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Is Technology Helping or Hurting Our Kids?, Part 2

From the series House or Home - Parenting Edition

When it comes to technology, ignorance could be lethal - especially when it has to do with your children. In this message, Chip is joined by his son Ryan for a candid discussion about technology and specific ways to protect your entire family from the dangers of unrestricted access to the internet.

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Message Transcript

[Ryan]: “Okay, so how do I connect and relate?” And there’s some basic needs and desires that have never changed.

I did youth ministry a long time and the thing about youth ministry is how you attract students changes constantly.

But how you keep them doesn’t. How you keep them is actually these three fundamental areas and I believe it’s true for you and I and for every single person.

First is that there’s a deep desire and need for community - for a place to belong. You see that in the tech world with the evolution of social media and I mean, there’s a billion other ones that are coming out all the time.

But there’s this deep desire to belong and to be a part. And yet in most of the times, the kids I talk with, that’s not being met inside the family. In fact, they feel, they feel isolated or alone at home. It’s too busy going to the next thing.

And so I just wrote down some things that I think are helpful practices for us as family and one of the things that we did growing up all the time was family dinners. It was 5:30, you had to be there at 5:30. If you were late you were in big trouble. I mean, literally.

[Chip]: If I was late I was in big trouble too.

[Ryan]: No, but it was scheduled into the routine of our life, 5:30, whole family is there, we’re going to sit around the table. But it created a culture of community that has shaped the way we do family. The way we hang out.

When we go to dinner, in fact, my wife when she first joined our family it was odd to her, a little bit weird, because we would sit and have dinner and then we’d hang out around the table for hours. And just talk and hang out. And it just, it created that space to be.

[Chip]: And the second is a deep desire for significance. Talk about that.

[Ryan]: That’s right, yeah, every student and in fact every person has this longing to make an impact. Know why they’re here. What is my purpose? And as a family, as we do that a great way to connect is serve together. Go on missions trip together. Look at how you can not just be a part of what’s going on here and serve but how can we, as a family, serve?

I watched a family that serves together at our church. Their whole family works in the children’s ministry. And just a great way, they see church and their kids have this reality, that church is part of us serving together and using our skills and gifts. I mean, we did that a ton growing up. And went to projects and painted stuff and all over but it gives a deep sense of significance.

The third one is this need for boundaries. And on this issue what I thought was interesting as I’ve just watched, that teenagers, especially boys that had the least amount of boundaries, what I watched them, so often, do is actually they would join the military.

There was just intuitively this deep sense and need for boundaries, for security, for safety, for someone to say, “Here’s where you should be and where you should live.”

And it was so much so that they could do anything and go anywhere but then they would end up going to the military, the most rigid, rule-based, you know, place as far as, “Here’s the boundaries.”

[Chip]: Well, just a word to parents because when you’re setting those boundaries, you’re the bad person, whether you’re a single parent or a blended family, especially, when, you know, “Who are you to tell me that?”

But that role of saying, “This is the way it is. I really love you, I care for you.” So it’s not just the research but when kids come through it and they’re young adults they’re saying, “Man, I didn’t feel loved when my parents didn’t provide that.”

Because that’s hard. I mean, there’s a lot of nights, I’ll tell you, your mom and I, you know, we sat up in bed and I’m thinking I’m the hardest, most difficult, painful, rigid dad in the world. But I’m sure this is right, I just feel lousy about it.

And you didn’t seem to like it at times either.

[Ryan]: No, not at all, no.

[Chip]: But short-term pain, long-term gain.

[Ryan]: It communicates, students and teens communicate over and over, “I felt abandoned without the limits and boundaries. I felt alone without the limits and boundaries. I felt like they didn’t really, if you really cared about me, and since you didn’t really, you didn’t care enough to do what I needed, not what I wanted.”

[Chip]: Well let’s shift gears and I want to get to the real solution side. I think we said, okay? I hope a lot of parents are thinking, “I had no idea, down deep, my kids are going to talk like this and what their needs are.” Or, sort of, there’s the landscape what I need to know…”

So what’s the game plan? I’m a parent here, I’m thinking, “Okay, help me, man!” I mean, some people are feeling like me, ignorant, other people are just feeling like, neglect - I need to get with the program. And some are feeling like, “I don’t know where to start.”

[Ryan]: Right.

[Chip]: So lead on.

[Ryan]: Well, and I tried to simplify it as much as possible. Just give you five steps for a game plan. The first is lead the way. As the parent, lead the way. And I’ll give you a few ways to do that.

First is become a student and a support. And kind of that whole principle, as long as you have kids that are students, you should be a student too. And it should go longer than that. But just think about that. I’m going to be a student. I’m going to, I can’t be that, well we talked earlier, that autopilot parent. I have to be an active, engaged parent.

The second is get help if necessary. Admit, “I need help in this area.” I wrote down, kind of, three things I think you may need help in.

