Home Ministry Tech Leaders The Tech-Wise Family: A Conversation About Parenting and Family

The Tech-Wise Family: A Conversation About Parenting and Family

Good, Practical Wisdom and Counsel About the Tech-Wise Family

RM: You talk about the use of one technology to combat some of these others, and that technology is the car. I think there are a lot of parents for whom their car experience is: let’s get in the car, put on your headphones, and retreat into wherever. But you’ve got a different prescription for them.

AC: I think car time is the most astonishing time. It is the closest, physically, you are to each other. This is why we are all tempted to turn on those devices, because it is challenging to be that close to your family members, especially if it is a longer ride.

In our family we set up this rule: Car time is conversation time. When we get in the car, it is a chance to talk. Sherry Turkle, who has written some important books about technology and its effect on relationships, says in her book Reclaiming Conversation that every conversation hits a decision point at about the seven-minute mark, which is about as long as you can do small talk. Someone has to take a risk. The beautiful thing about car rides is you have a chance to get to that seven-minute mark and move beyond it.

This was the great upside surprise to me. I was dreading driving places with my kids. I never expected that a great sense of loss would happen when each of our kids got their driver’s licenses. Now they can drive themselves, and we no longer have these conversation opportunities. It ended up being some of the richest times we have had as parents and children.

RM: You talk awhile in the book about where the drive toward pornography comes from and how we can combat it. What I liked about that is you weren’t just putting hedges around the porn. You were really getting at why people are driven to porn. I’m sure we have people reading this right now who are in this endless pattern of porn— feeling horrible, feeling shame, back into the porn, and the cycle just keeps going. What would your counsel for them be?

AC: I don’t go into a lot of detail, but that’s part of my own story as an adult. It’s part of almost everybody’s story, because I think it is actually the technological culture applied to our deepest need and desire, which is for union with another. Ultimately, it’s a pointer toward our drive for union with God. The technological culture says there is a way to have a good enough simulation of this, and it creates the cycle of addiction. Really, all addiction is a quest for a sense of power and connection. So, in the book I try to say we are never going to be able to filter that. There is no Internet filter strong enough to remove that powerful need.

RM: Not that we shouldn’t employ Internet filters.

AC: No. The example I use in the book is the city of Beijing, a very polluted, major metropolitan area. If you go out on the street, you should absolutely wear a mask. On the most polluted days, you should use all kinds of measures to minimize your exposure, but that is in no way going to address the underlying source of the addiction, right?

I think the deeper thing here is that technology has allowed us to acquire certain kinds of power that don’t involve relationship. And all true forms of power come from relationship. They come from intimacy and connectedness with other people. So the real way out, in a sense, of all of these distortions that technology brings is a deeper connection with the real world, with the God who made the real world, and with other people. The more I have daily satisfying contexts of connection, the less powerful that simulation is in attracting and seducing me into this very isolated, distorted use of technological power. For me, it’s all about reclaiming a connection with my wife, children, the real world and good embodied experience, rather than the thin options that present themselves to me.

RM: I find that a lot of people assume that what happens is a marriage goes bad, and then the porn starts. I tend to find it works in reverse. One of the things that I’ve noticed in church life is that when I’ve seen a man or a group of men going through unemployment, there is almost always a spiritual warfare going on driving toward porn. This is what you are arguing: When a life doesn’t seem to be full, that’s when you are really in peril.

AC: Absolutely, and we have embraced individualism. The isolation we all live with is made possible by technology, and not just digital technology. The car isolates us if we are driving alone. The phone isolates us because we can have conversations without being present to each other in the same way we would be if we were together.

Compound all of these isolations that technology makes possible and profitable, and it leaves us vulnerable to thin simulations that restore to us some sense of connection, even though it is not really true. This is not just porn. It is also liking things on Instagram and reacting to things on Twitter. All of these are thin versions of what we are actually made for.

RM: What are some things parents can do to try to minimize their children’s exposure to pornography?

AC: There are two things, as well as all of the obvious means of filtering your home Internet and so forth. The “easy” one is that we have to realize it is unwise to give children unfettered access to screens on their own. Without even trying, we stumble across pornography. So, the fact that parents give their children smartphones with data plans at ages eight and nine is a bad idea to me. And I think that we need to set a norm in our families that all of us use our devices in view of each other—they aren’t our private devices—as much as possible. Also, establishing that we use these things together for a very specific purpose; we don’t just aimlessly browse around.

The trickier thing is how to handle other parents who will not have those same boundaries. The kids will be with friends who have autonomous devices with untrammeled Internet service. The reality is boys in particular, but girls as well, go to and show each other these sites. I think one thing you can do is establish an expectation that your kids will talk with you about what they see on their friends’ phones.

I will say one other thing that I’ve seen done that is really helpful, though we didn’t do this with our kids in the same way that my friend has done. He has four adolescent sons, 11 to 18 or so, and he said to them, “I am your dad. It is my job to know more about what’s going on in your life than anyone else in your life, and that means I can pick up your phone at any moment. I can ask you any question at any moment.”

It’s almost less the practice of actually picking up the device, unless you have some reason to think you need to intervene in that way, and it is more the expectation: I’m your parent, and until you are grown, I am going to be the one who is more invested in your story—not your friends or your pastor. That is the healthy approach that lays the foundation for handling whatever our kids come across.

This article about the tech-wise family originally appeared here.