Pressing the Reward Button for Positive Feedback: Part 2

Crowd Sized Jumpy House in Backyard - Pressing the Reward Button for Positive Feedback: Part 2

It used to be easier to find ways for kids to engage, away from technology–but keep working at it!

In a similarly named post, I mentioned the repetitive, intangible rewards children “earn” through playing video games.  Their desire for positive feedback and rewards becomes incited to the point of obsession. What if, instead, they became more interested in gaining positive feedback from following God and engaging with the people God made for that purpose?

It is not too early to nudge your child toward pleasing God through loving and serving people and not toward serving a virtual technological scorekeeper. After all, Ephesians 5:30 reminds us that “we are members of his body.”  We will want to train our children to act like it.

Offering Positive Feedback Examples of the Human Variety

Think about the amount of time in a week your child interacts with technology versus with you (or others).   If human contact is inadequate, they may become more accustomed to satisfying their gadget’s commands and goals. They may be less inclined to serve their parents and other people for God’s purposes.  Consider if, in your child, positive feedback garnered from technology diminishes their desire for positive feedback from family and friends.  The people around them may become more unnecessary than people are supposed to be.

You can offer positive feedback of the tangible human variety. You can be a source that satisfies their innate need for attention and affirmation. Hopefully you are a better source than their computer.  By some statistics, 70% of parents believe video games can be a positive influence in their kids’ lives (  Yet still, as a parent you want to be a key source.  Verbally reward them with positive feedback for what they do well (“the patio you swept looks great!”).  Reward them with your time for attending to their church or school obligations (“do you want to throw a football?…learn how to make those cupcakes you love?”).  They may just learn to appreciate your recognition so much that they work harder to earn it. This may result in less time for excessive video game play. Think about positive feedback examples that make sense in your own family life.

Positive Rewards Outside of Video Games

Human connection–particularly our connection to our kids and their connection with us–is vital to serving God. And although games offer “…a comforting mix of structure, repetition, challenge, and adventure,” according to Digital Divide: Real Christianity in a Digital World” (p. 44, 2011, Abingdon Press), developing sustaining human connections is vital.  Can you help your child find a “comforting mix of structure, repetition, challenge and adventure” in their “real” life outside of video games? For example:

  • structure a weekly play date with a family that is in your bubble or let him attend a masked youth group event
  • play his favorite board game or make her favorite snack together and repeat regularly
  • introduce a new skill to learn (this is more easily done with external activities more limited)
  • explore your community for adventure–fewer crowds may mean more opportunities to get out safely.

These ideas would result in less open time to fill with an impersonal technical life.  In 1 Corinthians Paul mentioned coming “in love and with a gentle spirit.” We would be serving our children well to come alongside their technical inclinations in the same manner. To offer them positive feedback and rewards that only parents and a close knit community can give.

The related, earlier post is Pressing the Reward Button.

First published 8/5/2012. Updated 11/18/2020.




Cast Out Fear in Parenting

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Fear Feels Cold…Like A Minnesota Winter

Parenting without fear may not come easy to you. But remember 2 Timothy 1:7. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 

We may think of this verse when we contemplate witnessing about the power of Christ in our lives. We would do well to also remember it when we consider our parenting responsibilities. And managing our child’s technology habits. That’s a time to parent without fear.

Parenting without Fear

If, as parents, we fear technology’s impact on our homes, we are more likely to make a mistake in managing it.

Yet we would be wise to be strong and do the work. (1 Chron 28:10b) We can begin casting out fear by opening our eyes and ears to the unknown.

If you don’t know what Steam is, who streamer Ninja is, or why your son wants to use game content to practice coding or animating, a starting place is to ask the question and wait with your ears while he tells you. You may discover that he doesn’t love videogames as much as he loves animating the 3D characters he finds there using SFM (Steam’s Source Filmmaker software). Animators practice software skills to collaborate on projects in television and with video game studios, for example. What is to fear about his self-initiative and independent learning in a high-demand software program? This new knowledge positions you to support him.

