Device Discernment: Imparting Wisdom in Smartphone Use

It was Christmas Day circa 1997. I picked up the present and the weight of the package indicated the importance of what I was unwrapping. As I ripped off the paper, I discovered that I had finally gotten a cell phone! I couldn’t wait to tell my friends. I would finally be in the club.

Many teenagers today have shared in this excitement. Whether it’s a birthday, Christmas, or “just because,” they’ve eagerly unboxed a phone. Their minds race with all the new possibilities this gift will bring—texting, FaceTime, apps, streaming shows . . . the list goes on and on!

However, my unboxing was significantly different. My phone could not be used for several days or weeks. You see, the phone I got that Christmas day had to be bolted inside my car. It could not be taken out once installed. I couldn’t walk around with it. In fact, it couldn’t be used unless the car was turned on. It definitely couldn’t connect to the internet (which was in its infancy). The phone was only for emergencies. It was just too expensive to use on a whim.

Technology’s Newness Wanes Quickly

Technology is always such a funny thing to discuss because it’s always changing. The cool new device today quickly becomes a story that betrays how old we are. Those of us who had car phones (or bag phones) can often shake our heads in amazement over the next new thing. Teenagers can often pick up that “next new thing” with barely a passing thought because the world they’ve grown up in is constantly advertising something new. I don’t say that to belittle teenagers. That’s a part of the way we’re created.

Wisdom comes with age and there’s something about age that makes us view things from a different perspective. As adults, we have learned a lot since we got those first phones that roughly weighed the same as a brick, and we can see the good and the bad that comes with the latest technology.  And it seems like this might be the foundation of so much of our challenge and difficulty with smartphones and social media. Wisdom.

While teenagers do need to take some responsibility for how they use their devices, parents may need to take more. Parents can quickly roll their eyes at the lack of discernment of their children in relation to their devices, but our children are often acting out of the boundaries (or lack of) that we’ve given. Not only that, but they often interact with their devices in the way we’ve modeled our own usage.

In light of this, below are three thoughts for parents striving to raise their children toward discerning use of their devices.

1. Lead with Grace

In the first place, every Christian parent needs to lead with grace. We must pray that we would make great efforts to practice empathy with our preteen and teenage children. Parents must work hard to put themselves in the shoes of their children. They must realize that teens are often left out of the “inside joke” when they are limited from social media platforms. They may miss out on hanging out with friends because an invite was shared through their device. There are many ways in which teens feel real hurt through device restrictions, so we must strive to be empathetic.

At the same time, we cannot be lax in the ways we allow our children to use devices. Just think of the pressures we all faced as teenagers. Acne, popularity, grades, cliques, insecurity – the list goes on and on. Now, pour jet fuel on all those issues and that’s what social media is doing to teens today. Pray for the Spirit to give you a gracious heart toward the daily struggles your child is dealing with. Pray that you’ll be more loving than nagging (that advice is just as much for me as you).

2. Offer Sound Guidance

Could you imagine throwing the car keys to your child and telling them, “Have fun!” without giving them any driving lessons? That irresponsible action may lead to the loss of life of your own child, as well as others. Many have made this comparison to smartphones. That is, we should think of these devices in the same way we think of car keys. Faithful parents are parents who give their children smartphones with guidance. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, there are more dangers with a smartphone than with a car.

This is not intended to trivialize the trauma that may come through a traffic accident. Rather, it serves to illustrate the vast ways in which serious damage can manifest itself through the misuse of technology. Potential trauma from our devices is limitless. In many cases it has led to death (such as cyberbullying leading to suicide); in other cases, it causes a slow death (such as the long-term fallout from pornography use or a gambling addiction). While some may debate these risks, smartphones must be given with a sobered sense of guidance from faithful parents.

Scripture has clearly called all parents to impart the faith to future generations. The ways in which we guide our children in their smartphone use is related to this. We must be intentional in the discipleship of our children and devices are a part of that discipleship.

3. Confidently Grant Independence

To continue the car key metaphor, godly parents must also grant freedom to their teenage children. Parents are not to forever remain behind the steering wheel in the lives of their children. In every area of life, they gradually start handing over the keys to their child and begin releasing them into the world. Granting independent automobile use should not occur until they are properly trained, and the same goes for smartphones. The gradual granting of independence typically happens as a teen demonstrates increasing maturity and responsibility.

We began talking about wisdom and that is what’s in focus now. Far too often it seems parents are unwisely handing devices over to their children without careful forethought. We must take grace-fueled effort to foster wisdom in our children before we grant them complete freedom on their devices. But, we must let go eventually.

Smartphones and social media are not an area of the culture any of us fully arrive at as parents. This will remain a battle of our parenting until the next new thing comes along and presents new challenges in our households. Therefore, we must remain vigilant in the fight to raise our children to be faithful followers in God’s Kingdom. Our parenting reminds us that we have a Heavenly Father who promises to be alongside us in the midst of the struggles.

9781645073116 marketingimage

social media pressure

Social Media Pressure helps show why social media can leave you feeling sad, anxious, and depressed and points to practical ways of turning to Jesus for rest and wholeness. In this devotional, John Perritt, a longtime youth pastor, will guide you in making sure that your relationship with God remains at the center of your life without letting your phone take over. 

About the author

John Perritt

John Perritt, MDiv, DMin, is the director of resources for Reformed Youth Ministries and serves as the host of The Local Youth Worker podcast for RYM. Perritt is the author of several books, including Mark: How Jesus Changes Everything from The Gospel-Centered Life for Students Series and Social Media Pressure. He and his wife, Ashleigh, live in Ridgeland, MS, with their five children.

Add Comment

Recent Posts