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The Face Of Modern Child Neglect

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This winds me up like nothing else. Earlier this year, after giving a Benedict Option speech at a school, parents told me that some other parents they knew were buying their first graders Internet-connected smartphones. Now, what do you imagine that this poor little kid in Karen Swallow Prior’s tweet is telling her friends at school? What do you imagine she’s sharing with them when they get together to play with smartphones?

Don’t you wonder where this kind of thing (reported by the BBC) [3] comes from?:

Anna – not her real name – considered having labiaplasty from the age of 14.

“I just picked up from somewhere that it wasn’t neat enough or tidy enough and I think I wanted it to be smaller.

“People around me were watching porn and I just had this idea that it should be symmetrical and not sticking out.

“I thought that was what everyone else looked like, because I hadn’t seen any normal everyday [images] before then.

“I remember thinking, ‘If there’s surgery for it, then clearly I’m not the only one who wants this done, and maybe it won’t be that big a deal.’.”

More:

Paquita de Zulueta, a GP for more than 30 years, said it was only in the past few years that girls had started coming to her with concerns over the appearance of their labia.

“I’m seeing young girls around 11, 12, 13 thinking there’s something wrong with their vulva – that they’re the wrong shape, the wrong size, and really expressing almost disgust.

“Their perception is that the inner lips should be invisible, almost like a Barbie, but the reality is that there is a huge variation. It’s very normal for the lips to protrude.”

Here’s part of what I wrote about this phenomenon in The Benedict Option [4]:

My wife once asked a new Christian friend why she homeschools her children, given that they live in a good public school district. Said the friend, “The day my fifth-grade son came home from school and said his friends were watching hardcore porn on their smartphones was the day my husband and I made the call.” It wasn’t the school’s fault. Smartphones were forbidden there. The boys were accessing pornography on their free time—and there wasn’t a thing school authorities could do about it.

When parents hand their children small portable computers with virtually unlimited access to the Internet, they should not be surprised when their kids—especially their sons—dive into pornography. Unfortunately, with boys at least, it’s in the nature of the hormone-jacked beast. Moms and dads who would never leave their kids unattended in a room full of pornographic DVDs think nothing of handing them smartphones. This is morally insane.

No adolescent or young teenager should be expected to have the self-control to say no. Earlier in this book, we discussed the catastrophic impacts pornography can have on the brains of addicts. According to the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, 93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls have seen online pornography in adolescence.12 It may be impossible to guard their eyes constantly, but it is irresponsible of parents not to try. Plus, parents in peer groups should work together to enforce a smartphone ban among their kids.

I am getting radical on this issue. There are many, many parents who send their kids to Christian schools, or to classical Christian schools, because they want them to be in a supposedly Christian environment, somewhat insulated from the morally chaotic popular culture — but give them smartphones. I have to wonder, what do they think they’re doing?! Schools cannot be the only ones to police this. Parents have to build an anti-smartphone culture for their kids, and help each other stick to it. Eventually the kid will become older teenagers, but one hopes that they will have been morally formed to have self-restraint when it comes to pornography access on the thing.

If you’re a parent who gives your small child or adolescent a smartphone, or in some other way gives them unfettered access to tech, you had better ask yourself how you would feel if your child were the granddaughter in KSP’s tweet. The fault here is not the child’s. It falls directly on the parents, who are destroying these kids’ childhoods.

Question to readers: have any of you tried to build an anti-smartphone culture in your church or school? Has it worked? Why or why not? Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated. I can see that we’re going to have to try to do this in our school.

Everybody should read Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family [5]by the way.

UPDATE: Reader Jay M.:

It consistently amazes my wife and I how many otherwise sane, thoughtful, deeply committed Christian parents desperately try to avoid engaging about this issue. We homeschool our two oldest daughters (11 and 10) and send our youngest son (7) to a private classical Christian elementary school. We are Orthodox Christians and work hard to center our family’s daily and weekly rhythm around the life of the Church and our social life in the lives of fellow Christians. But even so, we are regularly flabbergasted at how many of our daughters’ peers have smartphones. My wife recently went out with a group of women and when she talked about our commitment to no smartphones for our kids she was hit with a barrage of “Oh just you wait till they really start begging for it!”, “You know you’re only gonna make your kids feel ostracized or like they’re weird,” or other such comments from all sides. These were good, committed Christian women who are not lackadaisical about their faith (who send their kids to private Christian school or homeschool them), but on this issue most of the women literally refused to listen to anything my wife tried to say. A few were willing to grant that they felt guilty about giving their kids smartphones, even that they knew it was probably not good for them, but gosh it’s just so hard to say no and, well, other parents would look at us like we’re freaks and all. Rod, I’ve heard these same comments myself and I cannot remotely understand this. I want to scream at these people, “What the hell is wrong with you?! Your know that handing that smartphone over is rife with danger but you do it anyway because you’re more scared of other grown-ups thinking you’re weird than you are of your son becoming a porn addict? Of your daughter getting a warped view of her own body? Of your kid becoming yet another social media addict who can’t manage a relationship with anyone that’s not mediated through a screen?” We have a number of friends even who love to talk about the Benedict Option, who are often very intentional in creating local Christian community and encouraging each other’s families, but who just do not want to talk at all about what your book has to say about technology. We can talk about combating the mess of public education and helping each other give our kids Christian and classical education. We can talk all night long about grounding our family lives in the rhythm of the Church year, in the Liturgy, about introducing our kids to the lives of the saints, about moving closer together and keeping in close proximity to the parish. But talk about taking a hard look at restricting or re-thinking and changing our tech-habits? Nah, we can’t go there; that’s too radical.

