Social media, screens, and the overindulgence of information

Christian parenting in the 21st century can seem daunting—trying to keep up with the advancing technology is nearly impossible. So the question becomes: how do we parent well? Parenting well requires you to be intentional and patient, and it requires us to be engaged in our children’s life, walking with them through the challenges. 

Proverbs 22:6 states, “Point your kids in the right direction—when they’re old they won’t be lost” (MSG). This passage paints a clear picture of intentional, relational parenting that bridges the gap between the family and the world. It is our job to prepare our children for the world. As such, we must find ways to help them navigate the potential pitfalls of social media and technology while helping them develop relational grit and resilience. 

Devices in the home

One big contributor to the epidemic of loneliness is our dependence on social media and screens. Before you dismiss this as only a problem for young people, ask yourself, When was the last time I looked at my phone, checked my social-media accounts, read the news, checked recipes, and the like online? 

Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, or other social-media platforms, screens and social media can be all-consuming. 

Those of you with an Apple device receive weekly reports on your screen time. Admittedly, I spend too much time on my device (especially during this pandemic), and I’m convicted as I write this! 

When I was a kid in the 1980s and 1990s, the parenting craze was to not let your kid watch too much television. But that was it! We didn’t have personal computers or laptops, and mobile phones weren’t really a thing. Not to mention you had to get up off the couch and walk across the living room to change the channel or adjust the volume. 

I can’t tell you how excited I was as a kid when we got a television with a remote. Now, everything is at our fingertips. 

The average American home has 7.3 devices. As I sit here and write this, I count eight digital devices in our home, not including the television. That is a lot of devices! 

5 effects of devices 

1. Blue-light effect 

Light is life. All living things need natural light to survive. Red light (light from the sun) is made up of many color wavelengths and controls our sleep-wake cycle, known as our circadian rhythms, through the distribution of a hormone called melatonin. Its production peaks at nighttime, when it’s circulated throughout our body, signaling that it’s time to sleep. Blue light (artificial light emitted from the devices we use) negatively affects melatonin production. The more time we spend on our devices, the less melatonin production and the less likely we are to have regenerative sleep. Without regenerative sleep, our immune system is weaker. 

2. Brain development

The brain is a complex organ that’s always adapting and changing. Too much screen time can adversely affect the brain’s ability to grow. 

New York-Presbyterian medical center reports on some ongoing research: “Early data from a landmark National Institute for Health study that began in 2018 indicates that children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.”

Overuse of screens can also stunt social and relational maturity, as well as emotional development. 

3. Mental health 

Anxiety and depression have been significantly increasing since 2007 and the advent of the smartphone. 

4. Social and relational arrested development 

Arrested development is the phenomenon whereby an individual stops developing or regresses in development. This topic has been the plot line of a popular cable TV show and the punch line of many jokes, yet it’s a real problem when it comes to overuse of screens. 

It’s as if we’ve forgotten how to have a conversation or we just don’t remember how to regulate ourselves when we’re in a one-on-one exchange. Overuse of screens results in underuse of social, emotional, and relational skills. As with brain development, if we don’t use it, we lose it. 

When we don’t engage in face-to-face interactions on a regular basis, we lose the ability to recognize and respond to facial cues, voice tone and inflection, body language, and the energy of emotions in the room. When we lose these relational skills, we become lonelier. 

5. Lack of inhibition 

Have you ever said something you regretted? What happened? What was the other person’s reaction? How did you feel as you said it? For those of us that grew up prior to the 2000s, these types of conversations and conflicts happened in person. 

We had to look the person in the eyes and work through the struggle, deal with the uncomfortable feelings, wrestle with the emotions, and figure out a resolution. Behind a screen, we seemingly can do or say anything we want because we don’t have that immediate relational feedback that occurs when we are face-to-face. 

In 2015, psychologist Marion Underwood and sociologist Robert Faris tracked and analyzed approximately 150,000 social-media posts from more than 200 eighth graders. What they found turned into the CNN documentary #Being 13, and the results were astounding.

This group of thirteen-year-olds effectually created drastically different online personas for themselves. Media theorist Douglass Ruskoff calls this digiphrenia, which is “the experience of trying to exist in more than one incarnation of yourself at the same time.” The studied thirteen-year-olds felt the freedom to do or say whatever they wanted online, without fear of consequence or repercussion. This phenomenon affects adults as well. If you don’t believe me, just scroll on social media and look at some of the comments people leave. 

Technology to honor the Lord

Use these things as guides. Remember, every family will engage this conversation differently. This should not be a cut and paste process. 

Take a step back and reflect on what the priorities are for your family. As I stated earlier, it is our responsibility to prepare our children for the world. Technology is not going away, so the question becomes how can I best prepare my child to use technology responsibly and in a way that will honor the Lord?

Taken from The Path Out of Loneliness by Dr. Mark Mayfield. Copyright © 2021. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.

Looking for other resources on tech and media?

What if your kids already have screens, and you’re having second thoughts?

Here’s what to do if your kid is screen-addicted

Helping your son navigate the digital age

Balancing Busy with Bored

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