Three Reasons to Restrict Your Child’s Smartphone and Internet Access (Rooted Parent)

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I’m often guilty of viewing the prominence of smartphones and tablets as a purely negative development in the fabric of our society. Tim Keller wisely brings me back to the center. “Every culture is a mixed bag of good and bad elements, and we should avoid rejecting certain aspects of a culture simply because they differ from our own.”

But while it isn’t wise to reject culture on the basis of it being different, it also isn’t wise to blindly accept culture simply because it is the norm. Every culture has praiseworthy elements, but Keller cautions that “we must avoid uncritically accepting aspects of culture without first examining them in light of the gospel.”

Mindful of God’s grace, and based on my observations as a student, a youth worker, and most recently as a dad, I’d like to offer parents three reasons to restrict their children’s smartphone and internet access.

#1: Screens can be Powerful Gospel Counterfeits

In their book When Helping Hurts, authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert describe four key relationships that were damaged by sin’s entrance into the world: our relationship with God, our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with others, and our relationship with the rest of creation. We long to be set free from these broken relationships (Romans 8:22-23). The wonderful message of God’s gospel of grace is that in Christ, our longings for deliverance will one day become reality!

But too often, the good things of this world become more real to us than the One who created them. Tired of waiting for Christ’s all-encompassing redemption, we go about seeking “quick-fix” freedom in all the wrong places, particularly in the good things that God has created. Because they provide opportunities for us to change our appearance through photo filters, put our best foot forward on social media apps, and “block” or “unfriend” those with whom we disagree, smartphones and the internet present low-resistance pathways for us to put Band-Aids on the brokenness which sin has caused.

The more a young person unwittingly relies on internet-accessible devices to gain right-standing or acceptance, the more likely it will be that he or she will develop habits of trusting in fleeting pleasures, fickle pursuits, or self-made righteousness for worth and identity. As parents, let’s affirm our children’s inherent worth as image-bearers of God. Let’s also train them to look to Christ alone for justification, even if we must clear away the stumbling blocks of screens to do so.

#2: Dangers and Temptations come Looking for Your Child

When it comes to internet and smartphone restriction, the most consistent parental objection I hear is voiced on the grounds of trust. “I trust my child; why would I restrict his smartphone? He has given me no reason to believe that he will get into trouble.”

I’m grateful for students who actively build trust with their parents, and also for parents who lovingly invest responsibility into their children. But it is not the trustworthiness of our children which should determine our approaches to screens and the internet; we should be motivated by our mistrust of our Enemy instead. As was true for Cain, so the statement rings true for us: “…[Sin] is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7)

Our children do not have to desire a specific sin in order for the world’s brokenness ravage them. In a very real sense, dangers and temptations actively seek out our children, regardless of how trustworthy they may be. Real-world statistics confirm this truth. 90% of children 8-16 have encountered online pornography, and law enforcement officials estimate that more than 50,000 sexual predators may be online at any given moment.

More than a means to keep children in the bounds of moral behavior, smartphone and internet restrictions are primarily methods to keep sin’s influence out of the vicinity of wreaking havoc on our children’s lives. Restrictions aren’t a functional savior, but as acts of a disciplined and graciously liberated soul, they will, over time, produce “a harvest of righteousness and peace” (Hebrews 12:11). What a wonderful legacy for us to pursue, both for ourselves and for our children.

#3: Screens Make the Home Increasingly Hostile

During my third-grade year, there was a particular friend of mine who incessantly teased and harassed me. I was so burdened and bogged down by that barrage of torment that my parents decided to homeschool me during my fourth-grade year. During that year, we traveled, read, laughed, and rested. I came out of the experience re-oriented. In a word, I healed.

I fear that too few children could be offered a similar opportunity today, regardless of the educational strategies of their parents. Among other things, screens provide a pathway for bringing childhood hostilities into the home, simultaneously minimizing the opportunities for disconnect. As James K.A. Smith writes in his book Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works:

“The teenager at home does not escape the game of self-consciousness; instead, she is constantly aware of being on display—and she is regularly aware of the exhibitions of others. Her Twitter feed incessantly updates her about all of the exciting, hip things she is not doing with the ‘popular’ girls; her Facebook pings nonstop with photos that highlight how boring her homebound existence is. And so she is compelled to constantly be ‘on,’ to be ‘updating’ and ‘checking in.’ The competition for coolness never stops.”

As parents, we are uniquely called, positioned, and equipped to shepherd our families towards holiness and satisfaction in cross of Christ. While screen time isn’t bad in and of itself, we should be aware of its tendency to increase the volume of the voices which tempt our children to rely on themselves for justification, thereby minimizing our God-ordained platform of guidance and grace.

We don’t have to take our children to Disney World in order to give them a life which seems magical. Sometimes, we must simply sever the pathways by which the troubles of childhood choke out the hospitality of home. In so doing, we can create an environment in which our children are loved and cherished for who they are, regardless of the drama which takes place among friends. And unlike a trip to Disney World, we won’t be acting out a fairy tale. We’ll be modeling the realities which are ours in Christ.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

Recommended Resources

As parents, we have opportunities not only to orchestrate the discipline of our children, but also to model a disciplined life before them. As the think-tank at Orange has stated, “While it is certainly healthy to think through standards and limits, we have to make sure that there aren’t double standards. Ultimately, we should decide what type of relationship we want our kids to have with technology, and then we should do it.”

To that end, I hope that the resources below will be of service. Feel free to post other helpful resources in the comments section below.

“Cyberbullying Facts and Statistics” (TeenSafe)

“Everything Changed the Day I Learned Minecraft has a Sex Mod” (Amy Betters-Midtvedt, Parent.co)

“Four Ways that Screens Distort the Gospel” (Davis Lacey, Rooted)

“Why Our Son Doesn’t Have a Smartphone” (Trevin Wax, The Gospel Coalition)

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