First is personally. And just talking about porn, I know that there’s probably many of us in this room that have that same struggle. That we can’t genuinely begin to lead the way for our kids because there is a secret addiction that’s keeping you from actually guarding and loving your child to their fullest, and in the way God’s created you to do that.

And personally you just need to get help. It’s for me but it is for my family.

The second area is technically. This is the most tech savvy area in the world and so some of you are going, “I got it.” And there are others that are like… my dad.

And so you need to go, “I need help.” It’s not okay to, it’s okay to not know but it’s not okay to not know and not do anything.

And so you can, “I don’t know how to do it but I will figure out how to have someone help me do it.”

[Chip]: Yeah.

[Ryan]: The third area is professionally. You begin to go down this especially, I think, this is in the area if you have tweens and teens and this area and you’ve not done anything you’re going down a rabbit hole and you’re not sure what you’re going to find.

And you may uncover some things that you don’t know how to deal with.

[Chip]: Yeah.

[Ryan]: And so you need to get some professional help. That may be a Christian counselor, that may be your youth pastor. I’ve had that. I had one sermon I shared about my addiction and my past openly because I know that God can use it in helping others to then break this secret.

And I had a dad call me he said, “Hey, I just found out my teenage sons have been looking at porn. I don’t know what to do. Can I bring them in?”

And so he brought them into my office. He didn’t know how to have this conversation, or what to do, and so we just sat down for the next couple hours with his kids and we just walked through and this is, fun part is now I see them, I mean, he has a great relationship with our kids and these are just awesome, awesome boys that love God and want to do the right thing they just needed help.

And so get help if needed, whether that’s personally, technically, or professionally.

[Chip]: Can you all know now, know why I asked my son to help me? You know? It’s kind of like… I want to really help you but I didn’t know how to help you.

[Ryan]: Yeah. So, and I personally, I have, for me, I have accountability partners I use on my computer, and on my phone, and X3 watches one and I use Covenant Eyes. Those are great resources to find, okay, what’s up to date? What’s actually happening and where can I get help?

[Chip]: What filters to use at different ages. And then you say here, number two, have the talk often and openly. What do you mean by “the talk?”

[Ryan]: Um, the talk is the tech talk, is the birds and the bees talk, it’s the hard talks, really. It’s just, what are the hard talks? The talks that you want to avoid, the talks that make you a little uncomfortable just bringing it up to your kids. The talks that you know that if you have them could really guard and protect them.

And so I say have the talk open and often. Don’t avoid it. Address the issues. I remember, actually, I think I was eleven years old and we had the birds and the bees talk. And one of the things down here is create a safe environment for them to talk. And I remember having the birds and the bees talk.

And sitting on the bed with my dad and my dad’s sitting, you know, he’s got his arm around me, and he’s having this conversation and eleven years old, I don’t really fully get it. And it’s a little weird to me.

But I remember this clearly. It was just this sweet moment with my dad. Where he’s like, “Son, no matter what, no matter what you ever do, you can never do anything that will make me love you any less. I will always love you. You can talk to me about anything. I’m always here for you.”

Now there was limits but then there was the open door of grace and love, that I had a father who had unconditional love for me.

And I think that’s part of creating this safe environment for them to talk where you ask questions, you affirm your love for them. Because so often, students, they experience things. Your teens, a great majority of teens are actually solicited online and never tell their parents at all. And you want to create an environment where they can actually share.

[Chip]: Let me ask you this: if I’m a parent, what are the warning signs? I think that’s a really important thing…

[Ryan]: Yeah.

[Chip]: …that maybe something’s going on. What would three or four things that would tell me, “Hey, I better get my antennae up, I think my kid might be into something.”

[Ryan]: Yeah, I think if you notice a big change in behavior like a character change where you see them beginning to, all of a sudden, they were outgoing and now they’re introverted. All of a sudden, they used to do sports and now they’re hiding away somewhere.

Whether they become secretive or defensive. They get angry easier. Obsessive over things. One thing is if you notice that whenever you come into the room, whether it’s the TV or the computer and the screen changes right away, your radar should be up.

[Chip]: Yeah.

[Ryan]: It’s not just that they’re clicking to a new thing. They’re, they may be clicking away from something. If they withdraw from family. But those are just some of the warning signs to…

[Chip]: So, lead the way, have the talk, and then keep the control. What do you mean by that?

[Ryan]: Well, if you don’t keep the control your kids will have the control. And just by nature they’re going to be ahead of us technology-wise. My daughter already can use the iPhone and yet her, you know, I mean she can’t tie her shoes yet but she can use the iPhone.

But keep the control. One thing in just our history, we had a computer that was in the back room. That’s a bad idea. Keep the computer, keep all technology, I would say, TV, phones, everything in public arenas.

Set specific rules and contracts. And a couple of those websites. They have great material for you to go, “Okay, here’s those set of guidelines we probably need to embrace as a family.”

