Developing a Theology of Technology
About the Guest
When it comes to technology, are your kids light years ahead of you? Youth expert Brian Housman talks realistically to parents about engaging their kids around the topic of technology. Exhorting parents about their assignment from God to love and protect their kids, Brian reminds parents that technology is to be used in an honoring way, and this must be modeled and taught in the home.
Youth expert Brian Housman reminds parents that technology is to be used in an honoring way, and this must be modeled and taught in the home.
Developing a Theology of Technology
Bob: Are you thinking about getting a smart phone for your son or your daughter? Brian Housman says, “If you are, you ought to do it with some proactive boundaries, already in place, rather than trying to deal with that later.”
Brian: What’s going to happen is—you’re going to get their Christmas, their birthday, graduation, or whatever it is—you’re going to go to the cell phone store, buy this beautiful new phone, wrap it up, give it to your child and then, three months later, you’re going to go: “Oh, I think we need to put some software on this. I think we need to put some restrictions on this. I think we need to have a conversation about how to use this responsibly.” I’m telling you—the horse is out of the gate! You’ve already lost that battle, now, because you gave it away too soon.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 23rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. So how do you manage tech, at your house, with your teens or maybe with your toddlers? We’re going to talk about that today with Brian Housman. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I should probably start things off by just acknowledging that what we’re about to talk about—in about three minutes, it is obsolete—that’s the speed we’re going at!
Dennis: Yes, but here are the topics we’re going to deal with this week:
- The cell phone monster. Got a teen-texting addict in your home?
- Setting iPhone® and iPod® parental controls.
- Video game violence and moral behavior.
- Understanding video game ratings.
- Social networking etiquette for parents—that’s a good one right there.
- How young is too young for Facebook®?
- Importance of Facebook privacy controls—helping your teen protect their online reputation.
Bob: So, you’re talking about the digital world—we’re diving into the digital world.
Dennis: A couple more:
- Cyber-bullying—it’s all the rage.
- The allure of internet pornography.
We’re going to talk with the author of Tech Savvy Parenting. Brian Housman joins us on FamilyLife Today. Brian, welcome to the broadcast.
Brian: Oh, thank you so much. I’m so grateful to be here with you guys.
Dennis: Brian is the founder of 360 Family since 2001. He speaks to parents and teens, all over the country. He and his wife Mona have two teenagers, and they live where Brian grew up—Memphis, Tennessee.
Brian: There you go.
Dennis: What’s the most important thing that a parent needs to know, as we start this discussion, if he’s going to be a tech-savvy parent?
Bob: It’s obsolete—whatever he’s going to say is obsolete! [Laughter]
Brian: I think probably the biggest thing is that your child is way more engrossed with technology than you even know, as a parent. I consider myself one of those tech-savvy parents, who is constantly engaged in conversation with my own children / my own teenagers about technology. But it is, at least, once a week that they say something about technology that I go: “Okay, what was that? Repeat that again?”
My job is to keep up with all this, but they’re always one step ahead of me.
Bob: It is part of the air they breathe. I mean, we talk about teens today being digital natives—this is their turf / this is their domain; right?
Brian: It is. We, as parents—the difficulty with technology—with us, is that it’s something that we are constantly having to integrate into our life—it’s not native to us. A lot of times, it doesn’t even make sense to us—like the day I think that causes the most fear in my life is when my cell phone breaks because I have to go to the store / the cell phone store, and they always tell you the same lie: “We can easily transfer all your information to your new phone. This one will be just like your last phone.” But for us—every time we get something, we have to figure out: “How do I put this with what I’ve already got?”
Brian: Whereas, with our children, it’s almost like they’re born with this virtual umbilical cord. Their whole life, they’ve never—this generation has never known a life without the internet. They’ve never not known cell phones—it’s always been a part of their life.
I didn’t have a cell phone in my life until I was like 15 years in the ministry; you know? Whereas, these kids—they have been using them since they were two years old—so, for them, this stuff just comes very natural to them. For us, as a parent, we’re always trying to play catchup.
Dennis: So what are you going to say to the parent who’s frustrated? They go: “You’re exactly right. My child is plugged in 24/7 it seems.” They can’t break through / they can’t have a conversation—they can’t make eye contact with their kids. What would you say to them?