45 Comments (Open | Close)

45 Comments To "The Face Of Modern Child Neglect"

#1 Comment By Surly On July 7, 2017 @ 11:23 am

It only takes a couple of families to quietly say “no” to whatever is going on. I ruined my daughter’s senior prom by saying “no” to the harebrained (to me) idea that the kids would drive 70 miles on dark, rain-slick, two lane highways to some family’s “cabin” there to spend the weekend unsupervised. This was a group of smart, kind, decent 18 year olds but still….it wasn’t something I felt was appropriate or safe. When word got out among the kids that I had told her she wasn’t going and that the kids could come hang out here after prom (my husband and I agreed to stay up and keep a discreet eye on the party) I got a series of relieved phone calls from other parents–I had started a domino effect of sanity.

Daughter’s life wasn’t ruined, the kids stayed here and everybody seemed to have a good time. The boys slept in a tent in the yard; the girls in the living room. Nobody got in a fiery car crash, which was my biggest fear.

[NFR: And, if I may point out in praise of you, you are a liberal. This isn’t a liberal vs. conservative thing. It’s a good parenting thing. — RD]

#2 Comment By mrscracker On July 7, 2017 @ 11:41 am

There’s a commercial that plays on my TV for a rural internet service. It portrays a happy family sitting together, all using their electronic devices in an picture perfect country setting. It always cracks me up.
I have rural neighbors whose sons’ photos, addresses, & info of the cyber-porn crimes they committed are on postcards mailed out by the sheriff to the community to alert neighbors.
Some online porn & sharing underage images doesn’t only mess up kids minds, it’s illegal.

#3 Comment By Daniel R On July 7, 2017 @ 11:48 am

I largely agree about kids and smartphones, though for slightly different reasons. (I think they short-circuit normal development–I can’t believe how many parents give kids smartphones/tablets to shut them up.

However, if you think that just not giving your kid a smartphone will keep them from accessing bad stuff, I think you are being unrealistic. They will usually find a way. I think the more important thing is forming their consciences to avoid this. Even if your kid doesn’t have a smartphone, if even one of his friends does you’re right back in the same boat.

Assuming smartphones is the issue is likely to be counterproductive anyway, since screens are becoming more and more ubiquitous. If you are counting on keeping your children away from technology to stop them watching porn, you are fooling yourself just as much as someone who thinks there is no issue at all with technology.

#4 Comment By Liam On July 7, 2017 @ 12:10 pm

I completely agree. I am also against color TV for children except on select occasions (so much color in advertising is specifically designed to whet the consuming appetites of children).

I realize, however, that my sense of this comes from what would be seen now as a too-large family. My parents wanted eight children, settled for six (with a special needs child in the middle causing a gap). So, we had a peer group of our own (albeit one that spanned 18 years). And I think having that as one *primary* peer group of reference makes one less vulnerable (though hardly invulnerable) to what other peers do/don’t do. Socialization within the family/close clan is different. It does have certain risks (abuse is easier to hide within the family/clan), so I am by no means romanticizing it, just observing that choices involve shifts in costs and benefits, and there is no free lunch (though if one simply takes tradition uncritically, one is more likely not to notice – for good and very much for will).

Says the tragic-worldviewed progressive with a conservative temperament.

[NFR: Sometime, I would love to read you explain how you, as a progressive, have a tragic worldview. — RD]

#5 Comment By Adamant On July 7, 2017 @ 12:21 pm

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I literally make my living putting smartphones into as many hands as possible. Only my oldest, who is nearly 19, has one. Parents, get over your cowardice of being thought of as ‘weird’ for not giving your kids a smartphone. It’s lazy parenting, and ‘everyone else is doing it’ is a garbage excuse for letting social media raise your kids for you.

#6 Comment By Chris Jones On July 7, 2017 @ 12:28 pm

[NFR: Sometime, I would love to read you explain how you, as a progressive, have a tragic worldview. — RD]

So would I.

I don’t know Liam apart from his comments here, but I’d venture to say that his “tragic worldview” comes from simply being observant. And that his being a progressive comes from wanting to be able to mitigate the tragedies that he has observed. I’m not a progressive but I recognize that many if not most progressives are such from good motives.

#7 Comment By Gracie On July 7, 2017 @ 12:38 pm

Re: ubiquitous tech – if your kids have kindles (or tablets with the kindle/audible apps) and you have Amazon Prime, your kids also have access to Audible Channels, which includes such savory items as “Hot Mic with Dan Savage,” among others. My friend contacted Amazon and Audible to try to get this stuff off her kids’ kindles (which they use for audiobooks and kindle books – no youtube or anything) and it couldn’t be done – there’s no way to disable the Channels feature. [6]

#8 Comment By forty-two On July 7, 2017 @ 12:42 pm

We homeschool, and the past year my oldest (10 at the time) started feeling like an oddball because of *my* lack of smartphone. Not only do pretty much all of the other parents have smartphones, but over half of the *girls in her class* have a smartphone (ages 9-13). So when we parents had a chance to video the class, and girls were asking people to video it for them, there I was, just watching, because I don’t have a smartphone. (If I know about a chance to video ahead of time – like for dress rehearsal – I borrow dh’s, but otherwise I don’t have anything to video with on me.) And she was very embarrassed about it. And it surprised me, because I didn’t expect a majority of *tweens* to have smartphones. (And I think it’s already affecting her ability to connect with friends (though she doesn’t realize it). She exchanged phone numbers with a friend: our house phone and her friend’s smartphone. I bet her friend wanted to text (which isn’t even on dd’s radar as something *kids* do), and probably isn’t likely to call. We can still call and try to get together, though.)