Parental controls. And this is just a rule I have and I think it’s a pretty good one. That if your device doesn’t have parental controls on it, if you have a device, maybe it’s a Blu-ray player, everything comes internet ready now, right? Gaming device. And it doesn’t have any way for you to monitor or filter or stop, you probably shouldn’t have it.

That’s just asking for trouble. In fact, my phone, on the iPhone here, I get in on here and iPhone brought a whole new list of challenges for me with my background.

And I had to figure out what do I do? And when it first came out they didn’t have the software for it, and I have an accountability partner, and I found in settings that under settings there’s actually in, you go to general and there’s an area called “restrictions.” I can’t even access restrictions. My accountability partner has that code.

[Chip]: And maybe it’s something on this, this is where we get, sort of, is this idea that this device is your son or your daughter’s, and it’s theirs and they can do with it…

If this goes in their room, if this goes to bed with them, the latest study is kids are texting in bed until one or two in the morning.

[Ryan]: Yeah, or later.

[Chip]: In fact, some of their parents just, you know, if you can’t turn this thing off for twenty-four hours one day a week you ought to ask yourself, “What’s driving you?” Because at the end of the day you know what that really boils down to? A level of grandiosity that’s almost unbelievable.

I’m so important, I need to know everything, I’m the center of the universe. I mean, when you stand in line, when you’re waiting for a red light, and you know what? It’s all of us, isn’t it? It’s just you hear that little beep and, “I wonder who texted me? I wonder.”

You know what? I think they’ll be there, it’s a whole three minutes until you turn in. But it’s some discipline but if these things are with your kids, and it’s kind of unlimited, or you’re modeling that, you can almost just set the clock – some very, very bad things are going to happen in your home.

And so this is what this is talking about. You really need to take control. Set time, set restrictions, nothing good happens after midnight. What do you mean by that?

[Ryan]: I just mean for me nothing happened good late at night. So you can actually set your computer, or maybe even if you’re more technical, you can set your entire internet to actually shut off and set different time things for that.

But if I had access to unlimited, unrestricted internet late at night, which I did in high school, late high school, it was not good for me. I struggled when it was late and when I was alone.

And then you have the other area that I think is the greatest struggle is when they’re with others. You can control two out of the three. And you can help shape the third and begin to instill values and have some guidelines.

In fact, a lot of the websites say, “Here’s our guidelines and here’s how we’re going to interact with others as well,” which is really important.

[Chip]: Number four: know where they go. And on this one I like it, you say when they’re young and they can kind of read this, zero to twelve, you become a gate.

[Ryan]: Right.

[Chip]: But then when they get older, because even schoolwork and stuff, you want to be guardrails.

[Ryan]: Yeah, the needs change and so as a gate, as a parent we, I believe, have the responsibility to determine what comes into our child’s mind and what is, what they’re sending out. And should completely control that because we’re guarding and protecting them and yet then as they get older, one, we want them to learn, help them learn, how to use it responsibly.

But the whole idea of guardrails and that a guardrail is a system that’s designed to divert potential disaster - not keep you from fun.

[Chip]: Hm. That’s good.

[Ryan]: And so often times our perspective and when you can help your teen, your student to understand, “What I’m doing is I long to be a guardrail in your life and I don’t long for you to go over the cliff and so that’s what I’m going to consistently do, because I love you, and it’s not to keep you from fun, it’s not to keep you from whatever everyone else is doing. It’s just I see the danger.”

And so I think it’s important to know ages and how we interact with them.

[Chip]: Then the last one as we were talking, kind of preparing, and just I like this one. Go where they go. Sometimes parents can feel like, “Oh, we’ve got filters on the computers, you know, I’ve had some talks with my kids."

But what you’re saying is, “Unless I am their friend and I log on and I read and know what’s going on, I’m probably going to find myself in that ignorant place where I was at one point.”

[Ryan]: Yeah, you can know where they go but if you don’t go where they go you don’t know what they’re saying to others, you don’t know really what they’re doing. And you just need to go where they go. In fact, I’d say, you need to have all the passwords for your kids and everything.

In fact, the way we set it up at my house is for any parental monitoring stuff and whether it’s the Blu-ray player or our Netflix account because we have the parental controls there, my wife has the passwords. I don’t need those.

[Chip]: Yeah. And I think the conversation, maybe to close with here, is it’s certainly courage and wisdom but you hear a message like this and you realize, “I don’t have their password, I really trust my son or daughter, but I’m ignorant and I’m setting them up for failure.”

This is one of those things where you say, “You know something? In a weak moment you can be the most godly man, a man after God’s own heart, in a weak moment even David sinned greatly.”

And so this isn’t about, “I don’t trust you.” This is about keeping temptation…You know, the biblical command is real clear. You don’t fight temptation. You flee from lust. You don’t fight it. Any person, I don’t care how much you love God, how disciplined you are, any and every person under the right circumstances of temptation will fall. The best, the godliest, the most well intended.

And so what we’re just going to say is we’re going to join forces together, with our kids and with one another, to really live out the life together to protect one another.