Oct 5, 2017

Raising Children with Love, Limits, and the Gospel in the age of Smart Devices.

I was asked to speak in church a few weeks ago and told I could us “Raising a Sin Resistant Generation” as a reference if I wanted. This is my (slightly edited) talk geared towards a congregation of Latter-day Saints.

(We'll skip the witty intro.)

Today I would like to talk about something near and dear to my heart. 
Raising children with Love, Limits, 
and the Gospel in the age of Smart devices.

Jean M. Twenge an author and professor of psychology at San Diego State, has been studying and graphing generational differences for 25 years. She says “Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so.” She says that has been true since the 1930’s.
That is, until 2012.
In 2012 Twenge noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states.
2012 is the same year the number of American’s owning a smart phone surpassed 50%. (This is also around the time I got my first smartphone after living in Japan without a cell phone for three years.)
We know that correlation is not necessarily causation, but there is a LOT of compelling evidence to support a link between drastic behavior shifts in teens and smart phones.

Twenge goes on to say that “the arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background…” I should note that all of us are affected by new technologies. 95 % of Americans now own a cellphone, and 77% of Americans own a smartphone. (Pew Research)
The profound difference with children born after the year 2000 is that they don’t remember anything different. Their childhood experiences are drastically different from Millennials and even those just a few years older.

Obviously, these changes in technology come with positives and negatives. In some ways our children are growing up more sheltered and safe. Teens are less likely to get in a car accident, teen alcohol use has decreased, and teen pregnancy rates are currently down. For our part, we all have access to scriptures, conference talks, uplifting church media content and interactions with our friends and families, some scattered around the world, in the palm of our hands.

However, the downsides are many. Kids are spending more time “under the same roof as their parents, but...they don’t pay attention to their families”.  
Twenge says (paraphrasing here) a nationally representative and long term study started in 1975 asks 12th graders a series of questions about their activities and their happiness. In recent years, questions about technology use have been added. “ The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy...There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all non screen activities are linked to more happiness.”

Aside from the sheer number of hours wasted on social media which tends to have an incredibly negative effect on self esteem, our kids now have unprecedented access to an endless array of virtual filth and degradation at their fingertips, and hours of unsupervised time with which to consume it. Pornography usage, as we all know, has exploded, and “rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011.” (Twenge)

As we navigate the changing times and drastic societal shifts, I believe it will be the calling of all of us, young and old, to learn to harness technology to it’s greatest potential while at the same time, minimizing its risks.

In the talk “A Sin-Resistant Generation, Sister Joy D. Jones discusses how all of us, especially parents, can “fortify children to become sin resistant.” Being sin resistant, will help all of us in using technology correctly.

To raise a sin resistant generation (and I’m going to paraphrase Sister Jones) we need to teach our children to “know without question that they are sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father, (And I would add, Heavenly Mother), Wouldn’t it be awesome if our kids knew how divinely outstanding they are?
We need to help them understand repentance. Because being sin-resistant doesn’t mean being sin-free.
And we need to “Teach them to create consistent habits of prayer, scripture study, family home evening, and Sabbath worship to develop “spiritual integrity.”
In addition, we need to prepare our children to make and keep sacred covenants. To do this, they first need to learn to keep promises and commitments.

For my part, in our family, we are trying hard to follow Sister Jones advice and raise our sons to resist sin, to limit their technology use, and and to choose to be righteous young men. But it is no easy task and success is not guaranteed.

In our home, we do try, and usually manage, some semblance of scripture study and prayer every day. Sometimes we take turns reading out loud. Lately we’ve been broadcasting the scriptures from a speaker so loud that the neighbors are having scripture study along with us.

Family Home Evening occurs most Monday nights. The lessons are short, sweet and to the point because we all know the game and treat are the most import part. (At least when you have five boys.)

To further help inoculate our children from the harmful influences that surround them, especially those that are technology related, you will find that we are pretty strict about cell-phone and computer use with our kids. Just ask our long-suffering teens.

A few practical habits we’ve instituted --just relating to smartphones-- are these:
  1. Turn off notifications. It seems like almost every single app on my phone comes with a feature that wants to “Alert” me when something happens within the app. Phones can be made to beep or buzz a million times a day leading to endless distractions. However, these alerts can also all be turned off. The only time my phone beeps is when I’m getting a call or text, and even a lot of the group texts on my phone are muted.
  2. Read from actual scriptures. I actually love listening to the scriptures from my phone. I usually follow a chapter of the Book of Mormon with a Bible chapter or with a conference talk or BYU devotional. It is a great way to start my day. However, it’s also very easy to get distracted. If you find you can’t read the scriptures on your phone without looking at Instagram too--it’s time to switch back to physical scriptures.
  3. Set tech free times. If it’s too hard do this on your own, use an app to help. (For our family, we use an app called “OurPact” that limits what you can do and when. Max can tell you all about how terrible it is.)
  4. Write a family technology guide, and individual technology contracts and have everyone affected sign them. Post your technology guide in a public place and review and update it periodically. If you’ve ever been in our kitchen, you’ve seen ours taped up to a cupboard. 
    (Of course this is only the first step. The next is to follow through.)
  5. Talk to your kids about WHY it matters. Share articles and have discussions. Even family night lessons. If you ask my kids, they will tell you all I do is read articles about why smart phones, or video games, or iPads are dangerous. It’s true. I read a LOT of articles. And in full disclosure, I’m usually reading them on my phone. But I think it’s important to teach my kids the reasons behind WHY I’m such a mean mom.
  6. Leave phones and ipads at home on Sundays. Our kids are being allowed to completely tune out during Sacrament and other church meetings. When and how will they be taught to tune in to the Spirit? How will they ever have the spiritual discipline to tune in while performing sacred ordinances in the temple?