I’ve started reading “The Tech-Wise Family”, and it inspired me to start trying to build a default-non-screen culture in our home – to define the areas where smartphone/tablet/screen use helps us achieve our non-screen-determined goals, and to limit screen use, including smartphones, to those times. I want to combat the “screens as default thing to do when there’s nothing else going on” – which we *adults* have too much of. (We limit kid screen use, but we don’t really limit *adult* screen use, and I’m well aware that means they will default to our screen use as adults unless we *all* commit to learning a new, better way.) And part of that, for me, is relearning how to do things that smartphones can do for us. Right now I’m focusing on navigating via map instead of smartphone, and not pulling out one’s smartphone/tablet to pass the time while waiting.

And I’m coming to think that an important part of it is *me* – an adult – also not having a smartphone (and it is now by choice, not just economics). We have one smartphone “for the family”. And I think that way of looking at it helps the kids see it as a *useful* tool, but not a *necessary* tool. (So far that idea has lessened the “so at what age can I have a smartphone?” questions without causing resentment when the answer is, in effect, never.) Especially as I, not having one, *have* to demonstrate life without one.

We’ll see, anyway – we’re just starting this, and it’s going to be hard road for dh and me – probably harder than for the kids, who are used to screen limits. And a huge part of it is going to be relearning good things to do with the time screens used to eat up.

(We’ve had increasing problems with kids “not having anything to do”, and it’s not just boredom talking – we really *haven’t* taught them the skills needed to do very much. Their main options are: read books, play with toys, or play outside. A higher class of leisure activities than mindless screen use, but still mostly non-productive – and ime still soul-deadening in too-large quantities. And it accurately reflects the default-to-non-productive-leisure-activities lifestyle of dh and me (which is definitely soul-deadening and something we’ve been slowing working at climbing out of). We have to learn how to live a productive life *ourselves* in order to teach it to our children. And they are desperate to learn productive things – possibly in part because our screen limits mean they can’t anesthetize those longings with screens like dh and I are too prone to do. But without *guidance* they can’t get too far (sort of the problem dh and I have, too – but we are more able to *find* mentors and resources).)

#9 Comment By Anna On July 7, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

To me it’s a no-brainer not to give kids smartphones, but my problem is, what do you do about exposure through all the other kids at school whose idiotic parents have given them smartphones? I suspect a lot of porn-sharing goes on at recess.

I think it would make sense for people who agree on this to campaign for schools to ban possession (not just use, which we all know is unrealistic and unenforceable) of cellphones at school. If parents insist on giving them to their kids, they should be checked in to a cubby in the principal’s office at the beginning of the day. If parents feel the need to contact kids during the school day, they can do it like they did in my childhood – by calling the office.

[NFR: I think schools should do that, and the school our kids attend does do that. But it’s useless if the kids leave campus and immerse themselves in the rotten culture of it. — RD]

#10 Comment By Elijah On July 7, 2017 @ 1:01 pm

[NFR: And, if I may point out in praise of you, you are a liberal. This isn’t a liberal vs. conservative thing. It’s a good parenting thing. — RD]

Amen, and God bless you, Surly. A bunch of kids from my daughter’s high school wanted to go to a concert near the beach and stay there for the weekend – two guys and three girls, no adults. I was spared the confrontation because a family obligation was that weekend, but really?!

You know my background with kids who have learning issues, kids on the spectrum (they don’t use that wording anymore, but still) and it was even worse. “So-and-so is so into technology, we can’t take that away from him.” One talked his mother into keeping him home during field trips because he couldn’t be assured of wifi (despite it being against school rules).

Another student, being raised by his grandmother, wanted a laptop for Christmas one year. “Don’t do it”, all the teachers and administrators said, you’ll never get him off of it, he won’t be able to control himself. You’ll never guess what happened next!!

One student was explaining to another how he watched porn on his tablet on a church’s wifi network before youth group started(!) and he was hurt and shocked when the other student came to me and said “I really don’t want to hear this kind of thing, what do I do?” When I asked the first student to come in with his parents – the one watching the porn – they were all very defensive about their son’s “privacy” and all but waved away my concerns over a 17 year old’s use of hardcore porn. This from a family that described themselves as “very Catholic”, though they could have been Christians of any stripe.

My oldest, who just graduated college, told me a bunch of her friends were a little taken aback when she told them she thought porn was reprehensible on many fronts, particularly female exploitation. Almost all of them view porn the way the cast of “Friends” did – what’s the big deal?

It isn’t about keeping your kids from “bad” stuff forever – it’s about not handing them the key to Pandora’s Box.

#11 Comment By JN On July 7, 2017 @ 1:09 pm

Keep writing about this, Rod. Sometimes I have no idea what is going through parents’ heads. I was recently visiting friends in the next town over (the richest town in the area full of doctors and professionals) and the parents had built their for their 15-year-old son a outdoor “man-cave” shed complete with bunk-beds, big TV, and video game console(s?). This is the same town that has had middle-school-age girls texting topless photos of themselves to other kids (including said son with the man-cave) bringing up child porn concerns among the parents who were lawyers.

