“Honestly, I don’t know what I would do.”
This was an honest confession from my neighbor about kids and screens. She and I were sitting on my front porch in the sweltering Texas heat. Jeanne is wise in her years, especially after raising 4 children as a single mother. But, the one feeling that came back to her was: exhaustion. A feeling we can all relate to. As she reflected on her experiences as a mother, she admitted that for a moment of peace and rest, she would have been very tempted to hand over a screen.
Screens have become one of the strongest temptations Christian parents face.
Our high-tech world is tempting us with ease, entertainment, and convenience. Our sleek and sexy devices too easily seduce us. Like Eve, who caved quickly to temptation, our eyes are opened to how easy life can be when our child is entertained by someone – or something – else. Without a conscious thought, we outsource our parenting to the device, the internet, and the world. Notably, we don’t call it outsourcing. We prefer the more PC term: recreational screen time. But if major corporations and small start-ups can outsource what they don’t have the time or skill set to accomplish, can’t this same strategy work for parents?
Outsource parenting is allowing someone or something to fulfill the job you were called to do: love, teach, and discipline your child. These job responsibilities aren’t optional or outside our abilities. You are fully equipped to raise your child, despite what you believe about yourself. Therefore, you must fulfill your calling. Yes, of course, it is easier to outsource the hard work to a screen. But, what does it cost your children?
Research continues to reveal the long-term consequences of children on screens. Early and excessive screen use causes: memory loss, decreased emotional control, increased apathy, less empathy, and speech and language delays.
Outsourcing always has a cost – even for the parents.
As parents, we forgo our transformation – that is, our sanctification into a more Christ-like appearance. The trials of parenting are a means to transform us. In contrast, the world offers ease, entertainment, and convenience which only conforms us to a more worldly image.
Outsourcing cheapens the blessing of obedience and weakens our usefulness for kingdom work.
Undeniably, there is no other job on earth that forces us to grow under the pressure like parenting does. A life without hardships, will not mature (Romans 5:3-4). Without the pressure and hardships of loving, teaching, and disciplining children, what character will we have? These trials are meant to transform us.
Consider these common scenarios:
–> Your toddler is screaming in public. Your patience and humility can be cultivated when you love, teach, and discipline in front of watchful eyes. This scenario helps press you into a deeper dependency on the Lord. It offers you opportunity to love as He loves. Alternatively, you can outsource soothing and comfort to a screen. The opportunity to teach and be transformed is lost.
–> Your teenage daughter and her phone. As her parent you know authentic, life-giving relationships don’t occur through a screen so you firmly require phone-free socialization time. She verbally rebels, which brings tension and division into the home. Respect and perseverance can blossom if you remain strong, hold your firm boundaries, and trust that your daughter’s relationships will be better for it. Or, the more convenient choice, you can give up the fight and permit her to have the phone 24/7. Here, the conflict is outsourced to the screen. Temporarily, you may restore peace and unity, but you have forgone a life-long transformation.
God wants to use parents in His kingdom work. To do the kingdom work, we must first be transformed. Therefore, we cannot allow what is intended to transform us to be sedated by ease, entertainment, and convenience.
Tragically, neither children nor parents will have the character required to fully participate in God’s kingdom work if we continue to outsource.
Woe to us and the pacified life we have chosen.
Parents must contemplate the future ramifications of outsourcing and, in turn, the lack of transformation. Will we have wisdom to help the next generation of parents get through the long days of toddler-hood or teenagers? Could we walk along-side our brothers and sisters in Christ offering encouragement or wise counsel? Will we be able to provide a testimony of Jesus Christ in our lives? Will we be able to see the Lord work in our child’s life?
Or will we only encourage more outsourcing? Will we further impair the parent-child relationship and diminish disciple making because the ONLY thing we know how to do is hand over a screen?
The early parents in the Bible have testimonies that prove persevering through parenting is both doable and worthy of our time. Noah resisted the pervasive and absolute evil around him as he raised his three sons (Gen 6:5-8). Imagine what would have happened if Noah had out-sourced his parenting to the exorbitantly sinful people that surrounded his family? Likewise, what would Abraham’s testimony be if he hadn’t endured the heartache of obedience, carrying Isaac up Mount Moriah to be sacrificed (Gen 22)? The continual spread of the gospel and disciple making may have come to a halt if the apostle Paul had outsourced the spiritual fatherhood of Timothy elsewhere. These testimonies should transform us. Most importantly, they should shift our gaze to the kingdom instead of the world.
The front line held between our children and the world has completely slacked under temptation. What should be a firm boundary is an open gate. Too many of us have not filtered the content or consequences of convenient technology through the Bible to see what remains. If we do not close the gate our children will be indistinguishable from the world. They will have access to the world and the world will have access to them – all at a fingers touch. What will a child of the world look like?
- Mass consumer – Buying into whatever is popular and sold through influential advertisers.
- Gluttonous – Selfish pursuits of whatever feels good, which is generally more screen consumption.
- Immoral – Pornography will corrupt their relationships, sexuality, and identity.
- Hateful – Bullying, shaming, and trolling is normal relational tools.
- Poor Communicators – Unable to speak face to face, the gospel message ceases to spread in first world countries.
The dividends of hard work are life altering transformations into the image of Jesus Christ. This should be our heart’s desire!
Our transformation will allow us to be mentors; as a result, offer wise counsel to future generations of parents. Perseverance will develop as we keep our front lines firm, protecting our children’s character. We will become a parent willing do the hard work of loving, teaching, and disciplining. Like my wise and encouraging neighbor who has been there. She will be the first to tell you, it is worth the hard work. Like the parents of the Bible, keep your children close to you.
Resist the ease, entertainment, and convenience, of outsource parenting. Love your children in authentic relationship. Teach them diligently. Discipline them to develop godly character. Resisting your parental responsibilities as you conform to culture results in a loss of healthy transformation – for parents and children alike.