Brian: I think one of the things that we do, as parents, a lot of times is—we take our own frustrations out on the things that we feel like get in the place or become barriers between us and our children. We begin to blame those things: “That’s the problem—technology is the evil.” Technology is not evil. It’s inanimate—it can’t be evil or good. It’s how we use it—as fallen people—that can be evil.
By the same virtue, I think technology can be used for good—to help you connect well with your child or with your teen. If there are the right boundaries there in place / the right time limitations, it can actually be a positive thing in your relationship with you and your child.
Dennis: Every parent has an assignment from God to develop a relationship with their child—to love them and love them well.
Brian: Yes; absolutely.
Dennis: That’s your responsibility. Your child should love back but, as a parent, you have to go after your child.
Dennis: That means that a barrier, like technology, can’t be allowed to win!
Dennis: You’re the parent / they’re the child—you’re in charge. Even though they’ll find ways of getting around that—just as I did when I was a young lad—a parent has to fight their way through. But secondly, parents are also developing their children’s moral and spiritual judgment. If you don’t assume your responsibility—that is clearly spoken of in the Scriptures—teaching your child to love the Lord your God with all his heart and with all his mind and soul—then you’re really not doing your job, at the very core.
Brian: Absolutely; which, to me, I think technology really is a spiritual issue. We want to relegate technology as one of these things—it’s kind of outside of the church. Whereas, I look at it that we have to develop what I call a “theology of technology.” I think that if the Lord is concerned with all of our life, then that includes that He cares about how we use technology.
The number one issue with me—with all of technology—is that it has to be used in an honoring way, meaning—and this is the way I explain it to my children: “Regardless if this is your video game choices, or the things you text to your friends, or what you’re looking at on your devices and your screens:
Dennis: Now we’re talking.
Brian: —“’Is this honoring of yourself?’—meaning: ‘Can you look at yourself in the mirror without feeling shame in the way that you’re using technology?’
“’Is it honoring of your relationship with other people?’—meaning: ‘Are you saying things that are demeaning? Are you saying things that are derogatory?
“’Are you saying things that are manipulating other people through that technology / through that text message?’ because you have to have honor in your relationships and friendships.
“And the last one: ‘Is it honoring of your relationship with the Lord?’— meaning: ‘Does it help you have a more transparent relationship? Do you feel the need to hide the way that you use technology from other people?’
“The answer is: ‘Every “Yes,” then—chances are there’s a breached boundary there somewhere.’”
Bob: If we were having this conversation ten years ago, we said to parents: “Here’s the key—make sure that the computer is out in the open, where the screen is available—where, as long as it’s in the living room and the kids have to come there / they don’t have it in their room—you’re going to be okay.” The cheese has moved on that one.
Dennis: Oh, slightly! There are all kinds of screens today, and they are portable.
Brian: Absolutely. We just got rid of—last year, we got rid of our last desktop computer at our house. There is no “Let’s put it out in the open so everyone can see it.” Now, I do realize a lot of you parents, out there—you probably still have a home computer.
If you do, I strongly encourage you to put it in a place that’s out in the open, where anyone, coming by, can see what’s on that screen. But the number one place that your children are going to access the internet or the world out there is going to be on those handheld devices.
Bob: A lot of parents are wondering, “Okay, so how old should my child be before they get one of those?” because I was talking to a young person, the other day—I said, “So, do you have a cell phone?” “No, not yet,”—I think—a 14-year-old.
Bob: I said, “And are you the only kid in school?” “Oh, yes, I’m the only kid in school without a cell phone.” [Laughter]
Brian: His parents are breaking the mold right there!
Bob: They really are. A lot of parents think: “That’s how we have to do battle with this. We just keep our kids away from the technology until they reach some age of maturity.”
Brian: The magic age.
Bob: So is that the way to handle it?
Brian: Yes. What’s ironic, Bob, is—that is the number one question I get asked at every single presentation I do—is: “When should I allow my child to have a cell phone?” I think it’s such a poorly thought-through question because, again, it gets back to the idea that there’s an easily delineated line:
“If you’re underneath that line, then you’re not responsible enough or you’re too immature—you can’t handle this. If you got to 14/15—12—now, then sure, you can have a cell phone.”