Why do parents do this? Why do I see parents of toddlers giving iPads to each of their children? I have no idea. I’m beginning to think that if parents are not fanatical about severely limiting screens for kids, it’s just too easy to slide into handing phones and tablets for kids at an early age.

My oldest kids, twins, are starting kindergarten next year, and I’ll be watching carefully how the school uses and reacts to technology. One promising indication is that the religious family down the street from us (I think they are Mormon) send their kids to the local schools. But I have told my husband that I would certainly consider quitting my job and homeschooling is smartphone-abuse is too widespread among their peers.

#12 Comment By Julia Duin On July 7, 2017 @ 1:31 pm

Parental controls are harder than they look. My kid has an iPad to help her with school assignments. When I noticed she was accessing weird stuff via YouTube, I marked that web site as banned on her device, only to run into tons of problems. Then she couldn’t listen to a lot of movie soundtracks, Christian music, etc., that I was OK with her watching. So I re-allowed YouTube and remain bewildered at how to make the control system work.

#13 Comment By Potato On July 7, 2017 @ 1:46 pm

As those who read my comments know, I am skeptical of the rather (in my view) overheated anxieties shown by our host and others about internet pornography. I do not think that everyone (or all males anyway) are watching torture porn and/or bestiality or whatever all the time all the time!!

That said, for other reasons I am extremely critical of the practice of giving young children, and teenagers up to the age of maybe 17, access to unending internet, be it smart phones or computers or whatever. This is largely on the basis of watching the effect that access is having on my grandchildren.

One grandson, age 16, comes to the table with his smart phone, puts his forehead on the edge of the table (he is more flexible than you and I), holds the phone under the table where he can see it in this position, and texts away or watches or whatever. When his father objects, which isn’t always, the kid brings the phone up into a position where it blocks his view of the food. Having hatched the idea that he is too fine and delicate a creature to eat the regular food his mother prepares, this does not trouble him. He will get some oversweetened snack out of the bag later to make up the difference. His parents have the idea that because the computer is in the living room no bad thing can happen.

He’s depressed, says his mother. This is supposed to excuse all this. Well, we can well believe it, I’d be depressed too if that’s the way I was living.

No one now remembers Marshall McLuhan, but he famously said the medium is the message. In this case, that means that to some extent it wouldn’t be ok if the internet streamed unending videos of luminous Russian Orthodox liturgies, it would still be equally unhealthy if kids sat around hour after hour watching that instead of running around outdoors, having conversations with real friends, fights with real enemies, reading a book (books require rather more intellectual effort), drawing stuff, making stuff, or almost anything else (eating dinner normally?) rather than sitting there in front of a screen. (Or, as in video games, interacting with it, no real difference.)

Screens are not real life, but a radically simplified and impoverished version. A little of this goes a long way; when it takes over your life, as I have seen it take over, this whole thing is very destructive.

#14 Comment By JonF On July 7, 2017 @ 1:49 pm

Re: I’d venture to say that his “tragic worldview” comes from simply being observant.

As another left-liberal, I have a somewhat pessimistic view of many things too. Some of that comes to me via Christianity: Original Sin and the impossibility of perfecting the world is a boundary of the possible to me. But yes, some of it comes from simple observation too. However, both my politics and my religious/ethical beliefs compel me to assert that one must still fight the good fight; sitting around crying in one’s beer is not an valid option, even though the choice is Scylla vs Charybdis, not Utopia vs Gehenna.

#15 Comment By Liam On July 7, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

Chris is correct.

More to the point, I am a historian by training and also not a materialist, and I viewed the Creation as riven by sin, but I also have hope in the new Creation anchored in the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery.

My worldview is that we are each charged with cooperating with the spreading of the new Creation, but that we are quite likely to at least get in our own way in so doing, and so we should have a soft bite about most things (a hard bite about a few things) and be aware that change is painful and it’s normal for people to resist pain. Death is hard, too, but we all embrace it eventually. This ought to be a reminder that we share a radical solidarity, and should seek to bear with each other with greater compassion; that solidarity is much more radically important than what divides us (hence my gimlet-eyed view of tribalism as a good unto itself rather than a behavior requiring more self-awareness and self-management).

The aphorism quoted second-hand (by his nephew in a letter) as attributed to Henry James – “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” – is not the same thing as being *nice* but is more about that compassion borne of solidarity.

I am not a fatalist. Tragic =/= fatalist. Tragic =/= melodramatic.

To put this in a specifically American secular-ish context: I think American abolitionism was better than American slavery. That’s the fundamental divide of our history. I take sides on that without needing to equivocate.

#16 Comment By Liam On July 7, 2017 @ 2:36 pm

PS: And I think anxiety (as opposed to specific fears) is a powerfully addictive temptation that should not be coddled by ourselves when we become aware of it being our habit. Because anxiety is a lawyer who will always have a seemingly winning argument, but will not yield for long to Love. Anxiety, like resentment, is not of God.

So my tragic world view is, I hope and pray, limited by not yielding to anxiety about it. That’s what enables me to be a progressive with a conservative temperament.

#17 Comment By Jeff Burton On July 7, 2017 @ 2:49 pm

Here are our rules: no phone until you need one (job/drivers license). Only phones that I can load up with monitoring software (which means no iPhones). I can look at your phone any time I want. I am not under the impression that these rules are fool proof, but I’m amazed at how strict I seem in comparison to other parents.

Btw, Rod, you focus on porn, but you are missing the toxic sexual culture of teen and pre-teen girls, aided and abetted by tech. It’s pretty horrific.

