Screen Time During COVID-19 and Summer

Happy Boy Running Through Sprinkler

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.

 

Return to Home page: Articles and Posts About Kids and Technology.

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Saturday with Kids and Their Technology.

Technology: The Childhood Distraction

People Marching Through A City Seeking Justice For George Floyd

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?

Thoughtful Young Man in Nature Using Screen Time Wisely

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 https://www.christiantechkids.com/2016/02/11/using-your-teens-online-experience-as-a-bible-teacher/).  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

Are You Initiating or Influencing Your Techy Teen’s Interests?

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No Need for Him to Find His Technical Path Alone

As I wrote in my previous post Tracking Your Teen On His Technical Path, the course your techy teen takes to follow his technical bliss requires different levels of attention from you as parent. I noticed changing aspects to my own support of my son as he progressed. I see it as a continuum.  You will probably recognize yourself somewhere on this continuum; it likely depends on your teen’s age or his passion for the subject.   It starts at Initiator and Ends at Influencer, with a morphing role in between.

INITIATOR – YOU DIRECT & LEAD

At the beginning of the continuum, you as Initiator are directing and leading your teen either in response to his interest or your own desire to see him explore technology more deeply.  You are directing his choices and activities.  In this scenario you or someone in your teen’s social sphere directly introduces a program, game, tool or technical concept. You invest your time to launch him, whether it is with Minecraft, for example, when they are younger, or with HTML because you hear it is useful to know.  You place him at the beginning of a path and watch his reaction. You initiate a current of activities through your permission and encouragement. As Initiator, you are presenting him with technical opportunities to explore, and you help propel him forward.

Being an Initiator is common when your child is young, when he is first being introduced to technology (maybe because he finally has access to a computer), or when you want total control of his direction. The child’s maturity and self-initiative play a role. You may find yourself an Initiator for extra-curricular technology projects, academic reasons, or both.

Being an Initiator takes patience, because you are actively engaged in his technical exploration which may progress in fits and starts. You will find yourself inclined to praise effort and success as encouragement.  Encouragement should be sufficient to pique his interest or challenge him onward, but not so much he retreats. If you go into this committing the outcome to the Lord, He will direct your steps (Prov.16:3).

At some point, your child or teen may want to move forward faster or follow a different path altogether.

He may be asking for more involved interaction with a program, e.g., to set up his own Minecraft server rather than just play on someone else’s.  Or, perhaps if he is feeling bored with Photoshop, he expresses an interest in adding to his 2D design skills by looking into 3D designing.  Or, if he has used HTML but wants to learn something different, he decides he wants to pursue Python or Java. At this juncture, your role on the continuum is morphing. One day you will find you have moved on to become an Influencer.

INFLUENCER – GUIDING AS NEEDED

At the end of the continuum is Influencer.  You may guide or counsel your techy teen as he presents a problem case to you. You help him consider options, consult, and caution him as needed.  You may help him deliberate about what he is learning or his practice options.  You make recommendations for new software or hardware (which you can do since you have been learning a little bit every day yourself). You steer him in a direction that is suited to his personality and character.  But mostly, you are hands off any direct support. You are acting primarily as a guide; he is leading himself.

This place on the continuum is best when a teen is clear in his goals and able to pursue them maturely and independently.  He is a self-directed learner and makes good decisions.  He has earned your trust and has shown responsibility.  He still may be pursuing his technical ambitions for either extra-curricular reasons or academic ones.

The important support you can offer at this stage is help in reasoning and analysis. He may be presented with a design problem and you offer insight to help him arrive at his own conclusion or decision. You may motivate him to set clearer goals. If he has already begun a small shop online selling graphic designs or YouTube “intros,” you may need to help him sort out customer service problems.  You are still available to set any necessary limits.