I don’t say this to punt it back to the parent; but my answer is always, “First, have you prayed about this, as a parent, because, if God cares about how we use technology, then this has to be an issue of prayer.” The only way that we get to get connected to the Holy Spirit is when we stop all the distractions around us and pray about issues—regardless if it is technology, or your relationships, or your finances—we have to be praying about these things.
So, when it comes to your kid and they say—your 12-year-old comes to you and says, “Hey, Dad…”
Dennis: Okay, now wait—wait. Before you get to that, I want to add a second point.
Dennis: After you’ve sought God, you then talk to each other.
Dennis: Mom and Dad need to have an ongoing conversation. They need to be in agreement because, if they’re not, their child is going to try to set up—
Brian: Oh, absolutely.
Dennis: —a divide between them and manipulate them against one another.
Brian: So, when it comes to all these issues—not just technology—but let’s take a step back. Let’s just deal with parenting in general. What you’re talking about, Dennis, is exactly what my wife and I try to do. If our kids come to us and say, “Hey, can I go see such and such a movie?” or “Can I go to so and so’s house this weekend?” or whatever the opportunity is that they want to take part in—we will decline from answering until we can take a step back and talk about this together, as a couple—
Brian: —because I could potentially say something that my wife has already—
Dennis: And the child knows it!
Brian: Yes; absolutely.
Bob: Our kids got to the point, where they start and say, “After you and Mom have had a chance to talk about this, can I go to such and such?” because they just got tired of the same answer, you know, which is: “Your Mom and I are going to have to talk about that,” “Your Mom and I are going to have to talk about that.”
Bob: But I’ll tell you—it was a great saver for us, as parents, to make sure that was just the standard response either of us had when a son or a daughter asked for something.
Dennis: And it really ensures a better decision too. Let’s face it—we’re not the same in our values, as husband and wife / mom and dad. This is why God put us together—to hammer out this thing called: “How we shape this young person all the way through adolescence into adulthood.”
Bob: So, you’ve prayed about it.
Brian: Prayed about it.
Bob: You’ve talked together, as a husband and wife, about it. You don’t agree, as a husband and wife, so now you have some more prayer / you’ve got some more negotiation to go through [Laughter]—but you get to a point where it’s like, “Okay, we think it is okay.” You still don’t know: “Is 12—are they okay at 12?”
Brian: Yes. The average child’s first cell phone is now 11-and-a-half.
Dennis: Does that make it right?
Brian: Just let that—
Dennis: Now wait.
Brian: —sink in for a second.
Dennis: I know, but does that—
Dennis: —but does that average make that the right choice?
Bob: Of course, it doesn’t make it the right choice; but it does mean your child is going to be unusual.
Brian: Ostracized, yes.
Bob: Unusual—unusual if they don’t have one of these.
Dennis: And they go to a boot camp—where they get training—where they come back with this great line:
[High-pitched voice] “Mom/Dad, you don’t realize—everybody in my class has this!”
Bob: [High-pitched voice] “Everybody—everybody!”
Brian: “I’m the only one.” Yes. We actually had a situation with my daughter, from our own church, where—when she got into the youth group—she was in seventh grade and started with the middle school at our church. She came home and she said, “Hey, my Sunday school teacher said that she communicates with all the girls in class through text messages, and I’m the only one that doesn’t have a cell phone.” I thought: “Are you kidding me?! You’re going to pit me, as a Sunday school teacher, against my child?!”
Dennis: That’s a trump card right there—unbelievable.
Brian: Yes. I had to call the Sunday school teacher—I went to see her the next week at church. I said: “Hey, listen. I’ve got a cell phone. We’ve decided she doesn’t need a cell phone. She’s with me all the time—so just text me and I’ll get the message to her.”
Bob: That’s a great way to handle that.
Dennis: So, back to the question.
Brian: Yes, back to the question. I think the biggest issue—after you’ve talked about it, as a couple / you’ve prayed about it—you’ve really got to evaluate your own child and figure out. To me, a cell phone is a big issue of responsibility—not of privilege and responsibility.
It is not a right, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution—that, by the age of 13—every child needs a cell phone.