[NFR: Tell me more. I don’t know anything about it. — RD]

#18 Comment By MrsCole On July 7, 2017 @ 3:19 pm

I keep my kids away from all such devices– couldn’t afford it even if I did think it was OK– which I don’t.

It was disheartening to go to a major church function, where other church kids were playing, and see my 5yo son tagging along after the 6- and 7- year old boys, totally unable to get their attention or play with them in any way, as they were all totally absorbed in some sort of car-racing game on one of their devices. Not even porn. It made them totally inaccessible to my son. If you can’t find a decent, non-tech-mediated peer group at church, where *can* you find one?

#19 Comment By Nate On July 7, 2017 @ 3:34 pm

I remember reading a series where a bunch of smart, accomplished people in various fields were asked something like: “What worries you the most about the future?”

The one that stood out to me was an expert in child development who said that the commercial explosion of the smartphone/tablet/screen had created one of the largest social experiments we have ever seen. We simply have no clue what these will don’t kids with barely formed brains and maleable minds. Heck, we barely know what this is doing to *adults* (myself included). It was very interesting and also scary. She mentioned that kids see their parents glued to these things and come to understand them as objects of supreme affection and desirability. We could be hardwiring an addiction to smartphones in our two year olds.

Anyway, the comment above that asserts that smaller families have resulted in less parental control makes a good point. At least when people had big families, they had built-in peer groups. Now, it’s just a bunch of lone kids latching onto others, and it makes it much harder to control what your kid is exposed to unless you can personally vouch for ALL the parents around you. It only takes a couple bad ones to get your child into trouble.

#20 Comment By Jay M. On July 7, 2017 @ 4:46 pm

It consistently amazes my wife and I how many otherwise sane, thoughtful, deeply committed Christian parents desperately try to avoid engaging about this issue. We homeschool our two oldest daughters (11 and 10) and send our youngest son (7) to a private classical Christian elementary school. We are Orthodox Christians and work hard to center our family’s daily and weekly rhythm around the life of the Church and our social life in the lives of fellow Christians. But even so, we are regularly flabbergasted at how many of our daughters’ peers have smartphones. My wife recently went out with a group of women and when she talked about our commitment to no smartphones for our kids she was hit with a barrage of “Oh just you wait till they really start begging for it!”, “You know you’re only gonna make your kids feel ostracized or like they’re weird,” or other such comments from all sides. These were good, committed Christian women who are not lackadaisical about their faith (who send their kids to private Christian school or homeschool them), but on this issue most of the women literally refused to listen to anything my wife tried to say. A few were willing to grant that they felt guilty about giving their kids smartphones, even that they knew it was probably not good for them, but gosh it’s just so hard to say no and, well, other parents would look at us like we’re freaks and all. Rod, I’ve heard these same comments myself and I cannot remotely understand this. I want to scream at these people, “What the hell is wrong with you?! Your know that handing that smartphone over is rife with danger but you do it anyway because you’re more scared of other grown-ups thinking you’re weird than you are of your son becoming a porn addict? Of your daughter getting a warped view of her own body? Of your kid becoming yet another social media addict who can’t manage a relationship with anyone that’s not mediated through a screen?” We have a number of friends even who love to talk about the Benedict Option, who are often very intentional in creating local Christian community and encouraging each other’s families, but who just do not want to talk at all about what your book has to say about technology. We can talk about combating the mess of public education and helping each other give our kids Christian and classical education. We can talk all night long about grounding our family lives in the rhythm of the Church year, in the Liturgy, about introducing our kids to the lives of the saints, about moving closer together and keeping in close proximity to the parish. But talk about taking a hard look at restricting or re-thinking and changing our tech-habits? Nah, we can’t go there; that’s too radical.

#21 Comment By Surly On July 7, 2017 @ 5:06 pm

Thank you Rod. You are very kind. Many liberals, as you know, parent conservatively. I was blessed to be part of a parochial school community where the principal regularly exhorted us to stand up for our Catholic beliefs and resist the culture. If he were still living I bet he’d be with you on smartphones.

Daniel R. Has it right–formation is critical. Kids WILL see this stuff and need the moral reasoning tools to resist falling into sin.

#22 Comment By Matthew On July 7, 2017 @ 6:40 pm

I think a lot of how hard this is for you as a parent is also dependent on your own temperament and disposition towards fitting in. My parents were definitely strict, but I never had any real wish to be defiant and I never really was worried about going my own way in high school and not really fitting in. As an adult I was the last person I knew to get a mobile phone of any type, 4 years ago, and my first and still only smart phone is the one I will have until it absolutely can no longer work. Christopher Nolan, the director, is notorious for having never owned a mobile phone. If someone with his responsibilities can manage I think it’s probably not as big a deal as we think. My point is that a large part of the children wanting the phones is not just there own social pressure but how much the children see their own parents being consumed by these devices. They have only ever seen there parents with this extra appendage and assume assume that it must be necessary. And those parents will certainly be pressured into caving in to their peers and children when and if they choose to think about restricting cell phone use. It may be all for naught, I can’t say yet as my children are only 10 and 5, but I’m trying to create an environment were they think these phones are actually just a pain and simply a tool that is used for specific means. We homeschool which certainly limits outside exsposure, as I can hardly imagine my daughter at 10 having a group a friends at school texting her from their own personal phones. I know that we have already decided the first phone any of our children receive will be an old Motorola that is a complete brick. Nothing smart about it. Takes no pictures and receives no pictures. Also is next to impossible to text on. It will be for making phone calls. That’s it. Why any parent would feel pressured to give their kids a smart phone is beyond me, but when they day comes We have already made our decision about how we handle this which hopefully makes it that much easier to enforce. And the other part of this is that we have no idea were things will be 10 years from now when my son is 15. Phones 10 years ago were basically nothing but phones and message machines. For all I know something else will suplant phones in the next decade and we will all be fighting a completely different front from the one we are grappling with now and thought we would be dealing with later. That’s why choosing how you will handle technology as a family as soon as is possible is so important. Waiting to fight a battle that you never prepared for on this front is suicide. It is certainly not going to be getting easier in the future as Christians parents to make these decisions. I can only imagine what the future will be like.