I don’t know if any of you will remember the LDS musical called “The Ark”. It was written by Michael Mclean in the 90’s and I still remember one funny line. Noah and his wife are having a heated discussion about their children when she says “I’m a mother! I know all about free-agency AND how to enforce it!!”

The truth of the matter is, I can make all the rules I want, but if my kids don’t decide for themselves that they were made for something greater than social media consumption, it won't matter how restrictive I make things.

Teens: You need to decide how you will use and how you will limit your technology use. Not because you feel controlled by your parents. Not out of guilt or fear.
But because you have made the conscious choice to love the Lord and put Him first in your life.
And because you know what a gift your life is and you don’t want to squander it on things of no worth. YOU ultimately get to choose what manner of young women and young men ye ought to be.
One of my favorite quotes is "You can never get enough of what you don’t need, because what you don’t need won’t satisfy you."

To all of you kids/teens/young adults: If you are finding that your apps or game systems or even an epic Netflix binge session is still leaving you feeling unsatisfied, try opening your scriptures and studying the life of Christ. Even for a short time. And see if you can find the feeling of joy and satisfaction you are missing.
When the games are gone and only the compass app is left.
(Waiting for "The Mousetrap" to start in London)
Adults: (not speaking to only parents but all adults) Our youth need spiritual guidance, and limits, and love. And they especially need to be taught to understand the love behind the limits. But if you can do only one thing to help the youth around you, let it be that you love them with Christ-like love.
Show them that you want them to succeed. We don’t need anyone else to be against our youth. Satan will try to tear them down, the world will try to tear them down, but hopefully, their church family (neighbors, teachers, friends, and extended family) will be there to buoy them up and strengthen them.

When we think about raising sin-resistant children, it is easy to get overwhelmed and think that technology is too overwhelming,  and that society is a lost cause. We hear a lot of talk in the news these days about “Millennials” and how many problems they have. How they are needy and dependant and addicted to their phones.

Elder Nelson responded to this trend in a talk titled “Becoming True Millennials” He said, A True Millennial is a man or woman whom God trusted enough to send to earth during the most compelling dispensation in the history of this world. A True Millennial is a man or woman who lives now to help prepare the people of this world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and His millennial reign.

This applies not just to those born within a limited span of years, but to all of us here now.

I believe this is a fight we can win. We can’t give up. I am frequently exhausted as a parent. As I think most parents are. I often think it would be much easier to give up and let my kids fend for themselves. But I will not abandon this cause. Because their salvation literally hangs in the balance. I will continue to try to teach them to use their agency correctly--out of love for God and for themselves-- and continue trying to raise them with light and truth. And I hope I can help and assist my friends and neighbors as they try to do the same and support these amazing young people as they learn and mature.


So what do you think? I'd love to hear your helpful thoughts on what I said, or on the research, or on what you are doing to help the youth in your life!

A Sin Resistant Generation” by Joy D. Jones
Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation” by Jean M. Twenge (in The Atlantic)
Becoming True Millennials” by Russell M. Nelson
“Mormons React to Millennial Stereotypes” by LDS Living (This was a little video embedded in Facebook.)
A Plea To My Sisters” by Russell M. Nelson

Wait Until 8th Pledge” by Linda Sharkey

Found this great article after giving my talk: The Silent Tragedy Affecting Today's Children
Good stuff.
Protect Young Minds (formerly Porn Proof Kids) has resources for families like a template for a Family Technology Guide.
We used it to make our Dub Family Tech Rules

 Our Minds Can Be Hijacked

"Porn is Not the Worst Thing on Musical.ly" by Anastasia Basil

"Leave the Party" by LDS Youth

"The Secret Social Media Lives of Teenagers" by Anna Homayoun for New York Times

"Teacher Urges Parents to Wake Up When it Comes to Kids' Social Media Use" ABC news report about Skipper Coates


Jenni said...

This is great, Emily. I feel strongly about this subject. I appreciate the links as well. Thank you for sharing.

Tricia said...

Fantastic article.

Hel said...

Hi. I’m giving the lesson in Relief Society this Sunday with Joy D. Jones’ talk as the focal point. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your blog post. It has really given me some great stuff to think about. ��

KT said...

I love this Emily. Thanks for sharing. We are very strict too and have similar rules. Since moving here both my girls have been handed super nice surface tablets that are for school and home. I hate them!! It's so stressful for me and I am racking my brain trying to figure out how to control this situation.