For instance, my own children—there was a two-year difference between when one of them got a cell phone and the other one did. There was, at least, a year difference between when one of them got an iPod® and the other one did. It was because our children—they engage the world differently: They had different attunements to the Holy Spirit, they have different self-regulating structures in their life / different maturity levels at the age of 12/13. We just—with one of them—said they got it a little earlier than the other did. We felt comfortable—spiritually, relationally, emotionally—just looking at them and saying, “This is the right call for you.”
Dennis: Okay. So you put the device in their hands. Immediately, you’ve got to put some barbed wire around this device—you have to have some boundaries.
Bob: And I love—you have barbed wire in the back of this book.
Brian: Yes, there you go.
Bob: I love—did you see this?—the family cell phone contract.
Bob: That’s the last page of the book—that has check boxes, and teen signature, and parent signature.
Brian: Yes. Dennis, you’ve actually jumped ahead a couple steps—to me, when you said, “Now you put the phone in their hands,”—because, to me, once you put the phone in their hands, all bets are off! What’s going to happen is—you’re going to—at their birthday, at Christmas, graduation, or whatever it is—you’re going to go to the cell phone store, buy this beautiful new phone, wrap it up, give it to your child and then, three months later, you’re going to go: “Oh, I think we need to put some software on this. I think we need to put some restrictions on this. I think we need to have a conversation about how to use this responsibly.” I’m telling you—the horse is out of the gate! You’ve already lost that battle, now, because you gave it away too soon.
Dennis: Well, see now, I’m ahead of you on this because I said, “We’re placing the cell phone in their hands.” It hasn’t been turned on yet. [Laughter]
Brian: There you go.
Dennis: “If we’re going to turn it on, here’s what we’re going to do with it.”
Dennis: So you’re going to want to talk with them about the usage of this.
Brian: Yes. What are your expectations, as a parent? What do you consider wise choices? You’re going to talk to them about sexting and texting, about how long they can be on, and how many text messages that they can send, who they can send—
Dennis: Yes. We’ll talk about that in a second, but let’s go to the basics. What about a cell phone at dinner?
Brian: To me—and this is just us and our family—we’re not the standard; alright?
Dennis: We get it. We get it, but tell us what you—
Brian: In my family, there is no technology allowed at the dinner table.
Dennis: Okay, what about a—
Brian: Not just cell phones, but anything at all.
Brian: No iPads, no laptops—nothing that rings or with a screen gets to come to the dinner table. Because honestly—Mom, it takes you what?—like your family—seven minutes to scarf down dinner—
Brian: —that you’ve spent 45 minutes cooking. For seven minutes--I don’t care if you’re a doctor out there—for seven minutes, you can go without your cell phone to have a face-to-face conversation with your family.
Dennis: So Bob, do you bring your cell phone to dinner?
Bob: Well, once the kids have left the home, now it’s a whole different arrangement. [Laughter] You didn’t realize that that changes once the kids are gone?
Dennis: Oh, I started watching his eyes dart when that question came out of my lips!
Dennis: Bob was nervous from the start! [Laughter] Okay, what about taking the cell phone to bed?
Brian: Oh, that’s another biggie—the average teenager, who texts, is now losing an hour of sleep a night because of late-night texting. There was actually a report done in The Wall Street Journal—an article last year about late-night texting in teens. They were interviewing middle-schoolers in particular. One kid said, “I’m afraid to let myself fall asleep at night because I might miss a text message.”
Brian: I’m going: “Dude! You’re 12 years old, you’re in seventh grade, you’re not the President—you are not that important! There is no one that you know that you need to be contacting at one o’clock in the morning.”
Just recently, the American Pediatric Society revised their standards on how much sleep the average child and teen needs a night. It used to be eight hours a night. Now, they say it’s nine; but the average texting child is only getting seven hours or less.
What we do is—all of your screen devices have to be plugged in on the kitchen counter. We have a little box at our house, and all the screens need to be in there.
Let’s say that you’re a mom out there, and you wake up in the middle of the night. You’re going to do the same thing that every one of us do, as a parent. You get up, you go to the bathroom, and then you check on your kids; right? It doesn’t matter if your kids are 28 and living at home—you go to the bathroom and you check on your kids. What I can do is—I can just walk through the kitchen, on the way to their room, and just glance in the box and make sure all the screens are where they are supposed to be. If not, then I know that we’ve got a breached boundary and a conversation is coming.