#23 Comment By Carl Eric Scott On July 7, 2017 @ 7:42 pm

At some point, you know what’s going to happen. Some charismatic apparently Christian person with an ability to win followers is going to report that he or she has received a special revelation from God that smart-phones and other internet devices are from the devil, and that God wants true believers to totally abstain from them, or in some way very strictly limit their use. The sect this person starts will explode in popularity, because of what Rod reports upon here, because of the growing Tinder-verse, social-media-driven hate patterns, etc. Perhaps orthodox church leaders ought to start exploring how they can get part of the way there first, so that “covenants” between church-members to abstain in a more moderate way can be drawn-up in sane ways, and obviously, in ways that don’t rely on religious charlatanism.

#24 Comment By Martha On July 7, 2017 @ 8:23 pm

My husband and I raised our children before cell phones for which I’m grateful but even then we were considered weird. When kids called after 9 pm my husband answered the phone and told the caller that it was too late to call and not to call that late again. Of course our kids hated it but now they think we were pretty good parents.

#25 Comment By Teena H. Blackburn On July 7, 2017 @ 8:35 pm

No one in my house has a cell phone. Not me, not my husband, not my 17 year old son. No one has been able to explain to me why I need one. It’s not that difficult.

#26 Comment By ginger On July 7, 2017 @ 8:41 pm

When a technology becomes deeply embedded into our every day life, it can feel impossible to address the problems associated with it. Let’s pretend that artificial light really is causing increased cancers, depression and other psychiatric disorders, fertility issues, etc, and parents now know it. How many of them are going to go off-grid, going to bed at dark (4pm or so in the New England winters!) and waking up with the sun in order to protect their children from the various psychiatric and physical disorders that will likely result from keeping the electric lights on? Very few. That may make them neglectful parents, but when enough parents are neglectful because the issue just seems too impossible to address, few of them will even care that you call them neglectful.

They will just hope for the best (maybe putting their kids to bed a little earlier or otherwise making a few half-*ssed efforts to assuage any guilt they may actually feel), because the problem seems insurmountable, and the only people willing to go off-grid to protect their children from the dangers of artificial light are seen as weirdos that nobody viewed as “normal” wants to raise their kids to be like anyway.

I suspect the lethargy over smartphone technology is due in part to the seeming impossibility (to many, anyway) of limiting it in an effective enough matter to make the efforts worthwhile (as in, you go to all the efforts to install the porn-blocking software, keep your kids from owning smartphones, homeschool them, etc, only to find out your 13 year old son has still turned into a raging hardcore porn addict).

I am not defending the lethargy, mind you, but I do kind of understand it. Parenting is pretty brutal these days, and a lot of mothers and fathers are just trying to get through each day the best way they can. A certain amount of fatalism can sometimes be a coping mechanism (albeit an unhealthy one).

#27 Comment By Andrea On July 7, 2017 @ 8:53 pm

I worry about my nephews and the amount of time they spend online, but there isn’t much I can do other than sound a warning, Covering the crime beat for the past two years has meant reading and hearing too many horror stories about the trouble kids can get into when they’re unsupervised. Some of these kids are as young as 12 or 13 when they have been lured into sexting with unscrupulous adults or go looking for hookups on grindr. Porn is probably ubiquitous. I wouldn’t allow a smart phone until the kids are 16 or older.

#28 Comment By hogtowner On July 7, 2017 @ 9:02 pm

I think I mentioned this before, but I recommend a movie pertaining to this topic: “Men, Women and Children” (2014). It’s kind of like “The Ice Storm” shifted forward forty years to incorporate the Internet. The movie tended to have poor reviews but I think this was partly because it hit uncomfortably close to home. I wouldn’t say it’s quite the same cinematic quality as Ang Lee’s piece, but still worth looking at. I would be curious about your reaction to it.

On the other hand, I have found smart phones amazing for some things such as bird watching where you can play the songs while you’re outdoors and identify the bird right there. A step up from Peterson’s!

#29 Comment By Grr On July 7, 2017 @ 9:08 pm

Our glorious overlords have such plans for the little ones:

[7]

#30 Comment By Stephanie On July 7, 2017 @ 10:34 pm

This drove my husband up a wall when he was the lay leader of our congregation. The prize explanation? “No really, my kid needs his smartphone: it has the scripture app on it.” My secular, Prius-driving, college professor neighbors all seem to be smarter about kids and screens than are any of my church friends.

#31 Comment By CMPT On July 7, 2017 @ 10:35 pm

Potato: “I am skeptical of the rather (in my view) overheated anxieties shown by our host and others about internet pornography.”

