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Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. –Psalm 127:3-4

In this Psalm of Ascent, King Solomon uses the analogy of an archer to describe parenting. This analogy has been a source of continual revelation and discovery as I progress further in my journey as a parent.

The act of shooting an arrow, simplistically put, is broken down into two component parts: drawing the arrow and aiming; and releasing the arrow and letting it fly.

I am sure archers would testify to it being more complicated than that, but indulge me as I use this simple framework to explain some digital parenting principles.

Draw And Aim

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. –Proverbs 22:6

I have spoken to thousands of parents around the world, and there is one seemingly universal challenge of parenting in this current age: the struggle with our children over the use of digital devices.

It is a constant point of contention in almost all families as children push the boundaries parents set.

Many parents give up, literally leaving the children to their own devices; while others take draconian measures that leave the parent-child relationship fractured and broken.

It is important to set rules for digital device use at a young age. It is far easier to teach and enforce at the beginning than to claw back territory that has already been surrendered.

Focus On Behaviour, Not Medium

The questions that parents ask most at digital parenting workshops are: “How much screen time should my child have?”, or: “How old should they be before they own their own device?”

We could look for enriching and interesting content for their entertainment, and nurture their appetites to find enjoyment in what is right, pure, lovely and admirable Philippians 4:8.

It is easy to be fixated on the digital device because it is tangible. It is the object in the middle of this tug of war we often have with our children. However, it is important to look beyond the device and set rules for the different facets of its usage instead.

The digital device is a window to many things. It is a means by which we can learn how to bake a cake, catch up on current affairs, engage in conversation, submit homework assignments, read the Bible, and so on. The question of “how much screen time” should always be followed by “to do what?”

Be Familiar With Parental Controls

Parents should be comfortable with parental controls on digital devices.

Using various parental controls available in the market, parents can monitor how much time their children are spending on particular apps or games. With a little exploration, parents would discover that they can:

  • Set time restrictions on entertainment apps or games;
  • Restrict access to the Internet;
  • Specify bedtimes or mealtimes when devices would have Internet access turned off;
  • Require the child to obtain parental approval before installing apps on the device.

Many parents I have met are delighted to learn of these functions and cannot wait to get home to flex their newfound technological muscles, but I must implore parents to remember our role: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

We are to train them to discern right from wrong. More than just having our children obey the rules we set, we need to teach them strong biblical foundations.

If your child is old enough to understand, I would strongly encourage parents to co-create house rules for the use of digital devices in such a way that the whole family comes under the leading and admonition of the Lord.

The Importance Of Parental Control

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew‬ 7:3-5‬‬‬‬

As parents, we need to reflect on our own use of digital technology and bring it before the Lord for His examination.

We cannot expend so much energy scrutinising our children’s digital habits without shining that same light on our own. Our children should feel that the principles set in the home are observed equally by all.

The parenting style used when the child is a toddler no longer works when the child grows up and deals with interpersonal relationships in school.

If we do not model the behaviour we ask of our children, our words are hollow and hypocritical.

Many teenagers have complained to me that their parents are always behind their screens and unavailable for conversation or the seeking of advice. Learning to use technology wisely is a journey the whole family needs to undertake together, and parents need to lead by example.

Let Go And Let Them Fly

“…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ… .” – Ephesians 4:13-15

I have met parents who have posed the following question: “What do I do with my child? He/she refuses to stop being online.” After some probing, I find out that the children in question are already in their early 20s.

Though my children are not yet adults, I often remind myself to evolve my parenting style as they grow older.

We are sometimes fixated on control, and forget that we are stewards of these children but for a season.

We are sometimes fixated on control, and forget that we are stewards of these children but for a season.

We are meant to prepare them to reach maturity and assume responsibility for their own walk with God.

Parents sometimes fail to make this transition, and find themselves holding on to the arrow, never letting go.

There are many reasons, the most common of which is the fear of losing control.

We have generations of grown men and women who have never fully transitioned to adulthood because their parents continue to make decisions for them, shielding them from consequences and the weight of responsibility.

The arrow that is never released falls short of its created purpose.

The Milliseconds In-between

The most important moment in an archer’s motion is found between the drawing of the bow and the releasing of the arrow.

Everything goes into slow motion: the archer’s breathing, the beating of his heart, the smooth release of the fingers and the unwavering strength of the motionless arm holding the bow.

The arrow is an extension of the archer’s body and the expression of his will.

If we do not model the behaviour we ask of our children, our words are hollow and hypocritical.

As children grow, one of the most common mistakes parents make is not growing together with them.

The parenting style used when the child is a toddler no longer works when the child grows up and deals with interpersonal relationships in school.

Frustration mounts when parents feel lost as their teenagers no longer respond to “because I said so”.

We all need an ongoing relationship with our children that grows with time. This is especially true when it comes to our children’s use of technology that evolves as they grow up.

More than just having our children obey the rules we set, we need to teach them strong biblical foundations.

There are many households where parents do not have strong relationships with their children.

The younger generation’s “need” to be constantly online often grates on their parents’ nerves, and these gaps become irreconcilable chasms.

Parents feel incapable of understanding their children, and children live in homes where they feel isolated and alone.

Our children live very stressful lives.

The question of “how much screen time” should always be followed by “to do what?”

Society pegs their self-worth to their grades, their looks, or their popularity. Many youths who spend hours upon hours playing video games do so because their digital personas provide an immediate and straightforward way to obtain the feeling of success and a lift in self-worth.

They may not find those opportunities in real life due to a myriad of factors.

As parents, we cannot be too quick to judge our children’s preoccupation with their digital identities and dismiss them as immature or childish.

For digital natives, there is no separation between their real identities and digital ones.

If we are to guide our children in their digital journey, we need to take the time and effort to find out what they do online and why they find those activities meaningful.

If our only interaction with them about their digital life is shouting at them from the other side of the door to get off their devices, we will be estranged from a very integral part of their lives.

If we choose to stand outside the room, we cannot walk alongside them to guide them.

It is important to set rules for digital device use at a young age.

Parents should be active curators and crafters of their children’s digital experiences. We could look for enriching and interesting content for their entertainment, and nurture their appetites to find enjoyment in what is right, pure, lovely and admirable (Philippians 4:8).

Rather than individual family members watching videos alone on their own mobile devices, why not watch them together as a shared family experience?

Another tip is to look for video games that both parent and child enjoy, so gaming becomes an opportunity to bond and fellowship.

Our interactions with our children could be so much more than “How was school?”, and “Have you finished your homework?”

The Life Of The Bow

When I speak at secular digital parenting workshops, I share most of the points above. There is a special revelation for parents who are in Christ:

We are the bow.

I have come to learn that I am not the archer in this analogy. The responsibility of aiming my children’s lives at a target of my choosing is too heavy for me to bear. I know my flaws and limitations, and despite my best intentions, I know my parenting is often tainted with selfishness and pride.

I can only entrust my children’s future into the Lord’s hands.

My ongoing journey as a parent is learning that the life of the bow is one where we are bent to the Master’s will; and that it is less about playing the part of a parent than it is about learning to be His child.

May we allow ourselves to be used by our loving Father to help our children fulfil the wonderful purpose He has for them.

 

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