Parenting without Fear of the Unknown

If your child seems to be moving faster—technologically speaking—than you, slow him down (depending on his age), listen to where he is at, consider how you might direct his path, and offer ideas for practicing discernment.  Most simply of all, just be there to “be strong and do the work” (of a parent).

There are lots of examples of that “work” throughout this site. One such post is Tracking Your Teen on His Technical Path.

Fear around “Personally Unsettling Material”

If you worry about what he may see on YouTube while he is researching a video topic of which you approve, remind him to ask the perennial question: What Would Jesus Do?  Or, introduce the acronym PUMA—“personally unsettling material”—a term the Harding family uses and describes in their homeschooling book “The Brainy Bunch” (Gallery Books).  Help your child practice from a young age turning away from personally unsettling material.  This skill is transferable beyond the internet—to television, magazine ads, storefronts, and billboards throughout Missouri.

Because our child’s or teen’s eyes and ears are going to be opened (ready or not, here it comes!) as he gains more access to the internet, we want our own eyes open even wider to prepare him for what will require his discernment.

Our child’s foray into technology requires a Proverbs 1:8-10 approach: provide instruction and teaching and warn against enticement.

 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them.

This depth of working with your child and their technology habits is mostly emotional and relational; you can do it—without fear—except the fear and reverence of God!

Knowing your own background will help you parent around technology with less fear. See this post about your own philosophy of technology.

First Published 6/30/2014.

Image by Lindsey O’Connor |



Screen Time During COVID-19 and Summer

Are you noticing your children spend more time online since COVID-19 and summer is upon us? A recent Wall Street Journal opinion (behind paywall), “Save Your Kids From Covid’s Digital Deluge,” addresses the topic of screen time. “Now is the time to break the trance of digital distraction” your children may be facing, encourages the writer Arlene Pellicane.

We frequently hear this reasonable, benign suggestion. Our children spend inordinate amounts of time in front of a screen for many reasons. We have many motivations for allowing it:

We want our children to feel good, and that’s why we often go easy on them. But maybe they’ll feel better if we require them to do good—help cook dinner, sweep the kitchen floor, read books, run outside, write a letter to grandma. – Arlene Pellicane

Ms. Pellicane’s point is sound. As our children engage in productive activities, they become productive people. Childhood and young adulthood are all about becoming. But primarily about learning how they fit into God’s kingdom.

Boiling spaghetti noodles for dinner or baking boxed brownies for dad’s birthday is a service to the family. Sweeping a kitchen floor may be about learning to respect authority. Reading books may encourage virtues, reveal ways to overcome struggles, and elicit flights of imagination. Running outdoors offers increased stamina and powers of observation, not to mention improved eyesight (through distance vision). Writing a letter to grandma shows respect to elders.

Let’s not forget why these activities are fundamentally valuable.  It’s not:  “When children take responsibility their self-esteem improves.” (Pellicane)  It is because they are spiritually valuable as well.

Self-esteem has its uses, but it ranks beneath developing one’s commitment to God. When children serve, learn and respect, they are gaining a foundation for a life lived in service to God. Their actions are beneficial and constructive for the kingdom. They take responsibility in order to serve their Creator–and in the end may also notice peripheral benefit to themselves.

Learning practical skills like courtesy, mentioned by Pellicane, is time well spent during COVID-19 and summer. But again: Imagine if your children also learned the deeper spiritual lesson of the practical skill. What is more practical than knowing for Whom one is ultimately living?  What is more valuable than learning to keep one’s eyes on God’s glory and grace as they learn, strive, step forward, miss the mark and strive again?

Sure, teach kids practical skills during lockdowns and summer break. But don’t forget to share the deeper reason they will want to do all those worthwhile things: to serve the Lord. To do it all for the Glory of God.

That just makes common sense if you’re a Bible-believing family, while making your children pleasantly uncommon.


Saturday with Kids and Their Technology.

Technology: The Childhood Distraction

Let Us Live To Make Men Free

Image Updated 7/15/2020

As I sat down to continue developing this site, a precursory prayer led me to quietly (and self-consciously) mutter-sing Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Since God seemed to bring it up, I figured He had something to teach me about it.