THE PATH OF PROGRESS

By moving along this continuum, a technical path or trajectory for your teen reveals itself.  For example, your teen may transition easily from video game playing to video editing—then from video editing to try his hand at digital art.  That would likely lead him to Photoshop, which could move him later to an interest in 3D modeling. Seeing 3D modeling makes him aware of scripting languages and system programming languages. He decides to try his hand at coding, first with a scripting language like Python and then to C, a system programming language. He may discover he doesn’t like coding but prefers Photoshop and 3D modeling, so he returns to them with determination.  He asks to take more art classes to become better with digital art software.  He has landed on an interesting technical island for the interim.

When my son decided to start learning the programming language C# (“C-sharp”), he asked me to learn a language too. I liked the idea, because it would naturally draw me closer to the challenges he would face learning programming.  I selected Python, because I had learned in my five-minute-per-day-incremental-research that Python was a commonly-used language that required fewer lines of code to achieve the same end (because it is a ‘scripting’ language).  It still gave us new language concepts to share at dinner. We compared notes about the punctuation that goes at the end of each line. We discussed how integers were scripted in Python compared to C.

On this path, your teen will learn concepts that extend what he is learning in math (vectors; X, Y & Z axes, etc.) and grammar (syntax of coding, parsing, etc.). Foreign languages will seem less intractable because he is selecting command choices based on the requirements of his new computer language of choice.  Science is more intriguing as he realizes he needs to learn about RAM and ROM to make sense of his software’s technical requirements.  Comprehension is practiced because he’s reading technical manuals or blog posts about a program he wants to use. Writing essays may include topics related to his technological experiences and tools.  Motivation becomes more intrinsic, because he is intrigued by his own exploration, which spurs him forward on projects of his own design.

How does understanding this continuum help you?  You recognize when to direct him and when to let him run.  This freedom allows him to gradually explore more and more on his own creative terms. It provides a technical education on his own terms too.  It will be a wonderful complement to his regular education (not that you can really separate the two).

In Chip Engram’s book Finding God, he references Psalm 32:8 to declare: “I assure you that if you will come to the place where you are honestly willing to do whatever God directs you to do, he will show you what to do 100 percent of the time.” It strikes me that this is true even in technical support of our teens.  If you sense God is supporting your teen’s technical interests, He will show you what to do, whom to ask.  God already knows all about Python and Minecraft servers and system programming languages.  He is not behind the technology curve.  He will point the way for your family to learn, both children and parents, that which is useful to your education, mission and lives. He will counsel you with His loving eye on your family.  Don’t forget to ask Him every day what you need to know. Let Him select your Google searches, and in no time you will find that supporting your teen on his technical path is what you never thought it could be—EASY.

To read the first blog post of this two-part piece, click here.

Photo by Wade Morgen via Compfight

Tracking Your Teen on His Technical Path

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Which Way is His Technical Path Leading Him?

Staples® may have an EASY button.  But if your teen has a technical bent you lack, a BEWILDERED button may feel more apt.  Wouldn’t it be great to punch BEWILDERED to call on little technical trolls who would direct your child  to the perfect next tool on their personalized technical trajectory?  Now that would be EASY!

So your teen is wading into technical waters beyond your own experience.  He is on a technical trajectory but you can’t see where it’s heading. Does the bright glare of the screen have you frozen in place, wondering how to direct him? (By “him” I also mean her.)  I have been there.  It is easy to distract for a day or a season with another field trip or an elective class. But then he is back, asking you how he can pursue coding, video game development, digital art, or animation. Or how he can take it to the next level. Is your “techy teen” (as I will call him) in limbo waiting for you to agree to a clear direction or next technical step?

He wants to build a Minecraft server; won’t that invite viruses into our home network? 

She wants to use Adobe Photoshop but I hear it’s complex; I wouldn’t know how to help her. And isn’t it expensive?

He is already coding in Python but wants to learn C. Is that a class worth paying for?

You Learn…to Help Him Learn

Your journey toward supporting your teen’s developing (or deepening) technical interests starts with a single step: into the muck. This post will recommend you wade in shallow but muddy waters for the foreseeable future—and don’t expect the gunk on your boots to dry.  Practice being tolerant of becoming more and more aware of knowing what you don’t know.

