Special Privileges

The older kids in our household get lots of special privileges.

They are trusted to stir the bubbling pots before things get burned. 

And their services are often required to check the food in the microwave.  Ouch!  Better wear an oven mitt--that might be hot!

They also get to coach PE on a regular basis.  Whatever Big Sissy says, goes.

Except when it doesn't.  Then the Tickle Monster comes out.

After all, special privileges have their own rewards.


Picking the Apple: How We Are Parenting Technology

I have been thinking long and hard about a famous story.  The story goes like this:
There was once an apple that changed the world, but not for the better.  That apple gave humans access to the knowledge of good and evil, and it destroyed our most valued relationships, with God and with each other.

 No---wait.  That's not the story I want to tell.  It goes more like this:
There was once an Apple that changed the world, but not for the better.  That Apple gave humans access to the knowledge of good and evil, and it destroyed our most valued relationships, with God and with each other.
Pretend like this cool pic has iPhones, Mini's, and iPads,
not innocent little nanos and shuffles.  I happen to love the music playing options.

I know this post is starting out a bit radical.  Maybe I am becoming a radical, although I've always viewed myself as a fairly normal, mainstream kind of gal.  The thing is--I find myself trying to forge a new path through the technology wilderness in an era when technology is a silent and often unacknowledged danger.  I'm no published expert on the speaker circuit, just a mere foot soldier in the battle.  But for the public record, I'd like to report the truth as I see it happening from the front lines of modern parenting.

We do own Apple products, in fact my 40th birthday gift was an iPad.  I've found that my daughter (7th grade) could care less about gaming or goofing around on touch screen technology and dislikes even reading on the Kindle.  She does do computer programming and a little game coding on the laptop, but this is a "creative" tool for her.  In other words, she uses technology not for entertainment, but as one would use a brush and paints:  to make something new out of nothing.  I'm all for that kind of activity.

My son (5th grade), however, loves to do anything that involves computer gaming.  He used to be hooked on the Wii, and when we got the iPad, he started small with apps like Scribble and Pop Math, which seemed innocent enough.  But all addictions start small, don't they?   Ask any addict of anything at all how it started, and I'll wager it was with something simple and seemingly safe.

With my son, he initially found himself mesmerized by the bright flashing features, the cool sounds, the constant motion on the screen.  Then he was sucked into gaming even deeper by his natural inclination to be loyal, even loyal to a digital team. The push notifications asking him to come back to play or telling him his troops were ready for battle (Clash of Clans) were like an alcoholic smelling the beer from outside the bar.  Despite his inner desire to restrain himself, he was constantly lured in for more (Romans 7:19).

I thought it was just a boy's fun.  That is, until I got my Visa bill one day and there were many, many charges of $9.99, $50, $100, that came to almost $3,000, all charged to my iTunes account that month.  I thought for sure my account had been hacked.  I only have bought a few songs here and there through the years, never anything more than a dollar or so a month.  Looking back, I was such a sucker to let a naive little boy on something as powerful as touch technology linked to a credit card account. 

The source was Baseball Superstars, which I thought it was a simple sports app, but that was a completely wrong assumption.  Doing more research after the fact, I discovered it really targets adult gamers and addictive gambler types.  As he got more advanced in the game, he was being asked to buy his team new uniforms on Baseball Superstars, give them massages, help them with special practices, all of which were bought with "points" that he thought were earned during the game but in reality were REAL LIVE MONEY being charged to my card.  Ouch and double ouch.

The slithering snake of deception, the one that preys on the young and vulnerable, reached right through that iPhone and bit me hard.

We warned him about passwords and such, gave him punishments of various sorts, and restricted the technology in his life (and he has never owned his own touch technology, just to be clear), but again and again we would see him fall into the same patterns of an addict: thinking about gaming the first thing when he woke up, sneaking my phone, hiding in the bathroom, lying to me.  If you know him, you would likely agree that these characteristics are not at all reflective of his usual personality.

To save him from himself, he is now off technology completely.  What else could we logically do?  There cannot be "a little on the weekend" or "just on the car trip."   He cannot take a single sip or he will fall off the wagon again.  It's a hard line to take as a parent when this very technology surrounds him, resides in his home, and permeates the lives of his friends.

Why so radical, you say?

Because touch technology will rob him of everything good in his life if we don't stand firm.

It will rob him of laughing in the kitchen with me, fully engaged and present in the conversation.  It will rob him of good academics and quiet times alone when he can think and reflect.  It will dissolve the lasting richness of in-person friendships and the satisfying small moments of wrestling around with his brother and talking football strategy with his dad.  It will rob him of nothing less than joy.

Kyle Strobel put it this way:
I think one of the most difficult aspects of being an American Christian is trusting that Jesus is right and that our culture is selling us something that ultimately isn’t a valid way to be joyful — and is actually the very thing that destroys joy. 
I love him too much to let him eat the Apple, only to be consumed whole by it in return.  Shockingly, apparently Steve Jobs agrees with me.  Did you know he didn't allow his own children to use the very iPad he created?  It's true--read it here.

And what of my son's friends and my daughter's friends, all of whom own touch technology?  That is for their parents to decide, but for now I am firm that my children will not go on overnights with children who have these products to use freely.  I will not have my son in a friend's basement, essentially unsupervised, with his buddy's iPad Mini where they will have access to things like pornography at a single tap.  While I absolutely cannot see my son initiating this kind of behavior, wouldn't it be easy for the other kids present to pull up?  I try to be very in touch with him, but how in the world can I possibly know and trust the private thought lives of his (also immature and vulnerable) friends?

Moreover, I find that I am in the thin sliver of minority when it comes to parenting technology and social media.  I ask other parents out of curiosity: "Why does such-and-such own this?  What are you thoughts on him/her having it?"  Or "Is this username trying to friend me on Instagram your son/daughter?"  One reply I hear frequently: "Well, they begged me to get them an account, so it's okay that they are under the age allowed on Instagram." Or I also am told, "Johnny bought it with his own allowance that he saved for a whole year, so how could I say no?"  Which leads me to my next question, one that I hardly ever ask aloud but put before myself on a regular basis: "Who is in God-given control of this relationship?  You or your child?"

I may sound alarmist, but my mama instinct is sounding off that there is untold danger of the self-inflicted kind ahead for my children's generation.  Although The Screwtape Letters was published in 1942, C.S. Lewis sounds downright contemporary in writing:
It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.  Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.  Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
Or, if I may be so bold as to add on to Master Lewis:
Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle glowing screen, the easy to use apps, the smooth digital world without sudden jolts, without thinking minds, without limits on knowledge or images, without the Holy Spirit, without love....
So, how about you, fellow parents?  How do you manage this complicated issue in your home?

Food for thought: 
how would you describe someone who boldly holds out an Apple to us that he won't 
even allow in his own children's hands within his own home?