I am a mom of two tween boys, ages 8 and 11. They don’t own a single internet enabled device, and they realize it will be awhile before they do. I realize I am the poster-perfect “uncool” mom for injuring their social status by depriving them of the basic technological necessities in life, and I’m totally willing to be that mom.
But I also know we’ll eventually have to cross that bridge into a world where they have smart phones, social media profiles, email addresses, and YouTube channels. And although there are a lot of unknown variables when it comes to their future selves and how wise or foolish they will be online, there is one thing I do know—they will have been trained for wisdom. Whether or not they choose it, well… that will be up to them.
We’ve already started laying out a template for them about how technology will be gradually added into their bucket of responsibility. My husband and I learned a great mentorship principle our pastor refers to as “The Jesus Model” and it applies to this situation just like many other parenting scenarios. Here are the basic stages of The Jesus Model:
Watch me work.
Come work with me.
You work and I watch.
I send you out, you come back and tell me how it went.
And here’s how I see it applying to how we train our kids to use technology wisely.
1. Watch me work.
In this phase of The Jesus Model, we are inviting our kids into our world to give them perspective on the purpose technology serves as it relates to our family values. Our kids are watching how we use technology and forming their own views of it’s role long before they choose for themselves how to use it. We talk about technology and social media, and the purpose of them in our family and home. It helps connect us to people we love (we Skype with our family in California regularly), it allows us to be productive (like working on this blog, or creating a summer activity calendar online). It helps us learn things we want to know, and sometimes it helps us just find something to laugh about.
2. Come work with me.
In this phase of the Jesus Model, we actually partner with our kids and let them take the reigns of technology on occasion, with us safely by their side. For example, my 11 year old will sometimes want to say something on Facebook to his uncle or an adult friend of our family from church –he knows most of our friends are connected through this platform. His ideas about posting something usually have to do with his love for the Seahawks or something funny he saw. On occasion I’ve handed him my iPhone to let him type his thoughts on my profile to post. He asks me how to spell this or that, and how to word something… then he hands it back. We’ve talked about privacy settings and why you would adjust them based on the content you’re sharing. We’ve talked about what’s appropriate to say to friends online and what’s not (one example is when people argue online and go back and forth in fruitless debates). I also informed him that my personal Instagram account can be transformed into a joint account later down the road when he is old enough. I’ve laid out a hypothesis of sharing this account in an effort to establish guidelines and expectations. I say hypothesis, because I’ve in no way promised him anything when it comes to privileges he’ll have online in a few years. The internet changes quickly, and so does a kid. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. The point is, he knows that doing these together is a prerequisite to ever doing them on his own.
3. You work and I watch.
By the time they get to this phase, kids should be well prepared to understand the great risks, expectations, and responsibilities technology brings to their lives. For us, years of discussion will have preceded this phase. This is the stage where we will release technology into their care even when we are not around (such as a cell phone, iPod Touch, etc). This is where some of the AMAZING monitoring technologies available will be our norm. There really is no excuse not to use great apps like Teen Safe, Covenant Eyes, NetSanity, X3 Watch or Mama Bear in order to keep track of how your kids are doing online as they learn this new responsibility. In this phase, talking about technology use will need to be a regular conversation, happening multiple times a week. Feedback is essential… because they will make mistakes. Perfection is not the goal – training and growth is. Establishing honest communication and accountability in this phase will be foundational virtues they can build on for the rest of their lives.
4. I send you out, you come back and tell me how it went.
This final phase of the Jesus model is reserved for older teens who have demonstrated responsibility and who are crossing the threshold into adult life and financial independence. Truthfully, I see this as happening during the transition from high school to college. I can’t really see myself monitoring my 20-year-old’s internet use or blocking apps from his phone. But I’m also not going to pay for any phone if my kid isn’t willing to live in the light about his choices online. I will in no way fund rebellion and stupidity. I’m sure I will still ask lots of questions, and I’m hoping he’ll still come to me about the details of his life because we’ve established an open and trusting relationship.
Sadly, many parents are skipping steps 2 and 3 in the Jesus model. They are allowing their kids’ infatuation with technology to begin before their children are even at an age to remotely understand the consequences of their choices online. Kids are firing up fully-operational devices given to them by well-meaning parents who really do not understand just how bad bad is online. (Can you just trust us?… it’s more awful than you can imagine, and it’s one click away.) Kids are downloading apps parents have never heard of that are downright dangerous. I’m telling you, young people are getting taken out right and left by a very deceptive and sinister culture that promises to make all their dreams come true by acquiring the latest and greatest, and then offering complete hell instead. Early onset porn addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts… these are all easily introduced by unnecessary and unrestricted access to technology.
“But MOM… Everyone has a phone!” It’s so unfair, right? I mean, what a horrible parent I must be! I like to fall back on the classic parental tactic of reminding my kids that millions of kids in the world don’t have clean water or access to education. We have a pretty sweet life, actually. And someday, we plan on sending these kids out into the world to make a gigantic dent in the kingdom of darkness. Call me crazy, but I just believe kids will be better prepared for the fight when they have been trained in wisdom and truth (offline AND online) by the people who love them most. That would be US… their parents.
When it comes to our kids and technology, we must be willing to make the journey together. We would love to hear your thoughts and comments about how The Jesus Model might pertain to your family’s strategy for how to handle technology!