“As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.” Those words resonated with me after the malicious destruction of anguished American cities this past week because of the death of George Floyd.

Mr. Floyd’s truly disturbing death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer was the catalyst for our country’s current paroxysm. It is no doubt affecting your family in some way–some more intensely than others.

Freedom in God

At this time, can we remember that as believers we sit at the right hand of God this very moment? To help share the freedom that is found in Him? God supplies the power that we can use to help bring peace. We can help our children understand what their faith in Christ means at this time. Are we accepting the responsibility that faith entails? Are we teaching our family how faith in God can assuage the fear, heartbreak, violence and retribution they may be seeing online right now?

“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 (NIV)

Until today I hadn’t been aware that “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” had seemingly become an anthem for every cause. But I guess I was an example of the case.  I was also reminded it was originally an anti-slavery anthem.  So although these lyrics are referring to personal freedom from slavery, I can’t help but feel like so many people are exhibiting behaviors that show they (rightly or wrongly) don’t feel free. They don’t feel a personal power derived from God but are being deceived by a spirit of chaotic, desperate, false power. The greatest freedom we can seek is the freedom we experience through Christ. And with that freedom we can do what the Lord requires of us: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV).

Free to Live Well and Love

We are blessed to live in America as free men and women and in a Christian tradition. Our institutions are imperfect, however, and more work is to be done. Do your children hear from you about the responsibility that comes with our civil and religious freedom and tradition? Responsibility to love and serve others–which includes performing our jobs above reproach. To treat others as we would want to be treated. Stand boldly for Godly causes. Be properly subject to government authorities.  Avoid seeking retribution

History is in the making. Are we using it to help our children see the broader context of applying God’s truths to our world?


Consecrate Some Screen Time to God

Could you encourage your children to consecrate some screen time to God soon?

What if it mainly depends on your direct question to them today?  Then a brief reminder again next week? And revisiting the idea again soon after that?

I’m not talking about anything heavy and theological here.

But if you plant the seed, your children can learn over time to devote a portion of their online screen time to Godly undertakings.  They can pursue their own online activities with good, productive things—God things—in mind.

Your starting point is building awareness of their own productive or creative power. Then combine it with the power of your prayer.

Dedicating Screen Time to God

One morning as my son showed me his blueprint programming in Unity (a game engine into which he was depositing animations he had created), I heard myself praying “Lord, let the animation and programming my son is learning be for your glory.  Keep leading him toward fruitful purposes. Enlighten the world with it.”  It was an apprehensive cry of my heart.

Later that morning, I was inspired to start “No Little People,” a book by Francis A Schaeffer (Crossway).  I read his description about how God used Moses’ staff to show him that God himself would be with him as he confronted Pharaoh. Schaeffer explained “Exodus 4:20 tells us the secret of all that followed: the rod of Moses had become the rod of God” (p. 22).

Lord, please let my son’s programming become the programming of God. Use it for your purposes.

Start with Prayer, then Ask A Question

Start with prayer. It may be vague, pleading, frustrated or clear and direct.

Then, when your children “play” with their technology, find an opportunity to ask a thoughtful question:

“That’s a neat character. Have you ever wanted to learn how to design characters?” (for your budding artist)

“I see you enjoy playing games. Have you ever considered programming them?” (for your budding programmer)

“This reminds me of that military movie we watched. Would you ever like to work on computers in the military?” (for your military-minded child)

“What is the main storyline here? Have you ever wanted to write and publish online, or maybe start your own blog?” (for your writer/reader)

“That (game object) would be fun to invent. Have you ever considered creating prototypes of your own inventions?” (for your budding engineer)

Ask a simple but probing question, like these above, adapted to your child. Ask it today or this week. Get them thinking about how they might see themselves using technology in the future. This is the beginning of showing them a path to consecrate some screen time toward fulfilling God’s purposes in their own lives.

