and they notice our example. Consider Christ’s admonition: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven”(Matthew 5:16).
Consider Cause and Effect. “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3). Our actions have consequences. Do we want video games to occupy hours of our children’s time? No! Then, is it wise to buy a game console for our children? Do we want our sons to become addicted to pornography? Of course not! Then should we set them up with a computer they can use in the privacy of their bedrooms late at night? Do we care if our daughters receive “sexting” messages? Absolutely! So we should be able to monitor their smartphone use when necessary. Parents need to remember that technology is not a “right” that our children can demand. As parents, we must recognize that oversight of our children is our responsibility, as part of our parental duty.
Technology has two faces. The inventions of man can be used for good or evil. May God give us the wisdom to choose the good and reject the evil.