Parenting has always been tough. But technology, social media and the virtual space have added nuance and complexity to the job of raising kids. Our generation, born in the 70’s and 80’s, had front row seats to the rise of the digital age. We’re probably the only generation of people who’ve actually used both a card catalog and a networked computer to do research at our school library.
Our kids, on the other hand, are born with code in their blood. If you need proof, just watch a baby play with an iPhone. Our kids now hold some of the most powerful, elegant and intuitive computers ever built, literally, in the palm of their hands.
Right now, we’re at a threshold where technology is a second language to parents but a native tongue to their kids. Even the most tech savvy of us often feel we’re at a disadvantage to monitor, protect and guide our kids through the minefield that is the Internet.
With every new software, model, mode and media, we feel we need fresh, nuanced instructions for how to parent. Every time a new Social Media outlet dawns, it raises the battle cry from vigilant moms and dads. We should, by all means, stay informed, involved and vigilant. Yet, I know a large portion of parents simply withdraw because they feel like their parenting strategies are always chasing a constantly changing threat.
Does it help to know that ancient wisdom still applies? Does it ease your mind to know that human beings really haven’t changed that much? God’s Word stayed true through the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and the World Wars. God’s Word is true in the Digital Age.
We don’t need a special instruction manual to parent in the Digital Age. We just need grace, truth and the Holy Spirit.
In that vein, I share the “4 Digital Laws” that my husband and I drill into our kids’ heads and hearts as they merge onto the digital highway every morning:
#1- Behind every profile, avatar, post and program is a real person whom Jesus loves.
God’s Word teaches that the greatest commandments are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Our job as Christian parents is to do our best to live out our faith by loving God and loving people and to raise our kids to treat others the way God treats them. We expect our kids to treat everyone online with the same standards of kindness, respect and grace as they do face to face.
It also follows that because we are dealing with real people online, they are going to fall into a spectrum of beliefs, backgrounds, values and behavior. We shouldn’t assume that everyone will treat us with the same kindness, respect and grace, but even that shouldn’t change how we act. Yet, teaching our kids to set and enforce boundaries and to know that not everyone is a “safe person”, encourages them to be “wise as serpents, but innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
#2- You are never anonymous.
Evil, unkindness and stupidity all thrive in the darkness. People can do awful things when they think they’re invisible. We can hide for a while behind firewalls and proxy IP’s but if someone is looking, they can always find us. We teach our kids this principal because it’s the digital iteration of “Be sure your sins will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23) The reality that you are never truly anonymous provides accountability, and we all benefit from a little more of that.
#3- Data lives forever.
“Delete” is a myth. Nothing is ever truly erased. There is a record of everything we do, post, send and say on the Internet…ESPECIALLY PHOTOS! And, now that nearly every device we use is wirelessly connected to The Cloud, if we use a device to take a photo or video, or to create content, we must assume that it is now part of that eternal data, and we can’t ever take it back. All of this data follows us forever and can be accessed by anyone who wants to know who we truly are…like future employers and spouses!
We all make mistakes, both small and serious. The Internet never erases our sins, but fortunately for all of us, Jesus does. With repentance, God casts their sins, “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12)
#4- Character matters online just like everywhere else.
Who our kids are online is only an extension of who they are at their core. Now more than ever, digital relationships are real relationships. Our kids’ digital life is their real life. There’s very little distinction between the two realms. Our kids’ default programs should be faith, integrity, poise, disciplines, endurance and courage. When we build character into our kids’ hearts, we are installing the tools they will need to live a moral life whether the dilemmas they face exist in the physical or digital world.
None of these new challenges have caught God by surprise. He promises to “equip us for every good deed,” (2 Timothy 3:17) which includes preparing our children to not only survive but thrive in the digital age. For more on building the character traits of faith, integrity, poise, disciplines, endurance and courage into your children, check out the book, Raising Kids Who Turn Out Right.