Let’s be honest. The last few years have not been an ideal time for any of our families. High anxiety, cultural tensions, economic downturns, health issues, technology habits/addictions, and so much more have made this quite an overwhelming season for most of us. As we start a new school year and gear up for the fall season, most of us are thinking about developing new patterns and habits across the board but especially with our use of technology. Given our over dependence on social media and these tools for so many aspects of life, we all could likely use a reset in our relationship with technology.
The first step in resetting our relationship with technology is to recognize the influence of these tools and how they are ultimately discipling us or shaping how we view the world around us. It is far too easy to just see technology as simply a tool that we use as we desire and then put down without being changed by it. While technology itself is not evil or bad, it does influence and changes us with each swipe and notification. These tools are designed to be used in certain ways and they can easily alter the way we see God, ourselves, and the world around us. They are also discipling our teenagers in deep and subtle ways that can be both incredibly dangerous but also beneficial when used with wisdom.
As parents, we are called by God to disciple our children but what do we do when the device attached to their hand is with them more than we are? Part of discipling our teenagers and raising up the next generation is helping them to see how these tools are subtly changing them, whether it is through the constant need to perform or look a certain way online, a longing for likes and affection, or even an envious desire for the things that the algorithms are trying to sell them all day, every day.
Having open and honest conversations about the role and influence of technology in our lives can be the first step in lasting change, because through these little ongoing conversations we can be trained to see both the good and the bad of technology as we seek to disciple our children to love God and love our neighbors above themselves (Matt. 22:37-39).
With a new season upon us, we all often set ambitious goals for ourselves and our teenagers. We make bold proclamations about how we are going to put our phones in another room at night, institute “no phone” weekends, and often drastically reduce screen time. While many of these things might be good and right for your family, I caution you from making grand declarations of change because you will misstep and give in at some point. You need to be able to extend grace when you and those around you fail. The letdown from failing often causes you to fall right back into the same old habits soon after a new season begins.
We can’t expect our personal or even our families’ habits to change overnight, just like the habits themselves did not form overnight. Taking small steps like cutting back a little screen time each day or beginning with a single meal a week without screens can help you and your teen to build long lasting habits formed over many months and years. You have to build up to lasting change and be honest with one another in order to stay accountable. Your children often know much more about your technology habits than you do as they see countless ways you interact with these tools each day. It is often easier to see bad habits in others than to notice your own (Matt. 7:5). You must be in this together, because mom and dad are just as likely to have unhealthy habits with our devices as our teenagers. Your children seeing you trying to make changes will also encourage them to stay on the path of incremental changes as we all seek to reset our habit with technology in this new season.
To learn more, check out Jason’s book, Following Jesus in a Digital Age, which is available here.
Jason Thacker serves as chair of research in technology ethics at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is the author of Following Jesus in a Digital Age (B&H Publishing, 2022) and The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity (Zondervan, 2020). His work has been featured at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Slate, World Magazine, and Politico. He writes and speaks on various topics including human dignity, ethics, technology, and artificial intelligence.
He is a graduate of The University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies. He also holds a Master of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is currently pursuing a PhD in Ethics and Public Theology. He serves as a founding member of AI and Faith, as well as a fellow at the ERLC Research Institute.