I have a very good friend who is happily married with two children. By all accounts, the children (one in late high school, the other in middle school) are well-behaved and well-adjusted. The parents permit both children to watch porn. As someone who had to employ all manner of clandestine maneuvers just to sneak a Playboy or Penthouse magazine into the house as a young kid, this struck me as crazy.

Yet, other than a religious-based desire to refrain from lust, I couldn’t think of a reason these particular parents should never permit these two particular kids to ever watch porn of any kind. I think porn can induce harmful expectations about sex, body images, romantic relationships, etc, but I don’t know that those effects are inevitable or even likely to occur. It seems, at least anecdotally, that the open, permissive approach to sexual matters that many parents take today actually tempers sexual conduct. Studies show that teenagers are less sexually active and with fewer teenage pregnancies than in previous generations.

[NFR: Insane. Just insane. Shame on those parents. — RD]

#32 Comment By Frank On July 8, 2017 @ 12:23 am

You beat this drum a lot Rod, but I am a little confused on your policy and the policy you are criticizing. When do you think children should get a smart phone? Access to the Internet without close monitoring? I think the majority of the readers would agree that 7 years of age is too young, but by 16 I think it is reasonable. Do you know what I guess one would call the “progressive/establishment” view of this, from the American Psychological Association (APA)? I would not expect you to agree with it but would like to know how you disagree with it. Do you have the same view to violence, such as your kids shouldn’t have access to violent visions until their earl or mid-teens? Are you against horror films until 16/18?

#33 Comment By SMK On July 8, 2017 @ 6:57 am

I asked my anti-smartphone daughter (14) how she got that way. Her answer: books were there first. Meaning, I think, that books nourished her imagination before digital kudzu had a chance to take root. Which is funny, she was a late reader and both father and mother spend lots of time in front of screens. But we are all book readers, and our house has always been filled with huge quantities of print materials. We put books in front of her from infancy, read aloud tons, and constantly modeled reading behaviors (Not really on purpose, that’s just how we are). So I think she’s always got the message that the good stuff was in books, not on line. For her, escaping into the fantasies of Instagram or youtube is far less interesting or engaging than losing herself in a book.

Of course, she is a “weird” kid–But also incredibly confident, knows herself, happy.

[NFR: I admire you greatly! That is fantastically encouraging. Thank you! — RD]

#34 Comment By mrscracker On July 8, 2017 @ 8:25 am

CMPT,
I’ve read that pretty much every one is less
sexually active these days including married people. Some folks in Japan seem to have given up even trying to find a mate.
I find that more troubling than reassuring. And I think the prevalence of porn is a factor.

#35 Comment By March Hare On July 8, 2017 @ 8:35 am

For what it’s worth, my wife and I try to maintain a thoughtful, respectful, and intellectually vibrant home environment for our two boys, who will reach 21 next month. We’re also both committed atheists, and slightly left of center politically. Both of us were raised in MTD households.

And yet we did not provide cell phones and IPads until our guys were 17. We anticipated that they would be used to access porn, and that prediction was rapidly fulfilled. At 17, that’s a compromise with reality. At 12, no.

12 year olds with unlimited access is insane. No matter your worldview, it is simply insane.

#36 Comment By Hound of Ulster On July 8, 2017 @ 12:06 pm

Guess who repealed the Truman-era laws and regulations against advertising to children? Ronald Reagan.

Capitalism at work. Nothing more, nothing less.

If religious believers (or anybody who prizes the transcendent over the immanent) think that Capitalism is your ally, you are not paying attention.

#37 Comment By WillW On July 8, 2017 @ 1:03 pm

Once again…where do all of you live!?!? You want an easy solve (for now, at least) Move to the boonies. You won’t be able to watch Netflix, but you what I do instead? I stop by my local library every week and see what’s on the new arrivals shelf. The kids at church get together and play….wouldn’t do much to try and use a smart phone just to see an icon spinning round and round. Guess I just don’t realize how insulated we are.

#38 Comment By Keith On July 8, 2017 @ 2:21 pm

All very interesting comments but there is another concern related to providing children with smartphones that is not limited to, but includes, pornography.

My son enters 5th grade next year and our neighbor is a teacher at his new school. We live in an affluent suburb of Seattle, i.e. Amazonia, where smartphones are widely provided to kids and where expensive new automobiles are amply provided to high schoolers. Not for this post but I see the two linked.

I asked him several weeks ago about how prevalent phones are with the 5th and 6th graders. For those kids that are dropped off before school by their parents – kids that don’t ride the school bus – they are ubiquitous. He went on to add that most if not all of these early arrivals spend their entire mornings fixed to their smartphones. He did not mention porn specifically but it’s all YouTube. Here was the nut of this comment. For kids that spend their time before school watching YouTube the rest of school is a big downer. It is hard to keep these kids tripped on YouTube to stay engaged in math, science, or English.

I know that this year or next my son will begin the relentless sales effort to acquire a smartphone. I am looking forward to saying no. In fact I almost relish the opportunity to say no and to defend this position from parents that think that they need this technology to stay ahead. Funny to think that pushing a screen 100,000s times makes one more employable.

[NFR: We’re seeing this in our school. I just had an emotional conversation with my 13 year old son, who is lonely because all his friends at school are immersed in smartphone culture. Last year, they were obsessed with [8]. He feels totally marginalized because he’s not part of this world, and we won’t let him be. Read that link about PewDiePie, and grasp that this is what 13 year old boys in a Christian school are preoccupied with. We have to help our kids be strong, and reject the world in this way — not only saying “no” to that garbage, but say “yes” to playing music, sports, and other good things. It’s hard for the kids, and hard for us as parents. But what choice is there? Surrender to this garbage culture? Not gonna happen, not on my watch. — RD]

#39 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 8, 2017 @ 4:19 pm

I’ve read that pretty much every one is less
sexually active these days including married people. … I find that more troubling than reassuring. And I think the prevalence of porn is a factor.