As a function of having regular conversations with your techy teen, it will be natural to hear from him about technical topics and inclinations you likely don’t understand. Interests that seem complex to explore. Or, he may already be exploring, and he may divulge technical dilemmas that are slowing down his progress.

Here’s a suggestion:  After one such conversation, spend about five minutes researching the topic at issue. Even if you only understand half of it, you will begin to gain a general understanding, a valuable foundation. You may even find the answer your teen is looking for (because of your more practiced research skills).  Later that evening you can share what you’ve learned.  And even if your teen corrects your understanding, it will begin to build a technical rapport between you. Let that conversation then direct your next fact-finding step.

Your Teen May Be Running…While You Are Taking Baby Steps

Through these iterations, you will come to realize the depth of your teen’s own knowledge about coding, 3D modeling, animation, motion graphics or digital art—and you will deduce other ways your teen needs technical (software or hardware) support. He may be trying to run at full speed, while you feel like you’re taking baby steps behind him. That’s okay, because no one learned how to run without taking those first steps. After all, it’s his passion, not necessarily yours. So forgive yourself for moving more slowly.  Because once you’ve taken those initial steps, you’ll find yourself moving faster and faster yourself.

To actually conduct your regular five-minute fact-finding forays, frame to yourself the clearest technical question that comes to mind, such as:

What does she mean ‘3D modeling?

Are there really free versions of some kinds of software—and what do I call that?

I don’t know the first thing about animation but that’s all he talks about!

Next, perform a simple online search to find an answer by keying in a keyword or phrase:

What is 3D modeling? Like this. The first entry may be a simple definition that answers your question or hints at what keyword you should research next.

What is free software called? Like this. You may need to scroll down a few entries to understand term distinctions. But you are off and running.

Difference between animation and motion graphics. Like this. You may find a Lynda.com training video or a blog that paints a broader picture of your topic.

By the way, don’t hesitate to use Wikipedia as a resource (surreptitiously, of course, so that you won’t undo all your training about requiring “legitimate” sources for his academic reports!).  Wikipedia often has lucid topic overviews that help you quickly grasp concepts and their constructs.  In the answer lie a dozen new questions. Accept that as inevitable.  Whether you have found the answer or found new questions, you will have learned something pertinent that may answer tomorrow’s question. Spend another five minutes the next day. Just enough to get a glimpse of the forest for the trees. Or just enough to see one tree, if that’s what you need. If you start feeling stressed after just a few minutes, stop until your patience returns. Eventually you will aggregate general knowledge about the technical arena in which your teen is playing.  And you will start to recognize potential next steps for him.

Keep Moving Ahead…Your Teen Needs You

Continue to venture out into the muck, despite your intermittent confusion.  As you eventually wade in deeper, you will begin to uncover resources that seem to fit your teen’s need.  Before you know it, you will have begun to understand the technical trajectory to which your teen is drawn (e.g., he enjoys coding, he prefers artistic programs, he likes creating digital stories, etc.).   And you will be moving in a positive direction. As his technical trajectory is revealed, you will be led to a deeper exploration of your teen’s thought processes, interests, capabilities, talents and dreams. It could help your teen discover the technical path to which God may be leading him.

I noticed a continuum of support that I was being called on to give as I facilitated my own son’s technical forays. You will probably recognize yourself somewhere on this continuum; it likely depends on your child’s age or his passion for the subject.   It starts at Initiator and ends at Influencer, with a morphing role in between.

To read about this continuum, see that post here.

cc - Tracking Your Teen on His Technical Path Photo by Steve Snodgrass via Compfight

Cast Out Fear

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Fear Feels Cold…Like A Minnesota Winter

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Tim 1:7)  Although we may think of this verse when we contemplate witnessing about the power of Christ in our lives, we might do well to remember it when we think of our responsibilities for managing our child’s technology habits.  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 Gaben 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, a movie making tool). Animators practice software skills to collaborate on multi-media projects, whether it be in television, in video game studios or in the broader software industry. What is to fear about his self-initiative and independent learning on software that is in high demand?