God used Moses’ staff

Just as the rod was first used for destruction of the Egyptians, Schaeffer explained, it was also used to save the Jewish people at the Red Sea. Just as technology can be used in destructive ways, it can also be used in healing and helpful ways. Think of ways to encourage your child to make their screen time an instrument for their future. And broadly or specifically for the glory of God.

Think of ways to encourage your child to make their screen time an instrument for their future.

Moses’ stave was a dead piece of wood, Schaeffer points out. God used Moses’ staff mightily. A computer is dead until given life by human commands.  And it can be given more compelling, positive life if you pray over those human hands. And if you encourage them to listen to God’s leading.

Consistently remind the youth in your life that their involvement with technology can inspire them to do what they believe satisfies God’s will for their lives.

Ways God Used Moses’ Staff

 Schaeffer made other connections in this story of Moses. Specifically, he pointed out that Moses staff was used for each of these purposes:

  • destruction (of Pharaoh’s Egypt, Ex. 7:17-20)
  • assistance (when parting the Red Sea, Ex. 14:16)
  • supplying needs (water in the desert, Numbers 20:11)
  • protection (bringing military victory, Exodus 17:9)

Your children will be employed in fields in which technology is used (no field is untouched by technology).  What might each of God’s purposes above look like then?

  • to destroy – using creative destruction (through innovation) to introduce new/improved methods or products; to ameliorate life’s negative influences in support of positive ones.  Kids can be especially creative and innovative.
  • to assist – to learn specific technological skills that support and assist efforts in church, at school or home, or at a company they work for (or hope to work for one day). Video editing skills, for example, could be used for fluently communicating youth group events or aspirations.
  • to supply – to use technology for entrepreneurial purposes, for ecommerce, for engineering that supplies solutions to problems. Maybe they could post their photographs for a good cause.
  • to protect –  to learn cyber security, to assist the military, to protect the health and welfare of needy populations through nonprofit work, to share the Bible with unreached people groups who need God’s word.  Your kids can learn about the security needed to keep your own home network secure.

Screen Time An Instrument

Without direction, children may see technology as only entertainment.  Moses’ rod became a greater rod to effect God’s purposes. Show your children how to think about technology as a way to effect God’s purposes too. To destroy negative influences, to assist, to supply, to protect.

Help your children see how technology is a tool—for healing and help, for offering something needed, or for valuable disruption and change.  Help them imagine ways they can turn their involvement with technology (programming, art, software, videos, etc.) into technology for God.

“But as the rod of Moses had to become the rod of God, so that which is me must become the me of God. Then, I can become useful in God’s hands” (p. 25). And our children who have been called to use technology in their lives (and even those who use it outside a specific calling) can be taught to think in terms of how God would want that tool used.

Help your children learn how to consecrate some screen time to God. Then they may see more clearly how they “can become useful in God’s hands.”


Setting the Stage for Parent-Teen Communication

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Clear the Stage Before Communicating with your Teen

Parent-teen communication begins with setting the stage for real listening.  But the stage needs the props removed–computer screen, mobile phone, headphones–so you can start the dialogue in a way that encourages real listening. And as a result, you will teach your teen conversational skills that respect you and others.

This is just one example of a Biblical lesson that Christian parenting can teach through online experiences (see  Consider these scenarios:

(Teen, still looking at keyboard)  But I shouldn’t have to mow the lawn…   OR

(Continues typing) But I shouldn’t have to watch that documentary with everyone… OR

(With headphones on) But WHY do I have to do that, Mom? (Leaning back, vaguely watching his screen.)

Two commonalities exist in the above scenarios: They occur while your teen is engaged with technology, and they result in the beginning of an argument. But not the classical kind of argument in which there’s an exchange of ideas and support for those ideas. Rather, the whiny kind, the negative kind.

Parent-Teen Communication Without a Screen in Between

Don’t compete with a screen. Or with headphones that are meant to eliminate ambient noise–you, in this case.  You must take the lead to avoid this interference, because your teen probably won’t–and will more likely see you as the interference.  Help your teen learn how to listen and make more effective arguments by teaching them to first disengage from technology. Tap his shoulder (if he can’t hear you through his headphones). Say “Let’s talk a minute”or “I need you now.” After you’ve made clear the need to talk, offer him a few seconds to break away from the technical task in front of him.  (Proverbs 15 reminds us “a patient man calms a quarrel”–so be patient!)