Dennis: No doubt about it. What about parental access to the phone?
Brian: Oh, my position is: “I bought the phone. The phone belongs to me, and you’re just borrowing it”; you know?— [Laughter]—which is why I think it’s important to have that contract, at the very beginning, that you guys all sign because then that clearly defines what your expectations and their expectations are so that, when you have to inevitably have that difficult conversation with your kid—
—about something you found on their phone, or you saw them texting in bed, late at night, or they brought it to the table, whatever the situation is—that you can walk in that conversation, with the contract in hand, and say: “Hey, listen. We need to have a conversation about what happened yesterday,” or “…what happened last night when you were in bed.” You have that contract in hand.
To me, it kind of levels the playing field and the conversation doesn’t have to turn ugly. It doesn’t have to get verbally abusive because we can simply go back to the contract.
Dennis: I want to correct you there. There is no way a parent can level the playing field with a deceptive teenager. [Laughter] We had a guest on FamilyLife Today who said this: “My ability to deceive was superior to my parents’ ability to find out the truth.”
Brian: This is true.
Dennis: So any upper hand you can give a parent—I’m all for. What about monitoring software that allows a parent to know who their child is relating to, what their conversations are like, what screens they’re viewing?
Bob: Can you do that with cell phones/with mobile devices? Is there that kind of monitoring software available?
Brian: Absolutely there is. There is one company out there called U Know Kids. The CEO actually did an endorsement for Tech Savvy Parenting. I love their software. Now, with full disclosure, I don’t use their software on my children’s devices; and the reasoning is—I haven’t had a need to use that software.
I think that if you have a child that has perpetually abused the privilege of having technology—that they have gotten out of bounds when it comes to sexting, and texting, or digital porn, or late-night texting, whatever it might be—that you, simply through healthy conversations haven’t been able to rein it in, then I think it is good and beneficial for you to have software out there. Also, I think, if you’re going to allow your child, at a younger age, have access to technology, then that kind of software is beneficial.
What U Know Kids does—it’s really there not to spy on your kids / it’s to keep everyone safe. It sends you a weekly list of everyone that your child has friended or connected with or anyone that has texted them that’s not on their contact list. If it’s a new number, that’s not a name in the phone, then it sends you a message, saying, “This person has sent text messages to your child.”
Bob: We have a link on our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com, to their website. If folks want to find out more, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link that says “GO DEEPER.” They’ll find the information for U Know Kids.
Dennis: What I think every parent needs to hear us saying today is: “Number one—you need to be in the process of pursuing God around these decisions, asking Him for wisdom, asking Him to allow you to catch your kids doing what’s right and doing what’s wrong, and asking Him to unify you with your spouse around the standards you set and the barbed wire you put around these devices that each of our children have.”
If you do that—if you follow the Scriptures / pursue God—you’re still going to have some challenges. You’re still going to have some hiccups because you’re not raising a robot here. Any parent of a teen—you have two teens now, Brian.
Brian: We do.
Dennis: You know it—you’re not raising robots. What used to be a little boy/a little girl are now becoming their own people, and they have to make their own choices.
Bob: If parents want to get ahead of the game on this or get back in the game because they’ve been out of the game, then it would help for them to have something like Brian’s book called Tech Savvy Parenting that gives them an understanding of where the world is today and how you can, as a parent, navigate your way through a tech world with your son or with your daughter.
We have copies of Tech Savvy Parenting in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Look in the upper left-hand corner of the screen—you’ll see a button that says, “GO DEEPER.”
You click on that and you can order a copy of Brian’s book from us, online. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” to order a copy of Brian Housman’s book, Tech Savvy Parenting. Or if you’d prefer to order by phone, our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
I want to say a quick word of thanks today, Dennis, to the listeners who help make FamilyLife Today possible—who make it possible for us to have these kinds of conversations and help parents raising toddlers and teens—it’s those of you who support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with financial contributions. We are listener-supported. The cost to produce and to syndicate this daily radio program is not an inconsequential cost.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about the social media world that we’re living in / that our kids are growing up in—the Facebook, Twitter®, Snapchat®, Instagram® world. Brian Housman will be back. We’ll talk about what we can do, as parents, to make sure our kids know how to navigate their way in that kind of an environment. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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