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: 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 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.

If your child seems to be moving faster—technologically speaking—than you, slow him down, 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.”

A Little Byte: Socialize

942815708 23448cd769 - A Little Byte: SocializeAre you wearing a Comedy Mask, happy that your child is contentedly playing a video game and not under your feet? Or do you don the Tragedy Mask because you are acutely self-conscious that you may be limiting your child’s own creative and imaginative play by allowing videogames? No doubt you have read the ubiquitous sage advice suggesting that videogames be turned off to allow a child’s natural curiosity and creativity to develop. Yet something holds you back.

If you are a stay-at-home parent, your intrinsic need to make social connections may be assuaged vicariously through your child’s online playing. This could override any thought of creating downtime for your child to awaken to his creative impulses.  Our own need for relationship building may make us more comfortable hearing them in cooperative play, even if it is virtual cooperative play. You may prefer the sound of children playing online to the quiet of their building a robot or writing a story alone.

Consider recognizing your own need for social connection, comparing it to your child’s need, and taking active steps to generate social opportunities outside of video game play.  Neighborhoods across America are filled with children with “no one to play with” because potential playmates are sitting inside at their consoles.

At the very least, meeting these children may mean a new online “friend” who’s at least someone they might later run into on your block.

Photo by Johnson Cameraface via Compfight

 

A Little Byte: Curate

4187949970 224516613c - A Little Byte: CurateWhat do you see when you frame your family’s computer with your fingers and squint?  Seurat’s Sunday on La Grand Jatte? A chaotic Jackson Pollack?  A Steve Jobs original? A Disney collectible? Munch’s The Scream? It’s likely no two parents will agree on what having technology in the picture looks like to a child’s social, educational, emotional and physical development. For example, a reasonable amount of social time online for an only child may be different than for a child who has multiple siblings with which to interact. How do you need to frame and position your family’s use of technology so that it allows them to thrive? It’s easy to be the critic–much harder to be a curator.

Photo by cc - A Little Byte: Curate seyed mostafa zamani via Compfight

He Said, He Said

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Misinterpreted Messages Can Create an Angry Storm in the Headset

The modern version of the playground fight is happening all across America in TV rooms and bedrooms harboring players of action/adventure games.

Jimmy:  (bluntly) “Oh, you jerk! Why’d you kill me! Now I’m going to go into the building and get more ammo!” (Now absorbed again into the game and away from any conscious understanding of the social consequences coming his way).

Johnny: (offended) Jerk? You think I’m a jerk? I thought we were friends!

Jimmy:  (still distracted) “What do you mean ‘jerk’? I never called you a jerk!

Johnny:  (with righteous indignation) You liar! Yes, you did!

He said, he said.  Distracted communication during video game play leads to misunderstanding and name calling, anger and confusion, and loss of civility and friendliness. “Headset friendships” are prone to such miscommunication.

On the playground an adult may notice the brewing problem and step in to mediate.  If you have designed the game play area in your home so that you may remain actively parenting during that time, you also have a chance to mediate. Unpleasant exchanges often rear suddenly. Corral them firmly in your hands. Turn them into real teaching moments.  Help your child turn an obtuse communication style into one that is more aware.  Or a sense of righteous indignation into a more forgiving stance. Share with them the words to say to diffuse a situation in a grace-filled manner.

You may have originally planned on a “better” use of your time just then. But, really, there isn’t a better use of your time–unless it is saving the family kitty from being drowned in the toilet by your 2-year old.  When communication conflicts start like Jimmy and Johnny’s did, you have the perfect opportunity to train in civility and Christ-like behavior.  Granted, the blustery situation  may abate of its own accord in short order, maybe even without serious injury between friends on that occasion, but the child will miss your valuable training and a compass for improved communication.

