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“Boundaries” has become a buzzword in parenting. Boundaries are necessary for a balanced, responsible life. The smartphone has blown the lid off of every boundary imaginable in ways we could never have anticipated. This great social experiment has the majority of the world deeply immersed, and with devastating consequences, particularly for our youth. It seems the ground is shifting under our feet and we can hardly keep up, much less maintain perspective. But there is a way to help our children navigate this landscape if we as parents choose to be serious and intentional.

Consider the game of football with its marked field, white lines, end zones, and rules. This beloved American sport has thousands of fans watching every year. What would happen if football had no boundaries? How many fans would pay for a stadium seat if there were no lines on the field? What if there was no distinction between players or no referees? Well, it wouldn’t be a game. It would be chaos. Without definition, the whole idea of “winning” or “losing” the game would be obsolete. There would be no purpose or any reason to play or to watch. Who would sign up? Who would push themselves to be the best if there was no way to identify what “best” even was? 

The game of life is similar. Lines are needed. Boundaries of practice define direction, and boundaries of thought define character (Romans 12:2). Take away mental boundaries, and chaos ensues. Chaos of the mind impacts the development of appropriate thought, belief, attitude, action, words, and results. One chaotic mind in a thousand may cause a ripple. But one in five is a tsunami. 

Now imagine a different illustration. A young family just built their home on the median of a busy highway. If their children step out by themselves, they will be run down by vehicles flying by at 80 mph. So, they build high fences. They put a series of intense child-proof locks on every window and door. They never, ever let their toddlers outside without supervision. What if observers said, “You are crazy, overbearing, overprotective parents! You don’t need to be that strict! Your children need to run outside and have freedom to play!” Really? What’s at stake? Would this family listen to others’ opinions and just open the doors? With a clear view of exactly what will happen if their children step out the door, they cannot and they will not.

We can no longer act like we do not know the devastating effect the smartphone is having on our youth. It has been around long enough for plenty of studies to be done, and the results are grim. Sex trafficking, pornography addiction, cyberbullying, mental illness, and psychiatric diagnoses of all kinds have gone through the roof. Innocence lost. Morality obliterated. Character unnecessary. Common sense uncommon. The children at risk are not just “out there.” It’s happening in our churches where sincere Christian parents seem to start out intentionally parenting according to God’s Word. Then suddenly, at a critical point of development, these same parents just hand their children a smartphone with no instructions and walk away. They are living in the median of the highway with appropriate protection and then, one day, just open the door and say, “Off you go!” 

Are these extreme examples? No. Children are being dropped into a whirlwind of ideas and opinions that are dark and broken before they have developed or matured enough to understand what their choices should be. Out of innocent curiosity, they see things that cause guilt, shame, and even shock. But then—click, click—they go deeper, where they are steadily brainwashed by a vast world of influence beyond mom and dad. Hormones surging, their minds are suddenly full of images they can’t forget. Knowing they will lose their phone if they confess, they stay silent, and just keep falling. Behaviors change. Eyes are averted. Grades drop. Friendships change. Moods are dark and sullen. Shame is a constant presence. The bedroom door is too often shut and locked. Sometimes mom and dad wake up too late to the fact their bright, happy, energetic, sweet, well-adapted, and highly functioning child is gone. It isn’t “just” being a teenager. It isn’t “just” the moodiness of puberty. It is far more, and Satan is rejoicing at his success (1 Peter 5:8).

Need some real examples? 

  1. A homeschooled child of missionaries begins a writing course with Focus on the Family. The parents approve of the course. She is learning how to blog! On that site, she is able to message participants. Those participants know of other writing sites. Click, click and she is reading intense erotica in her room alone while her parents think she is taking a Christian writing course. 
  2. The daughter of a pastor has the Bible app on her phone. She is able to message within the app with others who use the app. She is having regular conversations with a guy in California and is now calling him her “best friend.” She’s never seen him, but they chat every day. Is he a Christian teenage boy like she thinks? Or a 45-year-old man prowling the Internet for a vulnerable girl?
  3. Examples abound of children abducted through online connections.

Wake up, oh Christian parent, wake up! The searing loss of innocence is devastating our culture with rampant sexual abuse of all kinds, and the smartphone has more ways to find your child than you can even comprehend. Alarms are going off—statistics loudly warn to be vigilant! The evidence is clear and your children are no exception. If your choices online are good, you make them from maturity, a walk with God, and the development of wisdom over years of growth. But they will not necessarily be your child’s choices, no matter how sweet your child is or how much they love God. They are immature, and curiosity will win through the overwhelming power placed in their small hands through the smartphone. The desire to have questions answered, to know what all their peers know, to not appear stupid, to not be left out will pull them to seek, to look, to dive into the abyss. 

At the same time, we are all falling down the Internet rabbit hole as a culture. We have raised up a generation of parents terrified of saying no to their children. Afraid their children will be left out, they capitulate to their tearful begging fits for a smartphone. Christian parent, find your courage. Fight for your child’s survival, not their popularity. Focus on their character, not on whether or not they are included. Achieving “likes” online may lead them to walk away from everything you have taught them. The pull of social media is strategic, disconnected, deceitful, abusive, and powerful ( Wild and bizarre ideas gain footing in vulnerable, impressionable minds as not only possible but normal, acceptable, and “cool.” Before being fully grounded in Truth, children have embraced fantasy as fact, and your influence has lost its relevance (Hebrews 4:12).

You ask, what should we do? We use smartphones for everything! It is a tool for communication, organization, business, homework, and shopping. Eventually, your child will have a phone or a tablet. So, consider driving as a parallel. A car is a powerful machine that can kill. Will you teach your child to drive, practice in parking lots, tell stories, give warnings? Will you enroll them in classes? Will there be expectations, accountability, curfews, and consequences? Yes, for their survival, yes, of course. No matter how inconvenient it may be, parents take the time to teach their teens to drive.

So, like learning to drive, smartphone use needs a similar level of intense instruction from parents as well. Careful introduction; lessons of warning and direction; strict rules about usage; clear consequences; constant accountability; practice; phone contracts discussed and agreed upon; open, honest communication at all times; no deceit tolerated; the expectation they will ask for help; putting up blocks and protections; taking the time to check and double-check activity. Many resources are out there to help parents since it is well understood that children are not equipped to handle the vast online world alone. 

Be the parent that parents, that steps up, that diligently pursues your child’s mental health. Don’t send them into a game with no lines on the field. Help them grow up in Christ, healthy, strong, kind, grounded in Truth, and innocent with a desire to serve God, rather than living to appease the million screaming online voices clamoring for their attention, and their destruction.

Some resources for your consideration:

Smartphone Sanity: A proven plan to protect your kids, build trust, and bring smartphone balance to your home by David EatonJeremiah Callihan

Parenting Generation Screen: Guiding your Kids to be Wise in a Digital World by Jonathon McKee

The Boogeyman Exists; And He’s In Your Child’s Back Pocket (2nd Edition): Internet Safety Tips & Technology Tips for Keeping Your Children Safe . . . Social Media Safety, and Gaming Safety by Jesse Weinberger

D6 Conference 2024 Breakout: “Healthy Mental and Emotional Boundaries Protect and Keep the Faith Alive in Families” by Becky Sparks

For a deeper understanding of how to think differently, Learning Trust, Finding Treasure: Helping you Solve the Puzzle of Parenting is a study that will provide clarity and encouragement as you raise your children to love the Lord Jesus.

Becky Sparks

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