Very likely. Sexual emotions evolved to bring two bodies of the opposite sex together. If you can get the hormonal high without actually engaging, its more gain for less inconvenience… purely on the physical level of course. Anyone who is the least bit sentimental would pause over all this.

#40 Comment By Anna On July 8, 2017 @ 4:28 pm

“[NFR: I think schools should do that, and the school our kids attend does do that. But it’s useless if the kids leave campus and immerse themselves in the rotten culture of it. — RD]”

Wow – I’m glad (and jealous) to hear you found a school that forbids cellphones. None we’ve looked into here do so; they say, “Oh, of course they can’t use them in school” as if that’s really going to be enforceable.

After school doesn’t concern me so much, because then I can exercise judgment about where and with whom my son spends his time, at least until a certain age, whereas at school, it’s outside my control. I’m happy to say that none of the families we’re friends with seem to give their kids these devices.

[NFR: But the ban on cellphones at school, as good as it is, is only of limited value if the kids get them when they leave school grounds. — RD]

#41 Comment By CMPT On July 8, 2017 @ 6:43 pm

mrscracker: “I’ve read that pretty much every one is less
sexually active these days including married people. . . And I think the prevalence of porn is a factor.”

It does seem plausible to me that the prevalence of porn could be a factor. That might be attributable to the fact the sex in porn is often portrayed more enticingly than real-life sex turns out to be. This, however, suggests that porn has something to offer couples by way of example. And, many couples do, in fact, watch porn together (or film themselves) for the purpose of stimulating their own sexual relationship.

#42 Comment By Sj On July 8, 2017 @ 11:51 pm

Interestingly, our older kids are very anti-allowing him to have a smart phone, and especially access to social media. I ended up telling him that during high school, we wanted his relationships to be real-life, and not digital. He does lots of outside activities like theater, sports, and youth groups, and so far, he’s been invited to as many get-togethers with others as he cares to accept, and doesn’t feel left out. I think his friends have accepted the fact that he has a crazy strict mom, and while I’m sure they feel sorry for him, it doesn’t seem to have limited their acceptance of him. It also helps that the older siblings talk to him and tell him that social media obsession is bad—they’re closer in age to him than I am.

Our compromise right now is that he shares my smartphone with data blocked, so his phone doesn’t look different when he does activities with other kids. However, it’s my phone too, which is an important psychological factor, and he can only text, and knows that I can—and do–read his texts at any time.

We plan to let him have a smartphone in college, but we’re going to use Covenant Eyes and a block/allow list until we’re sure he’s responsible, gradually allowing more freedom. As I did with his older brothers, I’m also going to check in with him regularly about whether he’s viewing inappropriate material or not.

Most importantly, we also talk with him and his little brother about WHY we’re doing this–how people get sucked into the social media universe, why inappropriate videos are wrong, and how what you watch is food for your brain. It also has to fit into a larger context for technology, including TV and computers.
I got our library to buy the book, “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked,” by Adam Alter, and when I brought it home, the 16-year-old began reading it and started telling me all about the techniques that tech developers use to keep people coming back. Highly recommend the book as a result. Also got the Andy Crouch book, which my older kids are reading as well. And lastly, don’t skip Nancy Jo Sales’ book, “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers.” Shocking and puke-making, but it’s out there, man. Forewarned is forarmed.

#43 Comment By Sj On July 8, 2017 @ 11:52 pm

Whoops, the first sentence got left out: “We struggled with this issue for our now-16-year-old homeschooled son, number 7 of eight kids. “

#44 Comment By mwing On July 9, 2017 @ 11:00 am

Relatives of mine let their son, maybe 9 at the time, appropriate their ipad to play video games in the car (and everywhere else). He also would look up youtube videos of other people playing video games, which apparatly, is a thing, I’m so old. “But,” I said, “that means he has internet access, to, I mean, the whole internet”! They replied that the kid didn’t understand that this was the case, and anyway couldn’t type, both of which were true at the time, he really was just using youtube to look at videos of other people playing video games. But I kept thinking that, he’ll figure it out one day, and then they’d have a hell of a time if they tried taking it away from him.
Same kid also has a video game set-up at home which includes the feature of, when you are playing against another person remotely, you can have the option to open a voice channel and talk to them at the same time. These are complete strangers, who happen to be playing the in the same online game-space at the same time. That actually freaked me out more. In practice, the players he talks to are other kids, and the content is all about the game, but still, it could be anyone.

Online porn isn’t the only problem, as other people have mentioned. I have a brother who teaches science at a magnet high school in the fringes of Silicon valley, so his students are mostly from affluent and academically high-performing families. He says video game addiction is one of the worst problems his boy students have (though perhaps in perspective, because they just don’t have a lot of other problems!)

#45 Comment By TA On July 9, 2017 @ 9:37 pm

There is a short film making the rounds that has won a couple awards that looks at technology, the church, and sexuality. It’s set in the 90’s, but hits the same issues as today.

I’d guess conservatives would see it as a cautionary tale while progressives would see it as one of liberation.

(Note: no video nudity, but does contain some shots that show the pornographic still images that the main character encounters. )