Consider these steps you can take; you may have found yourself taking them already.

(1) Sit near the action and listen. Notice areas where your child needs correction. Since All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16), draw upon Scripture for the best admonition for the moment.

(2) Coach your child as the conflict ensues. He can mute his headphone while you instruct him to change his tone of voice, word choice or argument angle.  Proverbs 15:1-2 tells us

1 A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

2 The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge,
but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.

I once spent thirty minutes working through a complicated he said, he said, and it ended well because I took the time to listen, talk, and train.  I offered my son questions that impelled him to consider the answers–answers that would lead him forward to a conciliatory or cooperative outcome.  Through this process he began integrating the skill of asking himself questions–Is it possible I misunderstood? Is it possible I didn’t hear him correctly? Is it possible I am reading into what was said? Is it possible I’m overreacting? Is it possible my friend is hurting about something else and I need to be patient? The list is nearly endless.

(3) Be willing to listen to your child’s argument justification and the solution he brings to the moment.  Push him gently toward biblical behavioral choices.  Your concordance will lead you to verses useful in these moments, such as those under ANGER, ANXIOUS, and AVOID.  And those are just the A’s.

(4) If your child won’t attempt to understand or address the problem of his own accord, calmly tell him he must stop playing if he can’t be friendly, reasonable, and forgiving.

(5) If the mix-up occurred through a flurry of Sent messages instead of through headphones, read his Sent messages with him.  You can learn a lot about his style of problem resolution and counsel him accordingly. You may also want to read with him his Received messages and help him interpret them. He may be misunderstanding them or reading too much into them.  Help him recognize the point at which a misunderstanding can’t possibly be relived and/or undone and that forgiveness is needed. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matthew 6:14).  Help him grasp the humility required to forgive and move on.  

When you stand beside your child, helping him resolve his online interpersonal conflicts, you teach him biblical principles of humility, forgiveness and love, and in the process you are also training the child up so that he can learn a Godly style of communicating.

Now that that’s done, it might be a good time to check on the cat.

Photo by Niccolò Ubalducci via Compfight

Tweens and Technology: Attitude to Boot

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If your tween has been allowed to play action-adventure video games for a few hours at a time on a regular basis, you may have noticed a little residual defensiveness oozing beyond the boundaries of that arena.

As tweens begin to feel the insecurity of early adolescence, they are sensitive about receiving even subtle judgments from their peers. So they sit ‘on guard’ as they play these games.  The game environment itself is typically all about protecting virtual ‘people,’ property, and places. Combining prepubescence and the gaming environment elicits a protective need to defend themselves.

It’s a self-preservation they may forget to turn off in the relative safety of their own interactions with their family.  They may need your encouragement to “chill.”

–          Notice if they speak with you or their siblings as if they are talking with impersonal avatars.

–          Hearing too much bluster from them?  Reminding them to approach their conversations with humility and self-control may become necessary.  Help them practice civility to counter the virtual incivility that they often experience.

–          Is their growing cynicism and sarcasm wearing you thin? Do you wish they would drop their tough exterior act?   Let them know how much you appreciate when they act with sincerity, confidence and trust.

While these negative behaviors seem to be protective mechanisms in response to dealing with the online environment, they don’t translate very prettily to real life relationships.

What occurs is not a surprise, if you have paid some attention to your child’s play online.  After all, you will have noticed that a simple online mistake can bring him the wrath of an entire Minecraft server community. To him there is a lot at stake.  All the more reason to continue your efforts to draw him into diverse social contexts and interests that involve real human beings in bodily proximity.

Even if your child is an introvert, now is the age to help him gain practice and comfort level with others. Draw him toward relationships of acceptance and simple fun—ones in which he doesn’t feel so personally at risk.  Allow him the visceral feeling of safety and security with a caring family and embodied friends with whom he can laugh and talk and find acceptance.

Photo by Andrew Becraft via Compfight