If you allow him to be online, it’s not fair to interrupt that at your every whim.

Help Your Teen Listen

If you allow him to be online, it’s not fair to interrupt that at your every whim. Most online activities involve a process. He can’t abruptly stop this process without error, aggravation, insult to an online team member, loss of one’s train of thought, or data loss.  You can respect your teen by forewarning him of your need to discuss something and then allowing him a moment to ‘get into position’ for that.

Now disengaged from technology, he can better listen to what you have to say. And he’ll be able to reply without distraction. Instead of appearing to deign to give you his time, he may be more fully attentive, a sign of respect (which you are attempting to teach him, right?). “Pay…respect to whom respect is owed” (Romans 13). You are teaching him to love you through action, not just words.

Both of you now fully present, a polite, clear and logical “argument” can ensue. You have helped him listen under authority–a useful habit for his long-term good. And quality parent-teen communication may prevent unintentional disobedience resulting from misunderstanding.

So take control of your parent-teen communications. Insist your teen first be free from distraction.  Only then can the full discussion–or argument–be most productive.

And when your teen questions why he should have to take out the garbage today, you can look deeply into his eyes and give your most cogent argument:  Because I said so.


Using Online Experiences to Teach Biblical Lessons

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Remind Teens to Use the Bible as Their Compass When Online.

A teen who spends a significant amount of time online has direct knowledge of the “sins” of the web. Whether playing a game or using a forum to better learn Adobe Photoshop, he witnesses common transgressions such as pride, deceitfulness, and people who stir up conflict in the community. Is he prepared to discern those sins? Respond to them?

Here’s an exercise that may be useful to help your teen recognize and respond to the list of sins described by Proverbs 6:16-19.

Ask him to think about the biggest problem, sin, or negative issue he experiences online. [You may want to have him read Proverbs first, maybe even in various versions, to help something come to mind.] You don’t need to necessarily extract the example from him; let him stew on it if he prefers (unless he wants to share, which is great).

With his example of online negativity in mind, ask him to skim his Bible’s Concordance or Glossary to find keywords relating to that issue or sin. For example, perhaps he remembers noticing a troll online who causes trouble. He might come across the word “Overcome” (as I just did). He particularly notices the reference to Romans 12:21. He turns to it (as part of the exercise). Upon reading it he is reminded: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In this example, he may more clearly see this online negativity as a form of “evilness” (badness of character in this case). And, as importantly, he is being reminded of a biblical response, which is being “good.” The Holy Spirit may help him discern that the behavior is sinful, that he can overcome it, and that his approach must involve his own goodness (versus responding to evil with evil).

Children’s Bibles [such as the Hands on Bible, Tyndale Group (NLT)] are good for this process because they often have a simplified dictionary/concordance, use common keywords, and exclude name/place references which are less helpful for this exercise.

An online corollary to a proud look referenced in Proverbs 6 could be someone who brags about YouTube ‘subs’ (the number of subscribers someone has on their YouTube channel).

A lying tongue shows up in online gossip.

One teen compares hands that kill the innocent to a large online following that sets out to destroy a smaller one out of spite.

Some online gamers have a heart that devises wicked schemes or feet quick to do evil. This is like players who quickly attack other players who interfere with them, even innocently.

A witness who tells lies has a modern online version too: telling lies to start drama between fanbases.

Some online communities begin to feel like extended family. Causing discord in family can be equated with hackers who post as the owner of a channel.

Many teens quietly struggle with online strife and insecurity because of the complexity and variety of the online “sins” they experience. Strengthen your teen for the onslaught by helping him connect his online experience to God’s message. Forearm him with a contemporary response based on eternal wisdom. Not only will it strengthen him, it will remind him who he is in Christ and support his developing spiritual identity.

Photo by cc - Using Online Experiences to Teach Biblical Lessons Sammis Reachers via Compfight